Living in Paradise, Part 1
Have you ever been to another country, how about an island, or better yet a string of islands made of volcano tips that are situated comfortably in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 2000 miles from any other land mass? I was finally in Maui, my first half-day was a bit rough not getting too sleep much during the long flight and being shuttled around the city before making it back to the farm after dark. I was really hoping to see the farm in the light but did not understand the meaning of a day in the city quite yet. Meeting my 1st farm host at the airport was nice, not having to wait or be treated like a tourist. Shortly after we picked up 3 other wwoofers from there day off in the city and another at the coffee shop before making the long trek on the kula highway in complete wonder as it was dark all I could see is we were getting further away from the city lights, and that made me comfortable. We climbed a big hill after making our turn off the highway, some porta potties and a deck at the bottom, camping area midway up the hill and the property owners (hosts) and our outside kitchen/deck at the top. I was greeted by the other host upon parking, that was nice, but I was tired so gathered my stuff, mumbled a few things to the other wwoofers, while another led me down the road and pointed out where I could set up my tent. This ended up to be an old helicopter pad, there were 2 old tents nearby, one had looked like it had been shredded by a hungry bear..are there bears in Hawaii?? Pigs, would wild pigs shred a tent? I didn’t need these things in my head, so dropped my gear and dug out my tent, the stars were amazing and a good distraction from any new fears. My headlamp was failing me, I struggled for awhile, getting the tent set up, a rock already punctured a hole in the bottom, I switched out the batteries on headlamp, blew up my pad, got a sleeping bag out..but it was still a struggle in my 24+ hr daze of awakeness I had exchanged poor batteries for another set of poor batteries in my headlamp, but that didn’t really set in until the following morning. Ahh, more stars, what I can imagine is the ocean, and sleep. I woke the next morning to an array of wildlife stirring about, wonderful bird songs, bees doing their thing, and deer munching away in the background. Wow I really have arrived in Paradise! It was lush, several shades of green, brown dirt and black lava rock for contrast. The ocean view was perfect, the island of Kaho’olawe on the western horizon and the three peaks of the big island to the south, plus a few cinder cones nearby on this volcanic tip.
After gawking for at least an hour, I walked around down the hill, back up the hill, did some yoga on a tarp next to my tent, then joined the others for breakfast and conversation at the community kitchen. There had been a suggestion the night before that we may go work at a nearby farm (work trade) and pick coffee beans for the day. I’d never even seen a coffee tree/bush, berry or knew anything about if except that wonderful taste it provides your mouth. The farm was just down the highway a few miles then down a bumpy dirt road for a few more, we descended 800 ft then arrived at an old permaculture farm, the current farmers had been there for 10 years but the exotic fruit trees and all organic ways have been active for 30 years, this was beautiful to say the least, in all directions were new trees I’ve never seen, some bearing fruit, others with only leaves or nothing at all. After introductions and some conversation, some had met before, we took a brief tour of the farm learning permaculture right away, they were in the process of cutting down hardwood trees so the fruit trees could get some light, since recent cuttings, several papaya trees have come up, with several others bearing the green fruits, which eventually turn yellow on the tree before they should be harvested. Then the hardwood gets used to build raised gardens. There is always a use for everything in permaculture. There was edible bamboo, coconuts, coffee, jaboticaba, loquat, avocado, sapote, banana, cashew, macadamia TREES, plus a garden, yurt to live in, and an ocean view. I could stay here forever. The coffee bean picking process was pretty simple, pick the red berries and put them in a bag, leave the other colors except black or dead ‘pow’ knock those on the ground, they could turn into another coffee tree. Some trees were 15 ft tall while others 4 ft, the tall ones had to be tied down from the top so we could reach all the ripe berries. Occasionally I would put a ripe berry in my mouth, deshell the bean to the ground and eat the berry skin, it was sweet and had a slight bitterness of coffee, plus provided the perfect buzz for the work at hand. People sensitive to caffeine can get a buzz just from touching the leaves. Soon there was reggae music playing and kids running around showing us new things and being actively involved in the coffee picking. It took 6 of us, 3-4 hours to pick 7 gallons of berries, we took a lunch break, ate some amazing fried rice, one of the best meals I’d eaten in some time, learned more about permaculture, Maui and life in general before taking the berries up to the neighbors to use their hand powered coffee mill, which separates the berries from the beans. The process was quite simple, dump the beans in, and grind away, catching the beans in a bin and the berries on the ground. The beans were then washed and set aside while we cleaned up and placed the berries around the nearby macadamia nuts, they would provide nutrients to the roots. After hauling the beans back down to the yurt we filled the bin with water, they would ferment there for 3-6 days before emptying them into a drying rack where they sit for the next 9 months before roasting! Now this was already quite the process, my appreciation for coffee was enormous already but there was still more to learn, the roasting process. We learned how to rude boy roast some beans from last years harvest. The rude boy roasting method is simple and effective, crush the beans to remove the skin, how you remove it depends on the amount being processed, but basically blow the skin off like collecting seeds from a radish or mustard seed plant. After all the skins have been removed the roasting starts in a frying pan over the stove on low heat. The beans start to roast, slowing moving them around or sautéing them not cooking, at first there is not much smell, then a burnt popcorn, followed by different levels of chocolatey goodness, for a dark roast, my favorite, the beans were almost caramelized but not burnt. After the aromatic process our ride back home had arrived, the farm where my tent was, so we said our goodbyes, took the freshly roasted coffee as a gift and took the bumpy ride home. That moment of leaving I knew I’d be back there again soon, or at least I was going to make that a priority before leaving the island. There was so much to learn, real Hawaiian culture, and good vibes all around.
Upon arriving back at Liberty Vista Farm where I was starting my wwoofing adventure, I promptly moved my tent to be with the others, it seems the helicopter pad camping is a bit of initiation, or at least everyone had camped there the first night, and it’s where the farm owners were living for awhile, hence the torn tent that was never taken down, Hawaii is rough on stuff! Getting a tent spot packed down and clear of glycine was not easy but was worth it for the spot chosen, however it looked like a much better garden then camping spot. Either way I was with the others and it felt like we had a little community going. I found a spot for the hammock, set it up as the sun was setting and opened my journal to write this before making a meal for dinner.
I stayed at Liberty Vista farm for 10 days, and worked 9 of those day, not sure how that happened but I never worked more than 5 or 6 hours a day. The work was a bit mindless, clearing glycine off the ancient rock walls and picking fireweed before it spread further. The glycine could be cleared easily with sickles but there was dried cane grass underneath that created scratches and hives after coming in contact with it. These things aren’t the worse things that could happen, however being off the grid on a new farm, also meant no running water and little shade. We took trips into town, 20 miles one way to Pukalani to shower at the local pool, it was free, and we weren’t the only ones doing this. Either way it was a bit rough, camping in the glycine/cane grass/dirt combo, washing with wet wipes or a wet paper towel from the upscale porta potties. The view of the ocean and humpback whales was amazing though, especially from the deck near the highway. I made it routine to go down to the deck every morning for yoga, it was a perfect place and others would join on occasion. We learned the shocka hand gesture, waving at other locals as they would pass by. After 4 days of working with the glycine and dirt, I really needed a shower, so one of the farm hosts drove me into town, others were already there on their day off. She dropped me off at the pool but it was looking closed for a swim practice, I saw an opening on the side door and took a chance, not being here before it was easy to explore, I found the showers, and jumped right in, it was a glorious 30 seconds before someone yelled at me explaining that I couldn’t be in there the pool was closed at the moment. I nodded in agreement, took another 30 seconds of water, then dried off and put clean clothes on, they kept checking on me, I was a bit tired after all still getting used to the constant sun and 75 degrees weather in January. Finally I got out of there apologized and walked across the street to the only gathering area in Pukalani, a mall filled with a few stores, most notably the Farmacy, health food done right, this was the first time I had cane juice it was delicious and I made it a routine to get a large mason jar filled every time I came to town for a shower. There was also a post office, foodland (yes that’s what the local grocery store is named on the island), starbucks (which had wifi), and few other stores, all with plenty of outdoor seating for all the locals. I hung out in Pukalani for the afternoon while the farm host ran other errands, getting picked up later that night after getting some wifi time in and reading a book. Unplugging from electronics was very easy at this point, we didn’t have much for cell service on the farm and being actively present was an easy endeavor.
One day after work we decided to climb the volcano, we could see the state park from the farm and the helicopters that would fly to and from daily. We started up a ridge following deer trails but were soon in thick jungle like cover with glycine everywhere, you could basically float above the ground balancing on greenery. It got a bit scary at times, climbing up a tree without knowing in and finding myself 10 to 15 feet off the ground! We made it 1/2 up to the park and decided it was time to go back down, instead of turning around and following our tracks down, we just turned and pointed ourselves downhill and went for it. I was a bit slower and cautious but the other 2 just went for it, felt like a kid in a bouncy gym, good times! At night we would have a campfire with the wood we uncovered from clearing glycine, drinking beers or wine from the nearby winery and having deep conversations about astronomy, philosophy, and life. We sat up late enough to watch the moon set a few nights, the stars that came out were incredible. With the help from others we had the entire sky’s constellations figured out in those 10 days and had found additional galaxies and stars we never knew existed. The Milky Way stretched from one point on the horizon to another, it had a white to green haze and filled to the brim with stars.
We gained a few more wwoofers right after I came to the farm, there was 7 of us at one point. Being tired of clearing glycine every day I approached the hosts and asked if we could do other activities. There was some resentment, and a few people decided to move on to other farms. I stayed an extra 5 days, pleading to do something else, we planted some chayote (a local squash) and stained the deck which was going to be used for sales to passing tourists. Feeling like my work there was done, myself and another took our last ride into town from that farm, took a shower, washed our clothes in the shower and gathered outside the pool to dry our stuff and figure out the next plan. It wasn’t long before a guy was sitting next to us, it felt like he had appeared from nowhere, asking about my dreads, where we were from, and where we were going to stay tonight. We had no idea where we were going to stay, perhaps we could make it up to the crater and do some backpacking, which was at least the backup plan. This guy gave us his phone number and address inviting us to stay if we needed to. I felt blessed just being in Maui around all these friendly people, work on the land and they will treat you as a local. We decided to hang in town for a few more hours and wait for one of our friends to get off work, he had found a place to stay at another farm in Kula. So we hopped on the bus with him after work, chatting it up and talking about where we were headed, a lady in the seat behind us said we were on the wrong bus and we should get off immediately and start walking..damn so we did, with all of our stuff, we had way too much food/perishables but weren’t going to leave that behind. We made it back to the main highway where we held tight and hitchhiked a ride, it took a while at night, 3 guys, so we ate some chips salsa and had a few beers. Finally a local guy stopped and told us to jump in the back, we did and down the highway we go at speeds up to 60mph!! He was laughing the whole time, I was just happy to be moving again. He dropped us off near the ace hardware on the Kula highway where we walked down to the 3rd day nursery, it looked spectacular and was dark, couldn’t wait to see it in the morning. Dropping our bags on a big table we made our way to the community kitchen area where several others were hanging out. Everyone was super friendly including 3rd Day’s farm host, and Ziggy the boxer. The host eventually took us home with him another few miles down the Kula highway, again can’t say enough about how friendly the people here are! Waking the next morning on a new side of the volcano was exciting! I wasn’t actually far from the last farm, maybe 10 miles, but it was more lush here, they definitely got more rain and a bit higher elevation around 3000 ft. Our host took off on his motorbike to go get coffee, he mentioned something about getting the goat back in the pen for his neighbor, so we set out for morning chores. The small goat was easy to get back into the fenced area with some food, however shortly after it had crawled right back out of the hole. So we grabbed more food and got it back in. Not having much else to do, we went and looked at the hole, found a piece of extra fence and put in into place. About this time the goat’s owner was making his way down, and our host had come back. A short conversation later and we had already found a new place to live and work on the goat farm!