Our Hawaii Semester Programs are officially underway for Fall 2020! We caught up with Group A program instructors Pete and Gabby to give us an update on their first week out of quarantine....
"After receiving free-to-go calls from the State of Hawaii quarantine police, we spent our first day learning about ocean safety and Hawaiian culture from a few guest speakers from Hilo, then spent the afternoon at a couple of beaches only a short walk away (Keaukaha and Onekahakaha). Keaukaha is a black lava rock cove, and Onekahakaha is a larger open beach with a sandy area. Our group spotted some lazy sea turtles relaxing in the shallow water in both beaches. It was totally awesome dude!* (*Finding Nemo reference).
On our second day, we drove in the morning to Ka’u, the southern district of the island, which is also the largest district and least densely populated part of the whole state. Ka’u is larger than the whole island of Oahu which has nearly one million residents, yet Ka’u has fewer than 10,000 residents. Our one hour drive from Hilo to Pahala featured tropical ecosystems, a stretch through dry black lava rock desert (including passing throughout Volcanoes National Park), and we finished in another rainforest. The ecosystems on the island transform every few miles, making the drive from town to town spectacular and full of unexpected weather (rain, sun, wind, and clouds all in one drive).
We arrived in Pahala to our accommodation for the first two weeks, a 100+ year old creaky antique-filled mansion once lived in by the managers of the sugar plantation. This region produced massive quantities of sugarcane and macadamia nuts at one point, but sugar went totally under a few decades ago and macadamia nuts are on their way out as well. But coffee is in, since consumers are willing to pay extra for the organic Hawaiian brand.
We spent our first few days doing some orientation workshops (including activities on comfort zones, risk management, travel ethics, health, active listening, team building, and mindfulness). In the mornings, we visited the Ka’u Coffee Mill to get a tour of the coffee growing process and taste test some different roasts. Another morning, we had the awesome opportunity to hike through native tropical rain forest with a few local guides who demonstrated how to harvest and weave traditional Maile, a fragrant green leafy vine that is a highly valued plant for making lei in traditional Hawaiian culture. We also celebrated Jack's 19th birthday with some sweet baked malasadas from the local bakery.
The past few days, we split into two groups for morning service projects. Each group spent one morning trimming coffee trees and another morning weeding at a historic buddhist temple in Wood Valley, which has twice been visited by HH The 14th Dalai Lama.
Afternoons have included visiting the nearby black sands beach called Punalu’u, swimming in the waves and gazing at the sea turtles (there are only a handful of beaches in the world where these turtles regularly rest out on the sand, and Punalu’u is one of these beaches!
A few Highlights/Reflections so far:
“Seeing the turtles at the black sand beach was unforgettable.” — Ryan
“Bush-wacking through the rainforest made me feel connected to nature. I gained so much respect for our guide who spent years in the rainforest collecting Maile to make lei’s to help provide for his family.“ — Gigi
“The Wood Valley Buddhist temple helped me expand my worldview. It was calming to be in such a unique and contemplative space.” — Elliott.
The group is now heading into week two. This week we are looking forward to a few more days of service projects, learning about Hula and lei making, visiting Volcanoes National Park, continuing to cook homemade dinners in our cook crews, and likely another visit to the black sands beach.
We are missing all of our loved ones back home and so grateful for everyone who helped support and enable us to be on this journey. It is very special to have the opportunity to spend so much time in a tight-knit community, especially this year."
With peace and love,
Pete and Gabby