Aloha everyone! Let’s start with an introduction. My name is Jess Hall, and I’m from Virginia. After spending high school cycling competitively, I decided to take my first semester off from starting college and embark on this adventure, which has ultimately been one of the best choices I’ve ever made.
At this point, I’m just under a month into my time here in Hawaii, and it’s been a life changing experience. If I were to tell you about every impactful moment that I’ve had so far on island, I would need to write a book, maybe two; but, for the sake of a good story, I’ll share some of my favorites from each week.
Week one was filled with bonding moments that only drew our group of 12 closer together. We spent our time in a cottage in the town of Pahala, which was a perfect place to start our trip. We were drawn to the huge backyard, which prompted many games of spikeball, the chessboard that was discovered on night one and was a hit ever since, and last but certainly not least, the grand piano that resided in the foyer. Our last night in the cottage we sang our hearts out together, with some of the boys banging on the piano for background music, while others let their true natural talent for music or singing shine. That moment, which came about so naturally, is something that I will look back on and cherish for the rest of our trip. I truly believe it was the first time we all realized how close we were going to become.
Week two was spent doing lots of exploring and pushing each other’s boundaries. We moved from Pahala into Volcano National Park, where we stayed in cabins and cooked on camp stoves. Our second day in the park, two of the group members discovered a cave that was on the property of our campsite, which prompted another moment of natural bonding, in a time where we could’ve all taken time to ourselves. We all grabbed our headlamps, and headed into the cave, helping each other through. Looking back, it was the highlight of our week for some of us, simply because of how easily we were finding these activities that we all loved and could enjoy together.
Week three brought about more moving, more service work, and countless new experiences for the group; however, by far the most special moment we all shared in my opinion was our trip to the summit of Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea holds the title of the tallest mountain in the world, from its base thousands of miles under the sea, to the peak at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level. The summit is not only a sacred place for native Hawaiians, but a place that not many people get to see. After acclimating for an hour halfway up the mountain, we continued in our tour van to the top, where we got to watch the sunset, before stargazing and taking once-in-a-lifetime pictures under the stars. We made it back to the house late at night, all still in awe over the experience we just shared.
Now, we are a few days into week 4, and have spent the last few days working with Makali’i, one of the first voyaging canoes that was created in the renaissance of wayfinding and voyaging, in order to teach a new generation the skills of their kapuna (or their ancestors). It was an experience very few get to learn about, and has prompted many of us to reflect on what our grandparents and ancestors have taught us, and what the legacy we leave behind says.
My time in Hawaii so far has been eye opening, spiritual, and is the beginning of a new time in my life. It has allowed me to reconnect with feelings and memories I had from my childhood, and has given me 11 new best friends that I luckily will get to spend the next 5 weeks with. We’ve gotten to hear advice from elders who won’t be around for forever, and have been told stories you can’t look up on the internet. I’ve tried my hardest to take in and cherish every moment to date, while keeping my mind open to knowing how many more I’ll get to experience while I’m here. I know I’ll have a million stories to share by the time I leave this place, but for now; Mahalo.
I hope we get to talk again!
- Written by Jess Hall, Photo by Sam Faber