The Amateur Traveler talks to Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View and the Holoholo Wale blogs about two less-visited islands in the Hawaiian islands – Lanai and Molokai.
Both islands are less developed than their neighbors and better islands for relaxing on a beach than filling up your time with excursions from the activity vendors. Molokai is one of the two that stole Pam’s heart away with a more authentic Hawaiian experience. Molokai might be best known for recently sainted Father Damien who worked with victims of Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) on the island until he himself succumbed to the disease.
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Holoholo Wale – Pam’s hawaii blog
Lana’i Culture & Heritage Center
Kalaupapa, Hawaii – settlement for those with leprosy / Hansen’s disease
Kalaupapa National Historical Park
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Chris: I’d like to welcome to the show Pam Mandel. Pam Mandel is a travel writer at both Nerd’s Eye View and Holoholo Wale and also a ukulele impresario. Pam, welcome to the show.
Pam: Good morning Chris. Impresario is really an expansive word for my skills.
Chris: Is that a long word for an instrument that only has four strings.
Pam: It is and also I’m really I’m not an impresario so much as I am an enthusiast.
Chris: And I noticed that just this morning, your face was gracing the cover of
Worldhum.com talking about using your ukulele or ukulele, depending on where you’re from apparently, as a device for meeting people.
Pam: Yeah, that’s right. I wrote that story quite a while ago and I’m really pleased to see it go live.
Chris: And in case people haven’t guessed yet, with the names like Holoholo Wale being throw around and ukulele, we’re talking about Hawaii today. And in particular, we’re
talking about one or two of the islands, depending on how much time we get, that don’t get as much traffic: Moloka’i and Lana’i. And I don’t think I’m quite saying that right. You’re suppose to pronounce every vowel, right? So it’s Moloka’i?
Pam: That sounds right to me.
Chris: Ok. So Pam, why should we get off the beaten path? Why shouldn’t we just go to Oahu and Maui and the Big Island and Kauai, which are all lovely islands? Why one of these other islands?
Pam: Each of the islands is different. The vibe on each of the islands is different. The way you feel when you’re on each of those islands to me is very, very different. Waikiki is super urban. You go to the North Shore and it feels a bit more natural, I guess is the word I ‘m looking for.
Pam: It’s less developed. In general, Oahu is pretty bustling. Maui – there’s lots of golf courses and resorts. A friend of mine called Kauai the Pacific Northwest of Hawaii because it’s kind of this green, crunchy, hippie sort of place.
Pam: Oh and the big island of course, which actually is one of my favorite places. There are bazillion things to do there, but it’s big. It’s really big. I think people forget how big the Big Island is. But Moloka’i and Lana’i are… first of all, they’re tiny. They’re really, really small. And you can crash through everything that’s listed in the guidebook in maybe two or three days, if you decide to do that. You go to those places to sit and look at the water, to talk to people and to just sort of absorb what life is like in the middle of the Pacific in this very mellow, unrushed kind of way. That’s why you go there – it’s for the feeling.
Chris: Ok. And I know you have a favorite between the two islands.
Pam: Molokai. Molokai. I sort of lost my heart there.
Chris: Ok. So lets talk about the other one first. Because I think we can get it out of the way relatively easily. What will I see if I go to Lana’i?
Pam: So there’s a place on Lana’i called The Garden of the Gods. That’s the English name for it. It’s a bad translation for a Hawaiian name, which I’m not even going to try to say.
Chris: But the best part of this show is hearing you pronounce the Hawaiian words.
Pam: I’m going to try to say the Hawaiian name for this so bear with me here. It’s Keahiakawelo. Keahiakawelo. Which means: Where Kewelo makes fire. There’s a legend about this place that there was a contest between two kahunas: one on Lana’i and one on Maui. There was a competition to see who could keep the fire going the longest. And supposedly Kewelo built this fire at this place on Lana’i, the Garden of the Gods, and now it is stripped of vegetation. There is no vegetation there. It is dry and red and dusty and gorgeous. Incredibly gorgeous. This red, rugged landscape that according to the legend, the reason there is no vegetation is because of this fire-burning contest. But that’s one of the big sites you go see on Lana’i. There’s sweetheart rock, which is just off the coast where the ferry comes in and that’s a very pretty and interesting geologic structure. There was some places we couldn’t go because the roads were washed out. What happens is you arrive there, you get a four-wheel drive jeep because that’s how you get around there. The speed limit is enforced at 35 mph, I think, is the maximum. It’s very slow. There’s a little town, a little village where the Hotel Lana’i is, and there’s some shops and some restaurants. But that’s almost it. There’s also an expansive Four Seasons Resort and a golf course.
Chris: And then we’re done with Lana’i?
Pam: Actually, there’s one site that’s pretty under visited. If you are interested in Hawaiian culture and history, it’s worth going to the Lana’i Culture and Heritage Center, where they have artifacts from a thousand years ago – human occupation on Lana’i and all the way up to when Lana’i was transformed into pretty much 90% pineapple.
Chris: Yeah, is it still pretty much a Dole Pineapple Plantation?
Pam: No. Now I believe it’s owned by Castle and Cook, which is a resort developer.
Chris: Oh, ok. All right. So we may expect to see more things in Lana’i in the future?
Pam: Yes, I guess. I don’t know what the Lana’i development plan is. I can’t really say.
Pam: It wouldn’t surprise me.
Chris: Moloka’i, when most people hear of it, they think, if they know the history, they think leper colony. Which isn’t something they’re probably putting on the front of the tourism brochures for Moloka’i any more.
Pam: Except that actually Moloka’i is in the news right now because Father Damien, who worked at the colony in Moloka’i, has been declared a saint by the Vatican.
Chris: Oh is he. I voted for him. I actually, I think it’s well deserved. Seriously, well, not the voting for him part, but the well deserved part.
Pam: Did you see the movie?
Chris: I haven’t seen the movie.
Pam: It’s actually worth it. I was a little bit skeptical going in but I thought it was actually a pretty good telling of the story. It’s Jeremy Irons and I think it’s just called “Moloka’i – the Father Damien Story.” So, yeah the leper colony is in the news. And we’re not supposed to call it leprosy, we’re supposed to call it Hansen’s disease. And we are also supposed to know that it’s a curable condition but at the time, it was kind of a horrible story. Yeah, Moloka’i is, I think, most known for that, but that’s actually on kind of, if you can imagine, a more remote part of the island.
Chris: Yeah and we say more remote part, what I’m stuck by when I see pictures of Moloka’i is these jagged mountains and it looks like there are several very remote parts of the island from the topography.
Pam: So Moloka’i is beach on one side and it kind of goes up and then it sort of drops off and at that point where it drops off, there’s a mule track and that goes down to the colony, the settlement down there that used to be the leper colony. There’s still some occupants there. It’s a National Park site now. You can go and visit although you have to go with a permitted tour.
Chris: Oh, really?
Pam: Yeah, you can’t just show up there. Because there are still people living there who are suffering from Hansen’s disease.
Pam: Yeah, there are some regulations: you can take kids who are under the age of 16. I think they are trying to make sure that everybody behaves like an adult when they’re down there if they see things, if they see people who have conditions that are maybe not so attractive, that the kids don’t freak out.
Chris: Hmm, ok.
Pam: But I’m speculating.
Chris: Ok. Well what else should we do on Moloka’i?
Pam: Oh, you should just hang out at the beach. Actually, my absolute favorite moment on Moloka’i was we had been running around like crazy doing guidebook research and that’s crazy work, right? You’re rushing from place to place and we had finally gotten to a point where we could stop and we didn’t have time to go down to the settlement so we knew that was not going to happen. But we did have an afternoon free and we went to the beach and there were these two local guys standing there with a pick up truck with the bed down and an ice chest full of beer and they were fishing. They lived in Kaunakakai, which is the center town for Moloka’i. And they said to us, “Yeah, sometimes you just have to get out of the city and go fishing.” And I just started.
Chris: Out of the city?
Pam: Yeah. And I just started to laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh because Kaunakakai is a kind of a one street, two street town. There’s not a whole lot there. But we hung out and talked about fishing and they told us about how they used to be truck drivers in Las Vegas and I was sort of floored by the idea of choosing Vegas over where we were at that very moment. They played some music on the radio and we just sort of hung out there and that to me is this quintessential Moloka’i experience. That’s what you do on Moloka’i, you go to the beach and you hang out and you think, “Wow, it ‘s really nice here. I kind of like this, I could stay here forever. “
Chris: And Pam and I just met up in Vegas at the Blog World expo and Pam is more of a Hawaii person than a Vegas person, I think it would be fair to say.
Pam: That’s fair to say.
Chris: Which is good because the ukulele doesn’t come in quite as handy in terms of meeting people necessarily in Vegas so…
Pam: No, but check this out, I was on the airplane next to a woman who had gone to see the Bette Midler extravaganza. She showed me the catalog that shows all the dancing girls and the costumes and everything and in that is a shot of guess who? Bette Midler. Playing guess what? A ukulele.
Chris: So you said, “Go to the beach and hang out”. Which beach? What are the three best beaches in Moloka’i?
Pam: Oh, I can’t answer that question. I don’t know. I mean I couldn’t tell you the name of the beach we were at. Actually it’s funny, I had a talk with a guy who said that the maps and guidebooks tend to name the beaches wrong.
Chris: Oh, ok. Interesting.
Pam: Yeah and so he said to me, “ You know make sure you get the names of the beaches right.” What are they suppose to be? Well, you know some of them have English names and some of them have Hawaiian names. I couldn’t track them because they’re giant Hawaiian words.
Chris: I found that was my problem when I went to drive in, where our last trip over there was to, Oahu. But the Hawaiian alphabet only has so many letters so it has what four consonants and lots and lots and lots of vowels and so the words get very long. So I find my mind just going, “Ok, turn left at the street that starts with an H and is like a mile long. And then turn right at the street that starts with a K and is half a mile long word.”
Pam: Yeah. It’s crazy isn’t it? You have to sort of plan your trip before you get in the car because even if you have another person to read the signs for you, the person whose there reading the signs can’t purse them in time for …
Chris: Well, especially in Oahu at highway speeds.
Pam: Yeah, it’s impossible. This map is really not helpful. It doesn’t have the name of the beaches on it.
Chris: How do you get there?
Pam: We were at west Moloka’i at the end of the road. You just go the end, park the car, find a beach. I don’t think it matters where you go actually. There are a bunch of beautiful, pretty little beaches. And they’re all uncrowded. There’s just not that many people there.
Chris: Ok. And the beach at the end of the road. Good beach for swimming, snorkeling, hanging out on the sand, surfing, bodysurfing?
Pam: A lot of these beaches are rocky and so I don’t know that I’d recommend them for surfing. We saw lots of surfers on the other end of the island. Let’s see, is that east?
Chris: Towards Maui.
Pam: Yes, towards Maui.
Pam: The other nice thing to do there actually is to drive east all the way to the end of the road because there is a gorgeous, gorgeous beach down there too. And it’s very rocky but oh, it is just stunningly beautiful. The drive is amazing. You look out over these big green cliffs and then you look down into this gray sand cove. There’s taro growing down there. Oh, it’s just beautiful.
Chris: And when I’ve had enough beach time, you talk about the great big green cliffs. Is there a hiking trail, for instance, on Moloka’i like there is on Kauai on the Napili Coast? Or do you just look at the cliffs from the distance?
Pam: Well, you can actually do the hike down to the settlement. So you can hike down to Kalaupapa. You can use that trail. That seems to be pretty grueling. It’s a pretty steep cliff. And going down may not be so bad but coming back up -wow – really hard. And also you have to share that trail with the mules and it’s narrow, it’s very narrow. But there’s also a little forest reserve that you can go hiking in and we did that.
Chris: Ok. Best day you’ve had on Moloka’i?
Pam: Oh that day down on the beach with those guys fishing. Hands down. Hands down. It was just such a perfect encapsulated moment where we were in Hawaii. It was like this perfect Hawaii moment when we were there. When we get sold Hawaii as tourists, that kind of feeling is what we’re looking to achieve and you don’t get there very often. It’s very hard. That was it. It was just like we were there. But then also the other thing that we did was we went down to the beach camp for the Moloka’i Ranch. And the Moloka’i Ranch is closed now, which is really a shame because it’s a lovely place to stay. They have tent cabins down on the beach and then they have a really nice lodge. And we went down to the beach just to check it out. The guys who were working down there, they didn’t have a whole lot to do either and so we spent a long time shooting the breeze with these guys as well. And I guess that’s the crux of what made Moloka’i so great for me was that we spent a lot of time just kind of hanging out talking to local people. That made Hawaii feel like a very real place for me.
Chris: Cool. Any places that you would recommend to stay now that you can’t stay at the Moloka’i Ranch?
Pam: The Hotel Moloka’i is right on the water. I guess that’s not saying much when you’re on Moloka’i because it’s so small almost everything is right on the water. I think you can rent some condos also in Moloka’i, but the Hotel Moloka’i is cool and it was
recently renovated. We took a tour of it while they were in the process of renovating it and it’s got these little two story funky little Polynesian style architecture units with kitchenettes. I liked it. I liked it. It looked like a fun place to stay and also it’s suppose to be the place where they do music on Friday nights – entertainment so you can’t find a lot of that on Moloka’i. I believe this is the only place you can do that.
Chris: And when we say music on Friday nights, are we talking about the Maui, Oahu, big luau sort of thing or are we talking about something more traditional…
Pam: Oh, no not that. People coming to play music. Local people coming to play music.
Chris: Oh, ok. Well that sounds much more fun. Ok. Any places you would recommend to eat? Which is always a theme on the Amateur Traveler.
Pam: Yes, yes. The place that is most famous on Moloka’i is the Kanemitsu’s Bakery and Restaurant and they are famous for their stuffed bread and you really just have to try it.
Chris: Stuffed bread?
Pam: You just have to try it. They make it sound like it’s a big secret but supposedly, it’s on the web, you can find information about it all over the place about the back door run after dark, after the bakery is closed, but they’re back there bakering. So you go there at night and you knock on the back door and you buy it from there rather than from the counter during the day. And actually that’s fair advice because if you show up at the counter during the day and you are too late, they’ve got nothing. They are cleaned out. There aren’t that many places on Moloka’i. So everybody goes there.
Chris: Is stuffed bread like a sandwich?
Pam: Have you had Hawaiian sweetbread?
Chris: Oh sure. Yeah, love it.
Pam: It’s like that with stuff in it.
Pam: It’s yummy.
Chris: Ok. And what kind of stuff is in it?
Pam: Fruit. You get fruit.
Chris: Fruit? Ok.
Pam: Yeah, we saw strawberry, pineapple. Depends on what they’re making.
Chris: Ok. And they make whatever they feel like making today?
Pam: Mmm. I can’t really speak for them. But it is Moloka’i so I suspect they do. We were walking by shopping Kaunakakai and there was a sign that said, “Hours: 10:00 – 3:45ish”
Chris: I like it.
Pam: That is awesome. I’m going to work those hours.
Chris: My wife’s mother lives in a small town in Virginia that closes Wednesday afternoon because I think the fishing is good. So I think it’s the same sort of ..
Pam: Yeah, same kind of thing. You know the other thing we had on Moloka’i was awesome ice cream at the Kamoi Snack Shop. And again it’s not going to be that hard to find – there’s not that many places. They sell Dave’s Ice Cream, which is a Hawaiian Ice Cream. It was delicious – oh my god. So good. So good.
Chris: Ok. Anything that the guidebooks recommend that you’d say, “Eh – pass”
Pam: No, not really. Just because they’re such small places. You might as well make the most out of it.
Chris: Ok. And then anything that they miss? It should really be in the next edition of the Lonely Planet or whatever guidebook you’re using.
Pam: I don’t think so. I really don’t think so. Like I said, these places are not places that have vast quantities of services or options with places to stay. They’re small and everything gets listed. They’re just so few options that saying, “Oh yeah, you should skip that” is like well maybe the pizzas not that great but maybe you’ve eaten everywhere else on the island and you feel like pizza. So to say that “No, you shouldn’t bother with that” just depends on how long you’re there. You could prioritize based on how long you’re there. There’s some places where the food is just so-so, it’s not great, but once again – the options are limited. So you say “Ok, I’ll do that – it’s fine.”
Chris: Ok. What was your biggest surprise the first time you went to Moloka’i?
Pam: I didn’t think I would fall so hard for it. I had heard.. They talk about Moloka’i as the Friendly Isle and how it’s the way Hawaii used to be. And honestly I didn’t quite believe that. There’s been a lot of tension between tourism and native Hawaiians. I just didn’t experience any of that on Moloka’i. Everybody was so welcoming and so friendly and the fact that it lived up to the hype, I think, was the biggest surprise for me. I thought “How great can it be?” and then it turns out “Wow, it’s actually that wonderful.” It’s actually that great.
Chris: And is there anything you wished you had known before you went to Moloka’i?
Pam: I wish I’d known that I needed to spend a lot more time there. That’s what I wished I’d known. Our trip was way too short. Oh, you know what, there’s actually something practical and intense that I wished I’d known. We did both islands by ferry, right. You can travel by ferry to both islands. And in the morning, the crossing is lovely – it’s beautiful. I get seasick and so I took some meds before we went to Moloka’i. A lot of people were looking over the rail on our crossing to Molokai. I thought it wasn’t that bad.
Chris: So you mean, “looking over the rail” in a euphemistic sort of sense?
Pam: Yes. There was some fish feeding.
Chris: Fish feeding, ok.
Pam: Yeah. But when we took the ferry back from Lana’i to Maui, we came into the middle of that channel there. The skipper came on the PA and said, “Yeah, if you’re up on top deck, you might want to come down below. We are entering the portion of the crossing that we like to call ‘The Washing Machine’.”
Chris: Oh, interesting, ok.
Pam: I was really sick. I have never been that seasick. It was rough, rough, rough. It was really bad. You might want to think about how you get to and from those islands, if you don’t have a cast-iron stomach. I asked at the dock the next day, when we were taking off for Moloka’i. I said “Is there a morning crossing?” because the morning crossing tends to be a little better. And is the afternoon crossing always this rough? “ She said, “You know, the Maui channel is kind of a rough crossing and you want to take your meds, if you have a problem with that.” So that’s something that I’d really wished I ‘d known because when we got back from Lana’i, I was miserable for probably 24 hours. I’d been so sick and then I had the side effects of taking the meds. for it. I was really miserable. So I wish I had flown. And we actually ditched our tickets on Moloka’i. I wimped out. I was like, “I’m not doing that again. And we ditched our tickets and bought an interisland back to Maui.
Chris: So you flew back? Ok.
Pam: Yeah, we flew back instead of taking the boat back because I just couldn’t face it again. Having done that crossing two days prior and been so sick, it was so rough. It turned out they had extreme tides while we were there. The following day a boat slammed into the pier and broke it. It was really rough, Conditions were exceptionally bad. However, it’s worth checking into and asking about if that’s something you’re affected by.
Chris: Ok. And we’re winding down here. One picture you have that really brings you back to Molokai.
Pam.: My husband took a picture of a sight where the fishponds are. They’re restoring the fishponds on Moloka’i.
Chris: The traditional Hawaiian Fish Ponds?
Pam: Yes. It’s early aquaculture. The Hawaiian’s were fish farming before most of us were.
Pam: That makes me sound like I’m fishing farming in my backyard.
Chris: How’s that fish farming going? Ok.
Pam: My husband took a picture facing across the fishponds and the water is not quite flat. It’s just a little bit rippled. And there are these beautiful perfect palm trees, and the beach is covered with coconut husks. And I look at that picture, I set it as my desktop for a really long time. There’s some big fluffy clouds in the sky but it’s clearly a sunny day. And it is the quintessential tropical paradise photograph. There was nobody else on the beach there. So when I look at that I just think, “ Oh, that’s Moloka’i. Oh, I wish I was there.” My windows are speckled with rain and the sky is really gray and I’m thinking about that picture of Moloka’i and the sun and that beautiful blue water, those unspoiled beaches. They’re just clean and empty. Oh yeah. That’s the place to be.
Chris: And finish this sentence for me. You really know you’re in Molokai when what…?
Pam: When you have that feeling of time stopping?
Chris: Um. Interesting. And last question. If you had to summarize Moloka’i in three words, what three words would you use?
Pam: Well, I could do two. I could do two. Totally mellow.
Chris: Ok. Great. I’ll owe you a word then if you come back on this show. You’ll get four words.
Pam: Ok. I’ll use it for something else.
Chris: Pam, Thanks so much for coming on this show and sharing your obvious love for Moloka’i and you’re not so much love for Lana’i.
Pam: Thanks for having me, Chris.