Rocky road to Kalawao

We waited and waited and waited and there still was no sign of the plane. Fifteen minutes passed, then 30 minutes, and at long last, after 45 minutes, the twin engine Chieftain showed up against the evergreen background of the mighty Pali. We breathed a sigh of relief as Makani Kai Air from Honolulu pulled up outside Kalaupapa’s Terminal One. The eagle had landed. It had been a last-minute refueling situation that caused the delay. After greeting my pilgrims, we immediately set out to meet and pick up the hikers and mule riders who were coming down the trail from topside Molokai. Then it was back to the airport to collect some pilgrims who had arrived from Maui.

All of this came about because, on the previous weekend, I had been asked by Marlene, the owner of the Mule Ride and Kekaula Tours, if I would be free and willing to be the tour guide for three days to start the following week. So, as I have done this tour on numerous occasions on request from individuals over the course of my five years here in Kalaupapa, I said, “Sure!” Little did I know that this would be a whole other experience, challenging as well as fulfilling. 

First I had to make sure that my pilgrims had signed up with my tour, Kekaula Tours, rather than Damien Tours. After all I did not want to be in the middle of a war between the two, where I was the culprit. LOL. Then I had to keep my balance in the van while standing up, holding on to a pole for dear life, while giving a commentary on the long rocky road to Kalawao, the site of the original settlement. It would have been very embarrassing had I ended up in the lap of one of the pilgrims. 

Well everything went pretty well the first two days, with a few little hitches, and here we were on the third day, having made the usual visits to Mother Marianne’s grave, the bookstore, and a few other brief stops, and were now on our way over the rocky road to Kalawao. This road reminds me of my childhood days when I would drive the ass and cart over the old rutted bog road. Suddenly it flashed across my mind (must have been the Holy Spirit) that I had forgotten to pick up the food cooler at the airport. The pilgrims, by this time, looked hungry enough to take a bite out of me. So I told Kamaka, the driver, to turn around and return to the airport, and that after we passed the Kalaupapa town, to “put the pedal to the metal.” He did so, God bless him. 

Having retrieved the food cooler, we set out for Kalawao and arrived there in record time. After a pleasant lunch in Judd Park and having taken lots of pictures at the landing, we visited St. Damien’s church, St. Philomena. Then it was off to Kalaupapa and the mule corral where we arrived right on schedule. It had been a great day and a great experience — but I doubt that I will be called on to do this again any time soon. LOL. 

Aloha.

Anchor columnist Father Killilea is pastor of St. Francis Parish in Kalaupapa, Hawaii.


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