Thursday, October 6, 2011

Moloka'i Day 5

Up early this morning to head to mule ride. We arrived and were assigned our mules and put right on them. Mine's name was Makani ("Wind" - because apparently he is very gaseous - which was proven true on the way up - hahaha!). D's was named Alika. (D said that means "poops a lot").

We started down the trail... it took 90 long, hard-won minutes. It was exceptionally steep but you just had to trust that the mules were sure-footed and knew what they were doing (and weren't suicidal :)

The Moloka'i sea cliffs are some of the steepest in the world... this trail coming down them has 26 switchbacks. The views of the cliffs and the ocean and the leper colony were simply spectacular! Even thought the mules were the ones doing all the work, we were sweaty and out of breath when we got down... it still felt like a lot of work. The mules lived up to their reputation of being stubborn and you DEFINITELY had to show them who was boss. It was the 2 of us plus 5 other guests and 2 trail guides.

We were greeted by a bus when we arrived at the bottom. The man driving was our tour guide... he was an employee of the company that hosts the tours which is owned by a former patient. He lives 2 weeks at the colony then goes home for 1 week then comes back for 2 and so on. He was filled with great information.

He drove us around the town and told us all about the town itself, about Mother Marianne (a nun) and Father Damien (the Belgian preist who came to the colony and eventually contracted and died from the disease).

He also told us about the disease itself (now called "Hansen's Disease"). The drugs to cure it would arrest the symptoms and sometimes even reverse them a little... but the effects of the disease were horrible. It turns out now, we know that it is NOT highly communicable, but at the time, because it was so frightening looking and no one wanted to risk getting it, it was deeply feared and afflicted were ostracized. These patients, even small children, were just ripped from their homes and families and jobs and sent - against their will - to Kalaupapa to live out their remaining years.

Now there are 17 former patients still living in the colony along with about 50 other people (park service workers, government employees, and a couple of nuns). That is all. A tiny little secluded and protected village. Visitors can come in but only with a special permit (and the fees paid to the business and the residents, I believe).

We saw the graves of Father Damien and Mother Marianne - even thought their bodies are no longer there and have been moved. We visited a few of the churches and a small store and book store. We were not allowed to take photos of any of the people... whom I don't think we even saw.

We had lunch down there and then it was time to head back up. None of us were looking forward to making the trek back UPWARD. the mules were good sports, but it was obvious they were EXHAUSTED carrying us up close to 1600 feet of rocky switchbacks... their sides were heaving to catch their breath and they were quite sweaty. But still they were slow & steady.

One older woman on the trip was quite scared on the way down but did better on the way up but kept screaming "Whoa" as her horse was trying to pass others... this was freaking her out. Another woman was a crack up... she was practically RUNNING the ride back up... she was commanding the horses and telling riders what to do... hooting and hollering. She was complete opposite in personality from her wife who was relaxed and jolly - I guess there is only room for one mega-dominant person in the relationship. Our guides seemed like they had smoked some serious "ganja" while we were off on our tour of the colony!

We got back, weary and saddle sore, but in one piece... then we picked up our certificate of completion... WE SURVIVED TO MULE RIDE TO KALAUPAPA!

We swung by Friendly's and picked up dinner stuff then dropped off our movie at Mana'e (they put us on their "happy list", their name for people with unreturned movies - oops!) and got a new one. We came back to the condo and made tacos for dinner... Yum! Now movie time!
Night Night!

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