Anakala, Hawaiian for Uncle, blew through the shell, sending a great sound across the valley. Pulling it away from his mouth, he began chanting. It was tradition. More accurately, it was protocol. And Hawaiians have lots of protocols, including asking permission to be somewhere sacred like Molokai’s Mo’oula Falls in the Halawa Valley.
We began our day early, snaking our way along the island’s shoreline to the valley. It was a beautiful day, as most on the Hawaiian Islands are, and we had a cloudy but clear view of neighboring Lanai and Maui. Other members of the Molokai Visitors Association-sponsored trip chatted noisily in the back of the van, but I sat quietly in the front taking in the scenery.
I had been to Hawaii twice before, but never had I been on an island where I could see the other neighboring islands. Instead it was simply an infinity of ocean. The contrast of Molokai’s view – one of many things very different about Molokai compared to the other islands – was just one of several things I’d learn about as the day continued.
The trail was easy to start. We wound through a small garden owned and worked by Lawrence, Anakala Pilipo’s nephew. He was learning from Anakala to carry on the tradition and knowledge of the valley. Together they explained a little of the history, dating all the way back to 650 A.D.
In 1946 at six years of age, Anakala witnessed a tsunami destroy much of the valley. Thankfully, he said, no one was killed. But it did enough damage through the destruction of a great many homes – some almost two miles into the Halawa Valley – that the massive wave left a long-lasting mark.
Foundation stones from some of the destroyed homes, and others simply abandoned and left to time, are still visible throughout the valley and along the trail leading to the Mo’oula Falls, the destination of our hike. We passed the ruins, working our way through a jungle with more shades of green than Ireland. They were dreary sites, only adding to the atmosphere of the valley.
There was also the occasional rainforest downpour. The rain wreaked havoc on the trail, causing me to slip and slide as we climbed higher and deeper into the valley. It would pass, though, as many of Hawaii’s daily showers do; they feed the forest each day and then continue on their way.
We crisscrossed the riverbed, a rush of shallow water heading for the ocean. We had stopped to admire the connection of ocean and river earlier on our drive down to the valley. It was an impressive sight dominated by Molokai’s cliffs dropping sharply off into the ocean.
Walking through the water wasn’t as serene of an experience as watching it join with the ocean. Instead I slipped and stumbled, banging my knee on a rock on the return hike. I quickly popped up and assured everyone I was OK, most importantly myself; I didn’t want to get injured on the hike and ask for the other group members to carry me out of the valley – especially on our first day.
After climbing over large rocks, sometimes slick with the river’s water, the falls finally became visible. We had seen them from high above, but had yet to take them in from the trail. The path was constantly covered in a flourishing canopy of vines and trees, only allowing enough space for the occasional shower to sneak through; hiding my camera from damage I trudged on with the group.
We sat on the rocks surrounding the pond the falls tumble into listening to Anakala Pilipo tell stories of how his grandfather taught him the history of the valley. His soft-spoken demeanor commanded respect and we gave it to him, leaning in close to listen. The same could not be said for others, those who were diving into the water from forbidden areas of the pond.
We avoided doing the same and instead admired the falls from the rocks. A mist spread out across the area lightly coating us all in a film of water from where the falls meet the pond. Sitting farther down closer to the pond I took it in and considered what I had experienced and learned about during the hike to the falls. The tea leaf may not have been circling in the pond as Anakala had said would once indicate the water was safe to swim in, but nonetheless I was feeling as though I was blessed and being offered permission to sit and admire its beauty.
It is a special place, a sacred place. And it should be honored and respected as such on any visit, since any trip into Molokai’s Halawa Valley to the Mo’oula Falls is a deepening experience. You just need to be open to it and willing to learn, not just interested in hiking the trail and swimming in the water. And that – the understanding of the meaning and history behind the area – was what made the day so much more special than so many other hikes I had experienced.