…unless it is known that you have traveled to Molokai, and visited Kalaupapa Settlement, one of the most unusual national parks in the system.

Kalaupapa was a place of quarantine for people with Hansen’s Disease, the new name for a disease that used to be called leprosy. From 1866 to 1969, more than 8,000 Hawaiians were forced into exile here, to a community that could only be accessed by a twisty, muddy road down the world’s tallest sea cliffs, or by boat. It was a beautiful prison, but a prison nonetheless.

You access the site via this same trail. Naturally, it was not designed with easy passage in mind. You can hike it, or you can ride a mule. I chose a mule. My mule’s name was Koa. I don’t know what I was thinking, since I am not a woman who knows her horseflesh.  I did not know how to sit on Koa, and Koa did not like the way I sat on her, which she made known by constantly slamming my legs into the mossy green rocks that line the trail.

I had been told before setting out on this journey that problems came when people tried to direct the mule — the mules know which way to go. Given that there was a 2,000 foot sheer drop down to rocks and ocean, and I had no idea what I was doing, I had no interest in experiencing whatever “problems” might occur. I felt totally comfortable with delegating any and all navigational tasks to Koa. After a little time of jarring descent, as the sound of the waves grew louder, I learned to watch the mule in front of me. If its hooves slipped on the mud, causing the mule to execute a little jump, I knew I was in for an extra slamming courtesy of Koa.

I grunted my way down and then back up all 2,000 feet of the trail. And when I inspected my inner thighs when I returned to the hotel room that night…let’s just say it was a good thing that my then-husband was distracted by having an affair of his own back home with a mule-like woman, or he might have been curious about exactly how his wife accumulated such an impressive series of bruises in such an intimate location.

 

You can read more about my adventures with Koa in A Mule’s Errand, in the current issue of Out Aloha.

 

 

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Alison J. Stein

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