2016 Grateful 45

Two months in to the year and I’ve managed to get to Morocco, Ireland, Malta, Serbia, and Poland.  I head Stateside later this week, and plan on spending time in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Croatia, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia,  and the UK before the year is out.

travel as much as you canI’m not sure where I get it from. My dad has a thing about planes believing that what goes up, must come down, and not necessarily on schedule. My mum isn’t big on travel either. And they swear I wasn’t adopted.

I’m lucky enough to have a job that facilitates this need and luckier still that those closest to me understand it and recognise the signs. I’ve noticed myself that if I’ve been too long in one place, I start to get antsy. My tolerance levels, never high to begin with, sink lower still. I find it hard to concentrate. My mind makes the journeys for me. I worry what life would be like were something to happen that would anchor me to one place. How would I cope if I had but two weeks a year in which to explore, or worse still, not be physically able to venture abroad. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

I’m currently rereading Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series set in Alaska. I’m more than half-way through and find myself envying her life … again. She’s a five-foot 30-something Aleut who does what she needs to do to get by in the Bush. She hunts. She fishes. She investigates. She lives on a 160-acre homestead in The Park. She’s a force to be reckoned with. And she hates leaving her world and venturing outside. And ’tis there that our paths diverge. I reckon if put to the pin of my collar I could do all the other stuff… but staying put in one place no matter how jaw-droppingly gorgeous it was? Not me.

travelMany years ago, a good mate of mine who lives on the big island of Hawaii was talking about buying a place on another island – just to get away from it all. I remember laughing at the good of it. There they were living in the place to which the world escaped and they were feeling the need to escape, too.
It got me thinking. Do I travel to escape, to get away? Do I travel because I need a change of scenery? Do I travel just to say I’ve been?  And, as usually happens when I start talking to the universe, it sends me an answer. This time it sent me John Hope Franklin. A man I’d never heard of before. Had I studied history or grown up in America, I might have come across him sooner. But I didn’t and I haven’t. But his message was clear:

We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.

And therein lay my answer: I travel to share. An old friend, an inveterate explorer back in the day but now confined to closer quarters, thanked me once for taking them with me on my trips, for showing them places they’d never been, and introducing them to stuff that would otherwise have passed them by. I liked that.

A mate in Australia told me recently how much their postman enjoys my postcards and how he wishes I’d write clearer so he could read them. I liked that too.

This week, as I unpack, do laundry, and repack my bags, I’m grateful, yet again, that I love to travel and I’m grateful, too, for those who travel with me.

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A grave decoration

As Easter beckons and as my mate Lori’s first anniversary draws near, I find myself thinking more and more about death – not that I have any intention of popping my clogs any time soon. I feel in some odd way that life is just beginning. Convinced as I am that I’ll live till the ripe old age of 87, I’ve time yet to fit in the odd piece of reflection.

In Hawaii earlier this year, I went to visit a cemetery. I’ve written before of this odd fascination I have with graves and tombstones and all things cemeterial (is there such a word?). While I thought it difficult enough to marry snowmen and sunshine, I found it a tad surreal to see the graves sporting Christmas trees, too.

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As with most of the cemeteries I’ve visited, the graves showed varying degrees of care and neglect. Some of the occupants seemed to have been the last in line, or perhaps the last in a line of those who cared enough to keep vigil. Oddly enough, although I rarely visit a town or city without paying my respects at the local graveyard, I have no great attachment to the graves of those deceased members in my own family. Perhaps it’s because the graves in Ireland are so sterile, so lacking personality, so … dead. Or then again, perhaps it’s because my close friends who have died have all eschewed a lasting marker and opted instead to be cremated.

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I think (99.9% certain) that I’m going to opt for the burning, too. I’ve gotten used to having a little bit of Lori sitting on my kitchen table and find myself talking to her quite regularly. I know she’s been working her magic for me and I’ve seen first hand the results of her interventions on my behalf. And, of course, there’s the beauty that ashes are so portable. Physical graves are all well and good for those who stay put and are available to tend their dead, but I’ve seen too many  testify to the transience of time and memory.  The Jewish cemetery in Budapest is a case in point.

Hawaiians are a happy people despite being nearly eradicated by disease when Captain Cook discovered the islands. This celebration of life shows even in their death. Perhaps the most poignant of all the graves I saw that day was a simple white cross around which a wild tomato vine was bearing fruit. This juxtaposition of life and death was a beautiful reminder than even in death, the dead live on.

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This beach was made for walkin’…

‘So how many beaches do you think there are on Hawaii’, I asked. After a few seconds of mental arithmetic, she said ‘I can count 25 off the top of my head, not including the secret places that only Hawaiians go to.’ Foreigners on the islands are known as haoles (howlies) and interestingly, the word itself is older than the arrival of Captain Cook, who is usually trotted out as the first westerner the Hawaiians met. It was first associated with non-Hawaiians around 1820 and gradually became quite contemptuous in nature. And today, haoles  simply don’t know of, or don’t get to go to, certain beaches.

IMG_1986 (800x589)Ho`okena Beach Park is the historical site of one of the last fishing villages on the island of Hawaii (and is one of the top ten beaches in all the islands). A blend of fine gray coral and white sand make it particularly pretty and it has to be the hottest sand I’ve set foot on this year. It’s quite popular with the locals and we haoles were definitely outnumbered. From my vantage point, all I can say is that Hawaiians certainly know how to enjoy themselves. The biggest birthday party you’ll have is your first (even though you’re really not ‘getting it’). It’s as big a deal as, say, a 21st is in Ireland, when all the stops are pulled out. Everything from candyfloss machines to roasted pigs.

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I can’t for a minute imagine how these kids could survive living, in say, New York, or Tokyo. Living without sand, sea, and the ocean is difficult at the best of times, but if you’re brought up on the water, by the beach, in the sunshine, how could you weather anything else? And yes, by all accounts, many can’t wait to get off the island. Island fever or a question of the grass always being greener somewhere else? My mother is fond of saying that happiness is knowing how to be content with what you have… I wish I’d started listening to her years ago.

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When the first steamships arrived to the islands in 1836, the fishing village of Ho`okena became a busy trade centre.  This commercial success would last until the mid-1930s when steamships went out of fashion, replaced by trucks and lorries.  In recent years, the local community has taken things back into their own hands and now Friends of Ho’okena Beach Park (FOHBP), a non-profit organisation, is focused on the preservation of cultural and natural resources and culturally sensitive economic development in Ho’okena.

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The only nod to modernisation that I could see were the kindles that have replaced the more traditional paper novels as beach reads. The rest was good, clean, old-fashioned fun, with a surfboard or two thrown in for good measure. It was as if all troubles had been parked in the car park and once you set your feet down on the hot sand and tiptoed to your spot, all that mattered was you, your friends, your family, and the fun you’d all have.

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And no, that’s not me in the kayak (if that even is a kayak). I spent my time chatting to whoever popped up next to me in the water. A young girl from LA who explained the difference between surf boards and fat boards. A woman from Santa Cruz whose husband didn’t understand her hot flashes. Another from Lake Tahoe whose husband wouldn’t come out of his hotel room. A man from India, now retired in Alaska and travelling the world. When he next visits Budapest, he’s promised to take me to dinner. Well, stranger things have happened!

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2013 Grateful 50

IMG_1521 (615x800)Driving around the biggest of the six Hawaiian islands is like reading a book of fascinating and at times, amusing, roadsigns. You’d think they’d be the same all over the world – just in a different language, but the signs on the island of Hawaii give pause for thought. In Alaska, I’ve seen signs to be aware that you might run into a moose; in Ireland, we get the occasional deer or cattle sign, but this humpback whale collision was a first for meIMG_1750 (800x582).

We’ve all seen the signs about  road debris, gravel, and possible falling rocks. But flying rocks? And a sign warning of flying rocks with an actual rock tied to it, in case there are a few disbelievers on the road? How’s that for innovation and creativity and a reason to put up your window.

IMG_1751 (600x800)I’ve seen reserved parking signs but never before come across one quite as specific as this one. When I asked whether it was meant as a joke, no one laughed. Apparently this particular part of the island – Waipi’o valley – is home to the some of the oldest families in Hawaii, many of whom are leaders and elders. Tourists, with their self-appointed righteousnesses have been known to walk straight through a Hawaiian ceremony in search of the waterfall. In showing such little regard for the how the locals live, it’s no wonder that signs such as these are dotted along the roadside. The ‘no spraying’ plea is a request to the state not to spray insecticide.

IMG_1749 (600x800)I’ve heard of rules of engagement, but rules of enjoyment? And what exactly is ‘inappropriate behavior’? Given my own prudish nature, I might be a little less tolerant than most but still, I’m curious. Surely if we have rules for enjoyment, there should also be demarcations for propriety.

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And this stop sign made me laugh out loud. It’s just outside the Parker Ranch over near Waimea. Church signs have long been a source of amusement for many across the States, and I know I’ve used some as examples of unintentional messages that appear by virtue of the absence of puncuation. But this one rings true.

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Down on Punalu’u beach, I spotted this one, written just for me. For the ten or so years I spent in the USA, I could never get the hang of my compass points. Go south on Sepulveda? Go east on 11th?  Give me right or left, straight on or back IMG_1903 (800x600)any day. On that same beach, I had to wonder at the intelligence of people using the facilities. I mean would you? Would you use shampoo so close to the ocean and the turtles? The mind boggles. Mind you, signposts that said to stay 15 feet from the turtles, writing in both English and Japanese, were also ignored. But then, not everyone has a zoom lens.

These signs though are all pretty concrete. Easy to see. Easy to read. Easy to understand. The signs that direct us through life are a little more ephemeral. A little less obvious. And all too often, they are not as easy to understand. We rely heavily on intuition  – what Einstein describes as the only real valuable thing. Ingrid Bergman suggests we  train our intution –  trust the small voice inside you which tells you exactly what to say, what to decide. Easier said than done, though. Alan Alda (remember him? Hawkeye from M*A*S*H?) has it sorted. He reckons that You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.

Not yet fully recovered from jet lag, I’m back in Budapest. The beach has been replaced by snow. The sun has lost its heat. And I’m as tired as I have been in a long, long time. But it’s a good tiredness, a productive tiredness. My (de)fences are low, my brain is less focused on shoulds and shouldn’ts, and my intuition is taking over. This week, I’m grateful to see signs that are pointing towards some fundamental change in how I live my life. I can see them but I’ve no clue what they’re telling me. Let the year unfold and let the path reveal itself. In the meantime, I  need to unpack, do laundry, and get ready for my next venture into the wilderness.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Mark Twain’s monkeypod

Mark Twain visited the Hawaiian islands back in 1866 and took copious notes of what he encountered. He had a particular fondness for trees, as one of his despatches to the Sacramention Union noted:

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There are many species of beautiful trees in Kona – noble forests of them – and we had numberless opportunities of contrasting the orange with them. The verdict rested with the orange. Among the varied and handsome foliage of the Kou, Koa, Kukui, breadfruit, mango, guava, peach, citron, ohia and other fine trees, its dark, rich green cone was sure to arrest the eye and compel constant exclamations of admiration. So dark a green is its foliage, that at a distance of a quarter of a mile the orange tree looks almost black.

IMG_1833 (600x800)It was while he was travelling on the big island of Hawaii, going to see the volcano that he supposedly stopped in Waiohinu and planted a monkeypod tree. The tree blew down in 1957, but a shoot was replanted and is still clearly marked today as Mark Twain’s tree – albeith the second generation.

Writing from Waiohinu, Twain had this to say: Speaking of trees reminds me that a species of large-bodied tree grows along the road below Waiohinu whose crotch is said to contain tanks of fresh water at all times; the natives suck it out through a hollow weed, which always grows near. As no other water exists in that wild neighborhood, within a space of some miles in circumference, it is considered to be a special invention of Providence for the behoof of the natives. I would rather accept the story than the deduction, because the latter is so manifestly but hastily conceived and erroneous. If the happiness of the natives had been the object, the tanks would have been filled with whisky.

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IMG_2057 (800x598)Probably one of the most amazing things about travelling this island is the abundance of fruit. You can literally help yourself to oranges, lemons, mangos, breadfruit, guava, and avocados that are bigger than your foot. The rule is, is that if there is no sign saying not to, then you can pick what you like from the side of the road. When I think of what I pay for an avo in Budapest, I cringe. I’ve eaten so many now, that at night, I take on a peculiar Hulkish glow. The roads are lined with fruit stands, many of which are set up on an honour system – you leave the money in a box or  bag and miracles of miracles, no one runs away with it. This level of honesty takes getting used to  and the ample supply of free fruit puts subsistence living at a whole new level.

My only faux pas so far was mixing up my cherries!

Spewing forth

Volcanoes are monuments to Earth’s origin, evidence that its primordial forces are still at work. So read the opening lines of the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park website. And, if you know your volcanoes, you’d know that unlike the explosive continental volcanoes,  the more fluid and less gaseous eruptions of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa produce fiery fountains and rivers of molden lava.

IMG_1953 (800x591)As you drive in to the park, the first hint you get of some volcanic activity is the myriad steam vents. It’s like a low-hanging fog, but it’s coming up from the ground rather than dropping down from the air.

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From the distance, just before dark, you can see the plumes of smoke coming from the Halema’uma’u crater in the Kīlauea volcano. The crater became active again in March 2008 and now is a regular stopping point on the Big Island tourist trail.

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The crater can best be seen from the Jaggar Museum overlook, although you can’t get too close – for obvious reasons. Sometimes, the lava is close enough to the rim to see it bubble. But not today. Sulfur ratings show how dangerous it is to breathe (or not). Over on the other side of the mountain, a good few years ago now, I got to see the lava flowing off the mountain right into the ocean. As it began to get dark, trails of molten lava flowed down the side of the mountain, inching their way to the sea. It was like being on the set of a SciFi movie. This time though, the glow came from the crater itself. Pretty amazing stuff.

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The park is about 30 miles from Hilo on Highway 11 (a 45-minute drive); and from Kailua-Kona: 96 miles on the same highway (2 to 2 1/2 hour drive). Worth a stop. Get there about an hour before nightfall to see it it both its glories.

When Mark Twain visited the island back in 1866, he had this to say:

At four o’clock in the afternoon we were winding down a mountain of dreary and desolate lava to the sea, and closing our pleasant land journey. This lava is the accumulation of ages; one torrent of fire after another has rolled down here in old times, and built up the island structure higher and higher. Underneath, it is honey combed with caves; it would be of no use to dig wells in such a place; they would not hold water – you would not find any for them to hold, for that matter. Consequently, the planters depend upon cisterns.

The last lava flow occurred here so long ago that there are none now living who witnessed it. In one place it inclosed and burned down a grove of cocoa-nut trees, and the holes in the lava where the trunks stood are still visible; their sides retain the impression of the bark; the trees fell upon the burning river, and becoming partly submerged, left in it the perfect counterfeit of every knot and branch and leaf, and even nut, for curiosity seekers of a long distant day to gaze upon and wonder at.

There were doubtless plenty of Kanaka sentinels on guard hereabouts at that time, but they did not leave casts of their figures in the lava as the Roman sentinels at Herculaneum and Pompeii did. It is a pity it is so, because such things are so interesting, but so it is. They probably went away. They went away early, perhaps. It was very bad. However, they had their merits – the Romans exhibited the higher pluck, but the Kanakas showed the sounder judgment.

As usual, Brown loaded his unhappy horse with fifteen or twenty pounds of “specimens,” to be cursed and worried over for a time, and then discarded for new toys of a similar nature. He is like most people who visit these Is lands; they are always collecting specimens, with a wild enthusiasm, but they never get home with any of them.

Today, people taking home pieces of lava rock as souvenirs end up mailing them back to Hawaii. Bad luck follows. It’s a little like reports of tourists taking rock from the Rock of Cashel, in Ireland, being beset by bad luck once they arrived home, and the posting back the rocks. I’ve better things to be doing with my 23kg baggage allowance.

Turtles and black sand

Down on Punalu’u beach, the sand is black. Very black. Hence the name – black sand beach. It sits between Pāhala and Nāʻālehu on the island of Hawaii. The sand is created by lava flowing into the ocean: when hot meets cold, the lava explodes and cools and ends up on the beach.

IMG_1933 (800x598)Home to the endangered Green Turtle, Punalu’u’s only detraction is the busloads of tourists that stop off on their way to  to see the volcano. The name Punalu’u comes from lu’u (diving) and puna (spring). Back in the day, tradition had it that people would dive to the bottom of the bay with empty containers to fill them from the fresh spring water coming from the bay floor.

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There’s something magical about turtles. There’s a local legend that features a sea turtle names Kauila. Kauila was born on the beach at Punalu’ku. Her mother, Honupo’okea came out of the water to give birth. She buried her egg in the sand where the sun would keep it warm until it was ready to hatch. When the egg cracked open, a lovely dark baby appeared, looking for all the world like a piece of Kauila wood…no guessing where the name came from then! Kauila stayed at Punalu’u and spent a lot of time at the bottom of a freshwater pond her dad had dug for her. When she breathed, air bubbles would come to the surface and keep the local kids of Ka’u amused. Sometimes, Kauila would change herself into a little girl so that she could play with the local kids and watch over them. Not only did the local people have fresh drinking water, they also had a regular babysitter!

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IMG_1907 (800x584)The Hawaiian Honu can live until its 80s and, fully grown, has a shell 4-5 feet in diameter. It can weigh around 350-400 pounds. They’re slow growers, though, and some don’t have kids of their own until they’re 50. It’s pretty much impossible to say if they’re male or female until they reach sexual maturity. Lots of time there to think about things! The males grow very long tails, while the female tail stays short and stubby.  They can hold their breath from 2 to 4 hours, and if their heads are cut off, they cry. Actual tears.

Once an endangered species, they seem to be making a comeback and with that, there’s a move to allow turtle harvesting for sacred sacrificial ceremonies. Just wait for the furor that will greet that! Yet before the western culture arrived, green turtles were a source of food, tools, and ornamentation for early Hawaiians.

IMG_1921 (800x600) Having lived in Alaska and seen the sense with which the State culls the various herds, and the respect shown to the rights of Alaska Natives, I can only hope that should turtle harvesting be allowed once again that it’s controlled, traditional, and doesn’t result in wholesale massacre.

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2013 Grateful 51

What I know about coffee could be written on the back of a small jar of instant Nescafé. I’ve done the unmentionable and ordered a cappuccino after 11am in Italy, and asked for milk for my Turkish coffee in Sarajevo. I thought coffee beans grew on trees and that cherries were horrible little red fruit that were marinated in embalming fluid (I’d believe anything, I know) and resurrected in those nasty Mozart chocolates sold in Vienna and Budapest. So when I got to visit Waipuna’ula Red Spring Farm on the big island of Hawaii last week, I got more than great company and a fine lunch (complete with cowboy caviar and the best guacamole I’ve had this side of the Mexican border); I got me an education (note: that last bit was written in my best American accent).

The golden tangerine tree

The golden tangerine tree

Before we get to the coffee, let’s take a quick look around this farm, home to the D’Angelo family for the last five or so years. It is a veritable fountain of fruit. To quote the lady in residence,  it’s as if Sleeping Beauty woke up and started living. Everything there is so alive, so full of energy, so beautiful. Thirty-one macadamia nut trees yield about 9000 lbs of nuts. One tangerine tree that just started bearing fruit this year has already offered up 500 lbs of delectable little orange fruit.


Macademia nuts

Macadamia nuts

Then there’s my favourite, the avocado trees, that have tossed down about 1000 lbs of the sweetest tasting avo I’ve ever tasted. And it doesn’t stop there. On 5.63 acres of land (minus the quarter acre the converted coffee shack sits on) guava, lemons, limes, star fruit, lilikoi, vi apples, papaya, grapefruit, oranges, pineapple, bananas, jaboticaba (whose fruit grows out of the actual tree rather than on a branch), and God only knows what else grows.

Guava trees

Guava trees

Pineapple bush

Pineapple bush

Apart from the fact that I had never heard of half the fruit I saw, or didn’t realise that coffee doesn’t grow on trees, I also didn’t know that pineapples come from bushes. And, if you plant the head of the pineapple, it will grow into a bush in about 18 months and give one pineapple every six months or so. Am sooooooo tempted to try this in my living room. Seems like a lot of trouble to go to, but it would make for some interesting conversation. I might have better luck if I planted coffee beans though – they take way longer to grow.

And now the coffee. Think wine. And vines. Coffee bushes can be trellised, just like vines. Who’d have known? The trees on Waipuna’ula are 60-80 years old and the ground is a little orangey, sits high up on the slopes of Hualalai, and yields cherries that make coffee that is… wait for it… future sold. Yes, there’s a limited number of roasts each year, so if you fancy a cup in 2013, you’d better get your order in soon.

Kona snow

Kona snow

When the coffee bushes are in bloom, they’re covered with tiny white flowers, giving rise to a phenomenon known as Kona snow. I was lucky to see the last of it. Think cherry blossoms in Washington DC and you’ll get the picture. When the cherry (the fruit of the coffee bush) is red, it’s picked. Some farms pick them all together – yellow, green, red – but on Waipuna’ula, they stay on the bush till they’re red. And then they’re handpicked. Cherry by cherry. Each cherry has two beans with flattened facing sides. On occasion, when only one of the two beans is fertilised, a single bean forms – this is called a peaberry. Apparently around 5% of all coffee beans harvested are peaberries. There’s a piece of trivia that might come in handy at a pub quiz!

Beans on a bush

Beans on a bush

Some farms will sell their cherries directly to the coffee makers for about $1.6o/lb. Others will send the red cherries for wet milling where they are pulped and the skin is removed. What’s left is called parchment. These are then dry milled where the final skin is removed and the green beans can sit for 9 months to a year before being roasted. It takes about 300 lbs of cherry to get 100 lbs of parchment. From tree to cup, it takes about 8 lbs of cherry to get 1 lb of actual coffee. And like wine, coffee varies in quality from farm to farm. As with France and champagne, only coffee grown in Kona can be labelled as Kona Coffee. And like real champagne, Kona coffee is one of the most expensive coffees in the world.

Yes, in my backyard

Yes, in my backyard

What the D’Angelos have done with the coffee shack they moved into five years ago is just one tiny indication of the family’s many talents. They have plans to start a B&B and the guest room literally oozes a type of calm that inspires creativity and will probably give birth to many a memoir in the years to come. The gardens are beautiful and there’s a pervasive energy that heals and renews. I spent about three hours on Waipuna’ula Red Spring Farm and I swear that I came away with more than a full belly, an insight into farm life on the big island, and  the coffee I bought.

Makes a lawned suburban garden look just a tad tame

Makes a lawned suburban garden look just a tad tame

I have a feeling, deep in my waters, that for some reason, my visit was preordained. I can’t quite explain it. This week, as I settle back in to life in Budapest, I’m grateful that I had the chance to visit Waipuna’ula and to meet the D’Angelos again. That people still have the courage and the faith to read the signs and follow the path that has chosen them is inspiring. That they so readily share their world with others is even more so. Mahalo.

Baktuns and new beginnings

Well, 21 December 2012 has come …. and gone. The Mayan calendar has run its course and were the lads alive today, they’d be starting off at scratch again: 00.00.00. They measured their time in baktuns, periods of time lasting 394 years. This was simply the end of the 13th baktun. In all likelihood, they’d have woken up on 22 December and begun the 14th, just as we woke up on 1 January and started a new year.

The Internet was full of apocalyptic stories of the end of the world as we know it. Reports from Russia in mid-December talked of people stocking up on vodka and candles, while in China, the government was busy arresting those spreading doomsday rumours. More optimistic souls were maxing out their credit cards in the hope that their credit history would become just that – history! But for good or for bad, for better or for worse, we’re still here.  And while we have seen the end of an era, the world still soldiers on, undaunted.

Eleven days in and…

So far this year, in the USA, Congress and the White House swerved to avoid taking the country over the fiscal cliff. Croatia is on track to join the EU in July – all going well.  China is scheduled to attempt its first unmanned landing on the Moon and India is planning to send an orbiter to Mars in November. In Hungary, the country is battling with the results of a recent Eurostat poll that shows 31% of Hungarians at risk of poverty or social exclusion. The 2013 budget deficit is expected to rise to 2.9% of GDP and the IMF is expected to pay a visit in mid-January. Let the talks begin – again.

Ireland will hold the EU Presidency for the first six months of the year and has named 2013 as the year of the gathering when it will open its arms to friends and family from all over the world, inviting them home to locally organised gatherings in villages, towns and cities. The cynics say it’s a crude attempt at milking the pockets of successful emigrants; the idealists say it’s a wonderful opportunity to reunite families and friends and enjoy everything that Ireland has to offer. Somewhere in between, the publicans and hoteliers are rolling up their sleeves, oiling their credit card machines, and preparing for the onslaught.

What’s in store?

So what’s to celebrate…really? Let’s start with the fact that 2013 is the first year since 1987 not to have repeating digits. Excited? Brace yourself. It gets better. According to the Hallmark calendar, January 11 is Milk day. Back on this day, in 1878, milk was delivered in bottles for the very first time in the USA. Mind you, it’s also ‘step in a puddle and splash your friends’ day. Well pin my apron to the floor and keep me from stompin’. [I know about Hallmark as I’m writing this from the big island of Hawai’i and in the USA, Hallmark rules.]

Open house

It’s my fourth trip to the biggest of the Hawaiian Islands and once again, I’m completely amazed that people don’t lock their houses or their cars. They leave their stuff on display on the beach without a worry in the world. I’m the odd one out, shouldering my bag wherever I go or charging someone with keeping watch over it if I venture in to the ocean. I’ve had to be physically restrained from zipping up the Jeep’s windows when we go to the market and I hide my laptop every time we leave the house. In Budapest, I have three locks on my front door and a naggle of neighbours who know my comings and goings better than I do myself. I would never, ever think of leaving even a window open were I not in the flat. In Ireland, we have an alarm on the house that goes on every time we leave. Cars are checked and double-checked every night to make sure they’re locked and woe betide the one who leaves a bag, a purse, or a laptop in plain view on the kitchen table.

Great expectations

There are those who say that if we expect to have our stuff stolen, it will be. If we expect our house to be broken into, burglars will oblige. If we worry about our car or bike being nicked, we may as well wave them goodbye. But can it really be down to expectation and how we live our lives?  John Wayne apparently said that tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday. And yesterday’s lessons really do determine what we do today. We can choose how we react to both fortune and misfortune. We can choose what measures we take to prevent the same things happening again and again. We can choose how we live our lives. Now that’s reason enough to celebrate. Welcome, 2013.

First published in the Budapest Times 11 January 2013

Casting shadows on sacred ground

IMG_2164 (600x800)Back in the day, if Hawaiians violated kapu, (the sacred laws), they had 24 hours to reach a refuge, confess to the kapuna, and duly receive absolution. Sounds a lot like purgatory to me, but this one comes with a view.

IMG_2152 (584x800)On the south coast of the big island of Hawaii sits Pu’uhonua o Honaunau. The refuge was used for centuries until 1819 when King Kamehameha II did away with traditional religious practices. Up until then, it had offered sanctuary to defeated warriors and noncombatants in times of war as well as those in fear of their lives. The pu’uhonua (refuge) was separated from where the ali’i (the royal chiefs) lived. The area is still considered sacred – so sacred that you cannot set your bag on the ground. You can just stand or walk. No seats, coolers, chairs. No smoking, eating, or sunbathing. It’s like one massive outdoor church.

IMG_2143 (800x600)The royal grounds had about ten or so thatched buildings lying in the middle of a coconut grove. Some of the huts were storerooms, others communal areas. Servants went about their business tending to the kings. Warriors stood on guard to protect the royals. And those who had sought refuge did their chores.  No commoner could enter the royal enclosure or even let their shadow fall inside. The penalty? Death. A little drastic methinks but then, them were the days.

IMG_2147 (800x600)Dotted around the refuge are old papamu, large rock boards on which the game of Kōnane is played – for all the world like a Hawaiian version of checkers. Some papamu have been discovered with as many as 100 indentations and legend has it that King Kamehameha could defeat his opponent in just one move. I’ve looked the rules and that particular story had to have had a lot to do with  him being king.

IMG_2169 (800x598) The Keono’ele cove is still home to the turtles who stop by – yet back in the day, commoners were forbidden to enter the water. I heard, firsthand, of a Hawaiian hula instructor who entered the usually calm water. It started to churn for no apparent reason and he exited, chanted to appease the gods, and all calmed down. Now science can explain a lot of things, but some things are simply beyond human reason.

IMG_2190 (800x598)The refuge and the royal grounds are separated by a great wall that is about 10 feet high and 17 feet thick. What’s so fascinating about this great wall is that the stones are packed so tightly, no mortar was needed to build it. The heleipalala – a springwater and saltwater pond – was home to the fish that the ali’i would eat. Between the fish and the poi and the fruit, a healthy diet was pretty much assured.

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Over by the reconstructed temple and mausoleum, the Ki’i (wooden images) stand guard. And one particularly eerie one standing in the water warned the people that the canoe landing was reserved for the chief and his attendants only.

IMG_2155 (800x591)Curiously, kapu in Hungarian means gate. But the sacred laws in Hawaii include everything from not looking at, or approaching the chief, letting your shadow fall in his path or on his grounds (wouldn’t that make you pay attention to the position of the sun?) or touching any of his possessions. And if you did get a little careless, then death could be the only answer. Because if you didn’t die, then the gods might stir up a volcano, or send a tidal wave, or famine or even an earthquake – and to be responsible for any of this would be worse that dying. My mother is right in saying that there are worse things than death. If you mistakenly did break kapu, then all you could do was run… and run… and run until you were caught and killed or until you found a refuge. Once in the refuge, the kahuna pule (priest) would work his wonders, perform his magic, and absolve you of your sin. All this makes the common confessional a little more attractive.

Regular readers might remember a blog post about Maltese churches drawing a line and posting signs outside that say ‘no sanctuary offered’. They had so many offenders wanting to hide behind the skirts of the church that the churches were full – of sinners. mmmm…. isn’t that a regular Sunday in most churches?

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It really is a special place. There’s a peace there that is different to the usual sense of tranquillity found on Hawaii. If you’re on the island, it’s worth dropping by and when you’re done making sure that your shadow doesn’t fall on the wrong spot, you can nip around the corner to Two Steps, a famous snorkelling spot, so named because the volcanic rock has been neatly worn away into a convenient two-step entry point for snorkelers and divers. Beneath the water lies a kaleidoscope of colour with hundreds of types of fish and, if you’re lucky, you might get to swim with the turtles. There are good days, and there are great days. And then there are those days that memories are made of.

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