Heading topside

Koa the Mule

Buzzy saddling up Koa at Ali'i Muleskinners of Moloka'i

Saddling up

Most vacations aren’t usually ripe with metaphors for living. Typically they offer a peaceful respite from the grinding mundane, which is followed then by a pang of longing when the vacation is done. Beyond that, there are hundreds of digital images to mostly ignore, a few mild stories to share, and that’s about it.

What fortune, then, when 3 days away re-aligns your mind (regardless of what it’s doing to your spine).

Your own 2 feet or the seat of your ass

Mule train to Kalaupapa - from 1600'

There are only a few ways to get in and out of Kalaupapa: hiking. boat. plane. mule. Kalaupapa is the former leper colony on the Hawai’ian island of Moloka’i. Created in 1865 as a dumping ground for Hawai’ians infected with Hanson’s disease – or suspected of being infected – the settlement was later moved from the eastern side of the peninsula (known as Kalawao) to the western side, known as Kalaupapa.
The view “topside”

In Kalaupapa, a Belgian priest named Father Damian and an entire community of helpers took care of residents of the colony, bringing humanity to a geographically isolated group of people who were forbidden to venture away from their peninsula. Kalaupapa is surrounded by 1700 foot cliffs on one side and by strong ocean currents on the other sides. Everything above Kalaupapa is known as “topside.” Before treatment for leprosy became available in the mid-20th Century, being sent to Kalaupapa was a life sentence: once there you could never leave.

The view to Topside from the Kalaupapa peninsula

kalaupapa cottage and cemetery

A lifetime in Kalaupapa: the resident of this home buried his family in the yard

The allure of “there”

Imagine living in a place like Kalaupapa – an outcast – and never having the opportunity to go topside. For those of us who live topside, imagine seeing something ahead of you – a goal, a career path, a longing – and always yearning for it from a distance, never taking the steps to achieve it. It’s disturbing that those of us with opportunity often fail to take advantage of it, as though it were more enjoyable to stay mired in the notions of “then”, “when” and “there”. We deceive ourselves that the 1600 foot cliffs we have in front of us are simply a few steps through time, not an arduous journey, and somehow the path will fall under our feet instead of us striking out on the path. Worse, what we fail to remember is that our version of “there” – our dream or ambition – is accessible. Unlike topside to the former patients of Kalaupapa, our topside is not a forbidden destination.

There (Kalawao Valley)

Jumpstarting the present

An irresistible, if trite, caption for the airplane: “Get on board.” There’s been a subtle but meaningful shift ever since Kalaupapa: “there” has become “here”, “then” and “when” are “now”. Like the slow, sturdy mule heading up the path from isolation to topside, success is achieved in steady steps. But it’s time to kick things into a higher gear: this mule needs some wings.

mokulele airlines

hurry up; the plane between Honolulu and Moloka

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