Hawaiian Summer Camp

Maui: First Impressions

I had trouble deciding what to call this post. These can’t really be my first impressions of Hawaii when I’ve only been to Maui. But I haven’t seen much of Maui either because in my first week at the farm I only left the property once. Hana Farms is technically located in Hana, but, until today (my second trip off the farm) I hadn’t actually seen the town.

So, are these my first impressions of Maui, Hana, WWOOFing? It’s unclear. Regardless, here’s how this latest adventure is going so far.

When E and I stepped off the plane into the humid Hawaiian air, the first thing I noticed was the spindly palm trees. I couldn’t get over them. E’s sister picked us up at the airport, but when I pointed out how silly they were she seemed unfazed.

The view from the airport
The view from the airport

There are so many different kinds of palms here that I now understand why she was disinterested in my pithy comments. But seriously, those trees have trunks as skinny as the legs of an elephant in a painting by Salvador Dalí!

After a quick stop in the town of Paia for burritos and a swim in the ocean, we hopped on the Hana Highway. 620 curves, 46 one-way bridges, and two hours later we arrived at Hana Farms.

It’s located on a hilltop at the edge of the rainforest, and tropical fruit trees grow on the property. We have mountain and ocean views. At lunch time, we harvest a salad from the vegetable garden, and people here go to bed when it’s dark and get up when it’s light. The latest we’ve gone to sleep is 10:30pm and we haven’t slept in past 8:00am. One person on the farm referred to it as “Hana Bedtime,” and another called us party animals for staying up until 9:30.

For the first week, E and I slept in a tent. This was the plan prior to our departure, and I took to calling this trip Hawaiian Summer Camp. I assumed that because I had gone to sleepaway camp as a kid, and had spent time in tents before, that I was prepared for life on the farm. I’m physically fit, I reasoned. Didn’t I just spend three and a half months walking all over Europe? I mean, I also rode trains, and planes, and buses, but I spent hours walking strange cities everyday.

Walking strange cities is not the same as working on a farm in Hawaii.

Shocking, I know.

The work is tiring — I got a blister from wielding a machete my first day, and my legs are sore from hours of weeding, planting, chopping things down and building things up. I have countless small cuts from God knows where, which I recently heard are susceptible to staph infections. One of the people on the farm scared me with that tidbit of information because I wasn’t already worried enough about the poisonous centipedes that bite people in their sleep. The shower is outdoors and oscillates between cold and hot enough that I have burned myself. The air is so humid that we were told not to bring expensive electronics because the climate has a tendency to permanently damage them. Winter in Hana is the rainy season, and the dirt paths on the farm have turned to inches of mud, into which we are perpetually in danger of slipping and falling.

And we mustn’t forget the mosquitoes. I did not know that my legs could sustain this many bug bites. I wonder how there is any blood left in my veins.

The public spaces at the farm include a kitchen (indoor), the clubhouse (essentially a screened-in porch), and the lanai (an unscreened porch). The decor is jungle-hippie themed with brightly painted walls, psychedelic art, and words of encouragement for wanderers.

Hippie Encouragement

At first I thought this was kind of a cool sentiment, and then I decided I’m jaded and cynical, and this quote is trying too hard to sound deep.

The other day, I was sitting on the lanai reading a book, while someone else who works at the farm blasted folk music and meditated on his art. The sky had been cloudy for most of the day, but it suddenly began to downpour — classic tropical rain. I had to put down my book and marvel, the artist turned up his music so he could hear it over the storm, and we both stuck our hands out from under the awning to feel the rain. If I’d been walking when it started, the rain would have soaked through my clothes in less than a minute.

It was stunning, the strength and brevity of this rainstorm. It brought the moment we were living into sharp focus, and I wanted to stay there and bear witness to nature.

Rain in the jungle

The artist changed the song to Carry That Weight by The Beatles. He turned to me grinning and said, “This place is pretty fucking awesome.”

“Yeah,” was all I managed in reply.

Maybe the purple lettering on the wall by the outdoor shower is right. By the end of this adventure, my Hawaiian Summer Camp, the worst thing that could happen is I’ll have stayed the same.

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.


Leave a Reply