It was late afternoon when we landed in Kahului, Maui. We packed ourselves into two vans and drove to our campsite. In order to get into the camp area, we had to drive completely off-road through a rocky and hilly dirt area. It was my first sign that this trip was going to be quite different from life in the city. When we got to the camp, I saw our tents and was told that me and three other boys would have to cram ourselves into just one tent. I checked out our camp area. There were peacocks simply trotting around our campsite. Our only bathroom was a porta-potty, which of course I thought was disgusting. We walked to the shower area and on the way there passed by this “shack” which was a house blown to pieces by a hurricane. How comforting. Once we got to the showers, I simply saw two outdoor, enclosed wooden structures. Clearly, my first impressions of the trip were just as I had expected- this was going to be a new experience- a very new experience. Nevertheless, it didn’t take me long to get used to the camping lifestyle. Four boys in my tent meant more people to have long and personal conversations with at night. The porta potty was obviously wretched, so I avoided it to the best of my ability (we got an actual toilet in our second location though). The showers and sink were just fine. In Waihe’e, our first campground, I found myself a chair with beautiful views of the beach where I could contemplate life, alone or with other people. I started to enjoy the activities too. There was a specific turning point that I had in the trip where I realized that I should embrace Hawaii and temporarily abandon any memory I had of an urban lifestyle. On the third day of the trip, we visited a taro farm run by Auntie Penny. We didn’t take a road there. No, instead, we walked our way through a bunch of prickly bushes and shrubs and tall grass. When we finally got to the farm, Auntie Penny talked to us about taro and the varieties and other stuff and I have to be honest, I simply got too bored to continue paying attention. I wondered, “Why should I care about this? Right, I shouldn’t.” Despite the dismissive attitude at first, things changed when we had to go into a pit full of mud and pull out all the weeds and invasive species or whatever. Seeing Rohan fall and get mud all over his shorts and witnessing other people get mud all over their clothing and skin made me realize that if I’m going to come to Hawaii for a week, I might as well live like it and appreciate it.
In preparation for our trip to Hawaii all of the students read “Why We Travel”, an article on the website Picoiyer Journeys. The article discusses how we find ourselves through travel by changing our routines and learning from the people living there. I considered this when going into the trip and was ready to adapt to the way the Hawaiians lived. I figured that this human interaction would be the way that I learned throughout the trip.
Our first morning in Maui we got up with the sun, both because of jet lag and excitement. One of our instructors was doing some early morning yoga, and I figured that this was the sort of routine switch that the article had discussed. The usually late-sleeping, fast-moving teenagers of New York City would learn to slow down, get up early, and do some relaxing yoga. I went with the flow of things and waited for everyone to awaken, eat breakfast, and clean up. Our instructors showed us how to clean plates without a dishwasher, or even paper towels, to be sure there was minimal waste.
We began by sitting down, and listening to the instructors describe the different types of sea turtles on Maui and the threats they face. Everything was going exactly as expected, based on my only source of knowledge, the article.
After we finished the lesson, we continued to the beach where we picking up trash. The beach looked clean, but once we started looking for garbage, we found it everywhere. Over an hour later we regathered to sort and count it. I was surprised by the pounds and pounds of garbage we had found on the beach, which had been cleaned a few weeks earlier. I found that the beach had taught me to minimize waste and dispose of it properly.
A couple days later we ventured to Auntie Penny’s taro farm. The first thing we saw there was her composting toilet. Noting the theme of recycling, I continued to the farm, where large patches of muddy water harbored many varieties of taro. There Auntie Penny told us about her life at the farm and her goal of keeping the many varieties of taro alive to preserve both the Hawaiian culture and utilize the health benefits of each variety.
Showing us around, Auntie Penny explained that Taro grew best in up to a foot of water, but that she did not have enough water. This was because the streams were still rerouted to cane sugar plantations, even though the industry had collapsed. Water is a necessary resource for human survival that is not being used carefully. Next she led us to a patch of mud filled with different types of weeds. She explained that we would have to pull all of the weeds out, refill the patch with water, and plant taro in the patch. It was hard work, but I knew that I was giving back to the nature around me. Working in the patch helped me understand an important part of Hawaiian culture, and showed me what it was like to be a Hawaiian farmer.
Throughout the trip to Hawaii I found many circumstances where I was given the opportunity to change my routine and learn from the people around me, but I also found that I always could connect more deeply when I interacted with the environment itself. As a group of urban teenagers, it is hard to see the direct impact of our actions, but in Hawaii we all saw the changes we can make. The power of travel is often in the Earth itself, and the people there merely help guide us to learn from nature. What I learned from beaches, streams, and taro in Hawaii I brought back and applied to New York City. Travel taught me not only how to help the Hawaiian environment, but how to interact with our planet.