The Southern-most Point of the USA
Decending down from the volcanoes on our way back to Kona, we decide to use our day to explore the the South tip of the Big Island, with promises of an elusive, rare and beautiful green sand beach at the end. Everyone’s game. It’s early morning, and as we swing off the main road and begin down a gravel road, a beautifully hand-decorated sign catches our eye: LAST COFFEE STOP BEFORE SOUTH POINT! The leaders are sold, and everyone’s excited by the colorful entrance. As we drive up the path of lush trees and thick green grass, an oasis appears before us. Someone has put a lot of effort into this coffee stop!
The first to greet us are two puppies which are tied next to a tree, lounging in the shade. The morning is already promising a hot, sunny day. We climb out of the Mongoose (our aptly named van, for the overwhelming mongoose population on the island) and Clay, Zack, Hanna W. and Lillie rush over to the pups while the rest of us walk through the colorful yard, under a beautiful bamboo veranda, and into a clean, well decorated room that would put any Starbucks to shame. This, we all remark, is the real deal! A sustainable, organic farm; two children running through the yard; plush lounge chairs in the shop and a greenhouse out back. As we sip our drinks and explore the gorgeous property, we already know it’s going to be a great day.
Leaving the small coffee oasis is hard for us all, but the path to South Point beckons, and as we reach it, we see people gathered around the edge of the cliff, cheering. Someone has just lept off the planks! It’s a common place for locals and brave tourists to come, off the beaten path, and test their fear of heights. The water is deep and a ladder brings the brave souls back to solid ground. Our group sits nearby, watching, laughing and snapping photos.
Onward! We jump back into the Mongoose and drive a ways further through the landscape until we reach the red dusts. Jeep Wranglers pursue the rocky paths ahead of us as we find a place to park and begin our walk. It’s 2-3 miles to the Green Sand Beach, and we’re all ready. No one’s forgotten to layer on the sunscreen, and everyone finds a few friends to walk with for added motivation. Sarah and Molly take an easy stroll towards the back, while Clay and Sam rush ahead, tossing a football as the red dust clouds behind them, with Jai and Austin.
Reaching the beach is a rush of joy! We see the cliff and the gigantic bowl that descends down to a tiny spot on the shore below, where the tide rushes in and out. As it pulls out, it reveals a beautiful shimmering spread of green! We climb down carefully, as many have done today, and tear off our shoes, rushing towards the cool water. We spend several hours just soaking in the magic before we take the long walk back, thoroughly refreshed! Everyone’s excited for lunch waiting in a cooler inside the Mongoose, and the promise of a nice, leisurely evening at Hookena Beach that night.
A Final Helping Hand
It’s a few days before we set sail on our three-day journey out to sea, and we’re all feeling the excitement rushing through out blood. But there is still work to be done with our last community service project, and we don’t let anything deter our focus! After all, the service projects we’ve done have been as rewarding as everything else!
Three projects lay before us: The ancient burial grounds in Kona, a return to the site where we prepared ground for planting taro, and finally a gardening project at another nearby elementary school.
As we approach our first project, the Kuamoo Battlefield and Lekeleke Burial Ground, we are met by a group of men who commence to describe the history of this pivotal land; Hawaii’s beloved King and Queen Kamehameha, and the ancient and harsh Kapu system which governed the people of Hawaii for centuries before the arrival of new settlers. On this land where our group stood, were mounds of lava rock where the dead were buried after a great battle between the traditionalist Kekuaokulani who wanted to preserve the old ways and the royal forces who were fighting to end them. Here, we would do our community service, under the careful watch of the group of men, known as the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, whose role is protect, preserve, and perpetuate the history of the location.
As we cleared away brush in the forests of the ancient grounds, we found power within ourselves too. In particular, Zach, Sarah and Molly worked tirelessly and without complaint, and everyone encouraged each other throughout the day. During water breaks, the men would tell us more history and offered cool, freshly sliced watermelon from their gardens. By the end of the day, when they took us all on a stroll along the rocky waters edge, we felt accomplished!
Our second service project was a return to the Nakoa Foundations plot of rich land, where we had worked the previous week. It was great to see Kalani again, and he greeted us with his typical warm smile. He was genuinely happy to see us all again, and high-fived Sam. We would be planting our taro today, and each of us would have the opportunity to dig a hole and plant our own, complete with a customary Hawaiian fertility chant to mother earth. Hanna P. and Molly were the first to plant theirs, while the others prepared their plots with fresh soil. By the end, Kalani looked at our group with pride spread across his face, and said that this land was now OURS, and that each time someone harvested the plants or worked on the land in the years to come, the group from Wilderness Ventures would be mentioned in gratitude and remembrance. We all smiled as we climbed back into the Mongoose, towards Hookena. A big dinner of hamburgers, hotdogs and sweet corn would be a lovely ending to a fulfilling day.
Our final service project landed us on the lush grounds of an elementary school near Kona; one known in the area for conducting its lessons in the Hawaiian native tongue. A couple decades ago, there had been some resistance to the school’s mission, but gradually with time, it was embraced, and a beautiful place of learning sprang forth in the community.
Here, we met Claire, and immediately her power and passion was felt by us all. She directed us to stand in a wide circle in the morning sunlight, and we did some yoga poses as she discussed some of the ecological challenges facing our country and Hawaii in specific. We all paid close attention to her passionate talk, and when she motioned for us to follow her into the garden, we all eagerly followed. For the remainder of the day, we would weed a small plot of rich dark soil, and laugh together as we always do. Sam would tell jokes, while Lillie’s boisterous laugh would echo out someplace in the garden; Jai would tell a wise-crack and Hanna W. would giggle; Owen would entertain everyone with his overdone Texan accent, and Hanna P., Paige and Sarah worked steadily and tirelessly nearby. Molly was in charge of dispersing the new soil from a big wheelbarrow. Everyone earned their keep! We were rewarded with a lesson in lei-making at the end, and all received great big loving hugs from Claire as we left.
FINALLY! Sailing arrived! We were so happy together in the Mongoose this morning as we blared music and approached our destination. It would be the beginning of three days of rest and relaxation, mixed with some sailing skills and the customary cook and cleaning crew responsibilities. Each day, we would go out to sea three times, and then moor up to various shores for an opportunity to swim and snorkel. One of our favorite activities was taking turns leaping off the front of the SeaSmoke. Clay took every opportunity he could to get into the water to snorkel, while Lillie thoroughly enjoyed laying out and napping. Paige and Hanna W. commented how at home they felt on the boat, and towards the end of the trip, with our deep tans and relaxed spirits, we took a final snorkel along a beautiful coral reef, where we saw everything from richly colored schools of fish to eagle rays and sea turtles. Zach, Sam and Austin stayed out a little longer than the others and returned with expressions of amazement streaked across their faces!
No one was ready to get off the boat, and we all laughed much and often. As we returned to Spencer, though, everyone was excited to take showers and get dolled up for our final banquet. We all sensed an air of sadness as we go, knowing that goodbyes will be imminent. But the memories will ALWAYS remain. And so will our friendships.