Three years and some moons ago, I was on my way to the Lihue airport — wet, dirty, and sleepless. I’d just spent four nights on the island, filled with rain, washed-out trails, and the crowing of roosters at ungodly hours. And I loved it — I loved every minute of it.
I stopped to watch the sun rise over Waimea Canyon (only a few minutes from my campsite) and then continued on, descending the slopes of the ancient volcano. Along the way, there was a canyon. On my first day, in the light of the afternoon sun, it was impressive — but it was just that: a canyon. What I saw when I stopped there that morning on my way to the airport was comparable to the otherwordly experience I had at Kaua’i’s Hindu monastery, if it could be compared to anything at all.
I didn’t share this three years ago when recounting my travels to Hawai’i because 1) I didn’t have the name of the canyon and, frankly, don’t remember at all where it is, and 2) it felt strangely unrelated to the whole experience. But I kept coming back to that memory for the past few years and have come to the conclusion that 1) not knowing the canyon’s location might actually be a blessing in this day and age of geotagging when beautiful places get overrun and, sadly, many times destroyed by those who venture there for the ‘gram rather than to experience the place, learning about its history or allowing it to teach them something, and 2) I realized that it was perhaps the most important part of the whole experience.
When I ventured to Hawai’i all these years ago, I went on a search for the meaning of the Aloha. You can find on the internet what the word means, why it was/is said, and much more. But reading about a word and experiencing its true meaning are two very different things, especially with words like this one, words that aren’t just a bunch of sounds but are a part of a culture, a part of history, a part of people’s lives.
Back then, I didn’t know if I’d found it or not. Something was unfinished, unexplored. Only all those years later, I found out what, and I found out that I’d almost completely missed the one thing I was looking for — except for that one moment when I watched the sunrise with a complete stranger on Punalu’u Beach. But that’s a story for another day, a story I shall explore within the posts from Hawai’i that are to come — posts I never thought I’d be writing, just as I never thought I’d ever be back in Hawai’i.
To tie it all up and go back to that canyon: on that wet, chilly morning, it was wrapped in haze and clouds that rolled in and out at will and allowed me only a few precious glimpses at the landscape when they decided to unveil the beautiful valley. The air itself was soft, soaked with the morning dew and the otherworldly light from the early morning sun. This ancient world, born some five million years ago, was speaking to me, but I couldn’t understand it back then. It offered a moment of wonder: but in that wonder was knowledge I couldn’t decipher — yet.
Now, all those years later, the islands gave me the opportunity to keep learning — and to come a step closer to understanding that one moment in time and space that stayed engraved in my mind. Will I ever be able to fully grasp the whole meaning? No. It’s too grand, too all-encompassing. But every step closer to understanding teaches me more than I could have ever learned from books. Knowing that I’ll never know it all was the first lesson. Knowing that I won’t be able to understand by myself followed, and knowing that knowledge won’t get me far without a deeper understanding of the ungraspability of things came soon after.
Language and words can’t explain everything. Maybe not even ‘aloha’ itself. But there are words that come closer than others, and there are experiences: sounds and sights, feelings and realizations. The wet, chilly touch of a first drop of rain that lands on your skin. The feeling of a breeze playing with your hair — and all the smells it carries with it. The light of a falling star. The tingle of a ray of sunlight on your cheek. The feeling of vertigo on top of a tall cliff. The soft light of a morning sun kissing the canyon that you don’t know the name of, the canyon that’s offering up knowledge you can’t understand just yet.
I thought my Hawaiian saga had ended in April 2018 when I left the islands. I thought I was never going to be able to be back for more teachings. Turned out I was wrong — beautifully, magically wrong. There’s so much more to learn, and, perhaps, all the lessons are stored in that secret garden on Kaua’i that I was offered a glimpse into. Maybe that canyon is like a huge library, or maybe it is a sage, a philosopher, an elder… offering its knowledge to those who will listen, working together with the younger islands to teach us all something. I was and remain humbled and in awe.
And so, the saga continues where I thought it had ended; a never-ending story, as I’ve learned.
I could attempt to tie the two photos up into a panorama — the second photo is a continuation of the first one (“reading” left to right). You can see the same spot of red earth on the top of a side of the canyon in both photos. The photos used in this article are of lower quality to both save space and prevent their misuse.
Previous posts from Hawai’i (in chronological order from oldest to newest)