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May 31, 2008

Doing Nothing in the Middle Of Nowhere

A view from the top.

by Mollie Chen

My grandmother is from Molokai, which is interesting because no one is from Molokai, Hawaii's least developed island. Growing up, the main excitement for her and her sisters was the arrival of the Sears boat, which would pull into the harbor every Friday bearing provisions from Honolulu. My family took a short vacation on the island recently and found that not much has changed. The commercial center, Kaunakakai, is a few tumbleweeds short of a ghost town, there isn't a single stoplight on the entire island, and the nightly entertainment consists of buying baked goods. If anything, with the recent closing of Molokai Ranch, the island is retreating further into the past. "The Friendly Isle" is a particularly ironic nickname, considering Molokai is most famous for its Kalaupapa leper settlement (read John Tayman's fascinating account, The Colony).

Salute Your Sarong

We had rented a sprawling Indonesian-style house on the West End. Our days unfurled in a lazy progression of meals, summer camp activities (painting, shell collecting, regrettably no macramé), and trips to the beach. One night, my cousins boyfriend Lucas, a seventh-generation Hawaiian, played the 'ukulele while we sat on the deck and cooked s'mores. Another editor, flipping through my photos, remarked, "How very Abercrombie & Fitch of you." I'd like to think that there was a tinge of jealousy underlying the sarcasm.

With less than 8,000 people on the entire island, it is not unusual to find yourself alone on a mile-long, stunning white-sand beach. At night it is eerily quiet and the stars are almost garishly bright. Some of the landscape looks plucked out of the African savanna, with rich red dirt roads fringed by scrubby brush and prickly trees; elsewhere there is lush tropical rain forest.

Sliced Bread Still the Best Thing

On our last night there, the kids (everyone under 26) drove into Kaunakakai for the legendary hot bread: every night except Mondays, people line up in the dark, colorfully graffitied alley behind Kanemitsu for warm, pillowy loaves of white bread that have been cut open and slathered with your choice of cream cheese, cinnamon and sugar, strawberry jam, blueberry jam, or butter. Families come and get bags of bread, teenagers loiter around and gossip, curious visitors take pictures. What's not to love about a place where the nightlife revolves around sugar and flour?

(Addendum: Don't miss the amazingly fresh mahi mahi tacos from the Molokai Little Grass Shack truck parked in the middle of Kaunakakai Tuesdays through Fridays.)

Further reading:
* Check out CNT's affordable villa vacations in Hawaii.


I am sorry that Ms. Chen's article about Molokai was so shallow and misleading. I hope that your readers who are truly discerning and posses intellect and curiosity will delve deeper into our unique and precious island destination. If her grandmother is from here, then her opening line suggests merely a space-filler with little or no relevance. And hanging out with travel writers and editors at a beach house does not offer the kind of information that CNT readers are looking for. I hope that we can look forward to an article that fairly depicts the depth of culture, history, passion and abundance of natural beauty of the place that I am blessed enough to call home. Guess what, I am from Molokai and I look forward to welcoming visitors who want to experience my island!

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