Hello from somewhere over the Pacific!
I’m currently sitting on the plane from Hawaii to Japan, nursing a glass of red wine and some delicious Japanese rice crackers.
Before I land in Japan (which, by the way, I’m beyond excited for — I can’t believe I’m about to be in Japan!!!), I wanted to take a moment to talk about my research trip to Hawaii for my book, Destination Wellness.
I spent the past two weeks island hopping around four different Hawaiian islands: Maui, the island of Hawaii (the Big Island), Kauai, and Oahu. Earlier this year, I also traveled to Maui, Molokai, and Lanai, and I grew up vacationing on the Big Island, so it’s safe to say that I’m a borderline Hawaiian obsessive. I’ve always felt drawn to Hawaiian culture, which is actually a phrase you hear a lot in Hawaii — “drawn to.” Take a seat at a local, non-touristy bar on any of the islands, and chances are, you may end up “talking story” (the Hawaiian term for having an engaging conversation) with someone about the intense pull of the land around you. I can’t even count the number of conversations I’ve had in Hawaii about mana (energy) and spiritual realms and visceral callings — both with native Hawaiians and Hawaii residents alike. It’s the kind of place where you find yourself starting your sentences with disclaimers, like: “I don’t mean to sound super hippied-out here, but I really do feel a powerful energy coming up from the sands of this beach.” One girl I talked to who just moved to Oahu six months ago said that she never once talked about energy and sacred vibes until she moved to Hawaii.
This collective consciousness is no accident, of course. The thing about the energy is that it’s real. Hawaii is a deeply spiritual place because Hawaiian culture is deeply spiritual — and it has been for thousands upon thousands of years, ever since the Polynesians settled the islands in the 5th century AD. Hawaiians believe that every part of nature, for example — every animal, every plant, every tree — has a spirit attached to it, and they worship all of them.
I’m going to save the deep-dive philosophical details for the book, but I will say that Hawaiian culture is 100% having a revival moment right now, thanks in large part to the current movement happening at Maunakea — so it was a really powerful time to be there doing this research. In fact, many of the cultural practitioners and educators I interviewed told me that their culture is actually undergoing a second renaissance as we speak. While the situation is quite complex, the basic gist is that a group called the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory wants to build a Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the top of Maunakea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island that’s considered incredibly sacred in Hawaiian culture. In response to this potential telescope, Hawaiians — led by their kapunas, their wise elders — have been uniting to protect “the Mauna.” It’s not that they’re anti-science, they say, but more that they’re anti putting this telescope on this particular spot. Their sacred spot.
I visited Maunakea when I was on the Big Island, and it was an incredible, chills-inducing experience. There were tons of tents set up all along the main road for the overnight campers, who are especially devoted because it gets very cold, windy, and rainy up there on the volcano. There’s also a separate tent just for the kapunas, to make sure they stay dry and fed, and multiple Hawaiian healers have set up shop there in case anything goes wrong — to protect the protectors, really. There are even daily classes in various aspects of Hawaiian culture, and communal chants are performed throughout the day. The main point is that it’s very evident that the movement has become so much bigger than the telescope — it’s now become a beacon of hope for protecting other indigenous cultures around the world from even more oppression.
All cultural lessons aside, Hawaii is also just an insanely beautiful part of the world. You really can’t go wrong with any island, but if you’re thinking of planning a trip there anytime soon, let me know — I’m always happy to break down the nuances of each island to help you find the best one for you!
And now, for the latest edition of my FUNSUMPTION REPORT! (Quick reminder: This is a list of some fun things I’ve consumed recently, from articles to food to podcasts to books to songs and more.)
1. I am officially obsessed with Kimi Werner. Have you guys ever heard of her? She’s a Hawaiian free diver who’s at the top of her game, and I can’t stop watching this YouTube video of her HOLDING ONTO THE FIN OF A GREAT WHITE SHARK. To be fair, many Hawaiians believe that sharks (or owls) are their aumakuas, which means family god in Hawaiian mythology — an animal or even an object that protects you from danger. Kimi didn’t come out and say that her family’s aumakua is a shark, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me.
2. I did a lot of cruising around by myself in rental cars when I was in Hawaii, so I had tons of time to listen to music. While I generally prefer to be my own DJ, there is something enduring and timeless about discovering an amazing local radio station when you’re on the road. My gift to you: Maui’s Island Hits radio station, 92.5, which you can stream 24/7, anywhere anytime! Island tunes coming in hot, analog style.
3. Sometimes you just have to order the Instagram-ready option on the menu, you know? Not for the photo, but for you. Life is more fun when you’re drinking rum from a SPAM can. That is all.
Next stop: Japan! I’m hiking the ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail from Kyoto to Tokyo, and I couldn’t be more excited. Stay tuned to hear all about the ryokans (traditional Japanese guesthouses), the onsens (Japanese hot springs), the forests, and — of course — the local food.