The Sunday Traveler, crazy woman that she can be, chose the second most rigorous way to access the peninsula of Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai, the mule tour. There are only three ways that a tourist can get into Kalaupapa with the required permit, hiking in being the most challenging in my book, on a mule, or flying in on a tiny plane onto a little airstrip.
Let me explain that the trail down from “topside” onto the peninsula is on a cliff that starts at an elevation of 1,600 feet and goes STEEPLY down (reverse that to steeply up on the way back), is 3 1/2 miles in length, taking an hour and a half one way on mule, and involves 26 switchbacks that are narrow little turns in the cliff that must be cornered around. Let me also explain that the Sunday Traveler is somewhere in her 6th decade of life, but in fairly decent shape, and wasn’t too nervous about doing this. The early morning of arrival at the mule barn, I became a little more anxious. I hadn’t even been on a horse since riding on a beach on my honeymoon over 40 years ago. I had done a lot of reading, and knew that a mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey, and that they are extremely sure footed. Good thing!
The ride began at 0800, even this mule thought it was a tad early to be doing this kind of thing.
Some needed a little coaxing to come forth to meet their rider
Our group of nine got about five minutes of instruction from Kevan on how to maneuver our mule on how to get it to stop, go, turn right or left with just the right touch of the reins…and heel when it was being stubborn and wouldn’t go. I hated the heel part, being sensitive to its feelings, and tried talking to mine…well, you’ve heard the saying “being mule headed”, right?
My mule approached. Oh, yeah, she’s sizing me up. I see that little sideways glance. She knows I’m a pushover. And she gives me my first test after I get on, and goes over to a corner so I immediately have to call out to everyone…”how do we back them up?”
Then everyone is on and the mules test everyone by going wherever they want in the yard. It reminded me of bumper cars, only on mules
All the mules have names, and we were told to remember our mule’s name because when mounting again for the trip back up, they would call out the mule’s name, not ours, and we’d have to know it to get on the right mule. My mule’s name was Tita, that means sister in Hawaiian; I laughed because in Spanish that is what some grandkids call their grandmother, and it’s what my grandkids call me.
This next photo is on the way back up the trail. Going down there was no way I was going to take my phone out of my bag, that I had so studiously picked and arranged to be easy to access while on board my sure footed beast. As we began the descent, there was no way I was loosening my death-defying grip on that saddle. Thoughts going through my head: what was I thinking?, am I crazy? yes you are (I was even answering myself), would it seem inappropriate to start screaming?
It had been raining a lot in the previous days and the trail was muddy and slippery. The mule would sort of hop down to the next step, and it seemed it would go down on its knees (do mules have knees? I also wondered), and I would grunt as my rear bounced up and then down on the saddle rather hard.
But as we rounded one switchback about 3/4 of the way down, the mules all stopped and I garnered the courage to grab my phone and take a photo of our first view of Kalaupapa
It was breathtaking, and I knew I had made the right choice on getting down onto the peninsula,where so many with Hansen’s (leprosy) had been left to fend for themselves for seven years until Father Damien (St. Damien) arrived in 1873 to become their caregiver and champion.
As we finally reached the bottom of the trail, I turned and saw my first glimpse of the cliffs from that vantage point
In the days that followed, I’m not sure what was more sore, my rear end or my hands from gripping the saddle so hard; but it was well worth it; every minute, every switchback.
Getting back topside, we ambled back towards the barn on the little road off the cliff
And then we were presented with a most coveted certification
I’ll be back next week with photos and a few words on the time spent touring the National Historical Park of Kalaupapa, the patients, Saint Damien and Sister Saint Maryanne Cope.
Until then, aloha.