Kalaupapa National Historic Park

Kalaupapa National Historical Park is a wonderfully weird place, wholly unique in the world. The peninsula sticks out like a horn from the north shore of the Hawaiian Island of Molokai. No one is allowed to stay in what is called The Settlement unless they are one of the few surviving Hansen’s patients or an employee of either the State of Hawaii or the National Park Service, which maintain the facilities that keep that small town operating.

As part of a crew of NPS trail workers sent to Kalaupapa for a few months, I was lucky enough to be allowed to stay there, which we thought would be more isolating than it really was. We didn’t know the community members would play volleyball twice a week, which inevitably devolved into a drunken celebration of the magical place where we lived, complete with avocados, bananas and passion fruit. And we didn’t know that once a week there’d be a jam session at the Protestant church, which also, remarkably, devolved into drunken debauchery, too. We didn’t know this place would have a pool hall, however small, and a private movie theatre. And we didn’t know we’d be there with so many funny characters from around the country and that the locals would be so welcoming to all of us.

Beyond the quiet and the characters and the interesting living history of Kalaupapa, what stood out for me was its sheer natural beauty.