It was hard to sleep with all the Molokai dirt in my pores, so I grabbed a thick green towel and headed for the bath enclosure. The moon shone so brightly I didn't bother to turn on the light. I showered right there in the moonlight in the zinc-lined shower, pulling the rope attached to the faucet whenever I wanted a flood of warm, solar-heated water.
The next morning, after a breakfast of eggs, meats, fresh fruit, cereal and pastries, I was joined in the ranch van by two 10-year-olds who were going mountain biking at Paniolo Camp. As we bumped over the washboard-rough dirt road they yelled, "Go faster! Go faster!" to no avail. When we dropped them off at the camp we were met by a group of Boy Scouts headed back down to the beach for kayaking and fishing. They piled into the four-wheel-drive Suburban and were off.
I went with another couple and a former Bishop Museum cultural specialist to look at old Hawaiian house sites and an adze, a Stone Age implement quarry near Paniolo. Molokai has always been a mysterious island, our guide said. In ancient times, when island chiefs warred with each other regularly, they often bypassed Molokai because of its reputation for having kahuna, or spiritual priests, with amazing powers.
The hula is said to have originated on a hill near the town of Maunaloa. Each year in May, dancers from all the islands come to Molokai. They gather in the darkness at 4 a.m. to wait for sunrise, when they offer their dances and chants to Laka, the goddess of the hula. The event kicks off a week of cultural activities on Molokai.
"I can always tell if people are going to like it here [on the ranch] from the moment I pick them up," says Abcde (pronounced ab-see-dee), our van driver on the way back to Kaupoa Camp. "If they're standing there in white linen with lots of jewelry, I know they'll hate it."
Come to Molokai Ranch with a change of clothes for each day. And be prepared to get dirty. As we bounced back to camp in the late afternoon, I noticed that the pastures, road and trees are all one color--red dirt. If you've never been on the Serengeti Plain of East Africa, this is the next best thing.
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Getting there: Fly nonstop L.A.-Honolulu on American, Continental, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, Northwest and United. Then take either Aloha Islandair or Hawaiian airlines to Hoolehua, Molokai; round-trip fares begin at $602. You can fly nonstop from Maui to Molokai; round-trip fares begin at $78. Service from other islands to Molokai is connecting through Honolulu; round-trip fares begin at $180.
Transportation: There is no need to rent a car if you stay at the campsites. To see the rest of the island, Budget and Dollar rent on Molokai.
Molokai Ranch: Paniolo and Kaupoa camps have 120-square-foot tentalows on raised wood platforms, bathrooms with self-composting toilet, shower and basin with solar-heated water. Kolo Cliffs Camp has 200-square-foot yurts on platforms, furnished similarly. Rates: Paniolo $155-$185 per adult per day, $75 children 4-12, free under 4; Kolo $200-$215; Kaupoa $215-$245. Includes three daily meals; all gratuities; airport shuttle; transfers to activities; horseback riding, cattle drive, hiking, surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, shore and deep-sea fishing and mountain biking. Reservations: telephone (877) 726-4656.
For more information: Hawaii Visitors Bureau, 180 Montgomery St., Suite 2360, San Francisco, CA 94104; tel. (800) 353-5846, fax (415) 248-3808.