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Molokai (Part 1)

By Alex Shih

Voyage, by Michelle Nicolai
by Michelle Nicolai

Day 1: Los Angeles to Maui

The balmy, moist island air filled my lungs as the firm but warm wind blew through my recently cropped short hair. I was in Hawaii. Specifically, Maui, one of the most romantic places for couples. Yet there I was, alone, to be by myself, to mend a broken heart, to find myself again.

So much for the reason for my first solo trip.

My fiancé (ok, ex-fiancé) had had an affair while I was finishing the last stretch of my Ph.D. work. He said he needed to protect himself in case I did not come back. After two months of trying to work things out and endless cycles of emotional roller coaster rides, he told me that he had become impatient with my "inability" to work through my pain and that I was being "uncooperative" by not abiding by his terms. Therefore, unless I got over the pain right away and committed to spending the rest of my life with him, he saw no reason for depriving himself of a special relationship with her while I worked through my pain.

Because I had also planned my post-graduation life around returning to California and marrying him, I had not negotiated for any other job except returning to teach in my old school district, where he and the other woman also worked. The other woman's friends had made the campus a hostile environment, and made it clear I was not welcome in fear that I would talk and ruin their friend's reputation. He also made me promise that I would not mention anything to people in the district. I was too hurt and too tired to talk. I had also missed the hiring cycle for the school year by the time I learned of the affair. All the changes and shattered plans threw me into a state of confusion and disorientation never felt before, and I was at a complete loss. I terminated the negotiation for job to focus on salvaging what was left of the relationship.

On the evening before he left to Sacramento for family business, he told me he was going to call her on Sunday and tell her he would never again stop contact because it hurt her so much, and told me to just "deal with it" and to call him when I was ready to accept his terms and work things out his way, the "right" way.

So there I was, 12 hours later, at the airport, armed with only a book I had purchased the night before on Maui, Lanai, and Molokai, and a credit card and a small carry-on suitcase. No itinerary, no pre-booked lodging--j ust a hope to mend a broken heart and spirit. Somehow. I just had to get away and breathe, that was all I could do in the midst of the pain. All I knew was, I fly to Maui and 7 days later return to LA from Oahu, and I w as going to visit the less traveled island of Molokai somewhere in between.

When I arrive at the hostel I found out the ferry I had intended to take to Molokai later on in the week was no longer in service, and all the local tours were full. But I did get a room. None of the other roommates were there, so I sat down and cried. Things did not get off to a nice start, and the feeling of incompetence crept up again. I felt trapped again. and wondered if I should go back to the airport and get a rental car. But I dragged myself out of the room and asked people if they were planning to go places tomorrow and if I could tag along. That was when Robert, one of the workers, told me to sign up for the Iao Valley tour the next day anyway, and he would fit me in the van.

I felt better, and decided to just take the afternoon to write and relax. As I walked into the backyard, I saw three hammocks, and the first reaction was nausea. Nausea was something I had gotten used to the last few mo nths whenever something reminded me of his affair and brought pain. I remembered he recounted having sex with her in a hammock when I was away at a conference. Then he went on to tell me how different and how nice it fel t to do it in a hammock.

But I told myself to overcome that, or I would never sit in a hammock again. They were not going to do that to me. So I sat down. As I laid back and made myself comfortable, I suddenly became aware of the fact that I w as alone. Alone, in the sense that I was without him, his presence, his voice. It was peaceful. It felt better without him there. I had gotten so used to having him there with me in our travels together the last five y ears.

The heart still felt heavy, and I still wondered if I should have gone to a resort-y area and booked a hotel room and just soaked in the tub for the day. But the peacefulness was an improvement from the emotional roller coasters and the oppressive feelings of having to get over my pain on someone else's deadline. I was physically away from the sources of the pressure, and decided it was time to do things for myself so that I felt better.

Soon came dinner time, and people started coming back. The socializing and the ease and the lightness of topics was a refreshing change from what I had had to deal with for a long time now, not just with the ex-fiancé, b ut also graduate school in general, where topics were often serious and scholarly. It was so easy and relaxing to sit and chat about traveling and other life experiences. When people found out I was heading to Molokai, they became curious, mostly because few people have been there and little had been written about the place to make it sound attractive to tourists. Different perspectives of Molokai started coming out from the Maui locals, and I became even more curious about the island and its people. I wanted to see for myself what this "rural, simple, boring, relaxing, friendly, money hungry" place was really like.

At around 9 pm there was a light drizzle, so misty that it was like being in a rainforest. It felt so good--the smell of the rain, the trees, the yellow light illuminating the garden . . . By the end of the night I was f eeling better in my heart. Again, I became aware of his absence. I was going about my interactions with people without his voice in the back complaining that he was not a part of it, analyzing other people's intentions, and asking how I could enjoy talking to strangers when I had him to talk to when we travel. Despite my heavy heart and my reservation not to say too much, I was able to communicate and enjoy interacting with people rath er effortlessly. I could smile for the first time without feeling a hint of pain still deep inside.

Day 2: Maui, Iao Valley

Awakened while it was still dark by people yelling outside. It was rather noisy with cars and motorcycles. I was going on a hike in Iao Valley with the people at the hostel. The sky was slightly overcast, but the valle y had been covered with thick clouds since I arrived. It looked rather mysterious and enchanting. One of the workers at the hostel told me about the bloody past of the valley, and how the legends still talked about sp irits occupying the place.

We climbed over the fence into prohibited, private roads and started our hike through dense trees and flowers, picking and munching on wild strawberry guavas along the way. The road became muddy on the way up, and we al l had socks and boots covered with brown mud. When we reached the clearing, the whole valley was still under thick clouds, with slightly chilly winds blowing. The sound of the wind and the stillness of the surroundings was just mesmerizing, as if beyond the stillness of the thick clouds you might suddenly hear movements or the whispers of the trees to the wind.

The enchanted feeling of the valley became much more so on the way down, as I became separated from the fast group and was too fast for the slow group. All of a sudden I found myself alone on the stretch of the windy, th ickly covered trails. I knew I was not alone, but I heard no one except the wind. For months I had wanted to be alone somewhere remote and scream and let out my pain. I knew I could not do that because I was not really alone. But I wanted to tell someone, I wanted to say something. If there were spirits in the valley, let them listen. So I whispered to the hill, "I don't want to hurt anymore. Help me heal." As soon as I finished, the wind picked up and the trees rustled, making sounds like the ocean, as if responding to me. The gentle wind also caressed my face, as if mother caressing a wounded child. Somehow, I felt better, I felt someone heard me.

It was magical, as though if I listened harder, I could hear the wind speaking. I continued to walk down the trail. Each time I turned into a spot, whether thickly covered with trees, or a clearing overlooking the valle y, I let out more voices from inside me. "I don't want to hurt anymore. I want to like myself again. I want to be whole again. I want to be happy. Help me heal." And magically, each time I said "help me heal," the w ind would pick up and the trees would rustle. I touched my heart after I spoke, and it felt good, as if the wind blew into the heart, caressing it just like it was caressing my face.

I slowly made my way down, by myself, which also helped me feel better, since walking downhill had always been a problem for me in hiking because I did not have a good sense of balance. Again, I became aware of his absen ce and how I climbed down without him holding my hands. I met up with the group by the stream and took off my shoes and washed my legs clean as I chatted with others. I again noticed his absence, and how nice it was to b e alone but together with others, not together with him but alone by ourselves, as it had been for many years when we traveled. He wanted me with him and only him at all times.

Spent the afternoon finalizing details to go to Molokai. The travel agent asked what a single woman like me was going to do on Molokai for three days. She was baffled, but agreed with me that if I was seeking relaxation and nothing to do, Molokai was the place. I was told I'd feel very safe in the hotel they booked, because it was the local homosexual hang-out.

Frankly given my state of mind I did not just not mind, but found it to be great news. Dealing with unwanted attention and propositions from men on a solo trip was not something I wanted. I became more and more curious a bout the place, and was also amused at the irony that Molokai once hosted the leprosy colony at its isolated peninsula and was off limits for a while . . . now it was a possible gathering place for the homosexuals? A wor ker at the hostel confirmed Molokai did have a reputation of being the gay hang-out, but told me to be careful because there were also "men" there looking for women. However, the island was relatively safe.

Day 3: Haleakala

Still woke up early at around 6 am. Still felt a wave of nausea, which I had been feeling each morning for about a month because I dreaded having to face another day of pain. But it was getting better. I was going on a strenuous hike to the Haleakala crater for the day. So I got up and got my waters ready, a whole gallon of it in separate bottles. It was very cold atop Haleakala. I did not anticipate that my gortex rain jacket, broug ht along for the rain, would become my only source of warmth on this hike. So, with a pack full of lunch and energy snacks and a gallon of water, thick sun block on the face and sun glasses, we took off on the 12-mile hik e in sand and rocks.

The scenery change was just unbelievable, from the red dirt to the rocks, to black sand and hardened lava and rocks of all sorts of colors, to moonscape, to different vegetation, including flowering silverswords. In a wa y it brought a sense of loss seeing flowering silverswords, because they only flower before they die. So I knew I was looking at the last days of the plant. Yet it was so beautiful and so full of energy. Why would natu re function that way? Again, I became aware of the absence of his voice explaining the rock formations and the scenery changes and what geological forces made them that way. I had enjoyed them before, but the stillness and the silence were so peaceful that I did not miss the knowledge. I knew I could look up the information if I really wanted to later. Again, life felt more peaceful without his presence. I was among just fellow hiker s who gathered here from all over the world to share this experience.

The hike started at a rather cold temperature, but as we walked into the crater and warmed up our muscles, we began to shed our clothes, so much that we joked that we would all be naked at the end of the trip. Actually, I thought, that would be a good gimmick for a hike: "be one with nature . . ."

The hike was about seven hours long, and even the most experienced hiker wondered when we would reach the top of the crater by the time we made the umpteenth switchback and saw more roads leading up. I got a blister half way through the hike because of the rocks and sand and because I did not bring the proper socks for such hike, but I continued. We got to the top as the sun began to set and took pictures of the magnificent sunset and gro up. My batteries died because it was so cold, and I wondered how I would convince people that my battery died because it was too cold in Hawaii in the middle of August.

As we took off to go down the mountain, I realized that aside from the girls I rode with, I was in the company of guys this whole hike. It was something I had not done for a long time because the ex was the jealous type.   I had unconsciously limited my interactions to those with only women over the last few years, because I did not want him to feel insecure and get angry or lecture me about being naive, even though before I met him most my friends were guys. I saw my forgotten old self returning, and how easy and relaxing it was just being me.

The day's strenuous activity took its toll as we all waddled into the hostel and "ran" for the bathrooms the best we could to shower and clean up a day's collection of sweat and dirt. I came out of the shower feeling more refreshed, physically and emotionally. That night I caught myself thinking how I would tell him that I did not want to be with him but without any negative feelings of perhaps one party was at fault? Then I realized I was feeling better. A decision had been made, and I was not going to be with him anymore. Not because he chose to resume contact with the other woman, but because I had decided I no longer wanted him to be my husband. I was moving on and I wanted my old self back. I had done all I could, and there were no "what-if's" left. It was time to let go.

Even as I wrote my diary that night, I was aware how nice it was to be able to write uninterrupted for an extended amount of time, no rush, no him there pawing or berating me, getting antsy that I was not paying attention to him. I had gotten so used to rushing to jot down main thoughts so that we would not get into an argument over how I did not treasure time together with him and did not include him in my activities. Time to myself, a s long as he was around, was an unobtainable luxury, not without a serious argument from him for the night. It hit me that he just probably did not want to be alone, but made it sound like he wanted to be with me all the time. He often told me it was a sign I did not love him as much as he loved me. But in the name of "love," he had done nothing but manipulate me so he could have his ways. As sweet as it sounded, the truth was he did not want to be alone and wanted to feel wanted and needed at all times, as the example of the affair served. He felt abandoned unless I was physically there or at least paying attention to him over the phone.

I realized I could not be responsible for his insecurities. He demanded all my time, and I had to justify when I wanted time to do my own things and negotiate with him. Yet, he set his schedules and got upset when I wis hed to do my own things when he was busy doing his own things. "Just sit there and look pretty, so I can see you when I look up." He said it was a sign of how much he loved me because he wanted to be with me that much. W hat he did in the name of love was not healthy for me, and hurt me tremendously. I had to stop blaming myself.

I went out and treated myself to noodles at a local Japanese restaurant. It was my last night on Maui. In a way this was a good point for me to leave and be on my own on Molokai for a few days. I was around people enough to see for myself what I was missing out limiting myself to satisfying his desire to have me and only me with him everywhere we went. I was happy Maui happened. I no longer accepted his criticisms that I had not done enough to make the relationship work, and that I had brought upon myself and deserved the pain from his affair and the hurtful comments and treatments afterwards. It was a nice revelation because for the longest time I felt guilty and incompetent, that if things did not go well it was my fault for not trying hard enough, because he would tell me his needs were not met. That was not acceptable to me anymore. I think allowing myself to be social again--which I had slowly lost in the course of the relationship--without him made me realize my feelings were as valid as his, and so were my opinions. I felt my backbone growing back where it used to be. I was ready for Molokai, that mysterious island people could not describe to me.


Prior to earning her Ph.D. in educational psychology, with focus on social and educational issues of disadvantaged adolescents, Tzymei Alexasia (Alex) Shih taught junior high English/history to language minority students. She is also a Fulbright alumna (Mexico), and had done volunteer English teaching with "Volunteers in Asia," organization similar to Peace Corps, based in Stanford University. Alex is currently on an expedition around the world, to postpone her career and academic work for a while and contemplate her future directions. Prior to the expedition Alex spent 6 months in Taiwan researching Chinese literature to prepare for her children's book project. She can be reached at


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