Adventures of a Volunteer on the Youngest Island of Hawaii
Created by the active flow of lava from an underground volcano and predominantly inhabited by Polynesians who followed the migration of birds to discover the islands, Hawaii is a place like no other. Deep in the Pacific Ocean and miles away from any mainland, this astounding archipelago is the only place on the planet that continues to evolve each day. I am located on the youngest of the eight islands and the island that is known to be the most tropical, lush and widely spread; the Big Island.
On the Big Island I find myself discovering natural wonders that are worth gold to the travellers’ eyes, with an abundance of beauty and awe-inspiring sights thrust upon me, that is like a fairytale to the travellers’ journey, and exploring a unique and special place on earth where few of us western backpackers tend to venture.
A billionaire in life
I am discovering all of this through living and working on a meditation farm which makes me feel like a billionaire. Not in money, but in life. The farm is set in a peaceful surrounding, an hour away from the island’s capital, Hilo. Few travellers live the exclusive life of being part of a communal force behind the transformation of a mediation centre, including exploring remote and natural volcanic hot spots and indulging in spontaneous and energising experiences that any adventurous traveller would desire.
I am living in a tent underneath the illuminating starry sky. Every day I awake for the 7am group vipassana meditation, where each volunteer silently dives deep into their mind to practice their equanimity like a peaceful warrior. The day’s work begins after breakfast and includes bungalow construction, gardening, kitchen development and organising. A further two meditation sessions also occupy the day which finishes at 8pm.
It is not only the meditation that keeps my spirit bright, nor is it only the daily tasks that I work on, or the other volunteers who make my day. It is the natural beauty in which I live, the energy that this island holds, and the options for exploration that I am presented with. Most of all, however, it is the volcanic rawness and the abundance of colour that this destination boasts and which greets my eyes with the purity of nature at its best.
During my time here I have found myself in some situations which are quite like no other. Adventures that I have been on leave me astounded, awe-struck and inspired by the world. They include swimming before sunrise in a hot pool heated by underground lava tubes, hanging out in a natural volcanic steam vent detoxifying my body and softening my skin, being a part of a Native American tradition by sitting in a sweat lodge and chanting in the Hawaiian language, discovering heroic waterfalls and lakes, exploring the shallow turquoise mermaid pools and swimming with sea turtles, and chilling out on black sand beaches, overhung with lava rock cliffs, while celebrating life with the local drum circle, locals and other travellers.
It’s hard to pick the best experiences; however the ones that grabbed me most and ones I would like to share are the Native American sweat lodge, hot pools and natural volcanic steam vents.
Native American sweat lodge
Sitting on the grass outside, around a hole filled with boiling rocks, in a small confined dome covered in thick blankets so as to not let out any air, I find myself sweating at the fear of overheating. It is in the back yard of a local’s home that you will find a Native American sweat lodge. With a comfortable capacity of ten, up to twenty have been known to sit together inside.
The ceremony is split into four parts, each with one prayer, four chants and another prayer, lasting approximately ten to fifteen minutes each. Medicinal herbs are thrown over the rocks to emanate throughout the air followed by continuous splashes of water over the rocks to make them steam and to make you sweat. This is a heat I had never experienced before and a heat which could be very closely related to ‘feeling fire’. With the first quarter making your heart jump out of your skin, the other three are easier to get used to. The chanting is especially unique and with a sigh of relief at the end the feeling of refreshment begins to settle in.
Awakening at 5am with the moon and stars being the only light, we drive a couple of miles to the hot pools. Awaiting us is a pool of bath-warm water, heated by underground lava tubes, and surrounded by palm trees, the ocean and nothing else. As the sun starts to rise the day begins to come alive, the stars become fainter, the trees greener, the water clearer and the clouds whiter. The hot pools are one of the best starts to the day in the peaceful setting where calming the mind before the bustle of the day happens without practice.
Natural volcanic steam vents
Walking through a jungle-like landscape we finally reached a cave which hosts a tiny hole with a plank of wood which allows you to enter. Once inside and sat comfortably in a volcanic crevasse it’s time to relax and enjoy a natural spa. Steam rises from the ground which is heated by the flow of underground lava. It’s best to go at night while the stars are shining bright and the atmosphere is one of beauty and character yet tranquillity. The cave is dark, the capacity is no more than twenty and it takes a moment to get used to breathing in the moist air. Yet the feeling of this experience is one of refreshment, intrigue and wonder.
By volunteering in a place where it is hard to stay merely as a backpacker I have entered a world that boasts wonders so unimaginable to a standard tourist destination. A world that embraces the true Hawaii and an earth so endearing that the charm of the rest of the world is truly tested. If you ever get the chance to spend time in Hawaii, do it. I promise you that you will not be disappointed.
Instead, you will experience what it is to live on a natural high.