A Hawaiian Retreat
Out actor Traci Dinwiddie takes us along on her adventure to Hawaii.
To get to the gates of Kalani Oceanside Retreat, located just south of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, you rise and fall along a hilly highway through a landscape that is both poignant and exhilarating. This district is called Puna, which means the source or spring. Here, there is a deep reverence for the Goddess Pele, ruler of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes. The people of Puna equally honor Pele’s sister, Hi’iaka, who is connected with the forest and is the patron Goddess of Hawaii and hula dancers. From battles to forgiveness, there are myriad variations of the Goddesses’ mythology; however, their volatile relationship is evident in the essence of this land. It reminds me of hatha yoga with the constant balancing of sun and moon energy, as Puna is exquisitely mixed with darkness and light – a land of active volcanoes and daily rainbows.
Kalapana, which neighbors Kalani, is almost a ghost town with sporadic evidence of life where the lava has spread across this land over the last several years wiping out homes, local stores, and much of its forest. On clear days, you are actually able to see trees burst into flames on the hilltops as the volcanic flow takes its course. Luckily, Kalani is upwind of the volcano, so its air is crisp and clean. Lush, giant trees canopy the road leading to the gates of this enchanting facility. My partner and I paused in Kalani’s driveway to listen to a chorus of Croqui frogs bellow their polyrhythmic song. A lone phone booth marked the entrance to the gates, as if to flag that this was the end of contact as we knew it. Night had fallen and all we could see was the thick foliage and brush lining a winding dirt path. We looked at each other and sang as if on cue…” We’re in the jungle, baby!”
We were welcomed with the Aloha spirit by a kind soul at guest services who gave us the logistical details needed for our stay. She explained that there is a campus-wide recyclingn system with bins placed throughout the 120 acres of land. Kalani recycles 70 percent of its waste stream to minimize its environmental impact. I cannot help but think of the yogic principles I have learned over my many years of study and practice. Aparigraha is the practice of non-excess. We use only what we need and tread lightly upon the earth. With adherence to this principle along with all of the other precepts and “limbs” of the eight-fold path of yoga, the yogi or yogini is said to reach Samadhi (the highest state of divine consciousness). I have not reached my ultimate personal heavenly state, but I felt divinely inspired entering the gates of a retreat center beautifully built upon the likes of yogic principles. Its Hawaiian name rightfully means “The Heavens.” Kalani Honua is its full name, meaning “heaven on earth.” The Hawaiian elders gave this honorable title as a blessing to the founder, Richard Koob, who made a commitment to skillfully use nature and the Hawaiian culture as a means for wellness and conscious living. Did I mention he’s gay? He’s gay. Heaven!
We proudly pulled out our headlamps to find the way to our yurt-like cottage perched in the forest. A lovely arrangement of Hawaiian flowers greeted us as we entered our new “home” for the week. The entire living space was vast, with high ceilings and giant windows. Its eco-friendly architecture allows for tons of natural light and airflow, requiring less electricity. The structures themselves are made of sustainably harvested wood and bamboo. What is more fantastic is that Kalani uses solar panels to supply a third of the entire facility’s electricity. Non-excess in action. We were also gifted with a tub big enough for the two of us. They have artesian well and rainwater catchment systems to reduce water demand from the local County water system making luxurious baths guilt-free. I was surprised to find that there was Wi-Fi and yet, relieved that our living space had no telephones or television. Instead, the walls were decorated with colorful, original art. It set a natural tone of presence and rejuvenation.
Excitement was in the air. I signed up for the Kalani Performance Art intensive and my partner chose the ever-popular Kalani Experience package while I would be away at play. There are over 50 classes and activities a week. It was a thrill to find tons of yoga options including Power Yoga, Kundalini, Hatha Basic, Yin, Restorative, Vinyasa, and Acro Yoga. There are also sporty options like volleyball, trapeze and aerial, and swimming. Ecstatic dancers may enjoy Tranzendance classes and for the crafty-inclined, Joy of Art (painting, photography, collage, etc), lauhala weaving with Auntie Lynda, and figure drawing. Early risers have the option of open meditations and tai chi mixed with Qi Gong every morning. For easy excursions just down the road, there is the lava viewing platform on Mt. Kilauea as well as some spectacularly unique snorkeling adventures at Wai ‘Opae tidal pools. With a busy, fun-filled week ahead of us, we climbed into our comfy king-sized bed for a good night’s rest.
Kalani is even more extraordinary in the daylight. It’s nestled in a rain forest right next to the ocean. You may experience sporadic sky-spillings a dozen times a day between the brightest rays of sunshine. Even with all of the bustling activities, time slows down here. Our meals are announced “ready” by the toot of a conch shell. Spotted doves join us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the lanai–along with bold yellow hibiscus blooms that surround the community dining area. We often pause together at the first gush of rainfall. It’s rhythmic. Meditative. There is a glow in everyone’s face. Perhaps it’s from the shimmering wetness of the ocean air, or the bright, delicious organic veggies of the local farmers; or it’s the afterglow of many spa treatments available such as the traditional Hawaiian Lomi Lomi. I had one and it definitely had me glowing, right along with multiple dips into the clothing-optional 25-meter pool. There truly is something for everyone at Kalani, where individuals get to choose their own glow-making endeavors.
The Kalani Performance Art intensive is only one of the many specialty workshops offered. There is an impressive roster of A-list teachers bringing their wisdom and skills to this facility throughout the year, as well as three massive buildings fully equipped for these events. Of course, I chose the workshop that had it all! We were endowed with a full-on trapeze artist’s playground rigged from the ceiling of the Emax Theater located at the front of the compound. Our classes were filled to the brim with hours of hula, aerial/trapeze and modern dance, plus music, voice, and acting that would culminate with a final performance at the end of the intensive. The theme for the performance was “Huliau” – the turning point. We each used our personal, cultural stories to weave a communal art piece that was both transformative and empowering. Our creative work was challenging and, well, intense. I felt as if I was being cracked open, like Pandora’s box meets a circus clown car. All of my shadows as well as goofy, hopeful energy poured out of me.
The soundscape surrounding the theater was soothing as I worked – waves rolling in, occasional rainfall tapping the exposed bellies of tropical leaves, and the breeze that dances through the far-reaching tree branches. The energy of this theater is wisely informed by its location. The property where the Emax stands is not only oceanside, but also right next to an ancient halau (Hawaiian cultural school) and heiau (temple), preserved and open for visitation. This sacred site specifically worshiped Kanaloa, the God of the sea and Lono, the God of agriculture, peace, and abundance. It’s beautiful to see how Kalani stands on the shoulders of its ancestors while it continues to honor the sea and earth. For the entire week between my performance art classes, my partner and I would take trail hikes to explore this “heaven on earth.” Guest services hooked us up with a map that provided an extensive list of flora and fauna to watch for. It’s like a nature treasure hunt. We chased gorgeous geckos and dragonflies with our cameras, and found big, fragrant clusters of flowering plumeria trees. There was an abundance of nut and fruit orchards with fruits that can be eaten right off of the plant. One particular trail leads you along the ocean where honu (sea turtles) are often spotted poking their heads up in the breaking waves just at the shore. On a hike to the top of the property, you will find raised-bed gardens and a state-of-the-art acquaponics system to raise fish and uses the tank waste product to fertilize the plants. Need I say non-excess?
I caught myself dreaming of living here, and found that it’s not so far-fetched. There are two ways to become a longer-term resident. First, volunteering (the heart and soul of Kalani) allows one to live on the grounds while giving service where needed. The second option is purchasing your own sustainable bamboo or modern hut as a steward of Kalani. The care Richard Koob and all of the staff, and volunteers has put into creating a healing, yogic, sustainable community is remarkable. The aloha spirit of love, inclusiveness, and o’hana, (family) is ever present, allowing my lady and I to feel right at home in “The Heavens.”