I was contemplatively hurling my Pellegrino bottles into the Kaua'i community recycling bin, last week, when I heard my name called. I turned to the open-arm welcome of an acquaintance newly returned from Macchu Picchu. This is a woman, who, I am aware, treasures the living truths of indigenous culture - not far removed from one herself.
She wanted me to understand the hopes she'd invested in her dream journey to the relics of the Inca nation. She told me, she'd hiked the old Inca trail to the mountaintop, eagerly anticipating communion with these ancients. She wanted me to know, too, how horribly she'd been disappointed .
"It was mobbed - shoulder to shoulder bodies. There was no way to feel the land, or that which resides within it."
I took a breath and then I shared my own experience on that particular mountaintop - alone for an entire night under a full moon. I'd spent days with a half dozen folks who'd left well-enough and each other alone with our own thoughts, rituals, and meditation. I spent forty-eight hours drinking in the stones, the beauty, the power - uninterrupted.
My acquaintance interrupted my reverie: "No more! No more!" And then, she asked: "When did you go?"
I stammered my response, and like many a grandparent, I mark the passing years by the remembered age of my sons. "Well, let me see. Sam was going into the sixth grade...that would make him twelve."
She didn't wait for me to reminisce further. She demanded: "And how old is he now?"
Issue settled. "He's thirty-seven."
She breathed deeply, "Well....I" Case closed,
But that was only the beginning of our conversation, and of this story. What I do not want to do here is rant about tourism. I don't want to blame, exempt, or reference greed. We are all, sometimes or often, strangers in another people's homeland. We do it for a range of reasons: work, curiosity, and bragging rights around the dinner table.
When we can afford the luxury of it, we are also seeking a cultural alternative to our own, that feeds a deeper place than food on the table and a roof over our head. That was the clash between spiritual expectation and global tourism that knocked the knees out from under my acquaintance.
I wanted to take this conversation home to 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani and see where it took him.
"Traffic jams," he said., and expected that to explain something to me. It did not.
"People come to these Hawaiian Islands....or to Macchu Picchu, or Bali or Sedona to surrender the necessity of their daily armor. They come to feel something they don't let themselves feel at home.
"They come here with the hope that what the ancients lived effortlessly, they might live again for a week or two, .and then take that home with them afterwards.
"But I ask you," he said, "how 'effortless' is that surrender when you're stuck in traffic? I mean a traffic jam of automobiles, or crowds of people - no difference at all."
I think that I pick up his direction. The Hawaiian Grandmothers told us at the beginning of this journey. "You don't have to hop on one foot to get there." Ritual has its place but....
"These searchers are looking for something that someone else has already found, instead of imagining a place of their own," 'Iokepa said. "We've been blinded to our own - it isn't out of reach for anybody. We are never without.
"Traffic jams at so-called sacred sites are a distraction. The ancients didn't go seeking to replicate another person's experience -- and they didn't expect the same results. They didn't run off to distant places; they didn't research other people's traditions. It was easier than that. They allowed themselves to be alone, still,. and they didn't expect it to happen in a day."