Our companion was worried, very worried. The Hawaiian Islands were disappearing and there was nothing he could do about it.
The most outlying island of the chain had already disappeared from view, and our new-found friend was deeply concerned that the remainder of the islands would soon suffer a similar fate.
The man shouldering this angst, this weighty burden, was Byron, a travel companion we had acquired while visiting another island, Isla Bastimentos, in Panama. We had popped over the border from Costa Rica to renew our visas before returning to Punta Mona Finca Organica, a permaculture farm which sits on beautiful stretch of coastline between Gandoca and Manzanillo on the Caribbean coast.
Byron alerted us to the impending doom facing his homeland upon our first meeting. He sat bare-chested, as he was to do for the duration of our stay, and flicked the little plaits from his brow while bemoaning the disappearance of the islands and pointing them out on a map.
We were initially captivated by this announcement, unaware that the famous US territory was in such danger and that the story was not plastered over every newspaper in the world. That said, we hadn’t read a newspaper, and had barely connected with any news service for the last few weeks while volunteering on the relatively isolated organic farm. We hadn’t seen a TV or other news source, and most of us were happy about this.
Byron kept the issue at the forefront of our consciousness, however. During a walk to the beach on the other side of the island, our shirtless buddy reminded us of the situation. Over breakfast at our stilted hostel, he recounted the tale of woe. While lying in our hammocks as the sunset, he despaired over his loss.
We earned a reprieve from the impending catastrophe during a day-long boat trip to Isla Zapatilla, for which Byron didn’t join us. We cruised over azure waters as dolphins played in our wake, and snorkelled among tropical fish. We gazed upon white sand beaches and climbed coconut trees in search of refreshment. We frolicked on the shore and marvelled at this precious natural wonder as we partook of a scrumptious seafood lunch cooked by a crazy local called Polo.
We regaled our fellow guests at the hostel that night with descriptions of the beautiful island on our little jaunt, only for Byron to be reminded of the plight of his own islands. Niihau Island, he explained, had already disappeared, and Kauai Island would surely be the next to follow.
Our fellow guests shared our puzzlement at this situation, but were equally unsure how to react or to comfort the poor Hawaiian.
“What do you mean the Hawaiian Islands are disappearing?” asked one of the other guests, “I was there last year, I had a great holiday.”
“Look,” said Byron, pointing at the tattoo of the Hawaiian Islands on one side of his bare chest,
“The small island has disappeared from my pec because I haven’t been able to go to the gym every day while I’ve been travelling, and so my pecs are getting smaller and you can’t see all of the islands. I’m like super bummed out man.”
Images: Rachelle Blake