A Native American Sweat Lodge in Hawaii

Sorry for the wait ladies and gentlemen! Did my little cliff hanger on the last post totally leave you wanting more? :] GOOD!

...While we were washing dishes in the darkness, three people came walking down the beach towards our very isolated little cave camp. Our friend Maisha is a local girl born and raised in Kauai and she knew of a few other locals who were going to be camping Kalalau the same time as us. Mike, a very sweet and relaxed 22 year old, and Eric an 18 year old boy with the kindest heart imaginable. Along the way to our cave they met a vibrant girl named Roquel, who's from the Big Island originally. The three of them  came into our cave with a big water drum Eric and Mike had just made, and Roquel's incredible voice. We all sat around the campfire, pulled out the ukulele and the drum, took some Hawaiian medicine and proceeded to dance and sing the night away.

Sitting around the campfire, seeing all these people that never knew each other before this point, sing and dance and enjoy life to the fullest under the most beautiful sky and on the beach...truly incredible. We all ventured out to the beach in the middle of the night and started running around and screaming and laughing when we realized that photoplankton were all in the sand and giant green trails of light lit up whenever you shuffled your feet. It was so beautiful! Then we all went to one of the wet caves near by and floated in the freezing cold water, singing into the cave and using our headlamps to have little shadow dance parties.

Just before the sun came up we all went to bed, and the night of magic and wonder ended. I wish I could better describe that night, but you truly had to have been there to understand it. There's a whole different energy in Kalalau, and the people I was with only amplified it all the more.


The next few days were a blur of activity and lounging around and just living life. On Monday morning Matt, Kelsea, Andrew, Nicole, and Sean packed up to hike back out and back into civilization, leaving just Phil, Maisha, Mike, Eric, Roquel and I on Kalalau for the next week. Sean had kayaked in with me, but had been honest with us that he wasn't interested in camping for another week and then kayaking an even longer distance to the next beach. So he hiked out with the group, but we were gonna be one person short for the kayaks! But Kelsea volunteered to hike back in the 11 miles on Friday night and then kayak the 20+ miles to the next beach with me. What an angel!

After everyone left it was a much different experience camping, but the three of us (Phil, Maisha, and I) quickly became a solid, little team.

A few days later Mike and Eric and Roquel invited us up into the valley for an authentic Native American Sweat Lodge that Mike and Eric had been building for the past few days. Now I don't know about you, but I've never heard of a Sweat Lodge before, so Maisha and Phil had to explain it to me.. The basic concept is to use the sweat lodge for religious purposes, but also for physical and spiritual cleansing as well. You apparently sit in a small hut with a bunch of burning hot rocks from a fire in the middle of the ground and they pour water on it, increasing the intensity with each round. And each round lasts anywhere from 5 to 40 minutes.

I'm not going to lie, I was beyond freaked out about it. I'm not good with saunas so I wasn't all that confident about an even more intense version of it. But I quickly set aside my fears and trepidation and put my traveling face on. This is why I'm traveling, dang it! TO EXPERIENCE NEW THINGS I WOULD HAVE NEVER DONE BEFORE. I need to keep telling myself that.

So just before sunset we hiked up about a mile into the valley and walked straight into heaven. This beautiful river flows directly into the ocean and as you follow it up suddenly you're in the most lush and dense forest! Mike and Eric built the skeleton of the lodge right next to the Ginger Pools and when we got there there was already the biggest fire I've ever seen burning away in the middle of the clearing. Roquel was there, along with a new guy Quinn, who's been living in the valley for the last two or three decades. He wears a loincloth almost everywhere and has participated in a lot of sweat lodges back in the states. So Mike and Eric (who are members of the Native American church in Kauai) invited him to the ceremony to help them out as they lead it.

So we all stripped down to our bathing suits, took some more medicine, and then piled into the very very small hut that we had draped with a dozen or so large blankets to try and keep the air from escaping. They had dug a big hole in the middle of the hut and we all sat around it. Mike sat near the front of the tent with his drum next to him, and two deer antlers in his hands. Eric had a hand-made shovel that he used to bring the rocks from the fire towards the tent, which Mike then picked up with the antlers and placed in the hole in the ground in front of us. Quinn had a bag of cedar and a bundle of sage that he sprinkled on the burning white rocks, which caused them to light up like the sky. It was beautiful! And already getting a little hot in there...

So 9 rocks are placed into the hut for every round. There are four rounds and the length for ours were only between 5 and 10 minutes...not bad for a first-timer like me and Phil! Everyone else has done something like it before so they were all a bit more prepared than me.

But once all the rocks were in, Eric filled a very large metal bowl full of water from the river right next to us before climbing in and closing the flap...and suddenly it got HOT.

That's when Mike explained to us that the point of the sweat is to better communicate with our ancestors as they rise as steam from the rocks. To thank them and/or ask them for forgiveness or guidance or protection. And also to use this as a way to open your mind and body to Mother Earth as we sing and pray to her. I was really excited for it to begin!

Mike began to beat on the water drum he had made and as he began to chant a Native American song, Eric singing along as he started throwing handfuls of water onto the rocks...AND OH MY GOD IT GOT HOT. The air quickly turned heavy and thick and the steam was already burning my face and the front of my legs. As the rounds continued, 9 rocks being added on for each round, I saw so much water sweat out of me that I had no idea my body could even hold! And everyone in there was the exact same, mud caked on our arms and legs and our bodies covered with sweat, our eyes wide, but our bodies and mind totally open to the experience we were all going through.

In between each round Mike asked us to speak whatever came to our minds. To thank or to pray or to just talk. And by the end of the third round I was finally ready to speak from my heart. And I let it all out. All my thanks, all my fears, all my amazement...and I felt so cleansed. But the last round was beyond painful. The air I was breathing felt like it was burning my lungs and the steam was burning my face so I had to cover it. But I sang along with the chants, and relished in the heat and the experience.

As soon as it was over all of us poured out of the tent and straight into the freezing cold river, just as the sun was setting in the sky. It was simply magical. When we all went back towards the fire, two nude people (a boy and a girl) walked out of the forest and sat down with us by the fire. They had heard the drum and the chanting and had come to investigate. They also live in the valley and just wander around naked all day and night. Welcome to Kalalau!

A few hours later, the medicine fully kicked in and our spirits were so fresh and bodies so rejuvenated. We packed up our things and all 7 of us began our trek in the darkness back to the beach, letting the moon guide our way.

By the time Phil, Maisha, and I made it back to our cave at the end of the beach we were exhausted. But I've never felt so open to the world around me as I did that night.

Definitely an experience of a lifetime.

~Little Blonde Traveler