Natural Hawai'i

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Mule Ride to Kalaupapa Leper Colony, Molokai

You may already know the story of Father Damien's 19th century leper colony at Kalaupapa on Molokai.The small isolated peninsula is today a National Historical Park and is still home to a small number of residents, now cured of what we today call Hansen's Disease.Visitors can tour Kalaupapa thanks to mule skinner Buzzy Sproat and his sure-footed horse/donkey hybrids.After Buzzy matches you up to the mule that he feels most looks like you, it's off to the trail.After your first glimpse of Kalaupapa, it soon sinks in that the 3 mile cliff-side trail--with an elevation drop of 1664 feet and 26 switchbacks--is not for the faint hearted.Though not a challenge for the mules, the switchbacks will have you holding tight to your saddle--unless of course you're Buzzy.It doesn't take long to get over your initial nerves and you soon realize that, just like the mules, you can take the descent in your stride.Of course, that doesn't mean you're not happy when you finally reach the bottom.The sound of the ocean and the stunning shoreline are welcomed. And, as you make your way to Kalaupapa, a sign reminds you that you are entering Kalawao County - the smallest in the US!After you dismount your trusty steed, it's time to take in the stunning views...and perhaps shake off some of the stress from the ride down.An old school bus ensures that visitors don't wonder off on their own and serves as transport for the scenic tour of what will one day become a national park.While there are plenty of opportunities to learn about Kalaupapa--and take some photos--it's the short drive out to Kalawao that brings the story of Father Damien to life.St. Philomena Church is the last structure in Kalawao that bears witness to Father Damien's work with the original leper colony. The church interior includes holes in the floor that allowed those with leprosy to expectorate. As Buzzy explains...Two islets mark where ships used to throw exiled patients into the raging water...too scared to bring them ashore to the colony.As you make your way back up the trail, you realize that you only thought you knew the story of Father Damien.Read our full write up on our visit: