Luckily when I board the bus, there are lots of people already onboard with their beach mats and towels. This means they’re going to the Prince Lot Hula Festival, where it is seat yourself on the grass. This is where I’m going too, or so I hope. My bus adventures have not always delivered me to the right place thus far…
I get off at the stop that everyone else does and follow the group to a shady, grassy area: a park. As we walk underneath a canopy of trees a group of white tents come into view. Nearing the area I can see hula dancers getting ready to perform. I cross around to the audience side of the green and lay down my beach mat and wrap, and take a seat in the center of the “beach mat area.”
At 9:00 the program begins with the announcement of special guests. There are three, very important, very old Kumu Hula who will sit under a white tent during the performances and receive an incredible number of lei as the day goes on. There is some chanting and processing done in their honor and then the opening ceremonies begin.
The opening ceremony features dancers from each of the halau that are present. Most are from Oahu, but there are some from Molokai, Kaui, and Maui as well.
Taking in my surroundings I see the hula mound in front of me, a raised area of grass where the dancers will perform. Above me I see a sheltering of branches. The trees cover the sky almost perfectly, although there is a circular opening in the center. As the sun approaches the opening I put on some sunblock. Wiping the sunblock on my face my hand runs across something…a big bug. I wipe to push it off and it digs in. When I manage to swipe it off my face I can see it’s a big black ant with a red abdomen. I have no idea what it just injected into my brain, but boy does it hurt. After some frantic texts home, I decide I will live to see another day. I watch as each halau presents their specialty dances, usually showcasing several of their classes from the older kahiko (ancient hula) classes to the keiki (children). About one hour before the scheduled break at 1, I go over to the vendors to buy my lunch. I buy kailua pork and cabbage…one of my newfound favorite meals, and bring it back to my mat to eat it.
Not long after the weather takes a turn for the worse. It starts pouring. It really hasn’t poured in Hawaii since I arrived. Usually it just sprinkles for a few minutes and then we’re back to sunshine and rainbows (literally). Luckily, with my mat and cover I am able to successfully keep the important things in my bag dry and myself (for the most part).
After the rain clears, I finish my meal and during the break I go over to the vendors again and buy way too much. I need more self control. When I return to my blanket the sun is peaking through the opening. It is sweltering. I buy myself a pineapple rhubarb popsicle and slather on another layer of sunscreen. Most people move out of the circular sunny area that has now formed on the grass leaving a massive opening for those who can take the sun. I slide my mat up closer to the mound. I can stand the heat.
There are still five or six more halau to go. They are each wonderful in their own way. The older woman who’s now sitting next to me offers me some of her food (which I don’t take because of a food allergy) and tells me how she likes the male hula dancers. When the dancers from Maui come onstage in their loin clothes she nudges me and says, “this is what we’ve been waiting for.” I assume she thinks I’m a local because she asks if it’s my first time at the festival, rather than my first time in Hawaii. I’m guessing almost all of the people here are locals. It wasn’t advertised very well at all and I don’t think most tourists could make it out here on the bus. I’m still not sure how I did.
At the end of the day we sing the Hawaii state song…and by “we” I mean all the people who actually know it. We stand and hold hands like the Whos of Whoville. It’s actually a really beautiful moment. It makes me want to stay here forever. Everyone is just so welcoming. I look over and see that the three guests of honor have been swallowed up entirely by their lei. It was bound to happen.
I follow the groups of people back to the bus stop and manage to make it back to my hostel in Waikiki. I feel like I have learned something new, experienced something unique, and I’ve certainly, undoubtedly, unquestionably had a near miraculous day on the bus.
Featured Writer: Rachelynne Vinciguerra