Ahhh . . . today I'm still feeling the afterglow of a wonderful Wailea weekend. But not the Wailea you're thinking of. I just returned from Akiko's Buddhist Bed & Breakfast in tiny Wailea Village on the Big Island (population: a couple dozen). This Wailea's postal address is Hakalau, 15 miles from Hilo on the Hamakua Coast. Although it's an easy walk from Akiko's to Kolekole Beach Park, where the water from Akaka Falls meets the ocean, the B&B sits at the edge of a hillside rain forest. The road leading through Wailea winds over stone bridges and under a canopy of towering trees, their trunks covered with monstera and morning glory.
It has become an annual tradition for me, performing and recharging at Akiko's little slice of heaven. Or nirvana, I should say. I'm not a Buddhist, but I always feel completely at home there; if not enlightened, at least enlivened by these visits. With no TV, no radio, no cellphone reception, I am reminded of the magnificence of simplicity. Outdoors, Mother Nature inspires awe. Indoors, Akiko furnishes each of the spartan rooms with a futon mattress, a small desk and chair, a full bookshelf, two or three yellow ginger blossoms in a baby food jar, and framed messages like "May you be in fine health and great calm, living in deep gratitude and aloha every day."
Akiko Masuda is pretty awe-inspiring herself. Twenty years ago, this Oahu-raised dance teacher felt a calling to build a modest temple in which to honor the ancestors. Motonaga Garage was built in 1935, when Wailea was a thriving plantation village. Fifty years later, the neighborhood had dwindled down to a dozen households and the garage closed for good. By the time Akiko discovered it, the buildings and land had gone untended for seven years. Almost single-handedly, she restored the old garage and dilapidated house into a gallery and a B&B, and turned a rat-infested jungle into a tropical Zen garden and farm, adding a dojo for meditation and two eco-friendly cottages to the 2-acre retreat. Akiko says, "As soon as I stepped onto this 'aina, I knew this was where I would live, this was where I would die and be buried."
She works diligently to honor not just ancestors long gone, but the living as well, organizing the nonprofit Wailea Village Historic Preservation Community trust and hosting various cultural activities and performances for audiences of 50 to 500. At every event, the few remaining original residents enjoy special guest status with lei and front-row seats. Akiko opens each program with sincere gratitude and tribute to the elders.
My first visit there was in February 2006, telling stories in pidgin and sharing the stage with ukulele master Byron Yasui. My husband accompanied me on that trip and he was as enchanted with the place as I was. An audio engineer, Barry happily talked shop with Masa, the elderly Okinawan man who provided the modest sound system for Akiko's events. We vowed to return for a weekend escape, as soon as we could find the time. We never did, of course. I've learned you can never find the time; you have to make the time.
Six months after Barry's death in 2007, I returned alone to Akiko's for Wailea's fourth annual Obake Night, a Halloween celebration of local-style ghost stories. In introducing the program, she invoked the spirits, assuring the audience that they were always present anyway - and on a night like this, they just might make themselves known. That night I slept in the Monastery House, in the same room Barry and I had shared. And sure enough, he made himself known. He came to me in a dream, a highly disturbing dream full of menace and fear. It was the first time I'd dreamed about him since his passing, and I woke up surprised and confused, but strangely calm. Though the dream ended with me running for my life, once awake I felt safe and at peace. And I sensed that Barry felt the same.
This past weekend was my fifth consecutive appearance at Obake Night. Each time, I feel the presence of Wailea's resident spirits as I offer my stories in their honor, and later too as I drift into deep and restful sleep. I always expect Barry to show up, but he hasn't returned to the village since that strange night. And this year, for the first time, Masa wasn't there either. He had died exactly a month before. His son, Jerry, came from Oahu for the funeral and stayed to run the sound system for Akiko. That's Wailea Village. A place where all, living and otherwise, are welcome and in harmony with nature. People living in deep gratitude and aloha every day. No wonder I'm still glowing.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.