Uncle Robert's Night Market

Every Wednesday night, at the end of Kapoho-Kalapana Road, upwards of 800 people show up for Hawaii Island's ultimate gathering. Uncle Robert's is equal parts music festival, crafts fair, food cart pod and Asian night market - along with that aloha spirit you can only find in Hawaii. 

Robert Keli‘iho‘omalu was a sustainable farmer, soldier, Hawaiian sovereignty activist and revered Kupuna (elder). In 1990, a lava flow devastated the Kalapana community - with the exception of Uncle Robert's four acre homestead. Since then, the family has tried to share their good fortune with the community. Uncle Robert first opened a small space at the front of his property selling shave ice and soda. Then came Uncle Robert's Awa Bar, which sells kava. The night market, which is the island's only nighttime market, started in 2012 and gets bigger every year. 

Uncle Robert's is definitely easier to experience than explain. It reminds me a bit of Shakedown Street at Grateful Dead shows, what with all of the haole hippies with dreads. But then there's the Hawaiian sovereignty movement flag, a lei-wearing chicken and the Kalapana Awa Band playing slack key that makes it really is its own, uniquely Hawaiian, thing. As Uncle Robert once said, "Where the road ends, the aloha begins.”

Camper Living

When Romeo and I found our land in rural Hawaii, it had everything we wanted in a homestead - except for a home. Our options were to locate a rental or to devise some sort of temporary shelter that we would live in until our house was complete. Finding a rental not too far from our neighborhood that wasn't expensive and took pets proved to be almost impossible, so it was on to Plan B. People had all kinds of ideas for us, from converting a storage container to buying a yurt. But these were not cheap alternatives. In the end, we opted for a 2001 Coleman Pop-Up Camper, which offered us the kind of ventilation we would need in a tropical climate and went for a decent price. 

The camper is about 175 square feet. It came with an outdoor shower and a small propane fridge; we've since added an old stove and a washing machine. Once a catchment tank was installed on the land, Romeo set up a downhill gravity-fed water line to the camper. We raised a canopy over the camper to protect it against the elements, and installed gutters from that to collect even more rainwater. Two solar panels run our laptops and lights, with a back-up generator for days with less sun. Internet is over a cellphone hotspot.

We share this space with two dogs and one of our three cats, so it's definitely cozy. But it's also functional, comfortable and supports our goals in sustainability and self-sufficiency. As the old saying goes, "home is where the heart is."

CamperLiving

Chasing Coconut Chris

Christopher Carter, aka Coconut Chris, loves plants. By the time he was 8, he had started growing tomatoes and sugarcane in his parent's yard in Southern California. He stopped going to school in 9th grade just so he could devote more time to growing food. When he was 22, he worked at an exotic plant nursery in Vista, California, where he learned about plant propagation, grafting and edible landscaping, all useful skills for growing tropical plants in the middle of the Pacific.

Chris now lives in Kukuihaele, Hawaii, by the Waipio Valley, on a 600 acre ranch. While he goes by Coconut Chris (due to his ability to scale tall coconut palms in search of their fruit), it's bananas that Chris is especially into growing. Bananas have been growing in Hawaii for as long as people have been living here, with varieties brought over by the first Polynesian explorers. Chris grows over 50 kinds of bananas on his farm, many of them rare Hawaiian types. If not for his efforts, these species could become extinct; preserving them helps to maintain an important part of traditional Hawaiian culture. Plus, bananas are one of the easiest and fastest to grow of all the tropical fruits and are a nutritious source of carbohydrates.

Coconut Chris lives off-grid on his farm and follows a raw vegan diet. In addition to bananas, he grows an endless list of tropical foods: Jackfruit, starfruit, passionfruit, cacao, breadfruit, pomelo, papayas, edible hibiscus, soursop, durian and, of course, coconut. His passion for biodiversity and all home-grown food is truly infectious, and I always come away from a trip to his farm feeling inspired - along with a truck full of banana varietals to plant.