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What is it like to live in an off-the-grid nature retreat in rural Hawai’i?

by | Mar 21, 2023 | Permaculture Education, Holistic Health, Travel | 0 comments

When we say off-the-grid nature retreat on Big Island, Hawai’i, all most people hear is Hawai’i.

Hawai’i has a reputation for its perfect island life: slow and mellow, waves splashing, the sun shining, and exotic fruits ready to share their sweet goodness with you. It is all true, friends, but… there is so much more to it.

Country living

If you’re considering visiting the Big Island of Hawai’i you might have chosen it instead of the popular Maui or Oahu because you’ve heard of its pristine wild nature with fewer build-ups and tourists around. The local residents like to keep it this way. We happily give up certain conveniences for peace, quiet, and no chem-trails.

Let us give you an unexpected yet familiar description of life on the Big Island: it is very rural. Yes, Earthsong is situated in one of the most remote and, therefore, most exotic places in the world, and yet, this is a Hawaiian countryside. This means you will fall asleep in complete darkness with generous moonlight on a cloudless night, lulling away to nature sounds (in our case, to the mating song of the Coquí frogs) and wake up to bird songs and leaves rustling in the wind (we will get back to that wind later.) You will be able to walk down a shaded path and pick a lemon off the tree and stretch out in the sun on silky grass, or rock in a hammock with a slice of orange in your hand. You will drive a few minutes down South Point road to plunge into the cool, turquoise waters of the Pacific, or sip a coffee at one of the many coffee houses in the area (there are many farms growing Ka’u coffee beans in volcanic soil making it some of the best coffee in the world.)

That said, experiencing life in a sustainable, off-the-grid nature retreat in rural Hawai’i does require some lifestyle and mindset shifts.

Food

As we said, this is the Hawaiian countryside. This means the nearest store where you can buy the food you see lining the shelves at stores like Whole Foods is an hour away.

Our relationships with food are complex and deeply personal. Finding ourselves in a foreign land can often feel unsettling, with no comfort foods within our reach. But like with most experiences of the sustainable, off-the-grid lifestyle, there is a lesson in this. If you’re willing to adjust the way you eat to what is available on the land and at the local farmer’s markets, you might find yourself much less reliant on grocery stores not only during your stay here but also in your life beyond the Big Island experience. The plus side of this is giving yourself the option to stay away from the food network that ships its products across the globe, contributing to the over-consumption of fossil fuels responsible for many of our planet’s environmental issues. Plus you’ll be giving your hard-earned money to the local farms and food cultivators instead of the corporate giants.

And not to worry, we won’t throw you into the water and yell “swim!” Adjusting one’s food habits can be difficult, and we are here to help.

Our food philosophy boils down to one word – “farmacy.” In a nutshell, food to us is something to nourish and heal us.

In the past, we treated food as something to comfort and entertain, but through our travels, we learned that the “farmacy” approach worked better for us.

Here is an example of what we eat in a day:

Nutrient-filled, anti-inflammatory breakfast: We wake up with herbal tea made from various herbs we grow here including lemon balm, mint, and Mamaki leaves (a Hawaiian tea plant known for its medicinal benefits including aiding inflammation, immunity, and urinary tract health, to name a few) with a squeeze of fresh lemons grown from the trees on the land. The first meal we usually consume is a smoothie made with avocado, banana, and papaya – all grown here, with some chia seeds, spirulina, and cordyceps for added health benefits mixed in.

Greens-fueled energy lunch: Our go-to lunch is usually farm-fresh eggs from the local feed store where we also have access to grass-fed local cow meat for those who consume animal products. We mix up a stir-fry with vegetables from our garden: tomatoes, kale, and other varieties of leafy greens that you won’t find in the grocery store, including Okinawa spinach and Chaya leaves. As a treat, sometimes we get freshly made sourdough bread from the local Farmer’s Market to make an avocado toast to go with it. Otherwise, we often use cabbage as a “taco shell” for the eggs and veggies with a sprinkle of fresh microgreens on top.

Protein-filled, locally-sourced dinner: With or without meat, for dinner, we mostly eat curries, soups, stews, and stir-fries made with squash, sweet potatoes, cabbage, bok choy, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, beets, and other veggies we can grow or buy locally. We’re also experimenting with culinary mushroom cultivation and when we have a flush of oyster mushrooms, shitake, or trumpet mushrooms, we add those to our meals. For grains, we purchase quinoa, brown rice, and adzuki beans in bulk from Costco or Island Naturals in Kona or Hilo. We also purchase bulk nuts there which make great snacks and creamy sauces. For spices, we order them online because we have a taste for organic, whole-grain, exotic spices which make the simple dishes we cook become far from simple in flavor.

Photo by Keoni

Weather kinks

The weather here is famed for its intensity. The sun shines bright and hot, the wind blows with all its might, and the rain graces the land in unpredictable patterns. The good thing about it is that the elements temper each other: the wind and rain cool you down from the scorching sun, the sun dries off the rain, and the wind blows away the rain clouds.

That said, you can find yourself braving days of rain, hiding inside from the intense wind, or longing for shade on sunny days. Mild is not the name of the game here. The elements are intense, and if you visit during the winter season from December-March there will most likely be storms to weather. This past season, we experienced Mother Nature in full force with a batch of what is known as the “Kona lows”, a type of seasonal cyclone in the Hawaiian Islands, usually formed in the winter from winds coming from the westerly “kona” (normally leeward) direction. When we asked our friend, teacher, and Hawaiian healer Leimana about this kind of island weather, her advice was simple: stop complaining.

Confrontation with the elements gives us many questions to ponder in self-inquiry such as:

  • How can we stay present in discomfort?
  • What can we learn from stillness?
  • What is there to be grateful for at this moment? 

The community members staying with us this winter season experienced the ups and downs of the off-the-grid life alongside us. The storms we weathered together made it a steep learning curve for them. But in the end, what we all learned was just like Leimana had said: complaining got us nowhere. Nature in this corner of the Earth is so alive; it breathes and plays right next to you, so being grateful is how we remain present with the beauty all around us in each moment.

And let’s be honest, when you enter the beautiful sacred waters on a warm day, feeling relaxed after lying on the hot black sand, the taste of fresh coconut still in your mouth, you forget the rainy days and start fresh.

off-the-grid nature retreat

Off-the-grid living and sustainability

Like any paradise on Earth, we make sure to keep it clean: this means we try to avoid as much interference from civilization as possible. We are mostly off-the-grid here and we have no wifi. Living off-the-grid means you have to be aware of your consumption, so running your espresso machine as you’re mixing your smoothie and playing your electric guitar might not be the thing to do around here. We take it easy, we take it slow. Make your coffee the old-fashioned way, on the stove, to save the electricity for that smoothie. Play the many bowls and drums at the temple and get away from the screen (no panic, there is reception here, and you can walk to the nearest coffee house for wifi.)

Here at Earthsong, we discourage single-use plastics and cans as they can not be recycled on the island. We understand that not all waste can be avoided but it is up to each of us to do our part to make an impact on a gigantic global issue.

Visiting an off-the-grid nature retreat gives all of us a closer look at our consumption patterns and habits. How mindful are we in what we buy and how much do we take for granted in what and how we consume?

Community

Contemplation and learning

And last but not least, Earthsong is a celebration of all things life, but you will not find much in the mindless entertainment industry around here. There are no movie theaters or nightclubs in our rural region. There is, however, a live theater – The Aloha Theatre – located in South Kona that puts on small productions. If you crave more action, you can always drive to the other parts of the island including Kona, Hilo, Puna, Waimea, and Kohala.

Our primary form of recreation away from Earthsong seems obvious to us; it is going to the ocean. The ocean is the most intense, action-packed thrill ride there is, after all! Especially with the waves you find here in Hawai’i. Unique beaches, including black and green sand line the coastline of Ka’u. These are not beaches seen on postcards for Hawai’i, but to the Hawaiians, these are sacred lands where it is believed the Polynesians first landed when they came to the islands.

EarthSong Foundation Hawaii

Whether you’re drawn here to learn more about Hawaiian culture, to find adventure, creative inspiration, spiritual connection, or to witness the island’s diverse nature and wildlife, there is endless exploration available all over the Big Island of Hawai’i. If you’re up for some contemplation, if nature sounds are music to your ears, if learning new ways to eat and consume is something you’re after, then Ka’u, the island’s largest and least populated rural district has plenty to offer you.

Staying at an off-the-grid nature retreat is a learning experience. You learn about sustainability, community, nature, and its workings, you learn about the real Hawai’i (not the neatly packaged tourist destinations) and most importantly – you learn about yourself.

So, now that you know it all, are you up for it? We hope you are.

Your journey to Earthsong starts here: www.earthsongfoundation.org

Co-written by Earthsong Steward Elena + visiting community member Irina with Kit to Happiness

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