Mohan Zhang

The places that made me are the places I love

Kipahulu

Maui, HI

In 2013, neither cellphone cameras nor my own photography skills had sufficiently developed. This is panorama is indeed from Maui, but not Kipahulu.

Awakening

Something happened in Maui. There’s a “higher self” somewhere inside that I recognize as sovereign today and I believe it’s Maui who breathed life into me.

Looking at the open sea for hours a day and going to bed with its distant roar persistently saturating my thoughts, my place along the progress bar of a predictable, socialized narrative shook loose.

Many people who live on the islands for a few months report similar things happening. The nature there is raw and when nearly all signs of civilization are stripped away, you hear your own voice for the first time set against that primitive canvas.

For four months at the start of 2013, I worked as a farmhand at Ono Organic Farms and called the small village of Kipahulu my home. I had gotten rid of all my possessions when I left Austin and started my yearlong WWOOFing tour with just a backpack.

The adventure and magic that followed seemed to defy words, but I tried anyway, capturing the experience in one of my longform travel letters that I sent to friends and family, reproduced here.1

Here are some photos taken on a Nexus 4, back when that was the state of the art. I definitely look forward to a trip back someday with a proper camera for the scenes, but the setting will never be the same again.

  1. Keep in mind that the letter is written from the perspective of a 24 year old who is just discovering the world. Ironically, I was probably more relatable then to the average person.