Housesitting in rural Hawaii
Not unlike the rest of the world, except we have certainly been more fortunate than many, everything changed when word spread of a virus originating in China that was going to shut down the world. Our first foray back into real travel was to the very careful island of Hawaii, where they allowed no one for a long time and then required quarantines for everyone for a long time and finally opened up to passengers who could produce a specific Covid 19 test with a negative result taken at a specific time before arrival.
Initially we just planned on a two month stay in the Kona area because it had been so long since we had been to the islands and they were open and it seemed like a really good place to continue self isolating. Once we booked the trip we continued searching TrustedHousesitters for a housesitting opportunity to extend our stay. If you would like to join TrustedHousesitters please use our code RAF03990. You will receive 25% off your membership and we will get a couple months free, We knew that Hawaii housesits were really popular and competitive but we gave it a shot. Shortly before we left for Kona we found a 3 month housesit about an hour north of Kona and we applied, aggressively! I think the reason it got noticed was a) we had experience with parrots and b) we were going to be on island before the sit started so we could meet the homeowners and the animals first.
Two days after arriving on the island we drove the hour to Pa’auilo where the house is located. We passed over every kind of microclimate you can imagine on our way. There was the hot, sunny beach developed area of Kohola leading to the unforgiving landscape of fields of lava flow which eventually began to have a little vegetation on them, gradually more and finally gave way to full pasture. As we got closer to Pa’Auilo we climbed up to 2,500 feet and found ourselves in the chilly clouds with tree lined roads and more pasture. coming back down into Pa’Auilo it became more of what I think Hawaii looks like. Spectacular ocean views, lush vegetation, strong trade winds, but it was still rural.
The house we pulled up to was huge. The lanai wrapping around the makai (ocean) side of the house was bigger than any home we had stayed in since starting this journey, big enough for 2 living rooms and a dining room! It is on a substantial amount of land (at least it seems like it from my San Diego property perspective) with just about every producing tree you can find on the islands growing like gangbusters on it. Breadfruit, soursop, jackfruit, mango, avocado, banana, papaya, lime, orange of several varieties, coffee, curry, and many things I don’t have a clue as to what they are.
The first to greet us was a dog with the lightest blue eyes. They are stunning. They are my mother’s exact eyes. Her name is Maya and she is a Catahoula. She’s a very good dog and very intimidating looking. The other dog on the property is Kupu, she is some kind of terrier and looks like a large female version of my sister’s dog Rocky. She had a bad accident with other dogs and a fence that left her partially paralyzed but unbroken. The homeowners, Jeff and Nedi were very welcoming and showed us the property, had us meet the other animals and we had a nice visit. They told us a bit about the area and how different it is from most of what mainlanders see of Hawaii. Dan and I were very excited and really hoped that they would select us to take care of the animals while they were gone. After an hour or so we said our hopeful goodbyes and headed back to Kona. We had barely gotten back to the highway when we got a call from Nedi telling us that we were their choice if we still wanted it. Whoo Hoo! We were all happy about the selection. Dan and I drove back to Kona very excited about the opportunity, and to enjoy the two months before the gig started.
The housesit was to include twice a month housekeeping and lawn maintenance, which was awesome because the house and lawn were huge! 2 cars to use, which was even better because, if you could even find a rental car on the island it was running thousands of dollars a month for a little clunker. Best of all we would have all the organic eggs and in season fruit we could eat. Papayas would definitely be available when we arrived. We would be taking care of 16 chickens, 2 dogs, 3 rabbits and an African Grey parrot named Luna. The house itself was one of those that would rent for thousands a night on Airbnb for an executive getaway or celebrity retreat, so we were happy to hang out with the animals rent free for 3 months!
Our 2 months in Kona were wonderful and we spent a week with friends who came over from the mainland to stay in the Waikoloa area, which was a blast, before heading up to Pa’Auilo to stay overnight with Jeff, Nedi and the critters to get a rundown on the operation. We spent the afternoon chatting and trailing Jeff around as he took care of the chickens, showed us the town (1 street of 3 or so blocks consisting of post office, feed store and small market with unpredictable hours).
This is when we found out that there was a worm composting set up he would appreciate us taking care of. And a Michael Phelps workout pool that we would need to keep the chemistry right on. And a small pond (water body of questionable quality) we should fill up occasionally. And the car was not registered so we could only use the truck. And we still needed to start the car every few days. And the refrigerator had an issue and wouldn’t close properly but someone was coming next week so be sure to be there for him. And we would need to get organic chicken scratch pretty quickly, they were running out. Phew! That was a lot to unpack, but they are so nice and it’s a great gig so we gamely nodded at it all.
That evening we had a fantastic dinner of grilled island venison burgers and more side dishes than we could fit on the table. We ate outside on the amazing lanai overlooking their expansive front yard/orchard and the ocean in the distance. As it grew darker the bugs, which had been around all day, grew more persistent. Alarmingly so. Finally a swarm of small ants with large delicate wings overwhelmed us and we gave up, moved everything inside and cleaned up. They have many large doors on the front of the house that they throw open all day to receive the ocean breeze and none of them have screens. The whole time this swarm was happening they were all open, with lights on in the house. We watched as hundreds of them hovered around us in the kitchen, Dan appointing himself Lead Squisher. Ends up these are not ants with wings. These are termites in their annual swarm. TERMITES! All up inside their house!! Nedi and Jeff live an organic lifestyle, so no real pest control. Parrots are very sensitive to those kind of things anyway so there wasn’t a whole lot we could do and they seemed completely unworried by it. Since it was clear that they were not prepared for their trip we excused ourselves and went to our room. The next day we took them to the airport in Hilo and it was up to us.
Honestly, it took about a week to get the hang of wrangling the chickens into the individual places they were supposed to go into at night. (Very funny to watch me chasing after the hens cajoling them unsuccessfully into their assigned places!). Finding good places in the garden to forage fresh greens for the 3 rabbits. Finding where the hens lay their eggs each day. It all added up to a surprisingly time consuming series of tasks. It was fun, and exhausting and I am sure very fun for the neighbors to watch!
Our proudest hour (most humiliating anyway) was when a rooster decided to hop the fence to the neighbor’s yard. They have a big beautiful pit bull and we didn’t know how she would react to the rooster on the loose if she was let out before we could catch him. We had not met the neighbors yet and Dan was reluctant to go on their property to get the chicken. I didn’t see any choice so I went around and through their gate, determined to catch “our” rooster and get out of there. Ha! Have you ever tried to catch a rooster? That dang thing evaded me at every turn and made me look like a darn fool! Dan kept telling me, go that way, grab it when it comes out, no, over there, reach in and grab him (reach in to a pineapple plant to grab an angry rooster, no thanks). No luck, lots of getting really frustrated with each other and saying unkind things. Finally I stomped back and told him if he was so smart he could go catch the rooster. I thought I had shown him! He went over, did exactly what he had told me to do and grabbed that little devil and threw it back over the fence to our side. That would have saved me 45 minutes of frustration, humiliation and marriage destroying outbursts!!!
We got into the groove, me taking care of the chickens and bunnies because he always got bit by bugs the instant he went out into that yard. I also took care of the African Grey, because she had a sharp and fast beak and seemed to like me best. He was in charge of feeding the dogs. I usually harvested the eggs and fruit and we both devoured the harvest. I grew very fond of the chickens, and they learned to follow me around, which Dan found very amusing.
We also had a beautiful selection of flowers growing on the property and I didn’t do enough to document them. Here are a few that I did capture. The haku (flower lei for the head) I made for a friend was from flowers and leaves all picked on the property. It looked better on her!
We got even more fortunate that Nedi and Jeff asked us to stay some additional time so that they could get some more business done on their trip. We ended up living the island dream for a total of 4 months before we had to get back to the mainland for some business of our own. We were so embedded in the neighborhood by then, clued into the island barter system and comfortable with the routine of the household that it was really difficult to leave. As with most of our sits now, we left with new friends, animals that we fell in love with and a deeper understanding of the locales that we were lucky enough to inhabit for a time.
By the way. Do not allow swarming termites to enter your home unchecked. We immediately had evidence of infestation moving about the beautiful wooden kitchen cabinets the whole time we were there!