Traveling Begonias

Bringing the world to you one artifact at a time


Get your hot bread!

HawaiiKate BegoniaComment

After a fun week with friends on Moloka’i, we got to experience a Friday night festival. This particular festival kicked off the beginning of the Na Wahine O Ke Kai race - an annual women’s paddling race from Moloka’i to Maui. Our hosts were sweet enough to let us tag along and experience a really fun time.

They also recommended an experience many locals know about: The late evening opening of the Kanemitsu Bakery window to get fresh from the oven Moloka’i bread. We headed over a little before opening (around 10pm) following a stream of people through back alleyways.

Following strangers down an alleyway…

Following strangers down an alleyway…

With visitors and locals alike we stood in line for about 45 minutes to get this local favorite. We met some of the paddlers in town for the race as well as regulars. If you’re in a hurry, don’t expect to get in and out of there - it’s a process and part of that process is waiting in line like everyone else.

You can smell the bread baking which only adds to the excitement. There were people walking away with multiple loaves at a time. It was crazy.


Once we got to the counter we got to see our bread made to order. They take the freshly-baked loaf, split it open, and add your choice of sweet fillings.

After spending close to an hour being intoxicated by the bready scents wafting throughout the Quonset hut, we were ready to dig into our cinnamon butter bread.

What can I say…warm bread with butter and cinnamon…there’s nothing not to like.

Mail a coconut? Only in Moloka'i.

HawaiiKate BegoniaComment

Moloka’i is a beautiful, quiet island and the only place you can send a coconut through U.S. Mail. This tradition came about in a unique way.

Hoolehua Post Office, Molokai - the only post office where you can mail your coconuts home.

Hoolehua Post Office, Molokai - the only post office where you can mail your coconuts home.

Back in the 1990s, a tourist went into the Hoolehua post office and asked if they could mail a coconut home. The postmaster gave it a shot and it worked! That visitor safely received his coconut in the mail and the quirky little Post-a-nut industry was born.


Go into that same post office today and you’ll see mail bins full of coconuts ready to be decorated and shipped. And of course, in the spirit of aloha, they’re free! What isn’t free is to ship them. And of course the heavier the coconut, the more it costs to ship.


There are rules around which coconuts are eligible for shipping. They can’t have any holes or obvious damage that might lead to sending a rotten or leaky coconut. You must use Sharpies or acrylic paints so the design doesn’t get messy and bleed in transit. They even supply Sharpies at the Hoolehua Post Office for you to use!


Dozens of completed coconuts line the walls of the post office.


And lots of pictures and paintings of people enjoying the process.

Our own experience was just as fun as all this looks. The caretaker of the house we stayed in found us appropriate coconuts to use and we decorated them using Sharpies at the house. Then we trekked out to the Hoolehua Post Office and met Reed, who weighed and stamped them for us.

And for a small fortune later, our ‘nuts were in the mail! I got home to find mine delivered safe and sound.


My kids were befuddled at the delivery but the look on my friend’s daughter’s face when she received her coconut in the mail is pretty priceless.


Like I said, Moloka’i is a sleepy, chill island so this is a fun thing to do while you’re relaxing. My only tip is to find the smallest coconut possible.

Absolutely gourd-geous!

HawaiiKate BegoniaComment

I had the pleasure of meeting multi-media artist Tamsen Fox at the KailuaTown Farmer's Market when I was on Oahu last fall. I was really taken with the hand-carved gourds she makes using the ancient Hawaiian Ni'ihau method developed hundreds of years ago. 

Tamsen was born on the islands and her adopted family moved to London and later California where she went to college and raised her two sons. She visited Hawaii every year and finally moved back for good in 2010. Her work has taken many forms over the years including graphic design, fish made from palm tree bark, jewelry, painting, and of course the topic of the day, carved gourds.

Gourd plants were one of the original plants the Spanish brought to the U.S. where they were carved and used as canteens. They are thought to have originated in Asia and in addition to being used throughout Europe, they have been found in Peruvian archaeological sites dating back as far as 13,000 BC. They are considered the first “domesticated” plant. So with that history it’s no wonder they have been used in so many different ways. The Ni'ihau technique starts at the time you pick a green gourd from the vine.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Tamsen carves into the gourd with the tip of an unplugged wood burning tool and then the gourd sits for a few days.

Then she fills the vessel with Hawaiian Sandalwood bark dye (or sometimes strong coffee) and keeps it topped off for at least 3 weeks. During this curing time the gourd is going through a molding process and it can get smelly. Essentially the bark dye seeps into the green gourd skin, dying it with intense color. She monitors the outside of the gourd and once it looks ready she cleans the finished product by soaking it in sea water. She leaves it filled with sea water for about a week. 

After that it needs to dry for another week. And then she can polish the finished piece with kukui nut oil to bring it to a high luster. Here Tamsen talks more about her work on this Made in Hawaii segment on Hawaii News Now in 2014.

Tamsen creates what she has termed, “heart art” with each piece made with tremendous care and love. She has many pieces she won’t sell and those comprise her own “collection of souls” that she keeps in her studio for comfort and inspiration.

One of her pieces just won an award of excellence at the Hawaii Craftsmen at Linekona show.

“Hukilau” by Tamsen Fox

“Hukilau” by Tamsen Fox

Tamsen also makes beautiful drums. The bottom is half of a carved gourd with stretched goat skin over the top. In this case she’s drawn a Hawaiian owl (or “pueo,” in Hawaiian). This sort of owl is sacred to the Hawaiian islands.


In my travels since meeting Tamsen I’ve seen carved gourds in many places. In Peru I found these intricately carved pieces.

In San Diego we found these incredible pieces at a gallery in Balboa Park’s Spanish Village.

For as many of these as I’ve seen it amazes me how labor-intensive and complicated they are to make. As you can imagine, the carving work can take a toll and Tamsen’s own hands are suffering from the years of gourd carving and creating her very popular tiny Menehune wish pots (seen in the Made in Hawaii clip above).

Tamsen says the universe serves her and she serves the universe and I believe her. There is an authenticity to her nature that is undeniable and her creations come from a place of warmth and openness. You can see more of Tamsen’s work on her website, and on her Instagram page. Here’s a short video montage of more of her work:

If you see a beautiful carved gourd remember how much patience and care it takes to create them and if you bring one of those special pieces into your home, know that the person who made it did so with love and attention, which all of us can use more of.