Paradise or Survival: Dylan Citrin Cummins Encounters the Realities of Living off the Land in Hawaii

May 17, 2023

Dylan Citrin Cummins’ friend and the leader of the trip, Paul, attempts to catch a chicken. Leading up to their trip, the group was excited about seeing all the chickens; however, they only caught one which they ended up letting go. Photo courtesy of Dylan Citrin Cummins

Dylan Citrin Cummins’ friend and the leader of the trip, Paul, attempts to catch a chicken. Leading up to their trip, the group was excited about seeing all the chickens; however, they only caught one which they ended up letting go. Photo courtesy of Dylan Citrin Cummins

In July of 2004, history teacher Dylan Citrin Cummins spent one month in Kauai, Hawaii with five of his high school best friends. However, they did not simply stay in hotels. Their goal was to rely on nature for resources by sleeping and spending time outdoors, as well as gathering their food from what was around them. While Cummins, still in college, expected four weeks of paradise, the group’s stay on the island instead entailed various surprises, from native animals to hitchhiking. Despite these obstacles, Cummins credits his trip to Kauai for fueling his adventurous spirit to this day.

Although Cummins’ friend Paul was the main motivator behind traveling in a group to Kauai, the rest of the friends were all easily convinced of the idea. “We recognized that we were all going kind of separate ways to universities, or perhaps to careers thereafter, and moving across the country,” Cummins said. “We just recognized that this was a golden moment to be together.” 

According to Cummins, he and his friends had spent lots of time in nature before their trip and were overall pretty athletic, which they knew would prepare them well for Kauai. “We grew up doing a lot of backpacking in the mountains and Yosemite and whatnot,” Cummins said. “We were in very good shape and very prepared physically.” While in Kauai, Cummins and his friends depended on hiking as their main mode of transportation.

Despite that Cummins and his friends were accustomed to adventure, they ultimately were not the most prepared for their trip. “We did absolutely zero research, being the very ‘responsible,’ young 20-year-olds that we were,” he said. 

Their trip was centered on the North Shore of Kauai, also known as the Nepali Coast, but his group hitchhiked to move locations. Cummins was pleasantly surprised by how willing various strangers were in welcoming and driving him and his friends around the island. “Getting from point to point we learned was a lot faster by hitchhiking so that’s how we got around most of the time,” Cummins said. “It’s an incredibly friendly island and people were so kind and welcoming.”

Rather than staying in hotels, Cummins and his friends slept outdoors in order to follow through in their mission of living off the land in Kauai. Cummins brought a parachute hammock and tied it between trees so he would be elevated off the ground, avoiding centipedes. His friends just slept on the ground, but Cummins was more cautious. “If [centipedes] bite you, they can shut down your arm or cause incredible pain,” Cummins said. “I knew that we were miles and miles and miles away from [. . .] hospitals.” When possible, Cummins would also sleep on the beach, instead of his hammock, because it was more comfortable.

Another way Cummins and his friends lived off the land was by finding food in nature instead of relying on grocery stores and restaurants. The group did not think that finding food would be an issue in Kauai, as they assumed there would be plenty of fruits hanging from trees, fish floating in streams and chickens roaming around to hunt. 

However, these expectations were far from reality. According to Cummins, most of the fruit, apart from guava, was not ripe where his friends stayed. To this day, Cummins still can’t eat guava because of how much he ate throughout the trip. And, even though there were a lot of chickens, Cummins and his friends were only able to catch one. The chicken simply walked up to them while they were sitting on a log and Cummins picked it up. “None of us knew what to do with the chicken once we caught it, so we just kind of passed it around in a circle between us saying ‘You kill it, you kill it,’” he said. The group ended up just setting the chicken free.

Because options for food were so limited, Cummins and his friends ended up relying on Kauai’s seafood, specifically sand crabs. “[The sand crabs] pinched really hard, and that hurt a lot, so we needed to figure out how to catch them without, like, losing parts of our fingers,” Cummins said.

The trip also taught Cummins and his friends to harvest taro root for sustenance. “We would have to dig it up. We would get the root, we would clean it in the ocean or a stream and then we put it […] in a pot with river water and we boiled it,” he said. Cummins learned that the root needs to boil for four to five hours, which was difficult to carry out in their manmade fire, amidst a damp jungle climate. 

Throughout their stay, Cummins and his friends cleaned themselves in the surrounding waters with soap that they packed. However, they were unable to stay completely clean despite their efforts. At the end of the trip, they were wearing the same board shorts and t-shirts they arrived in unless the t-shirt got ripped or burned in which case they changed them. “We were quite a sad sight when we finally came out of the jungle.”

According to Cummins, his friend group loves to body surf in Santa Cruz, and so they jumped on the opportunity to do so in Kauai. “When we were out there body surfing, that was like a dream part of this trip,” Cummins said. “Even though we had so little energy and so few calories we still found great waves to body surf.”

Cummins is forever thankful for the experience he gained from this trip. “When we get together, we still tell some of the funny ‘director’s cut’ stories from that trip,” he said. “I also was inspired by that trip and chose to live an international life for most of my adulthood.” After surviving Kauai, Cummins lived in Italy for seven years and Vietnam for five years before returning to the Bay Area, partly to be closer to the friends he went on this trip with.

Cummins encourages people to follow their thirst for adventure. “Think outside the box. If you and your group of friends find yourself having conversations about adventure and exploration and seeing things in the world, it’s fun when it’s a conversation, it’s a lot more fun when it’s lived,” Cummins said. “Live your life. Seize it.”

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About the Contributor
Photo of Devon Schaefer
Devon Schaefer, Sports Editor

Number of years in The Coat of Arms: 2

Favorite aspect of journalism: sharing fascinating stories with the Menlo community

Interests outside of school: lacrosse, soccer, cooking, reading

Class of 2025

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