Adventures in Lava Land

18-23 Feb. 2018

random trip report

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(All photos by Y.) Erica and Noah are in FL for a week, so I arrange to trip to the Big Island of Hawai'i with my friend Y.

Sun 18

Travel always has small aggravations. I walk to BART in plenty of time, miss a train by 1 min, then wait 18 min. At SFO, I take the train in wrong direction and endure a long ride to and from the rental car facility.

The flight is OK. I arrive 2:30, get the rental car (Hyundai Elantra hatchback), and drive to Kona to wait for Y's flight, which arrives at 6:50. There's a permanent traffic jam on the road from KOA to Kona. I go to a Starbucks for the WiFi, nurse a coffee, and work. A guy nearby talks about a mega-thunderstorm on the way. Sure enough, rain starts - splattering, heavy tropical rain. I sprint to the car. I look unsuccessfully for a grocery store in big-box outskirts of Kona.

Y's plane is delayed until 7:07. I park at the S end of airport parking lot. The rain is torrential. The 200' sprint to the outdoor terminal drenches me. The info guy says United is in N terminal. Back to car, park in N end of lot. More drenching. No activity in United terminal. Realize flight is cross-listed w/ Hawaiian, which is in S terminal. Back to car. Rain has reached cataclysmic proportions, as if wash-tubs are being emptied directly on my head.

Not much activity in luggage claim. By now it's 20 min past the scheduled arrival time. Employee says Hawaiian has "2 planes on the ground". My cell phone is back in the car, but a lady waiting for grandkids says the plane is on the runway, waiting for a gate.

A despondent, tense, panicked feeling takes hold. Finally Y emerges, about 1 hour after her plane landed. Apparently the combination of fueling and lightning caused an outgoing plane to be delayed that long, and no other parking spaces were available (huh??). Y's suitcase is soaked, and its contents are damp.

It's a ~1 hour drive to the Airbnb, in the hills above the small town of Hawi. We stop for food at a sort of mega-convenience store at one of the mega-resorts. Sticker shock, though it turns out food is expensive everywhere.

We locate the rental. The directions about gates are confusing, especially in pitch black in pouring rain. With help of cell-phone flashlights we locate the cottage, which is incredibly nice. A dehumidifier is running, which helps in the fight against dampness, though Y feels that she'll be damp forever.

Mon 19

The cottage has a bowl of giant oranges and other fruit, and some real OJ and orange bread in the fridge. These are all extremely tasty.

We check out Hawi, which is a cluster of about a dozen businesses along the main road. We get breakfast at a fairly groovy cafe. Lots of art galleries, mostly closed, perhaps because of President's Day. I buy a pair of "restorative sandals" at a gift store, perhaps a rip-off at $45, but I'm charmed by the proprietress.

The paper cups at the cafe have an arrow pointing towards the rim with the inscription "Sip hole goes here". This appeals to our juvenile senses of humor, and there are lots of sip-hole jokes the rest of the trip.

On the advice of our hosts, we drive to the end of the road (270) and hike down to the Pololu beach and valley. It's sunny and hot, but with a sea breeze.

The beach has a number of balanced-rock sculptures. I accidentally destroy one of them.

We walk to the end of the beach and find a trail going up the far valley wall. This is a narrow trail through the jungle.

We find examples of an amazing flower with concentric rings of ~100 narrow curved purple petals, with 5-fold flat white leaves in the middle (perhaps Sweet Granadilla).

After a mile or so of uphill we reach the edge of the precipice going down into the next valley. There are a couple of benches, and a nice view of the rugged beach.

The descent looks very steep (and in fact involves ropes) so we turn around. We urge on another pair of hikers who are about to turn around 100' short of the viewpoint.

I strip down to my swimsuit-like underwear and go for a dip in the ocean. The water is perfect. A couple of teenage girls are changing behind towels, and ass is on display.

On the way back we find a Japanese grocery store and get more staples, such as bread, rice, pasta and sauce, and wheat thins.

We drive to Waimea for a 4 PM concert by the Hawaii Youth Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra is large and extremely good, and the conductor is energetic and enthusiastic, and talks a lot about the works, which include an opera overture by ??, some of Elgar's Enigma Variations, and the finale of Sibelius's 2nd symphony.

The audience is disappointingly small, but we give them a standing ovation and get an encore: Yoda's theme from Star Wars. I chat with the conductor.

Waimea now seems to consist entirely of housing development and strip malls. The Bavarian restaurant is no more. We visit Foodland (mega grocery store) and buy still more food, then get dinner at the nearby Hawaiian Barbeque, which is mediocre but extremely fast.

On the way back we stop at the vista point to enjoy the sunset.

Tue 20

Beach day. Clear and beautiful all day. We eat a leisurely breakfast on the deck, then head for Hapuna beach, which is billed as "the perfect beach". We find shade at the far end of the beach. I climb some lava rocks. Y is in the ocean for a while and says it's strongly wavy. She has an encounter with a giant sea turtle.

We drive into Kona, rent gear at Snorkel Bob's, and go to Kahalu'u beach. It's kind of crowded, but the snorkeling is OK. A fair number of colorful fish (largely Yellow Tang), and some giant coral cylinders.

We both find snorkeling slightly stressful - e.g. spiny sea urchins everywhere and water constantly seeping into mask - and an hour is enough.

We return the gear and walk to the nearby Royal Kona Resort for their Luau. It's a large-scale affair with ~200 guests. A photographer snaps every group. Unlimited Mai Tais. Unearthing of pig. We chat with the couple next to us, who are from Seattle and have two well-behaved girls.

Recorded music segues to a live band, some tough-looking Polynesians who play great but are sort of antagonistic toward the audience: "Thanks for the applause - all 6 of you".

The MC is an elegant woman who speaks very passionately about the Aloha Spirit, and the love of the islands and the sea, and the love of everyone for everyone else. Perhaps a little cheesy, but she means what she says and really cares about getting her message across.

The food is pretty good. Lots of meats. My fave is "Luau Chicken": diced chicken with some kind of greens and coconut sauce. Looks gross but very tasty. I manage to finish my plate (Y is impressed).

I walk around and buy the photo, which came out pretty well. $20. Y is delighted.

The dancing is well-intentioned but leaves something to be desired. It's the same 4 women and 4 men, dressing up in various costumes. Two of the men are skinny white guys, who look like college kids from the mainland doing this as a temporary gig. As for the women, well, a bit too much jiggling.

The grand finale is one of the men - short but extremely hunky and athletic - doing a fire dance with 1 and then 2 double torches. Incredible spinning, tossing high in air, passing behind back and between legs, etc. The flames are evidently of some low-temperature variety - at one point he briefly sets his dick area on fire.

The gathering breaks up slowly. We wander over to the Royal Kona Resort for Y to use the facilities. I chat with a woman, who was at the Luau, with impressive multi-color tattoos on her ample arms. The left arm has an abstract Koi, representing her partly Asian ancestry. The right arm is a salmon, depicted as an interlocking knot of color bands; a sort of Celtic ornament, representing her Irish heritage. I tell her they're beautiful.

We sit on a wall by the ocean for a while. Waves crash dramatically on rocks.

Wed 21

Volcano day. We drive to Volcano National Park by way of Hilo.

We stop at the Kolekole "beach park". The path passes under an amazing canopy.

The park is condemned due to lead in the soil, and is in a state of decay. In one of the shelters, a group of feral cats and roosters live together w/ Aloha spirit. The cats sit regally on cushions. Each species is dignified in spite of their reduced circumstances.

The beach is rocky, with rusting train tracks from a bridge that was destroyed in a 1949 Tsunami.

We arrive at the Volcano park and ask the rangerette for hiking recommendations. We do a hike that follows the Crater Rim trail to the Thurston Lava Tube (which we visit - worth it). Then we drop into the Kilawea Iki crater, which is entirely smooth but buckled lava from a flow in 1959. Occasional steam vents.

At the far side of the crater we ascend into the forest, and turn off on the "Byron Ledge Trail". This ends up descending into a much larger crater, and large signs mark the edge of a Forbidden Zone with poisonous sulfur fumes.

We skirt this and head up an absolutely gorgeous jungle trail. Y tries to befriend a trio of dim-witted Hawaiian jungle fowl.

We reach a T in the trail and elect to do a side-trip to the "steaming cliffs": clouds of sulfurous steam rise from the crater and blow across the trail.

Soon we're back at the Visitor Center again.

This was a great hike, with a lot of variety and the alien landscape of the crater floor. It was raining off and on the entire time, but it didn't really impact us.

We drive back by way of Kona, completing a circumnavigation of the entire island. It's late, but I cook the tricolor rotini w/ veggies.

Thu 22

Grim forecasts of rain over the whole island. We elect to take our hosts' advice and do a hike that passes through grazing land and ends up on top of a cinder cone called Pu'u Wa'a wa'a, AKA "Jello Mold" because of its jiggly shape and bright green color.

The first part of the hike is a wide road. We take a long-cut on a more interesting single-track trail, whose surface of volcanic rock is compared by Y to BBQ briquettes. Partway up the cinder cone I veer off and go directly up the grass; Y meets me at the top. There's a spectacular view if you like clouds of all shapes, and colors varying from white to dark gray (which as it happens I do).

On the way down we herd along a flock of bright yellow birds - possibly the Saffron Finch.

There are also sheep, goats, and a group of malevolent-looking cows.

Y views it as a "local's fitness walk" rather than a hike per se.

We top in Waimea on the way back, visiting Foodland for garlic bread and a box of chocolate macadamias for Y to put out for co-workers.

Back at the cottage, we explore the orchard: giant oranges and lemons, mandarin oranges, and an avocado tree with huge and delicious fruit. Oddly, no harvesting is evident. I take 3 giant avocados for the road (see below).

After dinner, go to the Hub Pub in Hawi for beers and snacks: sweet potato chips and "ginger tofu bites". I chat with the Minnesotan waitress.

We explore "The Barn", where an Ecstatic Dance event has just concluded.

We hear strains of music, and follow them to the "Kava Kafe", a hyper-groovy place that serves Kambucha and various herbal things rather than coffee. A 4-piece band of old guys is playing rock oldies (Stones, Talking Heads) and they're pretty good. A kid with a uke plays along.

A bunch of food is spread out - it was someone's birthday. We have cupcakes. A teenage boy comes in; we make eye contact and he gives me the shaka or "hang loose" sign (raised thumb/pinkie fingers). The audience of a dozen or so (mostly women of various ages) is totally into the music. A light rain falls.

I'm moved by the scene. It absolutely embodies the message of the Luau MC. It's one of those "ah - so this is how people are supposed to live" moments, and there could not a more extreme constrast with the hate, greed, intolerance, and isolation currently rampant on the mainland.

Fri 23

We clean and check out of the cottage. In the car I turn on the radio and hear a wonderful work for piano and woodwinds by Caplet. The Hawaiian classical station dominates pathetic KDFC.

I hang out at the Kohala Coffee Mill Cafe for quite some time while Y makes a circuit of the local stores, buying some stuff for her mom and self. Groups of German tourists mill around.

On the way to the car we get a cup of turmeric/ginger "Jun" from a groovy little stand. It's like kambucha except made with local honey instead of sugar. Very tasty!

We stop at the Waialea beach, just S of Kapuna, and smaller and less crowded. Trees go all the way down to the water.

Some sort of photo-shoot is going on with a pair of slender and beautiful dark-haired girls. A pair of energetic young boogie-boarders get smashed over and over. Y takes a careful swim in the dangerously powerful surf while I sit and think about passing tones, suspensions, and Liszt's Andante Lagrimoso.

Our flight was initially 4:15 but gets pushed farther and farther back, settling on 6:22. Eventually we drive to KOA, sit in traffic, and fill up and return the rental car. The airport, which is small and outdated, is overwhelmed by the volume of tourists. There's a long slow line at TSA, and a long slow line to go through an agricultural inspection (where my 3 beautiful avocados tragically get confiscated). Y also waits in a long slow line to buy a sandwich. Then, finally, a long slow line for boarding group 3, where some a-hole haole (cute, huh?) hassles me for passively cutting in line.

The flight is uneventful. Rob V - bless his arrhythmic heart - works extra late and picks us up at SFO at 2 AM. We then get stuck behind a truck accident for another 20 min. Arrive at an extremely cold house at 3 AM.

When Y opens her checked bag, she finds that her 2 avocados and 1 banana have been confiscated and replaced with a form letter threatening $1000 fines.

Summary: great trip. We didn't rush, but every day ended up full of memorable events. We agreed that we had sort of "done" the Big Island and didn't need to return soon, though if we did we'd try to stay in the same Airbnb, which was as close to paradise as you can get.

Postscript: the next day we do a hike with Rob in Redwood Park.

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