Today we drove through the saddle-shaped valley from Kona to Hilo on the other side of the island. I was expecting it to be bumpy, long, and barren but most was red-ochre hills against the green-violet shapes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. We dodged potholes and wild turkeys for the first ten miles or so, but otherwise it wasn't bad at all.
Hilo was all bright sunlight, another thing we hadn't counted on, though there were puddles everywhere and evidence of bountiful rain in the lush vegitation. The storefronts along Hilo Bay had a well-worn small town feel, as Ira said, "like tropical Scottsville in its heyday." More quality, for sure, than muu muu and shell stretch in Kona. We felt at home in Hilo (maybe because it was Phil and Chris's home for a few years), liked our lamb pita at the Puka Puka, and really liked our Kosmic Cone dipped in chocolate. (We also liked Banyan St., which is pretty hard to explain, except maybe as driving through a lot of old lady's legs.)
Puna is the volcanic triangle on the coast south of Hilo, described in Doughty's Big Island Tour Book
as a real outlaw land, where people don't mind setting up housekeeping in the path of an active lava flow. We did see some evidence of that as we drove south from Hilo: there was a white clapboard island house with "Merry Christmas" spray painted in black across the front. And as we neared the coast we saw a wild child --shirtless, shoeless, and with untamed island locks--running toward us in the road. As we neared, he ducked into the most tall and dense vegetation I have ever seen. There was no sign of an opening, but he knew where he was going.
We came upon a painted church and wondered if this might indeed be the last sign of civilization we would encounter. (This is a topic for another day, but the painted churches in Hawai'i are pure magic. )We took photos, put a few dollars in the "Thank you" box, and moved on. At this point we could hear the ocean.
Around the curve the narrow road was barricaded and then barricaded again. There were signs(and more signs) that told us not to drive our (rental) car over the heaping, loopy, jagged, sinister looking mounds of petrified black lava that had engulfed the road. OK, we were really thinking about putting it in gear and climbing over this hellish heap, but maybe we'll reconsider.
A quick left and we were on what (we thought) would be the totally wild and untamed Puna costal ride. Not quite what we had imagined....both more and less wild than we'd envisioned. Straight ahead--total rain forest with trees bending to touch over the road, just flora on steroids, little shop of horrors, what next around the curve??
In answer to that....ocean meets rocky lava like you wouldn't believe. There must be a name for this, mega-spumoni?? No, too many letters for Hawai'in, but the intersection of black stone and sea was quite an opera.
The biggest shock: here were a lot of ritzy houses tucked behind the ferns of Puna, probably owned by people who paid the guidebook man to throw us off the trail. On the left, a hidden design by Frank Gehry? Then a few miles on the right, a shack selling holistic medicines and that green leaf that is not fully legal in the other fourty-nine. And so forth, repeat, repeat, repeat.
Finally we headed back through Hilo, back through Banyan Street and the bay, and up toward Honoka'a, where it did finally rain. In a few minutes the sky cleared and we had a lavender sunset all the way back to Kona, not too shabby a day.