Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kohala Photo Ops

The upper point of the Big Island is called Kohala. It's a region we haven't seen at all, so on this last day in Hawai'i, we once again lace on the hiking sandals and head north.  I've adjusted to the fact that The Big Island isn't all that big; the trip will take a few hours but not the entire day.

Kohala is the oldest part of the island, and upturned a'a has changed into something resembling soil.  The ocean is to our left and washboard roads lead to the water. Finally the highway  dead-ends at a small settlement called Hawi.  There's an ice cream shop and a dozen or so Galleries, or upscale muu muu shops. We have an expensive single dip of coffee ice cream with chocolate chips, sit in the shade and get one of the locals to snap our photo. 

The road east from Hawi goes only one place, and that's to the Pululu overlook.  The guide book said for the best photos, take the trail.  There was no trail in sight, only many tourists who, like us, had inched their cars off the road for a better view. 

We shot way too many frames of this and even so didn't get a shot that does it justice. What's missing is a brooding sky to the east, a strong wind off the ocean, and the glaring face of the farmer whose fence row we were crowding. 

After a salad and more last minute shopping back in Hawi, we headed down the center of the region, traveling the length of a volcanic spine that must have been slightly to the windward side.  The hills were so lush we could have been in Ireland.


There are little altars, memorials, and offering bundles everywhere.  In the black a'a fields, white pebbles trace out a cross and a name.

Stones are aligned on an ancient heiau with such focus on balance and rhythm that they almost speak. I try to listen, but it is a lost language.

Past the coffee plantations, a tree is festooned with orchid leis, sparkles, and yellow hibiscus.  My eyes say, "It's a celebration," but my heart knows otherwise.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Birthday, Snorkel Day, Whale Day

We set the alarm this morning and rushed through breakfast buffet to make it to the snorkeling excursion on time. The boat was small and the two girls piloting it were college students. Maybe. But we hopped on anyway, all slicked down with 80 proof sunscreen and carrying the waterproof camera we got yesterday at Hilo Walmart.

Ira seemed tentative about the whole excursion.  I was most worried about cold water.  The Big Island Revealed says water temp in Hawai'i is consistent year-round, but it IS February.

We took the long route to Captain Cook Beach and saw a sea cave and some lava flows that can't be accessed except by boat. We learned once more about a'a and pahoehoe, the two types of lava. Then we each received a pair of flippers in our own size, along with a snorkeling mask and tube.  In time we got our gear on the right way and slid over the side for some serious snorkeling. The water was warm. We could see a large coral reef about 15 feet below us, and schools of Needle-Nose fish and orange Tang fish, no doubt named for the breakfast drink.  Periodically we all had to paddle around, cough, and clear the salt water out of our masks.

We each had a snack of Fritos and papaya while the girl-pilots dropped a hydrophone into the water so we could listen to the singing of the Humpback Whales.  Their calls echo, and are like a cross between mooing and howling.  Whales from each region have one common song and that song becomes more elaborate each time the whales return to their breeding ground.  According to the guides, the song of the whale is not just noise but indeed a melody, with a beginning, guitar break, and end. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Day of the Unexpected

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.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Crackers and Cheese Day

Here we are on the Kona Coast and I have to admit it: the highlight of my day was when The University of Louisville Men's Basketball Team upset Syracuse, Beyond that, though, it was a laid-back day that included some early morning pool time  and then a walk through Kona's muu muu, shell necklace, and beef jerky district along the sea wall.

Between shops we did notice a few things that mentally, if not physically, took us off the strip: a young boy steering his board around the bay; graceful banyan trees and chattering mynah birds, and the first church of the island (1820s) where someone had obviously found sanctuary--he was stretched out and snoring loudly on the back pew.

Before leaving Kona and driving the six miles back to our hotel on Keauhou Bay we stopped at Safeway for bottle of wine and multiple varieties of cheese and crackers...otherwise known as dining in.

From our deck we could still see a few fish swimming in the still water of the tidal pools. And soon, just the sound of the waves.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Just Venting

Kilauea Caldera was a real showboat today, belching out snowy steam and so much sulphurious smoke that the pregnant, aged, or infirm were not allowed to play on the rim. After some thought we decided we didn't fit into any of those categories so we hung out around the Jaggar Museum and took photos with the rest of the kids.

Every museum has its hairball and the Jaggar Museum is no exception.  Enshrined in a glass case are the clothes Dr. Thomas Jaggar, volcanologist, was wearing when he first set foot into the red hot lava flow in the early 1900s. The shoes are warped and melted, his bush-style slacks are in charred fringes, and his small pick hammer is completely encased in the black stuff.  Apparently Dr. Jaggar was doing a close inspection of his special lava, perhaps deciding if it was (1) a'a, rough and porous lava or (2) pahoehoe, which is smooth and ropey. There are no actual photographs of Dr. Jaggar after the incident.

While on Hwy. 11 we stopped at Punalu'u beach, and experienced the black volcanic sand first-hand.

After leaving Caldera we drove a few miles toward Hilo, and discovered that we had been misled all these years.  At least in Hawaii, the grass really IS greener on the other side.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lunch at the Hana Hou and Other Stories

In our quest to be non-touristos, we headed into Naalehu for some local food. Our tour book recommended Hana Hou, which was one of maybe two restaurants in Naalehu. Besides a turkey burger and Asian slaw, we got Garth Brooks, Chinese lanterns, ceramic red peppers nailed on the wall, a row of white dishrags hanging on a line stretched between back porch posts, and a really good Rocky Road Brownie, my favorite part.

Backing up just a bit, we spent this whole day driving a long loop from our hotel below Kona through coffee plantation country and down to South Point, the southernmost point of Hawaii and the USA.  To get there, we hung a right off the main road and traveled a bumpy 12 miles past scattered farm houses, wind turbines, and grazing cows.   When we arrived (the end of the road), here's what there was: a huge panorama of cerulean ocean on all sides; a dozen jeep-like cars parked in the dust; five or six macho-sized fishing rods wedged into lava rock ledge, their lines trailing out into the sea; and wow---right in front of us two black humpback whales, breaching, diving, slip-sliding all over the horizon. It was amazing.

Soooo-- after discovering the beautiful blue at South Point, we headed a little further out toward Naalehu for burgers and the Rocky Road Brownie. Which was, now that I think of it, my second-favorite part of the day.