Mar 272007

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Big Island, Hawai’i, 5th Day. This was the most eventful day of the trip and the longest day as well as we left the hotel early after breakfast and came back after midnight. Before going we checked the weather report which showed a 50% chance of rain at the Kilauea Volcano but since this was the day before last in our vacation and I wanted one more try to see the volcano we decided to take our chances and go. And it turned out better than two days before, at least in the beginning of the day. We were able to stop at many waterfalls on the way to Hilo and this time the “scattered showers” were for real. We started with the gorgeous multi-tiered Umauma falls for which we had to pay an entrance fee because the access road was part of the grounds of the World Botanical Gardens. Nothing seemed to come cheap on Big Island. After seeing the falls we took a walk through the garden and I think it was worth the money. The garden had a lot of exotic flowers and trees that I’ve never seen before and some that I thought I knew but turned out to look different that what I was expecting. They had some bug spray at the counter but we ignored it, something we started to regret as soon as we got deep enough within the garden to be too lazy to return just for getting sprayed. We left the gardens in some sort of dancebreak movements, and I kept on scratching until we reached our next stop: the Akaka and Kahuna Falls. It was our third attempt to see these falls, the previous times it was raining so hard that we stayed in the car and decided to return another day. To get to the falls we walked a short path through the rain forest. With so much rain, the vegetation was living life to the maximum, everything seemed so green and lush.

Afterwards Cris decided he’s seen enough waterfalls for one day so we drove to the Kilauea Volcano. We passed by the visitor center and found out where we can see lava flowing. We drove the park loop, stopped and walked through a light rain to different craters, passing the time until dark. I liked the bleak, desolated landscape, the fumes rising up from the black earth, a lone rainbow shining through. About an hour before sunset we drove down towards the ocean to the end of Chain of Craters road. We parked a looong way from the end of the road, passed by numerous warning signs – “Extreme danger beyond this point” – and started walking on the lava. There were two paths marked by the rangers, one to a viewing point very close to the end of the road. It was difficult to see the lava from that point so we took the other path and continued passed the markings. At some point we found the remains of the old road, complete with a bent “No parking” sign caught in the lava field. We kept on walking until it got so dark we were afraid we’ll have problems returning. We were pretty deep inside the lava field at that moment and we could see the lava shining in the night at many points ahead of us. It was a great sight and we stood and watched for some time. After that we subjected our knees to some more suffering – it’s not an easy job to walk on lava – got back to the car, had dinner at the Volcano Lodge and started on the 3 hours drive back to the hotel. The people at the Volcano Lodge deserve my recognition. First they told us we have to wait half an hour to be seated but when they heard that we have a 3 hours drive ahead of us they took pity and fed us right away.

The Umauma Falls

At the World Botanical Garden

Akaka Falls Park

Kilauea Volcano

That’s me in the middle of the road

Mar 222007

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Big Island, Hawai’i 4th day. On the fourth day on Big Island Cris demanded that we keep his part of the bargain and go snorkeling. Leafing through the travel guide to find a good place to snorkel, I found that one of the best places according to the guide’s authors was very close to a Hawaiian temple. This was the beach I picked, thinking that we can do both activities, see the temple and go snorkeling afterwards. This time we drove south keeping to the west side of the island, passing again by fields of lava sprinkled with white stone messages and past the airport and the resort of Kailua. As soon as we left the highway the road started to descend towards the ocean. The Hawaiian temple that I wanted to visit had the long name of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau or Place of Refuge at Honaunau. From what I’ve read this place was a sort of an extreme form of “get out of jail free”, or rather “get out of trouble alive” meaning that if those accused of a crime could manage to get here they would get absolved. In ancient Hawaii the society was regulated by the”kapu” system of laws and according to the kapu the crime that one can be accused of and executed for could be as ridiculous as “one’s shadow touching the shadow of a leader” or “walking the same path as the chief” or “men and women eating together”. It was believed that the violation of these laws will bring god’s anger in the form of famine, lava flows, high tide and earthquakes so the violators were hunted down and killed. Their only chance was to reach this place of refuge and once inside the priests will perform ceremonies to absolve them and they could return home. It wasn’t easy to reach the place of refuge because the well defended royal grounds full of warriors were adjacent to the pu’uhonua. Today this place is a neatly organized national park and the quiet and beautiful grounds really feel like a place of refuge. There are some reconstructed Hawaiian huts, the wall that separated the place of refuge from the royal grounds and a reconstructed thatched temple that used to contain the bones of 23 chiefs. The small cove was full of green turtles basking in the sun. We walked around the place, following the lava all the way to the ocean. After the visit Cris finally got his wish, we went snorkeling at the beach just north of the place of refuge. The travel guide was right, it was a good place to snorkel with plenty of fish. On the way home we stopped by the St. Benedict’s Painted Church, a small catholic church whose walls were painted in Biblical scenes in 1899 by a Father John, a catholic priest who came to Hawaii all the way from Belgium. He’s done a beautiful job with the painting.

Mar 102007

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Big Island, Hawai’i, 3rd Day. All three Hawaiian islands that we visited so far have one thing in common: their west side is dry and gets lots of sun while their east side is … my travel guide says “green” but I’ll translate that for you and call it as it is: rainy. In the summer staying on the green side is not a problem but in the winter it rains a lot. Otherwise the temperatures in Hawaii are pretty much the same all year with this one exception: on the east side it rains more, especially during winter. It goes without saying that this being the beginning of March, I booked a room in a hotel on the west side of Big Island. Even though the volcano that we wanted to visit was on the east side and the fact that I understand that rain is good for the earth, I still didn’t want to see lots of it on my vacation. So on the third day came the time when we drove to the wet side of the island. The weather forecast sounded resonable with a prediction of “scattered showers”. The weather people in Hawai’i surely have a very developed sense of humor because what we found was this: they weren’t showers because by showers I understand a fall of rain of short duration, short underlined; they were rather downpours lasting all day; also they weren’t scattered, rather it was raining everywhere. Later that day we found out that the weather report is a bit of a joke around locals. Apparently they predict the same forecast every day. We drove through rain for hours and tried to get out of the car here and there, but in most places the rain was so heavy that you couldn’t see anything, much less enjoy it. We went all the way to the volcano but no luck there as well. What we found was rain with a new element of surprise, fog. On the way back to the hotel we caught a gap of about 20 minutes in the downpour and we managed to get out of the car and admire two waterfalls, Pe’epe’e and Rainbow. After that the rain started again. I was happy to return to the west side.

Mar 072007

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I had great plans for our second day on Big Island but it wasn’t to be, I had to rethink everything because of the weather. I was planning on a 4 miles hike but when we approached the start of the trail it started to rain and fog was rolling in so we turned around and drove northwest. The highway climbed to 3000 feet rapidly. Where I grew up I’m used to seeing fir-trees when we get to this elevation but here it was just pastureland and even a few cacti sprinkled here and there. We passed a few little towns and stopped at Pololu Valley overlook. The view was of a small black sand beach surrounded by soaring cliffs and it was beautiful. Living in northern California spoiled me a bit, because truth is I’ve seen many valleys like Pololu. There’s three per mile if one drives down Highway 1 from San Francisco to Monterey, granted not with volcanic sand. I liked the view but I didn’t think it was so exceptional as my travel guide described it. We hiked down into the valley, a short hike on a clearly marked path. As we got closer to the beach we were surrounded by a horrible stench and soon we discovered the source: a dead cow covered with flies. How the cow got there I have no idea. If it was near the cliffs I would have asummed that it fell but it was right in the middle of the beach. The beach was very rocky, with big and small bolders and the occasional patch where the bolders were grinded into coarse black sand by the ocean. We walked around, took some pictures and started on our return. At some point Cris was telling me about an article that he read about how plants produce methane and I guess I was so taken with the subject, my mind wandering off in all directions that I mistepped and took a nasty fell. I didn’t break anything but I got a big bruise which started to bleed a bit. I don’t even remember when I fell last, probably more than 10 years ago. I kept looking at the bruise on the hike back, like it was something that I’ve never seen before. I hope I’m not turning into a hypochondriac.

Back on the highway we stopped in Kapa’au and took a picture of the statue of Kamehameha the Great, who’s probably the greatest Hawaiian king, the one who conquered all the islands, excuse me, the one who “united” the islands. We left the highway to get to a heiau – a Hawaiian temple – but no luck there as well; the unpaved road was too muddy and we were afraid the car will get stuck. To use the remaining daylight we took a stroll around the fish ponds at the Mauna Lani resort. After that it was time for the second sunset of the trip.

Mar 012007

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As many of my friends know already I’m not a beach person. I don’t dread going to the beach in fact I might even enjoy it a few times a year. But I tire quickly of life at the beach and most of the time I feel I would rather go hiking in the mountains than lying flat on a piece of sand. Cris loves the beach, of course. We often trade a day at the beach for a day of hiking which is good because we end up going both places, getting a taste of both experiences.

You could say we are lucky to live in California for part of the year, because California has both beaches and mountains just hours apart. But the beaches of northern California are not swimable, not without a wet suit and a lot of courage 😉 In my six years of living in San Francisco I was able to swin in the ocean only once; it happened in Santa Cruz, 2 hours south of San Francisco and my legs were paralyzed by the cold the entire time. I will probably have to pay the price for this in my old years 😉 And so we managed to find a place, 5-8 hours away from San Francisco that has both mountains and beaches, a place where one can swim without freezing. First time we went to Hawai’i it was almost by accident. I would probably not have chosen Hawai’i as a destination on my own. As I said, I’m not a beach person. I didn’t know much about the 50th US state and little that I knew had to do with images of perfect beaches. I had five days of vacation left out of the “generous” 15 days per year that my company was granting to its employees. The company’s policy didn’t allow for vacation days to be carried over to the following year. Plus I was not to leave US because I was still waiting for my working visa. Some friends were going to Kauai for a conference and this is how we ended up going to Hawaii in december of 2001. As soon as I started planing the trip I realized that Hawaii is much more than its beaches. I loved it in Kauai. Next came Maui in April 2005. This was when I discovered snorkeling and I started to like the beach a little bit more. After Maui Cris and I were talking that we probably won’t return to Hawai’i. Been there, done that, there are other places in the world worth seeing. What made me rethink this decision was the fact that I wanted to see the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on Big Island.

On Sunday morning we flew from San Francisco to Kona, Big Island. The plane landed in the middle of a lava field, a desolate landscape but like nothing I’ve ever seen. The Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway that we took to get to our hotel was also cut through this huge lava field produced by a eruption at the beginning of the 19th century. Across the lava field we saw “corral” grafittis, “Bradon loves Jenny” made of white stones. We arrived at the hotel at around 5 o’clock in the afternoon. There wasn’t much time left until dark so we found a place on a beach terrace and sipped Mai Tais while watching the sunset. Since it’s our third time in Hawaii the scenery feels familiar; but as Vincent Vega said in “Pulp Fiction: “It’s the little differences”, and these are what we’re going to look for on this trip. More to come on Big Island.

View on landing

Sunset on the beach