Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hawaii - Day nine

Wednesday, November 5th

We're staying in Hilo at Arnott's Lodge, a wonderful departure from the fancy and expensive beach-front luxury resort chain hotels. Arnott's offers a variety of accommodations ranging from a place to pitch your tent on the lawn through men's and women's hostel-type dormitories to regular motel-type rooms with bath, where we stayed. There is a community kitchen, an open air lounge and another covered open dining area open to all. We loved it!

We had a late breakfast at “Ken’s” …a pancake house, and then walked along the beach of Hilo Bay. The surf is almost non-existent, stopped by the harbor breakwater a quarter of a mile offshore. The sand is clean, but its dark brown color makes it look dirty. We saw nobody swimming or lying on the beach. We did see lots of very large outrigger canoes, racked carefully in the sheds of several canoe clubs. Outrigger racing is a big deal here!

We spent the better part of an hour poking in and out of the shops along the waterfront drive, and then bought tickets at the old restored Palace Theater for a live Hawaiian story telling and dance show. After the performance we explored the open air farmer’s market and handicrafts market before heading east out of Hilo.

We stopped at the town of Pahoa for a sub sandwich lunch, and then drove on back down toward the coast and the road to Kalapana. This two-lane drive along the shore passes through dense tropical growth where ancient Poinciana tree trunks are almost hidden under the huge crowded leaves of giant philodendrons. Stands of bamboo are scattered along the sides of the highway, interspersed with the graceful green nodding of long needled ironwood trees. Here and there is a splash of brilliant red where heliconia blossoms hang down, keeping company with red, yellow, or white ginger flowers that spice the air with their sweet scent.

We turned off the road to see the lava tree park. At some time in the not too distant past, fast flowing liquid pahoehoe lava flowed down from the flanks of Mauna Loa toward the sea, incinerating almost everything in its path. As it oozed around large trees, the moisture in the wood cooled the lava just enough to solidify a thin layer of it around the trunk. As the trees burned and the lava drained away, casts of the tree trunks were left behind, rising like hollow black ghosts of the forest that was once here.

Further along the road we began to see signs indicating that the “public hot pool” was just ahead. Soon we came to a shady parking lot, and there, spread out just behind some rocks that protected it from the crashing surf was a natural pool perhaps 30 yards across and about 70 yards long. A number of people were splashing around lazily, enjoying the very warm water. I descended some steps leading down to the pond, and stepped in. The water was like a nice, hot bath…not uncomfortable, but very warm indeed. We had neglected to bring bathing suits, so the toes were the only body parts that benefited.

We went on down the narrow road that hugged the beach, snaking back and forth and rising and falling as it progressed over old lava flows, now hidden under heavy tropical growth. At another state park we paused under the branches of a grove of ironwood trees that whispered in the wind, telling each other tree-secrets that you could almost understand. A few steps brought us to the edge of a sheer cliff that dropped forty feet to huge waves crashing against the cliffs, sending their spray high into the air.

In places where the road came close to the ocean we could see a large column of steam rising into the air where still molten lava was still plunging into the sea. Before long we came to the end of the road at Kalapana. For many years the black sand beach at Kalapana was world famous. White surf foamed up a steep jet black beach there and slid back just short of the graceful curving trunks of tall palm trees.

The lava flow from Kilauea swept down the flank of the volcano, right through neighborhoods, consuming everything in its path. Houses burned. Cars were entombed. Streets were obliterated. The beautiful ponds known as “the queen’s baths” were engulfed. As the flow reached the shoreline, the coconut trees were destroyed, the black sand beach was covered, and within a short time the entire bay was filled in, turned into a jagged black landscape.

The shoreline is now more than a quarter of a mile farther out, and a twisting path winds it way out to a new, sterile black sand beach. People still live in the remaining houses, commute to jobs or run souvenir shops, restaurants, or the town store.

They have also undertaken the Herculean task of changing the desolate lumpy black lava landscape into a place of green beauty. All along the path from the road to the new beach, and for many yards to each side, thousands of plants have been carefully placed in cracks and holes in the jumbled lava surface, each plant with it’s own nest of imported soil and humus to catch and hold moisture for the roots of baby coconut trees, ti plants, vines, plumeria, and other flowers. Fifty years from now it will again be more like paradise.

We bought a snack at the small grocery store, and as we were heading back in the twilight toward the car we heard the sounds of a ukulele and a clear voice singing in the lovely falsetto range you can hear in many old Hawaiian songs. The music was coming through the vegetation between the store and an open air restaurant on the next property. We decided to wander over that way, maybe get a beer, and sit and listen to the music for awhile.

We had no sooner gotten into the driveway leading up to the kava bar than a lady in a mu’u mu’u came up to us and said that we were welcome to join the party. The party turns out to be a weekly community potluck held every Wednesday. They make welcome anybody who wanders in, with or without food, to partake in the meal and entertainment. The Hawaiian singer, reputed to be the best in the region, was accompanied by another man playing guitar, and a lady playing very soft harmony on a keyboard. The combination was enchanting; we sat and listened for close to two hours and left thinking that it would be really nice if we had something as warm and sharing in our own neighborhood.

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