She was right on all counts. Before I’d even opened the car door, a Bud-sipping young’un tapped on my windshield to ask if I needed help. When I explained my lack of hard currency, he shrugged. “I’ve got nothing else to do,” my knight explained, and began unloading my Sebring of its cargo. Moments later, I was packed into my kayak, Amancio waving to me with one hand and sipping another Bud with the other.
It’s only a half mile or so across the bay to the beach where Captain Cook was killed, but by kayak – solo – it seems much longer. I took my time, alternating between snapping shots with my camera (safely tucked into its housing) and sprinting to make up for how much the tide had shoved me since I’d last stopped. The tide seemed to be moving against me, which, I reasoned, was a good thing since it’d be working in my favor on the way back.
I paddled on at a leisurely pace, watching the green-furred cliff walls drift by and marveling at the blueness of the water. I didn’t recall the ocean being so stunningly cobalt in Oahu, and I remembered that this, the westerly side of the Big Island, was known for its clear waters due to the lack of runoff from rivers and the lava rock. As I mused about the little Hawaiian geology I know and tried to keep my kayak steady for another shot, I realized the sounds of breaking waves had grown louder. When I turned to see how close I was to shore, I realized I was about to be turned over by a large wave – and pushed headlong into a crag of unfriendly-looking lava rocks, which could stand the beating surf much better than I could. I paddled frantically, timing the boat so that I just barely managed to ride a wave in rather than being pummeled by it.
A second wave almost knocked me from my seat, and when I saw that I could stand, I jumped out and began leading my boat to shore. But I wasn’t out of danger yet. The waves still forced their way in, threatening to crush me between my kayak and the rocks, and several times I just managed to push the boat out of the way before it gave me a broken nose. Coughing and trying to remain nonchalant as I dragged ass ashore, I waved to the older couple who had watched me nearly drown, the husband half-amped as if he were about to save me, then realized, “Eh, I don’t know her.”
I allowed myself a few moments’ rest before strolling down the white sandy beach to explore, rust-colored mongooses darting out from underfoot. After seeing the white obelisk and snapping shots of the sea from land, I was ready for some snorkeling, which I’d heard was some of the best on the whole island.
It was like swimming in an aquarium. There were so many fish – yellow tangs, puffers, whitemouth eels, teardrop butterfly fish – that I could hardly keep track. I hung out and rode the surf with a school of yellow tangs that I had spotted from the shore, the surge pushing me in and out of their lemon bodies so often that they seemed to get used to me – at least, as long as I didn’t try to take a picture. (Perhaps tangs are Amish.)
When I’d had my fill, I paddled back, amazed to find that the tide was once again working against me, insisting that the nose of my boat face the completely opposite direction I wanted. By the time I reached the boat launch, I was exhausted, and terribly happy – and surprised – to see Amancio waiting for me some three hours later. “I wasn’t sure you were coming back,” he said as he reached down to help me out of the kayak. Moments later, the Sebring was all packed up to go, and Amancio was waving me off on my next adventure.
Whoever goes to Kealakekua Bay next, please tip him. Or at least bring him a few beers.
On my way back to return the kayak, I stopped at the Painted Church, which sits high up in the hills of Captain Cook. The church is small, but quite charming -- well worth the slightly out of the way drive. I could have gotten off some amazing shots had it not poured the whole time I was there. I can only imagine how land developers must envy the view that the dearly departed have but will never again enjoy.
I’d planned to head to Honaunau next, but the weather had other thoughts in mind, so I instead heading back north to Kailua Town, where I explored the Hulihe’e “palace” (a large home that supposedly once had grand furniture but was now under renovation) and the Kailua Pier, where several fishermen were hoisting in their final catches of the day. Honaunau and Place of Refuge would have to wait for the next day.
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I did, however, find it necessary to make a pit stop for lunch. After snorkeling, walking, and driving way the hell out of my way, I needed a little something in the belly to keep me going, but something fast so I could enjoy the volcanoes as much as I could. I’d already scheduled my plane flight for Thursday morning, since the actual lava flow was currently visible only by aerial tour, but I still wanted to get in some precious ground time and to see such sights as the acclaimed Thurston lava tube. But that would have to wait until I snacked.
The Book declared Desert Rose Café as “probably the best food in this part of the island,” which wasn’t saying much considering I spotted only one other eatery (mini-mart notwithstanding). I opted for a veggie burger with cream cheese and mango – I hadn’t found many other healthful choices – and scarfed it down. I have to say, the combo was quite interesting, and I’d try it again, only without so much dang cream cheese. After filling up my gas tank – and spending 20 minutes on hold to verify with Dollar that I didn’t have to use ethanol, as the label on my gas tank declared, and that the brake light that kept flashing intermittently was nothing to worry about – I was on my way. Again.
I arrived at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park a little before four o’clock, leaving me with just over two hours to drive Crater Rim . It was enough to do that and only that, although I would have preferred longer to explore the many trails in the more lush, rainforest portion of the park. My camera couldn’t capture the beauty and vastness of the craters, and on the computer screen, the steam vents seem like little more than the smoke of a latent campfire, but trust me, the park is well worth visiting, even when the lava flow isn’t visible by land. If nothing else, the Thurston lava tube and the surrounding flora are worth the visit. If my condo’s flashlight had been working, I would have explored the unadulterated portion of the tube, but I wasn’t about to venture in there in pitch blackness.
Now, scientists, listen up: One of you needs to create a device that captures smell. We have cameras and audio recording devices, but nothing quite captures the spirit of a place or triggers a memory like the sense of smell. I’ll never forget the sulfurous odor of the craters, that acrid, nose-tingly scent that doesn’t quite offend but isn’t something you wanted a candle scented after. I did, however, want to bottle the smell and take it home to supplement my slideshow so they could get an all-sensory feel of the place.
The sun set not long after I left the park’s gate, and by the time I hit the road back north, I was pretty tired. I had roughly 100 miles to go, on a road that disallowed a speed of more than 65 – both legally and practically – and all I wanted was to get back to my condo and sleep. I gave the bird to the South Point turnoff as I passed and whizzed northward. In the gloam, a sign blazed off to my left, one that I’d failed to notice on my daylight cruise southward. This time, I not only noticed but read the sign, and by the time it clicked, I’d already flown past. A quick U-ie fixed that, and moments later I was parked at the bar of Shaka, the southernmost bar in the United States. (Take that, lying Southernmost House Grand Hotel!)
As soon as bartender Cyboy (real name: he’d kill me if I told you) had poured me an ice-cold pint of red ale, I whipped out my cell to call my pal Marilyn and tell her of my achievement. Moments later, after writing a few postcards and talking to amiable son Bubba (real name: forgotten), I walked out to my car to take a shot of the exterior, now all aglow in the afterthought of sunset. My Sebring didn’t respond to the first dozen punches of the key fob, so I let myself into my car the old-fashioned way, with a key. I tossed the keys on the driver seat, grabbed my camera, shut the door, and posed my camera on the car roof so that I could get a crystal-clear shot. As I pushed the button, my possessed car honked and all I got was a fuzzy neon blur. The next one came out all nice like.
When I went to open my car, I found it locked. There on the seat sat my keys, glinting up at me in mockery. Apparently my key fob had a several-minute delay, and had locked me out of my rented vehicle. After telling Cyboy the story, I plopped myself down on my still-warm barstool and once again called Dollar. After several calls, I was told that I’d have to pay for the locksmith myself, as I’d declined roadside assistance (which I didn’t recall ever being offered to me), and that the cost would be around $35. No sweat. Plus $1.50 mileage. From Captain Cook. Both ways. That amounted to just over $200, and it would take the locksmith at least an hour to rescue me. As I argued with the Dollar representative on the phone, Cyboy came outside to tell me that his buddy up the hill was on his way and would be arriving in five minutes. I hung up on Dollar and awaited my knight in shining armor.
Or flannel PJs, I wasn’t being picky. Cyboy was in hysterics as he watched the pajama’d Sean at work, and moments later, I once again had my keys in hand. As Sean went to go back into his truck, his handle wouldn’t move. “I locked myself out.” I almost burst into hysterics before he let on that he was just joking. I have a feeling he loves pulling that over on customers.I finished the free pint of beer that Cyboy had offered me for having survived the experience, then headed back up to Kona. I couldn’t even look the Sebring in the face. I always name my cars – even rentals – but this one didn’t deserve a name. All it deserved was a kick good night.
It’s not often I get to dive. Yes, I live in SoCal, but the water there is downright frigid, so I haven’t been since my beginner certification many moons ago. My volcano flight wasn’t until the next late afternoon, so I booked myself on a morning dive with Kona Honu Divers once again. This time out, we hit Koloko Arches, which had wonderful arch and tunnel formations that made me wish I’d sprung for that underwater camera. We spotted a host of critters, including a crown of thorns starfish and several eels.
After my dive, I headed north up the Kohala coast in search of the Puako petroglyphs and ran into a band of scavenger hunters. I so badly wanted to crash their party and join in, especially when I learned it was part of an Internet conference, but I let the nerds be.
Next stop: Hapuna beach, the oft-named “finest beach in the country.” Yes, it was pretty and the sand was powder white, but beyond that, I didn’t get why it receives so many accolades. I found Oahu’s Kailua far more picturesque and inviting. To each his own.
Café Pesto turned out to be a bit of a letdown. For all the hype this Italian restaurant receives, it didn’t do much for me, and you can’t blame it on the vegetarianism since the waiter recommended my pizza before I’d explained my dietary restrictions. I think I might have been able to teach the chef a thing or two about Italian cuisine.
The highlight of the day came while driving the final stretch of route 270, through picturesque Hawi and its Old West storefronts. And at the end of the road sits the Pololu Valley, a majestic swath of green that tumbles down to a black-sand beach rimmed by steep emerald cliffs. The view from the top was wonderful, but The Book declared the 20-minute trek to the bottom even more photogenic, so down I went, a fine mist acting as natural coolant. About halfway down I began to ponder the return trip upwards and so confirmed the validity of The Book’s decree via a passing Aussie before continuing the descent.
I wouldn’t say it’s that much prettier at the bottom, at least not when it’s misting/raining, but I am glad I spent extra time in the valley. The beach was the first I’d stood on that was an usual color, and I found it interesting that my camera had such a difficult time reconciling this contrast, especially when challenged with a composite of just my pasty white legs and black sand. I think that shot almost fried the processors. In spite of the superstition against taking lava rocks, I scooped a spoonful of sand for my grandmother, who for some reason has begun a collection of soil from around the world, then began the climb back up the six or so switchbacks.It was at this point that I noticed the most vibrant rainbow I’d ever set eyes on, an unbroken, iridescent arc that spanned from the valley’s green cliffs clear across the water, as if hoping to reach the Maui shore. I must have taken 20 photos of the rainbow, which appeared to glow against the gray mist, like a piece of Oz breaking back into Kansas. Perhaps one day I’ll get around to threading all the shots together.