August 2004 - Touring Hawaii

Upon arrival, I (Barb) try to make myself presentable after almost 4 weeks at sea, and seek out the customs officer.  Because their office is temporarily in the back of the locked building and I am without cell phone, I can’t get in.  I try the coast guard folks in the same building who take me to the customs office, but the agent is out.  I’m beginning to worry that we are going to get into trouble for not checking in and I don’t know how much I’m allowed to wander around looking for him. I wait awhile for him then give up for now and sort out business with the harbour master’s office, where they take a $50 deposit for the washroom keys.  I’m still worrying about customs but when I return to the boat, the agent wanders by.  I needn’t have worried.   I doubt we’ll ever have as laid back a customs officer again. He asks a few questions and sets an appointment for the next day, with the instructions to come around the back of the building, climb down the grassy knoll,  and knock on his window.  You’d think that US Border Services could spring for one of those portable doorbells. The next morning he has his sick dog with him so he can take it to the vet.  He proceeds to tell us how the poor dog is constipated, although this doesn’t stop it from chewing on various things in the office.  Two weeks later when are leaving I ask how his dog is.  I suppose I didn’t need the description of how he knew the pooch was no longer bunged up.

Tourist Stuff
Hilo is a fairly small city (45 000) which, despite the regular visits by cruise ships, was not especially commercial or touristy.  There were, however, free shuttles to various money extraction locations when the ships were in port, including one to Wal-Mart.  Now this was convenient for us as we had a fairly long list of things we wanted, knowing that French Polynesia is supposed to be very expensive.  However, I can’t figure out why anyone would spend their cruise ship stop in Wal-Mart.  Maybe they want to visit the McDonalds conveniently located in the store; it serves Spam for breakfast - a change from the regular cruise-ship fare.

Hilo has a farmers' market twice a week with lots of produce.  We bought very sweet pineapple from a Canadian who was farming in Hawaii.  New fruits for us were the small tangy apple bananas, the strawberry papaya, and the star fruit, all yummy.  We also tried breadfruit (a vegetable), which is nothing to write home about, although deep frying helped.

The day at the Volcanoes National Park was a most awesome experience.  You could say I have warm memories of it :-)  Around the caldera of one of the big volcanoes, clouds of steam rose from the ground, surrounded by bright yellow patches of sulphur.  The craters were not active at this time but were awe inspiring none the less.  Around one of the craters were placed offerings of fruit and flowers for Pele, the volcano goddess.  Sadly, some of the offerings were left on polystyrene plates, which seemed a bit of a desecration to me.

We drove down a long twisting road to reach the newest lava field on the south coast of the island.  Originally a through-road, flowing lava had covered a large section of it, forcing us to park before the pavement ended.  We joined the hundreds of other people who were hiking out to the flow, walking about 1.5 miles along the pavement and then clambering over another 1.5 miles of  lava.  There were spots where the ground felt warm because of the lava that was flowing underneath.  I was glad we were not walking along this huge black expanse during the peak of the day.  Rarely, one could see some evidence of the road that had been consumed, such a sign sticking up.  The hardened lava itself was incredibly varied in texture, and some of it was iridescent.  We arrived at the active flow just before dusk, where we could see the globs of lava dropping into the ocean from a safe distance of about 500 meters. As night progressed the sight became more spectacular as the bright glow of the lava was that much more vibrant, and the waves which crashed into the lava turned into great billows of orange steam.  The stories of Pele at war with the sea goddess took on new significance.  Sometimes a chunk of fresh lava bank would break into the ocean, creating an even bigger show, accompanied by ‘oooohs’ and ‘ahhhhhhs’ of the crowd.  It was much like watching Canada Day fireworks :-)  In the darkness glowing rivulets leading down to the outflow became apparent.  It was a bit disconcerting to realize we had been walking over this stream of fire.

One thing we appreciated about Hawaii was the accessability of the sights and the lack of tourist trappings at these places.  We imagined that in Canada there would have been hawkers selling glow-in-the-dark rings and lava burgers, while pelecopters carrying richer tourists circled.

The next day we drove around the island.  On the windward side we enjoyed the lush vegetation, with brilliantly coloured flowers and a couple of lovely waterfalls.  The leeward side of the island has a much more dry climate and much of the landscape consists of huge lava fields, with patches of growth where the lava missed or where some plants were managing to eke out an existence.  Along this desolate stretch of highway, which is part of the marathon section of the IronMan Triathlon, we spotted miles of graffiti formed from white coral rocks placed on the contrasting black lava spelling out messages of undying love or just the flame-du-jour.  This west side of the island is famous for beautiful beaches but it was late and raining by the time we arrived so we just visited Kailua-Kona.  Shops were open late and there were a lot of people wandering about, lending a touristy atmosphere.  We enjoyed dinner across from the start of the swimming portion of the Triathlon, looking out over a pretty bay.  Dessert included Kona coffee ice cream and vanilla ice cream made with vanilla beans from Tahiti.  Very good indeed!  We arrived back at the docks after midnight, but it was an enjoyable whirlwind tour. Apparently we weren't the only ones tired from the day's activities; when we pulled up to the gate the guard was seated in his chair, eyes closed, and unresponsive to our 'hello'.  He did, however, wake when his partner came out the the guard hut to tap his shoulder...

Food and Wine
A few days before leaving (on our anniversary and on a blue moon), one of our boat neighbors invited us to a Luau.  This was the 11th annual local garden party held in the back yard of one of the town's richer families.  They kindly donate the use of their orchard for parking and their several acres of backyard for the food and music.  Several years ago, they even had a stage built that the bands can perform on.  Down a steep bank there's a great view of one of the rivers flowing through town, with palm trees crowding the slopes on both sides.  The party is open to all, and free; one is encouraged only to bring a potluck dish. We took a cab into town and walked the rest of the way.  Eating had already begun - several large tables were laid out with lots of delectable dishes, some of which had been prepared that afternoon in an umu (covered firepit).  We dug in heartily, and brought our plates over to a spot on the grass to listen to the band.  It turned out the sister of the fellow who invited us was the lead singer of 'No Etiquette', and they entertained us for several hours performing renditions of many '80s pop/rock songs.  Barrels of beer, vats of wine, and piles of pop kept everyone cool as we danced or just sat around enjoying the atmosphere.  

Staying Cool
Afternoons in Hilo were often hot and humid and only occasionally broken up by showers.  Barb and I took to walking 20 minutes towards town for relief.  At Banyan Drive a spring-fed stream forms a pool before running into the ocean, which some locals call cold, but as Canadians we called it refreshing.  We enjoyed swimming in the fresh water several times.  Groups of teenagers often gathered at the bridge crossing the stream and took pleasure in jumping from the railing into the pool accompanied by large splashes, particularly when other pedestrians were within range.