Monday, March 19, 2007

Young and Adventurous (Foolish?)






We awoke to sunshine and a beautiful view of the ocean. The grounds are immaculate and very beautiful. It is so much more pleasant staying in a small town versus a busy resort teaming with tourists and traffic. I went for a run along the local road, which turned out to be somewhat treacherous. Not wanting to become road kill, I truncated the run. Breakfast was simple wheat breads and a bowl of local fruit-papayas, bananas, strawberries and melon. But eating it on the lanai was a perfect start to our vacation. The owners have run this place for 6 years, and are just now starting to ramp up their business by using the web. She is from BC and he from Collinsville, IL. Their stories about building up customer traffic were interesting. We exchanged horror stories about experiences with b&b’s. We learned about Kona coffee and this area which has many coffee plantations. She told us that cheaper packages of Kona coffee are usually only 10% Kona coffee and you have to be careful to read the label. Good Kona coffee is 100% and runs around $18/pound. She buys her coffee from a local woman at the garden store. We did a short tour at the Bayview Coffee Co., a small place with one young man who roasts the beans by hand using a single roaster. An elderly Japanese man was waiting for his own beans to be roasted. He grows his own on the east side of the island and comes over twice a year to have 50 pounds roasted. After tasting their coffee, we decided we liked the one from the B&B, and went to the garden center to buy our supply. You would never have thought to go there for coffee, as the elderly Japanese woman driving a forklift runs this little place selling fertilizer, seeds, and other garden materials.

We were sorry to leave this lovely side of the island.

We wound our way to the southern tip of the island, where the Polynesians first landed. The winds in this area are incredibly gusty. Several groups of men were fishing from the cliff, high above a very rough ocean. Boat hoists sat on the cliffs where in the past, Hawaiians lowered their canoes to the water. The area is always windy and they say that currents can take boats out to “Antarctica”. It is a very dangerous area. We were surprised to see two people swimming toward shore.

It apparently is a very rich fishing area, and the men talked about catching mahi mahi, ahi and marlin. Ray was curious about how they bring their fish in from so high up and they showed us their metal hook and tube set up for pulling their line up to the top of the cliff.

We stopped at the Black Sand Beach, with its glistening black grains of sand. Too windy to stay, we continued on. We stopped at the local sweet bread bakery for Hawaiian bread. Around 4, we arrived the Volcano National Park. The ranger was just starting her talk outside on the patio. She talked about the current lava conditions and recommended a lava walk in the evening. If you walk out at 5, you can get out onto the lava fields by dark and see the glowing lava flows, but you have to walk back in the dark. If you are more adventurous, you can walk out even further about 3 miles and see the lava flow as it hits the ocean waves. Cool, we thought! We’ll go check in and come back at 5.
We should do it tonight since the weather was so clear, and it rains about 80% of the time in this area. How impetuous we were! Didn’t even give much thought to preparation. This is so unlike us!

We checked in, a bit impatient as the lady wanted to give us a full property tour. Grabbing extra flashlights, some bread and water, we went back to the park. We started on the trail around 5, and started walking with a large crowd of people, which thinned as time went on. It was not an easy walk as the lava fields are bumpy and undulated. Midway through, we ended up in an area where the ground was very warm with steam coming out of vents in ground. Everyone got really excited. It was crispy where we walked, as the silica crackled under our feet. We were careful not to fall and very careful not to step into crevices where you could easily turn your ankle.

As it got darker, the lava field looked metallic in the setting sunlight, with ribbons and bulbous shapes on the ground. Darkness set in and we found ourselves next to a 2 foot high lava mound, with red glowing lava slowing oozing out. It was mesmerizing until we suddenly remembered that we had farther to go, and we set off again. Off in the distance, we could see plumes of steam rising up, marking where we were heading. It looked so far away. We had forgotten to check our batteries in our headlamps and the b&b flashlights and so were cautious about using too much of our lights. Several a half couples and groups turned back, as returning hikers said it was still pretty far, and we had been walking almost 2 hours by then. One young couple said it had taken them a total of 5 hours. There were no more reflectors on the trail and we passed the last of the beacons (wooden horses with reflectors and lights on them). We were surprised that the beacons were placed so far apart, and were trying to remember their placement so we could locate them on the way back. Soon only a few couples remained. A large group of guys in army fatigues ran by us up the trail. We continued on, wondering if perhaps we should also turn back, as it seemed beyond the point that was deemed safe. The roped areas along the shoreline, keeping people from “benches that could fall off into the ocean” had ended. But people returning said it was incredible to see and it wasn’t too much further. We trudged on. The army guys were returning and encouraged us to go further, pointing out where the view was the best. After another half an hour, we got to the edge of the cliff and looking out on to the ocean, we could see hot lava flowing down into the crashing waves, creating plumes of fire and bright red clouds of foam and steam. It was such an unbelievable sight!

We were witnessing the birth of land and it was so spectacular. Further away in the distance, we could see what looked like waterfalls of fire flowing into the sea. Ray took video and I tried without success to take photos, but it was dark as can be and the movements of the lava and waves so violent. We watched for a very long time, listening to the crashing of the waves and the sizzling of the lava.

It was time to head back. Energized by the experience, we started out over the
mounds, and undulated ground. At first we walked hand in hand, later splitting up. We were worried that our headlamps and flashlights might run out, so we used them sparingly. It would be a long walk back. We walked and walked for an hour, not seeing any beacon. We found ourselves repeatedly coming to the ropes by the shore and knew that we were zigzagging along the fields, how quickly and easily one can become disoriented in the blackness. The stars in the black sky sparkled like diamonds but they were little help in guiding us along. Tripping and sliding on the silica covered ground, and avoiding the crevices, we trudged on for hours. Toward hour 3, we became worried that we had veered to far off track. To our right and in the distance, we could see ribbons of lava with their speckles of red from the “windows” of the lava tubes, reflecting out their glowing lava. There were 2 or 3 large sections of such ribbons.

By then, we were flailing, our legs were so tired, we were on autopilot. We had to remind ourselves to stop every so often, look up and try to find the beacon. Finally, beacon #5, how happy were to see it, but there were 4 more and each one was just as difficult to find, we would see one and as we walked down a slope, it would disappear from view. Sometimes we could see multiple lights in different directions, and couldn’t figure out which one was closer. After 3 hours, we were comforted by the presence of young groups of people setting out on short hikes. This meant we were getting somewhat closer. It was around 10pm by then. How wonderful it was to see the reflectors on the trail again, and finally, the paved road. We were exhausted by then, had eaten all our bread and drank all our water. We had made it safely back. In retrospect, it seemed that the area we were standing on, probably was a dangerous area, as it could have been a bench, and broken off into the ocean. I think we were the oldest couple on the trail, maybe the older ones thought better of the risk! Lots of danger, much adventure and some great memories.

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