Day One: I woke up in Hawaii. Any story that begins with that sentence is okay by me. So. The 50th state in the union, Hawaii (a.k.a. the Sammich Islands) is the world's most isolated archipelago (about 2000 miles from L.A.; about 6000 miles from D.C. - hence the eye-reddening flights) and is made up of six to eight islands (can't seem to find a consensus on that so maybe Two Scoops can help out here). We were kicking it on the Big Island, the only one that has both snow and active volcanoes.

After LB and Dad did some recon around the hotel and beach, we all met up for a lavish all-you-can-eat buffet brunch. I loaded up on divine and yet healthy for you Anahola Granola. Over tart pineapples, sweet strawberries, lime-drenched papayas (TP graciously ate my share), pastries, cereals, juices, and mild Kona coffee, we discussed the plans for the day. Most of us grunted "beach" several times, but Dad insisted that we visit Honolulu on the neighboring island of O'ahu. We found out that the trip would involve getting up and being at the airport (45 minutes away) at 5:00 a.m., catching a flight to O'ahu, getting shackled to a guided tour, and slapping down about $300/person. We thought about taking a ferry instead, but apparently, it hasn't been built yet. Even though we all wanted to see Pearl Harbor, we kicked up a fuss and finally, Dad relented. I think the main reason he complied was because by then he found out where the golf pro shop was. As a compromise, we decided to visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

We drove for two and a half hours along the upper curve of the island, through the big city of Hilo, and into the park. Our side of the island was leeward and therefore usually sunny and dry. This side of the island was windward and wet and although we packed our rain gear, in the end, we had no need for it. We gave ourselves a little tour of the visitor's center and the volcano house while waiting for the official (free) tour to begin. At tour time, a tiny, young Japanese girl appeared and in a thick accent declared herself our guide. She rattled off some of the endemic flora and fauna, told us the legend of the ohia trees, cursed the invasive ginger plants, and gave us a brief lesson in geology which I will share with you now. Settle down, class, this won't take long.

Whether its due to (a) Vulcan the blacksmith (not the mind-melding humanoid Vulcans, you nerdlinger) tooling around in his forge (b) the wrath of the goddess Pele in full force or (c) bouyancy and gasses pressuring molten rock away from the core of the planet, liquid hot MAG-ma (said in Dr. Evil's voice with pinky placed appropriately near the smirk) spurts up and out of the weak parts of the earth's crust. Sometimes, the magma reservoir (it took us several moments to figure out that's what our guide was saying when she said "lezivah") erupts via a fixed hot spot (imagine the nastiest pimple-popping session EVER) while the plates on the surface continue to float and shift. Here, the Pacific Tectonic Plate was moving westward while the volcanoes did their thing and when the lava cooled, each Hawaiian island was formed (just like Iceland!). So the farther west you go, the older the island (i.e. Niihau - population 230 - is the baji of the archipelago). The farthest east, the Big Island is the baby of the family and since there is still some volcanic activity, it is still growing. Isn't that the cutest thing? No? Maybe this is:

Anyway, back to the tour. Turns out, our guide led us along the same route we had just taken. We did learn quite a bit (a crater is less than a mile, a caldera is greater) and oohed and ahhed over the Kilauea Volcano below:

Despite the warnings that the goddess Pele (or "Pere" who sometimes wears a "lead dress") would be angered if we took any of her lava rocks away, we took our chances. Here she is venting some steam:

The lava fields were just incredible and really made you feel as though you were on a completely different planet or moon (with convenient human-friendly atmosphere, how sweet!):

I thought of my fellow Scrabbie-lovers when I learned that this particular lava is known as "aa" because, as the joke goes, when your tender, bare feet land on the incredibly sharp shards of lava, you exclaim, "ah! ah!" We drove along the Crater Rim Road for some wide, unobstructed views of the desolate landscape and ended our day with a walk through the rain forest to the Thurston Lava Tube (the III).

We thought about driving down to the coast to witness the current eruptions and the molten lava slowly sliding into the sea, but we hadn't had any lunch, the sun was starting to set, and we were still on Eastern Standard Time. We drove back to the hotel along the spectacular coast and up the lush mountains and down deep gullies of the northern edge of the island, marveling over what we had seen. Dinner (sushi, sushi, suuuuushi!), discussion (What's with volcanic islands (Iceland and Hawaii come to mind) and outrageous prices? The price of gas was between $2.60 - $2.75/gallon! And yes, I had a car and therefore had a perfectly legitimate excuse for indulging in my obsessive gas price comparison shopping), and deep sleep.

Next up: Body surfing on the Pacific Ocean

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