(Warning! The last two days have been so jam packed, I want to remember every detail. So this one is gonna be a long one!)
The last 48 hours were… amazing. Absolutely amazing.
We woke up Saturday planning to hit the road for our special adventure ASAP but the beach called us. We took a family swim at 8 am. I’m now convinced every day should start with a family swim in the Pacific. Dan and Mike took Casey out snorkeling and they saw an eagle ray (think Mr. Ray in Finding Nemo)… super rare to see. Casey swam 100 yards in all by herself and we were all very proud of her. I stayed closer to shore of course but still tried to enjoy the ocean water on my skin.
We finally packed up around 10 and headed northeast to Waimea for their famous Farmer’s Market. We’ve been to this market many times, usually it’s cold and a bit rainy. But this time, it was glorious! Sunny skies dotted with cloudy little wisps and the perfect temperature brought out the whole town apparently because they were pretty much out of all prepared food by the time we had arrived. We should have known this would happen. We are experienced Farmers Market Goers. Fortunately for us, Plan B was just as good… The Fish and The Hog a half mile down the road is a great little restaurant owned by a nice and clearly talented lady who commutes between here and Asheville NC each month. We snuck in there before everyone else got the same idea. We loaded up on yummy poke (me) and Hot Hawaiian burgers (the boys) before continuing our journey eastward to the Hamakua coastline. (Mike’s favorite part of the island) We could have spent the whole day here, exploring Lapahoehoe State Park, Akaka Falls, etc. but we had other items on our agenda today. We did manage to make a stop at our favorite smoothie stand. What’s Shakin is actually quite a popular and well known little gem along the 4 mile scenic route north of Hilo and sells gigantic avocadoes, homemade banana bread and delicious smoothies (among other items.) We of course tried all three.
Moving south toward the Puna district, we finally hit Pahoa, the town hit hardest by the 2018 eruption and noticed quite a bit of economic growth there (it really needed it) before we decided to go to the end of the road, literally. Four Corners was the intersection about 10 miles further south where you turned west to Vacationland, a small community of homes in Kapoho that surrounded the Wai O’pae Tide Pools. The 2018 eruption of Kīlauea covered it all. The access roads, the neighborhood, the gorgeous tide pools and all the marine life in it… gone. Last month, the state was able to complete the paving of a new road to the intersection. From there, a two mile hike takes you to a brand new gorgeous black sand beach. We did not do that hike, unfortunately. But we did walk around on the brittle and still warm lava that surrounded the road, all of us in disbelief that this was once basically a lush jungle dotted with little homes on stilts. We saw mangled electric poles half buried in the ropes of hardened lava. We passed a couple homes cut off from civilization until recently and most likely in disrepair since I am guessing a lot of the materials in the home melted from the heat of the surrounding lava. After spending a memorable week out here in a gorgeous home overlooking the now-gone tide pools, this was a surreal experience for Mike and me. It saddened both of us to know what once was a beautiful, lush jungle is now a stark, desolate lava field. (Click on this…Day 23 – Tide Pools to see what this area looked like before the eruption.)
I recently discovered the time-lapse feature on my iPhone so I thought this was a perfect time to try it out. This is the new road out to Four Corners.
After paying our respects to Pele at this far southeastern corner of the US, we traveled on to Volcano Village, a quaint little town that caters to the millions of visitors who flock to see the Hawaii National Volcano Park, the entrance of which is here in this town.
We arrived at our adorable, quaint little cottage that sits in basically a jungle at 4000 feet above sea level just in time to dress for dinner at The Rim restaurant. The Rim resides inside the Volcano House hotel and every seat has a view of the crater, or caldera, as they call it here. Mike learned from the bartender that the cloudless sunset we were witnessing as we waited for our table only happens 1-2 times per month. I could not believe our luck in the weather up here. Chilly, but beautiful and sunny. Beth, our waiter, was sweet as could be and we had a lovely time watching the sky turn to black over the lifeless lava while we dined on lamb, kompachi and the best vegan ice cream! It was a great way to end an amazing day.
Sunday morning, we woke to rain, of course. I mean, it is the jungle. But it was quite relaxing to enjoy our coffee on the screened in porch surrounded by green in every direction. We then meandered over to the center of the village, where they host their own Farmer’s Market every week. Our scores at this market far outweighed what we missed the day prior. Casey and I had “Coqui-in-a-holes” which were delicious sprouted grain bread slices with an egg fried right in the middle of the toast. She basically ate hers and half of mine, washing it down with some delicious lilikoi juice. We also gathered a few souvenirs and some of the freshest produce you have ever seen.
I spent most of our time talking with Renee, a sweet woman from Austin who moved here over 20 years ago. She is a social worker in Hilo who works with adults who have mental illness in a day rehabilitation program. As someone who almost went back for her Masters in Social Work two years ago (I even applied to UT Arlington but backed out for several reasons) I peppered her with so many questions she finally politely excused herself, saying she had to get home. (And yet, I found her 30 minutes later talking with her friends, so clearly she just needed to get away from me!:)
Back at the Volcano National Park, we checked out the Visitor’s Center first only to learn that Casey was ready for yet another meal. Knowing that she was already not into this part of the trip we decided to wait the 20 minutes before lunch was served at Volcano House so that Casey could be well fueled for the rest of the day. Anxious to see more of the volcano I was not thrilled about this detour, until I learned that our waitress was Stacy Welch. I recognized her from the documentary Pele’s Path. Fissure 8, the largest fissure of the 2018 eruption is, literally, in her back yard. We got to talk with her a bit before it got busy about all that she dealt with during the eruption and since then. She still struggles with PTSD and said she will probably lose her house in the near term as it has some long term damage from the gases and heat. She has only been back in the house for less than a year.
I followed the 2018 eruption on line religiously for the entire 15 weeks. I learned how hard it was for these people to be without their home, without information, no where to go, all while figuring out how to completely start their life over now that their land is now worthless and unusable. But when you hear the stories of these people from their own mouths, the thought of these events takes on a deeper feeling of loss for these resilient residents.
After filling our bellies a second time before noon; we toured the art gallery, visited the steam vents and walked along the outer edge of the crater as far northwest as one can go in a car (parts of the road, the Jagger Museum and many other areas of the park were badly damaged and still not repaired. Some attractions, like the Thurston Lava Tube, were completely destroyed.)
I so wish we could have hiked some of the trails or driven the 36 mile Crater Rim drive to the southern coast where the lava used to enter the ocean. But alas, my shoulders and Casey’s stubbornness wouldn’t allow it.
We made the kids stop one more time on our way back to the Kohala Coast. This time, it was to see the Kaumana Caves. Tucked along a quiet road outside of Hilo, these caves are quite large and we saw lots of people venturing deep inside both of them using their phones as flashlights. We stayed a bit closer to the mouths of the caves but still got a great view of each.
Coming up over Saddle Road, which is now techinically known as the Daniel Innoye Highway, we cut across the island to head back to our condo in Mauna Lani. But of course, I couldn’t help but get a couple glances and pictures of the Hawaiian protesters who were camping up by the Mauna Kea Access Road. They are protesting the building of a new Thirty Meter Telescope up on one of the most perfect star gazing spots in the world. I am not Hawaiian or a local, so I will stay out of that political mess. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have any thoughts on the subject. 🙂
So much more happened on this little adventure. In fact, some of the best parts of the last two days were the interactions with the wonderful locals and Hawaiians. One of the sweetest moments of our trip so far was when Casey received a Hawaiian blessing from a local Hilo man who had come out to Four Corners to gaze at the lava. Mike had been chatting with him about his experience here during the eruption, and when this sweet man saw Casey step off the lava and come over to her daddy, he just melted. He said he had to get a hug from her. He asked her politely and after she said yes he proceeded to place his forehead on hers and explain how Hawaiians greet each other in this way. It was such a sweet and special moment. She seemed to enjoy all the love and attention, which has not been that uncommon during our trips to Hawaii. For some reason, we have found that many Hawaiians seem to gravitate to Casey. Whether it’s on the lava, In the airport, or in town, this girl has been shown extra love by the Hawaiian people. We don’t quite know if it’s because they don’t see too many people here with Down Syndrome or if it’s just the culture of Hawaiians to show extra love and respect to family members “on the margins” but no matter the reason, it is wonderful to witness their kindness and love to our girl since we think she is pretty special too.
Ok. I think that’s quite enough for this post…