Hawai'i. The Big island. I've never been this far away from home before. It's the closest I've been to New Zealand, I think.
The people are more Hawaian than American, even the whites are more “islander” than anything we've experienced on the mainland. Its been an awesome holiday: experiencing this oddity of America, and further strengthening my feelings that America is one of the most interesting countries I have ever travelled through; unbelievably varied, and endlessly friendly.
The towns and buildings on the island are stuck very beautifully and perfectly in a time most of America has forgotten. Little wooden shacks; huts of homes, and business buildings with sloping corrugated iron roofs. Neon signs in circa 1950 script still hang outside theatre houses and hardware shops.
The people appear an even mix of surfing super-fit whites, native Hawaians, and Mexicans. Mexicans were first invited to the island by King Kamehameha (a few hundred years ago) when he realised that his people knew very little of cattle farming. In fact it's the guitars that they brought with them that eventually became the Ukelele. Another interesting little fact (well I found it interesting) is that the Scottish botanist and explorer Mr Douglas (names and titles are sketchy to say the least), after whom the Douglas Fir is named, met his death on this island. He fell into a pit that was dug for capturing wily Longhorn cattle. It wasn't the pit that killed him, but the bull that had been caught in there previously.
Our hike around Kilauea, the active volcano, was dumbfounding. Really, I struggle to find the words and do it justice. To know the sheer power of Mother Nature was at work beneath our feet. We took our shoes off and the ground was warmer than any sun could heat.
We walked roughly 4 miles around the caldera and smoking crater. The trail took us right along the crater rim; down below 100, 200 ft, lay the caldera, nearly a mile across; barren, black, crispy land. At night we returned to see the orange glow from inside. We walked across miles of lava fields: black rock in the shape of solid liquid flows; delicate creases and globules, in between which lime green sprigs of ferns grew.
At night the land came eerily alive. Bright orange lumps; dots and hazes, started appearing all over the lava fields. It indicated where the fresh lava was flowing. More and more grew brighter and bigger as the last light faded, and the faint line of an orange river could be made out.
The lava continues to flow slowly and eats up the road our car was parked on. We stood alongside one week old lava flow, and watched steam and haze rise from the top of it. We walked on coastline that is younger than we are. New black land.
Despite endless area of blackness the island is indescribably lush. More so than Malaysia, Thailand, Laos or Cambodia. And the roads are decorated with unbroken streams of brightly coloured and delicately shaped flowers: pinks and reds, purples, whites and yellows. I was forever picking some fallen flower off the roadside and fixing it in my hair.
It was great to have the opportunity to do a lot of walking - nearly every day we did 2-4 miles of walking which Gabe and I both love.
One day we hiked 2 miles down (and then back up again) the side of a mountain in order to get to a secluded snorkeling spot. (As luck would have it the guide book I had bought contained the best kept secrets of the island – this is a guide book that I had left on the plane, along with my ipod, which I actually managed to get back from the airport the next day!).
In this spot is Captain Cook's monument; on the ground where he died, after discovering the Island and getting into a skirmish with the locals. It was a sheer drop of a hike down to the shoreline, through lush tall grass farmland followed by 100 yr old lava fields. There was no beach, but fantastically bright fish to watch. Think of the happiest, brightest yellow you can imagine and then picture whole shoals of fish of the same colour swimming right next to you. And then purple and blue ones, yellow and black striped ones, bright black and red shiny anenomes. We fed them (the fish, not the anenomes) pineapple that we had brought along for ourselves.
There was no one else there.
Unfortunately one swell caught me unaware and threw me into and over a shallow part of the reef where I got into a tussle between the tide, the reef, and my skin. For a few minutes I was very scared. I am not a keen water lover at the best of times! The cuts were superficial, but the fear factor anything but. I got out and was happy to watch from the surface, and in fact was privy to a mongoose copulation.
Another day we followed secret instructions/directions to find a secluded beach. The sand there was white, and the sea crystal blue, the rocks pitch black. We spent a few hours just wandering in and along the sea, taking photos, collecting stones and swimming.
There was no one else there.
We explored little country roads, in places where very few locals go let alone tourists. Roads that had been turned into jungle tunnels. One grove of trees had fresh mangos plopping from the sky. Hundreds of them lay on the floor fermenting. We stopped and picked freshly fallen ones to eat. They were exquisitely sweet. A little further on we found a fresh water pool hidden in the rainforest and went for a dip in our underwear. The water was soft and warm from the volcanic activity below.
Its been difficult for both of us, most of of all for Gabe to lay the budget travel to one side for a week. We naturally find ourselves buying food from the supermarkets to eat picnic lunches rather than in a restaurant, and drinking alcohol back at the room. It's a preference as well as an ingrained lifestyle. We have found a lot of the restaurants to be utterly shit, and disgustingly overpriced. Value for money is much more important, and with a packed lunch we know where we stand. That's not to say I haven't been able to twist Gabe's arm into a couple of blow-out meals, one of which was a seafood extravaganza at a restaurant hanging low over the sea. Bliss.
And for some strange reason I've started to really like Sushi.
Having a car for the whole week has been almost as good as the actual being in Hawai'i. It's fabulous to have conversations about what we are seeing; not get wet by the monsoon downpours; drive for 200 miles a day and not think anything of it; listen to music as we're going along; eat as we travel; chuck whatever we like in the back. Its been a wonderful break, and has re-charged the batteries (not that Gabe especially needed it).
Yesterday we went to a Botanical Garden, on the "wet" side of the Island. We drove the saddle road to get there: a windy, otherworldly road, riding the land in between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, two of the island's five volcanoes. The scenery was reminiscent of Scotland at times, and other times, scenes from science fiction films. Miles of torn up black rock, lava, gave way to tens of miles of grass covered bumps and cinder cones, until we dropped down into dripping rainforests. A land of flowers and waterfalls.
From where we sit at the moment we are looking up toward a mist covered mountain; a vast growth of land shaped more like a warrior's shield than a cone. The air is sticky, it has been that way every day we've been here. Some days have been far more humid that others, when walking any more than a few steps is no enjoyable thing.