Moloka’i Nuts, Coffee and Sorcerers

Day 11: Moloka’i

We were supposed to meet Auntie Opu’ulani today at 9 am, so we set our alarm. This turned out to be unnecessary, but as we were getting ready to go, We got a call on the condo phone from Auntie saying she had to babysit her grandchildren that day. (I still don’t know how she figured out the number–remember my iPhone was sacrificed to the sea gods.) She’s pretty jammed for the rest of the time she will be here because of the upcoming Makahiki Festival.

Makahiki is the ancient Hawaiian new year festival. It used to be four months long. It was a time when many of the repressive kapu were lifted, and there were athletic competitions, hula, games, feasts, and fun. Today it is a week long, and a celebration of Hawaiian culture. I am kicking myself that we are leaving just as Makahiki begins, but I probably wouldn’t have been able to do what I needed to do here because everyone would have been too busy.

So I offered to treat her to dinner, and we agreed to meet at Paddler’s Inn at 7 pm. That left the day wide open, so we decided to explore. First, we drove to Purdy’s Macadamia Farm, the only mac grower on Molokai. This consists of 50 trees that were planted 90 years ago on five acres. The entrance to the farm has this sign, homemade and similar to other signs you see on the island:

Asking the tourists to go with the flow on Moloka'i.

Asking the tourists to go with the flow on Moloka’i.

As we walked down the road, we were greeted by a small, skinny black cat. I miss my kitty, so I stopped to pet it. It turned out there were several other small cats, employed on the farm to kill rats, who eat the nuts.


We arrived in the middle of a tour. There was a wooden trough set up with whole mac nuts. There were holders made out out of old rubber tires and hammers to crack the nuts on pieces of stone in the trough. This is, of course, not how they are commercially processed. Mac nuts have a thick outer husk. The guy in charge of the tour bit into a husk and removed it to demonstrate. Then they have a very hard inner shell. If you whang them with a hammer, you can get at the nut meat inside. This was being directed by a short, fit Hawaiian with an attitude. He was the first Molokaiian we have met who was not pleasant, and the feeling we both got from him was open disdain.

Mac nut cracking station.

Mac nut cracking station.

After the nutcracking exercise, we tasted roasted and salted nuts (all natural, no other chemicals like the preservatives in canned or packaged nuts. Nothing added but sea salt, according to our surly host.), then got to taste raw coconut dipped in macadamia flower honey, which is not made on the farm. That was delicious and different. As this was going on, I noticed a dark, raffish-looking fellow with gold chains who was looking on, extracting raw coconut from a shell and throwing pieces for the cats to eat. The cats all scrambled for this coconut as though it were Li’l Friskies.

The grove of nut trees was immaculate. They don’t pick the nuts; when the nuts are ripe, they fall to the ground and they are harvested daily. The ground was absolutely bare between the trees except for a few piles of leaves that had been collected. Like coffee, mac trees have flowers and nuts in every stage of development at the same time.

After the mac nut farm, we drove to nearby Kualapu’u, which is where Coffees of Hawaii is. I wandered into the gift store intending to buy some coffees and spied the raffish cat-feeder. He was leaning casually against the counter, talking to the clerk.

“You look familiar,” I said. He looked surprised, then said, “You were at Purdy’s just now, weren’t you?”

I agreed this was so and commented that the host there was the only unfriendly person we had encountered here. He said he brought tours over from Maui on the ferry, and he always told them that the guy worked with nuts all his life, and so of course, he was a little nuts himself. Clearly a stock comment that he used all the time. He also said the man didn’t like it when you played with his cats, because they had jobs to do. I didn’t ask how our crabby host felt about feeding his cats coconut.

Tom went to the coffee bar and ordered two Mocha Mamas, the speciality of the house. This was sort of a coffee smoothie, with Molokai coffee, chocolate, ice cream, and whipped cream. Hardly any calories at all. It was delicious, but I couldn’t finish it.

On the way out of town (which takes about 60 seconds), I spied a gift store tucked into the Kualapu’u Business Park. Tom patiently parked the car and I went in. I had nosed around in several gift stores, but no joy. Either the stuff was complete junk, or it was truly original, handmade, beautiful, and hideously expensive.

To my surprise, this place had lovely things, reasonably priced. I saw this necklace, the octopus carved of mother-of-pearl, with jade beads on a beautifully knotted cord:

My new octopus.

My new octopus.

It was reasonably priced, so I bought it, along with some pretty mother-of-pearl earrings that, if anything, were underpriced. I very much wanted a large, carved turtle for my bathroom wall, but my suitcase is already perilously close to getting charged for being overweight, so the turtle remained where he was.

A side note: the octopus (he’e in Hawaiian, pronounced hay-ay) is associated with the sea god Kanaloa because the octopus is slippery, sly and sneaky (though sometimes it is the squid, not the octopus that is associated). Kanaloa is kind of like Satan. He created all the stinging, poisonous creatures that plague the people. He presents himself as beneficial sometimes, but will trick you. He rebelled against the chief god, Kane, and was forced to descend to the underworld, where he is known as Milu. (Sound familiar?)

Personally, I like octopi, and think they are fascinating. You wouldn’t expect a mollusk to have much of a brain, and most don’t, but octopi are smart. Look at this video:

Given how dependent the ancient Hawaiians were on the ocean for food, and how much time they spent in it surfing, swimming and sailing, you wouldn’t think the ocean god would be a Satan-equivalent. But the ocean, too, can be deceptive, changeable, dangerous and cruel, so I guess it makes sense.

After that, we returned to Paniolo Hale. I wrote the rest of the afternoon, and then  we drove into Kaunakakai to the Paddlers Inn. This is a hopping’ place at night, and we had trouble finding parking. I went into the restaurant and looked around. A band was playing Hawaiian music in the corner. The room was filled, and the waitress said because we didn’t have reservations, and there was a large group of tourists that had to be fed, we would have to wait. I asked her if she knew Auntie Opu’ulani, and she shook her head. I saw the waitress who had served us before, an older woman, and asked her. She said yes, she knew Auntie, and pointed to a woman sitting at a side table. I went to introduce myself.

Auntie Opu’ulani is a woman of about my age with dark, curly hair frosted with silver, and a wide, friendly face. She greeted me warmly, and then I set about trying to solve the seating problem. I had noticed when we came in that the bar was completely empty, and I asked our helpful waitress if we could get served in the bar. That suited me much better, anyway–it was quieter, so we could talk and actually hear each other. She said of course we could, so Tom and I and Auntie retired to the bar.

Auntie Opu'ulani.

Auntie Opu’ulani.

I asked Auntie Opu’ulani about mo’olelo. She asked how I intended to use them. I said my motivation in learning them was to better understand Hawaiian culture. I did not intend to retell them, but rather to have them inform my story. Tom chimed in with a description of “The Obsidian Mirror,” and explained how that related to what I was doing on Molokai.

She said she had learned the chants from her grandparents. She had been the 6th of 12 children, and her mother was ill when she was born, so her grandparents adopted her–very much in the old Hawaiian way. She said they had been born in the 1890’s. They were very strict, but loving. They believed that one’s possessions should be cared for, and that nothing was to be treated casually, as people do today. She loved them dearly, and they taught her the proper way to be Hawaiian, as well as the old chants. Auntie said the chants unique to Molokai had never been written down before, but that was her task now that she was retired.

Auntie Opu’ulani is a retired teacher. She teaches the Hawaiian language, although she was reluctant to do so at first. She said it all had to do with her name. I said I thought Opu’ulani meant “Heavenly House,” as Jeanine had told me, but she said no. It meant the tip of the incoming wave before it has broken–or the tip of the tooth of a sperm whale (highly valued). She used to be teased at school because the other children said pu’u meant she had a fat stomach (remember my lesson from Leimana at the fishpond?). She was unhappy, and asked her grandmother why she had been named that (traditionally, grandparents named the children, trying to give them a name that would signify their character). Her grandmother just looked at her and said, “Someday, you will understand the meaning of your name,” and that was that. Years later, she realized that her role was to help perpetuate the Hawaiian language and culture. She has published two books in Hawaiian, with the assistance of Jeanine. (I must find out more about Jeanine!) Auntie said Hawaiian was taught at a very simple level to small children–and then at a very complex level to older kids. There was a gap, and she bridged it with a textbook and a novel aimed at middle-schoolers. So she has been the tip of the wave, bringing back the culture to other Molokaiians. My interpretation; as I have mentioned, Hawaiian is highly metaphorical.)

I asked about menehune, and she told me that her grandfather had seen one. He was walking in the high country and stopped to rest in the shade, but someone kept throwing nuts at him. He saw two small feet dangling from a branch, then a tiny man jumped down and ran into the brush. The menehune was warning her grandfather not to rest there. I asked if they were still around, and she said yes. There are plenty of places in the back country where they live. Menehune work closely with pohaku (poh-hah-koo, rocks), to build things like fishponds. By this, I think she means the rocks contribute as much a part of the work as the menehune.

She said there are many things in the chants that actually exist. Her son, who loved to hike, once found a spring in the high country that flowed out of the rock, then disappeared back into it again–something described in one of the chants. He filled bottles with this water and brought it home. When Opu’ulani drank it, she thought he had added something to it because it was so sweet, but her son said no, that was just the way it tasted.

Auntie believes the Ali’i, (ah-lee-ee, the upper class/nobility of ancient Hawaiian society) came originally from the Americas. (There is a generally accepted theory that they came from Tahiti. The mo’olelo refer to the original Ali’i coming from “Kahiki-nui,” or “great Tahiti.” However, DNA testing of any group of people is far from complete, and there have been some very surprising finds. for instance, DNA analysis of extremely ancient human remains found in Peru show direct a relationship with both the Ainu of Japan and with Australian Aborigines. So I wasn’t about to argue.) Her own ancestors came from Maui, she said, but when they got here, there were many uhane ino (oo-hahn-ay ee-no, bad spirits) who possessed peoples’ bodies, and the people had to get rid of them with prayer and fasting to live here.

I told her the story of the doomed lovers that Leimana had told me, and asked what it had to do with the big turtle rock in the channel. She told me, but that is part of her mo’olelo, so I can’t repeat it. I said the story of the two lovers sounded like it really happened, and she said that it did. She agreed with me that it sounded like something two teenagers might do. I also asked about the heiau on Molokai. I had read that Molokai was known for its powerful sorcerers, and they had built this enormous heiau on the Maui-facing side of the island to intimidate potential invaders from that island. It was a place of much human sacrifice, and there is the story of a kahuna (priest) who lost seven sons to this practice.

Auntie Opu’ulani confirmed the heiau as a place of sorcery. She used to take people from other islands on tours there (it is on private property and you have to get permission to visit). One day, she was guiding a group of kupuna (elders) from Maui. She and another lady sat down on some rocks to rest. Suddenly, the other lady jumped up and went directly back to the bus. Opu’ulani later found out that the lady felt that the rock was “trying to enter her.” She said the heiau was a bad place because of the human sacrifice, and if we visited, not to sit on the stones.

Auntie Opu’ulani was exactly the person I had wanted to meet. Educated, dedicated to her culture, and a believer. I decided to tell her my experience with the lei at Kilauea. When I described turning around to find the lei gone, she nodded quietly and said, “Pele accepted it.” I asked her to read the manuscript for the book I am working on (once I actually have a manuscript), and I offered to pay her for it. She said she would be glad to. As we prepared to leave, I asked if I might contribute to her work, remembering what Jeanine told me about offering money, but Auntie would not accept it. Of course, I offered to send her “The Obsidian Mirror” as a way of saying thank you, and this she accepted.

What a beautiful, gentle woman. I am so lucky to have met her!

But I don’t think we’ll be going to the heiau.

A Return to Molokai’s Fishponds, a 2,000 Foot Vista, and a Phallic Rock

Day 10: Moloka’i

I awoke about 6:00 am, as I have been doing for a while. It was still dark. I went downstairs to make some excellent Moloka’i-grown coffee, then began writing, trying to catch up on our adventures with Leimana. We didn’t have to be at the fishpond until noon, so there was plenty of time to write, for once.

The drive to the fishpond is about an hour. There aren’t a lot of roads on Moloka’i, and no stop lights at all. The pace of life here is relaxed, and people are patient. Vehicles always stop if you are trying to cross the road. When you pass someone on the road, you wave whether you know them or not. People always say hi when they encounter you (or aloha). When you ask for directions or information, they drop everything to attend to you. It’s very like New Zealand in that respect. Not that the people of the other Hawaiian Islands are unfriendly or rude; there’s just a lot more “aloha” on Moloka’i. (Aloha means hello and goodbye, but it also means “love.”)

We arrived a little after noon. Leimana, in malo and fishhook necklace, was at the pond waiting for us. His first lesson was a lot of Hawaiian words. I did not retain all of them, but I did get a few questions answered.

I didn’t ask these questions; Leimana never answered a direct question with a direct answer. But he inadvertently defined the difference between “mauka” and “mauna,” both of which I understood to mean mountain. As it turns out, mauna, as in Mauna Loa, the volcano, means big mountain. Mauka (as in the common usage “mauka-side,” or toward the mountains), means smaller mountain. Then there were words for successively smaller hills and mounds, which I don’t remember. Except for pu’u, meaning a small hill, but this is used for other things, as we shall see.

Leimana was writing these words in the sand with a stick. He has lovely, clear sandwriting, like a schoolteacher.

Leimana's chalkboard.

Leimana’s chalkboard.

I also had been wondering what a pi-pi-pi looked like. Pi-pi-pi means “small-small-small.” In Hawaiian, when a word is repeated, it creates an emphasis. So pi-pi-pi means extremely small. I knew they were a small mollusk that people ate. Leimana had a number of of these clinging to the walls of the fishpond. They are small black sea snails. (I told you I was nuts about shells.)

I asked about the clusters of coconuts at the fish gate. He gave me a rambling answer about coconuts symbolizing food, therefore home, therefore hospitality. I am beginning to understand that Hawaiian is a highly metaphorical language. All languages have metaphors (I think), but in Hawaiian, you might talk about the fishpond as a pu’u, small hill, because it is rounded, and because you might also call someone’s prominent belly pu’u, and the fishpond also fills the belly. Someone like me might easily misunderstand, but to a Hawaiian, it would be obvious.

Leimana demonstrates the way to place rocks for a fishpond. He says hula builds up the right muscles for this.

Leimana demonstrates the way to place rocks for a fishpond. He says hula builds up the right muscles for this.

Which means I have no hope of actually learning Hawaiian. Which is probably OK. I have promised myself for years now that the next language I learn will be Spanish, which is a much better choice in California.

Leimana also showed us some hula moves and explained what they mean. Hula that men perform is quite different from the gentle swaying of women’s hula. His movements were decisive, abrupt, masculine, conveying the blowing of wind, rough water, paddling a canoe, fighting–but nonetheless graceful. He said hula made him strong, so he could lift the rocks when repairing the fishpond. He also said hula was originally performed only by men. I asked when women started hula, but he told me to ask Auntie Opu’ulani. Another direct question successfully deflected.

Somehow, we got on the subject of the Pacific gyre, which is actually one of the reasons I’m in Hawaii. Leimana didn’t seem to know what that was, so I took his stick and illustrated how the currents in the Pacific form a gyre, an immense circular river in the sea. In this gyre, plastic has accumulated over the years from dumping, people leaving junk on beaches all over the Pacific, maritime accidents, carelessness, etc. This is all swirling around in the gyre, which is often referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Wikipedia says of its size, “Estimates of size range from 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 sq mi) (about the size of Texas) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometres (5,800,000 sq mi) (0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean), or in some media reports, up to ‘twice the size of the continental United States'”.[20]

When I first heard about this, I thought, “Someone could probably make money by scooping up the plastic and recycling it, and that would help clean it up.”

But there’s a catch. The plastic in the gyre has been broken up into tiny particles, some microscopic. It’s not as if someone can just scoop up the water bottles and sand buckets. And there are tons and tons of this stuff out there.

This enormous pile of particularized plastics is leaching chemicals into the water that are ingested or absorbed by sea life of all sorts, which means that it is coming back to us in the form of sea food. Fish and birds ingest particles, thinking they are food, which kills them.

And Hawaii is smack dab in the middle of this. There’s so much plastic out there that accretions of plastic, coral and rocks have started washing up on the once-pristine shores of the Hawaiian Islands. These have their own name, “plastiglomerates.” Kamilo Beach on the Big Island is littered with tons of garbage from the gyre because of the currents there.

I told Leimana that I wanted to use my next book to help educate people about the gyre and the  tons of plastic in the ocean.

Leimana was horrified. “What can I do?” he asked.

“Don’t use plastic,” I replied, but there’s really nothing he can do. It will take an enormous effort and a lot of ingenuity to solve this problem. People are working on it–that’s the good news. The bad news is that we use plastic in increasing amounts all the time. It’s handy, cheap, and incredibly useful, and many people can’t afford alternatives. Check out the price of a nice wooden table and chairs for your toddler and then compare that to the price of a L’il Tykes set made of plastic. Price-wise, plastic wins every time.

Explaining the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Explaining the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Leimana pointed out a large rock, standing by itself in the ocean. He called it a honu (turtle). I figured there must be a mo’olelo there, and asked about it. Leimana told me about the tragic love between a woman from Kaulapapa (the peninsula where the leper colony was and is, but this was long before), and a man from the other side of Moloka’i. They each got in a canoe and tried to meet in the middle, but the sea was too rough and they wound up drowning. He never mentioned the role that the turtle rock played in this. (I found out later from someone else, but I can’t tell you. More on that in another post.)

During the course of the conversation, we discovered that the fishpond belongs to a “rich lady.” Apparently she is fine with Leimana living there–indeed, there are other ancient fishponds quite nearby, and it is clear that he has restored, maintained and improved the pond he uses, so why would she not? He doesn’t get paid to teach the children or the groups that come through to learn from him (although donations are cheerfully accepted). He gets a bit of money from the government, and otherwise lives on fishing, taro farming, eggs from a relative that keeps chickens, and so forth. It seems to me that he is more than repaying whatever he is given by preserving his culture and teaching it to others.

The hale (traditional Hawaiian house) Leimana built at the fishpond. He has plans to thatch it.

The hale (traditional Hawaiian house) Leimana built at the fishpond. He has plans to thatch it.

We finally parted. He offered to treat us to lunch, but I was afraid he meant to spend money on us, so declined. It was long past lunchtime, so we drove to a little grocery along the highway that had a food counter. It’s definitely a local hangout, called Goods ‘n Grinds. They offered deer burgers, the first I’ve seen so far, and we have tried pretty much every restaurant on the island by now. Though half the menu on offer was burgers, they were out of burgers that day. The special of the day was beef tostadas, and we each got one. We sat at a picnic table in the shade and ate our tostadas. The young lava-lava wearer of Halawa Valley drove up in a truck and we exchanged aloha. We also saw these gorgeous birds:

Crested  cardinal.

Crested cardinal.

They look like cardinals wearing woodpecker costumes. They are, in fact, crested cardinals. I tempted them closer by throwing some tostada shell crumbs on the ground, which were also appreciated by the ubiquitous blue doves.

I wanted to see the forest park where the trail to Kalaupapa begins. We had no intention of hiking the trail, for reasons already stated, but I knew it was a forested upland area, and very different from the scrubby grasslands of the area where most of the island’s population lives. The road seems to climb gradually, but goes to about 2,000 feet above sea level, where it ends in Palau State Park. It ends for a good reason–the next step is 2,000 feet straight down.

There is an overlook at the top of the pala from which you can see Kalaupapa. It’s like being in an airplane, and you must be able to see a 100 miles or more out to sea.

Tom's view of Kaulapapa.

Tom’s view of Kaulapapa.

This is one of those things Tom doesn’t like (though that may be an understatement). I was fine with it because there was a nice, substantial rock wall separating me from the drop. Tom sat with his back against a large tree, across the path that skirted the wall and declined to come any closer. I admired the view and took pictures.

My view of Kaulapapa.

My view of Kaulapapa.

We walked back to the parking lot through the pines. The pines are unusual, with soft needles fully a foot long, giving them a “Cousin It” appearance for those who remember “The Addams Family.” I had earlier seen some coil baskets made of these needles in a gift store. I have seen pine needle baskets before and admired them, but these needles must have been particularly well-suited to basketry. The two baskets in the otherwise junky gift store were very well made and decorated with small shells. The one about the size of a hummingbird’s nest was priced at $100, so it was safe from me.

It was also cool in the forest–so cool it made me wish I had worn warmer clothes (not that I have warm clothes with me.) As a matter of fact, it has never been uncomfortably warm and is often downright cool, especially at night.

Then we went to look at the other attraction up here. It was indicated by a sign that read, “Phallic Rock.” This trail, unlike the concrete path to the edge of the pali, was unimproved and rather rough. I regretted not having changed from flip-flops into walking shoes, but managed OK. Tom, believing we were getting near the pali again, decided to wait for me on the trail, but I went to the end.

Yup, it was kind of phallic all right:

Phallic rock.

Phallic rock.

Someone had left an offering in a bowl in the rock, carved either by man or nature. The rock is sacred to the Hawaiian people, who viewed sexual mana as powerful and beautiful. Ku, the chief god, also means “erect,” in every sense of the word, including standing tall agains aggression or oppression. I often see offerings left at heiau or other sacred places.

Offering at phallic rock.

Offering at phallic rock.

However, some asshole named Jesse carved his name into this rock. I can only imagine what his punishment will be. Probably he’ll be doomed to live his entire life as a stupid person, with all rights and privileges thereto. If I had my way, the centipede I mashed the other night was named Jesse.

The rock was nowhere near the edge of the pali. I picked my way carefully down the rough trail, but Tom wasn’t interested. Tom was interested in descending to lower, flatter ground.

Then we drove back into the metropolis of Kaunakakai to get some groceries, then back to the condo. We were actually too tired to cook again and made do with cheese and crackers. I was even too tired to write!

The Precipitous Drive to Halawa Valley and Two Kupuna

Day 9: Moloka’i

In the morning I called Auntie Opu’ulani. If you recall, this is one of the people Janine, the helpful lady at the airport, had recommended I talk to. I got through to Auntie and we made arrangements to meet on Wednesday.

Then I called a boat tour place and made reservations to snorkel on Thursday. I cannot be on a tropical island and not snorkel; it would be unnatural. Molokai has a long, shallow reef surrounding it. You can get to the reef from the shore, but the snorkeling is better further out. So they say, anyway. I’ll let you know.

I had decided not to look up some of the other people Janine recommended, including Uncle Pilipo, who is a kupuna (elder) who knew a great deal about mo’olelo Moloka’i old tales of Moloka’i). This was mainly because I didn’t have Uncle Pilipo’s contact info, but also because I felt I was making good progress and didn’t want to get greedy.

Feeling pleased with these arrangements, we started up the road, heading for Halawa (hah-lava) Valley, looking for the ancient fishpond along the way. We saw a fishpond, but no sign that anyone lived nearby, so kept on going.

It became more lush as we went along, the dry, red-earth grassy areas giving way to thick stands of trees and broad-leaved tropical undergrowth. The road hugged the coast, and in places, there was little between us and the water except for rocks. Not long after the fishpond, the road became one lane, sometimes with room for another car to squeak by–and sometimes not. The road started to climb, and we began to see vistas of the ocean far beneath. We could clearly see the island of Maui across the channel.

I mentioned that Tom and I are acrophobic. But we differ in our reactions. I don’t mind hiking trails with steep drop-offs or driving roads with same. I don’t like climbing ladders, being on roofs, walking over transparent supports (you’ll never get me out on those glass platforms over the Grand Canyon), or actually being on the edge of a high cliff with no barrier between me and a five-second drop to eternity. Tom doesn’t like any of that, but he would rather drive if he is on a cliff road. He drives white-knuckled and sweating bullets, though.

So I enjoyed the drive, and Tom didn’t. He really is a hero sometimes.

There are people living out here, and even farms. The residences were scattered, but there was this tiny church along the way:

Tiny church on the road to Halawa Valley.

Tiny church on the road to Halawa Valley.

We passed this beautiful zigzag pole fence:

Zig-zag pole fence.

Zig-zag pole fence.


As we approached the descent into Halawa Valley, we could see two waterfalls pouring hundreds of feet down into the valley. I tried to take photos, but they were too far away. Finally, we got to to the valley floor, a rainforest jungle. There was a sort of public park building there, and then there was a dirt road to the beach.

Tom by now was quite ready to turn around and depart as fast as possible. There were three Hawai’ans sitting to one side of the road on a low rock wall. The one on the left was a heavyset fellow of middle age. The young man on the right was dressed in a short lava-lava (I don’t know what the Hawaiian word is; it’s a sort of kilt arrangement made of patterned cotton cloth), a shell necklace on a braided cord, and nothing else. The gentleman in the middle was elderly. (That means older than me. I figure he is about 76.) He wore unremarkable clothes and a faded baseball cap. He was very thin and his face under the brim of his cap was weathered. Neither Tom nor I can remember exactly what was said. I know we exchanged aloha, and I think they asked us why we were there. I responded that I was looking for mo’olelo Moloka’i.

The men to left and right looked at the man in the middle, and simultaneously said, “This is the guy you want to talk to.”

I leapt out of the car and walked up to the older man. He was shaking his head, so I said, “Come on, Uncle, please tell me some stories.” (Remember, “uncle” is respectful when speaking to someone  older or wiser than oneself. The Hawaiians have great respect for their kupunas, unlike the typical American, who sees them as old and in the way. I’m liking Hawaii better every year.) The gentleman replied that he didn’t just tell stories, I needed to make an appointment. He insisted on  this several times. I took this as a message that he took what he did extremely seriously, and he wasn’t sure that I did.

I didn’t press him, but told him I was meeting with Auntie Opu’ulani on Wednesday and snorkeling on Thursday, and leaving on Saturday, and in any case, my husband would not drive back down that road. At this point, the heavyset guy offered to drive me, which I thought was incredibly kind.

The kupuna finally asked why I wanted to know these stories. I told him I was a writer, and wanted to set my next novel in Hawaii. He asked what my last novel was about, and I tried to tell him. I found it amazingly difficult to summarize a 350-page novel, especially as I had no idea what his background was. He had as much trouble pronouncing Quetzalcoatl and Necocyaotl as I do with many Hawaiian words.

I have found that when I tell people I want to hear their stories, they are cautious. Once I say I am a writer, they open up. I am not sure why this is so.

He talked to me for quite a while about good and evil. He said everyone has capacity for both, and we each must choose which way to go. He also talked about not giving over your power to another person. He waxed so philosophical that after a while, I asked him if he was a kahuna.

“People don’t understand what kahuna means,” he told me severely. “Kahuna is an educated person. My grandfather told me we are all kahuna, just not everybody knows it. There are good kahuna and bad kahuna. You understand?”

I said I did. I hope I did. Mostly, I kept my mouth shut, and he kept talking. He often spoke in Hawaiian, which sounded to me like water running over smooth stones. Beautiful. He eventually stopped talking in abstract terms and began to tell me a story. He told it in the first person, as though he were the young boy in the tale. Seeing my puzzled expression, he said, “Now I am telling mo’olelo, you understand.” Here is the story, as much as I can recall, because I was listening, not taking notes. I have retold it, so it is in the third person:

A young boy was born in Halawa Valley, the youngest of seven siblings. He was chosen to be the cultural teacher (teacher is not the word he used, but it is close) in his family, the one who would preserve the ‘ohana’s cultural wisdom (‘ohana means family). He was not allowed to swim in the sea or go to the waterfall like his brothers and sisters and he was unhappy and thought this was unfair. One day his grandfather told him they were going to the waterfall, which is called mo’o-ula (red lizard) because a mo’o lives there. (Mo’o are mythical lizards. They were huge, and no actual beast of this sort has ever lived in the Hawaiian Islands. Some mo’o were kindly toward people–some not.) If you threw in a ti (pronounced tee) leaf in the pool beneath the fall and it sank, you were not allowed to swim in the pool because that meant the mo’o was in the pool. The boy wanted to know why they were visiting the pool, but his grandfather told him not to ask questions.

There were ti bushes that had been planted by the people all along the path, so the boy broke a leaf off as they walked. When they got to the pool under the falls, the grandfather broke off a big clump of ti leaves, fastened it to a stone, and tossed it in. “One ti leaf is not enough,” he told his grandson. The ti leaves floated around this way and that, then sank. This meant the boy could not swim because the mo’o was using the pool and anything could happen to him.

Then the kupuna began to relate things from his own life. He told me that when he was a boy, his grandfather told him that the beach at Halawa Bay was the burial ground of his ancestors. He asked a lot of questions, but his grandfather told him not to ask questions and took him to the beach (sound familiar?). The boy said he could see no graves. When the tsunami of 1946 washed out the beach, he saw the bones scattered all over the beach, uncovered by the ocean, and knew his grandfather was right.

His grandfather also took him to the falls and told him the mapmakers had made a mistake (again, no questions allowed). They called the falls red chicken falls (moa-ula) instead of mo’o-ula (red lizard). The grandfather pointed up to the falls and said, “Do you see a red chicken?” The boy did not. Then a mist came in, and his grandfather told him it was the spirits of his ancestors. When the mist cleared, the grandfather pointed again to the  top of the falls. “Look again, what do you see?” He looked again, and saw the head of a huge lizard peering over the edge.

He then told me that he had told archeologists where to find ancient remains of firepits and fishponds. The scientists dated the fishpond at 650 AD, the oldest yet found in Hawaii. It is believed that Halawa Valley is the oldest continually occupied site in the islands. I haven’t checked this, but it seems probable, if what he told me is true–and why not?

The kupuna had told us that he would need to leave soon, as he was taking his haole (pronounced how-lee, means Caucasian) son to the airport. After some time, a young, blond man came walking down the road and my kupuna told me he had to go.

I asked him what his name was.

“Uncle Pilipo,” he replied.

I stared at him. “You’re Pilipo?” I stammered. “Janine Rossa told me to find you.”

“Well, you found me!” he replied, climbed into a truck, said “Aloha,” and drove away.

Uncle Pilipo. I don't know who that woman is, but I'm starting a diet as soon as we get back.

Uncle Pilipo. I don’t know who that woman is, but I’m starting a diet as soon as we get back.

OK, there’s only 8,000 people on this island. But I was completely gob-stopped. Of all the people who might have been waiting by the roadside at a place we arbitrarily decided to visit, how likely is it that it was one of the three people I had been told to see?

While I am being woo-woo, I noticed that on the Big Island, when I told people about my experience in Kilauwea, they were quietly accepting. Here, they are skeptical, which is interesting, because Moloka’i is supposed to be the island where the magic still exists. Perhaps Pele has been gone too long from Moloka’i for people to pay much heed to her. I think most Hawaiians here are Catholic, judging by the number of Catholic churches, which, given Father Damien’s popularity, is not surprising. I don’t think they want to talk about the old gods much.

So Tom and I started back up the narrow, winding road, Tom not being interested in going to the beach or to the falls. (I was, but I understood his need to get back to nice, flat land as quickly as possible. He had sacrificed enough already.) I missed a lot of fine scenery on the way back because I was frantically typing Pilipo’s stories into my iPad. I had taken no notes at the time because I was trying to concentrate 100% on what he was saying. (It also seemed like a bad idea to ask questions given his stories.)

As we passed the ancient fishpond, I spied something that looked like an old Hawaiian hale, or house, near the pond, and some sort of palm-thatched structures tucked under the trees. There was a young woman talking to the passenger of a car that had pulled off the road. I got Tom to stop (we were at sea-level again, so no problem), and told the woman I was looking for Ray Naki.

“You found him,” she said. She pointed at a thatched structure under the trees. “He’s over there.”

I walked in as though I knew what I was doing (Tom was parking). There was a Hawaiian about my age with shoulder-length gray, curly hair, wearing a traditional loincloth (malo), a large bone fishhook like the New Zealanders make, hanging from a thick, braided cord, a bemused expression, and nothing else.

Lei-mana blowing a conch shell horn.

Lei-mana blowing a conch shell horn.

I said, “Your niece April in Captain Cook said I should look you up.”

He looked at me blankly. “Who?”

Ulp. “Are you Ray Naki?”

“Yes, that’s me. Who did you say?”

“April, April Qina. That’s her married name.”

He pondered that for a minute, then his face cleared. “Ah, ‘Apilela. That’s her name!” (‘Apelela is April in Hawaiian.)

He wanted to know why Apelela said I should see him, but I couldn’t tell him because April never told me. I just blindly did as she had suggested. I honestly never questioned why, to tell the truth, and had no particular expectations, which has been my modus operandi on this trip. I certainly was not expecting a loincloth-clad man living in a thatched hut.



Tom came in from the road, and Ray pulled three eyeshades hand-woven of palm fronds from a supporting branch of the lanai, donning one himself and offering the others to us. We put them on as directed and he invited us to sit at the picnic table.

I should describe the place before going further. The fishpond is enormous, maybe two or three hundred yards across, constructed of low lava rock walls that begin high up the beach and extend into the calm waters quite a way, making the pond more or less circular. The walls are frosted with pieces of white coral. There is a “gate” where fish can swim in or out. On either side of this gap, there are bamboo poles with clusters of coconuts. There is a similar structure on the inland side of the pond, standing in the sand. A small, white power boat floating on the waters of the pond was anchored to the shore by three rocks.

When I walked into this establishment, I was greeted by a pack of medium-sized, short-haired, golden-brown dogs, many with ridged fur down their spines. There were also a couple of vaguely chihuahua-looking dogs, though they were the same color as the others.


They greeted me by licking my hands and crowding around my knees. I wondered if they were related to the “poi dogs” the ancient Hawaiians used for food. I looked this up and found that the poi dog is extinct. The Hawaiians fed them on poi, the mashed and cooked root of the taro plant, which is used as a condiment here and is pretty much pure starch. So the poi dogs didn’t chew tough food and their skulls became deformed through muscle disuse, becoming flattened. They were described as fat, stupid and slow. Often when a child was born, he was given a poi dog. If the child died in infancy, the dog was killed and buried with it. If the child survived infancy, the dog’s teeth were pulled and fashioned into a protective necklace for the child. So the poi dogs are probably better off extinct, poor things.

There was a frame for a traditional hale, but it was unthatched at present. The kitchen–a camp stove and picnic table–was set up under a thatched lanai (and by “lanai,” I mean nothing fancier than a shelter). There was an old international cargo container with doors cut into it next to the lanai, apparently to provide protection from rain and wind. The lanai was hung with fishing nets and other paraphernalia. (But Ray has a cell phone. He likes to play the unsophisticated “native,” I think, but he is a sharp old fox.)

A couple of small children, including a fat baby in diapers, were wandering around. They were some of Ray’s five grandchildren. He lives with his wife, daughter and son, grandchildren, and I don’t know who else. The two-year-old went down to the fishpond with me and dragged away the stones that secured the boat anchor. I think he wanted to show off the anchor to me. His grandfather roared at him in Hawaiian, and I didn’t need a translation.

Ray’s Hawaiian name is Lei-mana, the powerful lei, so I will call him that. He is the brown of medium-roast coffee beans, big-bellied, but firm. Because of his attire, I was also able to observe that he has firm, smooth buttocks.

Lei-mana used to be a construction worker, but gave it up to pursue a more or less traditional lifestyle at the fishpond. He fishes the pond and his ‘ohana has a taro patch at Halawa Valley. He teaches school children about how their ancestors lived–also hula and the Hawaiian language. I gathered that in addition to school field trips, he has visitors from other areas of Polynesia, like New Zealand. A Maori from New Zealand gave him the fishhook necklace he was wearing.

Conversation with Lei-mana was somewhat awkward. He has a way of falling into silence for a while, then coming at you with questions. Yet he frequently did not answer my questions, greeting them with thoughtful silence. Then he would start talking about something unrelated. As it was a disjointed method of talking and I wasn’t taking notes, I have noted most of what I remember already.

I gave Lei-mana April’s phone number and took his address so that I could send him a copy of “The Obsidian Mirror” (I have made this offer to anyone who has helped me on this trip). I also offered him some money (as I did Uncle Pilipo), because Janine advised me to do so.

“Don’t think they will be offended,” she told me. “They won’t be.” So far, utterly true.

Lei-mana asked if we wanted to return the next day and learn what he teaches. We agreed to come back at noon the following day. I leaned forward to kiss his cheek as Janine had instructed me, and then Lei-mana said, “Here is the old Hawaiian way to kiss, nose to nose and forehead to forehead,” and proceeded to do just that. We removed our palm shades, but Lei-mana insisted they were gifts, so we took them.

Tom, me, and Lei-mana.

Tom, me, and Lei-mana.

I was a bit overwhelmed at this point. We stopped for a very late lunch at Paddler’s Inn. We ordered the day’s special, Chinese chicken salad, which bore no resemblance to any dish by that name we had ever eaten previously, and I had another excellent daiquiri. Then we stopped in town for dinner makings and went home. I wrote furiously all through lunch, then started writing again when we got back to Paniolo Hale. We ate leftovers for dinner because we were tired, and then I wrote some more until about 10:30 pm. I was making lots of mistakes by that time, though I had only journaled through Uncle Pilipo, so I joined Tom in the enormous humid marshmallow of a bed and dropped into a sound sleep.

Sleepy Moloka’i Sunday and Random Observations

Day 8: Molokai

I forgot to mention that April, of Ma’s Kava in Kona, had grown up on Molokai. She told us we should visit her Uncle Ray Naki at the fishponds on the way to Halawa Valley, an area we planned to visit anyway. Jody, one of the sellers at the farmer’s market in Kaunakakai, knew Ray and described his house to us. (She was selling trinkets to fund her son’s trip to New Zealand with his singing group. I bought a kukui nut and shell lei from her to help out.)

Me modeling the kukui nut and shell lei.

Me modeling the kukui nut and shell lei.

Of course, April also told us that the people here were kind of stand-offish. If these people are stand-offish, I am a Ford Agency fashion model. Everyone we talk to is chatty and helpful. Did I mention chatty?

We decided to try to find Uncle Ray, even though all the information we had by way of finding him is that he lived next to the ancient fishpond on the road to Halewa Valley. The night before, I had called Auntie Opu’ulani (“Heavenly House”), a kupuna (elder) who is an expert on mo’olelo Molokai (legends of Moloakai). I left a message, so I thought I would wait a bit to see if she would call back. So I had sort of planned to seek out Uncle Ray today, or at least drive up there and see what could be seen. We started out at dawn going back to Popohaku Beach, but it was readily apparent that the swell had not subsided, so we turned around and came back for breakfast. I cut up a pineapple and made Molokai coffee, then started writing, trying to catch up on my journal.

I caught up, all right. At about 2:00 pm or so.

The stores and other businesses are all closed today. Tom and I walked down to Make Horse Beach. I encountered a Swiss man, Olivier, who speaks about five languages, and I got to practice my French for a while.

The red path to Maka Horse Beach.

The red path to Maka Horse Beach.

I noticed a lot more shells on Make Horse. They were small, but they augured greater success than Popohaku. I determined to come back in the morning. Make Horse is a lovely little beach that must be a lot of fun when the surf isn’t so high. There are lots of tide pools, but I didn’t get anywhere near them.


Make Horse Beach. Credit, as with almost all photos because my iPhone is dead, to Tom Keenan.

Make Horse Beach. Credit, as with almost all photos because my iPhone is dead, to Tom Keenan.

Then we came back to the condo. I located the barbecue facilities, then we made teriyaki steak for dinner with rice and asparagus that was actually not terribly expensive.

When I went upstairs to the bathroom after dinner, I left my flip-flops downstairs because Scott (one of the managers) had requested it. They had just installed new carpet on the stairs and second level, and didn’t want it tracked up with the red dirt of the island. When I turned on the light in the bathroom, I immediately saw a three-inch-long centipede, curved into a graceful S-shape on the bathmat.

Wildflowers on the path to Maka Horse.

Wildflowers on the path to Maka Horse.

This was no skinny, mainland-type centipede. It was hefty, with nasty-looking pointy things at front and rear.

I respect nature, but there is a limit. I went down to get my flip-flops, proceeded to beat the damned thing to a pulp, and decided there was no way I was going to walk around barefoot from now on, Scott or no Scott.

Here are a few random comments:

There are deer on Molokai. In 1867, speckled Indian deer were delivered to Molokai at the request of King Kamehameha V. They were released on the island and flourished. There are various signs of them, though I have yet to see one alive. Misaki’s Market, one of the two grocery stores in Kaunakakai, has deer heads mounted on supports on every aisle. We passed a fence completed covered with antlers. We haven’t yet seen deer burgers on a menu though. Much less venison.

The Humane Society consists of two small storage shipping containers with a pen in between. I haven’t seen any animals there, but I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

You can see three other islands from Molokai: Oahu, Lanai and Maui. There is an outrigger race every year from Molokai to Waikiki. Given that this is 38+ miles across very rough water, this is a serious athletic event.

There are huge, black moths here with wingspans of five or six inches. Gorgeous. We will (Tom will) try to get a picture.

The fishponds on Molokai are the oldest in the islands. More on these later. They are constructed of lava rock (not that there is any other kind) walls out into the water where the wave action is low. There is usually a gate where fish can swim in. They could swim out again if they chose, but perhaps they were fed inside the pond, keeping them around. I will find out more tomorrow.

Because Tom Keenan is an amazing photographer!

Because Tom Keenan is an amazing photographer!

A Happy Welcome to Moloka’i Followed by Near-Disaster

Day 7: Hawaii to Moloka’i

Today was a travel day, which is boring. All airlines lead to Honolulu to catch flights to other islands. Our plane to Moloka’i (I have always pronounced it moh-lah-kai, but here it is pronounced moh-lah-kah-ee) was a small prop plane. We crossed the channel from Oahu to Moloka’i, and I had the window seat, graciously ceded by Tom, even though his window seat from Kona to Honolulu was right next to the jet engine, which blocked the view. It was easy to see that the water in the channel was extremely rough, and the little prop plane wobbled a bit as we landed in the adorably tiny airport at Kaunakakai, which is the largest of Molokai’s three towns. And by “town,” I really mean “hamlet,” although they are not especially quaint. The wind was whipping the palm trees around, and leaves were flying everywhere.

We entered the airport. The rental car offices were right inside the door, and a line had formed, so I sat down on what appeared to be a convenient metal bench. After a bit, I began to wonder where the luggage was and asked a pretty, brown-haired woman sitting next to me.

She patted the “bench.” “This is where they put it,” she said cheerfully. “Give them a few minutes.” She asked me where we were staying and why we were here. When I told her, she gave me the following information:

  • Where to find the best meat and produce
  • Where to see hula and music performances
  • Which grocery stores to go to, and their hours
  • -Where and when the farmer’s market was
  • The name and contact info for the local experts on ancient Hawaiian protocol
  • The Aunty who knew the most about local mythology
  • Who the best boat captains were and how to get to the best snorkeling
  • Where and when and from whom to get a hula lesson
  • How to greet people properly in Hawaii (lean forward, touch the right cheek with your right cheek and kiss the cheek once)
  • How to address persons older than oneself, or indicate respect (aunty, uncle)

Needless to say, I was amazed and grateful. I said I would send her a copy of “The Obsidian Mirror” as a way of thanking her.

It took almost no time for Tom to pick up the car (again, I had specified el cheapo mucho, but we got a Jeep instead because they were out of Sparkies), and I had to drag two suitcases and all carry-ons a mere 10 steps to the car. We set off for our rented condo on the west side of Moloka’i.

But before we get to my personal observations of the island, let’s talk a bit about some factors the Moloka’i kama’aina (residents) are facing.

Molokai is one of the least-populated islands. The majority of the state’s citizens live on Oahu, primarily in Honolulu, therefore the political power and money is centered there. The Molokai (I have to stop using the apostrophe to indicate the glottal stop because it’s just too hard to type it  frequently on an iPad keyboard) Ranch Corporation owns virtually all of the leeward side of the island, where most of the arable land is. They used to operate a farm, ranch, hotel, golf course  and other amenities here. The Ranch decided to build some luxury condominiums on the west side near where we are staying.

Molokai kama’aina (Yea! Autocorrect did it for me!) objected to this plan. They don’t want the island to be the next Maui or Oahu, with high-rise hotels and tourist luaus. They like it small, slow, and old-fashioned, a place for the ‘ohana (family). They were successful in blocking the Ranch’s development plans.

The Ranch, the largest employer on the island, retaliated by shutting down ALL operations on Molokai. The ranch land is idle, the hotel is shuttered, the golf course overtaken by weeds and trees. All Molokai employees were laid off.

I am far from being anti-capitalist, but this just seemed incredibly spiteful to me.

Then about two years ago, a power company wanted to put windmills on the west side to generate power, running a cable undersea from Molokai to Oahu. Hawaiians in general seem to agree that the political system here is completely corrupt, largely because of the imbalance of power between Oahu and the other islands. Politicians and money were lined up behind the windmill project, but the Molokai kama’aina objected.

“How reactionary!” you might say. Renewable power is a non-trivial issue out here in the middle of the Pacific, where every drop of fuel must be shipped in.

However, the issue is that NONE of that windmill-generated electricity would be made available to the people of Molokai. You would think that the power company would build one or two extra just to placate the residents by providing them with cheaper electricity, but no. The windmills and cable project were blocked, but wtf?

While I’m on the subject, there’s also the issue of island-to-island travel. Back in the day when Tom and I visited, there were kama’aina prices for inter-island travel, which were lower than tourist prices. There was also a ferry to and from some islands.

All that is gone (except for the ferry between Molokai and Maui, primarily to get workers to Maui). Kama’aina pay the same as tourists for airfare. Hawaiians who want to travel within their own state are stuck paying tourist-level prices for the privilege of traveling a distance that in other states could be easily accomplished by car, bus, or train. You can probably charter a boat, but that is hardly a cheap solution.

I guess my point is that the residents of Molokai are a pretty brave bunch of people. They stand up for what they believe in, even if it hurts them. And Hawaiians in general outside of the population center are being, to put it frankly, screwed over.

Back to our adventure. We drove to the west side where our condo complex is located. The land on this side is bright red earth, mostly covered with grasses and scrubby acacia. Where the earth has eroded, the bones of old lava stick up through it like rotten teeth.

Molokai was formed by two volcanoes, one on the east side, one on the west. Both have been  extinct since before human beings evolved. The one on the east exploded 1.5 million years ago and most of its remains lie at the bottom of the ocean. Its demise left the high sea cliffs (pali) that separated Kalaapapa, the leper colony, from the rest of the island.

Most people have heard of Kalaupapa because of Father Damien and Mother Marianne Cope, who lived with and cared for these unfortunates until their own deaths. They were both recently canonized. Leprosy, or as it is known  today, Hansen’s Disease, is now curable. However, some of the very elderly lepers still live at Kalaupapa, even though they have been cured.

The story of Kalaupapa is a fascinating, terrible and inspiring story, but we will not be visiting. You can hike there or ride a mule down the sheer pali, which is not happening for several reasons, one of which is that Tom and I are both acrophobic (I caught it from him). You can take a helicopter there, which is also not happening, due to my first and only helicopter ride. It was a trip through Waimea Canyon on Kauai. The pilot was an ex-Vietnam fighter pilot who derived a sadistic joy from scaring the crap out of me. He succeeded. There are no boat tours. I don’t feel strongly enough about visiting to charter a boat. So sorry–no Kalaupapa.

Our condo is not near anything, which is great, but we needed to stock up. We drove into Kaunakakai, making our first stop at Paddler’s Inn for lunch. Paddler’s is a local hangout. It’s largely open-air, and like everything here, shabby and comfortable. We both had saimin and poke, and I had a daiquiri–one of the best I have ever had.

Then to the two grocery stores in the island’s largest town, Kaunakakai. The selection is a bit different in each store, and there are a lot of local faves, like Spam. We were a bit disappointed there was not more local fresh fish. We didn’t feel up to gutting and filleting the fish being sold out of a pickup truck on the street, so we bought Atlantic farmed salmon (which I normally never would do; I follow the sustainability guidelines issued by the Monterey Bay Aquarium), and some other necessities. The liquor store in Kaunakakai had a wonderful selection, so that was good, having poured the last of our wine in honor of Joan and Casey back in Captain Cook.

We arrived at the condo complex, which is called Paniolo Hale (cowboy house). We found the condo and got the key out of a lockbox. Then we encountered our first obstacle: we could not figure out how to unlock the door. Our condo managers, Scott and Chad, had thoughtfully given me the number of the housekeeper, whom we called. Fern gave us the magic trick for opening the lock, and we walked in.

We have a two-story condo facing the ocean, which is a few hundred feet away. There is a screened lanai, separated from the living area by huge, louvered glass doors. It was hot and stuffy inside, so we immediately tried to open the louvres and encountered our second obstacle: they wouldn’t budge. I called Fern again, and she called Scott and Chad, and Scott said they would be there shortly.

In the meantime, we went upstairs, where there is a bedroom and bathroom. The bedroom has no windows facing the ocean; this amenity has been sacrificed in favor of the lanai. But it did have a small, screened-in balcony facing mauka-side. As the complex is nicely landscaped with lots of shady trees, this is actually pretty. It has some sort of fine, grassy groundcover that smells like dill when you walk on it.

Paniolo Hale

Paniolo Hale

Scott and Chad arrived and opened the louvres immediately. The problem was that Tom and I, both with Master’s degrees, had been trying to pull them towards us, but they have to be pushed out. Which reminds me of this wonderful Gary Larson cartoon, below.

Cartoon by Gary Larsen

Cartoon b y Gary Larsen

We asked lots of other questions and Chad went upstairs to open a stuck window in the bedroom. We could see huge, turquoise waves dashing against the rocks not far away–the same swell that had kept us out of the water at Honaunau. So I asked Scott if it is safe to swim here once the swell has subsided. The answer was that we could walk down to our right to Make Horse Beach (Dead horse beach. Romantic!), and that was much better, but that winter is a tricky time to swim anyway. I could see another long beach past a rocky point tooth elect and asked about it.

Scott gave me directions to get there. It’s a beach park called Papohaku. “After a big swell like this,” said Scott, “there are lots of shells. You don’t usually find shells there, but you might even find a sunrise shell at Popohaku.”

Well, Scott had me at the word “shell.” I adore shells, and have spent many hours collecting them on beaches around the world and getting seriously sunburned. The albedo of my skin is approximately that of new-fallen snow, so I have to be careful. I wear sunscreen all the time on my face, and when in the tropics, slather it everywhere, whether I plan to be outdoors or not.

Anyway, nothing would make me happier than shell hunting–and I particularly would love to find a sunrise shell. They are both rare and gorgeous. Mind you, I never buy shells or take a live one, because the commerce in shells is creating devastation among the world’s little shell-builders. The rarer the shell, the worse the damage. But any shell I find myself that is not currently occupied is fair game. Here’s a sunrise shell, just to show you how exciting it would be to find one (at least if you were a bit nuts, like me):

Sunrise shell

Sunrise shell

We sat and watched the huge waves for a while, reading and writing, until the sun went down. The wind was still fierce. I began trying to find my way around the kitchen. I wanted to roast some potatoes, but we had neglected to buy any oil (butter, but not oil), I found an unlabeled container of something I was pretty sure was coconut oil in the fridge, so I melted it and dribbled it over the potatoes. Then I discovered there was no salt, except for a bag of sea salt flavored with balsamic vinegar. I sprinkled this over the spuds and stuck them in the oven. I also steamed some broccoli. It was all delicious, and the coconut-balsamic-sea-salt potatoes were lovely.

We were both exhausted and went to bed early. One of my criteria for places to stay, if at all possible, is a king-size bed. Tom and I are largish people, tall and far from slender, so a small bed is uncomfortable. This bed is the softest I have ever encountered. It was like sinking into a humid marshmallow. I was afraid I would wake up with a sore back, but not at all.

Day 8: Molokai

The next morning, I woke early, with shells on the brain. It was still dark, but I roused my patient husband and told him we were going to Papohaku Beach to look for shells. (He really is a saint sometimes.) I should have taken more note of the massive surf still crashing on the rocks out front; the swell had not subsided.

We found Papohaku without much difficulty. It was a little after 7:00 am, and no one else was around. To get to the beach, you walk through a rather enchanting little forest of acacias. It looks like fairies might live there. The beach itself is a long, curving stretch of golden sand.

Fairy forest at Papohaku Beach.

Fairy forest at Papohaku Beach.

I walked along for a while, looking for shells. Of course, there were none–the swell was still going strong. I had a plastic bag with me and picked up the few pieces of plastic I could find. (More about plastic in the oceans later.)

Golden beach at Papohaku.

Golden beach at Papohaku.

I love the ocean. I grew up playing in the surf in Southern California. I am a good swimmer and learned very young how to avoid riptides and getting “boiled” in a big wave. I body-surfed. I used to be able to swim the length of a swimming pool and back under water, though I probably couldn’t do it now. I also learned not to turn your back on the waves, because sometimes a “sneaker” wave can come along without warning.

But I didn’t intend to even get my feet wet on this expedition. I was walking with Tom above the line where the waves were reaching, and forgot to be alert. A huge wave surged up the beach and knocked me down.

I lack the words to tell you how powerful the wave was. It felt like the inexorable hand of God, and I only a gnat spinning out of control. I fell to all fours and the wave closed over me and began to drag me out to sea. I was screaming, but Tom couldn’t even hear me. He grabbed the waistband of my shorts and held on for dear life. It was absolutely terrifying.

The wave receded, and Tom yelled at me to get up, but I couldn’t. I was as shocked and terrified as I have ever been, and weirdly weak. I did manage to crawl on all fours away from the water, and shakily regained my feet, completely soaked.

Tom said, “Did you bring your iPhone?” Of course, I had. I reached into my pocket and withdrew my phone, dripping and covered with sand. Dead. I told Tom that my enthusiasm for shell hunting had been dampened, and started trudging toward the car, dripping sand and salt water in my wake.

Tom said, “I guess the sea god is pissed off because you sided with Pele.” Ulp. I hadn’t even thought about that. I have always been a friend to the sea and vice versa. I somehow was still clutching my plastic bag with plastic debris in it–didn’t that count for something? I confess that I am still a little uneasy about this. After all, if I can accept that Pele has blessed me, how can I then reject out of hand that Kanaloa (the sea god and one of Hawaii’s four top gods) or Pele’s sea-goddess sister who hates her, Na-maka-o-kaha‘i, isn’t miffed by Pele’s blessing?

Scoff if you will. People believe in these things here, at least many do. I hope my iPhone, my dear companion of boring times when I have to wait in doctors’ offices or checkout lines, is sufficient enough sacrifice, but I am not taking any chances until I have had an opportunity to placate whatever is out there.

On my way back, I snagged a piece of white plastic the size of a toddler’s chair, intending to deposit it in the trash. (See, Kanaloa?) I stopped at the restroom in the park to rinse off. I had sand everywhere, but was able to remove only some of it. The rest had to wait until I could get into a blessedly hot shower at the condo, where I discovered sand in places I didn’t know I had places.

Having washed and recovered, Tom and I set off to explore. It was raining, which it did the rest of the day. The first stop was a grocery store in Kualapuu, where we bought a large bag of rice, intending to bury my iPhone in it. This sometimes will dry the phone out sufficiently to get it working again, but I have my doubts; it was completely drenched, and in salt water to boot. We went to the Kualapuu Cook House across the street for lunch. The Cook House is in a small building that, like most places on Molokai, has seen better days. It’s not fancy, and the green and white curtains are grimy. They are a cash-only establishment.

Tom ordered BBQ pork and I had a BLT, feeling the need for comfort food. Both were excellent. Then we started to look for the meat cooperative, said to be the best source of beef on the island, all grass-fed, and Kumu Gardens, the best produce stand. It was Saturday, and there are no stores here open on Sunday except for Misaki’s in Kaunakakai, and that closes early.

Both the meat coop and Kumu were closed on Saturday as well, as it turned out. So we drove into Kaunakakai to stock up. We lucked out and found a tiny farmer’s market there, just starting to pack up. We got into a lengthy conversation with two ladies in the market, who were delighted to share information about the island. People here are incredibly friendly. They know everybody else who lives here, and if they are native Hawaiians, they are also probably related to everyone else.

We returned to our condo with our spoils. Dinner was poke from the market, to which I added an avocado the size of a small balloon, plus some seasonings from the cupboard. I don’t know what all of them are, exactly, but it was great. I served the poke over the rice I didn’t use to bury my iPhone.

Tom said the swell was supposed to be gone the next day. I secretly planned to return to Papohaku Beach the following morning. And this time, I would be a much humbler and more cautious woman.

The Last Day in Kona, Revisiting Sam, Plus Kukui Nuts and Awa

Day 6: Hawaii to Molokai

Our last full day here dawned bright and beautiful. The plan was to visit Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park, the place of refuge. We had visited years ago and thought it was beautiful. There is a restored heiau, ancient fishponds, interesting plants, and more.

Hōnaunau sits on the opposite arm of the bay where we went snorkeling a couple of days ago. There is an easy entry into the water there, and I hoped to snorkel that side of the bay, as we had done before.

Which reminds me of a story that Bob told me that I forgot to relate. One day in ancient times, the shark god took human form and stepped out of the bay at Hōnaunau. He was greeted in a friendly way by the people, and took a wife among them. He lived with them happily, but in the end had to return to the sea. Before he assumed his shark form, he told the people that because of their kindness and hospitality, the bay between the two points would always be a safe place for them to swim; his people (sharks) would not come there. And so it is to this day.

As I was fixing breakfast on our open lanai kitchen, I heard the sound of crashing surf. This is  thousand feet above the ocean, and perhaps four miles away, as the crow flies. I had never heard the surf from the lanai before. I peered out at the sea and I could see the white spume flying up from the bay at Hōnaunau and along the coastline cliffs. We would not be snorkeling today.

However, Hōnaunau is always worth the visit, so after breakfast, we drove down there. Sadly, the park was closed, a ranger standing at the barricade patiently answering the same question over and over and cars wheeling around and heading away. Of course, we had to ask, too. He told us there was a lot of damage from the storm.

What storm? It had been clear and calm the night before. We headed to Two-Step to see what we could see, and the road was covered with sand and rocks. Huge waves were crashing on the rocks, but people were paddling around in large pools that had been left by the water that splashed over the rocky barrier. We walked out on the rocks (not too far) to take pictures, then left.

Wave surge at Two-Step Beach.

Wave surge at Two-Step Beach.


View of Hanaunau from Two-Step. You can see the restored heiau on the point.

View of Hanaunau from Two-Step. You can see the restored heiau on the point.

On the way back, I spotted a wonderful tree that looked as though it were melting. I wanted Tom to take pictures. The tree is truly amazing, with aerial roots and twisty white tendrils that looked as though made of wax rivulets from a burning candle. There was a macadamia nut-Kona coffee-fruit store across the road, so we wandered over to look. I asked the shop keeper what kind of tree that was across the road. He looked blank and said, “What tree?” I guess that incredible-looking tree was just same-old, same old to him. (It turned out to be a banyan.)

Is this not an amazing tree?

Is this not an amazing tree?

The shop keeper’s wife asked what we were doing on the Big Island, and I explained I was researching a novel. She said her daughter wanted to write a book, and how did I get published? I said I’d be glad to help her daughter out if she wanted to email me. I don’t think I can help anyone get published, but I can tell her a bit about how the industry works–or doesn’t.

We tried raw macadamias (meh), then roasted and salted (yum!). But the absolute best were chocolate covered with sea salt–to die for. We bought some, needless to say.

I wanted to go see Bob again. I wanted to tell him about my experience with the lei at Kilauwea. I also wanted another healing–this time on my elbow and ankle. My elbow was so sore that day I could barely touch it (don’t know why), and my ankle has arthritis. Also, my hair was beginning to bug me. It is curly, and when it gets longer, it flies around and looks awful. The humidity of Hawaii wasn’t helping any; I might have been walking around under a gray haystack.

Bob was delighted to see us again. He listened to my story with great satisfaction, then told me more tales of his personal encounters. As he was speaking, a lovely Hawaiian lady came in and sat down. Bob talked and snipped, snipped and talked, until finally I said, “my husband is going to kill you if cut any more off.” I was afraid he would just keep on until I had a fashionably bald head (fashionable for young men, but not for ladies my age).

I said he should take the Hawaiian lady next and I would wait for my healing, but she said to go ahead, so we did. It was the same quiet ritual as before. I thanked her for her patience when we were done; I don’t know how long it all took, but where I live, the next customer would have been foaming at the mouth by then.

After the healing, my elbow in particular felt better. Not perfect, but better to the point where I could touch it without pain. I am really indifferent to whether or not I am merely suggestible, so long as the results are there.

Then we headed off to Greenwell Botanical Gardens, as it had been closed the last time we tried to go. It turns out the garden is operated by the Bishop Museum. Ken’s friend Peter was sick that day, so I will have to email him. I selected some books for the grandkids and chatted with Aloha, the lady behind the counter. Tom took off around the garden by himself, and I followed later.

Greenwell is dedicated to growing and preserving native Hawaiian plants. They don’t charge visitors. Tom and I wandered, reading the informative signs, which noted how the Hawaiians used the plants for food, dye, adornment, etc. I collected a list of questions to ask one of the guides. (We had elected to walk around by ourselves for a while.)

Native loulu palms at Greenwell Botanical Gardens. Highly endangered in the wild, although they once formed forests that carpeted the islands.

Native loulu palms at Greenwell Botanical Gardens. Highly endangered in the wild, although they once formed forests that carpeted the islands.

Back at the visitors center, I introduced myself to Jim, a guide with a magnificent white beard and twinkling blue eyes. After I asked a few questions, Jim cocked an eye at me and said, “Where are you from? You seem pretty well-informed.” That made me happy. After doing all this research, I still feel like the greenest newbie.

I won’t bore you with all the questions I had, but I did think what learned from Jim about Kukui trees was interesting. Kukui nuts were used by the Hawaiians as lights, and are also known as candlenut trees. The nuts are full of oil. The Hawaiians stacked them in a vertical row along a straight sliver of wood and ignited the top nut. It would burn for a while, then ignite the nut below it, which would burn in turn. I knew this, but what I wanted to know was if they were edible. In response, Jim found a good nut lying on the ground and cut it open for me. I tried it. It was a lot like the raw macadamia I ate at the store, and I commented it would probably taste better if toasted a bit. Jim said Kukui is sometimes roasted and salted and used as a condiment for poke. But you can’t eat very much of it, or you get the runs. He hastily added that the small amount I had consumed wouldn’t have that effect on me.

If you shop at Trader Joe’s you have seen some of the staff wearing Kukui nut leis. They polish up beautifully.

Koa trees are acacias, but their leaves are a beautiful, long sickle shape. Koa produces a gorgeous hardwood with light and dark streaks, and it appears the population is not endangered. Ancient Hawaiians made short surfboard and canoes out of the wood. I asked about this peculiarly non-acacia type of foliage, and Jim said they put out juvenile leaves that have the typical feathery appearance of acacia, but this new growth falls off and is replaced by the sickle-shaped leaves–which aren’t leaves. They are structures called “phyllodes,” but as they perform the necessary task of photosynthesis, I don’t think us non-scientists need to worry about the difference.

I noticed what looked like a tiny heiau (temple) constructed of lava rock near the visitors center. It was shaped like a four-sided pyramid, with the top flattened to make a small platform. It had an oval stone standing upright on top of it, like a Ku stone. I asked Jim about it, and he said it was built by the men who worked in the garden. It was not a miniature heiau, it was a replica of a district (aha-pu’a’a) marker. I asked if the stone on top was a Ku stone, and he said, no, it was dedicated to Kama-pu’a’a. I don’t yet know how the Hawaiians could tell the difference between one sacred stone and another.

Now seems as good a time as any to tell you about Kama-pu’a’a, the pig god. Kama (if I may be informal) was born on Oahu to parents who were of divine and chiefly ancestry. Kama was born in the shape of a little pig, and he got into all sorts of mischief in this form. In that sense, he is rather like Coyote the Trickster, of Native American tradition. There are many such gods/culture heroes, like Anansi (Africa), Loki (Norse), and Ti Malice (Vodun).

Kama’s human form was that of a stunningly handsome young man. Eventually he moved to Kahiki and married a woman there. But Pele began to beckon him across the ocean with her smoke. Given what happens next, I am not clear why Pele did this, but if you expect legends to make sense, you should probably stick with mathematics. (Not that math makes any sense to me. That’s why I write fantasy.)

Kama returns home to Oahu first, to recruit the assistance of his family in dealing with Pele, whom he knows is a fierce and powerful goddess. His grandparents agree to follow him to Hawaii (hidden in his genitals, which sounds uncomfortable), and Kama turns into one of his other body forms, the humu-humu-nuku-nuku-a’pu’a,a, and swims to the Big Island.

Kama makes his way to Pele’s home at Kilauwea in his human form, which had been enhanced  by his grandparents until there was no more beautiful man in all of Hawaii. He begins to chant at the crater’s edge. 40,000 of Pele’s people come out of her home to see who is chanting, and her sisters see this dazzling young man and desire him. They tell Pele about him because they are under kapu unless Pele frees them, but she is scornful. She tells them he is a hairy pig, and not worthy of them, but they don’t believe her and think she just wants Kama for herself.

Kama didn’t come for the sisters, he came for Pele. He chants to her with alluring words, whereupon she chants back, heaping insult upon insult. Kama is humiliated, and takes it out on his grandparents by slapping them (talk about adding injury to insult). More insults fly, and then Pele sends her lava right to Kama’s feet. A great fight ensues, and Kama’s family helps him. His sister floods Pele’s house, making it unfit to live in. Pele rekindles her fire and begins to chase Kama, who reverts to his pig form. Pele scorches his bristles, causing one of his grandfathers to die of grief, thinking his grandson dead, but Kama lives.

Pele finally chases Kama into the sea, where he assumes his fish form. Pele sends her eager sisters to the shore to entice him with their bodies (I’m being euphemistic here), but he mocks them from the waves. The Pele clan gives it up as a bad job and goes home. Kama resumes his handsome human form and follows. The sisters being as enthusiastic as ever, Pele releases them from the kapu, and Kama makes love to both of them. But he wants Pele, who has assumed the form of an old woman. Undeceived, Kama sweet-talks her into an assignation. They go at it for days, and Pele is in danger of dying. Another sister of Pele, who has a detachable, flying ma’i (Remember what a ma’i is? It’s her lady parts.), dispatches this organ to distract Kama from his piggish behavior with Pele. This is successful, and Kama goes chasing off to the other side of the island. So the dry side of Hawaii is Pele’s, and the wet side is Kama’s, and they continue their love-hate relationship to this day.

Whew. You wouldn’t believe how much detail I eliminated from this story in the interest of not losing my readers!

Then I asked Jim about awa (pronounced ah-vah, and known as kava in much of Polynesia). I knew that awa was cultivated by the ancient Hawaiians as a social drink, sometimes as part of ceremonies. I wanted to know what it tasted like, and what the effects were. (Research, you know). I asked where I could experience this–as long as it was not prepared in the traditional manner. (Traditionally, people–often children–chewed the root and spat into coconut shells. The resulting ickiness was imbibed.)

Jim looked at me and asked, “Have you tried going to a kava bar?”

Well, no, Jim, we hadn’t. It never occurred to me that such places existed.

So next stop, Ma’s Kava, which turned out to be immediately next door to Shear Magic. Ma’s Kava was a teeny space that shared its commercial doings with Qina Girl Floral. There were several small children surging around behind the bar. There was a diminutive bar made of koa, and three little bar stools. Both businesses are operated by a nice young couple, April and Josh. April has a degree from University of Hawaii, and Josh is a Fijiian ex-British Army guy. They served us two coconut shells full of a cloudy, pale, beige-ish liquid. Tom took two sips before deciding that was enough, so Josh gave him a half-cup of nettle tea to take the taste away. The tea, made of stingless nettles, was tasty, comparable to oolong.

It is abundantly clear that awa is not drunk for the taste, which is muddy, with a slight bitter aftertaste. Because I was, after all, doing research, I drank his as well as mine. It really is not intoxicating. After two shells (as they say), I was perfectly clear-headed, but maybe a little livelier than usual. Awa soothes body soreness, is a muscle relaxant, and a mood elevator, according to April. She and Josh showed us an awa root, which was about 12 feet long, twined and tangled. April said the older the root, the more potent the awa. It is extremely tough and has to be pounded a long time before it can be used. The taste differs with the variety, as does the potency. It left us wondering how anyone originally discovered its effects, as without modern equipment, the stuff is hard to make.

April shows us an awa root.

April shows us an awa root.


Awa is not regulated like alcohol or marijuana. April said there were kava bars in most areas, but not in every town. Their customers were mostly working men who come in for a shell after work to ease soreness and relax at the end of the day. They had no other customers while we were there–maybe we scared them off. We thanked April and Josh and went back to Camp Aloha.

We had a lovely evening. Joan came out and we offered her some wine and talked and talked. Casey eventually showed up, and more wine was poured. And there was more talking. Eventually, our hosts retired, we cleaned up the lanai kitchen a final time, and so to bed.

But before we begin the journey to Moloka’i, here is a photo of the amazing spider that hung outside the lanai. It had spun a white “X” in the center of its web, and it always sat right in the middle of the X, as you can see. The X consisted of zigzags of thicker white silk. I looked this up, and they don’t know why spiders sometimes do this. One theory was to make the spider look bigger to discourage predators, and you can see that this might indeed be so. It was quite large enough to discourage me.

X marks the spot.

X marks the spot.











In Which I Encounter Pele, Goddess of Fire

Day 5: Volcanoes National Park

I am not going to play some kind of cutesy metaphoric trick on you. My encounter with Pele was not just me visiting a volcano. Bear with me here–it’s worth it.

We have been to the Big Island a couple of times before–three?–and at none of these times has there been visible eruption from Kilauwea, the most active volcano in the islands at present. Kilauwea has been erupting since 1983, according to the National Park Service. Nonetheless, we visited Volcanoes National Park in the past, and enjoyed walking around the caldera, where wisps of gas and steam were visible rising from cracks below. We saw tiny orchids growing amid the rocks, and hiked Desolation Trail, which was bleak but incredibly impressive.

We heard before we left that Kilauwea was experiencing a resurgence. There were YouTube videos of houses burning as the flow consumed them, and people igniting tree branches from the flaming lava. Some (invariably young men) were walking on the hot lava flow. So we thought we might get to see the lava up-close and personal–or at least be able to see it flowing into the sea at night, which is spectacular.

Kilauea is very important in the legends of Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanos. I am tentatively planning to use Pele and her love-hate relationship with Kama-pu’a’a in my next book. (More about Kama-pu’a’a later.) There are several different versions of the Pele origin story, but the one I’ve encountered most often is this:

Pele was born in Kahiki (Tahiti). She has several brothers and sisters. Pele is very beautiful with a straight back like a cliff and breasts as round as the moon. She makes love to the husband of her older sister, Na-maka-o-kaha‘i, a sea goddess. Na-maka-o-kaha‘i is enraged and pursues Pele, who flees across the ocean, coming first to the island of Ni’i’hau. She is accompanied by her favorite sister, Hi’iaka and a brother or three. Pele tries to find a home on Ni’i’hau, but when she digs into the earth, she encounters water, which is antithetical to her fiery nature. Ni’i’hau is the northernmost habitable island of the Hawai’ian archipelago, and Pele tries each island in turn, coming at last to the Big Island of Hawaii, the last in the island chain. Here, she digs down and does not encounter water, so she makes Hawaii her home, along with her many relatives. She has several homes here, but her favorite is Kilauwea. The ancient Hawaiians also referred to Kilauwea, among other things, as “Pele’s ma’i.” Remember that the ancient Hawaiians were quite straightforward and frank about sex, and I am sure I need not translate.

As we were planning to visit Pele’s home, I thought, “Why not give Pele my precious maile lei and ask for her blessing?” After, all, what did I have to lose? The Hawai’ians I have met believe in Pele. A lot of other people do, too. The post offices here have large collections of stones tourists have taken from volcanoes and mailed back, citing unremitting bad luck ever since taking the souvenirs home. (The National Forest Service is happy to tell you this as well. They have their own collection of souvenirs returned by unlucky tourists.)

We had a leisurely breakfast, then set off. The drive to Volcanoes National Park is about 2 hours from Captain Cook. We drove along the Mamalahoa Hwy., sometimes with ocean visible on the right, sometimes climbing in altitude, going through tiny towns from time to time. We stopped at Punalu’u, the famous black sand beach. There is a legend (try to find some place in Hawaii that doesn’t have a legend) that a sea turtle goddess made her home there. She played with the keiki (kay-ee-kee, children) and protected them. The people in turn protected her keiki, the sea turtles, who come to feed in the bay and lay their eggs in the black sand. The black sand is, of course, pulverized lava. It glitters in the hand like a starry tropical night. We saw several sea turtles in the water, quite close to where we were standing.

Punalu'u black sand beach.

Punalu’u black sand beach.

We gained elevation as we began to climb the side of the volcano. Hawaiian volcanoes are not conical, like Mt. Fuji. They are called “shield volcanoes” because they resemble the shape of a warrior’s shield resting flat on the ground. You wouldn’t know you were on a volcano because the swelling is so gradual, but before we realized it, we were 4,000 feet above sea level. Although the terrain on the slopes of the mountain had been desert, largely fields of jagged chunks of lava (the Hawaiians have names for specific types of lava rock; this is called ‘a’a), as we approached the town of Volcano, it became quite lush.

We stopped at Kilauwea Lodge for lunch. This is a beautiful, old-fashioned establishment with a lovely garden. I had an antelope burger (the antelope is from Texas), largely because I had never had antelope before, and Tom ordered an ahi sandwich. They had decent wine, and we enjoyed ourselves. Antelope, by the way, tastes pretty much like beef, at least in burger form.

We went on to the park. As we went through the entry, the man who took our money said we qualified for a lifetime senior pass to all national parks. $10. There are some advantages to the silvery hair after all. He also admired my maile lei, which I had worn all the way from Captain Cook.

Things have changed. They no longer allow people into the caldera, and Desolation Trail is closed. You can view the caldera from the Jaggar Museum. The problem is that the volcano is emitting so much sulphur dioxide and other toxic gasses that it’s dangerous to get any closer. The path of the lava below the volcano (lava is not spewing out of the caldera, but squeezing through side vents) has been evacuated and quarantined, and no one is allowed near it. There is also a plume of deadly gas traveling across this area. To put a cap on our lava non-viewing experience, lava is not flowing into the sea right now, so that was out, too.

However, the Kilauwea caldera is awesome enough, with a white plume of smoke and steam rising up that can be seen for many miles. The area immediately around the caldera is barren, and it is easy to observe the way the mountain has melted, built and melted again with successive eruptions.

Pele's ma'i.

Pele’s ma’i.

We spent quite a long time at the overlook. A ranger talked about the volcano, Pele, and various related topics, and answered questions. We went through the museum. Then we walked a little way from the museum building and saw a path leading to the railing that prevented unwary tourists from falling over the cliff. There was a sign requesting soft voices and respect for those who had come to revere Pele. We saw a small tree just the other side of the railing that had two leis hanging in it, one of shells and the other of flowers. There was also an orchid lei draped over the railing.

I thought, “This is the place.” I asked Tom not to speak for a minute while I said my silent prayer to Pele. I stood at the brink, overlooking her home, and asked for her blessing on my work. I promised I would always be respectful to her and that which is hers. Then I took my precious lei off and hurled it into the little tree, where it lodged quite firmly. Maile leis are quite long, and this one twined across at least two branches.

Flinging the lei. The green thing in the upper right is the maile lei in flight.

Flinging the lei. The green thing in the upper right is the maile lei in flight.

“Mission accomplished!” I thought and turned away. We hadn’t gone more than four or five steps before I stopped and said, “Tom, let’s get a picture of the lei hanging in the tree.”

It cannot have been more than a few seconds since we stepped away, but when we turned around, the lei was gone.

We got as close as we could, but we couldn’t see it in the little tree (though the other three leis were still there). It was not in the bushes below the tree, nor as far as we could see, anywhere.

What fantasy writer would not kill for such an experience? However, I was accompanied by my rational and logical husband, so I quickly said, “Pele has accepted my offering–and I don’t want to hear any alternative theories!”

Tom, having lived with me for many decades, wisely kept his own counsel. As for me–despite the fact that I am not religious or even particularly woo-woo, at least for a fantasy writer–I was and am and continue to be thrilled. I feel I have Pele’s blessing on my work here, and I am incredibly energized. Every time I think about it, I experience the amazement and thrill I felt when I turned and saw that the lei had utterly vanished.

That might have been all I could ever have asked for, but the day was not over. We got back in the car and headed for Volcano House, which is a hotel and restaurant perched on the caldera, but far enough away from Pele’s antics to have survived since 1941. (There was a series of hotels before it that burned down.) We had heard that even if we couldn’t see actual lava, the glow from the caldera at night was spectacular in itself. We also knew from past experience that the restaurant is very good, so we made reservations for dinner that night.

The view from Volcano House is a panorama of Kilauwea, with its cloud of smoke and steam ever rising. We volcano-gazed for a while and then went to the bar. I intended to journal day 4 while we were waiting for our reservation. I ordered a daiquiri on the rocks because it’s kind of a tropical drink (the only cocktail I really like other than margaritas) and I hadn’t had the obligatory fruity drink yet. The waitress brought me a frozen daiquiri, and I politely reminded her that I had asked for it on the rocks. She said, “Well, you keep that one and I’ll go get you a daiquiri on the rocks.” Two drinks for the price of one! They kept me hydrated until dinner time.

By 7:00 it was dark, so we went outside. Kilauwea glowed a deep red-orange in the near distance, and the glare reflected off the smoke plume and the clouds above. It dominated the entire panorama, but trying to photograph it was hopeless. The best either of us could get was a large black field with a small red smudge in the middle that was as much a representation of this gaping maw of hell as a lit match would be. I do not know if anyone can see this without a frisson of unease up the spine: “I am standing right on top of an active, erupting volcano.”

The dining room also faces the volcano and has a wall of windows allowing an excellent view. Periodically, the staff turned out the lights so diners could appreciate the spectacle. Tom and I both ordered the kampachi, a fish in the skipjack family. It was pan-fried with a lobster and seaweed salad on the side. Heavenly! Sadly, I couldn’t finish it all.

After dinner, we went back outside. It was darker than before, and though Kilauwea’s smoldering glare obscured the stars in that direction, they were blazing overhead like living diamonds. Incidentally, it was quite chilly–59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius), which is not a temperature one associates with Hawaii. We were inadequately dressed for the temperature, so we stayed as long as we could stand it, then piled back into Sparky (as we now call the Crapmobile) and began the drive back to Captain Cook.

As nothing memorable happened along the drive, thank goodness, I may as well mention that the temperatures in Captain Cook were much cooler than I expected. It stayed in the mid-to-low 70’s (20’s Celsius) during the day and dropped into the 60’s at night. The town is a thousand feet or more above sea level and gets cooling breezes all the time. The sea water is pleasantly refreshing, just the right temperature.

We got back to Camp Aloha around 11 pm. I was still buzzing from the day’s events and spent more time journaling before falling into bed and sleeping the sleep of one who has been incredibly, unbelievably blessed.