As promised, I have gone to Hawaii to research my next novel. I usually journal when I travel because it helps me to retain the memories of my trip, but this time, I have decided to share my journal with you. This is a bit scary for me–maybe some of you will think I’m just farting around over here because to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I am looking for. Yes, I have a list of things I want to do or find out about, but I also am hoping that I will find something that I didn’t know I was looking for.
If that sounds kind of mystical or arty-farty, sorry. But that’s what I’m doing. I hope you enjoy my journal anyway.
Day 1: San Jose to Kona
After several days of trying to prepare for our trip, the day finally came. I felt underprepared in a way, despite all my lists and fretting. And it did turn out that I forgot a few things, but I figured I could find them in Hawaii–they’d just be more expensive.
We took Hawaiian Air from San Jose. We had the usual cattle-class seats, except that my legroom was cut in half by some reinforcement under the seat in front of me, so I was more uncomfortable than usual. I am 5’10”, so leg room is always an issue for me. Tom took the window seat because he enjoys it. So do I, but I think he enjoys it more, so I make a point of letting him have it. In this case, there would be nothing to see for 5,000 miles except water anyway…
Breakfast was promised, but it turned out to be 6 small and geometrically precise slices of underripe melon, cheese and crackers, and a chocolate-covered macadamia nut candy. Later we got a rum punch with very little rum, hence no punch, served with a bag of Maui onion-flavored chips. I admit that these chips are a particular weakness of mine, but they didn’t make up for the fact that we were both feeling the need for an actual meal by this time, not having eaten since dinner the night before.
I read the inflight magazine, hoping to discover something interesting to see or do. The most interesting article was about Hawaiian native palms. I don’t know about you, but I had always assumed that the palm trees I saw in Hawaii–especially the coconut palms–were mostly native, but it turns out not to be so. There are several subspecies of loulu palm (Pritchardia) that are native, and all are endangered through people, rats, goats and pigs. The large seeds take a year to mature, making them vulnerable to rats, who eat the unripe seeds. When they are ripe, people like them–if they can find them, which is unlikely. The islands were once forested with loulu palms, but they now exist in the wild only in a few places that cannot be reached by people, rats, pigs or goats, which leaves very few places indeed. Coconut palms were brought here by the Polynesians who peopled Hawaii, not by the usual method of floating safely across the sea in their hard shells. Another article I read said that it was difficult for people to get them here in a plantable condition. We tend to forget in this day of air travel how very isolated the Hawaiian Islands really are. It’s astonishing that people ever found them in the days before satellites and airplanes.
Which reminds me of my surprise and disappointment as a child, when I discovered that there were really no undiscovered lands left in the world. I was very fond of books like “The Pearl Lagoon” (Charles Nordhoff) and “The Lost World” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), where the protagonists discovered new places, or at least explored little-known places. I desperately wanted to have adventures like that, and the notion that there were no more unknowns was devastating. Of course, I later discovered that there are still plenty of unknowns, and unlimited adventures of the mind and spirit. Not to mention space, where I am definitely not going to go. Ever. But I can imagine it, which is probably much better for someone my age.
We landed in Honolulu (where I removed my fleece jacket) and walked about a mile (I am exaggerating only slightly) to the gate to catch our connection to Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. This is a very short hop and soon we were landing in the midst of a field of broken black lava. The runway was smooth enough, but although the eruption that laid down the lava here happened a very long time ago, it is still a bleak and almost alien landscape, black, rough rocks with a few brave grasses struggling to eke out a near-waterless existence on the stone.
We collected our bags at tiny Kona airport and caught the shuttle to the rental place. The whole airport operation is so minuscule that it’s easy and quick to do things that might take an hour or more in an urban airport. I had rented the cheapest possible car, which turned out to be a white Chevy Crapmobile. I might have rejected it if I had known it was going to be a Chevy. My parents generously gave me a Chevy Caprice when I graduated from college. Tom and I quickly re-dubbed it the “Chevy Crapice.” I think it was possessed by evil spirits, because it had a crafty habit of waiting to break down until the absolute worst possible moment. Think I’m exaggerating? Try in the middle of a tollbooth on I-90 going into Chicago. In the middle of Lincoln Park in Chicago, the stalking ground of the infamous Lincoln Park Pirates, a towing firm that would tow you even if parked legally and would relent only if offered a healthy bribe. Bits and pieces of it would fall off or stop working even when it was still technically running, which was ruinous to two young students/recent graduates with no money. I still remember my joy when we finally bought a new car (the first Honda car in the US; it had a motorcycle engine), and watched a tow truck haul the Crapice out of our lives forever.
Our rental Crapmobile presented a challenge from the beginning. First, we couldn’t fit my suitcase into its dainty little luggage compartment. I suggested lowering the back seats. There was a mechanism for doing so, but there was no way to lower them completely without removing the back seat bench. And it appeared to be a two-door with no way to put a person in the back seat, much less my enormous suitcase. (In my defense, I selected this case so that I could put our snorkel equipment in it as well as my clothes, etc.) Finally we discovered door handles cleverly concealed in the trim (they looked like vents and were in a strange location at the top rear corners of the doors), got all our luggage in and headed south.
Tom and I both thought there has been a lot of development since we were last here. The first time, I recall that there were “graffiti” messages spelled out against the black lava with chunks of white coral. We didn’t see any of these yesterday. The road seemed wider and there were more houses and other buildings north of the town of Kona.
We headed for Captain Cook along the Mamalahoa Highway. Captain Cook is sort of a long spot along the highway, perched more than 1,000 feet above the ocean. We turned off the highway as instructed and began a winding, narrow approach along the cliffs makai-side (kai meaning the ocean. Hawaiians talk about directions as makai, toward the sea, or mauka, meaning toward the mountains). The steep sides of this descent feature small plantations and a breathtaking view of Keleakakua Bay far below.
We eventually came to our destination, Camp Aloha. The driveway was a severe uphill climb that seriously challenged our Chevy Crapmobile, but we made it. At the top of the drive we found a large outbuilding with lots of mysterious machinery in it. There were trees everywhere. Not a person in sight. We got out and began peering around. Eventually one of our hosts, Joan, came out of the house, which was well concealed behind trees and bushes, and greeted us. Joan and her husband, Casey, have five acres here where they grow macadamias, bananas, papayas and avocados. I asked Joan where they sell their produce, and it all goes to a local grocery store.
Joan showed us around. I had thought we would be in a separate cottage, but we are actually in a wing of their house. The house itself is a one-story bungalow about 30 years, ramshackle and exhibiting a great deal of deferred maintenance. But the view. Oh, the view. The house overlooks Keleakakua Bay, a thousand feet below, and miles out to sea. There are palms and flowering trees all around, and a soft breeze blows all the time. Mynah birds swarm in the trees, as do golden finches, Chinese white-eyes and many others.
We have a bedroom, bathroom and sitting room with a small patio outside. Our kitchen is on the covered lanai overlooking the pool and the mesmerizing view. I now know why it is called “Camp Aloha”; the cooking is over a camp stove or barbecue. There is also a fridge, which our hosts stocked with a variety of foods, a microwave, toaster oven, plastic sink and most of the essential amenities.
After unpacking, we headed into town for some necessities like good wine. We went to dinner at the Manago Hotel, which is an ancient building on the highway. It’s clearly a local hangout. The tables are chrome and Formica, circa 1950s. There are two menus, one for drinks and one for food, posted on the walls. The drinks on offer are a few low-quality California reds, more selection in beers, plus soda, coffee, tea. I ordered a Longboard Lager, which was good, even though I don’t usually drink beer. The food menu had some interesting local fish, plus pork chops and steak. Having read that the pork chops were a specialty of the house, that’s what I ordered, while Tom had the steak–an unusual choice for him. They brought sticky rice, potato-macaroni salad (which was surprisingly good), sprouts and steamed vegetables, which we devoured (our last real meal had been 24 hours previously). Then the meat arrived–enormous portions that neither of us could finish. The meat was fine, but I wouldn’t go with it again. I prefer fish and this is, after all, an island!
We headed home with our wine, opened it and watched part of “Despicable Me,” having missed about 30 minutes of it. Normally, I hate watching a movie after it has started, but last night I didn’t care. Then to bed,and quickly to sleep. The temperature was cool, like a summer evening at home on the Monterey Bay.
Some time in the middle of the night, Tom woke me up by saying, “The stars are amazing!” In my sleep-drugged state, my brain had two responses: “I want to see that!” And simultaneously, “I don’t want to get out of bed.” So I stayed in bed until my bladder had its way with me. After visiting the bathroom, I stepped outside onto the buzz-cut grass and stared. And stared. And stared. And stared.
It was a moonless night, and the stars blazed with so much light I could see the objects around me. The stars were bright right down to the horizon. The North Star flamed overhead, the brightest object in the sky. And the stars glittered and pulsed as though alive. I was tempted to lie down on one of the chaise lounges and stare for an hour or two, but it was cool and I wanted to avoid mosquitoes, so I eventually went back inside, overawed by such unearthly beauty.
It made me realize how much we have sacrificed for our conveniences–the electricity that lights our nighttime. We have lost the beauty and mystery of the stars, the truly spiritual experience of seeing them blaze in the dark like bright promises of a life to come.
I’m just glad I can go places where I can still see the stars as my ancestors saw them. As the ancient Hawaiians-to-be saw these beacons as they steered their tiny and inadequate rafts across the uncharted Pacific. But I will never have the intimacy with the night sky that our ancestors had. To them, each of these gems was an old friend with a story to tell and directions to give. That experience is not mine to have. But I can still rejoice in their beauty, even if I can never understand them.