Day 4: Kona
I awoke early with snorkeling on my mind. We each grabbed a banana and a croissant, put swimsuits on and headed out to Two-Step beach.
“Beach” is actually a euphemism. It is a lava rock outcropping with a light dusting of sand here and there. As we made our way to the water’s edge, I guess we looked like newbies, because we received a lot of kindly advice from others about how to get in and out of the water.
This was well-received. Two-Step earned its name because there is an area where two shelves of lava form steps into the water. You can see the fish swimming below the steps even before getting in. We were given these rules:
-People exiting the water have right of way. They are likely tired, and it isn’t enormously easy to get out.
-Let the water take you out. Let the water bring you in.
-If you want to help people exiting the water, take their equipment for them, but do not offer them a hand. It’s too likely that they will accidentally pull you into the water.
I approached the water cautiously because getting slammed against the lava rock would probably be a bad idea. I wet my fins in the water and put them on, stuck my mask and snorkel on my head like a peculiar hair band, and eased carefully out. No problems. I began to snorkel as soon as Tom made his way in.
The water clarity was good, and there were plenty of fish–different types of butterfly fish, mostly millet seed, long nose, and raccoon. We also saw lots of bright-yellow tangs, a few bright-yellow trumpetfish, pufferfish, lots of black dragon triggerfish, wrasses, and my fave: the humuhumu-nukunuku-apu’a’a. This means “little fish with a snout like a pig,” and is Hawaii’s state fish. I can actually pronounce it flawlessly. We also saw a gorgeous blue parrotfish.
Memories to cherish: swimming into a cloud of black dragon triggerfish. They weren’t exactly schooling, more like hanging around together. In Hawaiian, these are called humuhumu-ele’ele. They are (as you might imagine) black, but they have neon-blue racing stripes edging their dorsal and ventral fins, and are quite lovely. Closer to shore, we saw a school of small white-silver fish with yellow tails that I have not yet been able to identify. They were clumped into several small groups, each side-by-side with the others and facing the same direction like marching soldiers. There were probably five or six little groups, not schooling, just hovering. Black dragon surgeonfish and a damselfish seemed to be herding them, though this was probably not the case.
We headed in after a bit. Both of us were cramping. I don’t know if this was because we haven’t swum with fins for more than a year, or because we don’t get enough exercise in general (sadly probable), or because of the rather weighty bananas we had for breakfast (I did get indigestion). We reached the two steps. I was much more cautious getting out, taking off my fins and flinging them onto the lava, then my mask (gently laid on the top step). I let the waves push me onto the first step, then carefully climbed out onto my knees, which I would never normally do because I have damaged them too many times. And thus to safety. As I was pulling myself out, I noticed a tiny starfish in a crack, round and flat like a pancake, with many small, rayed legs. I will try to find out what this was, because I’ve never seen one before.
We headed back to Camp Aloha. I took a swim in the pool, then showered, feeling refreshed. As I was relaxing, Ken called and asked if we would like to have lunch? Would I! We agreed to meet at Teshima’s at 12:30. That left us just enough time to see an optometrist to get Tom’s glasses fixed. He had dropped his glasses, swiftly retrieved them before they hit the concrete–and bent the frame, causing a lens to fall out. We went to Eye Land Vision (get it?). The nice lady there fixed his glasses at no charge and even let us use the restroom.
We found Teshima’s and arrived right on time (probably unnecessary, as Ken would be operating on island time). The restaurant is Japanese-ish, with tempura and sashimi, but no sushi. They also offer hamburgers and other standard fare. We surveyed the menu and drank green tea while waiting. Before long, I saw a Ken-like hat sail past the window, and sure enough, there he was, followed by his wife, Margie. I hadn’t met Margie before, and really enjoyed making her acquaintance.
I asked a lot of questions. Not that many people make such a drastic change in their lives. Apparently Margie’s health was the spur that drove them to move from Chicago to Hawaii. (It wouldn’t have taken much for me to follow suit, if I lived in Chicago.) Ken quit journalism and bought a Kona coffee plantation.
“If anyone tells you they’re making money growing coffee here, they’re lying,” he told us. The plantations in the area (some grow macadamias, some coffee, some fruit trees, some a mix) tend to average 5 acres or so. But it was Ken’s health that forced him to sell his coffee farm. Margie told us he has a photographic memory, so absolutely everything he has ever read or seen is indelibly lodged in his brain. I suppose that is true of all of us, but Ken can actually access all that data. He rapidly became a recognized expert in sustainable agriculture. I suppose his eidetic memory is also responsible for his fluency in Japanese.
After chatting over lunch, he told us to follow him to his friend’s barber shop. His friend Bob owns a barbershop in Captain Cook called “Shear Magic.” Ken told me that Bob had tons of stories about ghosts and spirits.
Shear Magic is located in a building off the main highway, a tiny shop towards the back. Ken introduced me to Bob, a cheerful, diminutive man with one missing tooth, and I explained why I wanted to hear his stories. There was a woman about my age waiting to get her hair trimmed, but she sat down in the barber chair and told Bob to go right ahead and talk while he was cutting. She occasionally chimed in with her own experiences, which was wonderful.
Bob is not ethnic Hawaiian. He is ethnic Japanese and married to a Vietnamese woman. But he told me that he reveres Pele, the volcano goddess, as do many here. He said that his wife’s family came to visit and they went to Volcanoes National Park. Out of the trunk of the car came crystal glasses, food and wine, which they arranged as an offering. He offered to call Pele for them, and they were delighted. As Bob explained, in Vietnam they revere a “lady goddess,” and they saw Pele as her Hawaiian equivalent.
Bob also reveres Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy. He got a statuette of Kuan Yin and set it up in his bedroom, but the Vietnamese side of the family objected. They told him the goddess does not want to see him naked or making love, so he moved her to another room. (Hawaiian goddesses would probably want to join in. The ancient Hawaiians approved of sex and were unashamed of it.)
Ken in particular asked Bob to tell me about the night marchers. Bob said the night marchers were the spirits of the old Hawaiians. Every island was divided in those days into pie-shaped wedges called ahupua’a. The people lived near the sea, but had trails up into the hills of their ahupua’a to cultivate taro and awa (kava, which is an intoxicant). The night marchers follow their ancient paths to and from the taro patches. The woman in the chair piped up and said her house was right on one of those trails, and she had planted ti plants at the front and back doors as a signal that they were welcome to come through, although she has never heard or seen them. Bob has heard the night marchers many times.
He told me that he has been warned by spirits often not to go certain places. One time, he was fishing with a friend on a ledge by the ocean. A shadow woman appeared, far to his left and stayed there for several minutes, then disappeared. Then his friend exclaimed that a spirit whose face was covered by her long, white hair had appeared several yards to the right. They packed up their gear and left.
I asked if he had experience of any other such appearances, and he said that he has seen bright lights at night, small lights that flew right past him looking like tiny comets. This interested me because I had only the day before read about these in Martha Beckwith’s “Hawaian Mythology”:
“The fetcher as a streak of light may have a long history in Hawaii, since Ka-ili (The snatcher), described by Ellis in 1825 as a god seen at evening ‘flying about in the form of a comet,’ is the name of Liloa’s war god bequeathed to his favorite son Umi, who eventually seized the rule from his less able and less devout brother.”
Then his customer pitched in, saying that she had seen mysterious lights in trees and even on the side of a building at night. She said they were small and looked convex. When she tried to touch one, it disappeared. She also mentioned hearing Bob play the ukulele and sing earlier in the day, and suggested that we get him to display his talents for us.
The customer, now shorn, departed, and there were no people waiting, so we continued to talk. Bob never really ran out of stories. He told me that he came to Hawaii from Oahu, and immediately felt he had come home. He believes he is a reincarnated warrior, one of the Ali’i (ruling class) who were killed at “The End of the World” (the extreme southernmost tip of land in Hawaii) by the army of King Kamehameha I around 1790. So he is Hawaiian in his heart, if not in his genes.
I begged him to play the ukulele and sing. He resisted, but finally gave in and sang two songs. He has a beautiful voice. The first was in Hawaiian and the second in English–it was about the old Hawaiians and mentioned the area we were in–Napo’opo’o and Hanaunau. Both songs were lovely. We applauded, and I said because he had shared his art with me, I wanted to share my art with him and would send him a copy of “The Obsidian Mirror” when I returned home.
Bob said he was studying to be a healer and described sensations he had felt during healings. He said when it worked, it felt like warm syrup pouring out of him. His teacher told him that was God working through him. I said I would pay him for a healing, but he replied that he did not take money for this. He agreed to do a healing on my knee, which I injured some time ago. He instructed me to close my eyes and relax, doing some deep breathing, then to envision golden light around my knee. We sat quietly for a while, then he said he hoped it would help. I don’t know, but my knee has felt pretty good since.
Go ahead. Say “placebo effect.” I don’t care.
Bob had another customer waiting by this time, so we left (I with a book by his healing teacher under one arm as Bob’s gift). Ken (who had left earlier) asked us to stop by his new farm, so we set off to find it. It turned out to be right off the highway, down a tiny road so rough it looked like a lava bed at first. It was easy to see he was in the midst of clearing brush, and he had a fire burning the brush, making ash to enrich the soil. He showed us a house on the property where he and Margie intend to start a B&B some day. It looks tiny from the front, but is actually pretty big. There’s a huge room in the back where he will teach food preservation classes. A busy and ambitious man. I haven’t the energy he does, and we must be about the same age.
We said farewell to Ken and headed down the highway. We stopped at Greenwell Farms, which is a Kona coffee farm. It has been in the Greenwell family for 150 years. It’s one of the largest in the area, and processes coffee for a lot of the smaller growers who can’t afford the space and equipment that it takes to process coffee. A nice woman named Caroline gave us a tour of the groves and some of the processing areas. As you may know, coffee is highly labor-intensive because the coffee bushes have “cherries” at different stages of ripening at the same time on the same tree. At Greenwell, they pick each tree at least three times as the cherries ripen. Then they are dumped into water for a quality test. It struck me a bit like witch-dunking; if the cherries sink, they are good. If they float, they are bad.
Then the cherries are put through a machine that removes the red outer skin. Recently, they have discovered that the skin is full of antioxidants, so now they make it into a health drink called Kona Red. (Didn’t try it.) The beans, two to a cherry, are covered with a sugary, slick substance that has to be removed before drying, so they ferment the beans for a while before they go into drying sheds. At Greenwell, they sun-dry them. Then they are graded according to size and roasted.
You may have heard of “peaberry” coffee. I never knew what that meant, but Caroline explained it. Occasionally, a coffee cherry has only one bean instead of two. The single bean curls around itself and makes a pea-shape that is richer in flavor than usual, though smaller. These are rarer, thus more expensive.
After learning all this, and discovering that the average coffee farmer in Kona has only about 5 acres, I no longer resented the very high price for Kona coffee–which, all said and done, is absolutely wonderful if you like coffee. I bought some coffee at the farm for the folks back home–and found that they had decaf Kona, which I have never seen before. Oh, and some chocolate covered macadamia nuts. I won’t tell you what the bill came to.
On to the Greenwell (yep, same family) Botanical Garden, which we wanted to see, but more to the point, Ken had recommended a friend who works there as a source of information about Hawaiian mythology. The garden had just closed but Ken’s friend was there. He was very pleasant, but said he knew more about plants than mythology, which makes sense, given where he works. So we proceeded back to Camp Aloha just before sunset. I fixed an omelet, using some of the leftover salad fixings and a lovely fat avocado grown on the farm here.
Tom went to bed early, but I stayed up journaling (Yikes! Getting behind!). It had been raining softly all evening, so the stars were a no-show. I fell into bed and slept like a pepe (baby), feeling MUCH happier.
Next up: an encounter with Pele, the volcano goddess. Yes. Really.