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.

Lei-mana.

Lei-mana.

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.

Dogs

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.

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.

Day 3: In Which I Begin To Wonder If I Am Wasting My Time

We awoke early to the sound of many roosters trying to outdo one another. I cut up a pineapple (very proud of my expertise in picking a ripe, juicy one, though the juice spilled all over the lanai floor), and had pineapple, Cuban red bananas and yogurt. Plus croissants. Then I began working on my blog, with the usual frustration of trying to use the WordPress app on my iPad. I wound up using Tom’s computer again. I will be taking my Macbook Air on any future trips. It’s just too hard using the half-assed social media apps on the iPad.

We headed out to explore a little. First we went to Keleakakua Bay Park. This is at the end of a one-lane road. There’s a nice area for picnics, but the waterfront is not beach, but lava. The water was rough, and no one was swimming.

As we exited the car, I noticed that a woman was loading things into the car next to ours, which happened to be a Volt. I stopped and asked her how she liked it (loved it) and the conversation ranged very far indeed. Gabriela is from Germany but lives with her husband in the Puna area of the Big Island (lush, with grasslands and rainforest). She firmly believes that 9/11 was planned and executed by a shadow government of the United States and that Muslim extremists had nothing to do with it. I could not agree, largely because I can’t see the motivation. Then she told us about an amazing kahuna (holy person, priest) who had done wonders for her. A kahuna is just the sort of person I would like to meet, so I asked her for her email so I could send her a message and she could give me the contact info for the kahuna. I did this when we got back to Camp Aloha, but I suspect she may not respond. After all, I am just a crazy lady she met at the park.

There is an ancient restored heiau (temple, pronounced hay-ee-ow) right on the water. These are all constructed of rough-cut lava chunks that, amazingly, make nice, straight walls and platforms. There was absolutely no information about why the heiau was there or to which of the 40,000 Hawaiian gods it was dedicated. (No, I am not exaggerating the number of gods.) The only sign said “Kapu” (taboo, or forbidden.) I spotted a smooth, elongated oval stone at the apex of the heiau and tried to find a good place to take a picture without violating kapu. The area was obviously once a larger complex of buildings and platforms, and it is littered with rough boulders and bits and pieces of lava. I tripped over a tree root trying to get closer. I was largely undamaged, bar slight scrapes and bruises–but my iPhone screen was badly scratched by the lava. Grrrrr. But I got my photo.

The Ku stone is that rounded stone at the top. This was considered to be a satisfactory image of the god, and was itself kapu, or sacred.

The Ku stone is that rounded stone at the top. This was considered to be a satisfactory image of the god, and was itself kapu, or sacred.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heiau walls and platform from the front.

Heiau walls and platform from the front.

The oval stone, by the by, is probably a Ku stone. Ku was one of the top gods in the Hawaiian pantheon. As the name of the bay has “ku” in it, it’s safe to assume the ehiau was dedicated to Ku. He had a lot of responsibilities, but his major one was war. He was the god to whom most human sacrifices were made. I am not fond of Ku.

Then we went to a bee and honey museum, run by Big Island Bees. They offered a free honey tasting, so why not? They had a nice little hive you could look at through glass, some odd but interesting sculptures made out of beeswax, beekeeping paraphernalia, and of course, an assortment of stuff to purchase. We tried the honeys, and I decided I liked the ohia blossom best. I bought a small jar of ohia blossom honey and an assortment for the folks back home.

Then we set off to find Two-Step Beach, which is a good local snorkeling spot. (I adore snorkeling. I really do.) we didn’t intend to snorkel right away, we just wanted to find it so we could go back in the morning when the water tends to be calmer and clearer.

We knew it was near Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. This is a wonderful place that Tom and I visited many years ago. It means “the place of refuge,” and ancient Hawaiians who had violated kapu could find safety there (the penalty for violating kapu was usually death.) There is a heiau and fishponds, and it is a peaceful and spiritual place. I hope we have time to visit again, but this time I was focused on finding the snorkeling beach.

We drove up into the steep hillside again, then down into Honaunau to ask where Two-Step was. Right next door, as it happens. Having determined this, we headed down the road, not quite knowing where we were going. We drove through rocky, brushy terrain for a while before coming to a residential area that began to look strangely familiar. And then we found ourselves at a dead end. In Keleakakua Bay Park. Okay. At least we now knew where we were.

Heading up the hill again, I asked Tom to take me to the Painted Church. It is on Painted Church Road, which is also the road where our B&B is. Tom declined to go in. As a former Catholic, he is unenthusiastic about churches.

Painted Church is a tiny Catholic church perched high above the bay. It is clearly Victorian, replete with gingerbread exterior. Below the church is an old graveyard, and I couldn’t help thinking it would be a wonderful place to be buried, except that I probably wouldn’t appreciate the gob-stopping view at that point.

Inside, this little church was painted with murals on the walls and bright patterns on the spindly columns. Some of the murals are depictions of Biblical scenes. But around the altar, the paintings are trompe l’oeil paintings of grand Italianate arches and columns, expanding the visual interior. The arched ceiling was painted in dawn colors with fanciful palm leaves. It was lovely. I was touched to see a stand outside stocked with trinkets, unstaffed, with an “honor system” receptacle for money. This is pretty common for fruit stands here, but not for trinket stands.

Altar at Painted Church. The apparently extended space behind is a mural.

Altar at Painted Church. The apparently extended space behind is a mural.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Painted Church ceiling. Wear your love like heaven.

The Painted Church ceiling. Wear your love like heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having surveyed the best of the local wine selection when we first arrived (Californians tend to be picky about wine because we have easy access to so many awesome wines. Europeans, please be aware that what you get in Europe from California is generally plonk.), we decided to head to a Costco north of the town of Kona. Indeed, the wine selection was fairly good. On our way to check out, I noticed a refrigerator full of leis (not a normal Costco offering). I have always wanted a maile leaf lei, but they are hard to find. Maile (pronounced like Miley Cyrus) is a vine, and its leaves are sweetly fragrant. When you see Hawaiian dancers or performers with a leafy garland (not a necklace-like circle) draped over the shoulders, that is maile. So I told Tom I’d be right back as he took his place in line. Sure enough, they had maile leis! So I bought one and wore it back to Camp Aloha, enjoying the soft, woodsy perfume. Maile leis are perhaps not as pretty as flower leis, but they smell wonderful.

I should probably explain why we came to Captain Cook in the first place. As in “The Obsidian Mirror,” I will set the sequel in today’s world, but draw upon ancient traditions. I felt I should understand how modern people of Hawaiian ancestry feel about the traditions of their forebears. I had only the barest of story outlines, but thought that talking to real people would get me further than just reading books. (But believe me, I have also been reading a lot of books about Hawaiian history, traditions and mythology.)

I first tried to get in touch with my former chiropractor, Kalani. Kalani and I once had a conversation about eating shark. He said he never ate it, and when I asked why, he told me that his grandmother had once said to him, “You no go eat shark, shark no go eat you.” That stuck with me, and as he is the only ethnic Hawaiian I knew, I thought perhaps he could help. However, Kalani has apparently vanished off the face of the Earth. I searched the Internet for him, but all trails led nowhere.

Then I contacted a former coworker who, though ethnically Japanese, grew up in Honolulu. Alas, he said he wasn’t close to any ethic Hawaiians.

Frustrated, I thought to contact Ken. I knew Ken from my early days working in public relations. He was a reporter who sometimes covered high tech. I had only met him in person once, and that was more than 30 years ago, but we had stayed in touch in a casual way over the years. Many years ago, Ken had bagged reporting, moved to Captain Cook, and started a Kona coffee farm. Then he became ill and couldn’t farm, so he became an expert in sustainable agriculture, working as a teacher and consultant all over, especially in Asia. He is fluent in written and spoken Japanese and just generally an interesting guy.

So I emailed Ken and asked him if he knew any Hawaiians who would be willing to speak with me. He did, and was willing to make introductions, so that is why we came to Captain Cook. However, Ken had just bought a new farm (having overcome his health problems to some extent), and by the time we got here, he was overwhelmed with clearing land, dealing with irrigation problems, and was just generally busy. So I have not met with him or his Hawaiian friends, though we have exchanged phone calls and emails.

I also figured, gee, the guy met me once, 30+ years ago. He may not be at all sure I am a person he wants to expose his friends to–and I don’t blame him. It’s amazing he agreed to do this at all. But I came 5,000 miles to do this. Am I asking too much? Am I even doing something intelligent or marginally sane? Why did I do this? Will Ken see me, or will his busy life and better judgement take precedence? This began to weigh on me, about midday.

Tom and I returned to Camp Aloha in the evening. I greeted Casey and offered some of our trove of wine from Costco, but he said he was doing his GET (general excise tax), and had to work. Normally genial, he sounded grumpy, which was reasonable under the circumstances, but I felt even glummer than before.

Tom cooked the monchong fillets we had bought the previous day. They were scrumptious. We played a couple of rounds of Russian Bank and we each won one round. Then to bed, but I was unhappy. I felt after three days I had accomplished nothing toward my purpose in being here, and time was running out. I was also coughing a lot–I think the “vog” was getting to me. I tossed and turned for quite a while. Tom wanted to know if he could help, but of course there was nothing he could do.

But stay tuned! The fourth day turned out much better!

Day 2 of My Journey to My Next Novel

Day 2: Kona

In case you didn’t believe me about the hidden location of the rear door handles on our rental Chevy Crapmobile, I have included this. Do you see the handle?

Door handles are cunningly concealed on the awesome Chevy Crapmobile.

Door handles are cunningly concealed on the awesome Chevy Crapmobile.

Our second day here was a “down day.” We awoke rather late. I took a shower and then went to our outdoor kitchen on the lanai to make breakfast. Casey, whom we hadn’t yet met, came by to see how we were doing. He explained that he hadn’t yet purchased my requested decaf coffee.

“Decaf is kind of heretical in Kona,” he explained. “But I’ll put on a disguise and find some for you.” I said he could forget about it, figuring that I was in Hawaii, so how bad could my blood pressure get? I fixed myself a 6-cup pot of Kona coffee and drank all of it, and I am still alive.

Casey has long, white hair and a long, white beard. He told us that they were living in Seattle and had visited Captain Cook on vacation. They asked themselves why they weren’t living in Captain Cook and couldn’t come up with a good explanation so they moved here. He later delivered the decaf, but by that time I had decided to go with the local custom and drink full-bore.

There were a few issues at first with regard to breakfast. Our hosts had thoughtfully provided eggs and sausage (this is a B&B, but obviously we are expected to cook our B ourselves), so I chopped some sausage and scrambled eggs in a bowl before discovering that the camp stove wouldn’t light. Tom, brilliant man that he is, discovered the location of the gas tanks (they weren’t obvious) and turned the gas on, so that was all right. I could not find sugar for my coffee, but Joan found us some later. (I used brown sugar from the fridge, which worked fine.) I toasted some croissants, made Tom some tea, and we had a lovely breakfast. Joan reappeared so that I could ask vital questions such as does Hawaii have ants (yes) and where the recycling bin was (if it was a snake it woulda bit me).

After breakfast, Tom and I sat at the table, each absorbed in our work. I wrote yesterday’s blog post and cursed at various apps for not working the way I wanted them to. Tom–I’m not sure what he was trying to do, but I think he was working. I kept interrupting him with my app problems and he kept patiently solving them. This is why we have been married for 43 years. We didn’t have apps or iPads or iPhones–or come to think of it, personal computers–back in the day, but the principle is the same.

I should explain that I am trying to do everything on an iPad. I have a laptop, but just didn’t want to haul it around and have to demonstrate to TSA that I am not a terrorist. (Inclusion of this word will probably interest the NSA. Have fun, NSA. It’s only money.) I am finding that an iPad, which I normally use for reading books, searching the Internet and following Facebook, has certain limitations when you’re trying to manage a bunch of social media streams. In fact, it’s crazy-making.

Now that I’ve mentioned the NSA, it reminds me that when I opened my suitcase after our flight yesterday, a sandwich bag of nutritional supplements that I had packed first (and was thus at the bottom of my suitcase) was now on top of my clothes and had been opened. There was no note from TSA to say my luggage had been searched, not that they always leave billet doux when they search. Or it may have been an airline employee looking for free drugs. If so, I hope my calcium tablets gave him a sweet high. The whole thing was disturbing, in either case.

So the morning flew by before we knew it. As I made my way back to our rooms, I saw a gorgeous gecko right outside our bedroom. He obligingly posed for this picture:

He knows he's beautiful. Or she.

He knows he’s beautiful. Or she.

Then Tom reappeared, having washed the dishes. He needed to rinse his hair and T-shirt because a gecko (not the one outside our bedroom) had, um, eliminated over Tom’s head and hit his hair and shirt. So apparently geckos have a lot in common with seagulls.

Speaking of which, did you know that there are no seagulls in Hawaii? That seems almost impossible, but it really speaks to the geographical isolation of the islands. Not that I miss the seagulls, mind you. Instead, they have little blue doves, adorable little blue doves that make a satisfying jungle-y sound.

We finally finished our self-appointed tasks and headed out. By this time we both were thinking about lunch, and it was mid-afternoon. We first went to a the Oshima Store where our hosts told us we could purchase various items we had neglected to bring. Our GPS systems told us all sorts of nonsense. Finally, I glimpsed some Hawaiians walking by the highway. Tom stopped the car and I leaped out and pursued them. They kindly stopped and I asked them where Oshima’s was. They told me and sure enough, there it was. Oshima’s is a genuine general store; they carry a bit of this, a bit of that, heavy on fishing tackle, light on organization. So it took a while to find everything, but we finally paid and left.

Then we decided to get lunch at Da Poke Shack. Poke (pronounced POH-kay) is chunks of raw ahi (sushi-grade tuna) with spices and usually lime juice and coconut milk over rice. It is absolutely delicious. Tom and I had it the first time on a motu (little island) in Moorea. Our guide prepared it on the beach and it was nectar of the gods. At Da Poke Shack, they had a wider selection of sauces and grains, but it was late in the afternoon, so we had a limited choice–some of which disappeared while we waited. Tom got sesame poke and spicy garlic poke over brown rice and I got the spicy garlic and “Pele’s Kiss” poke over brown rice, both with edamame (steamed soybean pods). Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes, so it is fortunate that I enjoy spicy food, because there wasn’t a lot of choice–by this time it was 4:30 pm, and we were the last customers because Da Poke Shack had literally run out of food.

We stopped by the Choice Mart to pick up some dinner fixings. We saw these rambutans and couldn’t resist buying some. I’ll report on how they taste later. I like that they look like Klingon food.

Rambutans--or Klingon food.

Rambutans–or Klingon food.

We purchased two monchong filets that we would never see in a store at home (and according to the label, aren’t that common here, either) and some salad fixings. Several times, I was tempted by something like asparagus, only to find that it was in the neighborhood of $11 per pound. Anything that has to be flown in is hideously expensive.

On the way back we were astonished to see a flock of wild turkeys. One of the males walked right up to the Crapmobile and began a mating display. The Crapmobile was cruelly unmoved. Different species, I guess–though “turkey” would be a good descriptor for the car.

We got back just before sunset. I put the food away and then we both decided that we were still full of poke and didn’t want dinner. We sat on the lanai with our wine and played cards. Joan came out with a red banana she called a Cuban red. Later, she reappeared with sliced Cuban red on a plate. It was starchy but flavorful, with a faint citrusy tang. Still later, she offered us some champagne, which we accepted with delight. She served it in the prettiest glasses, tall flutes etched with a bamboo pattern. I guess she likes us if she’s giving us bananas and champagne.

Interestingly, we have never seen Joan and Casey at the same time. My writer’s brain began working on a story about a Hawaiian kupua (shape changer). Then I made it stop. One story at a time, brain!

The First Day of My Journey to My Next Novel

The view. OMG, The view!

The view. OMG, The view!

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.