Tag: Puna

Exploring the Big Island of Hawaii

explore

Have you ever had the pleasure of visiting the Island of Hawaii? Also known as the Big Island, Hawaii Island is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, falling south easternmost in the chain.

Not to be confused with Oahu (where the state capitol Honolulu is located), Big Island is far from metropolitan – in fact, you can’t even drive around the island in one day.

Big Island is my favorite Hawaiian Island due to its sheer enormity. Its varied landscapes are home to not only 2 active volcanoes, Kilauea and Moana Loa, but also a myriad of enchanting, unspoiled places. Word to the wise: Rent a 4×4 vehicle if you ever visit.

Just returning from a 3-day trip, my boyfriend and I had the pleasure of exploring the east side of Hawaii, or Hilo side. Hilo is a city on the bay and a jumping-off point for pleasures ranging from exploring the active volcano, hot springs, black sand beaches, a beautiful coastal drive and more.

Here are some highlights from our recent trip:

Exploring Volcanoes National Park:

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Kilauea Caldera. Do you see the lava in the crater’s rim?

This National Park is not to be missed. Have you ever seen a live, active volcano? Kilauea is actively erupting, and luckily enough for us, a trip to the visitor’s center was enough to see the active lava spurting from the Earth.

Usually, a trip to see the lava flow is an 8 mile round-trip hike through treacherous lava fields, but the day we visited was our lucky day: The lava was spewing from Kilauea Caldera, nearby the visitor’s Center!

After getting our fill of watching red hot lava, we exploring a cavernous lava tube and basked in the mists of volcanic steam vents around the park.

Tips: Stop in the visitor’s center to find out pro tips from the park rangers, and pack a raincoat…it always rains on the east side!

Traversing Lower Puna (including Volcanic Hot Springs):

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Ahalanui’s volcanic hot springs are tucked alongside Puna’s rugged coast. Photo courtesy: Ehren Meinecke

Puna district is southeast of Kilauea volcano, and its proximity to an active volcano can be felt in all senses of the word: Wild, untouched rain forest, volcanic hot springs, funky people, and plenty of room to play.

For a relaxing afternoon, we visited Ahalanui Beach Park, a volcanic hot spring which is about 88 degrees. It’s perfect for taking a relaxing swim and enjoying the rugged coastline it’s nestled up against.

Tips: Bring your snorkeling mask! There’s plenty of fish to observe in the warm pond. Also, stay out if you have any open cuts – a staph infection could easily ruin your trip.

Finding a hidden black sand beach and hunting for opihi:

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These opihi were plucked from a very dicey-looking coastline.

Some places are just meant to be kept for the locals, and Secret Beach is one of them. We were lucky enough to meet up with my friend Matt who showed us an incredible secluded black sand beach.

Around dusk, we all hunted for shells and opihi: a snail delicacy found exclusively on seaside rocks in hard-to-reach places. Wild quantities are a pipe dream on Oahu, and sell for an expensive buck ($18/pound). It was such a treat to harvest and enjoy our own fresh opihi!

Tips: Respect the land. Just because you find an open road doesn’t mean you have the right to travel down it. There is a LOT of private land, much of it ancient and spiritual. When in doubt, “Kapu,” or keep out!

Visiting Hilo’s Farmers Market:

Imagine a place where 200+ vendors gather to sell farm-fresh produce, baked goods, bento lunches, Kona coffee, artisan breads, jams, and handmade jewelry, clothing, and house goods. Enter Hilo’s farmers market!

The farmers market technically takes place daily in downtown Hilo, but for a really good display of goods, we went on a Saturday. We were able to sample all sorts of local treats: from Ka’u district coffee, to taro chips, to roast pork and more, your buck goes far at  Hilo’s farmers market!

Tips: Visit on a Saturday between 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. to really enjoy the full spread of vendors. Bring cash and an open mind for sampling local goodies!

Driving the Hamakua Coast:

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Just one of the many waterfalls on Big Island’s Hamakua Coast Drive- Akaka Falls State Park

Just north of Hilo begins a drive that’s full of lush greenery, waterfalls, valleys, and scenic ocean views. We drove it roughly 40 miles west to reach Waipio Valley, our destination. In the interim, we couldn’t believe how gorgeous the views were.

This relaxing stretch of driving fed our lust for a road trip with epic eye candy all along the way.

Tips: Fill up on gas before you go, pack snacks and turn up the radio. Also: Don’t expect to be able to drive around the entire island in a single day…it’s too big!

Exploring an ancient valley of the gods:

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An incredibly steep and dangerous 4×4 road will lead you to Waipio Valley’s floor.

Waipio Valley is a glimpse into Old Hawaii. Two-thousand foot cliff walls encompass a lush, green valley with taro fields and wild horses. A black sand beach spans the entirety of the valley, and giant waterfalls cascade from the mountains’ sides. Interested yet? Read on:

A trip down to the valley floor means:

  1. A treacherous 2 mile hike down a very steep road you must share with vehicles
  2. Paying around $60/person to jump in a tour van; or
  3. Driving down the 4-wheel drive road on your own and braving the elements.

We opted for choice number 3. It was not easy! The grade is EXTREMELY steep and the road is so narrow, only one car can pass in either direction at a time. We even had to BACK UP the road along the cliff edge to let people pass!

Once at the bottom, you have to ride through several giant mud puddles. Finally on the valley floor, we were rewarded with dipping our toes in the water and observed wild horses in awe. We felt immense respect for a place that used to be only for ali’i – or Hawaiian royalty.

Tips: All visitors can enjoy the lookout for a scenic vantage point and photo opp above the valley. Brave soldiers can take a 4×4 (That means 4-wheel drive ONLY!) down, observing the local “law” of yielding to traffic going up. Take nothing in and leave nothing behind!

Overall, a trip to the Big Island is for the adventurous-at-heart. Pack your best slippahs, hiking shoes, rain coat, and bathing suit, and get ready for whatever adventure heads your way!

Revelations by Twilight

This is a piece I wrote for Matador U’s Advanced Travel Writing program. The theme was write about a time you were lost, either metaphorically or physically. I wrote about moving to Maui: the reason behind my move, the very unwarm welcome I received and how I found myself on the other side.  All the details are true and are highly personal and sensitive to me. Please have a read and enjoy the ride.

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Living and working on the Big Island for six months took its toll on me.

I found some semblance of home on a 3-acre tropical agriculture farm on the eastern side of the Big Island, Hawaii. Pahoa, our little jungle town, promised exotic adventures and a rotating door of interesting, but not always good, people.

Because of its unique location amongst O’hia and Albizia trees, Pahoa attracted a certain demographic of people who ran away and hid from their problems. The Big Island: the perfect place to lose and then find yourself again – if you were lucky. A lot of people stayed lost on the Big Island, succumbing to their narcotic of choice, driving around drunk and reckless, putting others’ in harm’s way.

I needed an escape. I booked a side trip to the neighbor island Maui for a breath of fresh air, or perspective, or both.

I didn’t know a soul on Maui, so I logged onto couch surfing and sent out a handful of requests. The first person to respond was a surfer named Frank. His profile picture piqued my interest. He stood in front of a cascading waterfall, both hands behind his back, looking into the distance. His blond ponytail hung over his chiseled, tan back. Frank, the stereotypical hunky surfer, would be my host around Maui for the next 5 days.

I couldn’t contain my excitement. I packed my sarong, a few swimsuits, my cutest sundresses, a hippie headband and oversized sunglasses.  My friends dropped me off at the airport, waved bon voyage and off I went to meet Frank.

A 45 minute flight later dropped me into windy Maui. Frank picked me up at the airport in his rugged, four wheel drive truck. He didn’t have a shirt on. My heart was in my throat.

“Aloha! Welcome to Maui,” Frank said.

I felt punch-drunk. Who was this dreamy man? I wondered incredulously.

“I thought we’d pick up a six pack and head north,” Frank said.

Now he’s done it, I thought. I’m officially hooked.

I silenced every moral fiber in my body telling me not to get too involved. I didn’t want a one-night stand. If this went somewhere, anywhere – north– it would all be over. I’d be his lovesick sidekick in a dirty truck.

So what? I reasoned with myself. Life is made for wild adventures, hungry love and bad decisions. I resigned myself to head north, or wherever the hell else Frank had in mind.

A whirlwind of romantic adventures encompassed the next 5 days. We sipped wine on a cliff overlooking Ironwoods Beach, climbed forbidden trails in ‘Iao Valley, had sex in his cramped studio, snorkeled the best reefs on island, and cooked breakfast in the nude while chatting about surfing. We lied in bed, fingers interlocked, talking about eventually wanting to settle into a relationship. I secretly hoped he’d want that with me.

My last day in Maui, as Frank drove me to the airport, I told him I wanted to see him again. He gave me a kiss goodbye and promised to keep in touch.

I arrived back to the farm in Pahoa, glowing. Everyone knew I had a fabulous time and it showed.

“I’m moving to Maui,” I announced. I’m famous for making bold, rash decisions in the heat of the moment.

“You are? That’s so awesome Jill!” my friend Brandan said.

A few people supporting my assertion rendered it official: I was going to move to Maui.

I flew home to Chicago a week or two later to gather some final belongings and visit with family. I still hadn’t heard anything from Frank after I texted him about my impending move. The silence killed me; but, I knew I had to get off the Big Island. Maui seemed to be the next logical step.

“You don’t know anyone there, Jill,” my mom said.

“Well, I have a few friends,” I lied. I shuffled my feet around the fact that my only lifeline was Frank, a romantic acquaintance.

A few days before my move, I received a text from Frank.

“So, you moving to Maui? Do you need a place to stay when you land?”

Besides myself, I agreed to let Frank pick me up from the airport. I’d stay with him until I found a place to live. I secretly hoped, though, that we would pick up where we left off: in the heat of romance.

My parents dropped me off at O’Hare and waved goodbye, wishing me good luck.

When I arrived at the terminal, my flight had been delayed. Instead of landing at 5 p.m., just in time for an amazing Maui sunset, I’d arrive at 10 p.m.

I texted Frank the change of plans. No response from him right away, but it didn’t matter, because my flight was boarding.

I zoned out for the next 5 hours, trying to get through the long flight while containing my excitement about seeing Frank again.

We touched down in Kahului, Maui in the darkness. I turned on my phone to check for a message from Frank.

“It’s kind of late. I’m going to have my friend Henry pick you up,” Frank texted.

Who is Henry? I wondered. How was I supposed to find him?

I stood outside of the airport, “looking” for Henry. I had no idea what he looked like, what he would be driving…nothing.

After about fifteen minutes, panic started to settle in. What have I done? Why would I trust a guy I met once to come get me without making a backup plan? I didn’t even have cash for a taxi or a hotel reservation.

Wearing a giant backpack with 2 suitcases in tow, I realized that I was utterly lost. Abandoned by the only person I thought I knew on island, I stood at the airport in tears. I knew Frank wasn’t coming. I also knew that the romance I thought would reignite the moment my foot touched Maui soil had crashed and burned.

Suddenly, a truck pulled up.

“Jill? Is that you?” Henry screamed with his head out the window.

“Yeah! Are you Henry?” I screamed back.

“Yeah! Get on in!” Henry said.

Henry turned out to be Frank’s best friend and my saving grace during a hard moment. We drove to Henry’s apartment in the mountains, making casual, albeit awkward small talk.

“I don’t know what happened to Frank, but he asked me to pick you up. We’ll get with him in the morning,” Henry said.

“Fair enough. Where can I sleep? I’m exhausted,” I asked.

Henry motioned toward the only bed in his apartment.

“You can sleep in there with me. I don’t bite,” he said.

Here we go, I thought. The only person willing to take me in for the night wanted to get me in bed – literally. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I reluctantly agreed.

“Okay, but no funny stuff. And I mean it,” I said.

That night, we slept, perfect strangers, side by side. Nothing funny happened.

I woke up to a note on the counter from Henry who had already left for the day.

“Jill – It’s been so nice to meet you! I think you should leave today. Here’s the number to Banana Bungalow Hostel. They usually have plenty of rooms at a good rate. Take care and see you around. –Henry”

Angry about everything that happened to me since arriving, I tried calling Frank outright to ask him why he pinned me off on his friend. He didn’t answer, so I resorted to a text war.

It turned out that Frank “double-booked” his couch surfers and didn’t have room for anyone else. Instead of letting me know, he thought it best to completely ignore me. I angrily accused him of abandoning me and treating me like an unwanted burden. He called me an ungrateful bitch, saying the island would spit me out in 6 months, at the most.

I checked into the youth hostel and rented a car. Hurt by my unwanted “welcome” to Maui, I felt stupid, useless and cast aside. I knew that I was just another notch in a surfer dude’s belt.

Deflated, I drove north in my rental car, this time by myself. I marveled at the way the waves broke on Maui’s North Shore, feeling anxiety about my decision to move all the way here for a guy. What a joke it turned out to be.

I pulled into Ho’okipa Beach, the windsurfing capital of the world. Sunset would be soon.

Taking my place on the rocks near the shoreline, I put my head in my hands and wept.

I had the beach to myself. Between sobs, I asked Maui aloud:

“Please give me a sign Maui. This is too hard. Too much. Please show me a sign that I am where I’m supposed to be,” I said.

I couldn’t handle any more curve balls. Awful and lonely aptly described my first few days in paradise.

I promised Maui to show respect, to be Pono (to do what’s right) and to live with Aloha. I needed to know that everything would be okay.

As I sat there, offering myself up to the island while watching the Pacific rolling in, eight large green sea turtles crawled onto shore. In Hawaii, honu, or turtles, are symbolic of good luck. As if answering my prayers for a sign that things will work out how they’re supposed to, the turtles emerged from the sea to rest.

A few days earlier, I met Kristy, a restaurant owner from Atlanta, at the bar. We were two lonely souls who connected over strong Mai Tais. She gave me advice about being a free woman, following your intuition and scoping out the best possible scenario for yourself.

“It’s all about just riding the horse,” she said.  “Sometimes instead of trying to control everything, you need to let go and let things happen. Sit up on the saddle and ride it. That’s life.”

Her words rung in my ears as the honu continued to creep onto the sand. I couldn’t live my Maui life for some jerky surfer guy. I needed to get back on the horse, sit up on the saddle and ride it – for myself.

I looked to the turtles who rested after their endless, difficult miles at sea. I relaxed into myself and began to trust in my own tumultuous journey. I walked back to my car, illuminated by Maui’s twilight revelations, just as the sun dipped into the horizon.