Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rainbows, Waterfalls, Whales, Lava & Broken Aircraft

At the risk of making all you readers of the Stiff jealous, I decided to share my well needed journey to the Hawaiian Islands and a few of the highlights we had along the way. Two weeks ago, while Jennie Bentley was taking liberties with embarrassing moments, I was enjoying life with the BW (Beautiful Wife.) Speaking of broken aircraft, things started out quickly. We arrived in Denver to find our flight to Kona delayed with a broken collision avoidance system. 5 hours later with a new module and CAS antenna, we were winging our way to paradise. The very next day, we boarded a Hughs helicopter with the doors off and chattering our way over the lava fields to see Kiluea erupting. In case you don't know, the Big Island is made of 3 volcanos, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Kiluea, with the last one being the active volcano.

Linda and I with Pilot Joyce and Jack

Yes, having the doors off created a breezy trip and a little scary at first, but the scary stuff happened a little later. So, we found ourselves winging our way to the volcano with nothing between us and a thousand foot drop but a standard lap belt. Things were going pretty good. It was windy, cool and wild. We flew straight to the spot where Kiluea is pouring lava into the ocean with great fury. Steam boiled out of the ocean and we even got a glimpse of the RED lava.

Next we found out the hard way that you shouldn’t get in the way of Mother Nature. Jack found that out too. Who is Jack, you ask? Jack (pictured above) is a guy that built his dream home in a subdivision on the southern slope of Kiluea. We landed the helicopter in front of Jack's house and took a hike Jack.

Jack's house looks nice and peaceful, however, if you could pan back a bit, you'd see that this little oasis is surrounded by miles of lava. Some time ago, Kiluea threw the residents of Jack's subdivision a curve ball and lava started spewing from a new vent, sending countless tons of molten lava right through the subdivision, destroying all the homes except Jack's. As beautiful as it looks, Jack is cut off from the world; no utilities, no road and a 3 1/2 mile hike across the razor sharp lava fields to where he parks his car to go to town for supplies. His home has a small generator to power his television, a few lights and his satellite dish and small bottles of propane gas to cook with.

The end of the road for Jack

After spending 20 minutes on the ground with Jack, we hopped back into the Hugh's helicopter while Joyce revved it up. Just when the rotors started spinning, a buzzer sounded and Joyce wound it down. Three tries later, she announced that it was here first day in this chopper (something I really didn't need to know) and we were grounded with a broken helicopter. I got out and asked Jack for a pair of jumper cables and just as quick he replied that he had cables, but his car was 3 1/2 miles away. I asked him what was for dinner. As linda and I prepared ourselves for a long walk, Steve came to the rescue. Steve was another helicopter pilot with a working chopper and he took us on the rest of our tour. Steve showed us a few sky vents where the crust had broken and you could see molten lava flowing beneath.

The caldera of Kiluea. Madam Pele's home.

The Rift Zone

After a nice landing, Steve dropped us off and picked up the passengers he left at Jack's house for the rest of their trip. Linda and I headed for the end of the road. Lava recently covered Highway 130 45 minutes south of Hilo. When the trade winds shift to blow the VOG (hazardous volcanic atmosphere out to sea the viewing area opens and you can drive a mile or so across a makeshift one lane road laid over the lava flow to a parking area then hike a half mile to the viewing area where the lava flows into the sea. After the sun sets, the view is spectacular with 2000 degree lave violently clashing with the cold ocean spewing steam and glowing lava chunks a hundred feet in the air. Unfortunately, with my little camera, I couldn't get a decent picture.

That dark 3 hour drive on winding steep mist covered roads back to the Kohala Coast was a bit nervewracking, but we did make it back to the Hapuna Prince Resort where we planned another thing we had to do before leaving for Maui.

The Hapuna Prince

A few days later, we headed for the Kona Airport to find some grafitti, Hawaiian style.

Sometimes you wonder where traditions begin. Many traditions help to form who we are and others become memories of times gone by. Here on the Big Island of Hawaii, there are many traditions. Hawaiians are proud of their heritage and keep up with the traditions so as not to lose touch with who they are as a people. Of course there are Luaus’ and Hula, and then there’s Madam Pele.

I’m really not sure if you’d call it tradition or superstition, but of course you NEVER bring home lava. There are all kinds of stories about bad luck following those people whoo have dared to bring home a chunk of lava in their suitcases. There are many stories of people mailing the lava back to Volcano’s State Park to try to stem the tide of bad luck.

But this blog is about a tradition that must have been started by tourists visiting the island and it’s been going on for years. For miles (roughly 15 miles) along the stretch of Highway 19 near the Kona Airport, there is what can only be described as Hawaiian Graffiti. I can only imagine that once, long ago, some savvy traveler noticed the slate of midnight black lava that covers the landscape. No doubt they had visions of chalkboards from their school days. They probably saw the plentiful water worn white coral that splashes up with the waves on some of the black sand beaches and got an idea. An idea to memorialize their visit to the Big Island and leave their mark. You will find all kinds of messages; love, death, words of wit and just plain names and initials. There are many memorials built to loved ones who have passed.

Of course there are no rules other than common sense, but etiquette says not to disturb the messages others have taken the time and effort to build. And I’ll tell you, it is a chore to bring coral from the sea in enough quantity and then either stoop and build or try to sit gently on the razor sharp lava to complete your works of art.

Way back in 2000, nine years ago, I happened to be on a business trip with two environmental consultants and good friends, Simon Wakin and Pam Hesterberg. We had business on every island and I didn’t have my wife Linda with me. SO, being the romantic type, I noticed all these messages and thought how cool it would be to leave a message for Linda and take a picture. So, with my friends at my side (they were off the official payroll as consultants and you can only ask friends to help you toil away like that), we found a lot of loose coral and a nice clean slate on the Pa Hoi Hoi (smooth lava) and went to work. I took pictures and my wife loved me. In the biblical sense.

Two years later, Linda and I returned and hunted for her memorial. With a relatively fresh memory it wasn’t hard to find though we were rather shocked to see it intact after two years. Okay, so here it is 2009; nine years after it was built and seven year after the last time I saw it. Memories were dim of location, but we had to find out. Could this delicate message have withstood seven years of wind, rain and tourism?

A few days ago, Linda and I left the Hapuna Prince Resort and headed south on Highway 19. I called my friends Simon and Pam hoping they could refresh my memory of where we had built it. There are few landmarks to use as reference as Simon reminded me. Pam only knew it was near the airport. SO we drove, as slowly as I could considering traffic. With the speed limit of 55 MPH, those messages are just blurs. My eyes were occupied with the road and my wife’s eyes are not as good as they were. For near fifteen miles we searched and then, some visual stimulus hit me. I slowed the car and made the statement, “It’s right in here. I’m sure of it.”

Well, the first pass by we missed it, so I turned around and went back, this time parking on the side of the road and the half mile stretch of smooth lava. It took about ten minutes and I saw it. The “L” was a little disheveled and the “A” had fallen asunder, but there it was. Linda’s Big Island memorial. We took a half hour for some well needed maintenance and viola, my beautiful wife’s memorial is ready for another ten years or more.

We took another thirty minutes to work on another project. No, we didn’t build a memorial to our children, Kelly, Kristen and Kaitlin. We worked on a tribute to the hard work I’ve been doing the past four years. You’ll have to see it below.

A few days later, the next surprise came along. We went to the Kona Airport for our flight on Pacific Wings to Maui. Now I knew I booked a small plane, but I wasn't prepared for just how small. We got dropped off at the "Air Tours" section of the airport where we sat outside with our luggage until a small plane sputtered up. The pilot jumped out, started weighing us and our luggage. Then told us to drag the luggage at the chain link fince gate where we waited for the pilot to punch in the code to let us in. No TSA, no metal detectors, no xray. The plane was a Cessana Caravan. Reminded me of a Dodge Caravan. Kind of road like one too, especially in the unexpected 40 knot winds.

I have to tell you, when we rounded Haleakala on Maui, we hit the winds and the plane dropped 30 to 50 feet in a micro-second. I watched as the pilot wrestled the yoke as the wings diped and the plane bounced all the way to the runway. Quite the experience.

Instead of boring you with the details of Maui, I'll leave you with pictures of whales, dolphins, snorkling, sunsets, rainbows and two happy people.

Scenes from our 3 whale watching excursions.

Spinner Dolphins off the coast of Lanai, from above in our 28 foot raft and below with my cheap underwater disposable camera.

Some of my snorkling pictures. The turtle was off the coast of the Big Island.

Rainbows, sunsets, the gorgeous wife and I and me on top of Haleakula Volcano on Maui. BTW, the ride up is one of the greatest elevation changes you can take an automobile on. It goes from 0 feet to over 10,000 feet. Pikes peak for example goes from 8,000 feet to 12,500 or so. Only about 5,ooo foot change.

And I'll leave you with a little self promotion. This trip really was "A REASON FOR LIVING."


Annette said...

I'm sitting here this morning, weeping. I need a vacation! But I'll have to settle for your beautiful photographs for now. Thanks for sharing your pictures and memories with us, Will.

Joyce Tremel said...

Wow, what a great trip! And awesome photos!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Thanks Annette and Joyce. It all seems like a distant (expensive) memory.