The weekend Things We Lost In The Fire was released in theatres
.but we were all too busy evacuating to go see it.
I choose one pearl necklace Bill had given me about five years ago for Valentines Day, and the gold watch Id gotten from my company for being with them for 20 years and thats it for the jewelry, except for the necklace from my friend Laurie I have on. Its too hard to choose from the rest of the jewelry, so I just dont. Passport, Daytimer, a laptop, checkbook, my headphones, utility bills to prove where we live, a few photos and some clothes. Done.
In a last minute burst of optimism, I throw in a swimsuitknowing that this is not going to be a trip to Canyon Ranchstill, it goes in the duffel bag anyway. I feel an odd sense of calm and detachment while packing so sparely. As a matter of fact, I packed more to come to Hawaii for 8 days than I did to leave my own home possibly for the last time.
You find yourself acknowledging that if its meant to be lost, it will be lost and you come to grips with it easily, as long as you have each other, your pets, and a little duffel bag full of food and water. And the gallon of milk, five pillows and 3 comforters Blake throws in the car for good measure. He also runs back to his room to get his piggybank so he can help pay for food. And then remembers his ukulele.
And so, after camping out at friends homes for five days (how lucky are we?) watching endless hours of the fire channelaka CNN, while still finding a way to get to our fulltime jobs even as the sky is pouring forth ashes and the authorities are telling everyone to stay indoors because people are passing out from the horrendous air qualitywe are allowed to go home.
Malibu Presbyterian Church is burned to the ground; the landmark house called The Castle and so many other Malibu homes are nothing but memories now. School has been cancelled for the week, and Marie Osmond has fainted on Dancing With The Stars because she cant catch her breath.
After 14-hour workdays, my husband and I drag our weary evacuee posteriors into the car to drive to what we hope will still be The Gulch, three miles up a winding road from the beach just south of Malibu.
The 3-mile journey takes nearly an hour, with all the other banished Topangans returning simultaneously. In addition to all the fires, theres also been a water main break thats causing this royal jam-up. My husband is driving his car about a half a mile behind me, so Ill be the first to find out whats behind Fire Door Number 3.
Its surprising not to see more destruction as we crawl our way up the canyon road. Bill and I had watched the flames and billowing smoke consume what we assumed was Topanga from the picture windows over the ocean in his office in Santa Monica. We stood side by side in safety and awe, looking north to our beloved neighborhood, which was coughing up ashes and fire. It was a most sickening sight.
The Meryl Streep line from Out Of Africa keeps playing back in my head. Shes holding a small African child, gazing at the fire thats destroying her thriving, hard-earned coffee plantation, and utters Gone ..all gone . as only Meryl Streep can utter.
I finally approach our long, downward-sloping driveway; and see at the end of it the most beautiful sight in the whole, entire world: The Gulch, standing beaten but proud in the moonlight, covered with the detritus of battle. Leaves, ashes, branches, sticks, pine cones, needles, etc. etc. etc. cover the roof and lawn, but God Bless er, shes there. Not Gone ..all gone.. after all.
I speed-dial Bill. The Gulch Lives! The Gulch Lives! Vive le Vive le Vive le Gulch! and we have one of those watershed moments where all is gratitude and gratitude is all. When he swoops down the driveway, we bow in the direction of the volunteer fire station and those bionic, beautiful firemen and women who have given us this most precious gift: just to be able to come home, when so many others will not be able to.
In a haze, we lovingly collect the maileven the junk mail catalogs filled with porcelain figurines get special care. We walk to the fridgestill there!and pour a glass of o.j. Still tastes like o.j.! Everything is stunning to us. We get to sleep in our own bed. Theres something wrong with the water, theres no internet, theres a huge cleanup in front of us; we could care less. We are home.
I call my two sisters in Minneapolis and say Game on! We will have our sister trip after all.
The next morning, Bill drives me to LAX in heavy fogor is it smoke? and I take off for Hawaii. From the air you can see the hotspots where fires are still raging in site after site; where people are hoping for the best. Where hospitals, animal shelters and entire communities have been abandoned.
Smiling flight attendants have white orchids tucked behind their ears as they walk down the carpeted aisles dispensing fruit juices and ginger ales, as if nothing has happened.
Do I believe in miracles? Oh, my, yes. Long Live The Gulch. And many heartfelt condolences to our neighbors and thanks to our firemen and women still on the ground trying to cope with the sadness and destruction.
So, I dont so much touch down in Hawaii, as arrive with a gigantic thunk. Stress will do that to you. After breathing ash for 5 days, the moist, tropical air of Hawaii is a shock to my olfactory system. Quest que cest? ask my nostrils.
Its so sweet; so uncluttered, sofresh and fragrant! My low-grade headache vanishes. The sky is an unnatural shade of blueoh, wait. Thats the shade the sky really should be. Which gives rise to the thought that perhaps here the full moon might actually be a nice shade of white tonight. One can only hope. (Note to self: when the moon is pumpkin-colored, wild animals are roaming the cul de sacs looking for water and shelter, the sky is brown and you can chew on the air, its time to get outta Dodge.)
In Honolulu, even the airport shops are surrounded by sculptured gardens teeming with tropical flowers. I call my mom and dad in Minnesota STAT. The air smells like flowers! I cry. My mom counters: And theres always a breeze just the perfect, right breeze! Dad chimes in: And you can really get a big breath of air there.
I hear happiness in their voices just thinking about the air in HawaiI, where they were stationed near Pearl Harbor during the Korean War, and where our middle sister Peg learned to walk. Im beginning to get a glimmer of why they adore this part of the world like no other. The penny begins to drop. As a first-timer to the islands, everything is familiar; yet surprising.
You know about the leis, but you didnt expect them to be so pretty, or that the ceremony (which looks so hokey in old movies) is in fact, quite moving. Theres something intensely beautiful about a 60 year old bearded beefcake of a guy from Jersey walking around the baggage claim area with a pink lei of orchids around his neck, as if the islands have gentled him just slightly upon landing.
What a gracious way to be welcomed to this foreign land thats also our own.
Im surprised that Im surprised about the Japanese influence here. Of course its big ..but I didnt expect there to be as many bags of wasabi peanuts as boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nutsyet here they are in abundance.
Its also odd to be in the states here; to need no passport to get here, to be able to use U.S. dollarsand yet to not know a single word of the local language. Embarrassing, really. Have to work on that, nui nui.
Arriving at the Kona airport, it takes less than 10 seconds (literally) to retrieve my bags. Outstanding! I rent a Pontiac V-6 medium-sized carso inappropriate for this particular island, but all the Jeeps were rentedand strike out on a reckie (reconnaissance run) while waiting 2 ½ hours for my sisters Jen and Peg to land. Theres a road to a state park just a couple of miles north of the airport. It looks like it heads towards the ocean, so I make a sharp left off Highway 19 and head down it. For the first couple of miles, the Pontiac is a champ.
Then the road starts to get rougher and craggier and I realize suddenly why all the Jeeps are already rented. Ahead of me lies a crater that could swallow the Pontiac like Jonahs whale, so I elect to leave the car by the side of the road and head to the beach on foot.
This is like no other park Ive ever been to. Not a tree or shrub in sightjust hardened black lava and more lava. Some pahoehoe lava (the smooth stuff) and tons upon tons of aa lava (the rugged stuff that can be up to 20 meters thick and that makes you say Ah! Ah! Ouch! when you step on it with bare feet.) All in all, were talkin a lotta lava.
It looks like a gigantic parking lot under construction by a rather untalented construction crew. Just torn to pieces; a big jumble of hard, black earth baking in the sun like gigantic, broken Oreos. Well, when you think of it, the island of Hawaii is still under construction, with all those volcanoes still churning. I learn to embrace the lava, thinking just how cool it is to be able to walk on what was once fiery magma from the center of the Earth. I try not to hear the voice of Mike Myers as Austin Powers when I think about the word magma but its impossible.
However, the more I walk in this park, the farther away the ocean appears on this winding road. Still wearing a sweater and slacks from the flight, its beginning to look like this isnt such a great idea to be getting so hot and thirsty so far away from the car, so reluctantly I abandon the ocean sojourn and turn back. A few Jeeps and 4WD vehicles pass by me; the occupants wave gaily. (Later I learn that I was en route to one of the coolest beaches on the islandand possibly a nude one as well.)
Parched and soaked to the bone, Im relieved to spot the little silver V-6 over the next pile of hardened mmagmma. Roaring back to the airport with the a/c on full-blast, Ive just enough time to purchase two Plumeria leis for my two beautiful sisters before they land.
Leied and elated, we all hop into the car and head for what will be our home for the next week: The King House on Puako Beach Drive. Thats POOH-uh-konot Pooh-WALK-oh, just for the record. Its about 20 minutes north of Kona airport on Highway 19. Its the only private road among this entire stretch of beach, and its a miracle that its still there all the other stretches having been claimed by luxury resorts like Hilton, the Mauna Kea, The Mauna Lani, The Hapuna Prince, and many others.
We make a quick stop at the hub of our new neighborhood: The Puako General Store, owned by the lovely Mr. and Mrs. Patel, and pick up some groceries. Mr. Patel hits us with a charm offensive that is utterly irresistible, and we feel very welcomed to this little corner of the world. Another mile down the road, and there she is!
Its dark by now, but we can see the 35-foot tall roof climbing into the sky and we know weve reached our destination.
|Kamuela, Hawaii, Property #T662|
The next morning over breakfast rich with island fruits, juices and organic eggs, taken on the lanai, we plan our day. Weve heard so much about the Waipio Valley and the Parker Ranch, so we get out the maps and make our way to Waimea, about 15 minutes north of the house on the 19.
Its amazing to see the different environments that are stacked almost right on top of each other. If you didnt know it before, youll know it by taking this drivethere are a total of 13 microclimates in the world, and you can find 11 of them right here in Hawaii. Weve gone from the arid area where were staying (though its lush with palms and plantings) to some of the greenest country weve seen anywhere. The grass is fluorescent green and the undergrowth is positively emerald.
Horses are grazing on the tall grasses just like in the brochures, and now seamlessly the environment changes and its as if were in the north woods. Its not like driving through Nebraska, where you see cornfields for 6 hours in a row .here the scenery is changing by the moment.
We make a stop at the Parker Ranch because our Dad has told us If you ever want to get just a really big, fresh breath of air, go to the Parker Ranch. Admittedly, its a tad breezy up here today. We board a covered wagon hand-built by the owner, Isaac, and cover up with the thick blankets inside.
As the horses Princess Leia and King Arthur lead us around the ranch, we try to take pictures of each other but the wind nearly topples us off the wooden bench seats. The space is vast and untouched except for one small area where curiously colorful condos have sprung up, bearing the Parker Ranch name. You do get a sense of timelessness here; next time we hope to have a calmer day in which to take in the land that time forgot.
|Kamuela, Hawaii, Property #T662|
Theres a gorgeous stallion standing in a valley of green grasses and we agree he must be a plant for tourists like us because hes beyond handsome in that setting.
Now the trees that were supposed to be pines actually are pines .we believe theyre Australian pines, to be exact, and they lead the way to the famous lookout.
At the Waipio Valley Lookout, theres no concession stand or place to buy postcards of the natural wonder youre witnessing. Theres only a small ranger station with a single guide in it dispensing information to the handful of people whove come to take in this beauty. The postcards you see of this place at the airport dont lie. Its astounding. And theres no cover charge.
The various colors flow past our grateful eyes stark-white ribbons of waves licking the black sand beaches below, with shady palm trees providing cover for the 10 or so beach-goers on their blankets. What a SPOT!
Sheer cliffs spilling into the sea are covered with a thick sweater of lush greenery. A few lanky pine trees stand sentry on the very top of the cliffs, having what has to be one of the finest vistas on this big blue marble. We linger for awhile and then reluctantly get back in the car for the drive home.
Now there is corn outside our windows but its chartreuse-colored corn and therefore rather surreal. Were almost home when we see the signs for Hapuna Beach State Park and remember the name from the guide books. We swing the V-6 into the parking lot to have a look. Its fantastic! A big, wide, broad sandy beach backed by mountains which flow into that impossibly blue Hawaiian water, a large grassy area, a couple of sand volley ball courts, a boogie board rental shack and a snack bar. Its about 5 minutes from the house, and we agree to return here for some serious swimming and beaching at our next opportunity. Its considered one of the prettiest beaches in all of Hawaii. The fact that we miss the exit and wind up backing out of the parking lot on a sidewalk does not deter us.
|Kamuela, Hawaii, Property #T662|
This seawall is the greatest highway in Hawaii, according to the man who lives next door to us. Neighbors are welcome to walk along it to gain entrance to the ocean, and nobody is uptight about ithow refreshing!
Snorkeling under, its Finding Nemo time. An explosion of fish greets our eyes. And then, straight out of central casting swims an enormous military-green sea turtle. Hes very mellow and very comfortable with all his fish roommates who swim behind him as he surfaces. Simply stunning to be five yards away from this magnificent creature.
Peg spots little black and orange fish she dubs Halloweenies and I name these gorgeous fish that look as if they each have an orchid painted perfectly on their tails Corsage Fish. This is some truly great snorkeling!
Suddenly, the lightbulb goes off over our heads: if we can do this here, we should be able to do this directly in front of OUR house! We race back to the King House, determined to figure out how to get down over the seawall. We discover a rope that has been installed on top of the seawall. Hmmm .
Walking to the very end of the wall in our yard, we locate a cement ledge that leads all the way down to the sand. Its an aHA! moment. One must be able to walk along this ledge while holding onto the rope for a few steps and then youll be able to lower yourself right onto the sand. Bingo! Its a victorious moment as we crab our way down the ledgebut I must say, these arent the most attractive photos in the bunch. This ledge crawling is not for the timid, but is easy enough for kids and semi-brave adults.
|Kamuela, Hawaii, Property #T662|
There are some clouds on the horizon, so we dont actually see the Green Flash thats common here, but we all see green circles of light spiraling into the cloud formations, and thats even more interesting. We each tuck a Plumeria blossom behind our earthree sisters on a seawall, suspended in the Puako twilight.
(Its also amazing to watch the sun retreat from the hammock on the lanai, swinging gently in the breeze except its harder to hold onto your Mai Tai in that position.)
Were seized with hunger immediately after the sunset, so we decide to find the most casual resort restaurant thats close to home. We think it might be called The End of the Line at the nearby Hilton Waikoloa Village. A short drive (3 miles or so) later, we find ourselves boarding a wooden speedboat circling the Waikoloa Village, making various stops along the way.
We scope out this elaborate theme park-for-adults as we slide through the water. The scope of the place is well, its just huge. We cant even imagine how many rooms there are on the premises. We float on our track past long hallways filled with art, sculptures, replicas, potted palms the size of redwoods and much more on our way to the End of The Line restaurant: ah, now we get the reference since its the last stop. Its an outdoor café actually called The Boat Landing overlooking a water feature where inexpensive American fare and medium-grade sushi are served to diners who are almost all currently staying here at the resort. A lone guitarist with suspicious hair croons some Beatles tunes and even attempts The Eagles all by himself, but is drowned out by the rambunctious screaming children who frolic in front of his stage.
We exit quickly after dinner and see if we can check out the beach, seeing as were in Hawaii and all. It turns out not to be such an easy task. Our options are by foot, by aforementioned boat, or by TRAM! We ask the front desk. The gentleman tells us its really better to go by day, but reluctantly gets out a mondo-sized map and highlights our route.
Eagerly we embrace our map and head outside, down a cement case as imposing as the Spanish Steps. We round the lake-like pool and say hello to the dolphins that get to live in Hawaii but are here in the pool, swimming around and around eternally. Lets hope theyre on the mend and will soon be released into the fabulous Big Island ocean. If only we could find it.
We duck under a waterfall and find ourselves at a small restaurant/bar. We ask the bartender if were getting close to the beach. He also discourages us from going at night (is there a Hilton Beach Boogie Man?) and tells us that its almost a mile down a dark, winding path. He also guarantees we wont see much, but hes very kind about it.
Ultimately, we relinquish our sea quest, scratching our heads as to why youd not feature, oh, the oceanif you managed a property in Hawaii.
On the wooden boat earlier in the evening, a woman dressed in all white, festooned with gold jewelry remarked to Jen: Well, theres just no reason to leave the Village. They just bring it all right here to you.
Perhaps so. But as we take the long, long walk to our car in the parking lot, dodging at least 12 feral cats looking for a handout, were glad the real Hawaii awaits us on Puako Beach Drive. Dolphins that have a whole ocean in which to play, boats gliding by without the assistance of tracks guided by pretend boat captains, and the real live Pacific lapping at our seawall, ten yards away. (No map required).
|Kamuela, Hawaii, Property #T662|
We sleep like babies, listening to the best white-noise machine in the worldblue-black waves in constant, peaceful motion; in a house thats so Hawaiian even the glass tray inside the microwave does a gentle hula back and forth as it warms our Kona coffee.
We do wake up early, however. Alas, to the smell of smoke. We wander the house, making sure weve turned off all the burners and both ovens, and then wonder if the neighbors are possibly having a mesquite barbecue breakfastbut at 5am? Seems unlikely.
Then we smell smoke for REAL. I know this scent well from my evacuation three days ago in L.A., and its frighteningly similar. The phone rings, but I dont reach it in time.
Peg and Jen and I hear no fire trucks, no sirens, no helicoptersbut our collective antennae are up. We make breakfast, killing a little time because its still too early to call anyone to find out whats happening. Theres nothing on the news, so we decide to proceed with our day and pack lightly for our trip to the other side of the island to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The phone rings again. Its the delightful Shirley Wagner, wife of Gary who has managed the King House for over 20 years. Shirley informs us sweetly that well be asked to evacuate the house in the very near future due to a fire on our street that started just behind the Catholic Church. Its déjà vu all over again.
Warily, we pack our stuff, once again deciding which of our things we can live without. We pile our bags into the petite trunk of our car and drive away from our beloved haven. Instantly, we understand why were being sent away. The air is filled with thick black smoke mushrooming to the skies. There are dozens of small fires blazing, numerous hot spots and later we learn there are nine large fires raging in the area.
Once we make it to Highway 19, we stop at the side of the road to take photos. Climbing a hill with other Puako Beach Drive residents, its every bit as heart-breaking as the destruction in L.A. as seen from this vantage point. Helicopters are now dipping their buckets into the ocean to make water drops; the only difference is that here on the Big Island the fire trucks are yellow and the firemen speak Hawaiian.
It kills us to leave our peaceful, lovely neighborhood with the palm trees and lovingly-tended gardens, but we motor north and proceed with our day because theres absolutely nothing else we can do about it. We all cross our fingers and say a prayer for the King House and all its neighbors.
Were now on our way to more smokea smoldering volcanosince we just havent had enough to choke on in the past 5 days. As were driving away, half the sky is deep brown and the other half is an innocent, Pacific blue.
Trying to look at the glass half-full: at least we didnt have reservations to play golf at Mauna Lani today or we would have had to wear unattractive gas masks. And, although we are indeed going towards more things that are burning, aka boiling cauldrons of lava, at least well be passing through a refreshing rain forest to get there. Our new goal is to try to hit 11 of earths 13 microclimates in one day.
Now its pouring rain and theres banana trees and tropical jungle terrain on the right side of the vehicle; it looks like Cambodia or Vietnam. Woah! The foliage! So thick and dripping with orange frangipani flowers! We pass Umauma Falls and all let out an Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh! from the core of our beauty centers. This double waterfall tucked into a lush gulch is the widest and most amazing weve seen. Jen suddenly remembers a verse from the Hawaiian ditty our father used to sing while playing his uke: Come a Come a Come a to Umauma Falls with me . and regales us with her version. Well, at least now we know how to pronounce it correctlyUmma Umma-- not Oohmuh Oohmuh.
In Africa, lions roar. In Hawaii, the waterfalls roar just as loudly. Now were continuing on our way with ever-changing scenery, craggy points with green valleys tucked in between by the careful hand of nature. Peg pipes up: Oh my gosh, will you LOOK at that valley? devouring the geography with her eyes. I cant deal with it. Its just too pretty.
Now were approaching Akaka Falls. The valleys of perfectly-formed, commanding palms have us stricken speechless. The postcards dont prepare you for this one. Its a real gusher, we can assure you! It feels like a gigantic set for Jurassic Park that only Hollywood could create, and we have to remind ourselves that this truly is real, and not cinema verite.
Now, the crashing surf of Hilo (HEE-low) Bay is on our left and the town of Hilo is on our right. Its a place thats managed to hang onto its provincial languor longer than most. Its main street resembles a turn-of-the-century town, complete with one and two-story wooden buildings whose storefronts retain their irresistible appeal. No time for shopping, however .the volcanoes call. As we approach Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Peg remarks, This is the softest rain Ive ever felt. Its like it doesnt dare touch the ground.
Before we disembark, theres a report on the radio that many of the roads near our house have been reopenedwith the lone exception of Puako Beach Drive, and we try not to let that dampen our spirits as we reach the entrance.
Theres a huge line of hungry volcano-seekers waiting for the buffet, so we grab a quick chili in the snack bar before heading out along the circle of craters. We make all the stopsincluding the steam vents that spew white mini gas-clouds into the air; but standing atop the Mauna Loa crater and glancing down into the maw of the earth is the simply awesome stop. Thats more than an orifice, remarks Jen. Thats a more-ifice.
Later, we descend into a formation called a lava tube and walk all the way through it. Its s totally dark volcanic tunnel except for the couple of lanterns that have been hung on the walls of the tube. And yet, in this deep blackness, there are a few plants that manage to somehow grow from the ceiling. Its wild to think that where were walking was once fire-red magma (theres that word again) that formed a tube-wave the devil could have surfed upon. A very amazing experience!
Mauna Loa, rising 30 thousand feet from its base on the sea floor to the thin air of its summit, covers half of the Big Islands 4,034 square miles, and contains 10,000 cubic miles of material. Its the third largest volcano in the solar system; smaller only than volcanoes on Venus and Mars, just to give you some idea.
At 13,677 feet above sea level, its still growing. And it has company: Lo ihi. 15 miles off the southeast coast of the island, a new submarine volcano thunders softly 3000 feet beneath the Pacific Ocean. Someday, thousands of years from now, Lo ihi will emerge to form a new island. Too bad well all miss it.
In October of 2006, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake shook the Big Island, causing about 100 million dollars in damage. That was followed by nearly 160 aftershocks and a magnitude 5.0 earthquake in late November. This is the precise reason, when we called earlier in the trip to make reservations to play golf at the nearby Mauna Kea Resort, a cheerful woman answered, saying Were closed due to the earthquake. We hope to be re-opened by next year.
Lets hope so. Were dying to ask about all that priceless art that was housed and cared for by the Mauna Kea, but decide not to probe. The resort was originally going to be open by this time, but the owners decided to do more extensive renovation than first planned, so you can look forward to the opening in 2008.
Having had our fill of steam vents and peering into the magnificent belly of the beast in the rain, we take our leave from Hawaii Volcanoes State Park. Were now at Puna Luu Black Sand Beach Park, oohhing and ahhhing at this place of refuge. This is so very cool. The water is so many different shades of blue its almost prismatic, and there are 8 or 9 people enjoying the black pebble beachwhich is a joy to walk on, and something that stays with you, as our Dad puts it. The contrast of the pure white waves reaching the pure black shores is simply stunning, as is the sheltering crescent of royal palms that protects this cove.
On our way back across the island, we find inspiration in the very few trees that are able to find a footing and against all odds are growing out of pure, hardened volcanic rock. If they can do that, we can be evacuated for a night or two from the King House without complaining.
We are three grateful Lava Mamas when we finally find an open gas station, and offer a three-way mahalo to the gas gods for providing on a Sunday.
The Big Island is the states breadbasket. More agricultural products are grown and processed here than in any of the other island. Farmers produce a wide range of products and its the only place in the world where sea horses are farmed. (What they do with them, we have no earthly clue.) Its no secret that some of the best coffee grown anywhere can be found outside Kailua-Kona, and half the states orchids are grown here.
This is why its so pleasurable to stop at a roadside fruit stand or shake shack and tuck into the local fruits and vegetables. The oranges are a yellowish color and much larger than those from Florida or California. And the taste is just so incredibly orange-y you wont believe your tongue! Likewise, the limes, which look like lemons. Mangoes, papaya (best with a squeeze of island lime), breadfruit, pineapple and so many other fruits weve never seen give immense pleasure, and rank as high on the shopping list as macadamia nuts and Maui onions. Farm stops are a must if you enjoy fresh produce.
Were trying to get to the southernmost point in the U.S., but the road is getting a bit dicey with the Pontiac, and its beginning to pour in earnest. We decide to bail out before getting our already wet selves into a mess o trouble here in Lavaland. (You learn to really respect this place after staring into the vast abyss that is the Mauna Loa volcano). Out our rain-lashed windows, we see a matronly woman in her tall rubber Wellington boots and raincoat furiously watering her plants with a power hosein the middle of the squall. Were sure she has her reasons, yet its the rarest of visuals.
Hunger is gnawing at this point, and were still hearing radio reports that Puako Beach Drive is closedbut theres a glimmer of hope. Now the Civil Defense is saying that there will be a decision by 7pm as to whether evacuees can return home tonight. We hit the town of Kailua-Kona for dinner, even though we look mangy and filthy from our long day in our rain ponchos clomping around the volcanoes. The town is hopping, and theres a wealth of fun, casual tourist-friendly restaurants fanning out on Alii Drive before us and on the waterfront and pier.
We choose one called Torchys, (it seems fitting for evacuees) its tiki torches flaring upwards toward the second floor where the aromas wafting from the kitchen are garlicky and tantalizing. We celebrate our day of ashes with big drinks and a toast to bring us and everyone else on our block good luck. It works, because at 7 oclock, just as our entrees arrive, I call Civil Defense in Hilo and a man picks up and delivers this warm message: Im delighted to tell you that you can go home and get a great nights sleep tonight!
We lose our composure briefly and let out a raucous cheer. Our waiter tells us how happy he is for us and offers to bring us a celebratory dessert, but we just cant wait to get back home to that wonderful place on the ocean. We call Shirley Wagner and thank her for her kind invitation to spend the night at her home, but we wont be needing to put her out. But how nice are she and Gary to have offered their home to 3 total strangers!? Well, aloha, Deborah. We would have loved to have you. Its the first of so many instances of that spirit of aloha that lives and thrives here on the Big Island.
As we near the King House, we see dozens of hot spots and bright orange flames just feet from the car. Its unsettling, but we know the fire department wouldnt take a chance on letting us back in if things werent safe. Still all those frightening little fires play on our nerves and its like driving through a bad arcade game avoiding the mini-fires.
We approach the house with caution. In the dark, we fumble with the keys, hearts racing. Inside, all looks remarkably unchanged. We whoop and holler with joy. No smoke damage at all! There is a fine layer of ash on the floors, and the air is still somewhat smoky-tasting, but thats about it! Another major bullet dodged.
We sleep happily and heartily in the safety of our big comfy beds, listening to the surf washing away the worry; the breezes blowing our cares far out to sea.
The next day is so much better. Most of the black smoke has billowed away, but there are still lots of little grey smoke bombs smoldering away. The air is clearing as we drive to Hapuna Beach State Park for a nice long walk on the beach, some boogie boarding and fun in the sun. Its a blast! The waves are high and the water feels like silk on our mainland frames. Afterwards, we do a little shopping and have an extremely delicious lunch at Café Pesto in the Kawaihae Harbor shopping center. We all highly recommend the crab cakes and the Hawaiian pizzasand the salads are all super-fresh and organic.
Were in one little boutique on the second floor there and Jen inquires of the sales clerk if she sells reading glasses. No, but what magnitude are you looking for? she replies. Jen says, Oh, about two times or so and the sales clerk opens a drawer and pulls out a nice looking pair of reading glasses. Here, please take mine. I sort of have this big collection going and Id love you to have these.
Its the spirit of aloha, alive and well once again. After much protesting, Jen accepts the glasses and leaves with not only the glasses but a wonderful feeling. In the same shop, we also score several very nice gifts and a birthday outfit Peg can wear to the luau tomorrow night.
After a little downtime at this wonderful house that feels like a friend, and a lingering look at the sunset from the lanai, we decide to drive north to Hawi (HAH-vee) for dinner. Many jokes about Ha-Vee, Ha VAH ee are tossed about, all of which I will spare you especially: Hah vee there yet? We choose a restaurant called Lukes, which just opened in April. Its an open space with an attached art gallery and a tiki lounge in the back room. The ribs are so tender you seriously need no utensils. Just pick one up and the moist, delicious meat simply falls off the bone and onto your plate! Lukes is generous with the sauce, too.
Fresh sautéed spinach, a great steak, and beef teriyaki complete our carnivorous mealalong with the best twice-baked potatoes ever. When I go, bury me in a Lukes twice-baked potato and Ill go happily.
3-block long Hawi is so cute, but its too late to do any exploring, so we take our sated selves back to our beach house. On our road is a small group of surfer dudes with long hair down their backs, big easy smiles and ukuleles, getting ready for a night of Kani Kapila (back yard music). And what a night theyve picked for it. Stepping out of the garage, were compelled to look up at the sky and gasp. Peg is last out of the garage and hears our gasp. What is ita wild animal? she cries.
No. Its just the stars. Its as if weve been thrust into another galaxy. The ink-black sky is so studded with bright stars and planets we seriously cant believe our eyes. None of us has ever seen a sky like this, and at first it was so startling it literally took our breath away.
We run from the front yard through the house to the back yard and look up again. Sure enough, spread before us like the best celestial banquet ever, is the entire Milky Way and billions of stars winking at us as the surf crashes against the seawall. These stars actually twinkle, like in the lullabye!
Now its clear to us why the largest telescope in the states, up on top of Mauna Loa, is located here on the Big Island. Its like youre halfway to the stars already. We learn later that theres a two-year waiting list for astronomers from around the world to come use the telescopes on this island. Were not surprised.
Three sisters watch the sky for a long, long time: from the lanai, from the hammock, from the outdoor couches on the perches on the second floor. From any location at this house, its the greatest show on earth, even though its not on earth at all.
By the way, if you want to do some reading or writing while staying here, take to one of these perchesespecially in the early morning. Heres what my sister Peg had to say about her ritual of perching every daybreak:
Early morning, with fresh coffee the upper deck settee watching the striated morning sky dancing with the water: first grey, then blue, add a stripe of pink then fade back into pale blue. Wait. Now the water is mirroring the sky, but which one is driving the pattern? Or are they each feeding off each others vastness?
Its the daily tug of war here: whether to stay here in pure paradiseor head out to adventure. That is Hawaii. Nicely put, Peggsly.
Today, adventure wins the tug, after breakfast on the lanai. Sisters are on the road again this time to get out and see some of Hawaiis natural wonders up close. Wed taken this road north to Hilo when wed visited the volcanoes, but today the mission is to take in the waterfalls up close and personal and to visit the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens.
Were standing at the top of Rainbow Falls just inland from Hilo. They say its not one of Hawaiis most magnificent falls, but we beg to differ. Its wide, wide river studded with lava rocks cascades into several different yellow-colored falls (some say there are 80 falls) all dropping into a swirling lake formed by the falls below. People used to live behind the falls and high- dive into the lake for pleasure until modern-day lawyers put an end to that. Its a stop were very glad weve made, plus we get a sense of what living in the town of Hilo might be like.
Were now on the 4-mile scenic drive, headed straight through a rain forest. The road is small, with huge trees towering all around us thousands of different flowers, little one-lane bridges, lush foliageand of courserain. Its a little like being on Mr. Toads Rideand we are the toads.
Were facing outcroppings of Heliconia from Brazil and Indonesian Ginger with their gorgeous red-cone tops, and the Birds of Paradise are almost cartoonish in size and color. Ditto the Torch Ginger. The locals say that when the trades blow, the Bamboo trees before us rattle in the wind like thousands of jungle drums!
Here is an epitaph to a beautiful Banyan tree that was brought over from India. This tree was over 100 years old, more than 100 feet high, and it spread 200 feet to provide a tranquil umbrella of shade over Banyan Canyon and its vast variety of shade-loving plants. This is the smallest of her three trunks, growing on a rocky ledge of this canyon. Her shallow root system could not support her ever-increasing size and girth. On July 5th, 1986, our beautiful Banyan fell back to earth from whence she came. Her beauty will always be remembered.
We all agree that this is the most amazing place weve ever been. We walk through the gardens in a trance, trying to take in all the beauty at once and its nearly overwhelming. There are plants that look like they have ears of corn growing from their centers; there are Protea blossoms as big as soccer balls. Bromeliad Hill is covered with dozens of varieties of that very special flower, and the precious orchid garden, centered by a pond with a floating island, is ringed with wooden benches for contemplation.
Were passing all kinds of vines that Tarzan could have used for transportation if they werent so slippery. Macaws are macawing and the plaques below the trees tell us that so many of these trees have been donated by someone or dedicated to a loved one who appreciated the glories of Hawaiis natural wonders.
It wasnt always so. This garden used to be a place where people would come to dispose of their junk cars and garbage in fact, this was a local dump. The brave couple who purchased and turned this land into a sanctuary had to clear countless junked vehicles away and remove dozens of containers full of garbage from the property before they could reclaim it for these flowers and trees.
So its wonderful news to our eyes to see row after row of fire engine red Anthurium growing naturally here in this environment. We think fondly of our parents who love these flowers as much now as they did when they were stationed in Hawaii during the Korean War in the 50s.
And now, a field of Amazon Lilies appears before us just as the path reaches the ocean! The sea is gun-metal grey and loud and spills over these jagged lava rocks with a vengeance before mellowing out in a calm bay with a black sand beach. Outrageous.
The rain has lifted; we take off our ponchos and read the plaque about the legend of the two lovers here at the head of Onomea Bay.
The two rock formations are said to be a young man and woman, known as the lovers of Kaha Ihi. Legend has it that one day the chief of the village spotted many canoes with sails headed shoreward in their direction. The chief and village elders held a counsel to determine a course of action.
They decided to build a reef to prevent a landing on their beaches. Not having the means to complete the task quickly enough, they asked for two young lovers to be the guides and protectors of the village, giving their lives. Two willing individuals were found.
That night, a decree was sent to all who lived at Kaha lai to remain indoors from sundown to sunrise, not making any light or sound on penalty of death. In the light of the new day, everyone went down to the shoreline where they were amazed to find the two lovers gone and in their place, two gigantic rock formations at the entrance of the bay, attached to each other as if on guard.
The chief informed the people that no canoes could now pass the currents swirling around the rocks unless allowed to do so by the guardians. The lovers and their offspring (smaller rocks) still stand today, sentinels at the head of the bay.
We have lunch a mile or so down the road at Whats Shakin and its one of the best meals weve had on this trip. Wonderfully fresh fruit smoothies, delicious nachos, ahi wraps with avocados and so much more, served on the cute porch (sorrylanai) of this shack near the sea. Six thumbs up from the sister critics!
Back to the house for the magic hour. Weve not missed a sunset at this place except for Evacuation Day, and we dont intend to miss another. The light softens and makes gold and silver paintings inside the volcanic tide pools. A big sky for the creator, and multiple little skies for us. A single sea kayak glides past in the distance; its rowers paddle in perfect sync towards the bronze sun. The enormous driftwood log just beyond our seawall thrusts its long, weathered Ichabod Crane legs towards the horizon, and tiny yellow canaries rest on its knees.
Tropical birds of all shapes and colors skitter along the seawall where weve poured out their dinner in a long line of seed. The ocean is yawning; the palm fronds touch the sky and sigh; its the most soothing time of day on the island. And at this house, you can soak it all in180 degrees of perfectionall to yourself. If youre looking for a private nook in a blissful spot, search no further. Just come, and enjoy what the hosts of this lovely home have co-built with Pele, the goddess of fire.
The following day is Halloween; the day our middle sister Margaret Jean was born. Peg spent her first and second birthdays in Oahu when our parents were stationed at Tripler and this is where she learned to walk, with big sis Jen looking on proudly. Now, many years later, Peg will spend another memorable birthday in Hawaii.
We spend the morning at the house, perching, drinking coffee, communing with the sea. Yesterday John Morris, handyman extraordinaire, had stopped by and showed us where all the water toys were, so we scamper down the seawall with our flippers and masks to attempt to do some snorkeling.
However, weve chosen a rather windy day, and the neighbors are treated to some light comedy as we flail around in our flippers on the slippery rocks, arms akimbo, yelling Whoa! from time to time as we nearly fall backwards. Very glam. Jen relishes her role as photographer.
We opt for the sea kayak instead, which John has thoughtfully anchored in front of the house. This is more like it! All those canoe lessons we endured as kids kick in as we C-stroke and J-stroke effortlessly through the water. It feels like freedom itself to be out here with the dolphins and the turtles! Sure, we stumble into a few rocks from time to time, but the kayak is a sturdy fellow and very forgiving, so we deem our excursion an unqualified success. In a spasm of optimism, we even fantasize that maybe someone watching us from shore may have thought we were native Hawaiians, out for our morning paddle. But probably not.
We remember now that our next door neighbor told us why he hadnt evacuated during the fires ..hed pointed over at his sea kayak and said with a smile, I had my escape plan in order if I really needed to get out of here.
The rest of the day we simply enjoy being at the house, making lunch in the great kitchen with the two dishwashers, two fridges, two sinks, etc. and then sitting by the sea. This house talks to you. Its as if you, the house and the ocean are in constant conversation, when no words are spoken. It is special.
After lounging in the sun on the chaises in the grassy yard, we take our own sweet time in the fabulous outdoor showers. We adore these showers, since they are really entire rooms. Its an utter pleasure to have such elbowroom when washing ones hair, and to share the space with sunlight, orchid plants, fresh air and the occasional teeny little supergreen lizard. We never want to shower indoors again.
All primped and fluffed, we head for the Hula Munna Luao at the Kona Village Resort. We arrive early, in order to check out the petroglyphs on the premises beforehand, and spot a mother goat and her kids clip-clopping around on the ancient rocks; some of which are 900 years old and have big stories to tell.
Then they lift the beast onto a sort of stretcher and march it to the dining area, inside a tall hut. The only seasoning used is a salt rub-- on and inside the pig prior to cooking; yet its amazingly succulentas are the dancers!
After a fine dinner of Hawaiian favorites (including fresh poi, made on-stage, which we sample with our spoonsnot bad!) its Show Time. The drums begin, and onto the stage bound 10 or 12 male and female dancers performing the most ancient hula of all...complete with the grass skirts and coconut bras. But its not sillyits fantastic! One cannot believe these women can do these moves without dislocating their hipsits beyond sensual, not to mention deeply athletic! And the men make the hula seem like the most masculine dance ever invented. This is a serious testosterone festival. Were hooked.
Later in the show, the male dancers come very close to our table and do a more modern hula (wearing next to nothing) and Jen and I are quite sure at this point that Peg is very much enjoying her birthday. Her eyes are larger than usual, and her hands shake just a little bit when attempting to take a picture of these extremely healthy, handsome hula dudes.
The show is really well done, featuring a timeline of Hawaiian history from a colorful female narrator as the different hulas are showcased in a variety of costumes and styles. When the band plays our fathers favorite songthe Hawaiian War Chantwe lustily break into song, to the shock and amazement of our tablemates. The fire-knife dancers are quite thrilling, although weve seen more than enough fire in the past few days, thankyouverymuch. We leave the evening exhilarated and full of history, dance, music and pig; fully forgiving ourselves for being in bang-on tourist mode for Pegs big birthday bash.
The next day is Golf Day. Cant come to the Big Island without sampling these famous links, after all. The King family has thoughtfully provided a three-ring binder of all sorts of fun things to do while staying at their home, including a discount card which entitles us to 30 per cent off at the Big Island Golf Course, so off we go.
The course is rugged and pretty and not terribly difficult. Its littered with wild turkeys and nenes (wild geeseand Hawaiis state bird). The course is so varied its like playing golf in Nebraska, Arizona, Australia and Costa Rica all at once, depending on which hole youre on.
At the famous 17th hole, where the green is installed on an island, I hit my drive into the water (naturally) and go to the drop zone in order to try to chip onto the green. Like a really bad dream, I hit the ball, and it drops a nene right there in the drop zone. Were horrified. The poor nene circles around and around and around on its webbed feet and then plunks to the ground in a sad heap. Oh, NO! we scream. This is too terrible to imaginecoming to Hawaii and killing the state bird!
Yet, we are on a golf course with the next foursome on our heels waiting to tee off, so we have no choice but to keep moving and finish the hole before coming back to check on this poor little guy. We get in the cart and pray for a miracle as I burst into tears. Let me tell you what a truly awful feeling it is to harm a beautiful creature like that. I would make an awful, awful hunter.
As we near the green, Peg is cooing reassuring things into my ear about how the nene is probably just stunned, and then (since I cant look) she shouts, Hes UP! Hes standing UP! And sure enough, our stout little pal is on his own two feet, looking dazed and not at all amused. Thank GOD! We both sink our long puttsthe luck of the nene is with usand drive past him one last time to make sure hes okay. He wiggles his tail feathers at us limply as if to say, Dont worry; Im cool but dont you EVER do that to me again, Yankee! and we finish our round with an utter sense of relief. No harm, no foul. We wont end our vacation in a Hawaiian jail for nene murder, and I can now say I almost got a Birdie on 17.
The three of us truck on down to Kona-Kailua for dinner and some shopping. There are some funif not slightly touristyshops there and we feel good about supporting the local economy. And we score! Unusual Hawaiian gifts of every stripe are purchased for our loved ones back home before we settle in at the Kona Inn for dinner. We snag a table for prime viewing and watch the surf crashing in. Lovers are sitting on the seawall, playing ukuleles, and others are lolling on the green lawn, waiting for the sun to set and the sky to become a vast canvas of color. We are mad for Hawaii. Not to mention the Mudpie, made with pure Kona coffee ice cream.
The following day, another lazy perching morning at the house and then put on our big girl pants and head for our Blue Hawaiian helicopter tour of the Kona coast.
Sporting a battery of devices for motion sickness (wristbands, pills, etc.) we board the midnight blue eco-tour helicopter with just a hair of trepidation. Okay, two hairs. (The tour to the volcanoes area has just been scrapped due to bad weather). They strap us in really well and put headphones on us so we can hear what Pilot Dan has to say. We lift off easily and quickly, and within minutes, our world becomes an Imax movie.
There really are no adequate adjectives to describe flying in and through the magnificent valleys of the Big Islandthe second wettest place on Earth. (Kauai is the wettest). It had rained heavily the week before, so all of the phenomenal waterfalls are showing at their fullest potential. Dan circles around the Keyhole and our hearts stop momentarily, its so utterly bewitching. Sheer vertical madness! This truly is the only way a human being can have access to these parts of the island, since no one could negotiate this terrain on foot, and of course there are no roads.
The theme from Indiana Jones now trumpets through our headphones, and we all smile as another verdant, vertical valley swoops below us, because this really is like being on a cinematic quest, with Dan supplying victory after victory outside these chopper windows. Put this on your list of 25 things to do before you leave this earth. Were so impressed and elated, we even buy the DVD of our excursion after Dan expertly touches down.
Dinner that night is at the Canoe House Inn at the Mauna Lani, highly recommended by Allan King. No wonder that small lots here are selling for 8 million a pop. (Yes, thats just for the LOT.) Its exceptional in every way. The setting is nothing short of drop-dead, with its quaint bridge, dining gazebo, walkways to the sea, and dancing palms. We order up one perfect, last sunset with our Cakebread wine. And Hawaii delivers. Is the sun also larger here, as well as the stars? Its positively dreamy to linger here, while dining on exquisite, fresh-caught fish of the day, immersed in unmatched loveliness. A perfect way to spend our last night.
Theres a state of bliss that people who are advanced in their meditation practices call turiya. Oversimplified, it means achieving a oneness with everything. I cant say weve reached the official state of turiya here, but I think we may have come close. Certainly, the spirit of aloha in its purest sense, now lies within each of us.
The Hawaiians have their own private island in the chain. Its called NiIhau, and only native Hawaiians live there. Non-Hawaiians have to be invited to visit; and quite honestly, that hardly ever happens because of the intent to keep this one island pure and sovereign. So, think of this home as your own private NiIhau. Make your retreat here; make your own rules, use your own language, serve your soul in your own unique way. Youll find that this house will give back to you in a myriad of ways. The three of us would like to extend our eternal thanks to the entire King Family and their wonderful staff for their unmatched welcome and hospitality.
All too soon, it will be time to go. Hawaiians dont like to say goodbye, and neither do we. So, lets make it simple: A hui hou. Until we meet again.
A few more things about the King House:
There are 3 DVD players and flat screen televisions, so you never have to miss the game.
Theres a fax machine and a wireless computer set-up so you can wander from room to room with your laptop if you desire.
There are blow dryers for your convenience, and both overhead and manual fans for those of you whose body temperature is on the warm side. With the pocket doors open, however, the trade winds create such a wonderful breeze throughout the house we didnt need the manual fans.
If you like to exercise, bring your yoga mat, your weights and a DVD. Theres ample space in all of the bedrooms to get your workout accomplishedwith some additional gym equipment on an outside porch.
Snorkels, masks, water shoes in various sizes, floats, boogie boards, a sea-worthy kayak and more are at your disposal, so you neednt bring any unless you have your own special gear.
There are plenty of board games, maps, books on Hawaii and other topics at the house. Especially helpful is the 3-ring binder that the Kings have put together with suggestions on local activities and recommendations for restaurants in the area. Dont forget to use the discount card also in the binder for the best prices on activities.
A full laundry room is kept well stocked with detergents, bleach, Bounce sheets and an iron.
The kitchen is glorious for entertaining with two of everything (dishwashers, refrigerators, sinks, and even cheese graters. We fell in love with the worlds smallest cheese grater; its about an inch high and perfect for grating the nubbins of your hard cheeses.
Sprinklers are automatic in the yard, and if you have any questions with anything mechanical or otherwise, John Morris or Gary Wagner can have an answer for you quickly. Their phone numbers are in the 3-ring binder, as well as numbers for physicians and massage therapists who will come to the house upon request.
In short, there is nothing this home is lacking. Its comfortably furnished and has a wonderful spirit. Its a big, beautiful beach house where you can put your feet up and not worry about the white carpet. Its perfect for girl gatherings, guy gatherings, multiple couples who like their privacy, and creative types like writers and artists who need the space and setting to do wonderful work.
We know youll enjoy your time here immensely. Book early, though, because this house stays busy with the regulars who return year after year to find solace and rejuvenation. And we can totally understand why.
Trivia question: What do women do on average more than 60 times a day, and men do less than 10? (hint: it has nothing to do with lipstick or thongs).
Answer: Smile or laugh.
Here at T662, the King House, double or triple that daily number, then multiply by three sisters and youve got a lot of smiling and laughing going on. I think Hawaiian men were not included in that trivia survey, because they smile an laugh more like a hundred times a dayand yet theyre not the least bit feminine. The surveyors probably left them out because they knew they would skew the results.
Maybe its because they, and their female counterparts, are surrounded by an explosion of beauty 24/7.
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