SATURDAY, JANUARY 6, 2001
Well, that was a short night! We both woke to headlights and cars pouring down both sides of us with one car stopping directly in front of us. Naked, we moved silently from window to window trying to access what was happening to us. The car on my right side had the door open but the interior light off. I couldn't look out without my face being exposed by the bright light of the nearly full moon. One car left and another arrived and parked beside the one directly in front of us. Heidi came down from the loft, already dressed as I was slipping into my dirty shorts and shirt. She quietly took down the curtains and lashed her camera safely on the couch in the sleeping bag on which I had been lying. Wordlessly we crept into the seats in the front. Now we could see that in spite of the two cars facing us, by jogging hard to the left we could get around them if they did not move. We felt very exposed with the moonlight shining in on us and felt that even though nothing else was stowed away and all the vents were open and the steps down, Heidi made the decision to start the engine, put it in gear and turn on the headlights in one fluid motion, swerved around the dark, parked cars and headed up the steep incline to the highway. Scared that the cars might follow us, we sped away as fast as the RV would go and yet, we both were thinking of the campers we left behind in the tent. The story of the ones axed to death five years ago on this coast was very much in our minds.
As we drove south toward Hilo, alone on the dark road, we thought of what we should do about them. Should we call the police out? But did they really need protection? Were they camped far enough from the parking lot that they were safe? Or were they less protected being so far from their car? What responsibility did we have for them for strangers who had never even waved hello as they unloaded gear from their car just one space from ours?
Heidi wondered if we had over-reacted. I was thinking the very same thing myself wondering what troubles we were creating for ourselves with our so easily reached decision. Yet, we both had decided the very same thing without consulting one another. We both had obeyed our instincts to get out of there. So, I said that I had seen many beer cans glistening in the moonlight (which I had) that had not been there when we went to bed. The guidebook had advised that when the locals were drinking it was best just to leave. It was now 12:35.
The first thing Heidi wanted to do in Hilo was to get gas. For some reason she had the idea that we might be driving all night, or that we might be chased all night and she only felt secure getting a full tank of gas. I felt we should simply go to the police station and report what had happened and ask to park overnight in their parking lot to go back to sleep.
Heidi was very much against this idea. She wanted nothing to do with the officialdom of the police and seemed so adamant that I gave in. So while Heidi used the credit card to fill up the tank, I got out to ask the cashier where we could park for the night. For her safety, she was protected by bulletproof glass and the only way we could speak was over an inter-com system. This meant that all of her answers were broadcast to the whole neighborhood. She suggested we try the beaches south of town but reminded me that we needed a permit to park there. Then I explained that we had a permit for Kolekole beach but that kids were there drinking and we felt unsafe and left. She said that we should report this to the police. I asked where the police station was and she began giving me directions: "turn left out of here, go to a stoplight, turn right, no go two stop lights and turn right, then left, at the next stop light turn right, or let's see, is it left? Then she began the whole recital over again, but my knees were shaking so much I just wanted to sit down again in the car so I said "thanks" and left her knowing I had no idea where we were going.
Fortunately Heidi had heard the instructions also, (along with the palm trees, the empty streets and the many streetlamps) so relying on the memory of both of us (each different) we attempted to follow them. All of Hilo is built on a slant. Even the streets had the feeling they tilted toward the unknown dark sea below us. Because prosperity had come so late to Hilo, the narrow downtown streets are all one-way (which seemed to explain why the native cashier could not tell us how to follow where she could so easily think. Several times the paved streets ended up in narrow, winding residential streets that we had to back out of (along with our beeping). As we made error after error in finding our way around Hilo, our self-esteem steadily sank. As time put us farther from the incident that set us on this path, we increasingly wondered if we had done the 'right' thing. Reporting our little fears to officers at the police station began to seem rather silly. Nothing and no one was bothering us now. All we needed was a place to park this wagon so we could sleep.
Heidi said she knew that Walmart's had a policy that one could stay overnight in an RV in their parking lot. So we began looking for the Walmart store. The downtown of Hilo seemed very small and surely had no extra room for such a giant of stores. Maybe we could go to a MacDonald's, get a hamburger (which was beginning to sound very good) and we could sleep there. Once, looking down a steep street, we did spy the MacDonald's sign and headed it that direction. Again, the one-way streets sent us off into several other directions. When we finally got on the right street to drive past the place, we saw they had out-smarted us by being closed and having their parking lot gated.
In my guidebook I had an address in Hilo of some friends of Marilyn Bacon's. Once I looked up the phone number in my book, but as I thought of calling these strangers in the night, at 1:30 in the night, I just could not do it myself. I talked it over with Heidi whether she wanted me to do this, and I was not surprised when she, too, was against the idea. (Now, later, when I think back on this, now when I have heard Marilyn say how glad her friends would have been to help us, when I think how glad I would have been to help someone if the situation had been reversed, I cannot understand how we both could have felt so unworthy to have been unable to ask for help.) Heidi mentioned that she, too, had the phone number of an uncle of her friend Larry who probably lived in the Hilo area. We actually felt as if we had done something wrong, as if we were partly guilty for getting ourselves into this mess and were slightly ashamed of not having our best-laid plans pan out.
Yet, much to Heidi's dismay I began suggesting we go (again) to the police station. We parked on a well-lighted street to dig out the map. Yes, there was a police station, but it was still lost in a maze of vowels. How to communicate to Heidi what street she should be looking for when neither of us could pronounce the names of any of them? She did not know where my finger was on the map and I could not figure out which the cross street at which we were now stopped was on my map. Finally we renamed the streets by their first four letters. "We are now at w-a-i-a and k-o-m-o." "You need to go down W-a-i-a to U-l-u-i where you will take a right." "Oops, that is one-way. Go on down to K-i-n-o and then you need to take, oh darn that street has no name," Then we had to dig through all the brochures we had gathered to find a better map and hopefully one with the print big enough to see by flashlight. Even with three new maps the confusion of the street names caused us endless miscommunication. Never had I hated vowels so intensely. It got so bad, like a Charlie Chaplin movie, that we began to laugh ourselves right up to the edge of hysteria. Still we drove on. I was sure the police station was on the street U-l-u-i but several times we cruised its entire length and saw nothing that looked lit up enough to be a police station that had to be open all night. Our eyes itched and burned with looking and the lack of sleep. We were beginning to recognize certain streets enough to immediately know whether they were one-way and which way we could turn on them. This feeling, instead of comforting us, made us feel we were caught in an evil whirlpool.
Finally we agreed to focus on just finding a well-lighted building with the hope that someone would be awake enough to help us somehow. As we made another circle in the darkness, we did then spot a well-lighted parking lot. Trying to get to it across the other parking lot, on which we had driven, proved that we had to drive under a covered walkway that was lower than the RV was tall. By backing up (beep, beep, beep) we were able to get back on the street, drive the few feet down the wrong way (in all this driving we had not met one other car this night) and were able to pull into the parking lot ringed with bright, white lights which seemed extravagant after all the orange security lights which we knew. We could see no signs on the building to indicate its purpose. Afraid to leave the security of the RV we drove across the lot to a series of stairways over which hung a sign. Ah, the police station's information desk was downstairs. So we parked the RV and together, wanting to hold hands but feeling that was silly, we entered this weird set from a horror movie of bare concrete stairwells holding who knows what kind of terror or evil. We were dismayed when we were instructed to go down one more layer for our goal. Only the hope of a kindly face down that darkened corridor gave us the courage to made the turn to our left. Nothing. We walked the whole length of the cold, cement half-underground hallway to find nothing. Looking in a darkened window we could see where someone should be sitting. Looking around, we see the sign with the words "police information". Below it hung a black telephone. Heidi picked it up and I was greatly relieved to believe she was talking to someone off in this dark building. She gave the mildest view of the story of our evening and asked if we could spend the night in the parking lot where we were. Where were we? I heard Heidi describing where we were. "I think perhaps I am at the back door of your police station." Then she began her famous laugh. It almost frightened me as it pealed forth in this strange place. "Oh, so I am at your front door?" We both began to snicker and nod at each other. By waving her arms around both of our heads, I began to understand where we were being directed where to drive.
Back in the RV we discovered that the directions the policeman's voice had given us led us (again) to the covered walkway under which we could not pass. Somehow talking to the policeman had given Heidi courage to do whatever was necessary, regardless of the rules. Due to his voice she had the right to get where she had been told to go. We zoomed in and out of parking lots and drove down streets without thinking of the directions they were made for. Finally, we were in another parking lot and Heidi was muttering again. "He said to go to the lower level." In a dark corner there a break in the light on the cement walls suggesting that a drive way might be hidden there. As the RV and all the loose stuff in it, sloped forward, we could see someone off to our left waving a flashlight.. We were being led to the one parking slot farthest from the police station. There was no way we could have parked our load of fertilizer bomb in their doorway. But we did not care. We were just so glad to be able to hear that engine stop and know that we were safe. We never saw him and he never saw that we were not wearing our underwear or bras.
We rehung the curtains, picked up the debris, pushed things aside so we could lie down. In the dark our eyes were wide open. We heard several cars pull into the lot and we could hear, through our windows open to the tiniest breeze for our sweaty bodies, the plans and commands of the cops. Cars came and went all night. But slowly and surely we each gave up our slim hold on reality.
Light came slowly to the Hilo Police Station parking lot but when it arrived it came with the sound and fury of a maintenance crew mowing the lawns, blowing grass, whacking weeds, and waking us with a shudder. We both wanted more sleep but just could not take the racket lying down. Dressed, we raised our curtains, still hoping for some morning cool, ate our cold cereal dry and were ready to roll out of Hilo, aloha, mahalo!
Much of the town looked vaguely familiar with sunshine on it and we even began to make some sense of the one-way streets. We had talked about trying to find a discount fabric store but as we realized how early we were, we knew there was no way we would stay in Hilo long enough to wait on it to open. As we sped by another green oasis of a park, Heidi suddenly slammed on the brakes. What had she seen that I had missed? She drove around the block again insisting that she had seen an open-air market. Even as she eased the RV into a curb-side parking place I could not see the market! Only when we were out of the car and going down an alleyway did I see that she was right! Before us were the tents and awnings of a real market. Heidi was enthralled. I was bored. Everything I looked at I either did not need, I already had brought one as a souvenir, or was too tired to even like it. Also, the money had been going out of my purses so fast my head was spinning and I was wondering how I would ever stretch out what I had until the end of another week. I felt I had perhaps more cash stashed somewhere in my purses, but felt too foggy and too lacking in privacy to search for it. Heidi was having a ball so I just tagged along snapping a few photos as my 'take'. One lady had marvelous sarongs, and one I really liked. When Heidi bought it I felt nothing else in the whole market was better and therefore good enough for me to buy. There were so many Hawai'ian shirts and so much flowered fabric. It all looked so right here in this place and this climate, but whenever I imagined Werner's person inside one of these wildly patterned shirts I knew that even though it only cost $18.00 it cost too much to only decorate his closet.
Across the street was another section, the foodstuffs. Here I became interested in seeing the many fruits (and reading their names on the price cards), and finally I got to see what 'taro' looked like (rooty, turnipy things) and a real 'daikon' (the long, large white radish of Japan) and the curled sprouts of fern. When I pointed to a bunch (they looked like very thin asparagus with curly tops) the Japanese lady simply said, "One dollar." When I, instead asked her permission to photograph them, she did not even bother to reply. It was interesting that most of the food sellers were Japanese, most of the souvenir things were peddled by Hawai'ians and most of the fabric and jewelry sellers where whites.
Only as we were leaving did it seem the market was now open and people were pouring in as flowered clothed rivers. Still, at the outside edge was a Hawai'ian man selling coconut baskets while he was teaching a light-skinned girl how to weave the little fish from the leaves. Heidi fidgeted while I gobbled up each move, trying to remember and comprehend. Then he quickly made a rose and without looking at me, put it on a stick and handed it to me. I was so touched. Just then another man came up and began sticking his display of fish, stars and crickets into a can of sand. The basket weaver kept encouraging him to put his display up on the table with the baskets, but he insisted on crouching on the ground. I loved the stars that he had so we began to get one for each of us. As we 'shopped' for the best ones, he told us the basket weaver was his brother. That he himself lived in Kona, that he was the only one on the island making the stars and that they cost $3.00. And yesterday I could have had similar things free for buying an $8.00 basket. I was feeling that the prices varied so widely and that I was always buying on the high end. Thus when at the very next table the same shell lei which I had paid $2.50 each the other day were now offered for sixty cents each! I bought four just to get myself a bargain. I gave the wizened old lady $2.50 and held out my hand for the dime change. "What do you want?" she asked me. Then she offered me a raffle ticket. I shook my head no as I continued to look her in the eye. She stared me right back and said without words, "There is no way I am going to give you that dime, you dumb white woman." I dropped my eyes and let her win this one.
As we pulled out of our parking space (it was good we had gotten there so early because now the street was jammed with cars trying to fit into the tiniest parking spaces) we heard an ominous scraping sound. The RV had hit something and Heidi kept on driving as there was no place in the mass of traffic to stop. As we looked back none of the other cars seemed to be following us with waving fists. At the corner was a gas station so we could pull off the road. At the back of the van we could see where half of the outside electrical outlet had been torn away, some paint was scraped with an aluminum brush. We assumed that the back end of the van had swung against the parking meter because Heidi had pulled so sharply out of the slot in her effort to avoid the many cars lined up trying to get our parking place.
She was totally bummed. I tried to console her with every kind thing I could think of to say, but soon saw that even kindness irritated her so I shut up. Heidi was very unhappy with herself for the next few miles. Occasionally I would say something reassuring to her silence. It was only when she was on the scent of the next botanical garden that her spirits began to raise until she realized she had driven past it. This was too much. She swung into the Hilo zoo (yes, I guess they do have one) only to turn around and go back down Route #11. It turned out that her senses were so good we had only gone one intersection too far. Within seconds we were pulling into the huge, monstrous, football-sized parking lot of the Nani Mau Gardens. We seemed to be the very first visitors in this incredibly clean, neat, organized, polished, tended and re-tended place. Surely here I would find the native plants with neat signposts, gorgeously tame displays of the plants that had so intrigued me everywhere. As we, still rather rumpled from our night and our visit to the outdoor market, looked around the completely sanitized gift shop and the extremely well dressed Japanese woman brightly talking at us, we had a sense we were out of place. Only three hours later did we determine that we were the only guests who were not Japanese, we were the only ones who were not Japanese who had not come on a tour bus and we were the only ones tramping around with backpacks and camera equipment. We had paid our money and we were determined to find what we were looking for in these extremely cultivated gardens. Heidi found a bright red shoot on a bamboo.
in cloud shadow
I am scared
of the sacred standing tall
so close around me
I found a Japanese bell at the top of a hill where I sat, hoping a cool breeze would find me or else give me some haiku.
loudest by the bell
From my perch on the steps under the big bronze bell, I could overlook the one whole end of the gardens. I liked the shady cool, swatted mosquitoes, and wondered where Hawai'i was.
exotic and precise
a chicken crows
the peace of growing things
the distant sea
a flower smell
the sea in the distance
tinged with colors
folded into buds
of morning light
As I looked over my itchy shoulder, I was so comforted to see in the distance the sunlit sea. And in the other direction I could see Heidi moving around a huge clump of Birds of Paradise.
yet looking over my shoulder
a bird of paradise
is better than mine
I moved from the shade of the bell tower to the shade of the garden gazebo. As I sat on the cool cement bench, with my shoes off, the day seemed more gentle and accepting of us.
full of flowers
as the day grows full
Japanese tourist tram
all my "haiku"
of birds speaking Japanese
in the tram
we ugly women
how hard they work
I think I know how the flowers in such places feel. As the tram loads of Japanese tourists, silently whooshed by us, as their heads turned in our direction while their eyes seemed to be looking for somewhere to hide. We were ugly women compared to them in their neat little traveling outfits, not one over a size 4. Our hair was wind-blown, our skirts (we had put on dresses accidentally for the day) often showed more leg then normal as we bent to our work. No matter where either of us were, within minutes cameras, notebooks, pens, shoes, and hats were scattered about as if we camping in their park.
in this heat
the fat women swell up
the skinny shrivel
Resigned to being who we were, we could only be ourselves as hard as we could. Maybe we were not all wrong. I saw an unusually tall Japanese man talking to Heidi for a long time so I wandered away.
yet the flowers tremble
in the koi pond
eyes darting here and there
for the prized fish
Later she told me he was a film maker and was very interested in asking about her camera. "Was he impressed by it?" I asked. "He seemed most impressed in seeing how I used my reflector."
a purple river
flowering in its flowers
spills over the walkway
halts the passerby
damned by a stand
lilies of the Nile
the green fruits are now
We began to look at the gardens with hunger in our eyes. We could smell food being cooked somewhere and remembered passing by tables on our way from the gift shop. We were not surprised to find both of us headed back that way. As we neared the big building where our tour had begun we saw tables decked with balloons and birthday greeting. Obviously a big party was coming our way. We walked around the festive place to some glass garden tables on a patio. We sat down with all the chairs covered with our gear to wait for a waiter. None came. After awhile, after seeing waiters and waitresses hustling here and there, the rest in the shade was overcome by more hunger. We gave up thinking that we looked too disreputable to serve (or maybe we were too early?). Back in the RV we had cheese and salami. As we sat there at our table covered with brochures, broken shells, pens, film boxes, shell lei and the basket, we watched the arrival of the birthday guests in their Mercedes, Porsches, MGs, Buicks, and Honda cars. Heidi was all for leaving (before she had to navigate more parked cars) but I felt spending $20.00 for only two hours of looking was another bad deal so I insisted on seeing the rest of the garden. Heidi was right. It was not the worth the walk across the big parking lot for the small group of gingers, and the bird cage containing two parrots who only peeked out of their steel housing cage as if scared of us. As we stood there trying to coax the colorful pair out onto the open perch a Japanese woman and a monk dressed in light gray came to see the parrots. I stepped back toward the monk, bowed to him and asked for his blessing. Heidi turned to stare at me as if I had lost my mind, but the monk, serene as he must be, touched my forehead and then grabbed my hand and squeezed it tightly. The woman, eager to try out her English, asked if we were mother and daughter. As I looked at Heidi I realized we were both wearing blue dresses, tan Birkenstocks with our hair in one braid down our backs and the same wide smile on our faces. What else could we be?
No matter how good any shots we might have gotten of the flowers in Nani Mau, it was not the garden of rainforest we were looking for. Here even the traveling palms were so thoroughly pruned that their glory was chopped away. The best specimens had been at the edge of yesterday's raggedly poor World Botanical Gardens. When that 'garden' began to look good to us, it was time to be on our way. So we headed toward the Volcano National Park. But first we wanted to explore the east side of the lava flow because it was closer to our campground for the night so we turned off of #11 at K-e-a-a-u to turn down #130. To our left were interesting turn-offs and turn-ons but somehow we had the idea that this road ended at one of those pictures which we had picked up in gift shops of the thick black lava running over the road. The RV wound us through picturesque little villages, houses set high on stilts (of what were they trying to avoid? rot, heat? bugs? termites? wild animals?) with tin roofs and wide verandahs.
the tiny church high above
the holy ground
houses set on stilts
toys for the children
The landscape was lush with fern trees, big-leafed greenery, and palm trees the whole Hawai'ian rainforest look. As we wound through a tiny subdivision, the road suddenly culminated in dusty parking lot ringed with palm trees. Off to the right was a tiny settlement of wooden stands and shacks painted orange, purple, green and yellow. The hand-painted signs said "amateur merchants" very loudly. Wild guitar music sifted through the shadows of the palms trees. Everyone was brown-skinned and totally at home in the heat and the landscape. Veering off to the left, to avoid getting into something private and not for us, we followed a track up to where there was only sky. No trees for miles. The earth had disappeared under the layer of burnt pancake batter 25 feet thick. Our shoes seemed unsure of the surface. Our knees wobbled to balance us over the giant ridges and braids of these shiny black shapes. Our eyes were greedy for understanding how our dear old mother earth could come to be covered with such a strange substance. Our minds tried to fasten on to a concept of what it had been like when all of this was fluid. It was still very hot, but only from the afternoon sun burning down mercilessly.
We could feel ourselves getting sun burnt as we walked farther and farther out across the seemingly endless flat, black. Yet, each little ripple, each ridge hid some change that fascinated us. In a crack grew ferns, here one could see where a palm had laid down its pattern before igniting into a torch leaving only a stubble, here the cooling had buckled as hotter lava had poured into an area. My little camera was ceaselessly clicking. Heidi looked at the flat, emptiness with dismay. Yet we wanted to walk even farther. And to our left, the sea pulled at us with its watery coolness. We knew we should not venture far out into this place without water bottles, without sleeves, but still we each had to see over the next little ridge.
From across the distances we saw a small group of tiny people. As we meandered around following our interests, they grew larger and larger. They had walked down to the sea. Yes, they told us, it took them two hours. We saw how haggard they looked and yet how well equipped they were. We wondered if we would make such a trip. As we walked back in our acceptance of our limits, we found a strange little stage set up, as if for a ceremony. Wild, and true, simple and yet complex with the old ways. The waving yellow cloths told me it was ceremony, but the two metal folding chairs did not reveal any secrets.
birthday hillside bright
Back in the edge of civilization, I would have liked to have explored this strange conclave of stands almost like a stage setting for a drama set in the jungle, but the lack of a good brown color in our skins kept us out. Across the street a garage had been converted into a grocery store, souvenir shop, tackle shop and information headquarters run by a young man listening to the Dolphin's (football game). We bothered him long enough to buy four bottles of his over-priced water that was warm from the cooler!
As we got back into the RV, we were quiet as if we had just had a shock or had witnessed a bad accident. What to say in the face of such destruction? It was easy to see the neighborhood that had been here before that massive black glue covered up a green and growing world. As we drove back out of the subdivision, we wondered why other homes were now burnt to a cinder under that tight, heavy layer that let almost nothing escape and here were homes, small to be sure, but at least 60 80 years old. In one yard was a 9 foot tall sculpture made of lava clinkers with a scowling face set in with white coral rocks. Someone was saying 'fuck you' to whatever spirits that moved volcanoes with a defiance that was only human.
We were both feeling our short night and wishing for a nap so we began to think of finding our camping place for the night. So, we headed toward the sea, which seemed cooler, to take the coast road north toward MacKenzie State Park. As we drove through tiny settlements that seemed able to push aside the greenery just enough to get a breath of air, we felt the weight of the humidity. Heidi thought of Ohio, I thought of a jungle. We certainly were not in Kansas, Toto.
We listened to low hanging branches brush the top of the RV, we ducked our heads with each new, and lower roof on the green tunnel in which we were slowly traveling. We grew silent and determined, as the road became one-lane wide. Farther north, the road was still only as wide as the RV, but now the edges were perfectly smoothed with ½ of a lane of crushed red lava. When we finally did meet a car, we found how easy it was to pass with each of us half off the road, creeping over the clinkers.
Without the road changing at all, we began to get glimpses of the sea between the palms. Snap. Snap. The little pockets of views from some travel brochure jumped out at us. Little by little the road took us closer to the coastline. As soon as the road was widened by other cars that had parked in the dirt, we stopped to see what we were seeing. Pounding turquoise seas smashing against broken lava cliffs rimmed with a fringe of palm trees was too exotic for this little road we were on. At one place, where the cliff and road had given itself back to the sea, was a flower bedecked homemade monument to the persons who had died here. Several times Heidi had mentioned that she would like to 'do a book' with a documentary to these monuments to highway death. This one was so impressive she decided to borrow my camera for her first shots. At the end of the wall we parked under a tree shedding a purple olive-like fruit. I sat under a strange silky pine tree (later identified as iron trees) overlooking the shoreline while Heidi hiked back to the memorial. Coming back upon me, she took my picture for the first and only time just to prove that I had really been in this dream-like setting. I wish I had smiled more. I was very happy here.
Now, each curve in the winding road exposed another of these magical settings. More and more we could see the tracks where others had driven off the road to park down at the edge of the sea rocks. Eager for the coolness of the splashing water we, too, walked out over the jumbled boulders to find little tide pools with striped minnows and again, the coal-black crabs of even larger sizes. In the hot sun it felt good when flying sea spray drenched us but we became very uncomfortable when another car pulled in beside ours. As we looked out the corners of our eyes, we could see a brown male driver and began to find our way back to the RV. As we came up beside the car, the occupants were opening doors and getting out. We were comforted to find that one was a woman but we were shocked to see her zipping up her shorts. To hide my discomfort, I asked her if MacKenzie Park was far away. Now, the guy in the back seat had come around the car and was all eagerness to tell us how to find the park. Added to his voice was the lower baritone of the driver and the skittish giggle of the girl. After listening to this cacophony we discovered that the park was only a mile north and right on this road. As we got back into the RV we had to admit that they had been very friendly and we had been wrong to be so scared of this trio. Maybe the folks last night had been as innocent and kind.
Their varied and divergent directions were correct. At least we were suddenly faced with a brick and board sign practically in the middle of the road with the park name on it. As we drove toward the sea again we entered another world. These were the famous ironwoods. Yet how soft everything was. The light, filtered through the palest of green pine-like branches then slithered over the strange flat surface of the dropped needles. A faint yellow-tan tinted snow seemed to have drifted over every living green plant. The trees stood knee-deep in their own droppings that were stronger than any weed or plant. The sunlight skidded across this smooth surface as if it was a new light one with which we had no experience.
Here, there was no parking lot as the natural ground was softer and smoother than any asphalt. A family was having a picnic in the shelter house but we saw no one else.
bent to shape
the goals of the family
in the children's faces
Heidi was uneasy driving over this forest floor, wondering if it was slippery, what did its gentle curves hide? She eased the van up to the edge of the cliff that overlooked the same sea and black rock coast that had so fascinated us. Yet we felt uneasy on this uneven ground. It was so alone here. We remembered the story the guard in Spencer park told us when he checked our permit, of how a couple in a tent had been killed with an ax in this very place. We could never navigate a course has we had last night over this bumpy, bouncy ground. We decided to head for the security of the National Park even though we had permits to spend two nights in this strange and marvelous place. I hated to leave so quickly so asked Heidi to stop so I could click off a few shots. While I ran here and there framing up the best views, she walked with her head down thinking.
Back on the road, we consulted our various maps trying (again) to figure out if the turnoff to our road lay to the north or to the south of us. We both had strong views on who was right, but I gave in to Heidi because her better memory remembered a small road to the left just about ½ mile previously. So we took that road inland, which on the Big Island means upward. This tiny, winding road did not have the cinder passing lanes. The overhanging vines, branches and leaves were sheared off at the level of the tallest vehicle owned by the persons living in the tiny houses tucked at intervals along the road. Obviously none of them drove anything bigger than a pick-up. All we could do, once we were committed to this road, was to go as slowly as possible, duck our heads and pray we would not hear the air conditioner when it was yanked off and tossed on to the road behind us. If we had not been so scared about damaging the RV we would have delighted in this marvelous strip of true Hawai'i. The map indicated that the Lava Tubes Park was here about somewhere. We kept saying to each other that we could not image such a tiny road leading to a park. It was more like someone's private drive to the back forty marijuana fields. When we emerged at a larger road numbered #130 we became confused because we thought we were on #132. Only later, when we arrived on the outskirts of Pahoa did we see that #132 was north of us, that we did miss the Lava Tree State Monument and that we had just come across a tiny, secondary road without name or number. Shaken by our errors in navigating, we sped back to K-e-a-a-u to meet up with #11, to turn left and be back into the tourist world of civilization.
I had been planning to buy my old-age eagle pass here in this famous park. But Heidi bettered me by flashing her own eagle pass for the year (which she naturally needs for Yosemite). The two young girl rangers asked for additional identification (which surprised me; but I guess others had borrowed someone's pass before). For some reason, the turn-off from the highway to the park turned me around and for the next five days I could never keep straight where I was.
Heidi's first concern at any tourist stop was the lay of the parking lot, how much room she had to maneuver in and how close she could get to the bus parking without violating their rights. With not one big bus in a whole parking lot set aside for buses, she was willing to walk wherever we were going just to have all the space of this place. Inside the visitors' center there seemed so little to see. A computer screen showed a video of fountaining lava with sparklers and nature fireworks. A video on a large screen with a booming sound track showed something similar. A few niches had a stuffed bird (the one and only nene (nay-nay) the state bird that was nearly extinct, some early-man stone tools, and dry maps behind Plexiglas.
Heidi wanted to get to the places where all these thrilling pictures came from. She would go from cute-girl ranger to the next asking the same question. They all had the same answers. There was nothing to see, nothing was happening, no one could go anywhere. It was very frustrating and hot. I went outdoors, walked around a large diorama of the place that we could not see and found delight only in the slightly cooler breezes here at 4000 feet. Getting tired of standing around, I went back to where I had left Heidi. No Heidi. The place was too small in which to lose her. The restrooms were too far away for her to have gone there. Seeing an open door and hearing movie sounds I looked in. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness split by orange reds, I saw her watching the movie. Breathtaking scenes of red-hot flowing lava were the action of all the picture postcards we had seen. Okay, if this volcano is so hot, why can we not see something? I was feeling very grumpy and out of sorts with the world, the national park system, volcanoes, late afternoons.
I read where Mark Twain was here in 1866 and was quoted as saying: "Here was room for the imagination to work." I could not have agreed with the old guy more. Why did everyone else get the sights and we were still in the dark?
When the lights came up at the end of the movie we found each other and preceded to the art gallery in the original hotel. The building was very interesting. There she confessed that there was a similar building in Fish Camp which she had dreams of making into a gallery. And here was her dream. And the art was not bad. I got interested in some block prints by Dietrich Vereg, a German naturally. I was surprised to find his prints done in three sizes and was considering buying one of the smaller ones for $10.00 when Heidi discovered a packet of note cards with eight of his designs for $11.00. A woman (drats, I have lost the card with her name) who paints on silk was having the opening of her show (we liked her work) and we were sorely tempted to hang around for the promised 'pu-pu's' and just to meet the local artists but Heidi's desire to get to some glowing lava herself dragged us back to the visitors' center. By now the ranger-crew had been rotated and we overheard a new (older) woman giving a younger man instructions on how he could get to the lava. Heidi edged in closer and closer as I busied myself looking at the books and postcards. Finally, with sinking of the day, she was able to get all the information she could handle.
I was eager to go to our campground, to see where I would be spending this night, to wash up (we had not even washed our faces today), to meditate on a porcelain throne, just to stop moving. There was a campground here on top of the crater and one halfway down. So very much like her Dad, Heidi wanted to look at both of them before deciding in which one we should camp in tonight. I pointed out how far away the second one was, how curvy the road looked, even on the map, surely how much hotter it would be at the lower elevation, how tired I was (whine). To distract me she suggested we try to see a little more before it got dark.
We started off on the Crater Rim Drive, rushing past some steel fenced off vents that were steaming away like something from a Disney film. But the Jaggar Museum did stop us and its generous (and unused this late in the day) bus-parking area made Heidi feel at home. She took off inside the museum but I was too disappointed with seeing pictures of things that were no longer happening. So I sat on the lava stonewall and stared into the Kilauea crater. Across in the distance I could see some small vents of steam rising around the edge. The view was tantalizing as if it promised something might happen if I was patient enough with the forces of nature. As I watched, I saw new places beginning to 'smoke' and this got me all enthused. By the time Heidi emerged from the museum, one glance in the back door had showed me most of it, I was chattering about my 'new-found' vents. She was chattering about the seismographs she had found inside. On the way to the viewing room I glanced at some fibers called "Pele's hair" which I had read about and really did look like asbestos hair and "Pele's tears" which were surely small drops of molten lava that had fallen some distance through the air. But, like Heidi, I was truly enthralled by the seismographs. There were 6-7 machines slowly unrolling the wiggly history of each crater. How we caught ourselves cheering when the Halema'uma'u crater jiggled with a huge leap of the needle. How excited we were when we established that the Halema'uma'u crater was the one I had been staring at from the safety of the wall. Back outside (because they were closing the doors) we looked into the smoking hole with new reverence. Two guys asked her to take their pictures before the yawning crater which seemed to have reminded her of taking a sunset photo. Hm, where did she want to go? Ah, the tree molds she had read about. So we whipped back out of the park onto route # 11, inching along looking for a sign to the turn-off. There it was and we were off bouncing along a rutted, windy road. The sun was setting very fast in a bank of clouds so there was very little time left to capture the light. Careening around each bend faster and faster we almost ran over the tree molds. If there had not been steel pipe railings around THE HOLES IN THE GROUND we surely would have been in one. It took only one glance into the foresty jungle of green with steel cribs to show that this was not the motif for a sunset.
Fortunately for me, the next turn-off was to the Namakani Paio campground. This was just where I wanted to spend the night. Because it was so empty (only 8 10 tents) most of the parking lot was available for us to snuggle into the edge of it beside a row of huge eucalyptus trees. I cooked dinner by heating hot dogs and opening a bag of potato chips while Heidi ate chocolate. I tried to lie on the couch to read but I was too tired to absorb much of the Wisdom of the Islands, a very good book that Heidi had gotten. By 8:00 we were both in bed and even though my shoulders burnt mightily from the afternoon walk on the lava, I slept quickly. I felt so safe here that the passing cars did not bother me at all. No locals here in the cool climate of the National Park Service. I crawled into my sleeping bag for the first time.
Next day -SUNDAY January 7.
Hawai'i with Heidi Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2001.