Tales of a wandering lesbian

Around the island – part 2

Our already long day was just about halfway over, when we climbed back into the car and headed for the lava flow.  We usually take a route past the Kilauea caldera, down the Chain of Craters Road, to the point where the new lava is emptying into the ocean.  Parking where the road is overtaken by lava, and walking in about a mile, you can see the plumes of steam rising where the hot and cold mix.  This year, the road is closed, due to new activity in the caldera, so we drove a different route to where the newest lava flow has been making its way to the ocean.

The Chain of Craters drive is a long, winding journey to the sea, across vast expanses of black lava.  This year’s drive to the Kalapana site was different.  When we reached what appeared to be the end of the road, we were still in the jungle.  The road itself was partially overrun by the trees and grasses of the rainforest.  It was eerily quiet.  Where there might have been 60 cars parked on Chain of Craters, here there were none.

The jungle is winning

The road was partially blocked, with strange, conflicting signage.  Mom and I decided to walk up the road a bit while the others drove on.  We’d heard that you could walk a half a mile past the end of the road out onto the new lava flow.

After a few minutes of walking down the overgrown road, a beat up minivan pulled up next to us.  “You know, you can drive down in.”  The local woman was leaning out to tell us.  “The signs up there are terrible.  People come from all over the world to see this and then they turn around without seeing it.  They need better signs.” She was borderline indignant.   We thanked her and kept walking.  Surely it wasn’t that far.  As we walked, we took in the encroaching jungle, the steaming hills.  Another car pulled up.

A dude who looked like Willy Nelson, and his blue-eyelinered wife greeted us.  “You leave your car up top?  You can drive in, you know.”  They were super sweet.  “You need a ride?  Don’t feel bad about driving.  If you want to walk, that’s okay, too.  It’s like 3 miles, though.  You want us to blackmail these guys into giving you a ride?”  They pointed at a jacked up pick up coming the other way.

“No, we’re good, we’ve got a ride.  Thanks!”  We smiled and waved goodbye.  This wasn’t exactly what we expected given the description of protective locals in the usually reliable guide book.

“You think I should call your father?”  Mom was reaching for her cell phone.  Three miles was a little more than we’d planned on, and it was hot out, walking on the asphalt, through the lava.  When she reached him, he was already on his way back, having dropped our friends at the end of the road.

It was strange, driving across the vast expanse of black.  Even though the lava had taken out homes, time and again, there were new structures perched on the horizon.

Lava houses

We wondered whether they had off-the-grid power, or just went without.

Once at the actual end of the road, we examined the closed gates in front of the makeshift visitor center.  We parked next to a photographer who assured us that we wouldn’t be able to see anything, even if the gates were open, and that we should buy some of his pictures taken when you could see something.  He also told us that a few weeks earlier, when the red flow was visible, 900 cars each night would come out to watch it moving into the ocean.  Now that the flow had stopped, he expected only 100 cars a night.

Even if we couldn’t see the spectacular lava/water connection, we could see smoke on the surrounding hills.  The heat of the earth set a couple of trees aflame while we stood there.

Lava trees

The gates were set to open in about a half an hour, but we weren’t sticking around for that.  So, encouraged by some locals, a Caribbean woman, Dad and I opted for a self-guided tour.  We made it as far as the little viewing platform about 50 yards past the gates.

Stay alert - stay alive

Yeah, that’s a little intimidating.


With the promise of NO lava flow, we snapped a picture of “the newest lava in the world,”

Newest lava evah

and headed quickly back to the gate, where an “official vehicle” was pulling up.  Crap.  We all darted through the gate while the official worker was distracted by the photo guy, and climbed into our vehicles.  Our next stop was the Kilauea caldera – home of madam Pele – about 40 minutes away.

We’d heard that Kilauea had been putting on a show over the last month or so, and that some of the roads were now closed.  We were pretty surprised, though, when we learned at the visitor center that our usual overlook was basically destroyed by the sulfurous steam the volcano was emitting, and the road to the overlook was covered in rock.  In search of a good viewing area, we walked toward the “Volcano House,” a restaurant and inn on the edge of the volcano’s ledge.  And we found it closed.  “Son of a bitch” was muttered a couple of times, and arms tossed into the air.

The trail we’d chosen lead straight into a line of caution tape in front of the building.  So we doubled back and tried to attack form a different angle.  And we ran into a dead end.  But this time, at least it was an interesting one.

Steam vent

The area around the steam vents was covered in ferns, gently dancing in the hot mist that issued forth.  After a round of “oohs” and “aahs”, we moved along, hoping for a view onto the crater.  It was strange being at the volcano and not seeing other people.  I’m a fan of off-season travel for this very reason.  Still, the quiet was strange.  We walked along the deserted road, down a little trail, and out onto a railed platform.

Pele's breath

The volcano was breathing.  That was new.  Dad, who isn’t the world’s biggest fan of volcanoes, hung back, a cold look on his face.  “We shouldn’t be here.”  It was hard to argue.  Pele was definitely awake. You could smell her breath – feel it tearing at your lungs just a bit.

Dad backed out quietly and we eventually followed.  After a while in the visitor center, touching different lava and looking through magnifiers at different formations, we gathered ourselves for the final stage of our volcano visit.  We couldn’t get down into Kilauea and out to the rim of the Halema’uma’u  crater as we had in years past, but the Jagger Museum on the edge of the larger Kilauea crater was open and had a good view of the action.


When we walked into the viewing area, the steam was rolling out in huge columns, blowing right over the old viewing platform.  Dad was still standing back, his body language telling us all that he was ready to go anytime we were.  He mumbled something about “getting us out in time” as we started walking toward the car.

And then inspiration struck.  “Mom, will you take my picture.”  I had an image of the ridiculous tourists at the leaning tower of Pisa posing so that it looked like they were holding up the tower.  My idea was better.  Maybe not classier, but better.

Volcano breath

Mom’s pic was spot on.  “Wait, one more!”

Volcano butt

Giggling, we practically skipped back to the car where the others were waiting.  “It’s a good thing I heard Madam Pele laughing,” she said to me, handing the camera back.  Pele’s wrath is legendary.  It’s known to rip through the lives of those who disrespect her, most notably those who take lava from her island.   Over the years, we are careful to meticulously clean out our beach gear so that we leave as much on the island as possible.  Angering Pele is not on our agenda.

It was dusky as we pulled away from the museum and the volcano, Dad driving a tad bit more aggressively than usual.  Nothing erupted as we sped away, and we made it out of the park before dark.  I was dumbfounded as we drove past a military camp inside the gates, realizing at once that it’s been making regular appearances in my dreams for at least a decade.  I love that.  I wonder if I’ll recognize its cabins and green lawns the next time I visit it.

After the long, dark slog around the southern stretch of the Island and back to Kona, we were hungry.  I slept most of the way, waking to discussions of food.  Not surprising, given my family.  What was surprising is that it was dark, and we didn’t have a dinner plan.  So Mom pulled out the guidebook and I pulled out my headlamp.  We settled on a Mexican restaurant – not the horrible one with the great view, but another one, less likely to give us food poisoning.  Dad was able to locate the place on a back street – but it was closed.  Crap.

Plan B was an entertaining burger joint, with a great second-story view of the ocean, and a colorful menu.

Lu Lu's

Lu Lu’s is a tasty standby.  The big, open-air restaurant features huge tiki heads, puffer-fish lighting, and dollar bills vandalized and stapled to the walls.

Puffer light

The menu includes fantastic items like “the hogzilla” pork sandwich, “nachos the size of your head,” and “the bearded lady” burger.  This night, we ended up with aloha and Magnum P.I. burgers, fish tacos, fish and chips, and a quesadilla that could barely contain itself.

Quesadilla at Lu Lu's

Filled to the gills, we hit the road one more time.  The drive from Kona to the Waikoloa Beach Resort is about 40 minutes.  But we had nearly the brightest moon of the year to entertain us.  And each other.  We had each other.

Mildly distracted by my life back in Oregon, I barely registered the murmur in the car.  People leaned over each other to see the moon, bursting into song and laughing wildly.  After 14 hours together in the car, we were still laughing.   Madam Pele was surely laughing with us.

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February 5, 2010   1 Comment