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Kohala, Big Island 3 April 2013

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Our favorite corner of our favorite island

Still on Mainland time, we awoke in our loft with the cooing of the doves at about 6am. With breakfast at 7:30, there was time to gloat over the Merriman's dinner and address the weighty question: there again tonight, or something new?

Breakfast is fruit and quiche, served by our gracious hostess Erika. This is our second stay, Erika graciously says she remembers us, but remembers more vividly those times, the second year of her tenure in this beautiful spot.

Why is it that island papaya tastes more intense here than anywhere else?

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<p>Testing the new mask at 69 Beach</p>

Testing the new mask at 69 Beach

Anthuriums in our roomAfter a slow start -- hard to leave this lovely room with its great views and beautiful Anthurium arrangement -- we're down the hill to the Kohala coast and one of its sparkling, perfect beaches to give my new mask a spin. The beach we choose is what's called a beach (despite its name: 69 Beach -- the number on the nearest telephone pole along the old road) and is being actively enjoyed at 10am by keiki of all ages.

No fish! But the corrected lenses on my goggles work great. It's been at least two decades since I could see clearly up close underwater. I look forward to floating around face down in fishier waters.

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Koai'e Cove in Lapakahi State Historical Park. Here, the State is working to preserve the ancestral villages where pre-settlement Hawaiians of six different ahupua'a lived a simple, full life.

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Imagine a village here consisting of a dozen or more , plus the canoe , , well, and kitchen gardens, supporting perhaps a hundred . It's some time in the 1400s. The protein and some of the fiber came from the generous sea; offshore reefs now in a Marine Park provided a good supply of octopus, fish, and seaweed. Along the shore, there was to be gathered. , and thrived -- now mostly a desert, there is reason to believe that weather patterns brought more moisture in these early times.

No one knows what changed, but when change came, shortly before the whites arrived, the population along this coast, which may have numbered in the tens of thousands, moved away, leaving undeniable evidence of their time here in the stone walls, shaped stones, and carefully maintained water features.

.<br />Rochelle is ready to move in.</p>

Reconstructed Hale on the Cove.
Rochelle is ready to move in.

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<p>Amenities in the hale seen through...

Amenities in the hale seen through the cove-side door.

The housing, and indeed the life, may have been primitive by our standards, but it was wonderfully within its environmental limits ... and who would mind looking out the door at this (on a hot sunny day like today.)

Still a little jet-lagged and not yet inhabiting our island bodies, the walking here is uncertain, and spiced with immovable lava boulders and unpredictable ocean-washed pebbles. I imagine that those who lived here paid constant attention to where they put their feet. How would that small adjustment change the way you live?

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There are still plenty of large lava boulders, as big as a man can lift, but most of them remain (or have been replaced by loving hands) in the lower walls where they provided a solid foundation and cool during the sun-struck days. Inside a hale, the floor was made of round and flatter stones covered by woven mats.

Most of the living took place outside. Salt for preserving fish and flavoring food came from hollowed bowls in stones where sea water was put to evaporate. The salty water reacts with iron in the lava to impart the salt's characteristic red color and unique flavor. This is the real reason for our trip: to buy the 'alae salt we use in our cooking at home.

After the long stumble through the village, we were ready to get back to predictable footing -- what poofters we are! -- and so drove on around the island, past the remarkably sharp delineation between desert and verdant green, to the little town of Hawi, a favorite of ours, for lunch.

<p>Remnant walls of the many hale around the cove</p>

Remnant walls of the many hale around the cove

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<p>The greener-than-green uplands of the Kohalas</p>

The greener-than-green uplands of the Kohalas

After lunch at Bamboo -- sorry, no pictures, but saucy chicken pot-stickers and then a locally grown salad topped with a nice chunk of fresh ono -- we drove up the Kohala Mountains and back, far above the sea (actually, up to 3,500 feet) and then all the windy way back down to Waimea.

Dinner at Red Water Cafe, where we had delicious salads -- mine topped with crunchy squid bits, including pleanty of crispy legs -- and a deep-fried monster roll containing crab. I forgot my camera so again, no pictures.

Asked the next morning which dinner she liked better, Rochelle told me that was an unfair question. So far our impression is that the food here has hauled itself up several notches, mostly by its new-found attention to the use of local products and authentic island flavors. Why try to be when you can be Island?

Tomorrow, onward to Hilo, and the first night of the Merrie Monarch!

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