Caspar Institute logoitinerary   < 4 April Waimea to Hilo plus   5 April Merrie Monarch >

Hilo, Big Island 5 April 2013

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The best travel day EVER

Important stat: I took 315 pictures today, and maybe twenty of them are good. Right there: a great day.

Our day started with a very sweet exchange with our hosts in Honoka'a -- sweet story, and very much "old Hawaii" and maybe one day I will tell it. After a big hug from Annelle, we were off to Hilo.

Coming into town, it started to rain, and we thought our helicopter ride might be cancelled. But by flight time -- Rochelle might call it "fright time" -- it had mostly stopped, and better weather was anticipated around the corner of the island at the volcano.

Rochelle and I were flying "doors off" so we could really see. Securely strapped in, headphones on, but still the rain blew in with the wind, and several times I had to grasp my camera tightly. We flew at about 1,000 feet, maybe down to 500 for the volcano. It was loud, speedy, bumpy ... thrilling! Here come some pictures.

<p>After the flight, with Joyce, our pilot</p>

After the flight, with Joyce, our pilot

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Our objective: to see red lava, and the place where Pele is making more Hawaii. The web doesn't like images as big as my camera takes, so I shrink them. Here (below) is every pixel I got of the lava cauldron at Pu'u O'o:

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Below Kilauea, sheets of lava extend to the sea. In the early 2000s she -- volcanoes are always "she" here, in deference to Pele, their goddess -- chose a new, more easterly direction of flow, covering homesteads in Kalapana, and forcing an eleventh hour move of a beloved church. She covered a favorite spot of ours, the Queen's Bath, a natural old-flow swimming hole in a forested setting. She covered Chain of Craters Road. (I'm sparing you these pictures.)

But, as you can see, lava looks like a pretty permanent ground cover. Its surface, crinkly, smooth, broken, glassy, variegated, is unforgiving to walk on, eating shoes in a few miles. 

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<p>Our first destination was the...

Our first destination was the point where molten lava meets the sea. We have all seen dramatic images, and what we saw was from a safe distance: lots of steam, flashes of red lava, the rugged, fragile cliff where ocean and rock collide.

We followed the lava tube -- the living stream of lava insulates itself in a tube, so it can't be seen, but this tube is several miles long. One day, the lava will stop, the molten lava will flow out, leaving a sort of tunnel. At Volcano National Park -- the park around Kilauea, and that we're flying over, we have walked through the Thurston Lava Tube. 

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Pu'u O'o, the site of the current flow has been venting lava and gas for almost two decades. Joyce circled Pu'u O'o twice, giving both sides of the 'copter good views into the vents (with dizzying aerial pirouettes in between.) The lava is stained with minerals molten along with the rock.

We flew over several kipukas, a favorite word: a spot inexplicably left untouched by the lava. These little islands preserve, and quite possibly foster, diversity of plant and bird species. A gift from , who loves us.

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What do you do after a compressed hour of visual and emotional intensity? Well, we went back into Hilo, met up with Ethan Swift, our long-lost host, and then went into town for lunch. Along the way we stopped by the Big Island Visitor's Bureau and thanked Uncle George for his help and encouragement.

Lunch was at Cafe Pesto, an amazing example of food theater (and delicious food) in the midst of the chaos of an event that stretches Hilo beyond its breaking point. We enjoyed a salad with two lovely hunks of seared fresh Ahi, and a locally grown grass fed burger, Lilikoi juice (yum) and the best lemonade (made with lemongrass) ever.

Then home to primp for the Big Night (for us) at the Merrie Monarch Festival: Kahiko, the traditional dance, continued on the next page.

itinerary   < previous 4 April Waimea to Hilo plus         next 5 April Merrie Monarch >

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