Big Island Love 2012, Part II

Mamaloa Highway heading to Hilo

To read earlier parts of this adventure check out the posts: “Can I Wade in Your Waters, Kaua’i” and “Big Island Love 2012, Part I.”

The drive from Kona to Hilo/Volcano on the Big Island is a long stretch of country highway. The first leg winds through a volcanic moonscape. You’re surrounded by endless lava flows with a slice of ocean to your left. Along the Mamaloa Highway, we spotted three wild goats huddled together, posing for the sun. As you head makua, climbing the mountain slopes, the land changes on you, growing green and thick. Suddenly you find yourself in cattle country, and nothing works up an appetite more than sight-seeing ranches.

We stopped for lunch at the Hawaiian Style Cafe in Kamuela, which has blown all other mom & pop lunch plate diners out of the water. They’re special, kalua pork moco loco is enough to feed a family. It’s big flavor for big country. If you’re on the Big Island, there’s no point in visiting without stopping here. Really.

me and my aunties

Our real purpose and mission on the island of Hawai’i was to visit near and dear family. With two lovely aunts who live in and near Volcanoes National Park, and cousins who used to be Big Islanders, its really embarrassing to say we hadn’t been here before. Under the directive of our cousins, soon as we pulled into the little town of Honoka’a, we picked up a box of malasadas at Tex Drive In, who specialize in chocolate, lilikoi, strawberry, mango, and cherry filled malasadas. They are sweet doughy pillows of goodness though, again, nothing compares to Kauai’i Bakery in Lihue. Just sayin’.

We dropped down to Waipio Valley next, and when we say drop, we literally mean “drop.” The road to Waipio is steep, poorly paved, and full of twists and turns. In fact, its the U.S.’ longest, twistiest road, and you won’t, probably can’t, attempt it unless you have four wheel drive because even after you survive the wicked incline, you still have to face some monster pools of muddy water at the bottom to get to the beach. Technically, the park signs warn that visitors aren’t allowed into the valley unless they’ve been invited, but we figure with so many local family urging us to check it out, its invitation enough. The valley, like most lush, fresh-water filled hollows in Hawai’i was basically a metropolitan for the Hawaiians. There are many sacred sites to ponder and taro farms still thriving to this day. Tread this beautiful land with respect and care.

Before climbing up the volcano, we headed into Hilo to hunt for the ever elusive Tropical Dreams Ice Cream shop, which is supposed to have the best shaved ice on the island according to our trusted guide Hawai’i Big Island Revealed. We don’t go to the Hawai’i without the aid of Andrew Dougherty. Unfortunately, Hilo’s Tropical Dream had been converted into a center for Krishna devotees. Once we arrived at the address, we found a circle of dread-locked singers chanting praises to Krishna and shaking their tambourines. No frozen treats but plenty of samādhi to go around.

We stayed at Bamboo Orchid Cottages, a clean, cozy, and friendly B&B in Volcano. Our room had a little patio that overlooked the tropically wild backyard. Our hosts were friendly dog-lovers, who made a deliciously simply breakfast of fresh papaya boats filled with golden pineapple, dried coconut, and yogurt.

The Kilauea Iki Trail in Volcanoes National Park is part of the Kilauea volcano formed in 1959 (yes, the same year when Morrissey was born!). The crater’s rim, lush, filled with wild ginger and ferns, book ends this trail.  Riddled with deep cracks and fissures, the crater, like the rest of the Big Island, is a lunar landscape filled with volcanic rocks and formations. This trail ends at the Thurston Lava Tube, so you get to see the inner workings of a lava flow.

Never in my life did I ever think I’d see an active volcano, especially at night with a sky full of constellations wheeling above. Like a massive campfire, the Kilauea plume mesmerizes in the evening dark. Though the wind blows chilly, seeing this spectacular phenomenon reaches back to primordial existence.

We couldn’t have asked for better guides to the Volcano, my aunt who works at Volcano’s elementary school and her partner, a former educator and local. They met us for breakfast at the Kilauea Lodge, which serves guava and taro pancakes and some tasty eggs benedict. The Lodge also has an impressive gift shop, and the restaurant features all local artists’ work. When we were there, halfway through our breakfast, a mighty wind storm cut the power lines, which made for a real adventure.

Lucky enough to get a glimpse of local life, my aunt took us to her ukelele group’s potluck hosted by a wonderful couple who share a rich history on the Hawaiian islands. The uke group, comprised of thirty players, not only made some mean BBQ, macaroni salad, coffee cake and chocolate brownies, but hearing them play was an extra special treat.

Our guides took us on the Chain of Craters drive, which follows the different lava flows of the volcano reaching all the way down to the coast, where the lava continues to gently build earth. Honestly, you could spend weeks or months exploring all the different sites, trekking the many hikes offered on this road, but some of the highlights are the Lava Tree Formations, Devil’s Throat, a spectacularly dangerous crater that is not for the foolish or weak at heart, and the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs. The hike to this plateau that contains about 20,000 petroglyphs is scorched by the sun and chafed by the wind, but well worth the effort since you get to meander and mull over an ancient place where native Hawaiians made offerings to the legacy of their family and their homeland.

The end of the road leads to Holei Sea Arch, where the coast clashes against a wall of lava, and, if you hoof it, about 11 miles, you meet with an active flow. Despite the ocean raging just below the cliffs, it can feel like you’re walking through a furnace, a strange sensation.

Later that evening, we enjoyed the special treat of meeting with my nina, who works for the National Park, in her hometown Pahoa, which must be the sister city of Berkeley, at least in spirit, since there’s a raw earthiness to this funky place.

As expected, time flew by, and we wish we could have enjoyed more days with family in this mystical spot. Ever grateful for the chance to explore and eager to visit again, soon, big thanks Auntie L, Auntie M, and Uncle G, who served as our Virgils on this otherworldly journey. Much appreciation to our cousins T&M who shared their great knowledge of their island, and ever grateful to Vince & Vangie for their sage counsel on this trip.

Here’s our official “Next Time Wish List,” which we hope we can tackle someday soon:

  • Akaka Falls (Volcano/Hilo)
  • Hilo and Puna sights (tide pools/waterfalls/towns)
  • Blaine’s (Volcano)
  • Hilo Farmer’s Market ~ Saturdays & Wednesdays
  • Maku’u Farmer’s Market  ~  Sundays…towards Pahoa

Kona

  • Pawai Bay- snorkeling (Kona)
  • Golden Pools of Ke-awa-i

Along with cousins’ suggestions for next time. Thanks T!:

  • Flea market downtown on Wednesdays and Saturdays, lots of good snacks and a good day to visit Old Hilo Bayfront. Be sure to take a look in Dragon Mama, its a Japanese textile shop, mad handmade goods.

And once again, a big mahalo to our family for their love and guidance. We dedicate this song to you.

Aloha!

Big Island Love 2012, Part I

To read more on this adventure check out the posts: “Can I Wade in Your Waters, Kaua’i” and “Big Island Love 2012, Part II.”

While all the other islands in the chain are shrinking the Big Island, named Hawai’i but called the Big Island to avoid confusion, is growing, and evidence of its continual expansion is all around you, especially when you realize you have to drive three hours to get from one end of the island, Kona-Kailua to the other, Hilo. Both of these cities will remind you of something like San Diego or Honolulu, compared to the small towns of Kapa’a, Kaua’i or even Maui’s Lahaina. We’re talking big and built up. The locals were excited to have a Pier One Imports opening in Kona. Pier One Imports! Compared to the older islands, the baby of the archipelago is quite a shock to the senses if you’ve just spent time in slow paced Koloa or stepped out of the jungles of Hana.

We stayed at the Kamehameha Courtyard Marriott right at the corner of Kona Beach, and in the thick of downtown Kona. If you’ve ever been to Pacific Beach in San Diego or Weymouth in South England, you might find Kona-Kailua familiar. Think urban meets beach. Hordes of tourists promenading the waterfront, scads of local teens rolling by on skates or hanging out at the pier, and plenty of traffic to keep the night busy all evening long.

Upon arriving, our first order of business was to hunt down the best snorkeling spots, and Kahaluu Beach Park was the perfect introduction to the Big Island. A cozy cove with a small strip of beach but plenty of clear waters to share with the masses, the honu here are in such abundance, its really difficult to avoid tripping on them, but we made every effort not to since the sea turtles are protected. The snorkeling can get cloudy in some parts, but we were able to find some open spaces for good picture-taking. The beach is tourist friendly, complete with a food truck that rents out locker spaces, and there’s an environmental awareness advocacy group who are available for any questions about the area’s restoration. These volunteer naturalists aren’t the friendliest bunch, and they’re not shy about telling you what you should and should not do in the water to protect its natural beauty whether you ask for their guidance or not.

The best snorkeling we found on the Kona side was Two Step, located just across from Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Park. Parking can be a pain, unless you’re willing to pay the park fee and walk about five minutes. A tide pool area, there’s little to no sand to sun-bathe in but the snorkeling is extraordinary. Thirty feet deep coral jungles with cold water rising from the sea floor, swimming through here is unearthly.

For land-based activity Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Park is a must. Here they’ve recreated some of the buildings the native Hawai’ans lived in, performed their rituals, and practiced their customs. Known as The Place of Refuge, anyone who had broken a kapu, or Hawaiian law, could find refuge only if they succeeded in reaching the area, which was difficult to access. A sacred site where chiefs were buried, elaborate fish ponds, and ki’i wood carvings make this park a national treasure full of beauty and history.

Above Kona-Kailua, on the lush slopes of the mountain is the Kona coffee belt. Here the roads wind through coffee plantations and houses that boast endless mango, papaya, and banana groves. You can see the ocean just below the hillsides, and gape at tropical fruit so bountiful, they’re often left to rot on the street. Up in the thick of jungle, we took a peek at The Painted Church erected in 1899 by Father John Veghle. Saint Benedict’s Catholic Church is filled with Father John’s original art paintings, which helped him to teach his parishioners, many of whom could not read. Most of the Kona Coffee tours are free though Kona Joe’s isn’t. We stopped at Greenwell Farms, one of the historic plantations where the first coffee trees planted are still thriving even after almost hundred years have passed since the owner started their coffee-growing business. Comparing the two places we tasted, Kona Joe’s has Greenwell beat.

On the other side of Kailua-Kona, close to the airport, is Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. The hike through this park can be brutal on a hot summer day, but the trek is worth it to reach A’opio Beach, which has calm waters and a dreamy white sand beach that begs to be enjoyed. The beach was an ancient fishing trap, and now offers utter tranquility and refreshing waters to wade and enjoy. Best bet is to get an early start to avoid the merciless afternoon sun and bring plenty of water. Then picnic at the Kaloko Fishpond, which serves as another serene setting where the state park is slowly reconstructing an ancient and massive stone wall to recreate the impressive fish traps once used here.

Another serene setting along the Mamaloa Highway is Mauna Kea Beach in the gated, ultra ritzy Prince Resort. All of Hawai’i’s beaches are accessible by public, but can sometimes be quite a feat to reach them. Mauna Kea is no exception. They only allow a certain number of public beach-goers to enter, and we had to collect a pass at the kiosk but, once we got to the beach, we enjoyed a full afternoon of blissful fun in the sun. No snorkeling here, the white sands of this beach and the waters are what make Hawai’i an absolute paradise. There’s a picture perfect cove at the public end of the beach complete with gorgeous trees and rocks, a most romantic spot for lovers.

Some of the good eats spots we found Kona side includes:
Manago Hotel serves traditional lunch plates in a historic setting. The hotel was built in 1917 and feels like it when you step inside. The food’s greasy spoon-style, tasty side dishes of macaroni salad, corn and shoyu green beans, but the loco moco was surprisingly dry and the buttered fish bony. You definitely get a taste of Old Hawai’i when you wander through the lobby and the recreation room. Its worth a stop.

Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill – Come for the happy hour specials but no need to stay for dessert. Their kalua egg roll is mouthwatering, and their beer selection is a perfect way to end the day.

We splurged for a one-time celebration to watch the sunset at the Four Seasons’s Pahu’ia right on the beach boardwalk. The cocktail menu was displayed on iPads, and, as impressive as the listing was, the drinks didn’t quite match up. The food, however, was every bit as divine as the setting. We shared the opah, moonfish, drenched in a orange shoyu sauce and plated on top of a edamame and mushroom salad. Exquisite dining.

Getting out of Kona was an adventure. The day before we left, we learned that the King Kamehmeha Parade was scheduled for the morning of our checkout. Sounds all fine and good until you learn that the parade passes by the main road in front of the hotel, which was to be closed from 8am-12noon. Not good if you have family you want to see on the other side of da island. We had to do some scrambling, but still had minutes enough to catch the parade set up where we watched paniolos trot by.

That’s the Kona adventure. Up next is Hilo, a completely different and unexpected side of Hawai’i. Stay tuned.

On To MacDowell

Out of my wildest dreams, 2013 starts off with a three-week fellowship at the nation’s oldest arts colony, MacDowell founded in 1907 in Peterborough, New Hampshire. If yours truly wasn’t also accepted to The Retreat for Writers at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland for June this year as well, I’d be suffering from a serious case of imposter syndrome. And below is why. A shortened list of some of MacDowell’s past fellows and the projects they worked on during their stay should give plenty of reasons for doubt and legitimacy. Sally Field, I feel you.

Marian MacDowell in front of Edward's log cabin, the Colony's prototype studio. Archival image.

Aaron Copland
Meredith Monk
Duncan Sheik
Nick Carbo
Amy Bloom
Lan Samantha Chang

Louise Erdrich (known to have worked on one of my all time favorite novels, Love Medicine)

James Baldwin (Giovanni’s Room)
Eric Gamalinda
Jessica Hagedorn
Garrett Hongo
Allison Landa
Rick Moody
ZZ Packer
Nzotke Shange
Lysley Tenorio

From their website:

The mission of The MacDowell Colony is to nurture the arts by offering creative individuals of the highest talent an inspiring environment in which they can produce enduring works of the imagination.

The sole criterion for acceptance to The MacDowell Colony is artistic excellence. MacDowell defines excellence in a pluralistic and inclusive way, encouraging applications from artists representing the widest possible range of perspectives and demographics.

So, what will this soon-to-be-fellow do at MacDowell? A game plan would be nice though a very near and dear writer friend called just days before departure with her advice since she’s been to Hedgebrook, Vermont Studio Center, and East Anglia. She was adamant about not expecting too much: “You’re not going to get everything you want done, but you will get what you need.” Echoing the wise words of Mick Jagger, she confessed wishing someone had told her that during her residencies.

The expectations thus far have waned and waxed with anticipation, and we’ll see which if any come true, knowing that as my partner’s ukelele instructor once warned during a music lesson, a creative person is never satisfied by their creation, prepare to be perpetually dissatisfied and to feed off your dissatisfaction.

With that in mind these goals may sound abstract but here they are: to tighten voice & style or at least have a stronger sense of each. Not that the entire projekt will be tightened but a firmer grasp on voice & style, and how it changes from character to character, from start to finish, just a keener sense on what each of them are and their evolution would be wonderful. Which leads to the question about structure. Does voice and style dictate structure? Is it vice versa or do the two really have nothing to do with the other? Perhaps that question will be answered on the Eastern seaboard.

More than anything a mental map of where this projekt needs to go is the ultimate aim, and that map needs explicit directives on voice, style, structure, and tone, knowing that all of this should evolve from one chapter to the next depending on character and progression of plot.

This residency is not only a good chance for the physical, mental, and spiritual kick in the arse as all good travel is since I’ll be clear across the country in a completely new and snowy environment. There’s also the mingling with other writers, painters, musicians, architects, sculptors, and who knows what these encounters may bring, but the relationship that is utmost in mind is the intent to gain a newer, closer, almost incestuous, yes, I said it, intimacy with the projekt. Even after five years, it still feels so much of a foreign beast. Is there anyway that the projekt might feel like a part of me, an extension of self? And in getting to know this piece better, getting skin close to it, is there a possibility of taking Writing to a different level? To not just make this art a second nature but first? That may be asking too much.

Satisfaction with dissatisfaction. If that’s one guarantee, I may just be ready.

If you have advice about New Hampshire, Boston, cold weather fun, what do and what not to do at residencies, and or creative-making, I’m all ears. Happy 2013. May yours be a healthy and bright new adventure!