Hawaii’s Volcano House and Volcano Art Center

We could see an active freakin’ volcano from our room!

In today’s blog post I will be taking you to the historic Volcano House hotel where we stayed in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, as well as letting you enjoy an amazing art gallery that is easy to overlook if art isn’t your thing, and as you will see, that’s a crying shame.

Volcano House has been around in various forms, in various nearby locations, since 1846, long before the national park was established. Mark Twain even stayed there in 1866, and according to this article by the National Park Service, he wrote about it in his book, Letters From Hawaii, which is actually a collection of articles that he wrote for a Sacramento newspaper called the Daily Union. He was in the state long before it became a state, and he visited the Big Island as well as Oahu and Maui. (For four months. Nice work, if you can get it.) Of the hotel, he said it was “neat, roomy, well furnished and well kept.” Then, in typical Twain fashion, he added, “The surprise of finding a good hotel in such an outlandish spot startled me considerably more than the volcano did.”

Fortunately, he (and we) didn’t stay at the first version of the hotel, which is said to have had a dirt floor and a fireplace and not much else. The rain/drinking water was caught in an old canoe full of sludge and rotting leaves, and it was so nasty that even the horses didn’t want to drink it.

Twain got to stay in version two the same year it was built, and it was a vast improvement. The floors were made of wood, and it had a brick fireplace and a thatched roof, and people raved about the food. Twain himself said, “The house is new – built three or four months ago – and the table is good. One could not easily starve here even if the meats and groceries were to give out, for large tracts of land in the vicinity are well paved with excellent strawberries.”

Volcano House was rebuilt again in 1877. It was now more sturdy, and had elaborate nail-less joints and redwood shingles from California. It also used native timber. This article about the house’s history mentions that “Princess Liliʻuokalani (who would later be the final monarch of the Hawaiian kingdom), witnessed the start of the 1880 rift zone eruption of Mauna Loa” from this location.

Due to the hotel’s popularity, a two story Victorian addition was added in 1891. Then, in 1921, all but the Victorian portion was moved to a different spot, and eventually became the Volcano Art Center, which I’ll describe in more detail below. In its place, a two story wing was added to the Victorian house, thus quadrupling its capacity. Volcano House now had 104 rooms.

After all those expensive additions, the hotel was sold for $300 at a sheriff’s auction during the Great Depression, and trundled along without any additions or deletions until 1940, boasting such visitors as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart.

And then it burned to the ground. A kitchen fire made quick work of the structure. For a time, the current Volcano Art Center became a part of the hotel once again, until a new structure was built late in 1941. This Volcano House is the one that stands today, and has hosted presidents Eisenhower, Truman, Kennedy and Nixon. And me!

I was very grateful that the current Volcano House hotel, despite being near the rim of the very active Kilauea caldera, is still going strong. I’ve always wanted to settle into one of the historic national park lodgings, so for me, for two glorious nights, this was a dream come true. It has 33 rooms, 10 cabins, and 16 campsites.

What was probably state of the art in 1941 is charming but dated now. The rooms are small, and the bathroom is even smaller, with a tile shower, a pillar sink, and no counter space whatsoever. The second story hallway reminded me so much of the one in the movie The Shining that it kind of gave me the shivers…

…but the place was clean and comfortable, the staff were welcoming, and The Rim restaurant served us some delicious Hawaiian fare.

From our room, we could see the steam of Kilauea during the day (when the fog burned off), and its orange glow at night. Since the place needs no air conditioning, it has none. We slept with the screened windows open, and got an occasional whiff of volcano sulfur for our troubles. I kept waking up, not because the place was noisy, but because I couldn’t believe I was able to see an active freakin’ volcano from our room! I mean, how cool is that?

As an added treat, here’s a time lapse video that Dear Husband took of the volcano late at night from our room. You’ll have to forgive the screen. It was nailed shut, so there was no avoiding it. But it’s still an incredible sight to see. There are two other videos of it on my YouTube channel, but this one is the best.

If you ever have the good fortune to stay at the Volcano House, it will have been because you made your reservations in advance — at least 6 months in advance during shoulder season. I can’t imagine what high season is like. But it’s worth the effort and the expense, Dear Reader.

Having given you the full history of this delightful hotel, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the equally wonderful Volcano Art Center, which resides in the 1877 building that had once been part of Volcano House until it was sawed into pieces, moved, and reassembled in 1921.

According to a flyer given to me at the art center, the building was used briefly as the hotel’s interim lobby, bar and post office after the catastrophic fire in 1940. Then it was employee housing, then it was a storage place for furniture. Eventually it was deserted and started to disintegrate.

In 1971, two photographers came upon its ruins and decided to rent it out so that they could hold wilderness photography workshops. These workshops were so successful that they asked the park if they could use it permanently, and permission was granted starting in 1974. Needless to say, the structure needed a lot of rehabilitation, but you can still see the amazing nail-less joinery from its original builder.

This building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as Hawaii’s oldest visitor accommodation, and it sits about a half mile from the current Volcano House. It’s worth visiting even if you are more interested the volcano, or more in architecture than art.

I have to say that as an art lover, I found this gallery to be a treasure. It now displays the work of up to 300 Hawaiian artists at a time, and you can see Kilauea’s influence on their work everywhere you look. I wanted to buy everything in there (especially the painting of the goddess Pele with the lava hair), but to do that I’d have to start cashing in my gold teeth. (And, mind you, they are amalgams, so they’re not worth much. I might have to yank out yours, too, if you have them. Fair warning.)

This amazing place also hosts music concerts, book signings and readings, art and environmental workshops, Hawaiian language classes, and hula performances. Sadly, none of those activities were going on during our visit, but the art alone was spectacular. Check out their website here, and if the spirit moves you, become a member or make a donation to this amazing nonprofit.

I took about a million pictures in the gallery, knowing I wanted to tell you all about it but that words would not suffice, so now I’m faced with the daunting task of weeding through all of them for the best ones, which I’ll include below. Enjoy!

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Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, and the Beating Heart of Mother Earth

The Earth breathes fire.

On my commute to work, I was thinking about the many, many, many blog posts I can still write about Hawaii. If I keep posting them every 4 days, I could easily still go on for 2 ½ months. And then I remembered being forced to watch distant relatives’ home movies while pretending to be interested in their photo albums that were full of people I don’t remember, doing things that I couldn’t care less about. I don’t want my blog to turn into that. (In case you didn’t know, this isn’t meant to be torture for you or for me.)

Keeping that in mind, I’ve decided that my Hawaii posts aren’t going to be a day by day recounting of every little thing I did. I don’t want to drag you, kicking and screaming, through my itinerary. That might cause me to throw my back out. We can’t have that.

Instead, I’ve decided to focus on various adventures, and/or various general topics about my experiences, and do them in no particular order, and space them between non-Hawaii posts. So I apologize in advance if you get whiplash from hopping from Kauai to the Big Island and back again, interspersed with entirely unrelated tangents, as is my wont. I never promised you a smooth ride, but I’ve always hoped to keep it interesting.

Today I’m going to give you an overview of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. I’ll tell you about the park itself, and then allow you to feast your eyes on what I view as the beating heart of our planet. There will be subsequent posts about some of the other experiences we had while there.

The park itself is the 11th national park in our system. It was established in 1916. It consists of 323,431 acres of land. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.

But let’s back up a bit. According to this article, the Big Island of Hawaii was created by five volcanoes. One of those, Kohala, is extinct and is, in fact, eroding. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world if measured from the floor of the ocean to its summit. (I’ll be writing more about this volcano in a subsequent post.) It’s been dormant for the past 4,500 years. Hualālai is the third-most active volcano on the island. In fact, the Kona International Airport is built on one of its hardened lava flows. It’s expected to erupt again within the next hundred years. (Aloha, airport!) The other two, much more active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kīlauea, are both protected within the boundaries of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on earth, because it has erupted in several different directions in the past, thus adding quite a bit to its real estate. It last erupted in 1984. Its next eruption is decades overdue. We didn’t get up close and personal with this particular volcano. Most of that part of the park is only accessible if you’re into vigorous hiking. (Not only has that ship sailed for me, but I find no evidence that it ever docked at my port in the first place.)

There is a one lane road to the Mauna Loa Weather Observatory, but that facility hasn’t been open for its (by-appointment-only) tours since the pandemic. While I’m sure a lot of good science is conducted there by the visiting scientists and the staff of eight, it appears to be a stark and uncomfortable place, at 11,135 altitude-sickness-inducing feet above sea level. I didn’t feel particularly deprived by missing it. The gently sloping peak of this volcano is pretty cool to see on the horizon, though.

Our main focus while visiting this park was Kilauea. It’s one of the most active volcanoes on earth, with a magma system that goes down more than 37 miles below the Earth’s surface. It has been erupting pretty much continuously since 1983, with no end in sight. It has destroyed towns, resorts, and highways, along with a 700-year-old Hawaiian temple. Its caldera expanded significantly in 2018, leaving the Jaggar Museum, with its volcano observatory, teetering on the edge of an extremely unstable cliff. The building itself also experienced severe structural damage during the earthquakes which accompany most eruptions. It’s safe to say it is permanently closed. It has welcomed millions of visitors during its lifetime, so it will be greatly missed. Nature is a formidable force.

I was looking forward to seeing that force up close, in all its glory. During the day, we visited several active steam vents. I can’t even describe to you what the heat blasting from those vents felt like, except to say that the Earth breathes fire. It deserves a lot more respect from us than it gets.

The many hardened lava flows all over the park, and indeed all over the state, were fascinating to behold. I never knew how many different types of lava existed. Some is as smooth as glass, some looks like the dry, crumbling top of a brownie, some is jagged and forbidding, and some is rippled or patterned like coiled rope. Nature is art writ large.

We wondered how many names for lava rock there are in the Hawaiian language, because it is said that Eskimos have a lot of words for snow. (That turns out to be a simplistic conclusion for a lot of reasons, but it’s going to require a blog post. It’s on my to-do list.) Still believing that “fact” at the time (more or less), I was expecting about a dozen words for lava rock. It turns out that there are only two. According to this article, the sharp, rough kind of lava rock is called aʻā, and the smooth, billowy, ropy kind is called pāhoehoe. But I digress. (But then, when don’t I digress?)

That night, we wanted to see bright orange lava on the move. We started by taking a walk after sunset along the caldera’s rim. The park was kind enough to provide glowing raised pavement markers along the nice stable sidewalks. It was amazing seeing the residual orange glow coming from the caldera, but, now that the Jagger Museum’s tower is inaccessible, we couldn’t see the actual lava itself. That would take a little extra effort.

After talking with a park ranger about the best viewpoints, we decided to drive over to the aptly named Devastation Trailhead parking lot, and then walk a mile along Old Crater Rim Drive in the pitch blackness to see the lava at eye level. I don’t know why, but I expected to have the place to ourselves. It was late at night, and I figured it was past most children’s bedtimes, and I’ve never been to a national park at night that wasn’t all but deserted.

On the contrary, there were probably 200 people making the trek. Most of them were reverently quiet, and the groups were widely spaced apart. Much of the walk was paved because this used to be a functioning road. You used to be able to drive all the way out to the viewpoint, park, and walk about 100 feet to see nature’s drama. An eruption in 2008 put an end to that. The road is now permanently closed to all but the most determined pedestrians. I’m sure the big hole caused during yet another eruption in 2018, which we had to walk around, had much to do with that permanence.

It takes a lot longer to walk a mile in the chilly, drizzly darkness than you would think. But the ever-increasing orange glow on the horizon was exciting, and it fueled us. The last part of the walk was on dirt that was interspersed with large, embedded trip hazards in the form of aʻā. I was grateful that Dear Husband had thought to pack a flashlight.

We walked all the way out to Keanakākoʻi Crater, which we overlooked in the darkness, and when we unknowingly turned our back on it, just like that, we came upon an awestruck crowd, and then there it was… rivulets of moving, burping, incandescent lava, only about three quarters of a mile away from us. Kīlauea, within the Halema`uma`u crater, where the goddess Pele is said to reside.

We were at a safe distance. We couldn’t feel the heat or smell the sulphur. And yet it still felt as through we were gazing into the beating heart of the earth.

I can’t emphasize that enough. For the first time in my life, I finally got it. We are living in, and desperately dependent upon, a vast, interconnected ecosystem. It’s alive, and it will change regardless of our desire to keep it the same. We are impacting it in horrible ways and must immediately stop doing so if humanity is to survive, but in the end, we are mere gnats that are not even taken into consideration when this planet of ours wants to do its thing. We’re a cancer, we’re a nuisance, we have the great privilege to be tolerated, but that could change in an instant. Not only does the world not revolve around us, but it has the means to flick us off into the oblivion that we deserve if we don’t clean up our collective act. We need to have respect for this gift of life, and take care of the planet that is giving us this gift every day.

We stood there for about a half hour, in awe. What we were experiencing felt sacred. We didn’t want to leave. But in the end, you can only stand in the drizzling rain and gusty wind for so long, even if you are in the presence of something so profound.

Mark Twain also had the opportunity to view Kīlauea at night, in 1866, long before the national park existed. At the time, the volcano was much more active than it is now, and he of course was much more capable of waxing poetic about it than I could ever be.

“The greater part of the vast floor of the desert under us was as black as ink, and apparently smooth and level; but over a mile square of it was ringed and streaked and striped with a thousand branching streams of liquid and gorgeously brilliant fire! It looked like a colossal railroad map of the State of Massachusetts done in chain lightning on a midnight sky”

You can read more of his description here, including a quaint mention of gazing at the view through opera glasses. He also says, “The smell of sulfur is strong, but not unpleasant to a sinner.”

Oh, how I love Mark Twain.

Back to the present, I found that the walk back to the car wasn’t nearly as fun. But I was tempted to get volcanically evangelical and tell all the people that were heading in the opposite direction that it was worth it. Keep walking. You’ll be transformed. I know I was.

After experiencing the Earth in all its potent vibrancy, it feels strange to be sitting back here on my drawbridge in Seattle, tapping away on my laptop. Big cities like this one now feel like an unforgivable blight on the landscape. They’re artificial and inauthentic. I’ll never look at the planet in quite the same way again, and I have volcanoes to thank for my new perspective.

I feel a renewed gratitude for having been given the gift of a life that allows me to bear witness to such miracles. Thanks, Universe! Thanks, also, to my newfound friend Pelehonuamea, “she who shapes the sacred land”. I am truly humbled by your power.

I’ll be writing more about our adventures in this beautiful national park, including the petroglyphs, the goddess Pele, the sea arch, and the Thurston Lava Tube in subsequent posts, so watch this space!

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Snorkeling in Hawaii: Tips from My Experience

When I need to go to a happy place, I think of this experience.

Today is World Ocean Day, so I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you about snorkeling in Hawaii. It is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done in my life, in or out of the ocean. But before I tell you about my adventures, here are some tips that we learned about snorkeling, in no particular order.

  1. Bring your own equipment. Yes, you can most likely rent equipment in Hawaii, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a proper fit, and you won’t be sure what shape it’s in, or if it has been properly sanitized, or what outrageous amount of money you will be charged. Before our trip, we got some really nice, full-face snorkels. They cost about 90 bucks, but they had no leakage to speak of, and were quite comfortable. The same usually cannot be said of 30 dollar snorkels. We managed to find fins that were adjustable, and were right in that part of the rigid/flexible spectrum that made us feel content and confident as we swam. We also got some beach shoes with sturdy soles, because we knew we’d be walking over sharp rocks before and after the snorkeling.
  2. If possible, practice in a pool if you’ve never snorkeled before. Since we’re both relatively inexperienced, we had been preparing for our snorkeling adventures in Hawaii for months by using our equipment in our local YMCA pool. It’s a good thing, too, because using fins is really hard on your thighs, so I was grateful to have exercised those muscles prior to the trip. Swimming in an ocean full of waves while trying to avoid getting scraped up by coral is another level of endurance entirely. Being in shape for it is oh, so worth it!
  3. Use reef safe sunscreen. Regular suntan lotion washes off of you, leaves an oily, heat-producing sheen on the water’s surface, and causes toxic chemicals to permeate the reef. We assumed such lotions would be easy to find in Hawaii. In fact, we were shocked that any other types of sunscreen would be for sale in this state. But it turns out that reef safe lotion is hard to come by. My advice to you is to read this article, and order lotion in advance from its recommended products list, because the term “reef safe” isn’t regulated. Any lotion can use it. Read the ingredients. There are a lot of lotions that must be avoided if we want to maintain a living reef system worldwide. Yes, they may be more expensive, but it’s well worth it if it means you can enjoy your snorkel without worrying that you are helping to destroy the very thing you are marveling at.
  4. Use sunscreen, full stop. While snorkeling, your back is facing the sun, and since you’re in the water you don’t feel hot. I can’t tell you how many people I saw in Hawaii that were looking miserably lobster-red because they were hoping to get a nice tan while checking out the marine life. Being covered in blisters or sick as a dog from sun poisoning is a great way to ruin the rest of your vacation. (Been there. Done that, decades ago. I definitely don’t recommend it.)
  5. Never snorkel alone. You never know what might happen in a wild environment, so it’s prudent to have a snorkel buddy, and in fact, choose a beach where there are lifeguards. Some people who have ignored this tip are no longer around to tell the tale. At one point, I got so mesmerized while following a colorful school of fish that after they took off, I popped my head out of the water and saw… no one. It was one of those moments in life when I felt completely and utterly alone. I wasn’t in trouble, and I made it safely back to shore, but it really did wake me up to the potential risks.
  6. Don’t stand on coral. Much of it looks like rock, but it’s not, and any damage you do to it could take years to repair. You are entering a habitat. You wouldn’t walk into someone’s home and stand on their glass tabletop, would you? If you absolutely, positively have to stand, find a sandy spot. But even then, you might disturb something that is hiding under the sand, so proceed with caution.
  7. Even if there are trash cans on the beach, port out your garbage. Those cans can never be emptied often enough, and will overflow. No littering. Please. The world is not your dumpster. And garbage can be deadly to wildlife.
  8. If you’re going to use an underwater camera, practice with it in advance. I had high hopes of having a lot of gorgeous video to show you, dear reader, but we hadn’t thought to practice with the controls on our new Go Pro, and while we thought we were taking plenty of footage, in fact, we only got a minute or two. So now I just have to remember what it was like as I snorkel in my local pool, and I regret that no words can adequately convey to you the beauty I saw while snorkeling in Hawaii. I will post the “best of” our video below. But it’s kind of meh.(Fortunately we figured the go pro out prior to swimming with the manta rays. Read about that adventure here.)
  9. Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t try to feed the marine life. Don’t touch or harass any living creature. For their safety and yours, maintain a reasonable distance from wild animals who are just trying to go about their daily routine. Be pono. (Have respect.)
  10. Be aware of your surroundings. Snorkel in clear water, close to shore and within sight of a lifeguard. Yes, there are sharks. According to this hair-raising list of shark incidents that is maintained by the State of Hawaii, there have only been 6 human fatalities since 1995, which is practically nothing when you consider how many people go into the ocean in Hawaii on any given day, but if I counted correctly, there have been 127 other non-fatal incidents during that time-frame, and even a love nibble isn’t something that you want to experience from a shark. If you sort the list by activity type, you’ll find that the vast majority of snorkeling incidents were in deep, turgid waters. And by the way, there are other things that can hurt you, too, so use common sense, and enjoy the experience as safely as you can.
  11. Plan to snorkel toward the beginning of your trip. It is very important to be mindful of the weather, because it can change rapidly in Hawaii. If dark clouds are rushing toward you, or you hear thunder, or if the water looks like a washing machine, it’s not a good time to become one with nature. Even just windy days can cut down reef visibility quite a bit. We missed out on one of Hawaii’s most beautiful snorkeling sites, Pu-uhonua o Hanaunau (thank goodness it’s also called Two-Step) on the west coast of the big island, because the sky was turning black and we heard thunder. It will be one of the biggest travel regrets of my life that we had no time to reschedule. It is one of the best snorkel spots to encounter green turtles, dolphins and seals, and the thought that I missed that chance still brings tears to my eyes.

As I said, today is World Ocean Day, so let me tell you about my recent love affair with the Pacific Ocean, also known as our snorkeling adventures during a recent visit to Hawaii.

We had three amazing snorkeling experiences. The first two were on the island of Kauai. One was at Poipu Beach, on the south shore. A tour guide on another excursion told us that it was his favorite place to snorkel, so we had to check it out. The other was at Lydgate Park, on the east side of the island. On the big island, we went to Kahalu’u Beach on the Kona Coast.

Again, my apologies for not bringing back all the amazing footage I had hoped for. I’m sure you can google snorkeling at any one of these locations and find dozens of videos. It will be worth the effort.

But what was it like? I can only say that I have never been presented with so much dazzling color in my life. The fish, the sea urchins, the crabs, even the sea cucumbers were colorful. Under the water, it was very quiet. I felt like a peeping tom in a sacred place. And I also felt so very privileged. This was a gift. Mostly I floated along and watched the miracles unfold. At one point, I was surrounded by a school of Yellowfin Surgeonfish. It actually made me kind of emotional to be allowed among them. Here’s the footage.

Much of the coral close in was a surprising monochrome tan, but it was still full of vivid life. At one point I went into a hidden coral cove, and right in the center of it was a dome-shaped coral structure, about the size of a Volkswagen beetle, and it was a bright lime green on the sides and a rich lilac color on top. It made me gasp. I just floated there for about 10 minutes, burning this image on my retinas, while (unsuccessfully) recording it on my go pro. When I need to go to a happy place, I think of that moment, just me and this gigantic, gorgeous coral. It felt right. It felt good. I felt connected to the world in a way that I never have before.

Because we fell down on the job when it comes to capturing the images for this post, what you see below are pictures, pulled from the internet, of many of the types of fish I saw in Hawaii. I still can’t believe my luck. Get out there if you can, Dear Reader. There is still a bit of the planet left to enjoy. Don’t miss it.

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The Flowers and Birds of Hawaii

These islands are filled with flowers and flapping with fowl!

Wherever I go, I tend to pay close attention to the flowers and birds in the area. The differences from one climate to another fascinate me. I also believe that these things are the canaries in the coal mine of planetary health. If you go somewhere devoid of birds and flowers, you may want to leave that place yourself, and quickly. Just sayin’.

Recently, Dear Husband and I had the opportunity to visit Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii. As one might predict, these islands are filled with flowers and flapping with fowl. I was therefore sad to hear that, according to Wikipedia, “Hawaiʻi has more endangered species and has lost a higher percentage of its endemic species than any other U.S. state.”

I can only imagine what Hawaii was like before that distressing information became a fact. Still, what I saw during my visit looked so lush and vibrant that I was reveling in the life all around me. Everything, to me, looked so healthy and clean and right.

Even while on vacation, you are never far from my thoughts, dear readers. So I tried to take pictures of every flower and bird I saw during my visit. (Okay, I snuck in some bromiliads and crotons, too. So sue me.) I hope you enjoy the photos below!

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Hawaii Surprises

The Hawaii I got was not the Hawaii I expected. Yay!

After 50 years of dreaming about it, I finally got to take a vacation in Hawaii. Predictably, it was an amazing experience, and I’ll be blogging about it quite a bit in the coming month or so. But today, to ease myself gently into writing this blog again, I want to just talk about the things that surprised me about Hawaii.

I was really shocked at how many of my preconceived notions of this state, which I had been carrying around since childhood, were completely off base. And, of course, there were a lot of things to learn, and in fact there is still much that I don’t know. I can hardly declare myself an expert on all things Hawaiian after two short weeks.

Since I never thought I’d actually get to visit the Aloha State, I never had cause to closely examine my beliefs thereof. It amuses me, in retrospect, how childish my notions were. For example, I thought there would be parrots everywhere I looked, and the heady scent of orchids would fill the air. In fact, according to this article, while you will see the occasional feral parrot, none of them are native to the islands. And while many Hawaiian nurseries raise orchids for sale to the wider world, according to this article, only three species are actually native to the state, and those grow in such remote areas that you won’t likely see them. With the exception of orchids drawn on murals and swimwear, I didn’t spot any of these flowers at all.

I also expected to see leis everywhere, along with hula dancers, and I imagined that most people walked around barefoot. How silly. In elementary school, I had a teacher who used to greet people arriving in Hawaii by plane and give them leis, but that was a simpler time. If there was a lei for every tourist these days, the islands would be plucked free of vegetation by now. In 1975, less than 3 million tourists a year descended upon the island. In modern times, pre-pandemic, 10.4 million people overwhelmed the state in 2019. Hawaii has no time for leis anymore.

As for hula dancers and folks without shoes, I didn’t even glimpse one blade of a grass skirt in all my travels. Hula dancers seem to have relegated themselves to luaus these days, and when we discovered that the cheapest luau in our area was $175.00 per person, we decided to pass on the poi and watch the hula dancers on Youtube. And to be perfectly frank, anyone who wanders around barefoot in Hawaii is a fool. There is lava rock everywhere, and it’s sharp. Your feet would be cut to ribbons. I didn’t even see many people at the beach without swim shoes. The coral comes right up to the shore in many places.

I also expected to always have the ocean in sight. In fact, even on the tiny island of Kauai, it’s easy to get lost in the bush. Sometimes there were farmlands or rain forests or mountains as far as the eye could see, and it was hard to remember that you were even on an island. I don’t know why, but I never thought of that state as so substantial before visiting. In my mind, it was a series of tiny dots in the middle of the pacific. That’s also true, if you zoom out enough on Google Earth, I suppose. Perspective.

Another fact I hadn’t even considered is that Hawaii has governmental entities. Well, duh. They’d have to, wouldn’t they? But Hawaii, for me, has always been about the leisure, not the actual day to day living. According to Wikipedia, Hawaii has 5 counties, and these counties mostly constitute an entire island. Some include tinier islands that are within their orbit. But these counties are where the buck stops, so to speak. They don’t have city governments or city councils or school board districts. Kalawao County is sort of an outlier, in that it was only created for the leper colony that used to be on the Kalaupapa peninsula on Moloakai. That county only has 82 residents, and they don’t even bother with elections. Most of their services come from the county of Maui. It kind of seems as though the government is as laid back as the people.

And here I go, making sweeping statements based on my two-week stay, but I have to say that I was very surprised and delighted by all the Hawaiians I met. Having spent most of my life in Florida, I know how irritating tourists can be, and because of that, I was expecting Hawaiians to give off a vibe of impatience and irritation like residents do in the tourist towns in Florida. But in fact, I was in awe of what seemed to me to be an overwhelmingly easygoing philosophy and lifestyle. Yes, they were often late, but they also seemed unconcerned. And I loved their dry and subtle yet corny humor and their sense of calm and their ability to accept whatever comes their way. And all this despite the fact that their land has been stolen from them by large corporations and rich white men. It would be impossible to blame them if their main personality traits were bitterness and resentment, but I didn’t sense that at all.  They were kind, friendly, and welcoming. I want to be just like them when I grow up.

Having said that, though, I was startled to see a notice in our hotel room as to what to do in case of a nuclear attack. And yes, they are a lot closer to Russia and China and North Korea than most Americans are, so their sense of calm is even more admirable. Still, the advice about finding shelter and not looking at the bright flashes of light seemed rather optimistic. If disaster strikes on an island, there’s really not much you could do except kiss your behind goodbye. I wonder how much Hawaiians think about this.

Moving past my profiling, I have to say that weather blew me away, sometimes literally. It was late April and early May. The wind was unrelenting on both Kauai and the Big Island. I don’t know if we just happened to visit during a windy season, or the fact that we seemed to spend more time on the windward sides of islands rather than the leeward sides skewed my impressions, but yeah, the background sound was often the howling, unstoppable wind. I think I’d go insane if I lived there. But the wind did help with the humidity, and for that I welcomed it. We mostly slept with our hotel room windows open rather than locking ourselves in with air conditioning. I had forgotten how easy it is to sleep with the sound of waves crashing on the shore.

It rained nearly every day of our trip. But it was a warm rain that was a lot more tolerable that the bone-chilling, raw rain we get in Seattle. Mostly we just ignored it as we reveled in the fact that we were able to wear shorts for the first time this year, and wet or not, that was a gift. But the clouds also meant we only got to see one tropical sunset. Granted, it was a doozy, and made it well worth the trip. I’ll tease you with a few photos below.

Suffice it to say that the Hawaii I got was not the Hawaii I expected, but in retrospect I’m grateful for that, because I truly loved the Hawaii I experienced. We had many adventures in this beautiful state, and I learned a great deal about myself while there. I plan to write about a lot of these events and epiphanies in the near future, so watch this space.

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