Posts Tagged With: fruit

Aloha, Dammit

Having realized a year ago that winter in Hawaii is nicer than winter in Maryland — a shocker, I know — we have rented the same Kona house as last year and are currently enduring the rigors of the Big Island.

I can feel your skepticism. But there are rigors, or at least there were last weekend, as getting here was a first class pain in the okole (as the Hawaiians say, referring to a body part that is not “neck”). In brief, our journey here involved:

  • A canceled flight from Baltimore to Los Angeles;
  • A rebooked flight that left two hours late;
  • A fire alarm in our hotel in LA, resulting in a hotel evacuation; and
  • A canceled flight from LA to Honolulu.

There was more, but I’ll spare you the details since, being on vacation in Hawaii and all, I am not expecting an outrigger-canoe-load of sympathy. Anyway, we are here for nearly a month, accompanied for our first week by my BFF and former Evil Assistant Angie (she’s still evil, but since I’m retired she’s not my assistant anymore) and her (and our) friend Diana.

Remarkably, despite our tribulations we arrived in Kona only 90 minutes later than originally planned. The island is little changed from a year ago, with two notable exceptions: (1) there has been a lot more rain the past year than in the year before, meaning that many areas are much greener than a year ago, and there is much less haze in the air; and (2) the volcano is in eruption. More on both in a moment.

Our first stop was one of our favorite venues in town, the Kona Farmer’s Market. We even recognized some of the same vendors, and the assortment of tropical fruits and tourist tchotchkes was reassuringly familiar.



Both we and our friends were anxious to see the volcano, and so we headed there straightaway on Day Two, pausing only in the town of Naalehu — the southernmost town in the US, at latitude 19°N — to gorge on malasadas, the beignet-like treat that is a Big Island specialty. (I wrote about both the town and the baked good in this post a year ago.)

We arrived at the 4000 ft summit of Kilauea in late afternoon, our plan being to stay until dark so that we could see the glow of the lava lake in Halema’uma’u crater. The summit was clear, much less hazy than a year ago, and so the view out over the caldera was striking:


That’s Halema’uma’u in the middle of the scene. For reference, it’s about 1000 ft across and about a half mile away. The steam rising off it is from the lava lake below the rim; it is low at the moment, well below the crater rim and thus not directly in sight. But its glow illuminates the steam at night.

We spent a few hours exploring the park with our friends, walking around on the lava fields and, as ever, marveling at the tenacity with which plant life re-establishes itself after an eruption, like this:


In addition to the lava fields there are a number of fumaroles around the park, and since it was late in the day we were able to enjoy the sight of the afternoon sunlight streaming through the outputs of the steam vents.


By 6:30 PM the sky was darkening, and we were in full darkness by the time we returned to the caldera overlook, to be greeted by these scenes out of Dante:



On Kilauea’s southern flank, about ten miles south of the summit, is the Pu’u O eruption site. This particular site became active 34 years ago and is gradually adding to the Big Island’s surface area: when it is in eruption, its lava stream flows miles downhill to the sea, where it makes a dramatic and steamy entrance. It is possible to get to that site and see the lava flow, but it isn’t easy: you either have to hike 8 miles (roundtrip) over lava, or pay big bucks to hire a boat or a helicopter. Neither seemed practical, so we contented ourselves with the entertainingly hellish view of Halema’uma’u and called it a day.

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Downtown Kona

“Kona” is technically a district on the Big Island, whose largest town (and the population center that people tend to refer to as “Kona”) is Kailua. It’s small, with a population of about 12,000, though it swells briefly to 35,000,000 every Wednesday when the cruise ships dock. The larger Kona area — it is hard to think of a town of 12,000 as having suburbs — is home to about 36,000 people. The tourist life of the town proper is of course centered on the waterfront that you see here.

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Then hotel at the far right is the venerable Royal Kona hotel, which is designed to look like a ship. And the not-so-gently sloping horizon is the southern flank of 14,000′ Mauna Loa. As you can see, Kailua’s “skyline” is very un-Waikiki-like, which is very much to our taste.

A few days ago Ali’i Drive, the main drag along the water, was blocked off to auto traffic in order to hold a street fair where, as usual, local vendors showed off their wares and slack-key guitar players were abundant. Hawaii having both a large share of eccentric characters and a lot of tourists would lead you to predict that one would find an array of colorful personalities in such a setting, and you’d be right. So here are a few.

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I call your attention to the fact that lady on the left in the third photo is wearing antennae. And judging from his hairstyle and mirrored sunglasses, I am guessing that they guy she is with is arranging a contract hit.

But the real point of discussion here is the impressive tattoo spanning the back of the lady in the bottom photo. It reads “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono“, which is the state motto of Hawaii and officially translates as “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”. However that translation is — and can only be — approximate, since Hawaiian is a language rooted in mystical reverence for the land and suffused with nuance. One of the big points of contention in this case is the fourth word, “Ea“, which in the official motto translates as “life” but can also be translated as “breath” or — and here’s where things get sticky — “sovereignty”. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is a vocal Hawaiian sovereignty movement powered by the considerable array of historical injustices that led to (a) Hawaii being a U.S. state, and (b) only 1-2% of the population still knowing how to speak Hawaiian. (And even that is a big improvement over recent years: as recently as the year 2000 the number of speakers was only one-tenth of what it is now. So the language is enjoying a real resurgence.)

Hawaii is not about to be granted independence any time soon, but is certainly increasingly the case that the original language and culture are enjoying a lot more attention and respect than they did. It is not unlikely that the lady in this photo is part of the sovereignty movement.

So amidst all this diversity did we actually buy anything? Of course we did, though not a lot. We enjoyed another round of homemade fresh lilikoi-banana popsicles (seriously, those things are to die for), and Alice bought a table runner with a Hawaiian pattern. And there was of course food to sample, the most notable being a variety of hot sauces made with local ingredients. My favorite was one made with pineapple and scorpion peppers, which was like a fruity version of boiling lava. Incidentally, the Hawaiian word for “scorpion” is “kopiana”, which if you say it aloud sounds suspiciously like the English word; I find that a little strange since scorpions do exist here and so I’d expect a more Polynesian-sounding indigenous word for them. But never mind — I’ve got to go stuff some aloe leaves into my mouth now.


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Manta Rays

The snorkeling and scuba diving in Hawaii are justifiably famous, and certainly one of the more spectacular and surreal experiences that one can have here is diving among the manta rays. The Kona coast of the Big Island is home to a large colony (or pod, or flock, or school, or whatever the collective noun is) of 230 mantas. How do they know that it is precisely 230? Because mantas, like many animals, have unique patterns of spots that are as distinct as fingerprints and which thus allow them to be individually identified and counted.

Mantas are big. Even a small adult will be 8′ (2.5m) across, wingtip to wingtip, and the largest in the Kona colony is twice that. She (and I am presuming that the people who named her could somehow identify the sex) is aptly named Big Bertha. Pelagic (deep ocean) ones run even larger, up to 22′ (7m) in size.

Despite their rather intimidating appearance, mantas are gentle and feed primarily on plankton, scooping it into their prodigious maw — the size of an open window — as they glide balletically along. That makes it easy to find the creatures: just shine a light to attract the plankton, and the mantas will follow. The various dive operators are well aware of this, of course, and have strategically placed some spotlights on the ocean floor at a depth of 45′ (14m) in an area whose conditions are particularly rich in plankton. The result is an easy dive where, equipped with underwater flashlights, we merely have to descend straight down and sit on the ocean floor in the vicinity of the spotlights, rather like assembling around an underwater campfire. And the result is this:

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That’s me in the lower left of each image. It is a remarkably alien experience to having these things gliding around you, particular when they are coming head on: you can see the full length of their body interior, their rib cage framing what seems to be a huge but somehow hollow organism. (You can see the effect in the middle image.) They swoop, they glide, they perform underwater loop-the-loops, they even brush against us. We even saw Big Bertha herself, so large that when she flapped her wings in our vicinity we could feel the pressure wave knocking us off balance from our perches adjacent to a rock outcropping.

We stayed on the bottom for 50 minutes, close to the maximum allowable time at that depth without requiring decompression. But we could have watched them for hours.

Back on land a day later, we engaged in more pedestrian and terrestrial activities, as our son and daughter-in-law left us to return home (and we were sad to see them go) and our next round of visitors, our good friends Laura and David, arrived. One of our first stops with them was the Kona farmer’s market, a wonderful venue not only for learning about (and buying, and eating) the local produce — lilikoi, kumquats, apple bananas, rambutans, mangos — but also seeing the the wonderful ethnic mix of this place, e.g.:

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We’ve been away from home for two weeks today and are already fretting that we have to go back in less than a month. I do not expect any sympathy.


Categories: Hawaii | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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