And just who are the aliens anyway??
Trip Start Apr 15, 2008
10Trip End May 17, 2008
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I spend a few nights here...check out Punalu'u, the black sand beach during the day and there are two beautiful sea turtles snoozing on the sand ...I believe they are hawk-billed turtles...this beach is a nesting ground for them. I sit for a long time hoping the monk seals will show up too but I don't think it's sunny enough for them to want to come out of the water. I find the perfect diner up the road...coconut pancakes, fruit cobbler, and of course the more substantive stuff too...
I spend the afternoon with the Nature Conservancy folks who have a small office in this town. I get a sense of how they work with federal, state, and local interests to further their cause. I interview a Hawaiian zoologist and a plant biologist from the mainland who are both so invested in their mission...and more than willing to share their thoughts and their work with me.
Time to head on up the coast but first I stop at South Point, which is the southernmost piece of land in the US. I didn't realize that either, that Hawaii was the southernmost state, but apparently it is. So I take a 12 mile detour heading south off the road, on flat ranch land that is dry dry dry and dusty....and the wind is constant and intense...all the vegetation - what there even is of it - is leaning one way. There's very little out here except for the cattle, some horses, a ghost town of defunct wind mills....guess the wind farm out here didn't quite make it...the wind is so gusty, not evenly steady... I get out to the tip...it's so hot and sunny...and I want to hike out to the green sand beach....from the mineral olivine that crystallizes within the lava I believe. So to get there I've got to lean into the wind...this place rivals Iceland for the windy location award....but here there is sand and surf carried by the blowing wind. Well I get to the olivine beach...it's cool, but it was a long dusty trek here...my skin feels like it's broiling and sand blasted...my knee has stood up to the challenge...and yes, the sand is olive. Making my way back is a bit easier because the wind is pushing me so hard. I arrive at the car feeling battered, drained, and dehydrated. But traversing this southern land mass seemed like a necessary thing to do...and I have the green dust on my boots to prove I was there.
I decide to head all the way up to Kona for the night. I haven't had a proper shower in about two weeks....been swimming, so all is good...but a hot shower and a bed tempt me to check in at a hostel in tourist-land. I think maybe I'll even indulge myself and stay two nights. But shortly after I check in I'm quite aware that I will be headed out the next day. Why? Well this is the strip....Ali'i Drive....lots of chain restaurants...lots of trinkets...and too many tourists. And then there's the hostel guy.
Right away I sense this guy is a little too present when he asks me way too many questions over the phone. I'm just calling for a price and he wants to know my life story...like he's got to approve of me or something. And then I get there and very quickly his ego hits me over the head. It's so misleading because his appearance is that of a washed-up surfer dude...hair a little thin, belly hanging over the board shorts...but the tan and the outward attitude of a surfer. But laid back??? No way....this guy is so intense...he's got all these rules written all over the place...and when you don't obey one, he lets you know....I heard him voice two threats to throw people out during the evening....for minor infractions of his rules...an intensely edgy character. We clashed a few times...even though I was trying to stay far away from him. So I knew I was out of there. But I did meet a very sweet yoga man, Scott, who was running away from his old life as a model to find a new, more meaningful one. And I guess that was the gift of this hostel...Scott was the antithesis of Zero...yes, the surfer dudes name was Zero...hard to believe, huh...
So I spend a pleasant day in Kona...strolling....eating...I'm chatting with Corey near the water and up pops a sea turtle...I get to watch it swim around all during the conversation...and then I head down to Ho'okena Beach. I wind down a rather steep road towards the ocean, and again, I'm awed by beauty. My tent is a handful of footsteps away from the ocean....it's right on the sandy cove. Right now I hear people playing guitar and drums and singing on the beach. It's a cool place for travelers...very friendly...immediately I talk to a number of them...a bunch of rasta-haired, freaky looking people with warm and open hearts....from all over the world.
And I just spent an hour or so talking with Glendora and Damien the kama'aina (remember that word?), the Hawaiians who run the place. I learn a lot from them about the world here...he works with at-risk kids in the schools...and they lost a son to this ocean. This land belonged to Glendora's family until the gov't eminent-domained them out of it. If you didn't sell, they condemned it and took it over anyway. But the land reverted back to Glendora's care because it became a hang out and drinking place out of control. They're telling me about how the kids that go to college leave the island and don't come back...and the less successful kids are left behind and that can be a problem. But the ones left behind are the ones that retain their culture while the college kids abandon their roots and assimilate into the mainstream. So that leaves a unique crop of kids to carry on traditions and maintain local ways...and these kids are not always happy to have outsiders, such as tourists, invade their space... it's a delicate balance. And understandable that there might be some resentment on the part of the locals.
Who are the locals? Well history has it that Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands came to Hawai'i over 1600 years ago. That's from 2400 miles of ocean away. And along with the people came some of the present day aliens...pigs (that really tear up the fragile ecosystems), dogs, chickens, taro, sweet potato, banana, and sugar cane. These people were the primary inhabitants until more Polynesians came around 800 years ago (from the Society Islands)...they then took over and had about 400 years of isolation...Hawaiian culture emerged. Then Captain Cook entered the picture in 1778 - in fact he landed right about where I am on the Big Island - and that was the end of isolation. When I talk to Hawaiians they are from a variety of places, mostly from west and south of Hawaii. There are lots of Filipinos here and I'm enjoying their presence...I haven't been around this many Filipinos since I was in the Peace Corps 30 years ago...I'm eating food that I haven't seen since then. There was a large migration in the 60s to work on the sugar cane fields...and I believe it was around that time that the mongoose appeared. Initially brought to control rats in the fields, they found a hearty niche for themselves. And now I see at least 15 mongooses a day, scurrying across the road, in campgrounds...they are the Hawaiian version of the chipmunk...non threatening but ever present. I've included a photo of a mongoose in case you don't know what one looks like...but they move fast so it's not a particularly good one...take a squirrel, color it brown, elongate it, and you've got a mongoose.
I was reading in the paper today that the Hawaiian Kingdom group, that alliance that wants Hawaii to be self-governing and not under US control, took over the palace in Honolulu yesterday and intends to remain a presence there until the Hawaiian Kingdom is restored. I didn't realize that it was only in 1959 that Hawaii became a state. And that's not popular with everybody. This group is pretty determined and has been steadily pushing for self-rule...doesn't seem like they're going to let up anytime soon. I personally have felt nothing but friendliness and a feeling of welcome from the Hawaiians I've met. But the struggle for sovereignty makes sense to me...why did they become a state anyway? Got another thing to google. Wonder if their persistence will pay off....
A little history, some politics, and now the day is over...I retreat to my tent feeling a profound sense of peace in this place. I listen to the guitar accompanying some singing which is just about drowned out by the sound of the waves harmonizing with the coqui frogs. All intertwined there is a sense of quiet and unity here...