Karen's Perspective on Traveling Alone
I've been home more than a month now and it feels like quite a long time ago since I experienced the beauty and adventure of a week on the Big Island traveling alone and a week in Maui with my dear friend Greg Supriano who has been living there for 6 months.
Background on Big Island of Hawaii
Scientists say that the Big Island is the youngest of the islands, being a little over 1 million years old. The island also dwarfs the other islands, and maybe being a Texas gal, I resonate with the sense that in this case, bigger is better. I had visited the big island nine years ago, and had a great time visiting my buddy Ellen in Hilo and exploring some parts. This trip, I felt more responsive to everything I saw and felt. Perhaps, I've become a better traveler, especially by myself, perhaps I'm older and wiser, maybe I just got lucky or maybe all of the above. For the first time in my life, I really relished traveling alone. I tend to be such a social being and I found myself really enjoying not having to interact with anyone for hours on end, just observing and trusting myself to not be on anyone's schedule, even my own little voice that sometimes said I should move faster since I might miss some experience.
Eco-Tourism in Hawaii?
For some years, I actually avoided traveling to HI because I felt it was hypocritical to berate what tourism had done to oppress the native Hawaiians and somehow be a tourist there myself. I honestly still feel like a haole (meaning white person) trespasser some of the time. There are understandably Native Hawaiians who wish all the tourists would stay away or least quit buying multi-million dollar "summer" homes. I've decided that it's ok to visit if you try to do it in an eco-tourist fashion and try to support local businesses and folks while you're there. But, it's hard to be an eco-tourist when the first thing you do is go rent a car for the week. HI has no mass transit system that goes around the island.
I love the Kona side because it's dry and sunny with huge areas of dry lava flows. I stayed at the Rainbow Plantation in Captain Cook. It's a tropical paradise where chickens, peacocks and a pot bellied pig named Petunia rule the yard. I hit it off with the German owner and on my first day two other dyke guests from Atlanta invited me to go kayaking and snorkeling with them in nearby Kealakekua Bay. After 15 minutes out, we saw several pods of the famed spinner dolphins. Then we beached the kayaks and snorkeled in the clear waters filled with all kinds of tropical fish and coral. The monument to Captain Cook is the Bay, a tribute to a gifted but misguided explorer who was killed because of "cultural misunderstandings." (as most guidebooks allege). I haven't read much about what happened from the Native perspective but our guide the next day explained the incident in such a way that I think Cook and his men came in, were culturally and sexually exploitive and the Hawaiians fought back. Not that the local culture didn't have a strict caste system itself. I found the energy in the Bay to be one of great beauty and calm. The next day I took a small raft out with some others and a guide. Again we snorkled and could see about 60-80 feet visibility. We also spotted 5 or more humpback whales breaching on our way back, the first day the guide had seen whales this season. I ended the day with a visit to Honaunau (Place of Refuge), a wonderful cultural site set in an idyllic cove with tall royal palms. I saw one green sea turtle asleep on the sand, looking as grateful to have arrived safely on its shores as the kapu breakers of ancient Hawaii must have felt if they managed to escape their avengers and make it to this refuge where the keepers were forced to offer sanctuary. I also took a nice walk along the 1871 (?) trail at the south end of the park that led to an amazing lava tube that ended above the ocean. Supposedly you can jump from there into the waves but I decided to not try my luck and instead watch a beautiful sunset.
Volcano National Park
My favorite hike and camping experience of the trip was in this park. A new environmental campground (no water or toilets) is now about 6 miles inside the park and although there were other campers, it was very comfortably remote. From my site, I had a amazing view of Mauna Loa, the most massive mountain on earth. Clouds sometimes danced their way over its pinnacle, and here is where I saw the most impressive rainbow of the trip. The stars at night recalled nights I've spent stargazing in the Sierras, but the difference was seeing a winter sky with such brilliance. I slept deeply with many vivid dreams. The next day I headed out for my first big hike of the trip and considered it a good omen when I saw a nene, the endangered Hawaiian goose and state bird which had been on the verge of extinction and now believed to number around 500 on the Big Island (and on Maui). I started at the Thurston lava tubes in the midst of a sumputous fern forest with native birds flitting all around. The tube seems almost man made and you can enter a section on your own if you have a flashlight. From the tube, I made my way across the floor of Kilauea Iki crater by starting early before it became rather hot in the midst of so much lava flow. There were lots of active steam vents along the floor and the difference of landscape between this black and gray hardened ooze and the surrounding rain forest was enough to make me keep saying "wow" out loud. I hiked a little through the nearby Kilauea Caldera and then up to Volcano House where I had a picnic before making a loop back along Crater Rim Trail. I talked to a few folks who hiked the entire Crater Rim Trail (11 miles) in one day but it seemed too hot and long and besides, you're not really going into the crater and experiencing in a deep way, the work of Pele, the goddess associated with erupting volcanoes.
For luxurious car camping, there's no better place than Kalani Oceanside Resort, an alternative non-profit retreat center owned for years by Richard, a gay man. The grounds are beautifully botanical with lots of native trees labeled. My favorite was the autograph tree with its broad canopy. Life at Kalani is relaxed and social with everyone eating excellent vegetarian fare at its open-air dining space. I met lots of folks from the Bay Area, including a gay physician Bob from Berkeley and Tanya, a lawyer from SF. Folks are drawn here to do yoga or make this their base to explore the surrounding area. I enjoyed the hot tub and sauna, a yoga class and later a hula class taught by the owner where we learned a dance to the Akaka Falls. I spent most of a day at the nearby nude black sand beach and know I was lucky with the weather as I left Kalani with the rain beginning.
The rest of the island
I drove from Puna, into Hilo and then around the rest of the island, taking in the Akaka Falls and the Waipi'o Valley overlook. As I was leaving the overlook I saw Margie, one of the dyke couple who had taken me kayaking. She had tried to backpack into Waipi'o with her girlfriend but her girlfriend had gotten sick on the way down so she tried it alone after the girlfriend had gone back to the mainland. She was washing off the mud as she told me about her rather harrowing adventure of hiking down the canyon and then over to Waimanu Valley, getting caught in a flashflood and staying up all night worried that she might wash away. The next day, the rain stopped and she decided to hike out and barely made the stream crossing where it meets the ocean as she got knocked down by a wave but managed to get up (with backpack on). I gave her some food and she was ready to go pick up her visiting mom at the airport. Wow, I felt like a wimpy but safe dyke compared to Ms. "I can go where no lesbo has been before."
After a week on my own it was delightful to hang with my dear old (as in I've known him 12 years) friend Greg. He picked me up and took me for a ride up the mountain to the beautiful hamlet of Haiku. Yes, Haiku. Where he lives on a 2 acre organic farm and grows taro, kabocha,(a kind of squash) and assorted fruits. I've never gotten into taro in the form of poi, the Hawaiian staple but his housemate Diana cooked up some taro patties there were good eatin'. We spent the next week exploring the island that has become Greg's home. Most mornings we took a short walk out the door past the nearby brahma bulls and countless chickens, roosters and horses to see incredible views of the mountains of West Maui and the ocean plus a view to the East of Haleakala, the huge volcanic crater that is a national park. We were often greeted by a cardinal and its morning song. I was disturbed by the apparent number of roosters that are used as fighting cocks, especially in the Filipino community plus a nearby ravine where at leats 200 cars and trucks were lying around in states of disrepair, leeching toxins into the ground water. Greg's housemate Roy assured me that the Health Dept had been notified numerous times but nothing was ever done. Oh well, I thought, try to relax and remember that there's always a down side, even in paradise.
Greg takes lots of West African drumming and dance classes and one of the first ones was on the beach where we enjoyed a sunset and beach bonfire. But the wildest beach experience was at Little Beach, part of Makena Beach where each Sunday, literally hundreds of nude folks play drums, dance, swim and body surf. The beach here and at Big Beach are spectacular, pristine white sand beaches. The motley crew of young and older nudies on the beach made me feel like I was an extra in some hippy movie, grooving on the iced chai (I kid you not). I joined the crowd to cheer as the sun set and then watch the fire jugglers light up the night sky. As we descended the somewhat steep cliff to the car, some self-appointed saint made it his/her duty to guide our way with a flashlight and candle on the rocks.
One day we met up with a friend of Greg's to look for magical mushrooms in cow pastures. After finding plenty, Greg and I hiked to a nearby pine grove and ate some. But either because we'd had too much lunch or we couldn't get any higher than just on life, we felt no effects. We also did a little birdwatching in the little bit of marsh that has not been developed and saw at least 20 black crowned night herons plus two endangered Hawaiian stilts.
Being the sensitive tour guide, Greg had a current copy of the gay/lesbian Maui paper for me upon arrival. Guess how the "queer community" of Maui raises money--yes, gay/lesbian whale watching trips! Greg was game so we went on a tour with my people and had fun looking for whales and getting a roller coaster ride as the waves were super rough. We also saw a dolphin nearby, a bottle nose, I think.
The highlight of Maui was a 2 day trip along the Hana highway, a narrow two lane road with dozens of one lane bridges. On the way to Hana and back we hiked through bamboo forests, skinny dipped and jumped off a 30 foot ledge into the Venus Pools just outside Hana. As Greg mentioned, we almost experienced "waterfall fatigue" as we passed one gorgeous cascade after another. The best hike was in Haleakala up the seven sacred falls to a waterfall of at least 300 feet. The bamboo forest was so dense it blocked out the light of the sun above and the quiet and peace was palpable to my usual city sensory overload.
The last night of my trip Greg and I traded extemporaneous rumba songs with some of his friends who meet for a weekly drum circle in a drum temple on a cooperative piece of land. As we sang and laughed we became more outrageous in our contact high, feeling the connection that has sustained our friendship all these years. The next morning we planted taro together and then I cried with Diana as she reported the horrible meeting she had been to the night before where the Maui supervisors seemed to stand by their position to develop 10,000 new houses over the next 10 years in south Maui, threatening the beauty of Big and Little Beach at Makena State Park. I thought of the Edward Abbey saying that "Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul," and then I was on the plane, holding the beauty of all I had seen and experienced close to my soul.