Sunday, April 2, 2017

Little Trip to the Big Island (Part III)

The final two days of our vacation were composed of road trips. On one day, we drove north up the coast in search of a mega waterfall. We chanced upon a sign directing us to the "scenic route" and didn't think twice. We meandered down slow, windy roads that paralleled the coast until we noticed several cars pulled off along the ride. Figuring this meant something nearby was worth seeing, we found a spot in the midst of them.

Of course, everyone had to pee at this point. I think my kids think peeing in the bushes is half the adventure. We hiked a ways down the cliff and caught some gorgeous views of waves crashing on the bluff. Jon walked out to a point of rocks while I stayed behind and supervised children throwing stones in the stream and one kid taking yet another bathroom break. Because that's pretty much my life right now.

 Once everyone had their fill, or perhaps I mean their "empty," we continued our drive up the coast and on up the mountains. Here it's all farm country with lots of cows and crops and small Hawaiian ranch houses that look like they were just dropped in the middle of a field. It reminded me somewhat of Pennsylvania.

Our destination was Akaka Falls. I mentioned earlier that I've been somewhat disappointed with Oahu's waterfalls, otherwise known as water trickles, or dropping streams, or downward flowing water... I digress. Akaka Falls promised a 442 foot drop. Now this is the waterfall I've been waiting for! We reached the end of the hike and there she was in all her glory. ... and this is as close as we could get. I mean, c'mon!! What's the point of a 442 waterfall if you can only glance it from a mile away?? It was still pretty impressive but the distance coupled with the angle of the sun made it difficult to truly capture it's beauty. We came, we saw, we photo'd. But my personal highlight of the trip was still a day away.

 Our final full day on the island was an ambitious one--a full day of driving along the southern and western coast. Our first stop was the famous Black Sand Beach. I had heard that your chances of seeing a sea turtle sunbathing on the black sand was very high. We did not see any. We did see one or two swimming in the water but nothing too extraordinary.

The sand is made from lava rock and is actually black--very different from the white beaches on Oahu. We explored for a little bit but didn't stick around long enough to build a sandcastle since we were anticipating grabbing second breakfast at the southernmost bakery in the US.

No pictures of the bakery because it was basically just another busy, touristy Hawaiian bakery. But we did get some refreshment before veering slightly off course and making our way down the southernmost tip of the island. We have some friends from our Virginia Beach days that now live on the Big Island and she suggested checking out the tip "if I haven't had enough of cliffs and rocky coasts." Of course, I can never have enough of cliffs and rocky coasts. And this long, narrow road driving through farms and fields ended up being my favorite part of the island.

While it certainly wasn't cold or snowy, it did satisfy a bit of my home-longing. And if the drive down to the tip reminded us of hot, summer days in Central Pennsylvania, then the tip itself reminded me of Cornwall, England. Not that I've actually been to Cornwall. But I have watched a lot of Poldark and that's basically the same thing.

Up until this trip, I had wrongly assumed that the southernmost tip of the U.S. was in Key West. Well that would be the contiguous states. The actual southernmost tip is on the Big Island and it is apparently a popular destination for local fisherman and cliff-jumping, thrill-seekers.

Also in that area is this blowhole thing which gave me flashbacks to "The Rescuers" and the pirates cave where the Devil's Eye is hidden. (Evidently our trip to the Big Island reminded me of many, many things in my life.) This area also made me extremely nervous with my four antsy and adventurous children running around.

 So I'm standing at the edge of the world, trying to take photos while also keeping the keiki alive and I can tell my geographically inclined husband is thinking. And then he pulls up some maps on his phone and I can tell immediately that this rocky coast teeming with fisherman and tourists is not satisfactory. He seems to feel that this is not precisely the southernmost point, but rather, we should head a few hundred yards to the east. He finds a dirt road, nay path roughly the size of a vehicle, off to the side and we make our bumpy way farther from the crowds and back into rolling fields.

According to Jon and his maps, THIS is actually the southernmost tip. But I can see why most people settle for the more dramatic scene on the other side of the rock wall. At this point, you may be wondering what sort of vehicle carted our family of six up and down mountains, through lava flows, and onto hole-riddled 4-wheeler trails. That would be our trusty rental minivan. We made sure to induct her inside as well with a good dousing of goldfish crackers, sand, and a growing collection of "special" lava rocks and shells.

We ventured back out of the 4-wheeler territory and returned to the main road--with me telling Jon to stop the car for a photo about every 2 minutes. Including this spot, where he graciously pulled off the road and let me stumble through a field to take in this scene. Which may have been my favorite view of our entire trip. Cliffs and rocky coasts 4 life!!

Our final destination was Kona--to explore the city, sit down for dinner, and visit with friends. But on the way we stopped at Pu'uhonua O Honaunau--the Big Island's City of Refuge. This was a place where those who had broken sacred laws could flee to and receive sanctuary. It's an interesting bit of land but unfortunately, I think the historical significance of the sights was lost on our young kids.

We finished off the day with dinner at Kona Brewing Company and dessert and playtime at our friends' house. And then we headed back to our side of the island. Except that ended up being a complete disaster. We decided to go back the way we came but after only 45 minutes of driving down the western coast traffic came to a complete stop. The wait was growing longer and half our kids had already fallen asleep so we, along with everybody else, turned off our cars and settled in for the long haul. There's only one road around the island and then one that cuts through the two mountains in the middle, which was over an hour the opposite direction.

After an even longer wait, we gave up on waiting and turned the car around to try the other route. In other words, a 90 minutes car trip ended up taking 4 hours. It was late and dark and the road through the mountains is DESOLATE. Like nothing is out there except the stars. Both Jon and I were fighting to stay awake, him so he could drive and me so I could ensure he was awake and driving. Also included in the lack of civilization on this drive was the lack of radio stations. I think we could get one, and it was the equivalent of Hawaiian elevator music. It was so bad it was comical. And while it normally would have put me to sleep, at this point it just made us laugh and laugh, which helped keep us awake just a little bit longer. We made it back to our cabin safely, and carried four dead-asleep children to their beds before crashing ourselves.

The next morning, we had a few hours to kill before our flight back to Oahu and out of alllll the fun activities on the Big Island there was one that our kids had relentlessly asked to do ... the arcade room at the campground. You guys, it was so sad. All the games were "vintage," most of them didn't work, and the only ones that did were just terrible. But I don't think our kids even noticed. In fact, the girls didn't even realize that they weren't actually playing some of the games.

We finally ran out of quarters and headed to the airport, with one quick stop at Rainbow Falls (no, we did not see a rainbow) and a picnic lunch of all the food we didn't manage to eat during our stay at the cabin. Thankfully, everything tastes better al fresco.

This is not an action shot. She asked for me to take her photo, purposely stood here (in front of tourists instead of the waterfall), and then posed like this. I'm not even joking.
Burn all the energy before our flight!
 True to our family-style, we rolled up to the airport with plenty of cushion time for small disasters. We were the first to check in to our flight and the first to plant ourselves in the waiting area. And then the flight got delayed. Three times. We played every game in our backpack including a rousing game of "Monkey in the Middle" with an actual stuffed monkey. Once more people started showing up I tried to corral them all to one corner and finally gave in to some Kindle time. Until the batteries died. No outlets. No Starbucks. One small bathroom with a line. And several hours of waiting in the airport. Always an adventure.

We'd only been gone 5 days but when we got back to our house it felt so good to be home. And feeling good to be home felt so good too. Because even after living here for 7 months it still feels a little odd. I tell myself that whole settling in thing takes a full year, but honestly I can't even remember anymore. And I've learned, or am still learning, that home is not a house or a place or a region. Home is where my people are. The Big Island was a great adventure. But it's good to be home.
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