Hawaii Part II - Getting There

As we waited to board our flight at PDX I took stock of our fellow passengers, most of whom were in search of something similar to Carolyn and me. The couple that stood out the most had matching t-shirts. One said "Beauty" on the front and "20" on the back. the other said "Beast" on the front and "12" on the back. It must have been their 5th anniversary and they were wearing the shirts to celebrate which was sweet. The problem was they kept standing wrong so the backs said "1220" and the fronts said "Beast/Beauty". I wanted to get them to switch positions but Carolyn kept stopping me. I'm just glad they didn't sit in front of us because you just know they were going to sit wrong too and my vacation would have been ruined.

If you've never been to Hawaii before, the differences from traveling to any other state will be apparent even before you land. The first thing you'll notice is you're on a plane for 6 hours with nothing to look at but ocean. Hawaii is a LONG way away from the mainland and when the islands finally come into view they look really small. You can pretty much take in an island through one window. The second thing you'll notice is they feed you on the plane. In steerage. I remember the '80s when you always got a meal on a long plane flight. We used to make fun of the food quality. Now that sad box of teriyaki chicken and a cookie was as welcome as a fillet Mignon at Ruth's Chris Steak House. Being given food, any food, is one of the most basic acts of human generosity. You don't miss it until it's gone.

Then there are the airports. Like many large airports in America, Hawaii's airport architecture reflects the sensibilities of a pre-9/11 world and the stuffing of modern security protocols into these buildings can most kindly be described as a sadistic, dismal, failure. Hawaii's main hub Honolulu puts its own twist on this by connecting terminals with outside walkways.  In a in a pre-terrorist tropical location I suppose that made perfect sense but after a few decades of being funneled into increasingly claustrophobic corridors and lines physically separated from non-secured parts of airports by blast doors, full body scanners and armed guards; the act of actually opening a door and going outside after screening just feels wrong. If you spend most of your time flying in and out of Newark, the mind rebels. We ended up sort of walking back and forth in our terminal until a bus showed up. We got on that and took it all of 75 feet to the next terminal which was connected by a breezeway with a lovely garden we found on the return trip.

The Kona International Airport was even stranger. They basically laid down enough tarmac to land a 747 next to a couple of fish shacks. The terminal is so small it simply vanishes in the blur of scenery when you land. Once you climb down the stairs from your plane you wander into a series of huts connected by open air patios.
This is the whole airport. Modern air travel at its cutest
I kept looking around wondering if it got bigger in the back but no, this was pretty much it. It's kind of adorable. It did have a baggage carousel but that somehow just made it cuter since the plane's cargo door was like 20 feet away. TSA officials probably just cough, look away and hope nobody notices there's an international airport here where you could just walk around the terminal, on to the runway and up the stairs into a plane.

We got our rental car and headed off to Kona and our first stop to experience genuine Hawaiian culture.

We went to Costco.

Once you get past the vertigo of being in a big box warehouse store in the middle of the Pacific that's laid out exactly like the big box warehouse store you went to five days ago in Salem to pick up cat food and batteries, it was actually pretty interesting. They sell decent poke and a lot of other locally made products there. Truth is Costco is where Hawaiian's shop. There was a rooster in the parking lot, which was a Costco first for us. Maybe that's normal here though I don't recall seeing any other loose poultry in our travels.
Fresh Chicken!
Stocked with food and wine (yes, you can get a decent Provence rosé at the Kona Costco proving that despite the remote tropical location, we were still firmly planted in the First World) we headed off to our Airbnb apartment. The big resorts are north of the airport, isolated from the rest of the world by half a mile of lava desert. I know they're outstanding and I certainly wouldn't mind giving one a try sometime. I'm afraid we're a little down market for that world and we kind of like doing things ourselves, so our digs were in a working class apartment complex about a mile south of Kailua-Kona. It was clean, very well equipped, quiet at night, and no view unless you walked over to the pool which was beautiful. Perfect for us.

We spent a day resting, exploring Kona, scoping out the guide service that was going to take us on our first kayak/snorkeling trip, renting snorkeling gear for said trip, and terrorizing people at our pool by trying it out there.
This is why we don't get invited to pool parties.
Apparently,  that was against pool regulations so we had already established ourselves as "problem neighbors".

We had planned our week to include a day of snorkeling and kayaking, a day or two to go see the volcano, a trip up north to a botanical garden, a trip to Hilo, and a night snorkeling excursion to see manta rays. On paper it seemed quite reasonable. We more or less stuck to that schedule for the first half of the trip.

Going to see the volcano was as amazing as you might think. We actually have quite a few volcanoes in our neighborhood and a couple of them have erupted fairly recently. Our volcanoes put most of their energy into violent explosions, pyroclastic flows, and wanton destruction; with little effort spent on keeping busloads of tourists with short attention spans happy. People generally run screaming from them while they're erupting. Most of the time when you go to a volcano in Oregon or Washington, you're going to one that's pretty much finished doing what makes it a volcano. Certainly safer for the tour buses, but much of the cinematic drama has passed.  Kilauea is still very actively doing its thing but doing it in a way that you can see it without actually dying. The lava lake in the caldera is high enough now that you can see it splashing over the rim from the Jagger Museum overlook. There it is. Molten Lava. The real thing I had only seen in decades of B-science fiction movies and countless episodes of Nature. That alone was worth the trip.

Usually you only get to see this once and then you die.
If your National Park includes a publicly viewable lake of molten lava, Carolyn and I are your park visitors. Still, it was logistically tough to do, staying at the park until dark for the best views and then driving two hours to get back. And it was strange, as big geology fans as we are, we kind of wanted to get back to the ocean. We both decided to skip driving to the east side of the lava field to see where it went in to the ocean or hike out into the flow to see molten lava up close. We had thought that was going to be the peak of our trip but we just didn't want to. And I think in some ways that's when the trip began to really work it's magic.


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