The moment I walked out onto the tarmac and felt the trade winds blowing through my hair, I began to relax in a way that I can never do at home. do at home. Suddenly all of my cares and responsibilities fell away. I was on the Big Island. I was free!
Following are some of my impressions of our visit.
A Woman in Hilo
A woman who clearly should have been retired by now,
Her hair blonde and curly, her lips bright red,
Moves toward us in her blue and white lava lava skirt,
A warm smile on her face as she prepares to clean our room.
A Man in Kona
A man who is obviously retired
Stands up at a bar in Kona in his wife-beater t-shirt,
One tattoo of the Big Island on his ankle and another of a hatchet on his forearm,
Talking louder now as he orders another beer,
Then gesticulating wildly as he regales his bar mates
With tales of his glory days at Engine Company #12.
We were in an outrigger canoe, paddling out of the Kona harbor. Eric was our guide as we cut through the warm, azure waters.
“Thrust your paddle down into the water,” he said, “then bring it up with a twist.” He demonstrated – “Like this.” We kept thrusting our paddles into the water as he told us about the old Hawaiian monarchs. “Right over there is the platform where King Kamehameha died,” he said, “and next to it is a replica of an ancient temple or hieau.”
Eric knew his history and was a good storyteller, but when he paused for awhile, I threw him a non sequitur I’d been wondering about. “Do you eat breadfruit, Eric?” I asked.
“Breadfruit’s bland, kind of like a potato,” he said. “My favorite way to prepare it is to cook it in the oven till it’s tender, then scoop it out, mix it with olive oil and onions, form it into patties and fry those puppies up. Delish!”
When our sail was over, Eric and my husband, David, began talking about soccer. They’re both huge fans, and, as it turns out, Eric coaches soccer.
Here was an intelligent, funny, 30-something young man who seemed completely content with his life as a beach boy – leading boat trips and giving surfing lessons. He didn’t seem to yearn to move on to something else. There was a relaxed peacefulness about him, as if he was where he was supposed to be.
“Is this some kind of a joke?” we chorused.
“No joke,” he assured us. “There’s been a 7.7 earthquake in British Columbia, and we’re preparing for a tsunami from it that could reach us within an hour or two.”
So we gathered up our most important possessions, put them in the car, and headed up the hill, along with everyone else in Kona. A lot of people drove into the Keahou Shopping Center, but we drove further, to a scenic lookout, and got the very last space in the lot.
It felt, at first, like a party – everyone got out of their cars, chatting, as we gazed out over the lights of Kona. But after a couple of hours, we got back in their cars, not having any idea how long we’d be here.
As the night wore on, my husband and I tilted our seats back as far as they would go, covered ourselves with our fleeces, and tried to go to sleep, which we did in fact do, fitfully, on and off, for a couple of hours. We both finally woke up permanently around one a.m., got out of the car and stretched, still wondering if the tsunami had reached the island. We turned the radio on from time to time to find out and finally, around two a.m., heard that the tsunami watch had been lifted, and we could all go home – no tsunami had materialized.
In a weird way, even though we knew how devastating a tsunami could be, the news that it had not materialized was kind of a letdown. We knew we had escaped something terrible, still, my back was aching and I was exhausted for nothing.
We learned later from Big Island residents that the tsunami caused by the Japanese earthquake two years earlier had wiped out homes and restaurants all along the shoreline in Kona. Hawaii is a place of extreme beauty and extreme weather. We learned not to be fooled by its aura of peacefulness.