I’m wrapped in a blanket of humidity when I exit the plane. The airport is quaint but tropical. Greeted by a familiar smiling face with a proper Hawaiian lei, I embrace my dear friend now living and working in the Puna district of the Big Island. I load my pack in the trunk and hop in the front seat and we head out. Green trees blow by like a blur as we head East towards Pahoa in the glorious island(s) state of Hawaii.
I’m mesmerized by the property growing in size as we approach it from the main road. Made of wood, fortified by post and pier style construction, the cabin is securely tucked into the jungle surroundings of towering vines, tall palms, owapui (shampoo ginger), papaya, and banana trees. Six roommates sharing three rooms on rotating work schedules; eight days on, six days off. Three inhabitants are all that are in the house at one time. A-frame, vaulted ceilings, a luscious backyard complete with wild chickens, geckos aplenty, an herb garden and even a mattress just for the balcony in case anyone would care to read or nap in the jungle air. The house cat, Tibby, greets us in the entryway before proudly prancing into the next room that is littered with grey and white feathers; today’s victim.
We welcome the morning with a leisurely stroll to the rocky coast. The Pacific blue water thrust repeatedly against the uneven, black volcanic rock as the tide rises and falls. We sit, watching in quiet admiration the power of Mother Nature; toggling conversation back and forth pausing to root for the next swell on approach to outbreak the former. Keeping an eye on the sky-heavy rains come in waves and are gone just as soon as they arrive-I relish the moisture on my caramel skin; the salty sea air the remedy for my soul, filling my lungs with kindness and grace.
Nemophilists: Those who are fond of forests or forest scenery; a haunter of the woods.
Days begin with tropical fruit smoothies made from a combination of harvested and purchased fruits; papaya, apple, bananas and my favorite, lilikoi (passion fruit). The house rings loudly of island music and laughs as we prepare for another day of exploration. This island reminds me more of South East Asia than the States, the tropical weather and jungle surroundings making it too easy to pretend that to be the truth. Greeting the morning sun with a song in my heart we take our time enjoying the early start before heading towards Hilo to see some sites! First stop, Suisan, where freshly caught fish is served poke style, which is a raw fish salad often served as an appetizer. A true delight for the taste buds, the mixed-fish poke rice bowl is a prize decision. Fresh, cubes of salmon, tuna, and mahi-mahi topped with dried seaweed and sesame seeds served over rice.
A leisurely stroll through the Japanese Garden adjacent the restaurant gives us an opportunity to walk off the full and take in the beautiful bay. A Banyan tree growing in the garden grabs my curiosity so we decide to venture towards Rainbow Falls where an entire forest of Banyan trees, all stemming from one ancient, deep-rooted “mother” tree, line the trails to the swimming holes just before the falls themselves. The roots of the Banyan grow deep and wide then burst back out again into the light; a natural cloning process of survival. The shadows of light fall through the cracks of the canopy creating a playground of light and dark.
I scratch the various swollen masses covering my legs, the mosquitos having smelled the fresh meat wasted no time attaching themselves to pieces of my bare, unprotected skin the previous evening. But the smell of the fresh dew evaporating in the Hawaiian heat distracts my aim as we drive down the ‘red road’ on this humid Pahoa morning. The unpaved dirt pathway is littered with potholes yet undeterred we three goddesses-so named-are out for adventurous blood. We listen to great music, chat about bromeliads, the Hawaiian legends of the Ohia (oh-he-ah) tree, the wrath of Pele-Goddess and creator of this island-and the finite awesome that is the meaning of Kapu-Hawaiian for “keep out!” Windows down we sway and bump along as the shocks absorb the uneven terrain, the three of us gals rotating the narration of the dense jungle forest on route to the local gem known as the Mermaid ponds. Locals throw up the shaka (🤙🏾) as we pass along the narrow road and I bask in the beauty of this island, the kindness of the people, and the serenity found being surrounded by its nature.
We park the car just off the road and start the thirty-minute hike through the jungle to the rocky ocean edge. The pathway is half hidden and although clear of trees, dead leaves-home to nats, worms and various insects- line the pebble filled ground at our feet. The trees arch and twist themselves around their neighbors making the walk one of enchantment for my over active imagination. Leaves the size of my head are shaped like hands with fingers spread long and wide, as if clawing at the sky as they plummet to the ground below. The sound of the crashing ocean in the distance, stirs the excitement in my belly and I quicken my pace.
The path opens just ahead and black volcanic rock drape the immediate view with an angry facade. The crushing waves crash against the first of three natural ponds sending rushing water across the surface and into the surrounding lava rock with dominating force. The water collides with the black sponge textured surface and splashes almost five feet in the air before gravity brings the ocean water crashing back down again. We continue on foot over the dark surface timing our movement with the swells. The ocean, beautiful as she is dangerous douses us with salty mist as we maneuver our way among the nooks and deep crevasses to the third of the natural ponds where the water, still violent, is calmer than the former.
Pele, creator of the island, full of surprises, changes from dense jungle to rocky valleys; the aftermath of Kilauea’s eruption in the 1980s. Entire towns leveled by smoldering hot lava slowly try to rebuild these thirty years later. Despite the destruction, patches of green contrast against the swirling, black coffee colored surface. It’s a sight that sparks hope within me; new life sprung from death. The consistent ambivalence I battle within attempts to knot in my stomach at the thought, but I’m stronger than I have been in months and I push it from my mind to be present in this space.
The sun barring straight down on the dried lava rock makes the surface glow a magnificent, grayish-silver hue. The two plus mile walk to the Kamokuna (or “delta”) where hot lava meets the Pacific Ocean is for lack of a better word, mesmerizing. The heat of the steam just out of reach, is a natural symphony of hissing and popping percussion. “Do you see this Ma? Can you believe this?” Without speaking a word out loud I contemplate how frequently I’ve begun to ask my subconscious these types of questions. I don’t doubt that she can hear me…As I stare out with my own two eyes at this majesty holding one of my fondest memories of her in the forefront of my mind I inhale love and acceptance and exhale doubt praying she can see what I see through me.
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