See My Tanned Blisters!

My relationship to Hawai’i is clearly doomed to be one of unrequited affection. The island doesn’t hate me quite enough to squish me like a bug (though it had several chances) but the flowers made my nose run, the aa ate my feet and the beaches just laughed at me. I had a completely fabulous time.

Friday – airport, plane, airport, plane, airport. I should mention that this whole trip was organized and mostly paid for by geologists, as an educational gift to graduates-to-be in the earth and planetary sciences; the funding is not quite infinite, so we bought our own food. In Hawaii, everything is expensive but papayas, therefore my food group and I decided to eat papayas all week. This turned out to be an excellent decision.

Saturday – after breakfasting on papayas and oatmeal, we trouped around the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and hiked across the summit caldera of Kilauea. This is when I noticed that my boots weren’t quite right. After offering some trail mix to Pele at her home in Halemaumau (it’s bad luck to remove rocks from Hawaii without some kind of appropriate preventative ritual – or so said the flight attendant, and apparently our stalwart professor-leaders agreed), I hobbled back to camp with three nice blisters on my left foot.

Sunday – Rocks. Mauna Ulu. Foot. Blisters. Ow. At some point I realized that exposing the top of my foot to pointy rocks would be less painful than exposing the bottom of my foot to lousy boots, and so wore sandals to the afternoon’s gallivant through a forest of lava trees. Lava trees are entirely superior rock clambering places, since they have holes inside. Holes can hide prizes! Even if the prizes are only bits of moss and the reverse image of bark, it’s still five times as exciting as rocks with no holes and no prizes.

Monday – Footprints of people who trudged through ash in 1790. Intimately connected with Hawaiian history, the rise of Kamehameha, and so on, but not terribly photogenic without more time and/or luck than I had that day. Also completely overshadowed by the red hot flowing gooey lava. This was the evening when Hawaii could have killed me thrice over, not necessarily with the lava itself (where we were closest to it, it was moving at about the speed of a crippled banana slug – it’s viscous, viscous stuff, lava is) but with unstable rock formations that tend to collapse and kill people without warning. The park service would not have been happy with the places I chose to go, but I was making absolutely vital viscosity observations.

Tuesday – there are really no punchlines or strong central narratives or evidences of personal growth in any of this trip (unless you count the growth of blisters, or the bravery of the girl who sprained her ankle, which really needs some hefty cheese violins if I’m going to be telling the story), but I shall push on nonetheless. This was the point of the trip where I realized how it would feel to live on top of a volcano: nifty fascinating geological features found nowhere else on the world became humdrum and old. Cold lava just cannot compete with hot lava. So we hiked another crater and saw another aa flow.

Wednesday – transport day. Goodbye volcanoes, hello beaches! Fresh lava is too porous for anything resembling drainage channels, so it was quite a relief to see waterfalls at last. I’ve always been good friends with streams – there was one I used to talk to on my way home from grade school – and I miss them when they’re not around. It’s one of the shittier things about L.A. But I digress. The fascinating part about Wednesday was the combination of boiled, pulpy taro leaves and chicken chunks called a “luau bowl” that I tried to eat for lunch.

Taro is a great tasting food, but almost every time I’ve tried to eat it, it’s suffered from severe texture problems. This is most obvious in poi, which feels like Elmer’s glue gruel; this time, it was taro leaves that had all the appetizing consistency of half-digested cud. I know part of the problem is that taro must be cooked to within an inch of its life before serving, or it poisons you in nasty ways. But I’ve been starting to wonder about the condition of native Hawaiian teeth – there were plenty of people around missing great chunks of smile. Today of course we can blame the shitty U.S. health care system, combined with all the shitty things the U.S. did to Hawaii a hundred years ago, and their shitty socioeconomic implications. But it’s still an island with lots of sugar cane, so I really wonder about the teeth that traditionally ate the traditional cuisine.

Thursday – went up a great big mountain to see telescopes. I’d never been past about 8,000 ft before, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I kept my lunch down the whole day. Unfortunately, I had misplaced my digital camera in my dirty underwear the night before (don’t ask, I don’t understand it either, it had something to do with trying to learn to play bridge) and I only have pictures on film; this was easily the most spectacular day of the trip, with the light and the clouds and the different browns of the mountain and the 1.8 meter mirrors and all. But I did borrow a snap from a friend to make one for the mirror project.

Friday – a short trudge in the rain to crack open some swell, if crumbly, mantle rocks dragged up with an old lava flow (I *heart* olivine!) and then an afternoon at the beach. The water was incredibly warm, especially compared to the only other time I’ve been inside the ocean, but there were 6 foot waves hitting the beach. I had no idea 6 feet is considered respectable – I’m from Iowa, what the hell would I know about swimming with waves? – and other people were out in it, so I cheerfully swam in and had the snot blown out of my nose. Good fun! And not even a sunburn to show for it.

Saturday – airport, plane, airport, plane, the end.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *