The Big Island of Hawaii.
April - 2018
When you tell people in the mainland that you are from Hawaii, usually the next sentence to follow is "Oh wow! Are you from Honolulu? I love wikiwiki." (que eye roll) The truth is, each island holds its own radical history, its own identity and people unique to them. Many locals, including myself, have never even been to all the isles, some of them are decimated from military testing, another was even bought privately.
Kauai, recognized for her jagged valleys, fine sand bars and small community, Maui, is the hub for surfers and growers of all kinds, I'd comfortably call it the hipster island, where you have a nice mix of locals and night life. Oahu gets all the glory, advertised heavily in magazines, Pipe line, Waikiki beach, and the majestic hikes looking over the city. The Big Island, mostly known for our famous Kona Coffee, fishing and snorkeling, is the island for adventure where you may find lush rain forests and hot desserts all within a 2 hour drive. This is the island I have called my home for 20 years, the island that (Literally) calls me back at least once a year, my corner of paradise.
If you aren't too familiar with Hawaiian culture, you should know we are very superstitious. Now, just to make myself clear here, I am no way identifying myself as a Hawaiian --- I am a white girl, with white blood, who so happened to be born and raised alongside my native local community. I was taught the same lessons of language and history as every one else, yet always knew my place was not entirely equal as my classmates. I am not saying this with a bad taste in my mouth, and have always understood why I could not go to certain beaches, cultural locations or even certain schools. Preservation of the Hawaiian culture is fragile, and was almost lost entirely upon colonization, which was historically, pretty recent. Growing up as a keiki, we were told ghost stories of night marchers, sacred Hawaiian ruins (do not ever touch) and tales of King Kamehameha himself, born on our island, who unified all 8 islands under the Hawaiian Kingdoms rule. My favorite stories to hear, were of the goddess Pele. The entity that was lust, love, jealousy, fire and lava. There are cautionary tales of tourists bringing home Pele's belongings, things like sea-shells, coconuts and lava rocks being cursed with bad luck. My mother lived and worked at a popular Bed and Breakfast in Kona, and so often, we would receive packages of these items with notes asking us to bring them back to where they were found. I swear, when Pele found out Cash was taking me to Washington, she made it as difficult to leave as she could. 2 months before we left, Cash lost his wallet on his birthday, I lost one of my jobs, my car got ripped off, etc. So every time I am heading into a big adventure, I am sure to bring a bottle of Gin to offer Pele (its her favorite) and ask for her protection and permission.
The plan as it was
It was the middle of spring when Cash and I arrived back home for our annual visit to the Big Island. It had been a few years since our last trip, so naturally I had a full itinerary lined up to make the absolute most of our stay. I wanted to take Cash to some of the places he didn't get to see before we moved, and reconnect with the land myself. One of the biggest bucket list items was to camp out at my favorite place in the world - Mana Rd.
The thing about this location over all the other beautiful spots in Hawaii, is the unique energy you feel when your feet hits the grass. Its tangible. Electrifying. The nature is untouched, aside from roaming horses and cows that happily graze the pastures in total freedom, and the drudges carved in the landscape from past visitors on their ATV's or Dirt Bikes. I have fond memories being barefoot here, with old friends laughing, smoking weed and connecting with the mana. It is a spiritual place, one that I feel is the closest to being in the garden of Eden as one mortal can be. My husband is a spiritual man, and I knew this would be an amazing experience for him. So when the day finally came about, I was 110% all in, even though the forecast called for thunderstorms all over Waimea and Mauna Kea, whats a little rain and thunder to a PNW couple?
WELL here we are. We have a lifted truck loaded up with all the essentials (or so we thought) and the clouds are starting to roll in. I am anticipating a rough climb up the un-kept roads, excited to do some off-roading with fellow locals and re-live my childhood memories all over again. There are two vehicles to our party, ours holding Cash, myself, as well as Leah and her teenage daughter, Lola. Ahead of us was Leah's boyfriend, Jake carrying dirt bikes, camping essentials and his two children as well. It isn't long into the trek that we passed by two local boys, who appeared to have been hunting and were most likely playing in the mud puddles before they got themselves stuck in it. We tried to help and pull their rig out of the mud (I felt bad for their doggos in the back) but ultimately, the chord snapped and there was nothing more we would do anyway. So we kept onward.
As we climbed higher in elevation, the clouds grew more grey, more dense, and before too long, we could only see straight ahead of the truck, and the few cattle that made sure to call out to us. The pitter-patter of the incoming showers began to drum atop the roof, the dirt road getting steeper, muddier, and eventually came to crossing full streams of flood waters. One side of me is nervous, because I know this road and this area of the island is difficult to get to, should something happen, yet the other half of me is electrified. This is what makes a story, what living feels like, the love for adventure setting the stage in front of me.
Finally, we earned our way to the cabin where we would be camping for three days. Our friends took care of making the arrangements, the cabins are nothing fancy. Basically just a covered structure on some old-growth orchards with a less than ideal out-house around the back. Rusted bars cover the windows to deter wanderers from taking refuge, there are some wooden bed-frames, and a fireplace in the middle of the room. No electricity. No cell service. The property is appropriately fenced in, requiring both a key for the gate and a key for the doors of the cabin.
This is when we realize we forgot a crucial detail-- the KEYS!
Turns out, there is only once place on the island to pick them up, and the hours are quite specific. The weather was getting worse, and there was no way we could afford to drive back for 2 hours and make it to Hilo in time. We were stuck. At this exact moment, the previous renters happened to be loading up to leave the cabins and turn in their copy of the key. The family is made up of Hawaiian locals, so we knew immediately that this conversation can go one of two ways, and considering we were strangers, it probably would not work out in our favor. Here goes nothing, Jake confidently flags down the group and explains the situation using all the pigeon slag he could muster up. We offered to pay them $100 to take their key (there is a small fine for late returns) and return it in the morning when we could safely make it back down the roads. Unfortunately, they were not willing to help us out, and preferred to leave us there over-night to figure it out ourselves. As they closed and locked the gates in front of us, Jakes' 7 yo daughter struggles to drag their wet bags in the now pouring rain, over to the fence line for us to hike over.
Not to be defeated by a mere industrial metal key, we decided there just HAD to be another way into this damn cabin. The kids checked the windows, the adjacent cabin, and ran a full perimeter check, before finding a side door with a small hole in it. Peering through the hole, we realized we could unscrew the bolts on it, open the front door from the inside and then fix it before we leave, and so it was. Awaiting us on the other side of that door was a wide open room, with rusted bars mounted over the windows, cobwebs that would indicate no one has been here in ages, and some broken metal cots, one complete with a very questionable mattress. But, we didnt even care, and began working on the fire, setting up on the wooden benches, and let the drinking commence!
CABIN in the woods...
We all woke up safe, sound and warm in the cabin. The fire was crackling, breakfast was getting made for the kids, outside the fog was still clinging low to the rolling hills, dusting the blades of grass with their dew. Cash and I decide to roll up our dirt-stained pants and walk around the grounds barefoot in the fresh, cold mud. With my camera in hand, we set out through the tall, mushy tundra (the Hawaiian version) toward a neighborhood of Koa trees. The branches had white moss crawling up the branches and blowing in the wind, vibrant algae decorating the trunks, tiny colonies of fungi flourish in this frequently damp environment. This is probably why it was a popular destination for mushroom hunting, the conditions are perfect if you are looking in the right places. Out of no-where we found a deep trench hidden under the brush, with ferns extending their reach, roots dangling down the walls, flowers and lush botany covering the floor as small birds search for the perfect nesting materials. It was a literal paradise, in the likes of your favorite Jurassic park movie.
When we made our way back to the cabin, our friends were getting ready to head to town to pick up the keys to the cabin, and get some warm food/wifi on the way with the kiddos. This sounded perfect to us, our pruned toes crying for the touch of the warm Hawaiian sun, our drenched clothes clinging to our legs. As much as there was beauty through the weather, Cash and I were wet, and cold, on vacation from a very typically wet and cold place. We were ready to cut the camping short, and find our way back to Kona. There were only a few days left of our vacation, and we wouldn't HATE it if we had to spend it in the warm, sunny clutches of Kailua-Kona. However there was a problem with our plan, Forest rangers, and the fireplace. Since most of the firewood around us was not usable, we had to have someone stay back and tend to the coals. If a ranger were to come by and see smoke without anyone tending, we would be on the receiving end of a pretty hefty fine. So there it was, Cash and I were officially deemed the fire-folk by default (the reservations are not in our name.) We were assured it would not take terribly long for them to retrieve the key and get more supplies, a few hours MAX. So we watched them pile the kids in the truck, and begin their journey back into civilization, as the rain clouds roll in from the volcano.
Fast forward an afternoon filled with thrilling card games, fire tending, aimless hiking, and lots of smoking, and we finally see our friends returning. It had been a majority of the day, and we had hopes that we might be able to pay one of them to take us down the hill so we could call someone to pick us up. The rain was not letting up, and we knew there would be more people joining our group anyway. However the drive is daunting, and the sun was going down in a few hours, so we were told it would be worth it all later. As if she came qued by Pele herself, at this moment, our friend Ashley rounds the corner in her welcomed Toyota truck, blaring island music and letting out her very best "Cheeeeee-Hoooooo!" her hands in a shaka hanging out her window.
That evening we enjoyed talking story, catching up, and taking some mushrooms. The sky opened up to give us a world-class star show, the moon illuminating the algae on the trees for a truly magical view. Our toes deep in the mud, eyes to the sky as if we stepped back to the times of the Hawaiian kingdom, when the stars were used for mapping out voyages. We ended the night watching Rick and Morty projected on the wall of the cabin, paired with a hilarious game of charades. The rest of our trip atop the mountain was filled with laughter, as we explored the orchards, witnessed endangered I'Iwe birds in their natural habitat (eating passion-fruit nectar) and learned about the man that planted the trees and built the first all-koa wood cabin- that is still standing all these years later. Hauntingly telling its story with cobweb streamers, rusted chains protecting the doors, it remains un-touched as if the man simply left and never returned.
Every trip to Mana-Road is memorable, but I have to say this trip will always be one of the most exciting stories I tell.