The following is a log of our trip to Hawaii over the last few days. The trip was a fantastic gift to Tristan from the Make A Wish Foundation, and it satisfied two of his three requests to (1) see a volcano, (2) swim with dolphins, and (3) collect octopus arms on the beach.
Friday, May 19th
Oh my goodness. We’re here. The kids were FABULOUS on the trip…but flying from Humboldt to Hawaii is no easier than flying from D.C. to Hawaii. (I sat next to a man who was coming from D.C. We had both left home at the same time that morning.) The trip was LONG, and all five of us were VERY, VERY tired when we got here.
Make A Wish has spared no expense. We were picked up at home in Kneeland yesterday morning at 4am by a stretch limo. How fun! I had the kids sleep in their clothes, expecting to pluck them out of bed and dump them into the car. Instead they were up and cheerful and excited to ride in the fancy limo.
We flew to SF, where we had three hours to kill. Tomas sunk his brain into the iPad, Phoebe and I went to a spa to have our nails painted while we sat in massage chairs, clicking on the different buttons to knead our backs into bread dough, and Gary stoically managed crazy Tristan.
The next flight was long for the kids, but we got through it without any major spills, accidents, or trauma. We were all exhausted.
We were greeted at the airport by a woman who put leis on us, and then we picked up our rental car, which is a gigantic white Tahoe SUV, almost big enough that our kids can’t fight in it, but not quite. (Again, why has nobody patented Plexiglass dividers for the back seat?) The car rental took about five minutes, which was amazing. (I have painful memories of long waits for almost every car rental in which I’ve been involved.)
The Kona airport is on a gigantic lava field — all you can see is lava rock. It was pretty weird and amazing, sort of a Mars-scape.
We drove to the hotel, only a few miles away but the traffic is very thick and slow. As far as I can tell, there is only one big ring highway that circles the coast of the whole island. It took about half an hour to get to the Aston. Everyone was in a good mood on the drive.
After a check-in that took a bit too long, we unloaded into our AMAZING two room/two bathroom/kitchen/ocean view balcony hotel suite. The kids were in heaven. Then we set out to eat (after learning that the hotel doesn’t have a restaurant — a minor disappointment). We found a great place, on a terrace facing the ocean, and Gary drank a gin and tonic while I tossed down a very good margarita. The food was terrific, and even Phoebe tucked into a GIGANTIC peanut better and jelly sandwich on homemade bread. There was some kind of finch or cardinal, black and white with a red head, eating our crumbs off of the floor. The Yellow-Beaked Cardinal, it turns out, introduced.
After lunch, Tristan and Phoebe and I swam in the hotel pool while Gary and Tomas volunteered to get some basic supplies at the store. Phoebe threw herself into the pool and began taking strokes (without bothering to try breathing) straight for the deep end. Before I could put down the towels and get my sandals off, Tristan followed her, jumping into the pool and TAKING STROKES for the deep end. I almost had a heart attack. Phoebe ended up where she could still stand. Tristan touched down where he could just stick his lips out out of the water to suck in a little air. Of course, all of this happened in less than two seconds and I was there to haul Tristan in. He was only a TEENY TINY bit freaked out that he almost drowned himself, and actually the whole thing was sort of funny. His split second imitation of Phoebe was incredible. Thereafter followed a short conversation about water safely. Phoebe then played in the pool for a long time, and I encouraged her to practice taking some breaths. Tristan did cannonballs into the hot tub (which was otherwise unoccupied). The pool area was in shade and it was breezy, so I was cold and mostly sat in the cannonball zone to keep warm.
We went back to the room, showered, and put pajamas on. It was about 5:30. Gary and Tomas came back. Gary and I had some wine, the kids watched TV, and we were all zombies. To bed before 8pm. It’s now 6:30 on our first morning. Phoebe is still asleep, the boys are watching TV, and I’m about to pour coffee for Gary and me. I’m hoping we will drive this morning to a gentle, sandy beach. (The beach in front of the hotel is volcanic rock and pretty rough. Very beautiful, but nobody’s swimming there.)
Saturday, May 20th
Yesterday was fabulous. Really. We were all up early, three hours ahead because of the time change. The kids partook in much-coveted morning TV time, never ever a part of life at home, and I got our piles of things together for the day: towels, snorkel gear, sunscreen, swimsuits, changes of clothing, sandals, and reef shoes. Best thing we brought, this last item. Our Kneeland friends Steve and Melinda, who spent time on the Big Island when their kids were small, told us to make sure to the have them. The Kona side of the island is volcanic rock, and the reef shoes meant that we could walk in and out of the ocean without slipping around, and they protected our feet from sharp rocks.
We set out to get breakfast on our way to a beach that the woman at the hotel desk had recommended for children. We suffered about half an hour of frustration in the car while we failed to find the place she suggested for breakfast, kids fighting and crabby in the car. In the end we backtracked to a place Tomas and Gary had noticed the afternoon we arrived, and it was FANTASTIC. Set out over the lava rocks on the shoreline, Tristan could watch crabs down below and I looked up all the colorful birds on the shore on my phone. (Mostly introduced. Saffron Finch, Yellow-Beaked Cardinal, Common Myna…) Gary took crazy Tristan down to the rocky shore, where he successfully found dead crab parts, while I sipped his guava mimosa and my passion fruit mimosa and my Kona coffee at the table, allegedly waiting for our order. The food was terrific — Tristan was happy with his toasted bagel and bacon, Phoebe liked her pancake with whipped cream, all three kids were happy with their hot chocolates, and Tomas, Gary and I had wonderful big plates of pork and eggs and sausage and potatoes.
In good moods after breakfast, we headed for Kahalu’u Beach Park, not far away. It was hot and crowded, and it took us a few minutes to figure things out because the hotel woman had told us not to leave anything in the car and have one of us always watching our stuff on the beach. It quickly became obvious that this would be F’ING IMPOSSIBLE. We have three kids, two of whom can’t swim, and we had a ton of shit, and it was hot as blazes. So Gary “hid” our wallets in the car (who would ever guess that they might be in that ultra secret spot UNDER THE SEAT?!), I moved our shit to about four inches from the edge of the water, and we decided not to worry about it. And then we had a few WONDERFUL hours on the beach. It was black sand, with shallow tide pools created by lava rocks up close to the shore, and clear deeper water out farther. Tomas swam with snorkel and mask, with and without the boogie board. Phoebe first swam just with her mask, then figured out the snorkel as well. She was delighted! (Now there was no need at all to learn to take breaths!) Tristan, too, used his mask. There were colorful fish even in the shallow tide pools, so all three kids got to see them and LOVED it. Gary, Tomas, and I each got turns out deeper. I was hoping to see a family of sea turtles that a guy on the beach had just spotted, but I didn’t run into them.
The snorkeling definitely wasn’t Sulawesi. Much lower diversity, much less colorful. The water is cool. Not cold, but not warm like Sulawesi. Gary thinks it’s just not quite tropical enough to be so rich and colorful. But no complaints. It was perfect beach time with the kids and so much fun to watch them in the water.
We did a pretty good job with the sunscreen. Tristan’s cheeks turned pink, but he didn’t burn. Tomas is as perfect and gorgeous as ever, a bit darker. Phoebe, wonderful Sicilian-skinned Phoebe, despite gallons of sunscreen, turned a beautiful golden brown. Man, she is one lucky kid. I would have killed for skin like that. Mommy missed a few spots on her own back, but she’s more or less ok for it. Daddy’s face got tan.
We stopped at a market on the way home to look at tourist junk (now we all have necklaces) and to eat the famous Hawaiian shaved ice. Delicious. Phoebe chose the most toxic (and yummiest) fake flavor — blue raspberry. Her tongue and lips were blue for the next few hours.
We got back to the hotel and put down our beach gear. Gary headed out to buy lunch back at the market across the way (tacos for Tomas, Gary, and me, rice for Phoebe, and a cheeseburger for Tristan — he eats those now!) while I took the kids down to the pool. We played for at least an hour in the pool. Phoebe is looking really good — she’s almost there with the swimming. Tristan is utterly fearless. He did cannonballs into the deep end, holding his breath to sink down and then bob back up while I stood by to retrieve him on the up-bob. He’s not at all bothered by the fact that he CAN’T FUCKING SWIM.
We all regrouped upstairs to shower and eat the food Gary brought back. There was no white rice, and Phoebe WILLINGLY ate Spanish rice. Hallelujah!
We ate dinner out at the place where we had lunch on the first day. Tristan and Phoebe each demolished their personal pepperoni pizzas, and Tomas tucked into a man-sized plate of ribeye steak (the most expensive item on the menu. Thank you, Make A Wish). Gary and I had fabulous salads.
Back to the hotel, pajamas, Netflix for Phoebe and Tristan, and the rest of us watched a GREAT Marvel movie Tomas picked out from the rental machine in the lobby.
It’s morning now. Tristan is still asleep — he’s got a cold. Tomas is happily ensconced in TV. Phoebe is rooting around in the fridge. Gary is lying in bed gearing himself up for the day.
For today, Make A Wish has arranged a private, full-day volcano tour. It involves not only volcanoes, but also a tour to a coffee farm, green sea turtles, lava tubes, a national park, driving up to 4000 feet, watching the lava glow after sunset, and meals at good local places. I was relieved when I talked to the tour folks on the phone yesterday. After reading in our itinerary that it was a full day thing, I imagined a bus full of tourists trying to block out the moans and complaints of my whining, tired kids. But then the woman on the phone said, “Oh, you’re my Make A Wish family!” She explained that this was a private tour for us, and that we can head home at any point or change plans at any point. Stress therein alleviated.
Sunday, May 21st
Yesterday was a BIG day. It took energy and commitment, and it was great.
We were picked up at 10am in a nice, big van that can seat 14 (plenty of room for Tristan and Phoebe to decide four times to move their booster seats around) by a tour guide named Dominik. Dominik is about 38. Bavarian, he moved to Hawaii to go to high school because he wanted to surf. He went back to Germany for college, then straight back to Hawaii. I’m telling you all about Dominik because, well, he was TERRIFIC, and he really made the day. More about him as we go along.
Nominally, Dominik was to take us on a volcano tour, but really the day was an incredible, interesting, all-encompassing lesson on Hawaiian culture, history, geology, and ecology. Dominik was knowledgeable, articulate, and passionate, and Gary and I asked him what probably amounted to hundreds of questions. I learned all of NOTHING about Hawaii in school, and I have read ZERO about Hawaii in books, so I was craving exactly this kind of thing.
We left the hotel and then spent a few minutes driving around Kailua-Kona, where we saw the site of King Kamahameha I’s home. He’s the guy who first conquered all of the other islands and established the kingdom of Hawaii. We also saw the first Christian church, built from lava rock. Hawaiians embraced Christianity when it arrived because the royalty had recently abolished the traditional system that detailed the rules about both religion and law. (The queen at the time did away with it because it said women and men could not eat together, and she wanted to sit down at a table for an F’ING MEAL with her son. Goddamit.) The royalty neglected to put a new system in place, anarchy ruled, and everyone was relieved when the missionaries arrived with a solution. Go figure.
Then Dominik drove us southward along the western coast of the island. Our first stop was at the Greenwell Coffee Farm, which grows and roasts its own 100% Kona coffee. It sells for nothing less than 20 dollars a pound, some of it for $100/lb. We tasted coffee while Phoebe and Tristan “tasted” the farm’s honey (quotes because I think Phoebe probably ate a pound of it). The kids loved the tree inhabited by a harem of three-horned Jackson’s chameleons (introduced, of course, from East Africa). Tristan, in particular, was very excited by them. He used my phone to photograph them.
We continued south along the coast, stopping to look over lava flows while Dominik explained the different kinds of lava, some smooth, some rough (influenced by rate of cooling), some brown, some black (determined by how rusted the iron in it is). The rough kind is called a’a, and vulcanologists around the world know what a’a is. It’s A THING. Dominik also began to explain the succession of vegetation onto the lava flows, which was absolutely fascinating and became a theme that unraveled and built and spiraled throughout the day.
We also stopped to look over Captain Cook Bay, where Dominik told us about that unlucky fellow. First lucky, then not so lucky. The British explorer chanced into arriving on Hawaii exactly during the part of the year when the Hawaiians were worshiping and hoping for the arrival of a white-faced god. What with the white face, and the metals the locals had never ever seen before, and the canons, it was all smooth sailing for Captain Cook. At first. When old Cookie was ready to leave, he sailed off, right into a storm that broke his main mast. The ship returned to Hawaii to fix the mast, but it was bad timing for that sorry lot. The season had changed, and everyone was focused on a different god, and what with the floppy mast and all…not exactly a totem of masculine power, was it? The aloha was lukewarm, and the Hawaiians decided to swipe one of Cook’s dinghies, which had cool metal nails in it that would probably be good for making other things. Cook was pissed, and tried to kidnap one of the local chiefs to hold him for ransom in return for the boat. The plan failed. There was a fight, a bunch of people died, and the locals cooked Cook. They fed his entrails to their kids and distributed his powerful, clean bones (at this point they were sure he wasn’t their god, but, indeed, he was still powerful) to villages all around.
We stopped at an overlook from which we could see the steam at the southernmost tip of the island, where lava is flowing into the sea. We continued on to Ka Lee, the south point, and ate lunch in the southernmost bakery in the United States. The bakery happens to have a tiny botanical garden behind it, which Dominik showed us. Gary loved it, of course, and the kids ran around marveling at the mongooses (introduced from India) slinking around the plants and the orange-spotted (Malagasi) geckos on the walls of the buildings.
We rounded the south point of the island and headed north east. We stopped at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, where we were overjoyed to see a sleepy green sea turtle lying in the dark sand, in absolutely no hurry to go anywhere. The sand was amazing — big, smooth, jet black grains. We played for a while on the sand, then headed back to the van. The turtle was Tristan’s favorite part of the day, he says.
Around 3pm we entered Volcanoes National Park, where Dominik told us more about the lava flows and how vegetation grows back on them. (I’m getting to that!) We stood next to steaming vents — Tristan loved that, and I told him the hot, wet air was good for his lungs — and Dominik showed us Peleh’s hair. Peleh is the fire goddess, and the volcano spits out long glass fibers that look like hair — Peleh’s hair. You can find the fibers on the ground. The kids loved that. We drove to the summit of the volcano and looked from the edge of the biggest crater (a couple of miles wide — technically a caldera) over three nested craters, the smallest a few hundred feet across. It was spewing hot fumes. We walked through a lava tube that was a few hundred feet long. Lava tubes form as the surface lava cools. The inner lava remains hot, and sometimes doesn’t cool until it has flowed out of a hardened shell that then becomes a hollow tube. Apparently the island is full of these, and in ancient times Hawaiians used them for hiding, and to collect water, and to bury commoners’ bones. (The bones of royalty were put into the crevices of cliffs by volunteers lowered down on a rope. To preserve the secrecy of the burial site, the highly-committed volunteer then sliced through the rope to fall to his death. Seems like a good system! Fail-proof!) The lava tube was Phoebe’s favorite part of the day.
After the lava tube was a short walk in the rain forest. Beautiful, with the biggest ferns I’ve ever seen. They grow only a foot every ten years; these giants were 200 years old.
We ate dinner in the canteen of an Army base located in the park. The clientele was, you guessed it, Army families and tourists. Can’t imagine that the chaos caused by the tourists (I’m thinking of what the table looked like after Tristan ate) is easy for the Army families. Fortunately is was Mongolian BBQ night, so we didn’t have to eat shit on a shingle. Tomas LOVED assembling a giant plate of meat, Phoebe ate a big bowl of rice (thatta girl), and Tristan ate chicken and noodles. Gary and I had a beer from the canteen with our bowls of food. Dominik worked hard to refrain from commenting on Tristan’s appalling behavior and eating habits. The kids loved the self serve ice cream.
After dinner it was dusk, perfect timing to go back to the crater. It was so BEAUTIFUL! In the dark, it glowed the color of an orange creamsicle, lighting the sides of the crater and the fumes rising from it. Tomas’ favorite part of the day. It was cold now, 49 degrees at 4000 feet.
We piled into the car for the long drive home (2.5 hours). Revealing a brilliant strategy to make that drive bearable, Dominik handed an iPad to each kid. We spent most of the drive home talking about a non-profit that Dominik has been working with to restore a small area of dry forest on the eastern side of the island. Feral goats and donkeys (introduced, of course) make regeneration impossible, and the project spent 80,000 building a fence around its property of a few hundred acres. The task required a helicopter to bring the fence pieces in.
Tomas and Tristan fell asleep in the van around 9. Phoebe showed her endurance and commitment to devicing, sticking to her iPad the whole way home. We arrived back at the hotel at 10pm, gave Dominik a big fat tip, which he tried to decline, and got his email address. Very much hoping he’ll visit us in Humboldt County. There was so much about him that’s much like the folks we know who are passionate about the redwoods and the ecology of the Pacific Northwest.
So, throughout the day, Dominik wove together this incredible story about how forest grows back on the lava flows. It ain’t fast. On some flows 200 years old, the few plants are just a few inches tall. And there is NO SOIL at the point. The plants are growing on bare rock, sinking their roots into small cracks. It is many hundreds of years before soils form. There is one single most important plant in the succession of vegetation on the lava flows. It’s called ohia lehua — Metrosideros polymorpha, related to the red-flowered bottlebrush ornamental we see on the streets of Berkeley. Polymorpha, many forms. Many forms because sometimes it’s mature and flowering at only a few inches tall, on a wind-battered hillside where there is zero soil and few nutrients to feed it, and other times it’s a huge, tall rainforest tree growing on the thick, rich soil laid down on the lava over hundreds of years as its smaller forms die and rot. You can look out across successive lava flows and see dark black ones that haven’t yet rusted, and where there might only be a few tiny ohia trees. And you can look at an adjacent lava flow that is brown with rust and that has more, bigger ohia trees on it. And then you can go into mature rainforest , where you don’t even realize that you are standing on lava, and here the ohia trees are huge and there is a giant fern, too, and the soil is thick — here there hasn’t been a lava flow for a couple of thousand years.
When the lava flows over mature forest, it forms vertical tubes around living trees, which then end up as hollow upright lava tubes.
A cousin of the blueberry is another of the early successors. Edible, but we could not try it because we were in a park.
Hawaiian honeycreepers eat the nectar of the ohia trees, and the trees create habitat for birds, and the birds bring more seeds that SLOWLY repopulate the barren flows.
It turns out that a professor at Stanford — Peter Vitousek — spent decades studying the ecology of the ohia trees, and that his work was a MAJOR influence on the way Gary structured his whole PhD. So how AMAZING and COOL that we got to spend the whole day seeing this system. It was very cool.
Monday, May 22nd
Yesterday was thankfully not such a crazy long day as the one before, but it was full, and we didn’t seem to have enough time for the things we were doing — which were all SUPER FUN!
We got started late (because I was composing yesterday’s entry about the volcano tour). Gary had wisely stocked us with breakfast food from the little ABC store near the restaurants we’ve been frequenting. He cooked breakfast while I wrote to you. The kids were, again, happily glued to the TV in one of the bedrooms. (I noticed that Tomas was up at 5:30 just so he could make sure to enjoy this luxury item to the full extent. Again this morning.)
After I finished my summary of the tour, we packed up for the beach. Many people have recommended to us Hapuna Beach, which is just a few miles north of where we were scheduled to meet a dolphin at 2:45. Per instructions from Make A Wish, I had tried repeatedly to reach Dolphin Quest to reconfirm our booking, to no avail, so I was a bit nervous about not totally knowing where we were to go and what was going to be involved. I was glad we were making the drive to the area a few hours before when we needed to be there.
Both the beach and the dolphin place are a few miles north of the airport, so we needed to head north along the western coast of the island. We ended up accidentally on an inland road, rather than on the coastal road. (We’re good at this kind of thing! Remember when, last summer, we drove our rental RV southward around Canyonlands National Park almost to the border of Arizona when we meant to be driving north to Arches National Park? Because we CAN’T FUCKING NAVIGATE — hey, it was a massive storm and we couldn’t see the sun! — we got to see the Colorado River Gorge, which was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever laid eyes on.) So, we drove a few miles extra and took an inland route up in the mountains, from where we could see the long, gently sloping hills down to the sea, and the coastline with its beautiful bays. We also saw boatloads of goats, happily chewing on Hawaii’s native vegetation, and a handful of mongooses darting across the road in search of the next endangered native bird to nibble on.
The kids were monsters on the car ride, which took about an hour, so Daddy and I were not exactly in Happy Parenting Land when we arrived. But we did find Hapuna Beach, and, true to what we had been told, all shoreline on Hawaii has public access, and the the security guards at the fancy resort behind the beach handed us a parking pass and gave us directions to public parking.
Still rattled by the drive with the kids, Gary and I grumpily loaded ourselves down with 450 pounds of snorkeling gear, boogie boards, towels, sunscreen, and waters, and we headed along a short path to the beach…which was AMAZING AND BEAUTIFUL! Maybe a quarter mile of white sand, the beach curves around a bay of clear blue water. We found a shady spot up against some big rocks to dump our stuff in and headed for the water. Tristan and Phoebe were hesitant at first, but it didn’t take long before all five of us were in the water. It was fairly gentle with some small waves. Phoebe spent a few minutes kneeling in the shallow water as the waves rolled in and out…and then she was IN!! She TOTALLY figured it out, learning how the waves would bob her up and down, getting that you just duck under the ones that are about to break on you, and taking a few strokes here and there when the water was smooth between waves. She giggled and giggled, just exploding with joy. After about ten minutes she said, “I LOVE the waves!!” She was in heaven. Tristan, too, had a big grin on his face. He sat and played in the shallow water, as Phoebe had, and then he was in my arms in the deeper water, then in Gary’s. He loved it, too. Tomas was a gorgeous, muscular Indonesian dolphin, as always. He loves the water and it’s second nature to him. My little fisherman from Flores.
Sadly, we didn’t have much time at Hapuna. Nobody was happy with Mom when she said we really should go so that we’d have time to eat and find the dolphin place…but then Tristan started to complain that he was hungry, and Phoebe needed to poop, and my case was made. We hiked back up the car with the 450 pounds of shit plus and extra five pounds of sand and headed toward Waikaloa Village. Ugh. This turned out to be a HUMONGOUS resort village of an extremely upscale sort. It had its own Tiffany’s inside of it’s own fancy mall. That way you can go enjoy Hawaii without ever having to leave the safety and comfort of your resort, and you can EVEN spontaneously decide to propose marriage to someone and buy your wedding rings RIGHT THERE! We had a quick lunch of fried stuff next to a fake lake, and then headed for Dolphin Quest.
Dolphin Quest ended up being inside of a huge, very fancy Hilton complex. We had our car valet-parked and followed the attendant’s directions through the complex to a lagoon where we could see…dolphins!
We found where we needed to be and checked in at a desk. There we had a brief moment of disappointment when we learned that only Tristan and I were booked (and paid for by Make A Wish) to have a “dolphin encounter”. (This was why I had been calling the damned place to try to find out what was going to happen!) This was quickly resolved by slapping down a credit card to add Phoebe to the group. (Thank you, Make A Wish, for the expense budget.) Tomas declined — he’s such a funny kid! But he truly did not want to do it. He doesn’t like being in the limelight, and he likes to see things before he does them. Anyway, he volunteered to take photos with Gary.
After we checked in, young, tan women in swimsuits (all purportedly holding degrees in marine biology) outfitted Phoebe, Tristan, and me with lifejackets and snorkeling mask. Phoebe chatted with one of them and learned the names of all 12 dolphins in the lagoon, their relationships with one another, and various other essential details. Phoebe made herself explicitly clear that she very much wanted to meet one of the the baby dolphins. There was a bit of a too-long wait, and then it was time for the three of us to get into the lagoon!
Our tan, swimsuited dolphin trainer called over Ipo, who is five years old, weighs 300 pounds, and still nursing on his mamma. Lucky boy. She slapped the water and he glided up, rolling over on his back in front of us so that we could pet his belly. I’ve never felt anything like it. His skin was smooth and cool and pink and grey. Three things happened right away. First, I started to cry — I couldn’t help myself! This was so amazing and I felt that I LOVED this dolphin with all my heart! — and, second, Tristan asked where the dolphin’s poop hole was. Tristan’s question brought me back to Earth a bit, and while the trainer was showing Tristan the dolphin’s asshole, that got me thinking, where’s his weanie? So, third, I asked her, does he have a baculum? A what? she said. Marine biology major, my ass! How could she not know what a baculum is? Every marine biology major has surely had the opportunity to admire a whale baculum! A penis bone! So then I had to explain to the girl what a baculum is. At this point both she and the photographer were giggling (and thought both me and my kids were TOTAL FREAKS). Fortunately we then moved on from asshole/penis bone conversation to the normal stuff people talk about when they meet a dolphin. We continued to gently pet sweet Ipo, and Phoebe got to kiss him (her first kiss with a boy!), and Tristan was excited and happy. The trainer then sent Ipo away and called over his mamma Iwa (“Eva”). She was lovely and sweet and we admired her and watched as she demonstrated her speed, zooming across the lagoon and back straight toward us at almost 20mph. And then we met Nimbus, a large male who was brought from Bermuda to be the breeding male for the program. I loved these dolphins’ faces, to see them hold their heads out of the water to look at us. What wonderful animals.
The trainer obliged Phoebe’s (clearly stated, many times) request to see the babies, and walked us on a narrow walkway to a part of the lagoon where they were swimming. I think this may have been planned for us because of the Make A Wish connection, but I’m not sure. Phoebe was so happy, and the beautiful babies swam over to us and raised their heads out of the water to look at us.
We said goodbye the the dolphins, did the requisite stop in at the gift shop (where a swimsuited “marine biologist” kindly printed several photos for us, courtesy of Make A Wish), retrieved our car via valet, and drove back to Kona.
We stopped for dinner, where Gary and Tomas feasted on abalone and oysters, and where Tristan ate an oyster. He wasn’t too sure about it. After dinner we went into the ABC grocery store, where the kids and I went nuts on crappy souvenir items — a Hawaii keepsake baseball for Leah, a small box of shells for Coral, and plastic dolphin key ring for Sydney, a tiki for Bastard (Tristan’s friend Baxter, whose name will forever be Bastard in our family, thanks to Tristan’s awesome mispronunciation of his name). etc. That was loads of fun, and we found the perfect crummy item for each of our loved ones.
Back to the hotel for showers and a new Star Trek movie. I don’t get it — why is there a Spock and an Ahura and a Czekov? And they’re young. Is this supposed to be the original crew, when they were younger? If someone could please enlighten me, I’d much appreciate it.
Now Gary is cooking breakfast and we are gearing up for our last full day here. We have decided to go back to Hapuna beach this morning, and to then have some pool time, which the kids have been loving, in the afternoon. Tonight we will attempt to go to a luau!
Tuesday, May 23rd
Our final full day. Man, that went way too fast.
We spent the day doing exactly what one should do on a last day in Hawaii: we went to the beach again for the day, and we went to a luau in the evening.
We drove back to Hapuna Beach, this time along the crowded coastal highway, and returned to our spot up against the rocks. And then we had an absolutely delightful few hours, mostly bobbing in the waves. Phoebe was more or less a mermaid at this point. I’m not saying that she’s taking long strokes and putting her head up to breathe, but she’s totally comfortable in the waves, even with getting bashed over by them now and then. Tristan was happy to be in someone’s arms, or, for a while, on my back. While he was on my back, we met a green sea turtle swimming by! I swam along behind it for a while with Tristan attached, and eventually the turtle put its head up to have a look at us. What a lovely, noble creature.
I did some boogie boarding, and, at one point, I caught the RIDE OF MY LIFE. The wave was GINORMOUS, at least 2.5 feet tall. My timing was PERFECT. The wave lifted me up, and from its TOWERING crest I felt like I was at the edge of the world! It carried me on and on, for all of about 30 feet — my balance was perfect, and I stayed right on my belly on that board — and then flung me and board onto the sand, across which we skidded for another 20 feet. Sand splattered up into my face. The wind whipped my hair. It was a beautiful moment. I was a BOOGIE BOARDING GODDESS. I contemplated staying on Hawaii and becoming a pro boogie boarder. A tourist standing by gave me props; “That was great timing,” he said. I did my best to flex my toned biceps as I gripped the board and jogged back into the water to catch another AWESOME RIDE. (When I read this paragraph to Tomas, he asked me if I was kidding. If any of you are also wondering, like my humorless son, YES, I’m fucking kidding.)
Gary and the kids built a huge sand castle. I rotated around, slathering the children with sunscreen again and again. Tristan stayed lily white, Phoebe continued to turn golden brown like a perfect campfire marshmallow, and Tomas’ melanocytes were busy turning him into an obsidian god. I don’t understand sunscreen. Mystery.
At 2pm we headed back to the hotel. We hit rush hour, which happens between 2 and 3 on Hawaii, as well it should be. People NEED time to surf in the afternoon! The drive back to the hotel was long, but Tristan had an excellent nap. At the hotel, we showered, dressed for the luau, and fed the kids some healthy, nutritious ramen.
We drove a short distance to a resort where the luau was to be held. It began at 5pm with an open bar and lessons, if you wanted them, in using the poy ball, which is a ball on a rope that the Maori of New Zealand use as a game and in dances. They spin the ball on the rope, sometimes doing a different thing with each ball and working with four or five at a time. There was also “traditional” “tribal” “tattooing”, which consisted of a beautifully tattooed Hawaiian dude sitting at a table with a basket of Sharpies. He assured me that I would not get Sharpie poisoning, and that he himself had received many Sharpie tats while he was in high school, before he got his real ones. Partially reassured, I received a tattoo of a tribal turtle. It took about 23 seconds from start to finish. Tristan got a tattoo of an eel. Phoebe declined.
We watched a boar being removed from the earthen oven. This boar must be the dinner for tomorrow’s luau, because dinner was served immediately after the pig came out of the ground. Can’t imagine he ended up on the buffet table that fast. We had priority seating up at the front, which also granted us early access to the buffet table. Thank goodness, because my kids are not so good at the waiting thing. Tristan ate a big plate of pork and rice. Phoebe ate rice and rice, sprinkled with salt and with a roll on the side. (Christ, she’s like an epiphytic plant with dangling aerial roots — she must be getting her nutrients from the fucking air!) Tomas ate a ton. Gary and I ate, but not exactly with gusto. The pork was yummy, but, well, Hawaiian food (if this was it) is made with a lot of soy sauce and teryaki sauce and sugar and it’s simply not terrific stuff.
After dinner the performances began. They included not only local dances, but also Tahitian and Maori (with poy balls) ones. The costumes were beautiful and the dancers skilled. We all loved the final performance — the Polynesian dance with fire sticks. Predictably, Tristan has announced that he KNOWS how to do this and will soon try. Grandmas, please put those matches away. I think we’re going to have our fireplace removed and switch over entirely to propane. We MUST remove all sources of fire.
We did most of our packing last night after we got back to the hotel. Phoebe is still snoring like a freight train, Tomas is desperately getting in his early morning TV time on this last morning of open TV access, Tristan is waking up, and Gary and I will soon launch into final packing mode.
This really was loads of fun, and I think that all three kids had an absolutely fabulous time. Gary and I did as well, though this was a funny kind of travel for us. To be immersed in Tourist Land, to never sit down with a native Hawaiian for a conversation, to never real hear people on the street or in a cafe speaking Hawaiian…it’s odd and it left me craving for a look at what is really Hawaiian. But maybe there isn’t really much more, at least on this island. Native Hawaiians are a minority here, and, according to a book on Hawaiian language that Gary picked up at the ABC, the Hawaiian language is almost dead. A few years ago the number of schools teaching in Hawaiian declined to ZERO, and the average age of people who speak it has gone up and up. Fortunately, very recently there has been a renewed interest, and a few schools now have immersion programs in the language. We’ll see. If we come back here, I’d work hard to find a way to spend time somewhere where we could maybe NOT be in Tourist Land. Maybe we could find Phoebe an internship with pig farmers…no! sea turtle restoration!, Tristan one with fire dancers, and Tomas one with fisherman? Gary and I could pick coffee beans…