Monday, January 14, 2013

going bananas in Hilo

I’ve been fighting off a cold since I left for vacation five days ago and had been up past midnight playing a board game last night with Michael, his father, Ivy and Judy, thus I was still pretty tired when I woke up this morning around 7:30AM, but I’d been sleeping on the futon in the living room of Michael and Ivy’s vacation rental, so when the sound of Michael making tea in the kitchen roused me, I knew there wasn’t much chance I was going to be able to get back to sleep. Remembering that I had a delicious “apple banana” to slice into my breakfast cereal, was sufficiently exciting to put a little spring in my step though. It’s weird, I was never really a fan of bananas for the vast majority of my life, but in the last few months, I have been growing to appreciate them to an almost obsessive degree… I still don’t like the fruit by itself so much (although these apple bananas that they have in Hawaii are definitely delectable enough to stand alone!), but I love bananas IN everything now: cereal, cupcakes, cottage cheese, bread and as I discovered at lunch today- ice cream. It’s like the perfect balance of sweetness with just a pop of tartness, so it harmonizes perfectly with any sort of slightly bland food and make it sing!

About the time everyone was finishing breakfast and I was helping myself to a third cup of tea, the power to the rental house went out, and since basically everything in the house is dependent on power: stove, tv, phone – even water (since there is an electric pump required to bring water into the house), when the power went out, so did we.

It was the second day in a row of beautiful blue skies and bright warm sunshine in Hilo (every other day since I’ve been here it has rained for the majority of the day and night), so we took advantage of the weather and hit up a few of the local beaches. The first spot had a small black sand beach dotted with jagged rocks and the ocean was packed practically elbow to elbow with surfers and boogie boarders bravely (if not recklessly) riding beautiful curling waves of crystal blue and aquamarine into the rocky black shore of the beach. There was also a small hot spring, about the size of a back yard pool a couple dozen yards from the surf. About ten kids and one woman who looked to be about 20 were splashing around in the pool. Michael and his father decided to join them and have a soak, but Ivy, Judy and I wishing to avoid being bombarded by the gallivanting, splashing children abstained. It only took about two minutes for the kids to drive Michael and his father back out of the pool.

After that, we headed off to a larger volcanic spring pool that was just a bit down the road. It was a much bigger pool (probably about the same length and width as an Olympic swimming pool, but much shallower). The water wasn’t nearly as warm as the first pool we’d gone to that day, but it was the perfect temperature to swim around (without overheating or getting too cold). As soon as I ducked my head under the clear salty water, all of the lethargy and malaise I’d been feeling that morning evaporated and I was instantly rejuvenated.

This was the second time I went to this particular pool since I arrived in Hilo. The first time I’d splashed around and done a few laps with Michael I had felt clumsy and stiff as I swam, but today, my muscles felt loose and (aided by the buoyancy instilling salt water) I easily glided across the pool with the rhythm and precision I’d had when I’d been on swim team in high school and college. I’d forgotten how fun it was to weightlessly dart along the surface of the water, catching glimpses of bright yellow and black and white striped fish swimming around the lava rocks below me. I swam about a half a mile or so doing various strokes (back stroke, breast stroke and free style) before I decided to find out what everyone else was doing.

Michael and I found a floating seed of some sort that was about the size of a golf ball and we got Ivy and Judy, who had decided not to join us in the pool, to throw it out into the water so that Michael and I could race to it and see who could grab it first. I thoroughly enjoyed trouncing Michael at that game (both physically and competitively). I beat him to the grab 7 out of 7 times and probably narrowly avoided giving him a nose bleed for the second time since I’ve known him, but hey, if someone grabs your toes, their face be damned, you’ve got to do what it takes to get your foot back right?

After some coaxing and after seeing how much fun Michael and I were having, Ivy and Judy decided to get their swim suits and join us in the pool, bringing Michael and Ivy’s snorkeling mask with them. While Michael and his father showed the girls how to use a snorkel, I took some time to do some underwater exploring of my own, pulling myself along the rocks under water as far as I could without coming up for air. It’s so beautiful and peaceful to be under water in general, with the net of light woven by the waves dancing across the bottom of a pool and beams of sunlight cast like shimmering javelins into the water, but having the added bonus of tropical fish and beautiful volcanic rocks to swim among elevated the experience to: truly awe inspiring. As I held in my breath and silently shimmied between the surface of the water and the rocky bottom of the pool, it was like the most beautiful and complete solicitude I’d ever experienced: total silence, not another person in my line of vision and my body surrounded by water that was exactly the perfect temperature. It was heavenly.

As the tide of the ocean began to rise and the heated water from the pool became diluted with the cooler ocean water, I decided to maintain my body heat by laying out and sunning myself on a rock while I watched the waves crash and roll to shore spilling into the pool. Much to my chagrin though, in a quest to develop an enviable tan to show off to my coworkers when I got back to the office on Wednesday, I’d flagrantly disregarded the power of the sun and had NOT put on sunscreen that morning. It occurred to me as I lay stretched across the surface of the warm rock that I might regret that move later, but I told myself a little sun burn was a small price to pay to make my ghostly white skin enviably tan. However as we journeyed further down the coast of Hilo, I could feel the heat radiating from my sunburned skin, so I decided I’d better cut my losses and applied a protective coat of sunscreen.

We knew we were getting close to our next stop for the day, a beach which our tourist guidebook described as a “complete tanning” beach, when we were passed by an extremely tan dreadlocked man zooming along on a motor cycle wearing nothing but a tattered loin cloth which flapped so violently in the wind, it seemed certain that he would be a nude motorcyclist within a few miles. I am not sure if we saw that motorcyclist at the beach or not when we arrived though since we didn’t linger long there and unclothed, extremely tan, dreadlocked men seemed to be the catch of the day at that gorgeous beach- which was covered with a multitude of less gorgeous naked bodies.

It was only a few miles down the road that we stopped at our last tourist destination for the day, Kalapana lava flow, an area of several square miles that, 30 years earlier, had been completely covered by a 60 ft deep lava flow, leaving an expanse of solid black lava rock dotted here and there with ferns and young coconut trees that’d been able to root in the crevices of the volcanic rock. It was impressive to stand on the hardened lava and realize that three decades earlier if you’d have been in that spot you’d have been floating several stories above the pacific ocean off the coast of the town of Kalapana. It’s amazing how quickly a volcano can completely change a place- turning ocean into land, sandy beaches into jagged cliffs or towns into rock. Walking on the hot black surface of the lava and pondering the magnitude of the geological events that had occurred helped us all work up a pretty good appetite, so we made like a fissure and split, heading off to Pahua to grab some grub.

As I inspected my lobster red face in the mirror of the bathroom at a Thai restaurant where we were having supper, I suddenly remembered all of the consequences of over exposure to the sun (melanoma, moles, freckles, extreme pain) which greatly outweigh the benefit of sporting an awesome tan for a few weeks, but it was too late to go back and make wiser sunscreen choices at that point, so I suppose I’ll just have to hope that my better judgment gets back from vacation by the time I do. Despite the burn though, this was one of the best days I’ve had in a really long time. 

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