Hawaii – January 2020

Shortly after returning from Hong Kong, Linda told me she had Hawaiian Airline miles that expired in January 2020. And being off season meant that she had enough for two round-trip tickets to several of the islands. At first we toyed with going to Oahu but the cost of AirBnB’s around Honolulu plus the parking fees per day made us quickly rule it out. We also ruled out Kauai because the thing we really want to do there – hike the 44 mile out and back Na Pali Coast Trail is not recommended this time of year due to rough weather. Maui is too touristy. We chose the Big Island due to the minimal tourists and because it has every climate zone on earth from the desert lava fields of Kona to snow on Mauna Kea and lush rain forests around Hilo. Plus, it has well…active volcanoes.

With flights booked we got busy with AirBnB. Since we’ve been to the Big Island several times and have always stayed in Kona we decided to stay on the other side of the island near Hilo or Volcanoes National Park. Our first mistake was not checking what the weather was like in January on the Hilo side of the island. For those who can guess where this is going – it rains an average of 10 inches in Hilo in January! We found a small house for rent for 5 nights in Leilani Estates – the area that made international news in 2018 for the lava flowing through the neighborhood. Our second mistake was not thoroughly checking the full extent of the lava flows and what roads were no longer operational. Leilani Estates Rd. provides a short six mile jaunt to area beaches. Or at least it used to. As we found out on our first day there, the epicenter of the eruptions were at Fissure 8 about one mile from our rental house. Fissure 8 was also almost in the center of Leilani Estates Rd. which was now under roughly thirty to eighty feet of lava.

Had we found this map before the trip we probably would have stayed elsewhere. Oh well, live and learn. Leilani Estates Rd. is the line right above the “Rental House” text and it used to provide a direct route down to Issac Hale Park which is now also covered in lava.

The new end of Leilani Estates Rd. I really wanted to climb up to fissure 8 and look inside but sadly the signs make it very clear that trespassers will be shot.

So even though there were a number of missteps in the initial planning of this trip our we still had a little bungalow in the middle of the jungle. It came with two bedrooms – one inside (as in it had walls) and the other a screened in porch with a metal roof over it. Of course we chose the screened in porch because who doesn’t like listening to the gentle sound of raindrops plinking on a metal roof? A couple of hours into night one we were awakened to what could only be described as a hurricane outside or basically inside since the screens didn’t really stop the wind. Also, the plinking raindrops were replaced by someone pelting the tin roof with golf balls. The second night there was a thunderstorm that brought by memories of summer camping back in the southeast in the mid 90’s. I’m not sure why we didn’t move to the indoors bedroom – probably didn’t want to mess up a second bed.

Our little Hawaiian Bungalow

After the second night we woke up to this:

That’s the entire island chain of Hawaii covered by a giant storm and the 4 alerts for Hilo were as follows – small craft advisory, high surf warning, a flood warning for the ENTIRE island and “what the hell were you thinking coming here in January?!

In between and sometimes quite literally in torrential downpours we still managed to do quite a bit of stuff. We spent time wandering around art galleries and thrift stores in downtown Hilo, learned all about tidal waves at the Tsunami Museum, ate super fresh poke at the Suisan Fish Market, drank fresh coconut milk hacked open by machete from Linda’s “hair twin” at the Hilo Farmer’s Market and ate multiple times at Cafe 100 – home of the “Super Loco” plate of Hawaiian comfort food.

We also hit some of the touristy spots including Rainbow Falls, Akaka Falls and of course Volcanoes National Park where all the good trails are still closed or under three feet of mud and part of Crater Rim Drive is now in Hale Ma’uma’u Crater. We saw tigers sparring and goats standing on rocks at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo where we also met a wonderful family from Ohio – even got invited to visit them and got a connection for Ghana where the dad is from. We ate amazing Vietnamese food at Pho 19, had great sandwiches and cinnamon rolls at the Tin Shack Bakery in Pahoa and also spent some quality time relaxing in our little bungalow. So yeah, I’d say that even with the rain it was a memorable experience.

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