When we pull up at the Visitor Center, I first go take a gander at the view of the crater and take a photo.
I also make apology to Pele for transgressions of lava that my father brought home, and explain that I don't know what happened to it, over the years. Then I pull a couple strands of my hair, bundle them up, and toss them over the edge of the crater, as a peace offering. Maybe I'm just psyched, but I get this strange sense that Pele not only recognizes me and my offer, but offers a salutation to...someone who understands aina? It's similar to the feeling I got when I sat in The Hag's Chair in Ireland, but somehow much more wild and primal and...powerful? Alien? I node to the cauldera, her home, and head into the Visitor Center.
Once inside, I realize I have been making my peace with Pele for most of my life. I know most of the material on volcanos that they have featured there, pretty much by heart. And realize I've been trying to find out as much as possible about them since second grade, when I got the holy bejabbers scared out of me by the story of Paracuitin coming up in a peasant's cornfield, combined with my encounters with Pele's power on the nightly news, when we lived on Maui. Lava engulfing villages, people getting sick from poison gas, those things make an impression. The great irony is, of course, that the reason we were living in Hawaii was that my father was working on a movie where a volcano erupts, menaces people with lava, and eventually blows up an entire island, taking Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra with it. (His erupting reproduction of a real volcano, built in a fishpond in Fallbrook, California, was used as a stand-in stock shot for the real thing for decades. Oddly enough, I thought the counterfeit version was totally cool, maybe because it was semi-controllable, unlike the real thing.) Still, there were some fascinating exhibits, including "Pele's tears," little bits of glassy lava from when fountains spray bits high into the air, and it cools as it falls. I stopped to check out the painting, which has ancient Hawaiians in a double-hulled canoe fleeing an erupting volcano. Standing to the right of the painting, they were heading straight for me, as if anxious to escape. I headed into the gift shop around the corner. There, I bought a few note cards with a painting of Pele (by the same artist), figuring they are a nice altar piece. As I headed out the door, I stopped and looked back at the painting, as our driver suggested. Now the canoe was headed straight at me! It was like it had shifted 45 degrees. Wow, I've heard of Renaissance artists doing perceptual tricks like that, but I'd never met one of these paintings in real life!
Our driver asked some of the people about the painting. Oddly, a lot of people never noticed a thing! He tells us we will be going down into the crater (!!!) and since the landscape is so unstable, to let him know if anyone sees *anything* unusual, like glowing cracks, cracks opening up, etc. He tells us that a crack opened right in front of his bus, once, and he had to put it into reverse and get the hell out of there. "You see anything orange, you tell me!" I nervously mention I have a lot of respect for Pele, so of course! He tells us a story of how, only a few weeks before, a woman brought back some lava to the 1983 flow, because nothing but bad luck had plagued her family ever since her sister took home a souvenier. He gives people a question as to whether they want to stop at the active area or the 1983 field. Everyone who answers opts for the 1983 field, probably because it seems safer. He says "I think I'll stop both places, because you need to feel the power. Put your hand over a crack and feel the heat coming up." He pulls over and parks the bus, and mentions the crack right ahead of us is the one that opened in front of his bus. Swell. I put my hand over it, about two feet up, and you can still feel a bit of heat, like putting your hand over the coals of a fire. It's not bad. However, other cracks, you can't keep your hand anywhere near them. Chris remarks they might be good for cooking food. Yes, but I'd be worried Pele considered it a sacrifice. We get back on the bus and go to the 1983 flow. I wander a bit farther afield here, lured by a false sense of security, since nothing is actively steaming. But not too far. One couple is wandering even farther afield when we are all back on the bus. Our driver starts moving very s-l-o-w-l-y, and they get the message and come running.
Then he starts telling tourist stories, like the Texan who wanted to know how it was the lava flow stopped right at the road. (Hmm, these are like tourist stories that living history people tell.) But the best one was about when a cousin of his was driving bus down on the crater floor, and everyone was off the bus when a crack opened up, not far off, and started spewing lava into the air! And the guy couldn't get people back on the bus, because they were all wanting to go take photos! I guess they thought it was like Universal Studios or something. He starting pulling away very slowly, and they finally got the message and ran after the bus. Good thing, because by the time he was loaded up with the errant photographers, another crack had opened on the *other* side of the road, and was starting to spew lava on the other side! Too exciting for me! But then, I know that they've lost *rangers* out in that crater, and they are folks who KNOW Kiluaia.
We drive off and head for the Thurston Lava Tube. The lava tube is down a very picturesque trail through rain forest, and with a lot more time at my disposal, I could spend much more time just enjoying the rain forest around the tube. I'm actually a little disappointed by how developed the tube is, with plank walkways and lights, unlike the wild lava tubes I explored last summer, up at Lava Beds National Monument. It's back on the bus again, and off to what he calls "the Nut House," the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory. This is the beginnings of my starting to stuff my luggage with Hawaiian food products, as I buy Kona coffee and tins of macadamia nuts. I even picked up a package of exotic Hawaiian teas for Colleen.
We go happily back to the ship with the latest haul of Hawaii swag. As we are standing in line at the security checkpoint (the first of many, many checks on getting back onto the ship, sigh), I notice an "amesty box" for lava! They have to wand me, at security, because it seems that my jewelery and my hat both set off alarms. Double sigh. Can't go anywhere, any more...
Stashing the stuff, we explore the buffet options in the Aloha cafe, that night, and then settle in for our cruise down the eastern coast of The Big Island, heading for where the lava meets the sea. We should be there at about 10 pm, they say. We're headed back to the volcano again, this time to view Pele's battle with her sister, the sea, as the lava tubes dump into the Pacific.
Chris and I sit on the balcony of our cabin and watch the coastline roll by. The area around Hilo seems relatively flat. Far in the distance, we see a flash of red at the top of a mountain. While they claim all the lava is dumping down the tubes, underground, this makes me wonder. Either it's lava, or it's electrical discharge, up by the crater. Closer, we start to see orange dots, like winking eyes. The right one seems to glow more, but almost immediately goes out, and waits 30 seconds or so before it comes again, while the left "eye" stays lit longer, and comes back almost immediately. As we get closer, the left one separates into two spots, then three. And still closer, we find the secret of the righthand "eye." It's underwater. The water all around glows briefly orange, as if it is magnified through a lens, then goes dark. The ship goes in closer. The left flows separate into a continuous waterfall of lava, now three flows, but many, many ones, cascading into the sea. There is a growling rumble, like thunder with a gravel edge. Steam billows. It's like looking into a hellsmouth. It's one of the most fascinating things I've ever seen, this melding of orange-yellow-hot lava and the ocean. For maybe 20 minutes, the ship sits off the shore, while everyone marvels at the spectacle, then begins to turn and pull away. I go up to the top deck, now, and watch from there. Finally, the lava display diminishes behind us, and we leave it behind in the darkness, nature's fireworks that never ends.