Is this what mid-life crisis feels like? Or is this just what happens when you aren’t wealthy. A vagabond’s options aren’t as vast as someone more conventional…but still there are some options. At least there should be….
Update a few days later: Wow. I’m just flabbergasted by what is happening. I’ve inquired about a dozen properties, most of them with offers over the asking price, most of them from people who have never seen the properties and may never see them. These are people with real excess wealth – so called ‘Giraffe Money’ – as in, “I’ve got so much money I don’t know what to do with it, I guess I’ll buy a giraffe”.
The CEO of Redfin said on an interview the other day that buying a home has become a luxury purchase. That means, essentially, it is a thing only the rich can do. We are quickly entering an even more gross world of extreme wealth disparity where there are wealth-lords and peasants.
Most of us (self included) are delusional in that we think we are just a couple of steps away from financial independence and the joys of wealth. That’s all conditioning to keep people working and being okay with how screwed most of us are. The truth is – and this is a hard thing to admit – most of us have never and will never matter to anyone but a very small group of people who value us personally. Our entire lives could disappear and humanity would never notice. We haven’t made a global difference and we most likely won’t. We don’t matter.
Not only do we not matter to the world – we especially don’t matter to those people who are ‘in it to win it’ which should be read as ‘fuck you, I’m getting mine’. And – at least in America – that’s everyone outside of your small circle of folks who give a shit about you. Your close family, your best friends, maybe customers who rely upon you – but the truth is – if the chips were down – that circle would get much smaller, very quickly. I’ve got about six people in my life that I would make great personal sacrifice for – I feel blessed to have that many. I think around half of those people would do the same for me and again – I count myself lucky. If we all had three people who sincerely care for us as much as they care for themselves – we are beyond fortunate. Especially in this sick society we call America.
We all know the truth – there is no safety net that protects you from falling in America. If you fall, you will probably keep going down unless you are lucky, talented in just the right way, have built your own, or you have someone willing to catch you. From the bottom, you have virtually no chance of getting back up or up at all if that is where you began.
All of this to say that my mission to buy a piece of property or shack or cabin on the Big Island of Hawaii failed. It failed because I don’t have enough money because the trillions of dollars that went out to rescue people during the pandemic largely landed with people who already have everything they need – so they are looking for something to do with that money “Hey let’s buy a giraffe or land in Hawaii”.
So, my family and myself (and millions more like us)are put into the position where we need to continue being renters and being at the mercy of landlords and developers. When I brought us to America (and myself back to America) I was hopeful of opportunities. My time away had convinced me that America really was what it portrays itself to be to the rest of the world – but I fell for the lie – just like all the other hopeful immigrants. We were doing okay out in the big world. We had a comfortable and fun life.
We got here and I quickly realized that in the tech world – at 42, I was already past the expiration date for a new hire without Fortune 500 experience and that living anywhere desirable was out of the question based on our savings. I built a couple of successful small businesses in the small town we moved to because we couldn’t afford Hawaii or San Francisco. Again, we were doing okay. Then, the Racist in Chief created a hostile environment that made racists across America feel comfortable making people of color, non-Christians, and other non-white/non-Christian people feel like their lives were in danger. As the only Muslim family in a town of 3000 where they drove around with confederate flags in the back of trucks and put up at least three chainsaw carved statues of Trump, I really didn’t like to keep my family there. I sold my businesses at a loss and moved my family to Hawaii where we were making things work until the pandemic hit but now with prices going up – any gains we made are worthless. I think most people haven’t realized their savings will now buy about 50% of what it would have six months ago. Not just in real estate but in food and everything else. Wages haven’t gone up, but prices have doubled and tripled.
I’ve gotta be honest – it feels like exactly what it is – we are being squeezed out. The bottom 80% or so of Americans are being turned into serfs who more or less work to pay the company store while the 19% don’t know it but they are next. There is room for lords and serfs in the world America has built – and if you aren’t already a lord, chances are that you can look forward to becoming a serf.
I feel like I’m ready to give up on America again. Sometimes I feel like I’m ready to give up on everything but then I look at my daughter’s face and I know that I have to keep going and I’ll never give up on trying to build a better life for her.
So – here I am. No Vagabond’s House unless you want me to say that I’m in Vagabond’s House right now – and right now I’m in a hotel. I’ll keep looking and I’ll start exploring further options. I’m not ready to give up.
There’s really no place like Kamuela and Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Once home to the largest cattle ranch in the USA and still the fifth largest – this town is famous for rodeos, tropical fruit, and horseback riding.
Sadly, because we were traveling in a time of travel lockdown amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and a hurricane threatening – much of Waimea was either shut down or inaccessible to us – but having been there before, I can tell you three things that I love about the town – it’s an artsy little community, it has multiple amazing farmers markets, and the Parker Ranch is a must see.
On this trip, I discovered a fourth thing I love in Waimea – The Kamuela Inn. As their website says Upcountry Hospitality and Timeless Charm. It’s not just a couple of phrases. They live it. I’d also add that there is a level of comfort and luxury that is missing from nearly all hotels and inns these days. Here’s one example – the bedding.
My wife and I have stayed in a lot of hotels all over the world. Never in all the years we have travelled together have we ever looked to find the tags on the sheets and pillows – until this trip! These were the most comfortable sheets and pillows either of us had ever slept on and when we found the tags and looked to acquire some for ourselves – we discovered why – the sheets, duvet, and pillows on our king size bed added up to nearly $1000! I’m not talking about the bed here – I’m talking about the sheets, pillows and blankets on the bed.
That wasn’t the only detail. The shower was magnificent and the overall design of western wood design, and luxury western decor really worked. There are multiple outdoor areas where guests can lounge or even barbecue. Unfortunately, as mentioned these were secured because of the pending hurricane while we were there.
Our room was outfitted with a kitchenette where we were able to cook for ourselves and the breakfast in the morning was very generous. Due to the pandemic the regular breakfast buffet was shut down but the staff has adapted to the situation by giving guests the chance to order breakfast the night before with generous portions of hot local breakfast (Portuguese sausage, eggs, and rice), cereal, yogurt, bagels, juice, and coffee.
Kamuela Inn is close to parks and shopping centers and when there isn’t a pandemic, one of Hawaii’s best restaurants Merriman’s is right next door. Our favorite restaurant in Waimea though is Dan-0’s Doner. We lived in Turkey and love a good doner. This is the German style served in bread with a variety of sauces and the best falafel that either my wife or I have ever tasted. Their fries too are amazing!
Edlyn, the manager of the Kamuela Inn was an amazing source for information while we were there. She and the staff were incredibly approachable and informative. Since the ranch activities we had been planning on were closed she let us know about some of the locals only deals going on – one of which fulfilled a dream for both my wife and daughter. That was our trip over to Dolphin Quest. Due to the pandemic – there was a significant discount offered to Hawaii residents. It was a great suggestion and since it was on the dry side of the island – it was open even with the hurricane approaching.
Some of the best reasons for visiting Waimea (Kamuela) are to explore the restaurants, shops, and galleries – this unfortunately was something we weren’t able to do this time – but we did make it out to a couple of the farmers markets where I bought some special Big Island treats. Not just the heavenly mangoes and papaya but also very reasonably priced and perfectly roasted coffees from Makua Coffees, our favorite amazing mamaki tea from Waimea Herb Company, and some really great beef jerky that I forgot the name of and will have to go back for!
There are multiple farmer’s markets in Waimea. Go to LoveBigIsland.com where they have detailed each of them and where I lifted the names and dates from below.
The Waimea Town market, open Saturday between 7:30 a.m. and noon.
The Waimea Homestead farmers market, open Saturday between 7 a.m. and noon.
The Waimea mid-week market, open Wednesday between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 pm.
The Kamuela Farmers Market, open Saturday between 7:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
You can also buy farm-fresh produce at the Kekela farm market.
So, even though there was a hurricane threatening, a pandemic raging, and we even had a 4.8 earthquake one morning, we really enjoyed our trip to the Big Island. I would say most of that was because of Kamuela Inn and our new friend Edlyn. We will be back! Thank you for making us part of your Ohana!
Kamuela Inn 65-1300 Kawaihae Rd,
Kamuela, HI 96743
Let me start out by saying that these are not my ideal conditions for travel, but that being said – it’s sort of nice to be able to wander around the Big Island without the crowds so we came back for a second trip before tourism is scheduled to re-open. We spent an afternoon at the Mauna Kea Beach Resort which has one of the most beautiful crescent sand beaches on the island and there was only one other family there.
The downside is that a lot of what we wanted to do was closed either because of the pandemic or because of the impending hurricane (which thankfully bypassed us completely). We look forward to dining at Merriman’s in Waimea and horseback riding in the Waipio Valley – but those will have to wait.
Our trip this time was super low key – I met with a couple of friends in Waimea, we explored some amazing backroads, and we swam with dolphins. Yes, you read that right! We swam with dolphins. This is usually something that is far outside of our budget but our daughter’s 9th birthday is in a few days and we had a great recommendation from our friends at the Kamuela Inn (highly recommended as your base while you are here – see my full post on Waimea/Kamuela for details ) that because of the pandemic, the rates for a swim with Dolphin Quest had been slashed for kama’aina (residents of Hawaii). We were able to do a 30 minute family swim with the dolphins and a trainer for right around $400 (usually $1600). It was awesome and an amazing pre-birthday present. I’ll write about it in a separate post. On the day we swam with dolphins, Hurricane Douglas was possibly going to hit Hawaii but as mentioned, it passed us by. Locals say it is the power of Mauna Kea that pushes the hurricanes away and meteorologists agree but for different reasons – but really, does that even matter?
On our last day in Kamuela, we even got to wake up to a 4.4 earthquake! The fun never stops on the Big Island! Pandemic! Hurricane! Earthquake! (thankfully the hurricane missed and there was no tsunami from the quake!)
We didn’t plan to come during a hurricane and Southwest Airlines cancelled our flight and extended our stay by a couple of days – which was a bit of a big expense we hadn’t anticipated. So, we rented a car for an additional two days and got an AirBnB near Hilo for the last two (unexpected) days of our last trip of the summer.
As 2019 drew to a close, I told myself that 2020 would be the year that I started doing serious travel again. I booked a trip to Australia and Tasmania for February and March and was actively looking for other island destinations to visit over the course of the year. Some ideas were Cuba, Iceland, Bali, New Zealand – but as we all know – the pandemic came and the world changed. Things were starting to look iffy in February but I opted to take my trip to Australia and Tasmania because there were only single digit cases in Hawaii or Australia at that point. I’m very glad I took the trip.
When I got home, things got more serious with the virus, in fact, it looked like the world was going to crash. My daughter started Spring Break and we were pretty sure she wouldn’t be going back to school in 2020. That’s most likely how it played out. We went into lockdown mode from March through June in our little Honolulu apartment – and after months of the three of us in there – we were feeling stir crazy. When Hawaii opened up the beaches, we began to take some cautious trips to our favorite places. When restaurants re-opened with new limitations in place – we visited two of our favorites Cholos in Haleiwa and Nico’s Pier 38 – granted both experiences were nerve inducing and weird with servers and cooks wearing masks and strange new policies (please wait in your car, we’ll phone you when your table is ready!)
In mid-June when the state dropped the mandatory 14-day quarantine for travel between islands, we decided it was time for a scenery change. We booked a cottage for the 4th of July weekend on the Big Island of Hawaii, rented a car, and booked our flights. Vacation rentals on Oahu are still closed down but on the Big Island they have been open for a while.
The first part of the trip was the most stress inducing – we took a Lyft from our apartment to the airport. We wore our masks and the driver wore his mask – but it was still a bit freaky to be in a strangers car and not know who else had been in it. It was a ten minute ride. At the airport we filled out all the new forms, had our temperatures taken, and waited the appropriate distance behind all the other brave (or foolish) people taking a chance at travel. We sat and kept social distance before boarding the plane – onboard were around 114 people – and socially distancing on a plane is not really an option at all.
Arriving in Hilo, we traversed the airport and waited in another manicured line to pick up our rental car – which had a note inside that said it had been professionally sterilized by Daryl.
We drove to our remote and isolated vacation rental – one of a group of cottages in the country. Only one of the other cottages was occupied – by a young family of Ukranian Yoga instructors who had come from the mainland and had quarantined for 12 days so far. I appreciated the fact that they were honoring the local regulation to self-quarantine for the full 14 days. We said hello – from a distance and relaxed to the sound of coqui frogs and distant views of the Pacific Ocean.
Travel during a pandemic is strange to begin with but when you arrive at your destination, you realize that everything is different. Tours and attractions are shut down. Restaurants are mostly open for take out only and only for very specific hours. As we drove through towns that I remembered as being bustling little places, the empty shops and boarded up restaurants bear stark witness to the cost of this pandemic in terms of small businesses here. Those that relied on tourism are either in trouble or gone. Towns that seemed decrepit with agricultural businesses barely hanging on now show far more life than those that bustled with tourists before.
The attempts to survive and create a safe environment are many. People haven’t given up – but the struggle is real. We met up with a friend and visited an empty National Park with him one day – he had quarantined and we had been exposed to the world – but we opted to take our chances – a calculated risk to enjoy some camaraderie with an old friend. Friendship and hanging out being another one of those things we used to take for granted….
Driving through the empty resort towns and seeing the closed luxury resorts and timeshares, visiting once packed beaches, and enjoying the blissful lack of mainland and international tourists…those have been the highlights. Tourists are starting to show up here – we locals all recognize them driving in their rented jeeps and mustangs – living their island fantasy – that is mostly not the way that anyone actually lives here (the jeeps and mustangs are almost all tourist or military vehicles – definitely not locals).
The locals I’ve met here – they don’t miss the tourists. They don’t miss the tourism industry. They don’t miss the busloads of tourists at every scenic stop, beach, or historic point of interest. I don’t miss them either. In fact, this aspect of things will probably be fondly remembered by all of us who live here – this ability to enjoy this place we sacrifice to live without being crowded out by people who sacrifice to visit.
The tourists are coming back though – the jeeps and mustangs are increasing in number. The floodgates will open in August when the state will allow people to come as long as they’ve tested negative for COVID-19 within 3 days of their flight. I’m afraid of what that will mean – in terms of people bringing more cases of the virus to us, in terms of the roads getting crowded again with tour buses, tour vans, jeeps, and mustangs, and in terms of losing this ability to have space, to enjoy Hawaii, and to feel even a little bit secure in going out to eat, swim, or play.
This trip has been wonderful. Completely different, but completely wonderful. So much so, that we’ve booked another trip back in a couple of weeks – before the tourism floodgates open again and hide the amazing beauty of this place beneath the crass and disgusting capitalism of mass tourism.
Hawaii has a rich history of conquest, betrayal, love, adventure and romance. That history doesn’t start with the coming of Europeans or even with the uniting of the Hawaiian Islands under the first King Kamehameha – it goes much further back and it is those ancient times when you find the excitement, romance, and adventure. The later kings and queens of Hawaii were fairly domestic in terms of their rule (with the exceptions of King Kalakaua and King Kamehameha). Queen Lilioukalani, of course, was beloved as the last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom and because of the injustice done to her and the Hawaiian people in that act and what followed – but the early Kings and Queens – to me – it was they who truly represent who the Hawaiian people really are – and of course, King Kamehameha I (below) represents incredibly well.
Fierce, loyal, independent, and ambitious….The history of Hawaiian Kings and Queens was transmitted by oral history so in some cases we know almost nothing and in others we have celebrated deeds. Written language didn’t come to the Hawaiian Islands until the 1800’s – at which point most of these monarchs were long gone. I’ve tried to piece together some of the lineages from online sources and Ross Cordy’s excellent Rise and Fall of the Oahu Kingdom – but have certainly made a few errors as there are differing accounts – none of which are backed by written history.
First of all – understand that there were four main islands which all had ali’i nui (monarchs) – Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii. Lanai and Kahoolawe were typically under Maui control and Molokai was often under Oahu control though sometimes under Maui and sometimes independent.
The first known King of Oahu was a man named La’akona in about 1400 A.D. His line ruled from ‘Ewa until the 1600s when Queen Kala’imanuia came into power. She was a productive and peaceful Queen who focused on building fishponds and expanding wetland agriculture. Her three sons split the island and some chaos reigned until her grandson Kakuhihewa reunified the island. He was a renowned ruler and ruled from Kailua on the windward side. Four generations after him, the greatest Oahu King came to power. Kuali’i conquered Kauai, Molokai, parts of the Big Island, and attempted to gain control (unsuccessfully) over Maui, Kahoolawe, and Lanai. His eldest son Kumuhonua inherited the Oahu Kingdom. His younger son Moiheka was the King of Kauai. It is possible that his daughter became the kahina nui of Molokai. King Kumuhonua’s descendent Kiing Kahahana, was conquered in 1783 by King Kahekili II of Maui who King Kamehameha acknownledged as his biological father. The legitimate heir of Kahekili II was Kalanikapule – the same who was thrown from the cliffs of Nu’uanu Pali by the conquering King Kamehameha (his half brother) in 1795.
Kahekili II had one side of his body tattooed black so that he would resemble his namesake the Hawaiian God of Thunder (Kane Hekili). Kahekili II was the first great conqueror of Hawaii – he controlled all of the Hawaiian Islands except the Big Island of Hawaii. His conquest of King Kahahana of Oahu was a bloody affair where most of the Oahu royals were executed and their history erased. He had a house constructed of their bones!
When Kahekili II died his brother and son went to war for control. Eventually Kalanikapule was victorious but it left him weakened and his kingdom was conquered by King Kamehameha less than a year later. Kamehameha himself was said to be a descendent of Umi-a-Liloa, the first monarch to conquer the entire island of Hawaii. He was the son of a beautiful commoner and the high king Liloa. The king had left royal insignia that only those of high birth could possess…the boy was born and his mother hid his identity until the man who thought he was Umi’s father (her husband) was beating the boy, at which point she demanded he stop since the boy was actually his king! From here, Umi traveled to the Waipio Valley where the king lived and presented himself. He found great favor but was regarded jealously by his half-brother who he eventually overcame and made serve him. He married many high ranking women and through diplomacy and war eventually united nearly every district of the Big Island. His descendent Keawe’ikekahiali’iokamoku was the great-grandfather of King Kamehameha. For typing sake, we will refer to him as KIng Keawe.
King Keawe built alliances with all of the Kingdoms on all eight islands and built strong alliances based on marriage to high ranking chiefs and royals. His main problem during his reign was controlling the chiefs of Hilo but through war and diplomacy he managed to keep them from declaring independence. He was the common ancestor of both the Kamehameha and Kalakaua dynasties.
One of the most powerful monarchs in Hawaiian history was also one of the wives of King Kamehameha the great. Queen Regent Ka’ahumanu of Maui was the favorite wife of Kamehameha (he had many) and when he died, she was co-ruler of the kingdom over the next two reigns. It can be argued that not only did she conquer Kauai for him, but she also overthrew the entire religion of the Hawaiian people, and ruled longer than any other monarch. It is said that in private, the kings were forced to bow to her.
She was born in a sacred cave on Maui and died in the Manoa Valley on Oahu. When Kamehameha I died, she married King Kaumuali’i of Kauai to prevent the kingdom from splintering. She was the mother of Kamehameha II and ruled his kingdom and that of Kamehameha III with an iron fist. Her lineage was said to be one of the highest in the islands. She was the child of a fugitive prince of Hawaii and a princess of Maui. She married Kamehameha when she was thirteen and from that point pushed her husband to unify the Hawaiian Islands. At his death, she announced that he had wanted her to be co-ruler with the new Kamehameha II (Liholiho) and no one was willing to argue with her.
When Kamehameha II died, she retained power as her step-son Kauikeaouili became Kamehameha III. She was a fierce advocate of women’s rights. She was also a notoriously large woman who broke the kapu (rules) about what women could and could not eat. She singlehandedly overthrew the ancient Hawaiian religion and invited missionaries to teach a new religion in Hawaii.
Her second husband was the King of Kauai. Kaumuali’i.
Kaumuali’i and his island of Kauai were never conquered by Kamehameha but instead were conquered by Queen Ka’ahumanu and her intelligent diplomacy (and the threat of a bloody invasion by King Kamehameha’s vast armada). He offered a bloodless surrender and reigned as a vassal until 1821 when he was kidnapped by Ka’ahumanu and married to her. When he died, she forced his son into marriage with her as well.
Kaumuali’i’s first wife was the Queen Regent of Oahu – thus when the royals of Oahu were exterminated by Kahekili II, the Kauai royals were the last of the Oahu nobles.
Now – a quick look at the monarchs of the Unified Hawaiian Kingdom. We’ve already discussed Kamehameha I. He died in 1819 and was succeeded by his son, Kamehameha II (Liholiho) and his widow Ka’ahumanu. Kamehameha II ruled for only five years and died at the age of 24. He was an extravagent spender and a drunk. Ka’ahumanu was the actuall ruler. He died in London on his first trip abroad. He was married to his half-sister, Kamamalu, who stood over six feet tall. The two contracted measles in London and died.
Kamehameha III (Keaikeaouili) was the third king of the unified kingdom. He had the longest reign unless you consider Ka’ahumanu’s time as ruler. He changed the form of government from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. He also created the division of land which allowed private ownership – both moves paved the way for the wealth and control of the descendents of American missionaries and settlers which eventually led to the overthrow of the kingdom.
He was succeeded by his nephew Alexander Liholiho who became Kamehameha IV. He was a good and beloved king who focused on the health and education of his people. He and his wife Queen Emma (granddaughter to John Young, English advisor to Kamehameha I) were loved by the people. He sought to protect Hawaii from growing American influence. He only ruled foer eight years. Disease was the great killer of the Hawaiian monarchs.
His brother Lot became Kamehameha V. Lot ruled for nine years. He had no heir. He continued the policies of his brother but with little success limiting the influence of missionaries and American migrants. His sister, Bernice Pauahi Bishop refused the throne on his deathbed which led to a constitutional crisis where a new line of monarchs had to be elected. The main candidates were the step-son of Kamehameha I, William Lunalilo, Queen Emma, widow of Kamehameha iV and David Kalakaua – descendent of King Keawe – common ancestor of both he and Kamehameha the Great.
The first elected King of Hawai’i was William Lunalilo. He was popular and known as ‘The People’s King’ but only ruled for a year and left no heirs. Once again there was an election.
The winner of that election was King David Kalakaua .He was a remarkable man who excelled in writing, architecture, music, design, and more. He was an adventurer and had grand aspirations for building a Pacific Kingdom with Hawaii in the center and all of the other islands of the Pacific in liege. Sadly, he died with his ambitions unfulfilled – a victim of the weak Hawaiian immune system (a result of 1000 years in isolation from the diseases of mankind). His wife Queen Kapiolani (left side), was the grand-daughter of King Kaumuali’i of Kauai. She was evicted from Iolani Palace after the overthrow of the kingdom and lived out her days in Waikiki. She bequeathed lands and hospitals to the people of Hawai’i.
King Kalakaua’s sister, Queen Lilioukalani (right side) inherited the throne after his death and was overthrown by sugar planters, missionaries, and American treachery. She fought peacefully and valiantly with politics and diplomacy to restore her kingdom but she was the last of the Hawaiian monarchs.
The last true heirs to the Hawaiian Throne were Princess Victoria Kaiulani – daughter of Kalakaua’s sister, David Kawananakoa, son of Queen Kapiolani’s sister, and Prince Jonah Kuhio, the adopted son of Queen Kapiolani and King Kalakaua. Since the kingdom was overthrown, none of them ever ascended. Today, there are descendents of David Kawanakoa who are considered the true heirs to the now non-existant Hawaiian throne. It should be noted, however, that some Native Hawaiian people reject such claims and point to the extended family of Kamehameha the Great as the true heirs. Through the years, there have been several attempts at re-establishing a Hawaiian monarchy – Honolulu Magazine has detailed those attemps in a series of excellent articles.
Last year (2017) I took my family to the Big Island of Hawaii for a Christmas holiday. I’d been to the Big Island several times before – the first time back in 2002 and then again in 2006 and last year for work and an earlier trip to explore the possibility of buying some land in Kurtistown . Each trip had been about a week – so I suppose that means that all together, I’ve spent a little over a month on the Big Island. I love it and can’t wait to spend more time there.
The Christmas trip last year was by far the best – sure I wasn’t staying in the scientific barracks on Mauna Kea with all the astronomers, hiking through active lava fields, or even driving a convertable Mustang through Kohala with the wind blowing through my hair (hair that is now mostly gone, I might add). What made this trip special was being able to share it with my wife and daughter.
We stayed at the Hilton Double Tree in Hilo – a hotel which sits on one of the most scenic bays in the world. From there we explored in many directions. On Christmas Day, we went to the visitor center on Mauna Kea where there was a little bit of snow to play in. Another day we explored the Volcanoes National Park where we didn’t get to see huge lava flows (those came a few months later) but still got to see a little bit of activity in the distance.
It was fun to share the vast lava plains, the cold mountain tops, the rugged and raw beauty of Kapoho Bay (which completely filled in with lava during the eruption of 2018). We wandered around Hilo and Kailua-Kona (not to be confused with Kailua on Oahu). We explored the lava tree forest and Akaka Falls and we enjoyed almost every minute of it. Even better, Santa somehow found us in our hotel room (our six-year-old Sophia never bothered to ask why usually light packing Daddy brought a huge suitcase on this trip – hint: this was Santa’s bag). We almost had a not so perfect moment when we went down to get breakfast on Christmas morning and found out that there was a 2-3 hour wait in the hotel restaurant – but adapted and headed out into Hilo town where Ken’s House of Pancakes was open and working hard on Christmas morning.
This was a super fun trip and since this is a Friday Flashback – I’ll share a bunch of pictures since every picture really is worth at least a thousand words. Aloha and a hui ho and ho ho ho!
I suppose I should give a bit of a personal history for the rest of this story to make sense. Here it is in brief – in 2017, I moved my family to Hawai’i. We sold our antique store and little community paper on the Oregon Coast and I came here, found a job, and rented an apartment on Oahu. I lived on Oahu for almost a decade and graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a degree in Anthropology back in 2008, then I left. That and my familiarity with Hawaiian history and culture enabled me to get a job as an archaeologist with a private company here. The pay was below what it takes to survive on Oahu – luckily we had a little bit saved from the sale of our business’ in Oregon which tided us over until I found a job in my pre-university line of business – being a tour guide. So, I was a working archaeologist. It was pretty cool. Now…on to the Flashback…
This week I had the opportunity to come to the Big Island of Hawai’i, stay in the scientific dormitories at about 10,000 feet, and visit historic and cultural sites from this level up to the peak at 14,000 feet. I was living among some of the top astronomers and scientists in the world and I was a working archaeologist on the highest mountain in Hawai’i.
This particular job is an annual event in which a team of archaeologists and botanists visit a series of sites to note any changes, vandalism, or other noteworthy events. The biggest challenge is the altitude – any time you go above 10,000 feet, you are putting your body into an altered state – there is not as much oxygen and your body can go through dangerous changes.
Although minor symptoms such as breathlessness may occur at altitudes of 1,500 metres (5,000 ft), AMS commonly occurs above 2,400 metres (8,000 ft).It presents as a collection of nonspecific symptoms, acquired at high altitude or in low air pressure, resembling a case of “flu, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a hangover”.It is hard to determine who will be affected by altitude sickness, as there are no specific factors that correlate with a susceptibility to altitude sickness. However, most people can ascend to 2,400 metres (8,000 ft) without difficulty.
Acute mountain sickness can progress to high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), both of which are potentially fatal, and can only be cured by immediate descent to lower altitude or oxygen administration.
So, you can imagine what it’s like to be doing strenuous hikes in the neighborhood of 14,000 feet. My understanding is that most of my co-workers have suffered ill-effects. Yesterday, my first day hiking on the mountain, I experienced some light headedness and a bit of vertigo but for the most part was fine if out of breath more than I liked.
My co-worker moves quickly and I was frequently quite a ways behind him. There is not supposed to be any pressure to move faster than feels personally safe, but he has a cold and gets paid a salary instead of being an hourly worker like me – so we’re moving a lot faster than we should be. We’ve got a bright red jeep for the week – but he won’t let me drive it. Kind of lame.
Mauna Kea is mankind’s window to the stars. The dry climate and 90% clear skies have made this the world’s premier location for large scale observatories. The world’s largest observatory is here along with a dozen other giant telescopes for optical and infrared astronomy as well as submillimeter wavelength and radio astronomy. The most familiar portion of the summit is what people here call the 007 array – this was featured in the James Bond movie Moonraker back in the 1970s. We are staying in the barracks that house scientists from 11 countries and support staff for the mountain.
Mauna Kea is not simply a technological treasure. The Hawaiians considered this the realm of the Gods, a sort of Mt. Olympus where the goddess Poliahu dwelled. The Hawaiian name is Mauna a Wakea which means sky father – Wakea is considered the father of the Hawaiian people. This mountain was forbidden ‘kapu’ (taboo) to commoners and the Hawaiian Ali’i were the only ones allowed to make the trek to the top without special dispensation – which was reserved for priests (kahuna) and skilled stone artisans. The rock on Mauna Kea was treasured for the making of stone adzes, knives, and other stone tools.
This is a wahi pana, a sacred and legendary place. This was where Hawaiians would study the stars, make tools, and practice elaboriate religious rituals. My colleagues have recorded 96 sites between 12,000 and 13,000 feet – 76 of which are recorded as shrines. The shrines can be elaborate or as simple as an upright stone jutting from a crack in the lava where it was placed. There are modern shrines, ahu, as well – placed by modern kahuna. There are a whole mountain of laws and regulations regarding these – we keep it simple. Disturb nothing. We pack out what we pack in. We do not photograph human remains but we note their placement.
Mauna Kea is also home to several endemic species and a host of invasive species. Silversword, ‘ahinahina, is an endangered plant species endemic to Hawaii. They can grow for up to 40 years before blooming. Not threatened are mamane and pukiave shrubs which tend to b found at the lower altitudes and provide food and shelter for endangered birds like the Hawaiian palila and the Hawaiian goose or Nene. This bird in the gallery below is an Erckel’s Francolin, a sort of African pheasant which was introduced long ago and is endangered in its native home of Ethiopia but doing just fine here.
This is a magical and majestic place. I am priveliged to be able to spend a week here.
Flashback Friday – back in 2017 when I knew that I was moving back to Hawai’i and bringing my family with me – I had two plans and didn’t know which one would be better. The first was to move to Honolulu, find a job, find an apartment or house, and get ready to pay the quality of life tax. The second one was to move to Hilo, use the proceeds from the sale of my antique store in Oregon to buy a piece of land near the volcano, and then to live a sort of Hawaiian Mosquito Coast adventure…ultimately, I decided on Honolulu as being the best decision for the good of my family….but even after all the eruptions and hurricanes of the past year – there’s a part of me that wishes I had chose Kurtistown. Here’s what I wrote back then:
It’s Father’s Day and I have to admit – this was one hell of a present to myself. Alright, actually, it is happenstance – I didn’t plan this as a Father’s Day gift – I wasn’t thinking about Father’s Day at all – but I was doing my damndest to be the best father I can.
I’m waking up and sitting in a big comfy bed with lots of feather pillows around me. I’ve brewed a cup of coffee and I’ve got a view right out my window and off the lanai of Hilo Bay as the Hawai’ian sun brings the silhouete of the Big Island to life. Happy Father’s Day!
The picture above actually shows where I’m sitting in bed. The Grand Naniloa Double Tree by Hilton in Hilo, Hawaii.These past few years I’ve been living in Reedsport, Oregon. I was a bit surprised when I was driving up to find that the bay on the back side of this hotel is called Reed’s Bay. That Reed fella got around. I’m not here on a vacation – at least that wasn’t my intention, but it did sort of work out that way.
I came here to look at a property south of here in Kurtistown. Sitting in Oregon, I wasn’t at all sure that I would be able to accomplish the 5-day mission I set out upon – land a job, secure a house or apartment on Oahu, and rediscover the lay of the land in Hawai’i. So, I had a backup plan. If, when I got to Oahu, it was just too expensive, too crowded, too much to bring my wife and little girl to – if there was no home for us on Oahu – I was going to purchase (perhaps) a remote cabin in the rainforest – a very real mega-fixer-upper on a beautiful piece of land – and I was going to move us there. The owner was willing to carry the loan, I had just enough for a down payment, and I’d figure out a way to make it work…that was the plan. So, before I left Oregon I booked three days on Oahu and a weekend trip to Hilo where I used my new Hilton Honors Amex to book two nights in the Grand Nani Loa and got a great package deal on a car.
Thankfully, Oahu welcomed me home with open arms. I got the job, I found a home and secured it, and by the time I flew to the Big Island on Friday – my work-family-mission in Hawai’i had already been accomplished. Still, there was a part of me that loved the idea of pulling a Mosquito Coast (Paul Theroux moves his family to a remote tropical jungle situation) and building a life in the jungles of Hawai’i. So, I arranged to tour it with the realtor at his earliest convenience and since he wasn’t available until Sunday morning – I got directions from the owner and drove out some serious country roads as soon as I got off the plane.
I loved the property. Pineapples, coconuts, bananas, haliconias, big ohia trees, wide grassy fields. It was actually the type of property I dream about living on – except for the mosquitos. And except for the house. The house was a disaster. It was livable – but to be honest, I’ve lived in huts, tents, and cars that were less grody. It had some very real structural issues as well. Plus, it was so far out and off the grid that there was no way I could move my wife and daughter there. Not just because of my responsibility, but because once she saw it – my wife would have revolted. The only way to move her there would have been in manacles and frankly, even if that was my style, I’m pretty sure it still wouldn’t have worked.
So, I cancelled the showing, let the owner know that it wasn’t going to happen…and set about rediscovering Hilo and a bit of the surrounding areas…from the posh comfort of my posh hotel room – when I checked in – the universe rewarded me for thinking about my wife and child by getting me an upgraded room…which, by the way, is why it always pays to be kind and understanding when your room isn’t ready and you are ready to check in…
Kamehameha the Great was the first king of the United Kingdom of the Hawaiian Islands. His actual name was Kalani Pai’ea Wohi o Kaleikini Keali’ikui Kamehameha o ‘Iolani i Kaiwikapu kau’i Ka Liholiho K’nui’kea – which history has shortened to Kamehameha the Great. There are multiple large impressive statues of King Kamehameha which each have interesting histories. The original was created by a sculptor in Italy which explains why King Kamehameha is standing like a Roman general and has vaguely Italian features…it was commissioned by King David Kalakaua to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival in Hawai’i – an event which probably would not have been celebrated had Kalakaua known he would be the last king of the islands and he would be overthrown by the missionaries who followed – but he had no way of knowing that and so he ordered the statue and had it shipped around South America – where it sank. But wily King Kalakaua had insured it and so another was cast – but by the time it arrived, the first had been recovered and sent ahead. So there were two – one went up at Iolani Palace and the other went up near the birthplace of Kamehameha. But the photo below is neither of those.
This statue was commissioned by a resort on Kauai that seemed unaware that King Kamuali’i of Kauai was never conquered by Kamehameha – in fact, Kamehameha never set foot on Kauai. It was a politcal unification, not a military one – so the people of Kauai have strong feelings about a statue of Kamehameha being erected on their island – and made a big stink about it – which resulted in this beautiful statue being sent to Hilo – a place where Kamehameha was loved and revered. There is also a statue of Kamehameha in Washington DC which was in the hall of heroes next to Father Damien (Hawaii’s only saint) – each state has two heroes there…and Kamehameha was in the shadows until Barack Obama became President of the United States – at that point – it was emancipated and moved to Emancipation Hall. A much better spot.
I love Hilo. The whole Big Island of Hawai’i is a bit like the Oregon Coast in that the economy is rural and agricultural. And it is fairly wet on this side…and the economy seems a bit depressed when compared to Oahu or Maui. Just like Oregon is depressed when compared to California or Washington. In fact, in the past, when I’ve thought about the islands and their very distinct personalities – I’ve sometimes used a West Coast shorthand to describe them. Oahu is the like the Bay Area, Maui is like Los Angeles, Kauai is like Portland, and the Big Island is like Oregon although Kailua-Kona seems to have become more like Seattle. Lanai is like agricultural California and Ni’ihau is (as far as I know because I haven’t been there – more like actual Hawai’i. As for Molokai – it’s also more Hawai’ian than Haole – but it’s been ten years since I’ve been there – so I can’t say for sure. Anyway, that’s a very imperfect West Coast shorthand. Each island has a flavor and each district has a flavor and each town has a flavor.
The farmer’s market in Hilo is fantastic. The smells and sounds brought me back to a place I didn’t know I had forgotten. I was fortunate to be here on a Saturday when the local canoe clubs were having a big regatta – and one of the things I love about Big Island is that when families go to the beach, they really go…they bring huge tents and electricity and even one guy with a lazy boy recliner. I wanted to take a picture but he was just so comfortable and I didn’t want to intrude on that.
I drove down to Volcano and checked out the show Madam Pele is putting on. Fantastic. At night the spectable is extraordinary – but I didn’t really want to hang out. I’ve walked the lava fields before, poked pennies into the lava, and melted my shoes as well as seeing the nighttime wonders. This time, I just wanted to be there and then to move on.
It’s nice that I’ve been here before – I feel no pressure to do anything. I strolled through the Queen Lilioukalani Gardens and walked out to Coconut Island. I wandered through downtown and had a fantastic plate of Hawai’ian food at Hawai’ian Style Cafe – it’s been a while since I had laulau, poi,lomi-lomi salmon, long rice soup, or poke that was that good. I walked through Hilo leaving my rental car at the hotel and going miles and miles and miles. I browsed the bookstores and antique shops, bought a delicious cardamom muffin, and just soaked it in. Then I sat on the lanai at my hotel, looked at the water, and just breathed.
This morning, on Father’s Day, I counted my blessings. Being my daughter’s daddy is the best thing that this world has ever given me. I am so blessed. Then, I got a text from her thanking me for this privilege!
The Big Island is beautiful. There is no question about the stunning beauty, the abundance of beautiful birds and the wonders of nature. Akaka Falls and the Hamakua Coast, the majestic volcano mountains of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and the wonderous sense of space. Being on the Big Island again was like meeting a girl you were crazy about but never really got to know very well a decade after you had both moved on with life. The Big Island is pregnant with possibilities. And, there are also some very real dangers.
The first that comes to mind is Rapid Ohia Death – this is a relatively new phenomenon where a form of Ceratocystis fimbriata – a root fungus is killing the large Ohia trees all over the island.
The Ohia tree (aka Ohia Lehua or sometimes just as Lehua thought that is usually the word used for the flower) is endemic to Hawai’i and is often one of the first plants to grow on lava – it is a tree closely associated with the volcano goddess Pele. I should point out that endemic means that a species developed here and is not found in nature anywhere else on the planet. There are five species of ohia that are endemic to Hawai’i. The Hawaiian islands are home to a great variety of endemic species because they are the most remote landmass on the planet and on the islands you can find nearly every climactic zone where life thrives from desert to tropical to temperate, etc. Unfortunately, the isolation in which speciation occurred made the unique species of these islands susceptable to disease and pressure from invasive species. A great many of the unique species of Hawai’i have gone extinct and a great many more are endangered. Many of the endangered species rely on the habitat created by the Ohia forests…so, in 2015 when huge swaths of Ohia began dying rapidly – there was panic. The fungus killing them has been identified, but the source of the fungus is unknown and a solution to the growing problem has not yet been discovered.
And of course, there are other Big Island dangers – volcanos, malaria, West Nile Virus, and other tropical mosquito borne pathogens.
The Big Island is bigger than all the other islands combined. I only saw a tiny portion of it on this trip, but it was enough to know that this place is precious. On my last morning on the Big Island (this trip) I drove North from Hilo to Hakalau Bay, I didn’t have time to hike or really dive in – I was just soaking in an impression. I stopped briefly at Akaka Falls and Kolekole State Park – I stopped to help a stranded motorist with a broken down car, but she was busy doing Facetime with her mom and said a tow-truck was on the way so I didn’t stick around. I just drove and enjoyed the driving.
I bought a plate lunch (to go) and then drove to the airport and returned my rental car. I did better on timing this go round – I was only one hour early for my flight but from Big Island to Oahu, I would have been fine with a half hour or maybe even 15 minutes. No wait, no line, no problem.