Normal people go to a tropical island with an agenda that goes something like this:
1) sleep in
2) walk hand in hand on beach
3) have fruity umbrella drink
4) get a tan
But I am not the usual sort and managed to avoid most of it.
The first step to accomplishing this is to skip taking your romantic partner and take your parents instead. In the company of my parents, trips are decidedly more upscale than my usual trips to a national park. There were no campers involved and I didn’t have a single peanut butter sandwich the whole trip. The other upside is that they are super helpful. I have them so well trained that they think it is actually normal to drop their daughter off and wait around until they find her miles later. The only drawback is their navigational skills. First mom lost the park map then dad found us a replacement printed in German. Lesson learned: dad is no longer fluent in German.
The second step is to avoid the beach all together. As it turns out, volcanoes are quite tall and just like on the mainland, the higher your go, the colder it gets. Foolishly believing that I was going to a tropical island, I did not consider the effects of altitude in my packing. While most people take home a bit more tropical attire, my souvenir was a hooded sweatshirt that I lived in for the week to ward off the cold.
Volcanoes National Park did not disappoint and graciously put on a nice show for us. Watching that thing spit and glow really makes you think, why on earth would anyone dare to live here? As it turns out, lava does not flow nearly as fast as it does in the movies, I’m sure giving everyone a very false sense of reassurance that there will be plenty of time to round up grandma before evacuating.
Instead of sand between our toes and waves lapping at our ankles, we chose to ambulate across grossly uneven, disorienting terrain in order to see lava up close. First bike 4 miles on a gravel road and hike two more miles to an unknown destination across miles and miles of black rock. If you feel a sudden blast of heat, look for orange and don’t step in it. That is basically how you find “fresh” lava in a lava field. In case that isn’t challenging enough, try this in the dark.
For part two, we moved to Maui. Once again, we skipped the beach and headed straight up the mountain to see Haleakala National Park. This protects the caldera of an ancient volcano that made much of Maui. While visitors are encouraged to appreciate the rare silversword plant and nene bird, what people literally line up for is sunrise. This once again defying the purpose of going to a tropical island, this errand required a 3:30 wake up call to stand around shivering in the cold at nearly 10,000ft while waiting for the sun to come up. Ultimately, this is a bit like watching water boil, tedious but totally worth it in the end.
With the rising sun we were finally free to explore the beach, but once again, we skipped the beach and headed straight for the water with the primary intention to see sea turtles. While standing on the shore I could see the damn things poking their heads up taunting me to come find them, but they proved to be elusive in the silty, turning water. Yet again Hawaii, I was reduced to shivers and retreated to dry ground searching for my now well-worn sweatshirt. The second attempt was aided by a wetsuit that obviated the need for sunscreen, continuing the trend of bucking the typical tropical agenda. Once again, there was failure to find a sea turtle but any disappointment I had was diminished by the presence of horny whales. Testosterone can drive men to do some crazy shit but when it fuels 25 tons of humpback whale, it results in an impressive water show.
Altogether a successful trip accomplishing all we set out to do. Fortunately, there are plenty of reasons to go back to Hawaii. First thing I would do? Get a fruity umbrella drink.