Destination: The Big Island

Kilauea’s Hot Summit

Kilauea’s Hot Summit Photo by Image Editor via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by Image Editor via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It used to be that you had to go to the end of the winding Chain of Craters road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park if you wanted to get a look at hot melted planet. I’ve never done it—once the road was closed due to excessive volcanic activity, and once there wasn’t time and once ... Oh, my excuses are endless.

But if you’re on the Big Island right now, you don’t have to make that trip. According to the L.A. Times, Kilauea is “glowing brightly as molten lava swirls 300 feet below its crater’s floor, bubbling near the surface after years of spewing from the volcano’s side.”

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Brother Bertram, Photojournalist

Brother Bertram, Photojournalist Image courtesy of Lyman Museum.
Image courtesy of Lyman Museum

I’m a sucker for Hawaii’s unreachable past, a somewhat imaginary time when there really was a little grass shack in Kaleakakua to go back to. So I’m pretty excited about the photography show that’s running at the Lyman Museum in Hilo.

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More Ahi, Please*

More Ahi, Please* Photo by goochie* via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by goochie* via Flickr (Creative Commons)

You can not pile too much ahi—the Hawaiian name for tuna—on my plate. I love the stuff: raw, grilled, wrapped in rice and nori and served as sushi, marinated in soy and spice and served as poke, crusted with macadamia nuts and coconut and topped with a little mango sauce ... I swear I am turning into a big drooling mess just thinking about it.

But overfishing is depleting tuna stocks, just like it’s depleting so many of our dinner-bound, ocean-dwelling populations, driving up the price and making for scarce supply.

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The New Sand: May Contain Plastic

The New Sand: May Contain Plastic Photo by Mason Bryant via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by Mason Bryant via Flickr (Creative Commons).

The May 2009 issue of Hana Hou!—Hawaiian Airlines’ in-flight mag—includes an article called The Voyage of the Junk. The story is about a journey from California to Honolulu via the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The ship itself was a trash heap, made out of plastic garbage and leftover bits of a Cessna. The goal of the journey was to raise awareness of the impact that all the plastic crap we create, buy and use is having on the oceans.

There’s a particularly sad and telling passage in the story. Upon arrival in Honolulu, one of the sailors decided to find out how long it would take to pull a piece of plastic out of the water. He hopped overboard, and: “Less than a minute later he was out, holding up an ‘ABC Stores’ bag. ‘Thirty seconds,’ he said, with both triumph and distaste.”

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For Sale: One Pocket Globe, Complete with History Lesson

Like most travelers, I’m a sucker for old maps and other travel ephemera. That’s why I spent way too much time clicking through the catalog after reading about the collection of Hawaii artifacts that went up for auction last week. The items included “an early issue of Ke Kumu Hawaii, the first newspaper printed in Honolulu; a copy of Lili’uokalani’s translation of the Kumulipo genealogy chant; and a 19th-century Hawaii flag hand-painted on silk.”

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Island Eats: Mango Smoothies

I’m an extremely addicted coffee drinker, but I have a guilty confession to make: I didn’t find the coffee in Hawaii all that great. That’s why, given the choice between a less-than-satisfying cup of joe and a big orange slurp of calorie-laden deep orange-yellow lusciousness, I went with the mango smoothie every time. I’m sure mangoes are full of things that are way better for me than caffeine salvation, but that’s not why I made the switch during my island time. Nope, it’s because mango smoothies are seductively, amazingly delicious. And at least as revitalizing as a poor-to-middling cup of coffee.

My favorite was, hands down, the one from that guy in the Maunakea Marketplace Food Court in Honolulu’s Chinatown. That fruit stand on the way back from Hana, its weren’t bad either, though I was sure one of those stoner kids was going to lose a finger at best, an entire limb at worst, swinging that machete around while high as a kite on one of Maui’s other abundant crops. I skipped the bicycle-powered blender, also on the Hana Highway because I was having an uncharacteristically un-Hawaiian moment of impatience. But I swerved to a halt at the first fruit stand on the way towards Volcano on the road from Kaleakakua Bay. “Large, please. Mango. Mahalo.”

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Hawaii’s Endangered Birds: Wake Up, Already!

Hawaii’s Endangered Birds: Wake Up, Already! Photo by quinn.anya via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by quinn.anya via Flickr (Creative Commons).

I’m as surprised as anyone to find myself turning into a bird watcher—it’s a short walk from where I am to high-waisted cargo pants, a vest full of pockets and a pair of binoculars that will allow me to see well into the next county. (I kid, I kid. Bird watchers come in all shapes, sizes and victims of fashion.) My affection for all things avian is why I was saddened to read the report on Hawaii’s failing bird population.

From the AP

One-third of the nation’s endangered birds are in Hawaii, said the report issued Thursday by the Interior Department. Thirty-one Hawaiian bird species are listed as endangered, more than anywhere else in the country.

Birds are a critical part of any visit to Hawaii—the moment the sun pops over the horizon, the birds go off, alarm clock style, making all kinds of racket until they are sure you are good and awake, settling down to spend their days in a less disruptive way once you’ve given up the earplugs, found a cup of coffee and admitted defeat. Maybe they know you have to be on the pier, pronto, to catch that snorkel boat or whale-watching tour, and they are not going to let you miss it, not if they have anything to say about it.

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Hawaii vs. Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Photo by k*8 via Flickr (Creative Commons).

A brief disclaimer: I’m not an expert on legal matters and while I’ve been doing lots of reading, there’s still lots I don’t understand. Because of that, I absolutely welcome your more enlightened comments on the case. I’d just like to get you interested in what’s happening and why it’s a big deal, I’m going to keep it brief and send you elsewhere to more expert commentary. Now, in summary:

The Hawaiian State Supreme Court previously ruled that the state (Hawaii) could not sell lands ceded in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy until a settlement on those lands had been reached with the Hawaiian people. The gist? The lands were ceded to the U.S. government by those who had no right to do so.

The state of Hawaii is appealing the decision—it wants the right to sell those lands. It says that its ability to manage the lands is impeded by this ruling. That’s the bare bones of the case. But Native Hawaiians see a lot more at stake in the Supreme Court’s first case tomorrow.

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Gov. to Hawaii: Tear Down This Clothesline

Gov. to Hawaii: Tear Down This Clothesline Photo by s2art via Flickr (Creative Commons).

From the Pacific Business News:

A similar bill, jokingly referred to as the “right to dry bill” passed the Legislature in 2008 but was vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle.

House Bill 1273, introduced by several environmentally conscientious House representatives, includes language that says a residential board may implement “reasonable restrictions with regard to the placement of the clothesline so long as the restrictions do not prohibit clotheslines altogether.”

Ah, the politics of a tourism-driven economy. I’m going to stick my neck out and guess that the reason the gov vetoed the bill was hefty lobbying about aesthetics from resort developers and tourism boosters. “All that underwear is going to wreck our view!”

Confession: I’ve shot photos in any number of European towns of laundry drying on the line. The Italians seem to do a nice job making laundry aesthetic. I’d be hard pressed not to be giddy at the sight of a line full of Aloha shirts flapping in the Hawaiian breeze.

The Unfortunate End of Captain Cook

captain cook statue Photo by avlxyz via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by avlxyz via Flickr (Creative Commons).

The story of Captain Cook’s death—the anniversary of this unfortunate event just passed—is an object lesson in cultural misunderstandings.

Cook and his crew first blew into Kaleakakua Bay while the Pleadies were rising, during the festival of Makahiki. Hawaiian custom deemed that during this time, there was to be no fighting, no conflict of any kind.

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Iz, Gabby Pahinui and the Sounds of Hawaii

Big Iz’s “Over the Rainbow” is an iconic ukulele track—it’s often the first thing folks ask me to play when they learn I have a uke. If you’ve heard the full track—it slid into U.S. consciousness a few years back via a toy store advertisement—then you’ve heard the bit at the beginning where Iz says, in his perfect, soft voice, “K, this one’s for Gabby.”

Iz is referring to Gabby Pahinui. Even though Gabby died in 1980, he’s credited with being the master of slack key. You can take his title as the father of Hawaiian music more literally, too: three of his sons, Cyril, Martin, and Bla are recording artists. For me, Cyril’s sweet falsetto and the sound of slack key guitar evoke the islands like nothing else. I’ve had the good fortune to see Cyril Pahinui on the mainland and in the islands—he’s often on tour with Led Kaapana, another slack key super genius.

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Island Eats: Spam Musubi

spam musubi Photo by bandita via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by bandita via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Blame WW II. It was the food of soldiers stationed in the islands and somehow, it stuck—cans of the meat-like product making their way past the gates of military bases and into Hawaiian daily life. According to an older article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, islanders go through 7 million cans of Spam annually. Spam seems to show up everywhere Hawaiians are found—Hawaiian center fielder for the Phillies Shane Victorino took heat last year from PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) for admitting that Spam musubi was one of his favorite foods. And stalkerish reporting on every action taken by our new president on his last trip to the islands revealed that he ordered Spam musubi for lunch while on a golf outing.

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Mind the Vog

vog Photo by birchster via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by birchster via Flickr (Creative Commons).

It’s the byproduct of an active volcano. Vog, it’s called, volcano plus smog. It might make for some pretty sunrises or sunsets, but vog also produces acid rain and can aggravate respiratory conditions. The Department of Health just launched a website to monitor vog conditions and United States Geological Survey (USGS) has a fact sheet up about the dangers of vog:

SO2 is a poisonous gas that irritates skin and the tissues and mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat. During even moderate physical activity, SO2 penetrates deeply into the airway and can produce respiratory distress in some individuals. In the absence of strong winds, SO2 emitted by Kilauea can accumulate in the air and reach levels that exceed Federal health standards. Since 1986, this has occurred more than 85 times within Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, which includes much of Kilauea.

Kiluea Volcano is a stunner, but she’s also the culprit, emitting sulfur dioxide into the air whenever she erupts. Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park keeps their site up to date with not just where to see the lava, but which parts of the park are closed due to vog. Live lava is a big draw, but don’t be disappointed if the volcano isn’t active for you—your lungs may be thankful for the volcano’s rest.


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