(Continued from last post)
One bout of snorkeling experience at the Two-step beach had not satisfied Prasad. He wanted more. The awesome part about snorkeling in Hawaii is it is free (if you own a gear, but even if you don’t, it can be rented for a pittance at stores by the beaches) and it can be done at any beach. In Florida the whole thing had been expensive. The cheapest was at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, where we still had to pay $30 per person apart from renting the gear.
Prasad wanted to capture the underwater world for me to see. So he decided to carry a water-proof camera along on his next dive. At kahalu’u beach he bought one – a tiny disposable water-proof camera- for $18.
After he left to explore the ocean floor and Medha began collecting sea shells and Madhav napped on my lap, I dove into my Samsung Note to journal our vacation. It was so relaxing, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend our days in Hawaii. Or so I thought until we found ourselves on a curvy ascent to the town of Volcano to visit the Volcanoes National Park.
As we drove on, sunny, sandy beaches gave way to cooler, wetter coffee farms, banana plantations and hardened lava. After a couple of hours, we reached the Volcanoes National Park, where we first did the 11-mile Crater rim drive, to get an overview of the place. It was drizzling. We saw vents with steam spewing out. It is believed that a big hot rock churning the molten lava underneath the surface heats up all the rain water that sinks, causing its conversion to steam. The steam also contains toxic gases like sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. For this reason the areas affected look barren while lush rainforest covers the rest of the park.
A short walk led to the Kilauea Caldera, a Shield Volcano (shaped like a warrior’s shield), the most active (ACTIVE!!!) of the 5 volcanoes that together form the island of Hawaii (1). Kilauea means “spewing” in Hawaiian. A cloud of smoke billowed from the Halema’uma’u Crater within the Kilauea Caldera . From the safety of the observation deck of the Thomas A Jaggar Museum we viewed its volcanic activity at a closer proximity. As it got darker a vivid glow illuminated the cloud of smoke and made it look like the crater was engulfed in flames.
But before dusk we decided to explore the park on foot. Our first hike was a 4 mile (6.4 km) Kilauea Iki trail. It was still raining, so we bought a couple of Rain Ponchos at the park store (we couldn’t find kid-size ponchos). I carried little Madhav in his ErgoBaby carrier and Medha walked ahead with Prasad. First, we descended a 400ft mountain cloaked in Rainforest into the deserted crater floor that was still steaming from a Volcanic Explosion in 1959.
The crater floor looked prehistoric, as if, any second a horde of dinosaurs could come crashing at us. The hike wasn’t easy: relentless rain; slippery mountain ; cracks on the crater floor; seemingly-endless walk across a rugged landscape; a toddler on tow that began complaining after a stretch of walking, all made it nearly impossible to finish. I began panicking when Madhav woke up (he had been sleeping on our descent and halfway across the crater floor). We had to reach the safety of our car before anyone went berserk.
Whenever Medha began her whining, her dad called her “Dora the Explorer” and asked her to lead the way. Immediately, she pulled her shoulders back, held her head high and marched on. People who saw her called her a trooper. Madhav looked around captivated by the beauty surrounding us. I tried to steady myself and inhale the rugged beauty around me. We were treading fresh land, i reminded myself, that had been created recently due to volcanic activity. I let the power of nature and our good fortune for the opportunity to witness it sink in.
As we neared our car we felt proud of what we’d accomplished. If we’d stayed tucked inside we wouldn’t have had the same sense of deep contentment that we experienced after our hike. We treated ourselves to cups of hot coffee, passion-fruit juice and snacks at the Volcano House. With renewed strength we resumed our exploration.
Our next stop was the Thurston Lava tube, a 500 year old tube formed as the cooler slow-moving lava on the outside of a lava flow hardened and the inner, hot, fast-moving lava emptied out forming a cavity. We walked through a well-lit tunnel where thin, hairy roots of plants hung from the ceiling. It was eerie to imagine that we were standing where lava had once gushed out not so long ago.
We had witnessed the forces of nature at work. Would any other experience we have in the future come close??
(More in my next post)