What a difference a day makes. Especially a day on the Big Island.
Fortunately, Jen's sixth sense saved us again, jolting her awake at about 4:20 a.m. "Honey," she asked, groggily elbowing me. "What time do we have to be at the airport?"
I squinted at our strangely silent digital sentry, and after a few naughty words answered, "About five minutes ago."
I dare say a half-asleep family of four has never mobilized so fast. While Katie rubbed her eyes and demanded to know why we woke her up, we dressed in a flash, grabbed up our things, and stumbled out the door barely five minutes after Jen nudged me.
Mom called from the check-in counter as we were climbing into the van. "We'll be right there," I lied.
Not too many minutes later, I pulled up at the interisland terminal and unloaded the family. Discovering to my great airport-circling frustration that the interisland parking structure was closed, I ended up parking in the main structure (after a cursory once-over by a security guard) and running back.
By the time we got through security, the plane was already boarding. Katie, who was up until then a bit dazed, immediately lit up when she saw the shiny new Hawaiian Airlines jet out the window. We gate-checked Zac's car seat, and carried Katie's on board, and with a little twisting and shoving, we got settled in our seats. Mom and Jen and Zac sat in front of Katie and I. Against all odds, Jen managed to feed Zac, while Katie suddenly turned into a cool globetrotter, stretching and flipping through "Hana Hou," Hawaiian's in-flight magazine.
She mostly flipped back and forth between the map of the islands and the short feature on "Lilo & Stitch."
My feelings on air travel are well known, but of course for Katie I played it as one giant carnival ride. "Now we're going faster, and faster... and now the front of the plane is off the ground... and now the back of the plane is off the ground... and see, we're flying!"
"Yay!" Katie cheered. I could only smile and nod.
It was a short flight. A very short flight. Not as short as a hop to Moloka`i (which, on a jumbo jet, feels downright silly), but compared to a eight-hour haul to Tokyo, the 45 minute trip was over before I knew it. No sooner had we finished our little sippy-cup of guava juice were we preparing for landing.
Out the window was nothing but grey. And as we cruised along in the clouds, water started streaking past. "It's raining," Katie announced.
"That's Hilo," I said. And I was feeling better already.
In no time we were at the Hilo International Airport, disembarking at one of probably only two gates still being used there. And while the family waited, I darted off to get our rental car.
Now, we decided to take the trip at the last minute, so I figured rental cars would be scarce. But I was still surprised to find, as I worked my way through the websites for Budget, Hertz, Dollar, Avis, Alamo, and National, that every single one was sold out that weekend. Every car class, with every discount and frequent renter code.
I had just about given up, in fact, before finding an obscure travel agent's website listing rental companies in Hilo, and read that Thrifty was out there too. Through them, thankfully, I nabbed one of their last three cars, fortunately a "full-size" one at that.
When I got to the counter, there were three people in line in front of me. Every single one of them, though, was turned away for lack of a reservation, and I crossed my fingers as I stepped up.
Fortunately, they had my car. A Nissan Altima not exactly what I'd call a "full-size" vehicle, but since I saw rows and rows of dinky Toyota Echos (Echoes?) in the rental lot, I was thankful for what I got.
Still, Thrifty billed itself as the only locally-owned rental car company, and, frankly, it showed. Our car had more than its share of miles on it, half a dozen dents and scratches that needed to be inventoried, and an interior that smelled a bit off. I couldn't help but remember how ridiculously enamoured I was of the Dodge Stratus we got a couple of years back (it had three miles on the odometer).
When I pulled up at the airport curb to load everyone up, my mom looked doubtingly at the car, and at the two car seats, and at Jen and I. I assured her we would all fit, however, and with a little work, we did. Mom just had to squeeze in the back seat next to both Katie and Zac in their bulky plastic cocoons.
Soon we were driving through a light rain along Kekuanaoa Street (a.k.a. "Airport Road"), turned right onto Kanoelehua Avenue (a.k.a. Highway 11), and headed straight to Ken's House of Pancakes. Jen and I couldn't help but release a series of wistful sighs.
"Man, I miss this place," Jen said.
"I could live here... if only it was possible to make a living here," I said.
Ken's was, as we expected, exactly as we'd left it. We immediately spotted Ruth, the server who used to talkstory with us way back when were were a couple of silly lovebirds insisting on a corner booth. The menu, however, seemed considerably expanded, so for our breakfast I tried something new: the "Kilauea," which was a stack of pancakes, two eggs, a heap of bacon, and a thick slab of ham.
Even sharing it with Katie, we couldn't finish it.
At one point, I heard a familiar roar, and smiled as the building seemed to vibrate. "Katie, watch!" I said, pointing out the window.
And right on cue, just like I remembered, an interisland flight was coming in for landing. An Aloha Airlines jet roared directly overhead, barely a hundred feet up. "Wow!" Katie squealed.
That's definitely a better view than the one you get at the end of Lagoon Drive.
Eventually it was time to take mom to Puainako Town Center. She was in Hilo, after all, to work the grand opening of her bank's new branch.
"Well," I said, "Where to now?"
"Can we go to where you and mommy met when you were little?" Katie asked.
"Sure," I said, chuckling.
First stop, then, was the Hilo campus of the University of Hawaii. The place where, eight years ago against incredible odds, I chose to sit at the same table as Jen in the Hale Kehau dormitory cafeteria.
As soon as we drove up Kawili Street, though, both Jen and I gasped. Suddenly dominating the once hilly, green, dark, moss-covered campus was an incredibly huge, incredibly shiny and bright new building that completely dwarfed the UHH Campus Center.
"Oh, I want to come back to school here," Jen whimpered.
We parked the car and just wandered around for a while. We walked past the library, up into Campus Center (stopping to peer through the glass at the Ke Kalahea office), and out the back to see the new building. It seemed on the verge of being ready for prime time, but we couldn't find a name or a sign anywhere. (The The $19 million, 85,000 square foot structure is described only as a new "classroom/office building.")
We then toured the rest of campus by car, rolling past the dorms (including Kauanoe, which in part inspired Zac's middle name), and then the grimy little apartment on Kapiolani Street where Jen and I shacked up.
Not quite ready to tackle the 20-mile drive up to the volcano, we cruised around Hilo aimlessly for a while, and ended up at the Lili`uokalani Gardens right on Hilo Bay. With the rain having inexplicably stopped soon after our arrival, the beautiful park of ponds, pagodas and grassy hills was full of families and fishermen. We found a bench on the water and just sat, and sat, and sat, and just listened to the waves crashing on the rocks and looking at the lazy green mountainside of the Hamakua Coast.
Zac seemed at peace in Jen's arms. Katie leaned in against Jen and kissed Zac's nose. I stepped behind them and hugged them all close. "This is good," I said.
We made one supply stop at the Hilo Wal-Mart, an all-purpose shopping Mecca that wasn't there when we lived there. I picked up a Snugli baby carrier (as we'd forgotten Zac's carrier in our rush to get out of the apartment), some snacks, some drinks, and an Iz CD to play in the car.
And then we were off.
The long drive up to Volcano is probably my second favorite of all in Hawaii, behind only the Hamakua Coast. (Of course, you could say the Big Island has a bit of a monopoly on the long drive market.) Unlike heading up the Hamakua coastline, there isn't all that much to see, but as you climb quickly up past 1,000 feet, 2,000 feet, 3,000 feet, to 4,000 feet, you can feel not only the air change, but also the energy all around you. We put on Iz's post-humous album, "Alone in Iz World," and sang most of the way. I was surprised to discover Katie knew most of the words, since they apparently play the CD all the time at her preschool.
We made only a token stop at the Visitors Center, where the exhibits mostly reminded Katie of the Waikiki Aquarium, before heading along Crater Rim Drive to the Halema`uma`u Crater lookout.
The view, of course, was breathtaking. I had a bit of a laugh, though, trying to get Katie to look at the crater itself it was so huge, somehow, she just couldn't see it. When she finally did, she observed, "That's a really big hole!"
Finally, we got back in the car for what would be the longest leg of our trip the thirty mile drive from the top of Kilauea down Chain of Craters Road to the ocean. To the spot where molten lava pours into the sea.
My eyes couldn't drink up the view fast enough as we descended, first gently, then sharply, down the side of the volcano and ultimately down the impossibly huge and steep cliffside that towers over the flat black plateau of brand new Earth.
About halfway down, we were flagged down by a park ranger. He warned us that the level of toxic fumes at the end of the road were unusually high, and advised us to keep our distance. Sure enough, as we proceeded the rest of the way, the smell of sulphur filled the air. And, in addition to the towering plumes of steam you usually see in the distance, I saw a second cloud of black smoke rising as well.
"I think the lava's burning the road," I said. It sure smelled like it.
Ultimately, we decided to only drive to the end of the road, but turn around instead of parking and hiking. We ended up backtracking about a mile to the Holei Sea Arch and getting out there, carefully making our way over the lava rock to the edge of the sea cliff. To our right, we saw where the lava and the ocean fought their endless battle. And to our left, the sea arch, framing a piece of the most beautiful blue ocean.
There's something indescribable about being out there. Strangely, my ears started to ring a little and I was getting a mild headache. And yet, it felt right, and good for me. For us. Jen and I both confessed to each other that we were trying to will the healing, spiritual energy of the place into ourselves and our little ones.
Wilting somewhat under the noonday sun, we eventually and reluctantly piled back into the car and made our way back up to the top of the mountain. And, of course, without stopping, we pulled out onto Highway 11 and headed back down toward Hilo.
Just when I thought everyone was falling asleep, Jen spoke up, suggesting we visit the Mauna Loa macadamia nut farm again. So, we did.
Katie, truth be told, isn't quite as crazy about mac nuts as she was when she was a toddler. But that's not to say she wasn't excited to see the giant inflatable nut outside the gift shop. Inside, we gladly sampled all the different flavors (including "Kona coffee glaze" and "garlic and Maui onion"), then went out back to stroll through the gardens. We topped off our visit with a yummy chocolate-and-mac-nut-dipped ice cream bar.
Mom called as we were leaving, and said the branch opening was both a success and finally over. So we rolled into Hilo and picked her up.
We were already feeling tired but thoroughly satisifed. But, with a couple of hours left in town, I couldn't resist squeezing in one more stop. So we drove through downtown, then up to Rainbow Falls. It's a tiny little place, overrun with mosquitos, but still pretty, and definitely full of happy memories.
Unable to come up with decent alternatives, we then found ourselves back at Ken's House of Pancakes for a very, very late lunch. We let Katie tell her grandma about our day's adventures. Not surprisingly, the high point was the plane ride over, and when she found out we were mere minutes away from another flight, she could barely contain herself.
After stopping to fill up the rental car with $1.79-per-gallon gas, we drove back down Kekuanaoa and, all too soon, we were all waiting to board our flight back home.
The pilot of the return flight was either in an incredible hurry, or incredibly skilled, or both. We sped away from the terminal, turned onto the runway and took off without slowing down once. And the landing at Honolulu? He zoomed along the coast at seemingly top speed, then braked, descended, and made a heart-stopping U-turn to drop seemingly straight down onto the runway. The recorded announcements weren't even finished, and people were already filing out and onto the jetway.
We got home at 8:30 p.m., sixteen hours after we'd left, and passed out all together in a heap in our bed.
I can't remember the last time I've slept so well.
I'm sorry to hear that you & your family have been going through such a rough time lately. :( But it sounds like that vacation came along at the perfect opportunity! Prayers & thoughts out your way as well. Hang in there!
Cliff (July 30, 2002 5:40 AM)
Sending good thoughts your way from the other side of the U.S.A!
Jennifer (July 30, 2002 10:47 AM)
Man, that sounded fantastic. Thank goodness I'm going camping next week, or I would be seething with jealousy. Ha! I'm glad you had a good time and found what you needed on the big island.
Jolene (August 2, 2002 4:13 AM)
I think I've mentioned this already, but I can forsee Katie's love of planes and your fear of flying turning into some pretty high drama in the Ozawa household.
NemesisVex (August 2, 2002 9:29 AM)
"I" is a subject, Ryan. "Me" is an object. "You" are a total banana!
the Grammar Police (August 4, 2002 2:38 PM)
Me thinks that a certain critic have a stick up his butt. Reading comments like that don't sit well with I. I thinks Ryan write really good in English. So there! :) :)
Keith (August 5, 2002 5:31 PM)
Ryan, I rode every sentence in your last entry ("Crashing") and carried thoughts of you and your family with me to New York. You have everything you need to get through this. I know this. Ruth
Ruth (August 6, 2002 9:53 PM)
E kala mai! Comments have been disabled due to overwhelming abuse by spammers. Please click through to any of the video hosting services linked above to leave a public response, or feel free to send an e-mail. Mahalo!
© 1997-2008 Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: email@example.com · Created: 13 November 1997 · Last Modified: 14 January 2008