Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Hilo, Hawaii

Had we not stopped in Hilo, Hawaii, we would have spent 17 consecutive days at sea on the way to Japan. Our one-day visit welcomingly offered a chance to step on land after 6 days at sea since Ensenada and before 10 days at sea until Yokohama, Japan. I woke up at 6am to watch us arrive in Hilo. After a week of no land in sight, the emergence of the volcanic Big Island of Hawaii was an impressive sight. In the dark before the sunrise, the lights of the island were the first signs of land, until they faded and the ridges of the mountains and the outlines of the shoreline emerged in the early dawn sky, followed by the appearance of the island’s colors once the sun rose and colored in the green trees, black and solidified lava, and glowing red windows reflecting the rising sun. Arriving by ship offers an expansive view that slowly changes and narrows, offering more details as we move closer to the port. The world suddenly comes to life. Whales emerged from the water all around the ship, volcanoes looked down on the land they created, paddle boarders watched us arrive, the pilot jumped off his pilot boat onto our ship, and the sun continued to rise. I witnessed our arrival from the 7th deck, talking to Evan, one of the students I am happy is on the ship. We also talked to a couple students who currently live in Hawaii and were able to offer information about the island as we arrived. Many of the students surprise me with their maturity, curiosity, and sense of adventure. I often feel renewed after talking to a student. I don’t think the Semester at Sea experience has become routine to me in any way, but I definitely have a comfort and familiarity with the program, and talking to a student reminds me of the newness and adventure of the voyage. With limited time in Hilo I decided to join a Semester at Sea field program to make the best use of the time, and get some much needed exercise. The field programs are also a good way to meet students, and I enjoyed talking with Andrea, Ramin, and Tirso during the day. We went on a bicycle trip through Volcanoes National Park, which was a great decision. Riding a bike while you pass by lava flows, steam vents, volcanic gas, and craters is a pretty scenic location for a bike ride. As a result of the sulfur levels and still air we unfortunately had to delay the start of the bike ride and travel in the van, but this ultimately worked in our favor because we were able to see more of the park by the end of the day. We started at the Kilauea summit, around Crater Rim Drive, to Thurston Lava Tube where we walked through the rainforest. We had a delicious lunch with fresh papayas and pineapple alongside one of the many craters, and then jumped on our bikes. We rode our bikes to the Keanakakoi Crater where we walked on the hardened lava and looked at Pele’s Hair, a volcanic glass fiber formed by the molten lava, which looks like the Goddess Pele’s hair but is sharp enough to scrape your fingers, which happened to me since I played with it like it was her hair, which it is not. The landscape is powerful and alive. Our guide was enthusiastic and clearly wanted to share his love of Hawaii with us, which helped me learn more about the island, including the formation of Hawaii, types of lava flows, risk of eruptions, rain climate, low cost of real estate, natural medicines, ethnic diversity, wildlife, birds, agriculture, industries, and movement for sovereignty. I wish we had more time in Hawaii, especially for some of the hiking around the park. Hawaii is an interesting state with a culture obviously far different from the other states, a culture and history that offered a fitting bridge between our travels from California to Japan. The next day we stopped in Honolulu to refuel, but unfortunately we had to view Honolulu from the ship, as classes resumed while we were in port for the refueling. Honolulu drifted from our view later that night, as we began the next stretch at sea, 10 days to Japan. 

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