There was a small kid time when going to Hilo meant staying with our beloved cousins, the Vances. In my mind's eye, I can still see their family of 6 lined up in front of the chain link fence at the old Hilo airport. There might even be a dog or two that came along for the ride. My cousins would be standing there with thick white and yellow plumeria lei and big smiles on their faces. They would have picked and sewn the lei just for us that very morning. No lei were ever more appreciated than those. Going to Hilo was the most anticipated event of our young lives. We'd count down the days until school was over for the summer.
My cousins no longer live in Hilo. I've developed a whole hanai'd Hilo 'ohana of my own that I also cherish. I stay at Paul Tallett and Evonne Bjornen's vacation rental at the Bjornen MacNut Farm just 5 minutes (2 miles) outside of downtown Hilo. It's a great feeling to come here and to be welcomed as family. There's no checking in or out, no porters, no hassle, just a well-appointed, very comfortable private room where one can come and go as one pleases. I wake to the sound of birds chirping in the macnut trees just yards from the house. The two adorable dogs, Mai and Greta, and the cat, Tor, are available for some instant animal loving.
I don't know of any other accommodation where the host, Paul, who is part-Hawaiian, would be able to tell you from their lanai whether Madame Pele is doing her thing, simply by observing the clouds above Pu'u O'o vent at Volcano. Or, where the host, Evonne, might obligingly cut out the weekly events of interest from the Hilo Tribune Herald and leave them on your bed.
Then there's my good friend, Ku'ulei, who lives in Volcano and with whom I enjoyed two wonderful Sunday morning brunches at the wildly popular Volcano Farmers' Market. Their website lists 8 am as the opening time but that's for wimps. Vendors set up at 6 or 6:30 am and some Volcano people are there at 5:30! The best of everything will be gone by 8:30. It may be misty and the temperature hovers around the high 50's. So you are forewarned! Last Sunday, I dragged myself out of bed in Hilo to hele over to Volcano after staying late at the stadium to watch the awards presented at Merrie Monarch. I got only 4 hours of sleep but it was well worth it.
This is a country market since there are dog flea collars and white elephant finds mixed in with the outstanding produce. But it's also quite sophisticated in the vendors' selling of the freshly made cream puffs with the most decadent custardy filling, the andagi, the steaming Thai long rice soup with sambal topping, Joyce's handmade pastries which are all pau by 8, locally grown coffee to drink or beans to take home, homemade tropical jams, jellies, and pies, mango lip balms, beaded jewelry, freshly blended wheatgrass, colorful knitted mohair caps, even intricately etched naturally colored eggs.
I went to two other farmers' markets on the Big Island and I haven't even begun on the Merrie Monarch Festival itself or the legendary craft fairs. More to come.
You can contact the Bjornen MacNut Farm at firstname.lastname@example.org for availability. They have one room for vacation rental. It accommodates 2. The rental has a private entrance, its own bathroom with shower, a kitchenette and views of the macnut farm surrounding the house. There is a pool, hot tub and ocean view from the lanai. Very peaceful. It's $100. per night or $600. for a week plus taxes. More info at http://www.gohawaii.com/listing?id=6359 (Don't ask, it's mine for Merrie Monarch week!)
Volcano Farmers' Market's info on http://volcanogallery.com:80/volcano_farmers.htm