Everything that I planned didn't happen. However, everything that was supposed to happen, did. That about sums up my trip to Hilo for Merrie Monarch '08 last week. My confirmed Aloha Airline tickets became Hawaiian Airline standby tickets. Friends I was supposed to meet couldn't make it because of the closure of our beloved Aloha Airlines just one week before the start of MM. Things that were supposed to happen, didn't pan out. However, I found that if I just let go of my attachment to my carefully laid plans that things flowed along wonderfully well as He planned. His plans are not ours, how true!
I heard about Aloha's closure early enough to secure tickets on Hawaiian, leaving one day earlier for Hilo than planned and staying two days longer in order to avoid the pandemonium at the airports. This gave me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view Volcano in two locations after all the excitement of Merrie Monarch died down. Less crowds.
The stars aligned to allow us to see Madame Pele in her eternal struggle with her sister, Namakaokahai, the Sea, at Kalapana with my good friend, Carol. We watched the ocean hiss and steam in five places as magma, spatter and glowing chunks of rock broke off and fell into the ocean. It was a 20 minute walk over a black lava field to reach the lookout from the parking area. The lookout was about a 1/2 mile upwind from the lava. Upwind is important because the scientists at Volcano have been measuring dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide emitting from the ground at Kalapana and from a plume cloud of gasses from a crater within Halema'uma'u Crater in Volcanoes National Park.
At all times the parking lot attendants, volunteers, volcanologists and rangers were extremely polite and helpful to any request or question. They were stationed in three to four groups from the parking lot to the lookout and along the path. There were even Portapotties set up in the parking lot. The atmosphere was of contained excitement and joy. Joy at just being there at that place and time to view something awe inspiring.
The lookout is a wide, mostly flat area where about 1,000 onlookers oohed, aahed and took photos and videos of the lava reaching the sea. There was no sulfer smell and no other sound, just an occasional hissing as a steam cloud rose. This is in stark contrast to the other great viewing of the Volcano that I had when I was a child. At that time I viewed Kilauea Iki reaching 1,200 feet. There was the sharp smell of sulfur, the roar of a 100 jets and heat so strong it melted the film in our Brownie cameras.
The sight of lava is totally mesmerizing. You become almost addicted to wanting to stay just 5 minutes more to see what will happen next. After two hours I left Carol in Puna where she stays 6 months out of the year. At the Kea'au intersection I had a choice, left back to the Volcanoes Park to see the steam cloud or right, back to Hilo. I wanted to see the steam cloud at night and reasoned that there must be some glow from the magma below. Plus, even though it was 10 I wasn't tired, I felt energized and excited. I'd recovered my sleep from the MM marathon. While I still had one more night before I left Hilo I was already halfway to the Park. So, my rental car turned left.
I'm so glad I went back to the Park. The Jaggar lookout had been closed for weeks and just reopened three days prior. That's where I drove. It was then 10:30 pm, 56 deg. out and pitch black. I thanked Paul silently for his insistence that I take a big ol' 9 volt flashlight instead of my dinky one.
The sight from Jaggar museum lookout was literally breathtaking and a bit eerie. There was again, no sound, no smell, just a glowing red pit in the distance and a 2 mile high plume illuminating the pitch black all around. The plume cloud is white during the day but at night it reflects the magma deep below the surface to mimic an eruption. There was only a handful of locals there with me.
The next day I awoke to the news that 7 hours after I'd left Halema'uma'u the Park was completely closed for 2 days for the first time in its history. I felt blessed that I'd made the decision to go the night before. The winds had shifted towards the Volcano House and Volcano Village. Civil Defense had raised the alarm level for the sulfur dioxide up to the highest level, purple.
If you plan to go to Kalapana to view the lava hitting the sea you MUST have these things:
Sufficient water to drink, sunblock and a hat if you go during the day
Closed shoes, preferably boots or running shoes, with a good gripping tread
A large, bright flashlight (9 volt is good) with new batteries at night
A good website to check out prior to viewing the volcano is the one for USGS Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory. It provides volcano updates, sulfur dioxide levels, webcams, photos and videos.