Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Big Island - Part I

Aloha from the Big Island! We've been enjoying ourselves tremendously since we arrived. Being in Hawaii is such a sensory experience - the smell and taste of salt air, the breeze on our skin, the heat of flowing lava, the beautiful tropical flowers and music (especially the Hawaiian slack key guitar)'s hard to capture it all via photographs or video. What it really is for us though, is a chance to quiet our thoughts and just soak in all the beauty together. It's so refreshing to be able to just sit quietly and just be here, away from the hustle and bustle of the hospital. We read the news, but it's minimal. I've heard my husband say a few things that I never thought I'd hear him say - i.e. "I'm actually kind of glad there's no internet in our room". If you know him, he likes to do things in a New York minute. 

We started off on the east side of the island, in Hilo. What you'll quickly discover is that the east and west sides of the island are completely different. The east is much wetter - a lush rainforest, while the west side is drier, with the classic beaches you think when you think of Hawaii. In the span of just a few days, we went from muddy rainforest to an otherworldly, space-like mountain peak (Mauna Kea @ 4200m), to beautiful pastureland replete with grazing cattle and horses, and to a beautiful green sand beach near the southernmost point in the country. Here are some of the highlights from the earlier part of our trip: 

Active Lava Flows - we hiked through the slippery mud and swampy rainforest for 6 hours (3 in 3 out) to get to the lava. Occasionally, you would get trapped in knee-high mud, which literally feels like you are standing in wet cement. It was all worth it the instant we stepped onto the lava flows - an alien, black steaming earth that was only 3 months old. A few minutes later, we saw active flows with hypnotizing, glowing lava flowing slowly at the leading edges - the red lava is estimated to be ~2000F! 

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - we spent a leisurely day here hiking the Crater Rim trail from the visitor center to the Jagger museum. We were here the day following our Mauna Kea hike (See below). We were pretty tuckered out from Mauna Kea, so we took it easy and admired the scenery at the national park:

O'hia Trees

Steam vents

Halemaumau crater 

Mauna Kea Summit Hike: This one was a monster. 10 hours - roughly 7 up, 3 down. We fueled up with the snacks below, plus sandwiches. I made fun of my husband for eating a bag of Chex Mix on the lava flow hike, but I ate my words when my body almost crapped out on me towards the end of the lava hike - it was getting late, and after repeatedly slipping and sliding through the forest, banging my feet against muddy pools of mystery depths, I turned into a not-so-nice, exhausted person. I learned my lesson and even ate some Combos (I seriously don't think I've eaten Combos since 1995). They may not be a nutritional godsend, but they will get you through a 10 hour hike. Thank you Combos!

We prophylactically took acetazolamide to reduce our chances of acute mountain sickness, knowing that we would ascend to 4200m in just a few short hours. We had done the same when we hiked in Peru 2 years ago. There, we reached nearly 5000m, but with a gradual ascent over a few days. I'm thankful for the experience we had in Peru - at least we sort of knew what to expect. The landscape of the Mauna Kea hike can only be described as extraterrestrial, with very little vegetation and mostly black and red volcanic rock. If you scroll down below and mentally subtract the atmospheric blue, you could easily imagine being on a different planet. To sum it up, we got to the top of Mauna Kea. There was 40% less oxygen than at sea level. We hyperventilated to compensate. It was one of the hardest things we've ever done. I was very drowsy by the time we were at the Keck Observatory (two twin telescopes), likely a combination of the 7 hours hiking uphill and the hypoxic environment. We high tailed it down the mountain in 3 hours. By the end, my knees were killing me. I cried when we finished. Then wondered why we couldn't be like normal people and just take a driving tour to the top of the mountain. But all the pain makes life sweeter, doesn't it?

Keck observatories are the double telescopes on the right

This is our favorite photo from Mauna Kea - credit goes to my husband

Shouldn't there be a little rover driving around?

           That's it for now - mahalo nui for reading! More to come soon...


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