LAVA LAND

Air Canada enRoute - - CONTENTS - BY / PAR TED AL­VAREZ

For ad­ven­ture-chas­ing trav­ellers, the re­cent Kīlauea Vol­cano erup­tion means this is a chance to see the hum­bling power of Pele, Hawaii’s god­dess of fire, at work.

When the Ki­lauea vol­cano erupted on the is­land of Hawaii last May, it spelled trou­ble in par­adise for the tourism in­dus­try. But for ad­ven­ture-seek­ing trav­ellers, this is a chance to see the hum­bling power of Pele, Hawaii’s god­dess of fire, at work.

TO OUT­SIDERS, AR­RIV­ING IN HAWAII HAS BE­COME some­thing of a cliché. Ad­mit it: You’re al­ready think­ing about mai tais, strolling bare­foot on white­sand beaches and get­ting lei’d by smil­ing lo­cals in brightly coloured shirts plas­tered with botan­i­cals.

But the is­land of Hawaii also wel­comes me with some­thing older and more se­vere. Though the trop­i­cal trap­pings are there, I can’t take my eyes off the black scabs of lava scar­ring the land­scape. They ap­pear as soon as you land at the open-air air­port in Kailua-Kona and fan out in fin­gers many kilo­me­tres long. There are two kinds of ter­res­trial lava flows, and I’m speed­ing past both on my way up the west coast: fast-mov­ing a‘a, which hard­ens into churned, bro­ken chunks, and slower-mov­ing pa­hoe­hoe, which looks like the cho­co­late swirl of just-baked brown­ies cool­ing in a pan.

Ki­lauea is one of the most ac­tive vol­ca­noes in the U.S. — and per­haps the most dan­ger­ous.

A‘a and pa­hoe­hoe: The Hawai­ian lan­guage gives ge­ol­o­gists the tech­ni­cal terms for lava be­cause there is no bet­ter place to ob­serve the ge­o­log­i­cal vi­o­lence that cre­ates new land. The Hawai­ian is­lands are ex­posed sum­mits of un­der­sea vol­ca­noes rooted to the ocean floor. Some of them re­main ac­tive, like slowly de­vel­op­ing blem­ishes that erupt where the man­tle breaks through the Earth’s crust, spew­ing lava that cools into rock. At un­der a mil­lion years old, the is­land of Hawaii is the new­est is­land – for now. Just 35 kilo­me­tres off­shore, L ‘ihi rises to 975 me­tres be­low the Pa­cific. Some­day – it could be in 10,000 years, or 100,000 – it will break the sur­face to be­come the ninth ma­jor Hawai­ian is­land.

Or it could even­tu­ally join the is­land of Hawaii, which be­gan as five long, wide vol­ca­noes. They boast some im­pres­sive stats: Mea­sured from the sea floor, 10,210-me­tre Mauna Kea would be the high­est moun­tain in the world, while Ki­lauea is one of the most ac­tive vol­ca­noes in the U.S. — and per­haps the most dan­ger­ous. This was made clear in May 2018, when an erup­tion drained the lava lake in Hawai i Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park and spewed ash 10,000 me­tres into the air. Toxic vog (that’s vol­canic smog) and laze (steam made of hy­drochlo­ric acid and glass cre­ated when molten lava hits sea­wa­ter) filled the sky, and neigh­bour­hoods were in­un­dated with lava that siz­zled all the way to the sea. By the time the erup­tions ceased three months later, more than 700 homes and the is­lands’ largest fresh­wa­ter lake had been de­stroyed, thou­sands of peo­ple had been dis­placed, and Kapoho Bay, a pop­u­lar snorkelling spot and im­por­tant agri­cul­tural area, had been swal­lowed by smok­ing lava flows. In its place, the is­land now has nearly two kilo­me­tres of new coast­line.

While some main­lan­ders viewed the erup­tions as a ter­ri­fy­ing Ar­maged­don, in many ways they’re part of a greater Hawai­ian story of re­silience. Whether sur­viv­ing Euro­pean and Amer­i­can colo­nial­ism or the spec­tre of sud­den land­scape-chang­ing nat­u­ral events, Hawai­ians have a way of trans­form­ing unimag­in­able dan­gers into sources of cul­tural strength. Fire is sim­ply the old­est and most mys­ti­cal of those dan­gers, present from the be­gin­ning and fore­shad­ow­ing the end.

IN THE VAST PANTHEON OF HAWAI­IAN GODS AND GOD­DESSES, Pele – god­dess of fire and cre­ator of the is­lands – is among the most im­por­tant. It can be dif­fi­cult for out­siders to grasp her full com­plex­ity: She is both de­stroyer and nur­turer, a pri­mor­dial force from within the Earth who stirs up vi­o­lent ex­plo­sions by swirling her stick in her firepits, but also pro­vides the mag­i­cal soil that grows ev­ery­thing from cof­fee beans to koa trees to pa­payas.

And Pele is a trick­ster who thinks noth­ing of toy­ing with the tourism in­dus­try that sus­tains nearly a third of pri­vate-sec­tor jobs on the is­land. (In 2017, the na­tional park alone brought in US$166 mil­lion from more than 2 mil­lion vis­i­tors.) Af­ter Ki­lauea erupted, book­ings dropped dur­ing the all-im­por­tant sum­mer va­ca­tion sea­son. And just as clue­less main­lan­ders like me re­al­ized this was a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity to see Madame Pele’s cat­a­strophic hand­i­work in per­son, she shut off the tap in late Au­gust.

“No­body wanted to come to the Big Is­land in May, June, July, Au­gust – it was the low­est we have seen in tourism,” says Koa Akau, a na­tive Hawai­ian born and raised in Waimea, on the is­land’s north side. “Now that ev­ery­one is com­ing here, I tell them, ‘You’re a cou­ple months too late for the lava!’”

I’ve headed to the north­west coast to meet Akau at Brown’s Beach House restau­rant at the Fair­mont Orchid, where he is the as­sis­tant man­ager. Like so many Hawai­ians, he quickly drops his pro­fes­sional fa­cade to start chat­ting with me like an old friend. “This is a liv­ing is­land, it’s still grow­ing, you can feel it mov­ing be­neath you – that’s the Mana,” he says, us­ing a Hawai­ian word that roughly trans­lates to spir­i­tual power and in­flu­ence. “I’ve trav­elled the world and I’ve not felt that any­where else. You see the land and it’s un­touched, new. You feel that con­nect­ing to the Āina here.” Āina: It’s an­other Hawai­ian word that de­fies sim­ple trans­la­tion. It loosely means “the land,”

but it’s re­ally a sa­cred value, a way of co-ex­ist­ing with the nat­u­ral world.

I sit down with “Un­cle” Earl Ka­makaonaona Regi­dor, who grew up on the Big Is­land. He helps pre­serve its lan­guage and cul­ture as an am­bas­sador at the Four Sea­sons Re­sort Hualalai, and he’s a mas­ter of the Hawai­ian art of “talk­ing story” – the pass­ing on of an­ces­tral wis­dom through a ca­sual chat. He best ex­em­pli­fies how Hawai­ian mythol­ogy is more than leg­end here: It’s a way of un­der­stand­ing some­thing as com­plex as ge­o­logic time, a way to make sense of a par­adise riven with the vi­o­lent acts of a higher power.

“My mom used to say, ‘Tutu – – Pele is the cre­ator of this land. She cre­ates, and she takes back,’” he says. “My heart sank for those who lost homes. But the sto­ries came back to me again. Is there a rea­son why Tu–tu– Pele is tak­ing her land back? Is she clean­ing house? My mother used to say, ‘Once she finds a place that she can re­lax, it’ll be okay. It’ll be fine.’”

The fol­low­ing day, I drive south­east, cross­ing the empty in­te­rior of Hawaii on my way to the na­tional park. Large swaths of the park re­main closed, but I stop to sniff the sul­phur at the en­larged Halema‘uma‘u Crater. I drive the Chain of Craters Road to its dead end at a mas­sive lava sea arch carved from cen­turies of wave ac­tion. Hik­ing into a bar­ren field of lava is dis­ori­ent­ing, like drop­ping into a pri­mor­dial planet of boiled as­phalt. Some of the new rock has an eerie rain­bow sheen, like a soap bub­ble about to pop.

A few kilo­me­tres east of where I’m stand­ing, a lava flow in 1990 buried most of the his­toric fish­ing town of Kala­pana. To­day, vis­i­tors can hike through to gawk at rust­ing ru­ins twist­ing in the stiff coastal wind and the few brave lo­cals who re­turned to erect homes in the mid­dle of what can look like a waste­land. A weird pit forms in my gut when I think of try­ing to ex­plain to a na­tive Hawai­ian how I’m not here to feast on their pain, even if I started as one of the rubes dis­ap­pointed when the lava stopped flow­ing. I want them to know that I have learned that what­ever state you find the is­land in is a bless­ing. But then it oc­curs to me that Hawai­ians know more about be­ing close to dis­as­ter than I ever will. So I should shut up and lis­ten.

Hawai­ian mythol­ogy is more than leg­end here: It’s a way of un­der­stand­ing some­thing as com­plex as ge­o­logic time, a way to make sense of a par­adise riven with the vi­o­lent acts of a higher power.

I TAKE TO THE SKIES WITH PAR­ADISE HE­LI­COPTERS TO CATCH the Halema‘uma‘u Crater from the air. Pele still hic­cups steam and gas we can smell in the chopper while, far be­low, re­droofed houses on green is­lands stand out in the mid­dle of black rivers of lava. Our pilot ex­plains how he brought res­i­dents back to sur­vey their land. Be­yond, the black rivers co­a­lesce into a still-smok­ing plain where the beach com­mu­nity and tidal pools of Kapoho Bay were. This square kilo­me­tre of fresh land juts into the sea: It’s the new east­ern­most point of the is­land, too new to ap­pear on Google maps. Soon, the vis­cous black rock will host plant com­mu­ni­ties; our he­li­copter pilot ex­plains it won’t be fully green for 200 years, but he’s flown peo­ple out who plan to re­build their homes in just two.

Even from hun­dreds of me­tres above, I see whis­pers of green fur­ring the edges of new, cakey black lava. It’s here I re­al­ize that set­ting “cre­ation” and “de­struc­tion” apart is to miss the point en­tirely. Hawai­ians un­der­stand that the two ex­ist in an un­break­able loop, where vi­o­lent acts birth the land­scape – the Āina – that feeds the bod­ies and souls of lo­cals and vis­i­tors alike.

“Our is­land has changed; it was so beau­ti­ful up there,” Un­cle Earl says. “But that’s okay: Maybe there will be an­other place that’s just as beau­ti­ful, or more beau­ti­ful. This place is still par­adise.”

When vis­i­tors leave Hawaii they talk about tak­ing the aloha spirit with them – a sort of per­sonal man­date to align the heart and spirit in an ef­fort to fos­ter mu­tual re­spect and un­der­stand­ing among all peo­ple. But the Big Is­land, in all its ge­o­logic, un­pre­dictable gran­deur, gives even first-time vis­i­tors like me the abil­ity to feel the true pulse of Hawai­ian cul­ture. Bear­ing witness to sights of cre­ation and de­struc­tion etched in lava old and new is some­thing that goes deeper than any sin­gle sen­sa­tional in­ci­dent. You be­gin to see far back into the past and far into the fu­ture, the way Un­cle Earl and gen­er­a­tions of Hawai­ians al­ways have, and it calls you home. That’s real Mana.

OP­PO­SITE PAGE At Two-Step Beach near Kona, there’s no need to worry about sand get­ting ev­ery­where. PRE­VI­OUS SPREAD Magma mia! The Chain of Craters Road weaves through Hawai‘i Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park. PAGE DE GAUCHE À la plage Two-Step, près de Kona, on n’a pas à se soucier du sable qui s’in­cruste partout. PAGES PRÉCÉDENTES Magma mia ! La Chain of Craters Road sil­lonne le parc na­tional des vol­cans d’Hawaii.

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