Palm trees. Blue sky. White clouds clinging onto the slopes of Hualālai. Warm air coming in my car through the open windows. Traffic. A lot of traffic.
I’m stuck in the early-afternoon traffic on Highway 19, heading towards Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. Normally, it would take about two hours to get there. But with this traffic and a stop in a store to get some bread and pop tarts, it’s closer to three, three and half hours.
The road is winding through towns and lush forest, then, without warning, I’m driving over pure-black planes of desolation, the lava fields. And then, again, through the greenery of the thick vegetation. It looks like if I was traveling between two completely different worlds through some space-time loop, so sudden are the changes in the landscape.
Sticky hot air is playing with my hair, the car windows open. Why don’t I close them and turn the A/C on? Simply because I want to perceive the place in its fullness as it is, since the very beginning I want to become one with the land and the air.
I arrive to Punalu’u state park while the sun is already disappearing from the sky. Confused by the instructions, I’m desperately trying to find the pavilion where I’m supposedly supposed (yes, I just did this) to get an over-night parking permit. It takes me about half an hour to give up, realizing there’s not such a thing and settling for praying to the Universe and Pele, the creator of the islands, for my car to be in the same spot in the morning, and, if possible, without any tickets telling me to pay some kind of fine. I’m not sure how much power Pele has over that but together with some even higher power, I’m sure they’ll think about something.
I see my first Hawaiian rainbow. My feet touch the smooth black “sand” for the very first time. I just slow down, then stop. My heart is getting calmer, as well as my mind. I’m here. I’m here. I’m really here. I’m on the Big Island of Hawai’i. This is the farthest to the West I’ve ever been. I’m in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, surrounded by hundreds of miles of deep water. I’m the farthest from any continent I’ve ever been. I have to keep reminding this to myself because it still sounds too unreal.
The waves beat against the beach and the smooth lava to the right and volcanic rocks on my left. The wind is getting a bit stronger, not blowing from the ocean anymore but from the North where Mauna Loa sits, covered in heavy rainclouds. The forecast is still promising a rain-free night but tiny drops of water already fall upon my cheeks.
Still, I’m trying to convince myself and the sky that there’s no rain planned for tonight, for I can’t use my tent here as it’s not a free-standing one (required by the state park here).
It’s getting darker and I should find some place to sleep. I walk, awkwardly, across the sand and smooth lava, around the pavilion with bathrooms and picnic tables and over the grass where there are about three tents pitched. The whole situation feels, once again, so unreal that I have absolutely no power to make any decisions.
It’s dark now and I seriously need to decide where to sleep. The nature decides for me by starting a rain – even though a really thin one for the raindrops are brought here all the way from the volcanoes and there’s almost-clear sky above me. Still, if I tried to sleep in this, I’d be drenched in about thirty minutes.
I take shelter in my car and spend the first four hours sleeping on the back seats – or, rather, “sleeping”, because I’m quite too tall to be able to sleep at least somewhat comfortably on the seats. Plus, the humidity is so high – and me sleeping inside the car makes it even worse – that soon, the windows are completely non-see-through and drops of water are flowing down the glass and my body as well, and I wake up every twenty minutes or so, hot but cold and sticky. Is this the right place to mention that I’ve arrived to Hawai’i while fighting the flu?
Now, this is the point in the story where everybody expects a miracle to happen, right? Well, I foreshadowed it, and yes, the moment when I wake up with a suffocating feeling, for the air itself is sticky and so thick that it feels like it got stuck in my lungs, the miracle has happened already – the wind changed its direction, coming from the South-East now, nice, cool-ish, and fresh – and the “rain” is over.
I get out from the car, my spine the shape of a terrified, curled-up caterpillar, and walk to the lava field which the waves are beating against, the moon, still hanging low by the horizon in the East, is illuminating the landscape with its silvery light – so strong that I don’t even need my head lamp.
Without second thought, I have my foam sleeping mat and sleeping bag with me, spreading them on the smooth and flat black substance. Thousands of thousands of thousands of stars are shining above me, some night birds and different kinds of insects echoing from the nearby bushes and trees, and believe it or not, the rock is the most comfortable thing I could have imagined sleeping on. The palm trees are whispering in the warm breeze and the waves crashing against the black beach and the lava are the best lullaby. I’m out in only a few minutes.
And have a day full of miracles! 🙂
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