Into the Lava Tubes | Searching the Aloha

Have I ever told you that I’m scared of dark? If not, this is probably a good time and place to do so as I’m about to descent into the pits of hell.

Of course, I’m exaggerating a bit. Not about the dark – all kinds of it except starry nights (and sometimes even these) surely do terrify me. But the pits of hell don’t include any molten lava anymore (although they might now, when I’m writing it…) and are generally not considered dangerous and neither (probably) scary. Well, tell this to somebody else than me.

I did not go to the Nāhuku – Thurston Lava Tube in Volcanoes National Park. I’m not saying I didn’t want to – I did, after all, there are lights installed in there so it wouldn’t be so scary, right? On the other hand, they might also be too… cultivated. And the amount of tourists terrified me probably more than dark in not-so-well-known lava tubes. And, also, trying to find a parking spot there is a hell itself, believe me.

And so, after driving through the pure milk of a fog with almost zero visibility again, and de-tangling myself from the lushness of the rainforest, I headed towards Kaūmana Caves State Park.

As some say, these caves are considered one of the more spectacular lava tubes in Hawai’i – and I agree.  Not that I could say I’ve seen many other (actually, until now, I have never come into near proximity to any) but they look just… Wow. Scary. But amazing. With the vegetation hanging off the broken edges and lining everything with green – I know I keep using and emphasizing on green – but please bear with me, there won’t be much green by the time I come back home to California – and I really, REALLY miss the greenery of where I came from – it is almost like a scene from Jurassic Park.


The caves are actually pretty young – formed by a lava flow from 1881 (which is, yes, geologically considered young) coming from Mauna Loa. Supposedly, they are 25 miles long. But I’m standing down under the metal staircase (or, more or less ladder) that took me here from about 30 (?) feet above, looking at what might be the last piece of sky I’ll have ever seen and already regretting the decision to make my way here.


But I didn’t come to give up even before entering the caves, I came to battle my fear. Armed with a headlamp (with – check – new batteries), a phone (useless under the ground, of course), enormous anxiety (can that be counted as a pro?) and a few other things in my backpack, I scrambled down the boulders into the less-scary looking one, very, very slowly walked about ten feet into it while feeling every nerve in my body and being awfully aware of every single tiny thing and event and sound, using even senses we humans probably don’t have to check on my surrounding – then dared to turn my back towards the darkness, snap a picture of the mouth of the cave (which I’m very proud of) and then, while trying to go a bit deeper into the body of Mother Earth, I… ran back outside.


Yes, I was that terrified that, after only about three to five minutes, and while trying to go farther, my body just decided for me, my legs turned and I ran away like a chicken.

I admit, I’m not really proud of that moment.


My body refused to go back to that cave. I tried, I swear I did – but it was just physically impossible for me. But after a short fight, I did trick myself into… entering the other (darker looking) cave!

I basically have no memory of how I got inside. I must have ran or I don’t know. I just disconnected my mind from my body and my brain from… existing, I guess – and somehow, I suddenly appeared here, inside a dark lava tube, the light from my headlamp disappearing in the pitch-black in front of me. It seems like if the dark was slowly eating away the only source of light, getting closer to me with every bite. Soon enough, it will swallow me too and I’ll disappear from the surface of Earth.

Oh wait… I’ve already disappeared from the surface of Earth, technically speaking.

I’m scared – no, I’m terrified to the core of my bones – and it feels like if my body was slowly losing the ability to move.

But it’s… Amazing. I want to cry, yes, it’s THAT scary for me – but it’s just… wow.

There’s silver and gold and shiny green on the walls surrounding me, roots hanging from the “ceiling”. I feel like if I somehow just left my body behind, so easy are the steps I’m taking to get closer and see more. My mind is in state of wonder and I can’t do anything against it. If this cave was not a simple straight one but a whole labyrinth of them, I’d get lost and never find my way out.

After what seems like forever, I come back to myself a bit and, even though I honestly don’t really want to, try to take a picture – but that’s almost useless.


I take my time with turning my attention back to the entrance. I don’t want to show my back to the darkness in front of me – but I don’t want to show my back to any direction in here – so, in the end, I convince myself to do so and start walking (or rather scrambling across the rocks) towards where the little dot of light shines. If there’s a tunnel with a light at the end when we die, it probably looks like this.


On my way back, I find a connecting lava tube in the floor – it’s so low that I’d have to crawl there – and have somebody to pull me back out if I ever collected the courage to do so.


The entrance is near now and unless there’s a landslide, I might make it out alive. I all still seems so unreal that I doubt anything I’m experiencing right now is actually real. I might be as well dreaming, laying in my bed back at home in California (or maybe even in Czech, having dreamt the past few years of my life – which is one of my biggest fears; waking up in my old room one day, realizing this all was a dream).


I leave the cave in the end, still in this strange state of mind. My legs start to shake as soon as I have the blue sky above my head. I look back at the huge opening in the ground and into the darkness. How. How on Earth (or under) have I done this?

The pitch black which I’ve just emerged from seems like it’s trying to give me an answer to my question. I try to reach out and catch it but it’s slipping, right at the edge of my conscious mind – I’m not able to understand just yet. Maybe in a few years, maybe in a few centuries. For now, I thank it and promise to keep its message with me until I’m able to grasp what it means.


Have I conquered my fear? Yes. Am I still scared of dark? Yes. Conquering doesn’t mean getting rid of it. Conquering means learning to accept and love it as a part of myself, something that will always be here. It’s important to battle it – but one must also come to terms with it.

And thus I’ve taken one more step towards finding the Aloha.


The previous Searching-the-Aloha article is HERE.

The next one is waiting for you right HERE.

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And have a day of “I believe in myself”! 🙂

(Also, if you feel like it, you can follow my blog so you won’t miss any of the following Hawai’i articles!)

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