The last full day on the island and with the crew came upon us much earlier than any of us would have liked. For the last time, we split into our respective teams and each headed a different way. We, the Hiking Team, went to Kaloko Fishpond and Honokōhau Bay.
Before that, however, I got an extra-early start and made a heck-a-ton of banana pancakes and waffles. The thing was, if we didn’t finish the expirable food, we were going to have to throw it away. Food waste doesn’t sit well with me at all, so, the night before, I collected everyone’s bananas and leftover plant milk and made a vow to cook breakfast for all 21 members of our expedition. Let me tell you, it was a LOT of pancakes and waffles. Two people had to help me carry it to the unit where we were to enjoy it. Some of the pancakes fell apart a little but disappeared from everyone’s plates nonetheless.
Our last hike of the expedition started at the Honokōhau Harbor. The Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail led us through beaches, then the sandy, partially shaded trails of the coastline. My legs carried me with a certain lightness and soon, I separated from the group. The white-sand trail was lined with black chunks of broken-off porous lava and led me forward without fail. The sun beat down on us mercilessly, but the ocean breeze tried to offset its blaze. Still, I took cover in every inch of shade I could find when waiting for the rest of the team along the trail.
Stone walls extending from either side of an entrance to a small bay cradle the Kaloko fishpond. The 30-40 feet wide seawall is dry-stacked, made of lava that’s been worn down by seawater—a characteristic of the loko kuapā type of fishpond. Its name, Kaloko, literally translates to “The Pond”—and this pond, specifically, was one of the favorite fishponds of King Kamehameha I. (NPS).
Iliee and Koa, sure they caught a glimpse of a Black-Crowned Night Heron, went in search of it. Mao and Ki headed out to walk on the wall, and Loulu and I stuck to a patch of shade near the beginning of the wall. My stomach announced it was time for a snack/lunch, so I procured a sandwich and box of carrots from my backpack and went to town.
My happy munching brought us curious company. Right next to where I was sitting on the stacked lava, a Gold Dusk Day Gecko emerged from the rocks. (Try to say “Gold Dusk Day Gecko” fast three times. Or even slow. I have troubles till this day, and that’s saying something, as I’m generally quite okay at tongue-twisters.)
Koa and Iliee eventually found the heron, Loulu got a few got photos of the gecko and other critters, too, and soon, Mao and Ki made it back from the wall which we soon left behind.
We made it back to the beach portion of the hike, still far away from the harbor, hidden in the curve of the bay. Ki halted our progress when we reached ‘Aimakapā fishpond and we took cover in the shrubs and trees that grew there, hiding our backpacks as we planned to all go further out into the bay and stay in the water for longer than usual.
Instead of pairing up, all of us went into the waves at once, sticking together. Loulu brought the GoPro and we snapped a few underwater pictures of all of us grouped together. They’re everything but perfect; in one, we’re all missing our heads, and in the other, we’re missing most of Koa. They’re still some of my favourite photos from the research trip.
Loulu, having forgotten her water shoes, braved the water barefoot. This stunt ended up in me carrying her bridal style a few times when we reached shallows with sharp rock and shell shards. It brought a lot of joy into the midst of our group as we observed pufferfish, sea turtles, sea urchins, and small fish with half of their bodies bright yellow and the other half deep purple. (I’m not a fish specialist, and Google wasn’t helpful this time).
The time to leave the ocean came too soon and we found refuge in the trees where we hid our belongings. Hiding from the sun and the wind, we took parts drying off and changing and I sacrificed a bit of my ice water that I haven’t drunk from yet so we could wash the salt out of our eyes. The white sands of the beach led us back to the marina where we left the car, and I hopped barefoot over the rocky ground as I didn’t want to put my sandals on; I had a cut on my toe right where the strap rubbed against it.
Back to the base we went to shower and change. Somehow, the talk came to awful puns, as Ihi made sure at the very beginning of the trip to tell everyone I excel at them. (This is fully my fault, as I filled almost every email I sent to her with terrible geology puns.) Suddenly, we had a pun battle at the end of which I came out victorious, although I think this victory might prove to be a total loss at the same time.
We had one last meeting in the pavilion. Then Ki, Ihi, and J met with each of us separately to discuss our research and the next phase: actually writing our chapters of the guide. One by one my co-workers and friends went to their table while the rest of us waited in the pavilion for our turn. One by one they left when they were done. Mao, instead of leaving, came back to our table to chat a bit more and kept me company until it was my turn.
I was called last when only the two of us were left in the pavilion. I presented my notes and ideas, hoping the outline was good enough, nervous even though (or perhaps because) I was quite excited to work on it and, therefore, spent probably more time than I should have on the task. I got full approval, the feedback provided with the same level of enthusiasm that I talked about the topic with. There was nothing they wanted to change, the only concern being that I might not be able to fit everything into the allocated 10 A4 pages, especially when providing imagery, too.
I was dismissed and left the pavilion with Mao who handed me a few candies before we each headed to our respective house units.
“I don’t really like these,” he said.
“I don’t really like them, either.”
We shared a chuckle and ate them anyway. It was a perfectly imperfect moment.
Nobody cooked on that last evening; instead, the whole crew hopped into the two SUVs and one soccer-dad van and headed to downtown Kailua. Mao, Naio, Olena, and I ended up enjoying poi and other foods the island had to offer at a small outdoor shack. Poi is a paste made of pounded taro root, coconut cream, and other fruits, and ours were served with slices of banana and coconut and pieces of papaya.
Naio then headed out on her ghost tour while the three of us got our last bowl of shave ice. The sun was inching toward the horizon, painting the air purple and orange. One last sunset on the island. I wanted nothing more than to watch it, see the sun go down behind the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Mao followed me across the road to the coastline where we settled on a low wall made of the porous volcanic rock. I’ve learned my lesson that first day at the airport: I knew it was going to make my pants damp even though it didn’t rain recently, but that didn’t matter.
The sunset spilled buckets of paint into the ocean and onto the sky. The last sunrays tickled our skin and conversation ceased in favour of taking in the moment. I never wanted it to end, never wanted to leave. But the Earth kept spinning and night started to fall on the land. Soon, it was time to return to the base, as we said we’d go with J.
In an attempt to extend the moment just a bit longer, I asked Mao if he’d like to head out to the small beach near the base to watch the ocean just for a tiny bit more. The stars were out, bright as they’ve ever been, and the waves sang as they washed onto the shore. We settled down, sitting on my jacket, first watching the water and the sky in silence, then talking into the night.
Morning came faster than ever and my alarm blared, cutting into the silence of the night and the soothing sound of the waves washing against the shore. I smothered the phone so I wouldn’t wake up Kalo who was submerged in peaceful sleep right next to me.
I was to meet Naio for our last walk on the island. As I waited for her outside the unit, I watched the sky turn blue as my last sunrise in Hawai’i neared. We headed out onto the road and toward a small harbor I discovered a few days earlier during one of my runs. The road we walked on was wet—it rained last night—and the blossoms of all the trees and bushes and other plants that grew along it were spread before us like a carpet.
Aalii was up when I returned, the two of us sharing the ride to the airport, the first ones to leave the base.
“Where’d you go?” she asked me.
“For a walk with Naio, to say goodbye.”
“I’m not good at goodbyes. I wish I were.”
“I always leave quietly, as if I’d never arrived in the first place. Sometimes I wish I had some kind of closure with the people. There’s none when I do that.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it means you’ll see everyone again.”
As I put the bags into the car, Koa showed up for a good-bye hug. I gave her a short letter for her and one for Mao, as they shared a ride to the airport. The ride was near-silent. Boarding the flight made me feel empty. Seeing the island disappear from my view together with all my new friends, I realized something stayed there. Saying goodbye for the second time was, somehow even harder than when I was leaving three years before that, thinking I’d never see it again.
Aalii and I never gave goodbyes to each other. Maybe it means we’ll meet again.
Last time, I was alone on the island. It was beautiful nonetheless but this time, with everyone, it felt somehow fuller. There was more, so much more connected to that piece of rock in the middle of an ocean. The lava spewing from the hot spot under the ocean floor didn’t only create land to walk on, it created land where new friendships bloomed.
This trip moved something inside me. The evenings spent debating over the trail descriptions and plant species we saw, working together to make summaries of the hikes, and helping each other with our respective topics felt just so right it was hard to ignore. The camaraderie and everyone’s work toward a common goal were incredibly fulfilling, more so than visiting the volcano, more so than cliff diving into the deep river gorge, more so than hiking on this incredible island.