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Hawaiian Volcano Week

Started: 2018-03-31 16:50:01

Submitted: 2018-04-01 01:50:22

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator takes his family to his local tropical paradise for spring break

Now that Calvin is in school, he's beholden to the local school district's academic calendar: school starts at the end of August, gets a couple of well-defined breaks in the year, and (this year) gets out at the beginning of June. Julian's preschool-flavored in-home-daycare follows the same schedule, at least with regard to mid-term breaks; so both kids were without daytime childcare for spring break on the last week of March.

According to the au pair program, our au pair Sasa is not supposed to work more than eight hours a day or forty-five hours in a week. (It's somewhat more complicated than that, but that'll work in a pinch.) Kiesa commutes an hour-and-a-half, one way, to work every day, so no matter what she's gone from the house for eleven hours a day. The only way we can get enough child care to fill the day is to give Sasa a few hours off in the middle of the day while our kids are at their daytime programs so that she doesn't work more than her quota during the regular day. When our kids are off school we have a childcare gap. We could fill the gap with supplemental babysitters, or take time off to take care of our kids, but it sounded much more fun to take time off to go to somewhere interesting.

We settled on a visit to Hawaii, our local tropical hellhole paradise, after rejecting other possible candidates as too cold for a spring visit. (It is, apparently, a thing for people from the Bay Area to visit Hawaii on a regular basis; or perhaps it's just the social strata with large disposable incomes I now associate with.) This left us with a choice of island, which we resolved by considering that there was only one island with an active volcano -- the Big Island of Hawaii, the largest, newest (geologically speaking -- and still growing as lava spills into the ocean), and southernmost of the Hawaiian islands.

Calvin, Kiesa, and Sasa wait for BART at Balboa Park
Calvin, Kiesa, and Sasa wait for BART at Balboa Park

We took Saturday to pack and do laundry before departing San Francisco for Hawaii on Sunday, 25 March. (It also turned out that the flights were cheaper on Sunday than Saturday -- apparently everyone else in San Francisco had the same idea we did.) We caught a direct flight from San Francisco to Kona, on the western side of the island. Several airlines operate direct flights between San Francisco and various Hawaiian airports on a variety of aircraft. (Many Saturday mornings I hear a jet over my house and look up and see a Hawaiian Airlines A330 climbing out of San Francisco, banking from its departure on runway 36R or 36L to head south-west above Ingleside on its way across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii.) We picked a United flight on a 737-900, departing SFO just after 11:00 PDT, and landing in KOA five hours later (and three time zones earlier). This flight ranked as my longest single flight on a narrow-body jet, and the first time I've flown over an ocean in a 737 that required ETOPS certification.

V-22 Osprey waiting to take off at SFO
V-22 Osprey waiting to take off at SFO

The flight was uneventful for the first three hours until we hit turbulence over the open ocean only slightly closer to Hawaii than back to the mainland. The turbulence built and the plane bounced around to the point where I had to tighten my seat belt and grab my arm rest to keep from flopping around in my seat. It was the worst turbulence I've felt, and knowing that we were still two hours over open ocean out from landing in Hawaii -- which also happened to be our nearest diversion airport -- didn't make me feel much better; but aside from being annoyed that I was being thrown about in my seat, and that I couldn't easily pull out my laptop (I had to hold it snug to keep it from being tossed into the air), it didn't really bother me. I recognized, with a bit of amused detachment, that my self in college would have had a panic attack with that much turbulence (a reaction which, it appeared, some other passengers were having).

I rode out the turbulence watching a video highlighting the 747 wing house in Malibu. It was a tiny bit disconcerting to watch a jumbo jet be dismembered (on the ground, in the Mojave boneyard) while I was myself flying, but when I learned that one can apparently buy a scrapped 747 for US$50,000 I wondered what I could do with one.

The turbulence subsided with an hour left in our flight to Kona, then reemerged just as Kiesa was waiting in the aisle for the restroom with Julian. A flight attendant offered her jump seat to Kiesa (which turned out to be slightly awkward, since the four-point harness held Kiesa but she had to hold Julian in her arms). I was at least slightly jealous that Kiesa got to ride in a jump seat, however briefly.

As we began our descent to Kona, I strained at my window to catch a glimpse of the Hawaiian islands as we approached the Big Island. Our flight path took us past Maui, and I saw the other islands in the background.

North coast of Maui
North coast of Maui

We landed in Kona in the middle of an old lava flow that hadn't yet been reclaimed by jungle. I was sitting on the right side of the plane, so all I could see was the beach, followed by lava flow. (I was assured by my guidebook that the entire island didn't look like that.)

We disembarked down air stairs onto the tarmac, then walked into the open-air terminal, with low walls open to the outside under peaked roofs making up the passenger boarding area. (Apparently it doesn't rain enough in Kona to justify enclosing the terminal.) We claimed our bags and picked up our rental car, a giant Yukon XL, with seating capacity for eight, and an ample trunk even when the third row of seats was in use. I wasn't positive I really needed a car that big, but with three adults (we brought Sasa with us) and two kids in car seats, I wasn't willing to take many chances.

We drove across away from Kona across the Saddle Road. Saddle Road used to be a notorious dirt shortcut across the middle of the island, but in the last few years it has apparently been replaced by a good paved road. I drove through fog over gently rolling hills that looked like they wouldn't be out of place as Scottish moors, then drove across the saddle between the Big Island's twin thirteeners, Manua Kea (the highest point in Hawaii) and Manua Loa. (Depending on where you start measuring, these mountains might be, respectively, the "highest mountain on earth" (measuring from the bottom of the ocean) and the "most massive mountain on earth" (measuring the total volume of the mountain, from the bottom of the ocean).) The fog had given way to gentle clouds obscuring the full bulk of both superlative stratovolcanoes, but I could see snow on both mountains as they towered above the rolling pasture on the saddle.

The road descended towards Hilo, the island's second-largest city, on the rainy eastern side of the island. (Hilo is smaller than Kona, and less favored by tourists, so it doesn't have direct service from San Francisco, so it turned out to be cheaper and easier to fly to Kona and drive to the other side of the island.) The road immediately dropped into a fog bank, that kept up most of the way to Hilo.

We stopped for groceries at Safeway in Hilo, where I spotted a couple of Matson containers out back, and wondered how much of the food in the store had come across the ocean in a container from Matson's docks at the Port of Oakland. Properly fortified we continued around the island, following the Hawaii Belt Road south-west to our Airbnb, located between the towns of Mountain View and Volcano. We found the three-bedroom vacation home as night fell and settled in for a quick supper and an early night (it was three hours behind Pacific Time, so even a modest bedtime seemed quite late), ahead of our first full day in Hawaii.

Summit of Maui
Summit of Maui

(Thinking of Calvin's school schedule reminded me that Calvin is now at the age where I very clearly remember things in my life, which is a little weird. I wonder what he's going to remember as he grows up, and I guess there's only a little I can do to get him to remember the thing I want him to remember. Julian turned three during the week in Hawaii, so I suspect he'll only remember things second-hand; but for both of them, I can help them to remember key moments by photographing and documenting them in a format they can consume. Which reminds me that I should get my digital picture frame back out again and set it up with key pictures from trips we've gone on.)