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Alice Kahn

Kilauea: Going With the Flow

August 13, 1989|Alice Kahn

We were standing on the edge of the cliff looking for it. The winds were swirling, the rain was beating down, and the ocean was steaming.

"Can you see it?"

"Where is it?"

"Is that it?"

People shouted in English and Japanese and Swedish.

Then the winds shifted and we saw, and we stared and we gasped. A brilliant orange-red ribbon was flowing into the ocean.

This would be Mr. Lava--Mr. Molten Lava.

The locals say he is the creation of Madam Pele, the goddess of fire. Madam Pele was destroying ocean and creating land right before our wondering eyes and clicking Minoltas and shoulder-mounted camcorders.

To our delight, a park ranger inexplicably wearing a Batman hat took down the rope and the sign that said "Danger!" and let us walk on the black sand beach that was created only two days before.

You can keep your old moon, I thought, as I placed one giant step for womankind on the steaming, fresh-baked land.

We had come to Hawaii, the Big Island, to see Kilauea erupt. We had suffered through a week of sitting on the beach and swimming in the pool and eating organic white pineapple. We had snorkeled with the iridescent fish and seen an informational display on how Kona coffee is made and gone on an educational tour of Mrs. Fields' macadamia nut plant.

At the end of the tour, the fluffy-aproned Mrs. Fields surrogate flashed a sample of macadamia nut brittle before us, then yanked it away. Buy some or die.

She knew we were taffy in her hands. We were that low form of life that walks around in aloha shirts and carries cameras and invisible signs that say: "Sucker." We were tourists.

I had stopped in a little town with a name that sounded like Hello-hello-a and bought a local melon from the general store. The store man said, "Ten percent discount . . . for kamaaina ."

"He thought we were locals," my friend Charlotte explained. "People say you can tell the tourists because they wear new clothes."

"But, Charlotte," I said, pointing to my khaki shorts and striped shirt, "these are new clothes. "

Still, I knew that being an accidental local was a high compliment. Tourists are those people like the man we noticed staggering off the glass-bottom-boat ride, seasick and drunk, shouting: "I ain't never seen the ocean like that in Texas."

Tourists are the people being transported by gondola or commuter train through the out-Disneylandish grounds of the new Hyatt hotel, a "destination resort." (That means you're destined to spend every last dime there.)

Tourists are the people posing outside St. Benedict's--"the old painted church"--near the sign: "Yes. This is the place where Perry Como filmed 'Christmas in Hawaii' in 1985."

The day before we went to see the volcano, I made the whole family drive for more than an hour to see a town called Hawi because my friend, Roger the travel writer, told me it was authentic.

We got to where the town should be. There were several houses and one little store.

Is this it? Is this it? Can we see it?

I stopped the only other person on the street besides myself, my husband and my two daughters.

"Is this Hawi?" I asked him.

"I don't know, man," he said to the three Kahn women and one Kahn man.

"I was kind of hoping you were locals," he continued. "I came here from Maui to get mellow. This place is so mellow I can hear my voice echoing in my head."

And right there on the deserted street of what may have been downtown Hawi, we shared what can only be described as good vibes.

After seeing the volcano, we had dinner at the Kilauea Lodge in a two-store shopping center called Volcano Village in the town of Volcano, Hawaii.

"You folks local?" the waiter asked. ". . . You look so relaxed."

Hey, man, I wanted to say, you'd look relaxed too if you'd just spent several thousand dollars to stand for an hour at the edge of a cliff in the rain with a bunch of tourists to see an orange ribbon flow into the ocean and turn into burnt marshmallow land before your eyes.

And you felt it was worth it. Because it was, like, real.

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