Alaska and Hawaii seemed out of reach, but so did the other 47 states as I grew up in Florence, Texas. I used to wish for a Disney ending or the American dream, but I’ve gotten more than a pumpkin carriage and a picket fence, and I’ve gotten to explore more than just this great country. As soon as Caleb got approved for leave I booked us a one week trip to the Big Island. I wanted to see turtles and volcanoes and am told this is the place.
I didn’t think much about it for the month in between booking the flight and rental car. I got sent home with a legal memorandum midterm, a passing midterm in Sociology, and six assignments and a group project in Business Communications. Caleb stayed up late with me to make sure I packed something and to help with my homework. I did what I could, which I realize was more than what was assigned to me, and figured the rest could be finished in the two days allotted upon my return.
Our neighbor Dan came over to say hi to the dogs and me while Caleb went to get a fourth key made – and still only mine works. We will be fixing that when we get back. Dan offered to drop us to the airport, even if we were leaving home at 4:15 am, to help us save on parking fees that start at $10/day. We laid down around midnight and I talked to Caleb’s different snores about how excited I was. He had made sure I had my camera, swim suit, and national park book before passing out.
Caleb woke me with, “We have to leave now!” I jumped out of bed and on the toilet while getting dressed. I grabbed my purse and sunglasses while he picked up the one bag we were bringing for a week of hiking and diving in Hawaii. He locked the door and then noticed Dan across the street, just calmly adjusting his vehicle for our presence. We felt rushed as he told us, “I was beginning to wonder…”
I wanted to ask why he didn’t knock, but I didn’t want to use the wrong tone either. Part of me had stayed up thinking about the shower and coffee I would have at 4:00 am, but here it was already 5:00 am and I hadn’t even said goodbye to the dogs. Surprisingly to us both, Dan got us to the airport in 15 minutes. Even more so was getting through security in under five, with an unexpected line at this hour.
We sat by Gate 13, reading, and thought about the coffee we could drink if either of us had bothered to get up. We didn’t, until they called early boarding for active duty. Here I come seat 7A. We got the three seats to ourselves, along with plenty of complimentary coffee, water, and one Mai Tai. I tried to sleep. Caleb said I accomplished that for 20 minutes. Otherwise I was admiring flying over a new ocean together or reading.
I was able to use the first class toilet once and luckily the back didn’t have a line – twice in 5.5 hours. I saw the mountain peak and grabbed my camera, then I saw the water through the clouds. Soon our plane was descending towards the beach. I wouldn’t say we got the ‘Hollywood airport’ at first because of all the dirt, but as soon as we landed I noticed the huts that make up the open air port. We stopped to remove our jackets and take a picture of a statue, but not before a dad put his daughter close enough to let her cry – touching the day lit bronze.
We found the right shuttle and the driver had us laughing for our two-minute ride. He delivers us to Thrifty where I had planned on picking up a Chevy Spark, but ended up leaving in a eep (no J) for its four-wheel drive capability. The agent tried to explain words and numbers and I just asked, “Where do I sign?” I’m grateful Caleb was there to make sure I don’t totally regret uttering that. We threw the bag in the back, but didn’t worry about the convertible top just yet.
We had to visit a park, check-in to our hotel, wash our bodies, and find something to eat in two hours before checking in for our night dive. The park came as a surprise as I thought it was five minutes north. We stop at the visitor center and get directed to the fish pond to see turtles. I’d like to blame it on the lack of sleep or the sun, but I told the ranger it was tunnel vision that brought me within six feet of a sunbathing turtle.
There are two signs posted nearby and a line in the sand to keep people 20 feet away… oops. We walked further , touched the water, and looked at birds. We get a discount at Big Island Divers if we check in early and get there a minute before 1:00pm. The cashier has us try some flippers on and gladly agrees to rent me a mask like the one I own. We can now meet at the harbor at 2:45.
We check into the Holiday Inn and it’s open air like the airport – open patio to reception desk. I compliment the agent on her view and she checks our reward points. We got this room at half price. We’ll be on the second floor. We walk to Longboard Legends Pizza because it’s the second closest restaurant that we see next to McDonald’s that isn’t closed. We order the Thai pizza and a spicy sans-pepperoni one, ten inches each.
We walk back to the room to change and pull up to the Honokohau Harbor on time. Sitting there already is William from Montreal, a couple from San Francisco, and a girl who flew from Australia. Captain Justin gets the boat in the water while Dive master Jessi does the rest. They collect our shoes into a bin and welcome us aboard. Both are funny and willing to share their stories and the scientific stuff as we are eager to learn and see. The ride is short and the setup easy. Soon I am taking one stride forward – off the boat and into the water. Everything is amazing – my mask and wetsuit, the water temperature… and, holy crap, the visibility seems infinite. The beauty blows me away.
We descend quickly to 70 feet and I’m not cold in a 3mm suit. Caleb chases me down to deliver the GoPro. I try taking all the pictures and pointing at everything. We see a large Manta Ray and the sea urchins are black and white. I pet a sea cucumber that has the body consistency of whale poop. There are so many fish and I’m very excited, but I also need to come up to 30 feet to preserve air and lengthen my time underwater.
My watch tells me to rest at 50 and 30 feet and I try my three minutes stop at 18 feet. I’ve gone from 3,000 PSI to 500 in 42 minutes and soon I surface. It feels weird to be the first out of the water, but I can’t go back in at this point. Caleb joins me and we wait for the others to share our choice of ham, turkey, or lettuce wraps and then learn more about our next dive – how to hold the light, how to sit, how to leave the ‘campfire’.
We watch the sunset and don our gear, that was magically changed for us, to go below the snorkelers and closer to the blue lights. The water feels colder now, but I figure if the girl who weighs 90 pounds can handle it then so can I. We make our way to 34 feet where we will sit for 45 minutes and watch at least five Manta Rays drop their jaw to collect the available plankton. I watch some of the fish nearby as I shove my bottom, butt and feet, between rocks to stay put. Others will add the rocks to their laps and I wonder if this gives them warmth, but I don’t wonder long and go with a personal method – one available inside my suit.
I don’t know which felt better – a manta ray touching my finger, getting video of rays doing somersaults, or letting the pee warm me from waist to knees. I had mixed emotions upon leaving, but it’s a good thing we did. Back on the boat I see the tiny girl’s purple lips as she describes how badly she was shaking during the show. We piled our wetsuits, wrapped in towels, and most of us drank hot chocolate – one guy was lucky enough to wear some.
Justin turned out the lights and Jessi worked wonders in the dark, on a moving boat in a bikini. I saw a cloud that made me think of a manta ray and then noticed Mars shining on the water. The ride back was quiet. I wear the same flip-flops as the little girl, but mine are 3x larger. I climb in the driver’s seat with nothing but my swimsuit on.
We take another shower before we do a walking tour of all the Thai restaurants nearby – and all but one closes by 9:00 pm. There is a bar, ice cream shop, and mini grocery store inside the one that’s open, but we continue walking till we come upon another closed restaurant on our list. I heard singing across the street and took a step closer. Part of me felt like a pervert, but I peeked in through the open wall anyway. Inside was a choir and a crowd, and tables covered in food. We watched one song and then moved to the door for part of another.
We settled for Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. for my trio-dessert for dinner. We sat by the water, near the torch, and listened to Maille’s taco and dive recommendations. The vibe is definitely different here on the island – relaxed, calm, and friendly. The walk back to the hotel is nice, but it seems too short. Good thing it was as Caleb fell asleep before I finished the first paragraph. It’s 2:00 am San Diego time and I could use a nap.