Saturday, November 19, 2016

Wedding, Family, and Getting Slowed Down

19 November 2016

Around the time we took our helicopter trip over the lava flows, molten and solidified, our extended family began to arrive.

We spent three weeks in Hawaii because one of my gorgeous nieces was getting married there.

It was lovely, it was romantic, it was beachy, it was wonderful.  It was everything a wedding should be, with the immediate family and a couple in love and fragrant flowers.  Oh, and a chocolate dessert.

At the last minute (one week before the wedding ceremony!), the location had to be changed due to a variety of circumstances.  Fortunately for both the couple, their parents, and US, the new site was our hotel, the Sheraton Kona.  This was great for us, because it was so convenient and we could bump into people who were rehearsing, wandering, or staying at the hotel.

And great for the couple and their parents because it turned out to be so well coordinated by all the staff at the hotel!  

Plus a tasty meal under the stars, and absolutely breathtaking photos on the rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean.

My niece gave permission for me to include a few photos for our blog - aren't they a gorgeous couple?  Can't you imagine how adorable their children will be?

And of course the hat had a wonderful time at the wedding, too!

Then back to Bellingham, for an at-home reception.  For people not familiar with destination weddings, there's often a reception back at home, so family and friends who couldn't make it to the destination can still join in the celebrations.

That meant time with my sister and her husband, plus almost all of the other nieces and nephews - all wonderful young adults, and we had a great time spending the weekend catching up with them.  This is what we miss most while travelling, seeing family and friends.  This was a happy occasion with plenty of opportunity for family time!

Then everyone went back to their busy and full lives, and we went back to dealing with medical stuff.

Richard seems to still have his hitchhikers, who have trespassed far too long.  Plus I have something new going on.  After a series of tests, all we know is that my heart isn't working as well as it should.  For me, it feels like it's stuck in a high altitude - not getting enough oxygen, working harder just to walk any distance or breathe normally.  Thus far, the tests show I have healthy blood, clear lungs, good unblocked veins and arteries, and no pulmonary embolisms or edema from our time in the Andes (which was my concern after Quito, Ecuador).  

I'd have a clean bill of health except for my heart.  Of course, since the heart is like command central for the body, this is a concern.

So we're doing a minimally invasive test on Monday, having exhausted all the non-invasive testing.  We're also trying out some medications, but having a look makes sense as our next step.  And we'll see what the doctors find.

I'll report back.  Not to worry, I feel fine.  Perfectly normal for me.  I just get short of breath walking ridiculously short distances, which is annoying for me and concerning for Richard.

We're confident it will get worked out, and we'll be back on the road shortly.

And just a few more photos - are these not some of the most perfect wedding photos ever?  How can you not believe in love and romance???

Wedding photos by Karen Loudon

Friday, November 4, 2016

Pele is Alive and Well and Living in Hawaii

3 November 2016

The legend of Pele, goddess of fire and all volcanoes, seems to live on in Hawaii.  We see fiery sunsets almost every night, when the sky turns orange and the sun glows red as it sinks into the sea.  I almost expect the ocean to begin boiling!

We also found a gelato flavor, Pele's kiss.  Of course, I had to try it:  dark chocolate with cinnamon and a hint of hot peppers.  Actually, it has more than a hint of pepper, and it's quite the hot and spicy gelato, exactly as a kiss from a volcano goddess might be.

Then there are the volcanic cliffs that make up the shoreline around our part of the island.  Very few beaches, just dramatic black rocky cliffs towering over the ocean, with sheer drops into the water.  Very powerful and severe looking, especially with the waves crashing against the cliffs.

Being surrounded by Pele, Richard and I decided we needed to explore the volcanoes and lava flows from another perspective.  So we signed up for a helicopter tour named "The Circle of Fire."

Now, before I get to the trip - I have to mention why this is a rather momentous occasion.  I have vertigo problems.  When I'm above the ground and things below are moving, or appear to be moving, I get dizzy and feel like I'm falling.  Just some inner ear weirdness or something.  Richard, on the other hand, isn't with great heights, and tends toward motion sickness at times.  So, well, for us to go on a helicopter tour is a major decision.  And possibly a major ordeal.

But we decided we'd tough it out.  We wanted to see the lava that's oozing out and dripping into the ocean.  One option is to hike out and watch from the cliffs, a dizzying thought.  And prone to whiffs of the sulphur dioxide gasses rising from the flow.  Another option is the go out on a boat tour, which isn't recommended since there are fissures in the lava delta that has built up.  This was even in the newspaper, warning people that both hiking and boating in the area could be dangerous, since that lava delta is expected to collapse soon.  So that left us with the helicopter tour.

Yeah, we'll just tough it out.

The helicopter company leaves from Hilo, on the other side of the island, because it's closer to the volcano and the rift.  So we got up early and drove across the island, to Hilo.  (Star with an H on the map)  The highway is also named the Saddle Road, because it crosses the saddle, the high flat valley, that is between Mauna Kea to the north, and Mauna Loa to the south.  The road reaches an elevation of 6,632 feet (2,021 m) above sea level, so our ears were popping as we drove up one side, crossed the saddle, and drove down the other.  (Star #5 on the map, below.)

But it was a beautiful clear morning and we had fabulous views of Mauna Loa, all 13,000+ feet of her.  

We drove through farmland, scrubland scattered with volcanic boulders, and basically lava flow deserts, where very little grows.  We've been told that there are nineteen micro-climates on this island, due to the vast differences in altitude as well as orientation to the wind.  I believe it - Mauna Loa creates a barrier that stops the clouds, so that much of the Kona coast is in a rain shadow and much drier than the east side of the island.

Anyway, we had a nice drive and made it to the airport in time.  We went with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters - here's their website:

They do an orientation, which includes telling us how to put on the harness and seatbelt, as well as the headset.  Then they proceed to tell us to allow the ground crew to do all of this for us.  Yeah, it was kind of funny, you climb into the helicopter and someone comes up and snugs you in as if you're a little kid.

We had to leave hats and purses in the airport, so Dad's hat didn't get to go on the tour with us.

The pilot comes over the headphones, and we all have to check in verbally.  Then lift off!

We had a bit of wobble, but it was incredibly smooth!  So much smoother than my first and, before this, only helicopter ride.  If this helicopter was like a dragonfly, the first one I rode in over St. Thomas was like a baby mosquito.  Which swooped and bounced and spun around like an insane carnival ride.  This was mostly smooth, like a little plane with picture windows, even though we were in the back.

We flew south over several lava flows that recently wiped out several towns, burning down buildings and covering the roads.  This is all from the Pu'u O'o vent, which is part of the Kilauea volcano, but on the more southern banks, along the East Rift Zone.  Pu'u O'o is a crater that opened up about thirty-four years ago and has been wreaking destruction since then.  On the other hand, the lava flows have added over 300 acres of new land to the island.

Then we headed over to the coast, where the lava is flowing down into the ocean!  (Star #6 on the map)  We didn't really see the lava flowing over land, because what happens is that the lava flows, then the surface cools and solidifies.  More flows continue underneath, forming what is basically a tube of lava flowing beneath the surface.  This is what reached the coast in May of this year, and has been dripping slowly into the ocean.

We could see the steam rising from a distance.  It isn't just steam from the hot lava hitting the water, but also sulphur dioxide gasses that the lava emits.  Not good to breathe, but okay to fly around.  As we circled, we could see little streaks of orange, the molten lava dripping down!  Amazing!  Way cool!  And so exciting!

Then we flew over the Pu'u O'o crater, which is also steaming and has streaks of orange lava when we could peer into the crater at the right angle.  (Star #7 on the map)  All that sulphurous steam leaves light streaks on the side of the crater and some of the volcanic rock on the outside of the crater, so it really looks like some artist's version of Hell on earth.

Richard and I somehow thought we'd also fly over the Kilauea crater and see the lava lake from the air, but we didn't.  I think it may have been too far, or they save that for a different trip.  We did see many of the different areas affected by lava flows over recent years - even Mauna Loa has had lava flows that decimated communities within the last forty or so years.

Our pilot was very funny.  As it neared noon, he chatted about how he always gets hungry flying over the volcanoes.  The craters look like nacho cheese dip to him.  And the volcano flows look like brownies, with that shiny dark brown crust that is uneven, covering yummy chocolate brownie underneath.  He had us all laughing as we flew around.

Then on the way back to Hilo, we viewed a number of waterfalls.  I don't know that I've ever seen a waterfall from the air, and I have absolutely no idea how tall or wide any of these are.  I'm sure they're impressive from the ground.  But no roads go anywhere near most of these beautiful waterfalls, people would need to hike in for quite a while and most likely camp out.  Which does sound quite nice.

The coastline is quite rocky, with the dramatic volcanic rock cliffs similar to what we have near our hotel.  But, from the air, they look less high and steep, and more gentle.

And that was pretty much it.  We flew back to the airport, and over to the terminal, hovering a bit over our landing circle.  We had a comfortable landing, the doors popped open, and the ground crew took us out of our car seats.  Oh, sorry, our harnesses.  We had a final photo with our blue helicopter, waved goodbye, and picked up our stuff inside.  There was an optional CD we could purchase, but we passed on that.

So lunch, then the drive back over the saddle and between the volcanoes, who were visible from 6,600-ish feet above sea level, but hidden in the clouds so unseen from both coasts.

And that was it.  Our exciting helicopter adventure!  Sometimes it seems appropriate to face fears and defy death and all that jazz.  Not that we exactly laughed in the face of our own demise, but this is definitely one of those riskier kinds of adventures.  Totally worth it, though!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Hotel Halloween

31 October 2016
Our hotel in Hawaii had a special mid-day Halloween event that probably was geared toward children.  (Don't you love that they do this???)

Richard picked up a Halloween map this morning.  The plan was to have people pick up a special bag at registration, and follow the map.  There were five trick or treating stations around the hotel, all on the map.  Each "station" had a printed picture of a jack-o-lantern on the door, so it was easy to find the places.

We're talking the registration desk, the executive offices, the sales office, the catering office, and the shop where they book excursions.

I'm always up to acting silly.  So I drew a lightning bolt scar on my forehead with eyeliner and a little blush, put on my Harry Potter reading glasses, and wandered around outside to find a twig for my wand.  Wearing a white blouse and black capris.  Because Harry Potter wouldn't wear his blazer or robe in the tropics, right?

I headed down to the registration desk, brandished my wand, and said, "Wingardium leviosa!"  The lady behind the desk was so happy to finally have someone for the trick-or-treating program, and she loved my minimal costume.  She told me I was the first and only person thus far who was doing the trick-or-treat route, which of course we laughed about.  So she gave me the special bag and loaded me up with some candy.  Made sure I knew where to go on the map, and sent me on my way.

It really was funny.  I went to the various offices and everyone was so happy to see someone.  My favorite was the woman who said, "Oh good, we have chocolate, I know adults like chocolate!"  

And everyone recognized I was Harry Potter.

I was chatting with a Hawaiian woman who was selling jewelry, and we saw a little girl with her mom following the candy trail.  Finally, someone else!  Then another little girl came by with her family, but they didn't have the bag or map - so I handed over my map and told them to get the bag in registration, then they could trick-or-treat with their kidlet.  (Little girl then proceeded to jump up and down at the thought of candy.)

So Richard and I shared some candy, and the rest is set aside for the next few days.  Fortunately, everything is the mini size, so three mini Snickers are all of 128 calories.  Decent snack for a day.

Oh, and there was a tiny bag of special mini pretzels - they were in the shapes of bats and jack-o-lanterns!  I've never seen anything like it, that was pretty exciting!

Plus I got in 2.5 miles of walking, LOL!  That's what I call a good trick-or-treating day!

Don't you love retirement???


Friday, October 28, 2016

Visiting Pele, Goddess of Volcanoes

27 October 2016

Wow!  This was one of the more incredible experiences of our travelling life.  Richard and I have been up a number of volcanoes:  Turrialba in Costa Rica, with steaming and smoking fumeroles; the slumbering Mount Maunganui in New Zealand, where we nearly fell off the mountain; the huge caldera of Mount Eden, also in New Zealand; as well as numerous huffing and puffing and smoking volcanoes in Central and South America.

But this was our first ever volcano spewing lava!  Live fiery hot burning red-orange-yellow molten rock lava!!!!!  WOW!

Kilauea Volcano (star #5 on the map at the end of the blog) is sort of a baby-sized volcano sitting or leaning on the side of Mauno Loa, the mother-sized volcano that comprising roughly 51% of the big island of Hawaii.  More on Mauno Loa later, though.  (And it’s pronounced kill-ah-WAY-ah.)

Kilauea at this point in time is mostly a huge caldera, or crater, with a smaller lava lake in the middle of it.  Yes, a lake of lava.  Not a lake of water in the crater, a small crater full of molten rock that glows at night.

This lava lake has its own name in Hawaiian:  Halema’uma’u.  And this crater is considered the home of Pele, goddess of fire and volcanoes, because it is the most active volcano in Hawaii. 

We were lucky, because the lava was bubbling up like a fiery fountain, with two or three plumes of lava that are an estimated 20 to 30 feet in height.  (About 7 to 10 meters high.)  The US Geological Society has webcams and scientists monitoring the volcano, and their instruments can measure the side of the lava lake that is visible – right now, it’s about 40 feet (13 m).  The lava plumes are about half or almost three-quarters as high as the side – therefore about 20 to 30 feet tall.  Wow, that’s two or three storeys tall fountains of LAVA!!!!!!

It was as amazing and incredible and truly awe-inspiring as you might imagine.  Especially when we looked through the telescope at the viewpoint, because then we could see all the detail of these bubbling and exploding fountains of molten rock.  My photos barely begin to capture the power and might of this sight.  The viewpoints are roughly a mile away, and there’s a constant stream of steam mixed with sulphur dioxide gas that makes the view a little blurry.

But it was absolutely one of the most wonderful sights ever!  I literally was bouncing up and down and squealing at my first view of the lava.  As was Dad’s hat.  Live lava isn’t an everyday sight, even for a geologist.

Plus there are steam vents not only at one end of the lava lake, but scattered around the larger caldera, as well as along the road as one drives up the Crater Rim Road up to the various lookout points.  (Really, can you imagine having that as your address?  Crater Rim Road???)

So we wandered around for a few hours, at the various lookout points, marveling at this overwhelming sight.  Huge spurts of lava bubbling up into ever-changing sculpture.  We thought about staying until dark, because the entire lava lake glows – there’s only a very thin crust of cooling lava floating on top of the lake, and in the photos you can see that this crust moves with the fluid lava underneath.

But it was getting chilly, and rain was imminent.  So we left.  Turned out it was raining on our way home, so we’re glad we didn’t stay until after sunset.

Okay, some facts and figures to go with my multitude of photos:

Kilauea Crater is in the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park.  (website: 

If you have a national park card, bring it with you for the entrance fee.  We now have a senior pass, which is good for a lifetime.  (You can get one at a park, or online.)

The Volcanoes National Park encompasses 250,000 acres of volcanic landscape, including the crater at the top of Mauna Loa, little Kilauea, and a huge forested area that covers much of the lava flows from both volcanoes.

Kilauea itself is now only 4,091 feet high (1,227 m), having erupted and lost its peak.  The peak is now the huge caldera, with the smaller crater filled with lava forming the lake in the center.  Kilauea is considered the youngest but most active of the Hawaiian volcanoes, which is why it was named Kilauea, which means “spewing” or “much spreading.”  Since 1918, the only prolonged period of dormancy was an eighteen-year pause from 1934 to 1952.  Quite an active little volcano!

The summit caldera of Kilauea is shaped more like an oval than a perfect circle, roughly two miles in each direction (but 3.2 by 4 km) with walls up to 400 feet high (120 m).  The Halama’uma’u Crater is about 3000 ft in diameter (920 m), and 280 feet deep (85 m).  But this is constantly changing with the continuing lava flows.

The coastal region of the park was once home to a number of villages, and the ruins of various homes and temples can still be found.  There are also petroglyphs in the rocks.

A vent opened up in 1986, on one of the old lava flows on Kilauea’s south side, called the East Rift Zone, or Pu’u O’o in Hawaiian.  Lava has been flowing over the highway since 1986.  Nearly nine miles of road have been inundated by the lava, as well as various homes, and one of the park’s visitor centers. 

Another lava flow emerged and has been slowly flowing toward the sea.  The lava flow finally reached the coast, and is now dripping into the ocean, solidifying and forming new land!  Of course, there’s a possibility that this new igneous rock will become too heavy and break off, dropping into the ocean and capsizing any boats in the vicinity.  Aerial observation has found prominent cracks on this new point or delta, and there was a small collapse earlier this week.  (So no boat trips to see the dripping lava.)

Now, Kilauea sort of leans on Mauna Loa.  We haven’t seen this volcano, the top is always hidden in clouds, even on the clearest and sunniest days.  The peak seems to have its own micro-environment.

But, Mauna Loa is a really impressive volcano.  She hasn’t been very active recently, though about 30 years ago she and Kilauea were erupting at the same time.  Fortunately, these are shield volcanoes, something about the structure and the way the five volcanoes lean on each other.  It means they don’t erupt explosively anymore, or at least they don’t most of the time.  The lava bubbles out and flows down the sides, but there are rarely the violent eruptions with huge boulders flying miles away.  Although this has happened in the distant past, it hasn’t happened in recent history.

Mauna Loa is the largest of the five major volcanoes on the island of Hawai’I, though most of the volcano lies hidden below the ocean’s surface.  By volume, it is about 100 times larger than Mt. Rainier, an older volcanic peak of about the same elevation in Washington state.

Mauna Loa has an elevation of 13,677 feet above sea level, and more than 31,000 above the ocean floor.  With a volume of 10,000 cubic miles, Mauna Loa is the largest mountain on Earth!  (I know, it’s odd to hear the dimensions of a mountain measured from the ocean floor.  But with Mauna Loa making up 51% of the island of Hawai’i, and the rest of the island comprised of four other volcanoes, the underwater base of Mauna Loa really does factor into her size.)

According to the information at the park, Mauna Loa’s huge mass is being built by successive flows of lava.  The thickness of an individual lava flow averages 12 feet, or about 4 meters.  (Lava is magma that has broken through the earth’s crust.  When it’s still below the crust, the molten rock is referred to as magma.)

Mauna Loa and Kilauea are both shield volcanoes, with gently sloping sides resembling a warrior’s shield lying flat.

It has taken hundreds of centuries and countless eruptions for Mauna Loa to reach its present size.  During the last 100 years, the volcano has erupted more than 18 times.  The next eruption could occur any moment!

To end this blog, I want to quote from a few displays at the Jaggar Museum overlooking the Halama’uma’u Crater.  There were all kinds of scientific displays explaining how volcanoes are formed, different kinds of igneous rock, all the usual scientific stuff.  But I really liked the artwork by Hawaiian artist Herb Kawainui Kane, who included short versions of a few myths about volcano goddess Pele.  I love indigenous myths that explain natural phenomena, especially when such phenomena are anthropomorphized.  I also love the fact that volcanoes are seen as a woman – obviously a strong and powerful woman!

“Pele is short for Pelehonuamea, the goddess of the volcanoes.  Pelehonuamea has many names:  Ka Wahine ‘Ai Honua, the woman who devours the earth.  Kaluahine, the old woman of the pit.  Ka Wahine ‘Ai Lehua, the woman who devours the lehua blossoms.  These names describe the many volcanic forms Pele embodies, for native Hawaiians believe that she is all things volcanic – steam, lava, and volcanic eruptions.

“Her most common chant name is Pelehonuamea (Pele of the sacred earth).  Her home is the active crater Halema’uma’u within the Kilauea volcano on the Island of Hawai’i.  In Hawai’I Pele lives in Hawaiian hearts and minds as the supreme personification of volcanic majesty and power within a cosmos in which all natural forces are regarded as life forces, related by kinship to human life.”

Painting by Herb Kawainui Kane
  “Pele Searches for a Home”

“Pele, goddess of fire, passed southeast from island to island.  On each, she attempted to dig a home in which she could house her family.

“But at each location, as she dug her fire pits, she heard the voice of her sister, Na Maka o Kaha’I, goddess of the sea.

“At last she came to Hawaii, where she could dig deep without hitting water.”

Painting by Herb Kawainui Kane  

“In a dream Pele’s spirit wandered to Kauai, where she fell in love with the chief Lohiau.  She sent her sister Hi’iaka to bring the chief to her.

“Hi’iaka was loyal to Pele, but her sister had a jealous imagination.  Pele believed that she had been betrayed.  She destroyed Hi’iaka’s sacred grove and her friend Hopoe.

“Hi’iaka returned with Lohiau after a dangerous voyage.  She was overcome with grief at Pele’s destruction and embraced Lohiau.  The enraged Pele then consumed Lohiau with flaming lava. 

“Hi’iaka restored Lohiau to life and returned him to his island.”

Aren't they great stories?  

So some more photos of these mesmerizing fountains of lava.  Just because they're so cool.

And the map at the end.