Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hawaii Trip Recap - Day 5

We woke up ridiculously early to drive up to Hawi for a kayak ride through the irrigation ditches on the north coast of the island. A couple of years ago I'd read about something called "fluming the ditch" but the guided adventure trip was closed down following the big earthquake in Hawaii a couple of years ago when the flumes were damaged. This January a section of the ditch re-opened and Kohala Ditch Adventures started leading tours again. It was a really relaxing ride through the irrigation ditches, and we learned a lot about how the locals live and the valleys in this area. I'm not sure how much children would enjoy something like this because it's a slow ride and a lot of the time is spent in dark tunnels, but we really had a good time. (Unfortunately I don't have any pictures b/c they're all still on the waterproof camera that I need to get developed sometime this century.)

Afterwards we drove out to the Polulu Valley lookout and then back in to Hawi for lunch at Bamboo. When we were planning the trip I came across two houses for rent in this area and we were mightily tempted to book the one. Having visited Hawi for the morning and seen what there is to see, we're really glad that we decided to stay down in the resort area at the condo instead. I'm sure we would have had a relaxing, lovely time while at the house but the closest swimmable beach is at least 45 minutes away.

We drove back down the Kohala mountain, through Waimea town, before going back to Mauna Kea beach. The drive down the mountain is very reminiscent of Ireland - so much greenery & horses. At one point I even saw a dry-stack rock wall like you see all along the Ring of Kerry,  although this one was made up of volcanic rock (naturally).

We ate dinner back at the condo that night, drank some beer & wine and watched American Idol. Immediately after the show was over I logged in to Facebook and saw that I had a bunch of messages. While I was reading them Alan's phone rang and it was his dad letting us know about the tsunami in Japan and the warnings for Hawaii. We immediately turned on the TV to the local station and watched as the newscasters recounted the devastation across the Pacific Ocean and what was expected for the Hawaiian islands.

I have three things in life that I have a completely irrational fear of - airplane crashes, earthquakes and tsunamis. Listening to the news reports of entire towns turned to rubble and whole villages washed away scared the bejeezus out of me. Then realizing that a wall of water could be coming for us kicked me into high gear. I started calmly panicking, packing everything we'd brought in bags and emptying out the refrigerator. I kept telling Alan we needed to plan our evacuation. And then our condo's phone rang: it was an automated message from Hawaii's civil defense department telling us about the tsunami warning and ordering us to evacuate to higher ground. The message told us we could find our evacuation route and emergency shelter center in our phone book. We had no idea where the phone book was but I knew that Waikoloa Village was up the mountain and that we'd likely be safe there. Within 20 minutes we were dressed, had everything packed in the mustang - including pillows, blankets, food & water - and we made our way out of the resort area with several other vehicles. We turned into the parking lot at the shopping center, talked to some of our neighbors and settled in for the night. There were incredibly long lines at the gas station within the shopping center and people were making a run on the stores for food & water. At first I had enough reception on my phone to check Twitter, but after awhile the lines became so clogged that I couldn't even send text messages. Around 11 p.m. we settled into the car, turned on the radio and waited out the night. 

The tsunami was set to hit Kauai at 2-something, then the other islands, finally coming ashore on the Big Island at 2:49 a.m. I woke up around 1:45 a.m. and was listening to the radio again. They had the manager of the Hyatt in Poipu in Kauai on via phone and he was discussing that resort's evacuation procedure. As they were on the phone, the water receded 150 feet further than where it normally was that time of night. By the end of the conversation, the water had come up to the foliage blocking the lawn from the sand. From that point on I somehow had reception on my phone again and the reports that were coming in where scattered and inconsistent. Some people reported nothing happening whatsoever while others reported water coming over sea walls.

We decided to return to the condo around 7:30 a.m. when we'd heard on the radio that there was no major damage to the resort areas. We ate breakfast and then immediately fell back asleep.

When we woke up we found out there'd been more damage than previously reported and that Kona had been hit pretty hard. All the beaches were closed and they were advising visitors to stay away from the shore. We had no idea what to do with ourselves for the day so we wandered over to the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort to check it out since we'd heard it was like Disneyland in the islands. We parked in a "shoreline access" parking lot and then walked for what seemed like forever out to a rocky shore that seemed to have a lot of lava exposed. Not being familiar with the area we didn't know that this was not normal. As we walked up into the resort we saw people standing at the pool area looking out into the horizon. It turns out that a new, unexpected wave was surging ashore ... and we had inadvertently been the dumbass tourists that had been standing ashore just minutes before. The way the Hilton is set up there is a snorkeling lagoon that is fed by the ocean. As we walked around it you could see the waters rushing into the lagoon area, making the water murky and unsafe (and yet still people were swimming there). Then a few minutes later the waters were receding and heading back out to the ocean. It was crazy to see the wave push that far ashore and I was thankful that we'd gotten our asses off the shoreline when we did.

Now a word about the Hilton. TERRIBLE. It's huge. And sprawling. And there are kids everywhere. And it's not really all that nice. Truthfully, I'm not sure I'd stay there if you told me it was only $100/night. I'm not sure if it was because of the season or because of the tsunami but we couldn't find anywhere within the resort to get lunch (even though supposedly there are several restaurants) so we decided to go with our favorite standby - poke from Queen's Marketplace. Later that night we drove in to Kona to get food & beer at the Kona Brewery. The Koko Brown from the tap is even better than the bottles we get at home. 

Before heading home we drove down to Ali'i Drive - while you could see, even in the dark, that a lot of damage had been done, there was still a somewhat festive mood as people were out walking and there was music and laughter coming from the second story bars overlooking the ocean. It wasn't until the next day that we'd find out that the damage had been much worse than we even thought having experienced the tsunami and seen some of the problems with our own eyes.

I'm still irrationally terrified of tsunamis - there is no predicting what the ocean will do or how it will impact the local areas. I never thought to see a house floating in a bay, and yet I was mere miles from that sort of destruction. While it was absolutely nothing like what the people of Japan experienced - continue to experience - it was still scary and added a very different element to our vacation. Between the 1000 Year Storm in Ireland and now the tsunami, we're starting to get much better at handling unexpected natural disasters on our holidays.