BIG ISLAND FEVER
By Steve Meier
"Let's go to the Big Island …" I couldn't believe my ears. Those words sounded so foreign to me. After all of our many trips to Kaua`i and the wonderful friends we had there, how could going to another island be possible?
But we arrived in Kona in mid-November 2004. As we flew over Hualālai, the terrain was moon-like. Dark and winding, solid and unyielding lava flows crept over the landscape, providing no respite except for the runway tarmac. We landed, with 15 days to explore this giant and somewhat strange island.
After the long trek across the Pacific, we finally made our way to the Manago Hotel. The clean and comfortable rooms were a welcome sight, but the only thing on my mind were the pork chops at the Manago!
Then we got in our rental and headed south and I became quickly transfixed by the long shouldering slopes of Mauna Loa. It was hard to believe the subject of so much Hawaiian folklore was now, right in front of me. We made our way to Volcanoes National Park , the birthplace of all that black, massive lava. Its curious hypnotic allure drew us to an evening hike to see the flows that are currently active. After walking and listening to that sound of crunching glass under our feet, we stood in absolute awe as we witnessed Pele weave her way down the mountainside to spill freely into the ocean. This was a sight I will not soon forget.
I was pretty excited to get into Hilo....It seems like almost every Island-born person you meet here in the Pacific Northwest is from Hilo. I fully expected it to be a ghost town, with everyone now living in Seattle. But Hilo is a thriving city, with lots of people.
As we drove on the Saddle Road that cuts across the island between the two volcanoes, the hardest thing was keeping my eyes on the road and off that giant mass of Mauna Kea that filled our windshield as we approached the Visitors Center. The view from just below the summit was pure "paniolo country". Hey.....Is that Melveen Leed over there?
Looking down this vista made me dwell on how many musicians have been influenced by this place. Gabby, Sonny, Led, John Keawe, and so many others have praised its landscapes and sustained this island's epic history. Being a student of kī hō`alu (slack key,) to finally see for the first time the places behind the songs was as if I was reading a book with brilliant pictures.
We continued through Waimea, into the Kōhala district, and came into the small town of Hāwī. Nestled on the north coast, it seemed a great place to settle for a few days. No traffic, no tourists, PERFECT. We were able to walk into town for a nightly meal, people were friendly and it turned out to be great spot to launch day adventures.
One night driving home we noticed a sign at a restaurant, "John Keawe, Sat. nite" This was immediately dismissed…it must be an imposter... "How many John Keawes can there be"? You know what? This is the Big Island .....There could be plenty.
But on Saturday night as we entered the Bamboo Restaurant, we were greeted by the genuine sounds of slack key from John Keawe. The familiar music was unmistakable as John and his wife Hope performed in unison as he played and she danced. He made sure everyone was at ease as he shared his slack key stylings. The gracious Hope and her dancing made everyone feel that they too, were a part of Hawai`i 's past.
During a break, John and I began discussing his music. I explained to him that I heard influences from Raymond Kane and Leonard Kwan in his playing. He said that they were major influences in his music. I explained my difficulty with a Kane finger styling in his Punahele. John laughed and said that he too, had trouble with that song. He explained that once he finally stopped trying to duplicate Ray's technique, he stopped fighting it, went his own way and things worked great. It was a good lesson for slack key...as well as for life.
The next day, John and Hope brought us some things to take home and I explained to them that our experience the night before, had become the highlight of our trip. We exchanged smiles and hugs before going our separate ways. The spirit of Aloha, alive and well in the small town of Hāwī.
Clear skies, once again indulge me....the wonderful view of sharply rising Mauna Kea, the long unifying slopes of Mauna Loa , and the vast expanse of perfect ocean laying serenely at the base of Hualālai. And its people, carrying the Aloha spirit wherever they go...that gives me Big Island Fever.
Steve Meier and his wife visit Hawai`i regularly and always find memorable experiences off the beaten path. Steve has taught himself to play kī hō`alu while his wife speaks and reads Pidgin and has perfected such island favorites as prune mui. No wondah we keep tinking dey from Āhualoa.
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