By "we" I mean myself, Forrest, eight of our closest friends, and another group of...I think seven or so hooligans?
The adventure we planned was this: we wanted to kayak to either Honoke‘a or Honopue Valley, camp out for two nights, and enjoy ourselves fishing and lobster diving and hunting and surfing and exploring sea caves and standing in waterfalls and swimming and gathering coconuts/liliko‘i/‘ulu/bananas/mangoes/a
This is the adventure we actually had:
Our first hiccup arrived a few days earlier; having arranged for kayaks for everyone else via a complicated borrowing arrangement, Forrest planned to rent two two-person kayaks from the university for him and me and Brian and Syd, the lead planners and nucleus of the trip. UHH, unfortunately, apparently cannot be bothered to rent kayaks on weekdays; no kayaks would be available until later Friday morning, well after our launch time, much less our Hilo departure time. Rather than rent kayaks elsewhere at exorbitantly high prices, we decided screw it, we'd take Forrest's little motorboat (tiny; same length as a kayak, really), Oyster Madness. We got all excited; the boat could carry more gear than a kayak. We could bring a cooler with ice! And beer! And other extravagances! We managed to procure another kayak for Brian, leaving me, Forrest, and Sydney in the boat. We would anchor the boat offshore and swim our gear into the valley with assistance from the kayak armada.
Brian, Syd, and I came over to Forrest's house on Thursday night and loaded up Brian's truck with our gear, the boat, and Brian's kayak. Felix showed up just before 3 a.m. on Friday, we loaded up his kayak, and off we went; we would pick up Syd's brother Joey in Hawi, and we'd meet the other two vehicles and four adventurers at Keokea at 6.
Brian's truck and Felix's truck arrived at Keokea at 5:30, at which point we were immediately foiled by a locked county gate that promised to open at 7 a.m. We had, days earlier, Street View searched for a gate, but underestimated the distance Hawai‘i County would put a gate from the parking lot by about half; like, wow, it was a hefty distance. A hefty, no-way-in-hell-are-we-carrying-a-boat-ka
It was a pleasant wait. We finished breakfast, applied sunscreen, watched the clouds turn pink. Forrest, Syd, Kip, and I explored the plantation-era Japanese cemetery and the hala grove behind it, and walked along the tops of the sea cliffs while the rising sun lit everything orangey-gold. We rejoined the group a bit before 7. Another car pulled up to wait, and the local driver gave us the unhappy news that on Thursday the county guy showed up at 7:45.
We waited. County Guy comes tearing up at 7:22 a.m., coffee cup balanced on the back of his pickup truck and missing his keys. (He had his spares, thank the gods.) We checked with him that it would be okay to leave our trucks overnight, and he said it was cool. FINALLY we drove down to the boat launch and started unloading. The wind was starting to pick up. We put as much gear in the kayaks as possible and strapped it down tight; the rest went into the boat. Smaller items got tied down; heavier items we figured no need. We put as much heavy stuff in the back of the boat as possible, but there was quite a lot in the bow.
Around 8 the wind and waves have picked up some more, but it's not white caps. We decide to go for it. Boat crew tells the kayak crew we'll take it easy, go in circles around them, fish, and meet them at the islands by Honoke‘a. We take a group picture (6 kayaks, 1 boat!) and launch at 8:10.
The boat goes out first. The seas are high and the bow is heavy; Forrest hands bailers to me and Syd and tells us this will not be a relaxing trip, we will be bailing constantly. We set to work; the boat is constantly taking on small amounts of water as little bits splash over the bow, but we're keeping pace. Forrest goes in circles, setting up his three fishing poles while the kayaks launch and take off down the coast, disappearing behind the waves.
Poles in order, we start to head in the direction of Pololu. Big waves, lots of bailing, everything seems to be fine. Then I hear Forrest say, "Oh, shit." A big wave comes up and our nose goes right into it. The bow fills with water. Forrest is yelling, "Bail, bail, bail!" We're bailing, but the gear blocks us from bailing in the front, and it's not draining to the back fast enough; a bunch of it soaks into a few items that are not properly waterproofed, adding more weight. Another wave comes and within seconds we're swamped. "Everyone out of the boat!" Forrest yells. "Get all of our gear out of the boat as quickly as possible, we need to lose weight!"
It is to no avail. The boat is underwater (but luckily is full of foam and can't completely sink). The motor's underwater. Some of our gear is tied, some of it isn't; things are floating away.
Forrest sets us to chasing down gear, bringing it to the boat and tying it. It's a bit like herding cats. Not all of it is tieable, such as the yoga mats, so those I am constantly throwing back into the boat to try to corral them. The cooler opens and now there are beers floating away. We dump the ice, start tossing things back into the cooler, try to keep it shut.
Kip shows up; he had lingered at the back of the kayak train, taking pictures with his Go Pro, and so was the only kayaker still within sight when we went under. He's here to help, but he takes a few pictures first, THANKS KIP. (In retrospect this is fantastic, I want those pictures so bad.) Forrest had been planning to drop the motor (at $800, the single most expensive item on the boat, but also the heaviest and, currently, inoperable) to the seafloor, but now he reconsiders. He wrangles the motor onto the front of the kayak, an impressive operation that involved standing on the kayak while holding the motor, losing his balance, falling into the water while dropping the motor into the perfect spot where it stayed balanced (I missed the whole thing, too busy wrangling stuff.) Kip takes off for shore with the motor, because we are still in front of Keokea and didn't actually manage to get anywhere before swamping.
Forrest tells us now to take everything out of the cooler (the beers go into mesh bags); our bailers have floated away, and the cooler is now our bailer. He instructs Syd and I to weight down one side of the boat while he hangs on the other side and bails. Like a phoenix, Oyster Madness slowly rises from the water. Forrest climbs in and continues to bail. We start chucking gear back in, then Sydney and I climb in.
Kip has returned. We've lost our emergency-paddles-in-case-of-motor-death,
The tow operation doesn't go well. We're heavier than Kip, yanking his kayak all over the place, and the wind and waves are pushing us toward a point with sharp nasty rocks faster than we're going to shore. We untie Kip, give him me (it's a two-person kayak) and our two heaviest bags, and he shuttles us to shore while Forrest tows alone (making better headway, since the wind isn't pushing him). Forrest resists taking a break from towing to grab his spear and chase the gazillions of unafraid parrotfish swimming below him; Kip drops me and gear on shore and goes back to the boat. I get the joyful experience of explaining the whole ordeal to the slightly-concerned-but-mostly-amused county lawnmower guy who is sitting and watching the whole thing. Kip comes back with Sydney and more gear, and is followed in short order by Forrest and the boat. Landfall! No one drowned! TRIUMPH!!
We take stock. We've lost the bailers, the ice, the bottle of rum (WHY IS THE RUM GONE??), Forrest's infamous sunhat (I watched it float away after it escaped my rushed tie-job but could not be spared to save it), the engine cover, the boat's hatch cover, and the paddles. Forrest's fish finder, Syd's cell phone (inside a ziplock), the bread, and the chocolate chip cookies drowned irrecoverably. The rest of our gear was present and accounted for and functional, and Forrest's waterproof iPod speaker case was still playing Bob Marley even after being totally submerged for half an hour.
Forrest tests the engine. It is unhappy but it still works. He spends a great deal of time cleaning out the carburetor but determines that it will run. We take stock again. Our basic problem was too much weight, especially in the bow, and not enough ability to bail. We decide we will sort out heavy nonessentials, stash them in the bushes (none of us have keys to any of the vehicles), give Syd and as much gear as Kip can handle to Kip's kayak, and try again with me, Forrest, and a much lighter boat. (I go to use the restroom and run into my lab mate Alex and esteemed biologist Thane Pratt of all people, here to watch for rare seabirds since the onshore wind is so strong and all, so at least we have friends with binoculars who will call the Coast Guard if we drown.)
We launch around 10. The wind has picked up. The waves are higher and white-capped. We go slow; the boat is light and we're not taking on any water at all, but the waves are terrifying. Forrest is dubious. I'm dubious. We swing back to check on Kip; he's fighting hard to make headway. We call it; we're beached for the day. We head back to shore.
Our plan now is to try again tomorrow morning when Group 2 arrives. We send texts to members of our group to give them the situation, but at this point there's no telling when/if they'll get them. We'll have to stay on the beach during the day in case one or more of the group comes back for us, then stash most of our gear in the bushes and hike up the hill to camp at the top of the cliffs (there's no camping allowed in the county park). We get in touch with Joe, the leader of Group 2; he will try to get another kayak for me and Forrest, since we've determined kayaks are preferable to boats. I will make do for today with the contents of my backpack (granola bars, camera, first aid kit, toilet paper, water bottle, slippers, etc.), my book and notebook, and the clothes I am wearing, as all of my clothing, my toothbrush, my headlamp, my flask of tequila, etc. are in Brian's kayak. (On the other hand, Joey's in the same situation as me, as we have all of his gear, and it got soaked.)
It's midday and we're hungry, but lucky for us, we have most of the food, including a bag of frozen, marinated chicken that was meant to be just-in-case-we-failed-to-catch-fish-on-t
Around midday we get a call from Steve and Brian. Our group has made it as far as the third valley, Honokane Iki, before being forced to land by the weather. Pretty much everyone huli'd (turned over) on the way in to shore, but no gear was lost. They climbed up onto the ridge to call us. We tell them the plan, and agree that ourselves plus Group 2 will meet them at Honokane Iki around 10 a.m. tomorrow, wait for them to launch and get past the breakers, and then continue as a group to Honoke‘a or Honopue. We get in touch with Joe; our kayak is a no-go, so we're back to using the boat; Joe will bring tools to help Forrest spruce up the engine.
While trying to drown ourselves in the bay, we'd noticed a spectacular rock arch in the cliffs north of the park, leading into a cave with the roof collapsed in a huge skylight; we decide that if we're stuck here, we're going to have fun, so we cross a little stream at the edge of the park and scramble along the rocks to check it out. Kip, Forrest, and I decide we want to jump into the rough water, land on the boulder beach, and get into the cave; Sydney elects to climb around to the top of the cliff and look down through the skylight. All of this is managed with no mishaps, and she calls down to us that there are ripe papayas up top. We swim out; Kip climbs up the rocks where we jumped in, and Forrest and I swim nearly to the boat launch where it's calmer, before landing and doubling back along the shore. We scramble up the headland and at the top we find Sydney, papaya trees, and a massive heiau (temple) complex. This place is incredible, and in very good shape, a series of large terraces climbing the hill towards the cliff edge, contained by walls and filled in with small stones for paving. There are rock piles and discrete paved areas with large, flat rocks, and at the bottom a line of standing stones that looks like the marae (a type of religious/spiritual structure found throughout Polynesia) I've seen in pictures and on our property at Palehua. There's a paved area behind the marae at the makai (seaward) end, and at the inland end the line of large standing stones is backed by a second line of large stones with smaller stones filling the gap in between, reminiscent of pre-contact burials I've seen at Palehua, although different in that this is built directly into the marae structure. (Just now the Wikipedia page tells me that human bones have been found in the structure of Tahitian marae, so I could be on the right track; I really need to bend Dr. Kirch's ear about this place.)
At the bottom we find signs naming this heiau Kupalaha‘a, referring to the area as Anaeho‘omalu (not to be confused by the bay of the same name on the Kona side), and also saying kapu, keep out. (Oops.) We swing around the back of the headland and down into the stream valley, stepping down through a series of what clearly are old lo‘i (terraced, flooded taro paddies) filled in with sediment. Near the mouth of the stream on the lowest terrace of the lo‘i it is flat and shaded with false kamani but open under the trees. "Gee, what a nice campsite this would make," we all say.
Between the awesome sea arch/sea cave/skylight and the super-awesome heiau, I am now completely stoked on Keokea, and I'm totally glad we're here. We're about adventured out for the day, though, so we move on to napping, Syd and Kip on the grass and Forrest and I in Forrest's ubiquitous hammock. Around 4:30 Kip and Syd poke us, and we decide we need to stow our gear and hike our food, cooking/eating gear, water, and tents up to the top of the cliffs for the evening. We end up throwing everything in the back of Brian's pickup truck, including the things we'd formerly stashed in the bushes, and just praying no one feels like stealing our shit. We stash Kip's kayak in the bushes and start walking up the road. We get about 20 feet and decide, no, the lo'i camp is better, the county guys won't be able to see us when they come to close the gate at 11, we'll be asleep with the lights out by then anyway, this camp is closer to water and restrooms and doesn't involve climbing a huge hill. So we go over there instead.
I collect our beers and our two cans of guava juice (from the truck) and Kip's bottle of Bacardi 151 and his jar of bourbon in a net bag and hang it in the stream to try to cool them (it...doesn't really work, the stream's not very cold). We set up our two tents and get a fire going and heat up our leftover chicken and potatoes, and supplement with Kip's chicken fajita MRE, hot cocoa mixed with MRE Irish cream cappucino, beer with lime juice, and a pretty decent guava-lime-151 cocktail. We do S'mores over the coals (incorporating the MRE brownie for additional excellence) and agree that we ended up with a pretty good deal in terms of which group ended up with which supplies. We redistribute various goods for maximum comfort (I get Forrest's spare headlamp and one of his shirts, Kip gets a spare air mattress, Syd gets a yoga mat and Forrest's beach towel for a blanket) and settle down for a good sleep.
The next morning we wake up around 6-6:15, have a quick breakfast (tea, cocoa, instant oatmeal, heiau papayas with lime juice...also I decide we can't waste what's left of the 151 or sully the bourbon by mixing the two, so I take a huge shot of the strong stuff before I'm even out of my tent, breaking my previous early-morning drinking record by two whole hours), break down camp, and gear up for launch. (Nobody stole our shit!) Group 2 shows up a bit after 7, which we kinda figured they would. Forrest mounts the motor on the boat and...it will not start. There's water in the oil. (This may/may not have something to do with the, in retrospect, quite dubious decision to leave the motor lying around unsheltered with no engine cover and then getting rained on overnight, idek.) We're dead in the water, before we even leave the land.
New plan. Syd and Kip will go with Group 2 to meet up with Group 1 and go on their merry way to explore new valleys. There's no spare paddle, so Syd gets a hau pole, which is better than nothing. Forrest and I will borrow Joe's keys, drive to Pololu lookout, and camp by ourselves in Pololu Valley, and we'll see everyone on Sunday back at Keokea. It's not the valley we wanted, but IT IS A VALLEY. We agree to get up on a ridge and turn on Forrest's phone at 5 p.m. so they can touch bases with us.
Group 2 plus Syd and Kip launch at around 8:40. We wish them luck; the wind and waves are already picking up. Forrest and I drive to Pololu, say hi to Joe Cazimero who is EVERYWHERE in this town, hike down, set up camp under the ironwood trees on top of the dunes. We're sitting in our hammock watching the ocean. The wind is whipping, worse than Friday; the waves are big. THIS IS NOT THE CALM SATURDAY THE WEATHER FORECAST PROMISED US. It's 10:30 a.m. and we haven't seen any kayaks. We're a bit concerned, but what can we do?
We decide to spend the day hiking to the back of Pololu Valley and the little waterfall there. We collect guavas, oranges, and lemons along the way. We're walking up the dry stream bed, almost to the waterfall when I spot little black ears and a little black tail up on the bank. "Look, a little pig," I say. "WHERE??" Forrest asks. I point, and he is off and running; he's got no weapon but his knife. There's more than one pig; I see a big one take off running. "GO GET 'EM, HONEY. I'VE GOT YOUR BACKPACK, I'LL WAIT BY THE WATERFALL. HAVE FUN," I shout.
I sit by the waterfall. It's pleasant. He eventually shows up, sweaty and empty handed. "Got within three feet of one of them," he says. "If I had a spear, or even a stick to knock it off it's feet..." Oh well. No pig dinner. We've still got the Mountain House meals and ramen and stuff. And fruit!
We strip down to swimwear and wade into the splash pool to rinse off in the waterfall, then sit on the rocks and enjoy a potato chips, cookies, and fruit lunch. We decide to make the journey to the second waterfall, which I hadn't been to before. It is a hairy 40-minute scramble on a steep, unstable slope, that would be entirely impossible without using the guava forest as a jungle gym (common guava will bend forever and never break, it's a magical tree). There were two spots in particular that were particularly life-threatening, but we made it up, over, and down into the ravine again without mishap. The second waterfall is taller, and set in a theater of ferns, and falls directly into the splash pool in a lovely-looking shower. We sit and look for a bit, but it's after 2, and I remind Forrest we need to hike out in time to go up the ridge and try to find a cell signal. He cuts down a guava tree to make a "ladder" so it's easier for me to climb out; once we get up top of the ridge we take a detour to the cliff edge where we have a view of the valley, a look down onto our gear far, far below, and a pleasant patch of ‘ohi‘a and ‘ulei omg ACTUAL NATIVE PLANTS (there was some hapu‘u down at the bottom of the cliff, too). We scrambled down again, grabbed our gear, snagged three ‘ulu (breadfruit) for our dinner, and hiked out, taking a different path. We looked for liliko‘i (passionfruit), bananas, mangoes, avocados, papayas, and mountain apples, but none of it was fruiting. We saw coconuts, but at that point it was 4ish and we were exhausted and trying to think of acceptable excuses to NOT climb the ridge with our cell phone, and Forrest elected to leave them be. We were nearing the beach, scaring some auku‘u (black-crowned night herons) in the marsh area behind the dunes, and had to scramble up the hill to detour around some fallen hau that had gone down in a recent storm, and this was the point when Brian leaps out from behind some bushes to scare us.
IT TURNS OUT that (after a hilariously makeshift but sufficient dinner the night before) with the weather worsening, Group 1 decided to launch from Honokane Iki early and head back towards Keokea rather than attempting to continue on to our target valleys. They ran into Group 2 plus Kip and Syd in front of Pololu around 9ish, before we even got there, and the entire kayak armada elected to head back to Keokea. A vehicle shuttled Brian, Syd, and Joe to Pololu to hike down, rifle through our stuff, and find Joe's keys so he could haul kayaks with his vehicle. Provin and Bryan from Group 1 and...that one guy with the dog from Group 2 decided to bag and go home; the rest came to Pololu (after the remains of Group 1 shuttled boat and kayaks to Joey's house in Hawi). We happened to run into them coming into the valley looking for coconuts just as we were coming out.
With a big group to provide for, we returned to the tree and plucked it naked, hauling the nuts back to our camp in the dunes. Our lonely tent was now the nucleus of a sprawling camp of tents and hammocks. We collected firewood and got the fire going and shared pupus (appetizers) around while Forrest cooked our pooled dinner resources. We passed around coconuts: plain coconut water, coconut with lemon juice, and coconut with lemon juice and rum. Forrest also made a tall mug of fresh lemonade with rum, which was AMAZING. There was hot cocoa, and a bag of wine. There were macadamia nuts and sour gummy worms and wasabi peas and dried ika (squid or cuttlefish). Forrest cooked the ‘ulu in the fire and we ate hot pieces of ‘ulu dipped into a pan of fire-warmed garlic butter. Dinner was a pot of cheesy, garlicky pasta, my Mountain House 'Chicken Teriyaki with Rice' and 'Beef Stroganoff' meals, all the ‘ulu you could eat, and purple Okinawan sweet potatoes wrapped in foil and cooked in the coals (also good with the garlic butter), and S'mores were on hand for dessert (Felix, a Frenchman, had never had them, so we felt really good about being there to forever improve his life). I was happy and comfortable in the clean clothes Sydney had brought down from my gear bag, and my little bag of toothbrush, headlamp, handkerchiefs, etc. that Kip had brought me, and I was glad to have been so generous with packing dishes and utensils, since half the guys didn't seem to have any.
The wind was still whipping (15-20 knots, ish, enough to damage a couple of the tents) and passing squalls dampened us. Felix, whose tent was soaked through by repeated kayak dunkings, elected to hike out in the dark and drive back to Hilo. Joey and Steve, who had brought hammocks but no tarps, squeezed into a tent with Syd and Brian. One guy hunkered down in the lee of an ironwood tree, nestled down between two tall buttress roots, and pulled his broken, flattened tent over himself to sleep.
Forrest and I were smug and comfortable in our dry, well-staked tent and slept well, although our smugness evaporated somewhat at 5-something a.m. and again at 6-something when various surfers in the party woke up and hung around the fire talking, very close to our tent (which we had staked near the fire back before we knew we'd have company). Both of us are determined to NOT wake up before 7 this morning, so we stubbornly force ourselves back to sleep until a quarter past. The fire's already going, and Forrest starts cooking up and dishing out plates of perfect pancakes, which we eat with butter and real maple syrup and peanut butter mixed with honey. Syd passes around slices of apple. Joe passes around his water bottle full of wine BECAUSE WHY NOT. Some of the guys are eating oatmeal. The surfers are slowly trickling into camp to accept pancakes on borrowed dishes with surprised joy.
After a post-breakfast sprouted coconut snack, the group decided they wanted to climb the ridge toward Honokane Nui to fetch Jamaican liliko‘i from a spot Syd and Brian and Forrest knew. I elected to stay behind and write with the mechanical pencil I'd borrowed from Joe's truck (although now that I think of it, Kip had brought me my pens). The horde returned, tired, sore, sweating, and bearing fruit. It was midday, we were nearly out of water and coconuts, and we had a long distance to travel, so I shared a hasty bowl of instant ramen with Forrest and we started breaking down camp and packing out our gear. What remained of Group 1 said goodbye to what remained of Group 2 in the parking lot at the top of the trail, and we followed Joey back to his house to collect our boat and kayaks. Leaving him behind, Brian, Syd, Forrest, and I caravanned with Steve and Kip to Waimea for mid-afternoon lunch and beer at Big Island Brewhaus. Our vehicles separated; our truck stopped at Syd's parents' house in Waimea so we could pick up a car battery they'd been saving for her, and then we made the long drive back to Hilo, arriving at Forrest's house to unload the boats and gear in the dark and (of course) pouring rain before going our separate ways.
So, yeah, it wasn't REMOTELY the adventure we'd planned on, but holy cow was it an adventure, and it was tons of fun (for most of us), and nobody got seriously hurt at any point, and some equipment was lost and/or ruined, as were some cookies and some bottles of rum and bourbon, but all and all...totally 100% successful camping trip, as far as I'm concerned.
Even if we still need to get to Honoke‘a/Honopue. You may have defeated us this time, Ocean, but you have not crushed us, WE WILL BE BACK, AND WE WILL TRIUMPH.
P.S. Apparently, while we were gone, the lava finally cut across Apa‘a St./Cemetery Rd., and paved over Pahoa Cemetery. Ahahahaha.