The little Hilo airport was eerily empty. The 20 or so people on my flight from Honolulu grabbed their belongings and quickly went on their way. Left were just one young man, and me. My driver soon arrived and picked us both up, as we were staying at the same hostel. We introduced ourselves in the van: His name was Mark.
Hilo is the largest city on the Big Island of Hawaii, with a population of about 190,000. It is only 90 miles from the expensive Kona resorts on the dry, desert-like west side of the island, but a million miles away in mindset. It is on the east side, in a tropical rainforest climate and is one of the wettest cities in the world. It is the kind of place where one must embrace humidity—and frizzy hair. Though it attracts few tourists, if you don’t mind the rain there is plenty to see and do. Furthermore, this side of the island is known for its Bohemian, long-haired, free-spirited, non-conformist, dropout counter-culture lifestyle.
The hostel was also eerily empty. With no plans and no one around, Mark and I decided to wander the slippery, empty streets in search of a meal.
Poor Mark was under 25 and thus unable to rent a car. I figured I’d save him the two-hour bus ride to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and told him I was over 25, not exactly specifying how much older, and suggested we rent a car together.
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The next morning, while listening to island music on the local radio station, we drove about 50 km south. We hiked the Kīlauea Iki trail through rainforest and lava tubes, around and then across the Kīlauea Iki Crater, which looked like a lake of solid black lava.
A family of Nenes—the Hawaiian state bird—lined up perfectly and crossed the road in front of us.
At dusk, we drove up to the lookout to see the hot red lava glow from Halemaumau Crater. It grew brighter as the sun slowly sank into the horizon.
Famished, we hit up Ken’s House of Pancakes, open 24 hours and “Jammin’ since 1971,” serving grease with a side of omelets, burgers, prime rib, tacos and, of course, pancakes. Also catering to the counter-culture alternative crowd, they offered vegetarian and such healthy choices as whole-wheat pancakes and veggie bacon. Mark and I scarfed down our meals, then caught a $1.25 Johnny Depp movie at the local theatre.
I met Perrine, a young French backpacker, at the Hilo farmers’ market when our driver, Steve, picked us up in a big old rickety truck held together with masking tape. It may as well have been the Magical Mystery tour bus.
We were on our way through a time warp to the 1960s—to Cinderland, an “off the grid” community of 25 adults and eight children who occasionally take in lost, lonely and misguided backpackers such as Perrine and myself. A lush and colourful tropical rainforest grows from the black lava rock and sets the stage for the campsites. There is no city water, no Internet and limited electricity. Coconuts, mangos, pineapples, jackfruits and sweet basil grow around every corner. A community garden is the main food source and all the residents seem to be vegetarian, if not vegan. This place was as hippie as hippie gets. It was Wonderland meets Neverland. I should have read The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test beforehand.
Perrine and I shared a space called “The Goddess Dorm.” The living spaces are basically giant tents with built-in wooden beds with mattresses and mosquito nets, couches, a sink and storage spaces. All were beautifully painted with artwork songs, and quotes. The shower was around back and though quite private, completely exposed. We met a different Mark, plus Philippe, Atom and Crown in the boy’s dorm. Elisa lived nearby.
The days blended like a dream. We painted and played music. We drove down the coast on Kapoho Kalapana Road in search of dolphins. We went snorkeling. We climbed and got lost in a giant banyan tree near Rainbow Falls. There was an endless amount of fresh pineapple. We listened to The Doors while slowly driving down the old mango grove road where the jungle trees spiraled up to the sky, vines draped down onto the road and groovy jumbo leaves covered the spaces in between. The Milky Way sparked across the clear Hawaiian night sky.
Drum circles were favourite nightly pastimes. Time didn’t exist.
For my birthday, we had a vegan potluck dinner that included a jackfruit birthday cake with coconut icing.
Philippe gave us a yoga class, explaining the five Tibetan rites. He was over 50 with the body of a 25-year-old. Age didn’t exist.
Sunday afternoon, we went to Kehena black sand beach, hidden within cliffs made from volcanic rock off the coastal road. A vibrant drum circle emerged on this clothing-optional beach.
And though I am not one to burn my bra, dread my hair or dance in my birthday suit in the midst of a crowd on the beach, I may even be—dare I say—a bit of a square, but I have to admit, that place was pretty far out.
Peace out and stay hip.