We’re at Manini Beach Park, trying to rest off some of yesterday’s fun-but-exhausting-for-the-last-two-hours activities. There are lava rocks and coral and one free-range donkey whom I befriended and petted on her soft gray-brown forehead.
There are all kinds of crazy animals here: geckos, a zebra (I’m thinking not native—a haole zebra in a pasture off Highway 11) and a feral pig that we almost hit last night. It was shaggy like a golden retriever and did not know that to get away from a car, you should probably not jog along in front of it.
The Manago is an old hotel with clean but plain rooms and gorgeous gardens. How we should all be, I told AK: materially simple and naturally abundant. More and more, I’m realizing how Hawaii is almost like another country: Things aren’t all America-shiny, and it has its own dialect and races.
Okay, news break: A woman and two kids just walked up, and the kids asked, “Is this your donkey?” Then a little cat ran by, and they said it was theirs. It turned out they’d brought her and her kittens to the beach.
I whispered to AK, “Who brings their cat to the beach?”
She said, “They thought we brought our donkey.”
So back to yesterday: On our way to the black sand beach, AK spontaneously pulled the car over when she saw a building with a huge sea turtle painted on the roof. It was the Naalehu Theater, apparently vacated and left to decay sometime after 2003.
And it was like the beginning of a horror movie—the young couple on a romantic adventure wanders into an abandoned movie theater, thinking it will be fun and spooky. Then they get separated. One (AK) slips through a door in the ticket booth and wanders through the rows of empty wooden seats, taking pictures so she can see where she is. There’s a raggedy yellow satin curtain and a reel of film with tiny pictures of Charlton Heston.
The other circles the outside of the building, where it’s possible to see the crawl space. Rows of seats are set up there as if for some kind of demonic film viewing that happens beneath the crowds of unsuspecting regular folks above.
Just when they’re reunited, a murderer leaps out and kills them. Or Charlton Heston.
It was possibly the coolest part of the day (especially since the murdering part didn’t happen), and the only unplanned thing.
Although the next part was amazingly cool too: We went to Punalu’u (Black Sand) Beach, where we wriggled into our swimsuits beneath towels in the rental car just as a busload of Japanese tourists pulled up (although the beach also had lots of locals—babies in diapers, hip hop thumping from car stereos, water in washed-out kimchi jars).
There we played in the warm and cool currents and ate macadamia nut pie and swam near a huge sea turtle as (s)he munched on algae.
“They’re so ancient,” I said to AK. “They’re living dinosaurs, you know?”
“They’re not impressed by the modern world,” she agreed.
We climbed over some a’a (jagged broken lava rocks) and AK left with a small war wound on the top of her foot.
Next we drove to Volcano National Park, where we hiked through a rainforest to the Thurston Lava Tubes, these caves formed by rivers of underground lava. The first one was lit, the second was take-a-flashlight, you’re-on-your-own. We went a little way in, then I kissed AK, told her I loved her and hightailed it back to the entrance.
It was funny how many people walked by, considered going in and kept walking. One guy said, “Your friend’s in there by himself?”
I said, “I don’t think it’s that far,” suddenly self-conscious that I’d put AK in danger. “I think she’ll be okay.”
“Your boyfriend is a brave man,” he said, and kept walking.
After dark, we left the park to visit the place where you can view lava plummeting into the ocean. It was a long drive that dwindled into a poorly-maintained, one-lane road (which seems to be common here—how about a bond measure, people?). It was scary and desolate, and we almost turned around, but then suddenly there were lighted tents and a million cars, like we’d just driven out to Burning Man or something.
There were dozens of signs making it sound like you were about to walk to your doom: warnings about the vog and the heat and lava-shelf collapses and earthquakes, punctuated by horror stories about people who’d not followed the rules and, yes, met their doom.
Yet there were also marked trails and jokey employees and little kids everywhere. We shined our flashlights on reflective dashes of paint that made the lava beds look like the world’s most fucked-up road and walked half a mile to the viewing spot, where we could see billows of orange steam in the distance.