Saturday, May 16, 2015

Sunsets and Turtles (Part 2)

   In Hawaii there was always a new beach to discover and more turtles to see.
   This pattern was broken only once while we were in Kona. That was the day we went by coach to the top of Mauna Kea, the tallest of the volcanoes that make up the Big Island. Don’t worry, it’s safe enough, it hasn’t erupted since 2460 BC, although how they would know that is a mystery to me. It’s close to 14,000 feet above sea level and giant astronomical observatories, a dozen of them, reside at the top. Private vehicles are not allowed up there because of light pollution caused by the headlights. That, and because the road is almost impassable (we were in a specially designed diesel bus that seated sixteen passengers). On our way up we stopped at the tiny Visitor Information Station (called The Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, a name bigger than the place itself). At the station we ate a boxed dinner and watched a score of amateur astronomers begin setting up their telescopes.   
   After this modest dinner we continued on our way, reaching the summit just before sunset. The sky was aflame with rich reds and purples. We were so high up there was no sense of land, just you and the sky, with the clouds way below. At 13,796 feet (you see, I check my figures, sometimes) you are affected by the lack of oxygen. Both Saucy Boy and I were exhausted merely from the short effort of walking up a gentle rise to the lookout. After filling my eyes with the sunset, I turned around to look away from the setting sun. Behind me, clearly defined on the cloud-cover below was the giant, pyramidal shadow of the very volcano I was standing upon. It sloped from horizon to horizon, entirely filling my field of vision. For a moment I felt the reality of the earth as a rotating sphere under my feet, my mind briefly comprehending the cosmic state of things, suspended as I was between sun and shadow. 
   Saucy Boy had an uncomfortable moment, feeling dizzy and short of breath. 
   “I don’t feel so good,” she said.
   “You look good baby,” I replied. “Good enough to eat!”
   “You! Don’t you think of anything else?”
   “Nope,” I answered.
   Saucy Boy had altitude sickness. She was panting and a little panicky, so I pulled a funny face and took her picture, then handed her the camera so she could take mine and we laughed it off.
   She’s game for anything, Saucy Boy. I like that about her. 
   We watched the sunset until darkness enclosed us and the stars came out. Millions of them.
   On our way down we met another bus and stopped for some thermos coffee and stargazing. With nightfall it had gotten quite cold, so we were issued fleecy jackets. Everyone had a chance to look through a couple of 12-inch telescopes the drivers had set up. Saucy Boy enjoyed that, she’s very curious about things, and how often do you see the moons of Jupiter? 
   It’s a long drive back to Kona from the top of Mauna Kea and I fell asleep during the trip, warm at last, snuggling under a blanket with my wife.
   The next day was our last full day on the island. No more blankets for us, it was back to the beach. We returned to a favorite, Kahaluu Beach, and got our usual spot. Funny, it doesn’t take long to become familiar with a place, does it? Just a few days before, I’d seen it for the first time. Now I was right at home and even nodded to some locals who seemed to recognize me. I was dressed as usual for the beach, in dark glasses, flip-flops and Speedo, wearing an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt with a towel over my shoulder. Of course, it makes you conspicuous if you are with a pretty girl, and Saucy Boy is all that. She stood in Spanish sandals, her brown, shapely legs and arms exposed by a short, gaily colored chiffon wrap over her bikini. The sun gilded her short blonde hair, while her dazzling smile was set off with a touch of lipstick. Most likely we were a memorable couple, visually speaking. A sort of Beauty and the Beast. 
   I’ll let you guess which is which.
   We enjoyed another wonderful day at the seaside, swimming and sunning and laughing.
   That night we made love, our sunburned skin warm and tingling.
   The next day, as the airplane lifted into the sky to take us home I looked out the window and fell to musing. It’s sad to leave a place you’ve come to know and love. How wonderful that Hawaii, with its Aloha spirit, its gentle climate and tremendous natural beauty, had lived up to my romantic ideal of paradise.
   Had this vacation changed my life, I wondered? 
   After all, anything can change a life that’s ready to be changed. 
   Not really, but I wasn’t looking to change my life, just enjoy it in a new location for a little while and make some pleasant memories. One mustn’t entertain too grand an expectation of things in this world, that can only lead to disappointment. 
   But you still have to dream. 
   That’s one of the contradictions of being human.  

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