Don’t Make Pele Mad (Volcanoes National Park)

Our tour bus driver and guide in Hilo, Jessica, made it a point that she was Jess, and if we called her Jesse she would throw us into a Volcano Caldera as a sacrifice to Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of creation and destruction.  Pele’s volcanos do both in Hawaii.  She take things away, running lava streams through subdivisions, and she bring to birth new islands and new land on the big island through lava flows.  One does not mess with Pele or with Jess. 

For instance, she told us that if we took a piece of lava rock home as a souvenir really bad things would happen to us.  She says packages come weekly to the Hilo Post office addressed to Pele with pieces of volcanic rock taken from the park.  Some just say “sorry” written on the packages or “I didn’t know”, and some tell of misfortune that happened to them when they got home, a broken leg, illness, a breakup.  It is best not to mess with Pele.

Jess is an excellent guide.  She is charismatic, funny, fluid in her conversation, a great storyteller, and I would hire her in a minute to be on the radio.  People on other busses said their driver/guide put them to sleep.  Not a chance with Jess.

She not only kept a running patter on the volcanos during the 45-minute drive to the National Park, but filled us in on Hawaiian living expenses, housing construction and local customs. 

She explained the difference between the two types of volcanos, a stratovolcano, the type you run away from, and a shield volcano, the type you run toward to watch the show.  Stratovolcanos, like Sitka’s Mt Edgecumbe, and Washington’s Mounts St. Hellen’s and Renier tend to blow up causing catastrophes.  Shield volcanos eject lava flows and fountains to create new land.  Their lava flow may roll over your house, but you will have warning and they won’t blow up in your face.  At least that’s what Jess says. 

We drove up to the crater of a shield volcano, Kilauea.  It has cinder cones, steaming vents and occasionally fissures on the side that allow lava to flow out and down the mountain to the sea, making the big island even bigger.  There is another underwater volcano south of the Big Island, Kamaʻehuakanaloa Seamount (Glowing Child of Kanaloa, the Hawaiian Sea God.)  You may have heard of it by the name it was given when it was in the news several years back, Lō’ihi “the long one.”  It was renamed in accordance with Hawaiian naming traditions. 

This mountain may someday become Hawaii’s 9th island, or it could merge with the big island as Kilauea’s flows link up with Kama’ehuakanoaloa, which will break the surface of the ocean any millennium now.

First we got a chance to walk along the rim of Kilauea’s caldera between two lookouts.

Then we went to see some steam vents near the crater.  These vents are places where rain water seeps down, hits hot rocks and steams back up.  The steam does not smell sulfurous because it is simply heated rainwater and does not come from the volcano itself.  Jess tells us that we can stand by a vent and get a free facial, although we need to be careful not to get scalded.  People always seem to want to throw money into fountains.  Well some folks must think these are steam fountains.  I do not want to be the person who has to fish it out  of a steaming crevasse.   I counted $18 one-dollar bills and change, lots of change, in one of the vents, not to mention other types of currency.

Our last stop in the park was the Visitors’ Center (where they will not accept money, even it has been steam cleaned, credit cards only please.)  Across the road from the center is Volcano House Hotel perched on the edge of the crater.  We can peer into the crater from windows in the parlor or go out onto a deck. 

While I was watching clouds rolled in, or rather dropped down.  The Kilauea crater sits at 4,000 feet, neighboring Mauna Loa, to the North is at over 13,000 feet.  The clouds filled the crater, pouring over the edge into the big hole.  Falling clouds met rising steam. It happened quickly and was a beautiful, if fleeting, sight.  Suzi was in the gift shop looking for volcano souvenirs for the grandkids. When she got to the windows there was nothing to see of the caldera.

On our way back to the bus we passed trees that seem to thrive in this environment, including giant fern trees, their fiddleheads are big enough to serve a very large string bass.

We made our way back to the bus never seeing Mauna Loa, the tallest (but not the highest) mountain in the world.  For Jess it is a point of pride that, measured from the sea floor, Mauna Loa is taller than Everest which has more altitude because it had a head start in the South Asian Highlands.

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