To Fly or Not to Fly (Hawaii, Day 7)

Waipio Valley Big Island Hawaii coast

View of the beach at the head of the Waipio Valley.

I’m not a morning person. Anyone who even slightly knows me that I just don’t function in the a.m. hours, no matter what the time zone. So for me to wake at 5:30 a.m. — during my vacation, no less — you know I meant business. And business on this, my last full day on the island, was to get on an aircraft and see some friggin’ lava.

I drove the two-plus hours back to Hilo, through rain, wind, fog, and multiple inefficient traffic stops, to be at the airstrip by 9 a.m. After getting somewhat lost and being assured by the airline operator that the pilot would be waiting for me, I arrived 10 minutes early to find an empty airstrip. No one. Nada. Pas d’avion. After staying on the line with the operator a while longer, I was assured that my flight would not take off without me. A member of the grounds maintenance staff confirmed that my ride would be back shortly, from what I understood through the thick Hawaiian accent and noise of the airport. Shortly after the plane emerged in the low-ceilinged sky 15 minutes later, I learned that my flight was, again, canceled due to inclement weather. Dammit.

Waipio Valley horseback big island hawaii

One of the best — and only — ways to explore the remote Waipio Valley is by horseback.

To kill the few hours before my horseback ride in the Waipi’o Valley shortly after noon, I stopped in at Ken’s House of Pancakes in Hilo, a local joint with an enormous menu to rival even that of a New York diner. From there I headed straight to the Valley, driving through a town that looked like the Old West relocated to a tropical isle. Our main guide, Keone (who told us his name was Hawaiian for “John”) liked to crack jokes and make us smell rancid fruit (in this case, the noni, which has a scent reminiscent of a monkey’s butt crack and resembles a bloated wart), took us down the steep incline into the valley, picking up a wayward bodyboarder along the way. (How he hung onto the back of the bucking van I’ll never know.) Less than an hour later, we were saddled up and cantering into a valley of waterfalls, hippies, and mist-covered taro fields.

Waipio Valley big island hawaii

The Big Island’s Waipio Valley is like an untouched Eden.

My riding companions — most much more skilled at horseback than I — were a motley crew of tourists from throughout the continental U.S., the loudest of who insisted on leading the pack and hootin’ and hollerin’ about every aspect of her life so that she almost scared off one of the wild horses who roamed Waipi’o. The haze lifted so that we didn’t need the rain gear we’d brought, and our band made its merry way past the leased homes and squatters (an “inordinate amount” of which are named Dave, per The Book and seconded by Keone). I snapped almost as many shots as I had at Pololu, but few were as spectacular, given the fickle lighting and constant movement of my ride. Although I didn’t get to ride over a volcano, this excursion made up for the flight in terms of shear spectacle. The perfectly ripe avocados, hand picked as we trotted along, made for a delightfully delicious end of the day, for both me and my trusty steed.

Day 1: Escape From Cube Life
Day 2: Manta Heaven
Day 3: Paddling to My Death
Day 4: The Southernmost Gaffe in the United States
Day 5: Somewhere Over Polulu
Day 6: Grounded in Hilo
Day 7: To Fly or Not to Fly
Day 8: Don’t Make Me Go!

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