Wednesday, October 26, 2016
When Pele Is Angry (The Volcano Part 5)
Compared to other volcanoes that like to explode and send clouds of ash and pumice into air, killing everything in its path, Kīlauea is a rather mild-mannered volcano. It mostly drools and dribbles, however on a grand scale. Whereas everywhere else on the planet people usually dread active volcanoes, in Hawai'i people drop whatever they are doing and drive out to see it (you should check out this site if you want to see the newest exciting development at the volcano). Just like so much in Hawai'i, even the volcano is laid back.
However, that doesn't mean it isn't dangerous. Lava destroys, and Kīlauea is no exception. Just ask the people of Kalapana, a historic fishing village and residential area that was wiped out by volcano goddess Pele's anger in 1990. No lives were lost, but 182 homes were swallowed by lava.
From Kalapana you have the best view of the lava coming down the slope and entering the ocean. It is not always accessible, but we were very lucky that it was no problem to get to the ocean entry and the lava flow when we were there. However, these once-in-a-lifetime views come at a price - a long hard hike. You can't just drive up to the lava, park your car and approach the flow. No, it involves a 8.5 mile roundtrip hike on a gravel road through the devastating landscape of lava. Believe me, it wasn't exactly fun.
In the parking lot at the end of Highway 130 you can rent bikes for $10.00 per hour, and many people did that. I don't think that riding a bike on gravel is easy, but it's still a bit faster than hiking through this moonscape.
There were warning signs at the start of the hike. Please note that you are not allowed to roast marshmallows on lava (would someone actually do that???).
And here we are, hiking along the gravel road. This used to be a real road before Pele consumed it. Along this road and up the slope there used to be homes. It is still all private property, and some people have come back and built some sheds on the lava or live in their camper van on their property. When you hike out to the lava you are asked to stay on the road and respect the property of the people who used to live there.
You can see that the landscape we were hiking through isn't exactly exciting or diverse. Far from it.
When you look up the slope you can see little red spots in the approaching darkness (yes, we started hiking out by 6:00 in the evening). That is lava flowing down from Pu'u 'Ō'ō vent, the origin of the current eruption (the current eruption started on January 3, 1983). You can also see the fumes creeping up the hill, but we couldn't smell them which, of course, was good and the wind was in our favor.
The first part of the road is on county ground, but then Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park takes over and everything is a bit laxer. The hiking becomes harder, too.
But slowly excitement was taking over. The glowing clouds over the ocean appeared in the distance, announcing the location where the lava enters the ocean. It caused a new spring in our step. We knew we weren't too far anymore.
Suddenly the road is at its end, covered by lava. First we turned left, towards the ocean, and climbed over lava boulders and rocks toward the cliff's edge. This is what we saw:
It leaves one speechless. This is so dramatic, so full of power. We witnessed how land was created - with a lot of steam, fume and sizzle. The powers of nature at work - it was unforgettable.
Fire and water met and they did it with a lot of show - the best show you can imagine. As far as I know this is the only place on our planet where you can witness this drama, performed by Pele. You don't mess with her!
This was the tiny little fence separating people from the heat and fragile ground of lava and new land. A piece of wire tightened between some poles - a good fence? A joke? Still a fence, and therefore shared with Theresa's Good Fences.
By the way, there was no fence at the edge of the cliff. I told you, everything was rather lax here. Wait until we get to the other side of the road.
The other side is uphill. This is where the lava flows down the slope, coming from P'u 'Ō'ō.
We were standing a mere 5-6 feet away from this piping hot lava flow - 5-6 feet (for everybody familiar with the metric system, this is less than two meters)! No fence (not even a joke one), no barrier. If you felt like it you could walk right into it. It would be your last walk, though.
I told you it was lax. And laid back.
The lava flow changes constantly. It doesn't flow particularly fast, but not really slow either. It certainly doesn't flow quietly - it sizzles, whispers and pops. The heat is intense. I was sweating and my face was glowing similar to the lava (okay, not quite).
The shapes and forms lava is building are incredibly beautiful.
For me this was the highlight of our vacation in Hawai'i. I still think of it often and feel the same excitement I felt back then when I was standing so close to earth's hot liquid. As a human being you feel very small next to this nature show. You know that you can't do anything to change the flow of lava or stop it or redirect it. It does its "own thing". Beauty and destruction are often very close to each other.
Here you can see how close Käfer and I were standing to the lava. This was the experience of a lifetime and well worth the long exhausting hike. My feet were hurting like crazy when we finally reached the parking lot again but such sweet pain!