Today’s Lesson: Curiosity may or may not have ever killed a cat, but it did make me eat the chocolate-covered squid.
Our first day on the big island, and Megan and I split up again. It’s not that we aren’t getting along but, having covered career, family and relationships and, politics and religion being off the menu, we were running out of things to talk about. Also, she has family in Hilo and I really wanted to go see the volcano, so we decided to go our separate ways.
My first stop was, of course, the car rental place. I’m starting to get good at the part where you walk around and look for dings, so they can’t bill them for you later. That settled, I headed off to my next task; to find a pineapple.
Specifically, to find a white “sugarloaf” pineapple, which I had read about once in a travel article and wanted to try ever since. Apparently, they only grow in Hawaii, mainly on the big island, and they are sweeter and less acidic than the usual kind, which sounds like a good idea to me.
I decided that the best place to look would be the Hilo farmers’ market, and for once I was exactly right. I found a guy selling the pineapples and he sold me one, possibly for a bit more than I should have paid, but oh well.
So, now I had a pineapple. Which, as you may or may not know, is unlike most other fruit, such as a pear or a banana, in that it is well defended and you can’t just sit down and eat it without the proper equipment. But we’ll get to that part later.
Pineapple secured, I made my way to Volcano National Park, about thirty miles outside Hilo. For whatever reason, this is something I have been looking forward to for the whole trip, so it was a bummer that I had so little time. The boat was leaving at six today, which meant we had to be back on board by five-thirty, which meant I had to be back at the rental car place by four-thirty, which meant I had to leave the park by three-thirty. Which meant I spent my whole time there checking my watch and rushing through things and generally being my least favorite kind of tourist; the one who hurries along, ticking sights off her checklist without actually ever stopping to see anything. Go there, do that, get the picture.
When I got to the visitor center, a ranger-led hike was just about to leave so, despite my reluctance to engage in anything enriching and/or educational, I decided to tag along. The ranger was maybe a couple of years younger than me, part Hawaiian, and very fond of the phrase “with that in mind”. “And those are the three things ancient Hawaiians used this plant for. With that in mind, let’s continue down the trail.” “And when they finally got the boy out of the steam vent, he had third degree burns over ten percent of his body. With that in mind, here’s an interesting kind of fern.”
With that in mind, it was a nice tour, complete with two legends and some inexpert playing of the conch shell and nose flute. I hiked back past the sulfur banks, then got back in my car and did the driving tour around the rim of the caldera.
Volcano National Park may be the most accurate thing ever created by the federal government: it is a national park that is a volcano. An active volcano, in fact, although there were no eruptions convenient for viewing at the time of my visit. What there was were a huge caldera (big crater) with a smaller crater (crater) inside it, some lava flows and an old lava tube, plus various native and non-native plants and animals (not so interesting, as they are significantly less likely to explode). I thought it was all pretty cool, until I went to the museum and found out what I was missing. Apparently, for about a hundred years (ending in the twenties) the crater had been a boiling lake of lava, with red-hot fountains and everything. People used to have weddings there. By comparison, a hole with some steam coming out of it seems pretty tame.
Failing that, I think the lava fields were my favorite part; they looked like the remains of the world’s biggest barbecue pit and smelled like bad well water, but there’s something appealing about the idea of rocks that are younger than me.
Thanks to my hurried tour of the park, I got out of there with time to spare. Which was a good thing, because I still had a pineapple to deal with. I couldn’t take it back on the boat with me, because they have very clear policies about bringing produce on board, i.e., no. But, as noted before, eating it in its natural state was not an option, so I set off into the town of Volcano in search of a solution.
In the end, it didn’t turn out to be that hard at all. I found a little convenience store, run by about four generations of Asian ladies and with a small lunch counter, explained my predicament and asked to borrow a knife (having bought some chips and a bottle of coke, because you don’t like to just walk in and start asking for stuff without buying anything), and the nice lady behind the counter not only leant me a rather fearsome-looking one, but also some paper towels and a box to put the trimmings in. So I sat myself down on the steps in front of the store and took that pineapple apart, eating some pieces and saving the rest for later. I gave a quarter of it to the lady when I returned the knife, because it seemed like the thing to do.
The pineapple was delicious, by the way. I ate most of the rest, along with the chips and the soda, of it sitting in a grassy spot behind some kind of cell phone tower or something, and felt like I was travelling like me again.
As for the squid: I had a little extra time before I had to return the car, so I stopped in at the Big Island Candy Company, a Hilo tourist trap baited with chocolate. Their (clearly effective) business model involves being very generous with the free samples, which were almost uniformly delicious (the butter-free cookies being a notable exception). So I picked up a couple of items to bring back, and then I noticed the chocolate-dipped strips of dried squid.
You know how sometimes you see a food item that makes absolutely no sense, something that looks like just the worst idea but then turns out to somehow, mysteriously, be delicious? This was not one of those times. This tasted like dried squid, with chocolate on it. And neither component was improved by the combination.