Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Death March 2014

Cathy and I have a long-standing, and unfortunate, tradition stretching back to 2006, of going on accidental death marches while on vacation. It started in San Francisco in 2006 when we (and by which, I mean me) were hiking all over San Francisco and refusing to get a taxi. This included an unfortunate jaunt through the Tenderloin, one of the rougher parts of San Francisco.

Later Death Marches include ones in Rome and Vatican City in 2008, Sydney in 2009, and Copenhagen in 2012. Oh, and Nuuk, Greenland in 2012. That was a bad year for death marches, apparently. There have probably been others, I'm just blanking on them.

The game plan for July 17 was pretty simple. We were going to get up, go to Volcano National Park and spend the day hiking around, checking out lava tubes, steam vents, petrogyphs and other fun odds and ends. However, when we got to the park it was pouring rain. It's been pouring rain pretty much since we arrive in Hawaii. There's been some kind of tropical storm lingering near the Big Island since we got here. Locals keep telling us that it should blow over the next day. They've been telling us that for about four days now. Hadn't happened yet.

So we were faced with trudging through the park in the pouring rain - an unappealing thought - or plowing on down the road and hope for better weather. The volcano and Mauna Loa act as big rain shadows. Once you get to the west of them, it tends to be dryer and sunnier. After days of rain, we caved in and headed south and west.

So plan B was a pair of beaches. The appropriately named Black Sand Beach (Punalu'u) and Green Sand Beach (Mahana). Black Sand Beach was kind of fun. The weather was still dicey, but it was nice to walk on a black volcanic sand beach. Plus, there were green sea turtles, which was a bonus. I'm sure I must have read about them at some point, but I'd forgotten. So there they were, with a special area made of loose rock, and with a worn sign cautioning that this was a sea turtle resting areas. There were five of them, just chilling on the beach, catching their breath.

So, black sand beach and sea turtles. Plan B was working out fine. Next up was finding the Green Sand Beach.

Death Marches often begin when you become determined to find something and then, when common sense says give up, you can't because you've come too far. Death March Copenhagen began when we went looking for the Little Mermaid Statue. Death March Vatican City began when looking for a museum. Death March Nuuk was looking for a store.

Green Sand Beach is not easily found using road signs, which is odd because Hawaii is normally pretty good at that. There's exactly one sign on Route 11. It simply says "South Point". No other detail about what lies that way. I believe locals kind of prefer that area remain somewhat shelted from the tourist hordes. We did, quite by accident, manage to find the most southerly point in the United States while looking for the beach, though. It's a line of cliffs at the southern point of the island. You could even jump off the cliff into the water, if you felt so inclined. I did not. But fortunately there were 20-year-old males wanting to show off for their bikini clad girlfriends, so I got some nice pics of them nearly killing themselves. Splendid stuff.

Eventually, we found a sign pointing in the right direction. Once we got to the badly decaying parking lot, we were asked if we wanted to be guided in. With senses finally tuned over the years of people trying to scam us, we waved them off, saying we could walk it easily.

Yeah. No. Not quite so much.

First, it seems it's a three mile walk each way to get to the beach. And the way there is no easy thing. It's a series of randomly diverging paths created by various golf cart/SUV/pick-up drivers over the years. So you're never 100% of where you're going. You just assume the people walking in front of you know what they're doing. Just as I'm sure the people behind us were working on the same assumption.

Next up, the rain that we were fleeing from Volcano found us. Coupled with high winds (all the trees are beant westward) made for a fun walk. A sensible person would have went "fuck this" and turned around. But we had come too far, so we needed to make it to the magical Green Sand Beach.

So the Death March was on. Did I mention that we didn't take any water because we thought it was a short jaunt. And, because of the spontaneous nature of our decision earlier in the day, we didn't bring along any swimsuits, beach towels or....oooops....sunscreen? A good Death March involves heady dollops of stupidity.

About an hour later, we finally made it to the beach.

The thing about the Death March is that it will, sometimes, reward you. The Little Mermaid statue was worth it. The Vatican Museum was worth it (never did find that store in Nuuk). Green Sand Beach was worth it. You have to naviagate down a cliff of black volcanic rock, but once there, you're sheltered from the worst of the wind. The sand is green and has a sparkle to it. The cliff sides surrounding the beach are surreal. The waves come crashing in. Not high enough to surf, but big enough to jump into and have them sweep you back onto the green sand. And after we were there for about 15 minutes, the rain broke and the sun came back out.

We read later that it is one of only four beaches in the world with green sand. And that, my friends, is a worth a little Death Marching,

Now if only we had remembered to pack the sunscreen before heading off. Ow.

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