Greetings from the Big Island!

We feel at home here at our ohana, at Krisann and Samuel’s “Old Hawaii Rustic Charm” rental in Kapaau. A restored plantation home built in 1941, Krisann grew up here, and is a third generation family member of Puerto Rican descent, whose grandparents arrived from their home country to live at the top of the Big Island and work in the sugar cane fields. We stayed last year and felt so at home, we booked four days in 2024.

A gecko visits us when we’re out on the deck at Krisann and Samuel’s lovely 1940s plantation home in Kapaau. Photo by Kate Poss

We arrived in Kona on April 21, our 45th anniversary, to be greeted later by our friends and former neighbors, Jim and Tracey Gilmore. We’ve known them more than 40 years, and we were each married the same year. Tracey prepared a delicious picnic dinner for us where we met at Holoholokai Beach in Waimea. After eating we walked down to watch the sunset. Tracey was greeted by folks she sees at her work, Kohala Divers. The couple live in Gig Harbor WA and frequently visit the Big Island.

Picnic at Holoholokai Beach. Tracey provided the fixings on our first night on the Big Island. Jim Gilmore stands by. Photo by Kate Poss
A guest at Tracey's work, Kohala Divers, took this photo of us at Holoholokai Beach our first day on the Big Island. From left: Jim Gilmore, Kate, Bill, Tracey Gilmore
A guest at Tracey’s work, Kohala Divers, took this photo of us at Holoholokai Beach our first day on the Big Island. From left: Jim Gilmore, Kate, Bill, Tracey Gilmore
Watching the sunset at Holoholokai Beach Park. Photo taken by the son-in-law of a guest at Kohala Divers, where Tracey works. Note the gibbous near full moon.
Sunset at Holoholokai Beach. Photo by Kate Poss
Sunset at Holoholokai Beach. Photo by Kate Poss

We stayed with the Gilmores our first night and enjoyed talking story with them the following morning while Tracey prepared a hearty breakfast. Afterwards, we rode together to Hilo, stopping first at Lapāhoehoe Point Beach Park, a scenic park with craggy lava rocks framed by a turquoise ocean. Once a sugar mill village was built on the site. Sadly an April Fool’s Day tsunami hit in 1946, sending three deadly waves–one 56 feet high–into the village, killing more than 150 people. According to a newspaper story, 47-year-old Lucy Akiina was washed out to sea. She survived for three days clinging to a door that floated on the ocean. She recalled sharks nipping at her dress. She remained unhurt and was rescued after waving the remains of her dress at a passing plane. The surf is rough here, not recommended for swimming.

Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park. From left: Jim Gilmore, Bill Poss and Tracey Gilmore. Photo by Kate Poss

Driving into Hilo, we parked and hoped to eat at Pineapple, an open-air restaurant on Keawe Street, that Jim and Tracey have eaten at before. However, it was closed on Monday. As we stood wondering where to go next, a friendly face appeared, seemingly from out of nowhere, introducing himself as Mr. Tea. He pointed us to Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill down the street, telling us their food was the best.

We walked down the street a couple of blocks and entered the former bank building–there are still a pair of bank vaults in the back. Our server Liz sat us by the window so we could watch the world go by. Right away we loved Liz’s warm welcoming ways. At one point she saw friends walking by and ran out the door, saying, “honi honi.” She hugged her friends and came back in to take our orders. I asked her what honi honi meant, and she said, “Kiss kiss. Even Hawaiian men do this.” We loved the word so much, I said I’d name this story Honi Honi in Liz’s honor.  Today I read that honi honi is a traditional Hawaiian greeting whereby foreheads and noses touch, exchanging one another’s sacred breath.

Tracey, Jim, Liz at Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill in Hilo. Liz taught us the word honi honi, meaning kiss kiss. Bill Poss took this photo

Mr. Tea walked in smiling, and by then we were swooning over our food. He mentioned that he lives above the Pineapple restaurant, and prefers eating at Jackie Reys.

Mr. Tea sells fresh tea blends at farmer’s markets with his company, Kilauea Tea. Mr. Tea is Christian Louis, whose Haitian roots and Miami upbringing found him immersed in the healthful benefits of herbal teas. Educated in political science, biology, physics, and Caribbean and African American studies, Christian worked as an executive with George Washington University, and other mainstream jobs before returning to Miami to be with his mom, who had cancer. As her caregiver, Christian reconnected with his roots, and nursed his mom back to health using teas and herbs to help restore her well-being. Later, he moved to the Big Island, and founded The Kilauea Tea Company, to promote traditional herbal medicine and work with the island’s mana. Tracey and I saw Mr. Tea once again, today where he sold his tea blends at the mid-week farmer’s market in Waimea.

A pair of T’s–Mr. Tea, aka Christian Louis, and Tracey. Christian founded the Kilauea Tea Company, which features healthful teas. We saw him at the midweek Waimea farmer’s market. Photo by Kate Poss
While returning from an open-air farmers’ market in Hilo, we saw this passionflower growing. Bill Poss took this photo
Tracey took this photo of us at Akaka Falls State Park after our Hilo visit.

Tuesday, we sat on our deck during the morning, reading and looking out at the pasture with Krisann and Samuel’s flock of sheep. Gentle breezes stirred the tall mimosa trees. We felt like we could stay here forever. The love of family and land is a strong current here, evident in the family dishes in the cupboards, and the preservation of Hawaiian-printed linoleum that Krisann and Samuel discovered when pulling up the home’s outdated shag carpet. A part of the history lies framed under clear epoxy.

Hair sheep at our Kapaau ohana. Photo by Kate Poss
1940s linoleum discovered when shag carpet was removed at Krisann’s family home. Photo by Kate Poss

We visited the Pomaika’i Cafe in tiny Kappau town, buying a slice of butter mochi cake, and drove to Hawi for coffee at the Kohala Coffee Mill, where the Yellow-billed Cardinals–they’re actually tanagers–hoped for some crumbs to drop from guest’s outdoor tables. Wild hens prowled the sidewalk as well. Learning that there are no public restrooms in Hawi, we drove back to Kapaau, where the North Kohala Public Library hosted clean restrooms. As we do when visiting libraries, we scanned the book sale shelves and saw Christina Baldwin’s book, Storycatcher.

Yellow-billed Cardinal, part of the tanager family, looks for people food in Hawi. Photo by Kate Poss
Wild hens and roosters are more than plentiful on the Big Island. This little hen searches for crumbs left by guests at the Kohala Coffee Mill in Hawi. Photo by Kate Poss
Found on the top of the Big Island at the North Kohala Public Library, Whidbey author Christina Baldwin's book 'Storycatcher' which can help us tell our story and make sense of our lives. Photo by Kate Poss
Found on the top of the Big Island at the North Kohala Public Library, Whidbey author Christina Baldwin’s book ‘Storycatcher’ which can help us tell our story and make sense of our lives. Photo by Kate Poss

I had cooked for Christina’s Circle Way retreats on Whidbey, and for her writing workshops, which is how I came to know her and her lovely partner Ann.

Emailing Christina about my lucky find, she wrote back, commenting on our luck of finding her book so far away, and giving me permission to quote from Storycatcher:What sweetness—to know it’s circulating around in the middle of the islands. (I love the Big Island and Ann and I led trips there for several years, as well as touristing once ourselves.) And how sweet that you took the time to send and show me… sometimes I think books make their way like seeds that birds drop—mysterious. Page 222: …”‘Story is a singing bird: when we let it out of the cage of the mind it loves freedom. …it will fly places we cannot imagine.’”

Tuesday afternoon we met Tracey and Jim at Kohala Divers and rode with them to the Mauna Kea Resort. We were given a public beach parking pass at the attendants’s gate. Carrying picnic fixings, beach chairs and snorkeling gear, we sat in the sand enjoying poke and lettuce wraps, fresh tortilla chips and locally made pico de gallo.

As the sun set, we put on our snorkeling gear and swam out with flashlights. Mauna Kea resort shines a light from a point, which attracts the manta rays, who feed on plankton. About a quarter mile off-shore, a couple of tourist boats anchored with guests. Lights were shown in the water. Tracey and another young woman, wearing cosmic whale print leggings and matching jacket from Kohala Divers, swam out with flashlights toward the boats. Here is Tracey’s YouTube video, which she uploaded. “Swimming with magical mantas at Mauna Kea Beach 4/23/24.  Never gets old!” she wrote on the link.

Bill, Jim and I stayed closer to shore. A big manta swam by. After we left the water, we packed up, and walked to the point and looked in awe with others gathered there. There was a beautiful big manta ray, charcoal gray on the back and white underneath, doing flips. A little Green Heron stood by watching the scene. The full moon rose over the resort. A night to remember.

Bill Poss took this photo of lights used to attract feeding manta rays at Mauna Kea Resort.
Bill Poss took this photo of blue lines of light used by rafts of swimming tourists on floating noodles swimming with manta rays at Mauna Kea Resort.
A fuzzy photo that shows surfacing manta ray at the bottom left of the photo. Swimmers nearby give a perspective of the ray’s size. Photo by Kate Poss
Bill Poss took this photo of the Little Green Heron perched above where the manta ray fed and did somersaults.

Today, Bill and I swam at Māhukona Beach Park, about 10 minutes away. A former sugar mill shipping pier, it’s now a great place to climb down a  ladder attached to the concrete dock, and swim with schools of yellow tang and other colorful fish. Feeling relaxed, we ate breakfast, and drove to Waimea to meet with Tracey and Jim at the farmer’s market. I enjoyed some Thai spring rolls from a food truck, and Tracey and Jim shared a dish of octopus dumplings.

While Tracey was getting her nails done, Bill, Jim and I visited the Isaacs Art Center, where we stood admiring the collection of Madge Tennent’s art depicting larger than life Hawaiians. Celebrated as an important artist depicting Hawaiian culture, the website notes: “As an artist in her own right, Tennent was active in Hawai’i from the late 1920s until the 1960s. “The Hawaiians are really to me the most beautiful people in the world,” she once said, “no doubt about it – the Hawaiian is a piece of living sculpture.”

‘Wahine Wartime Style,’ left, by Madge Tennent, at the Isaacs Art Center in Waimea. Photo by Kate Poss
‘Lei Queen Fantasia,’ by artist Madge Tennent 1889-1972. Photo by Kate Poss
‘Attack on the Fair American,’ by Herb Kāne, 1980. I interviewed Herb’s wife Deon at her Freeland home. Herb Kāne is considered an artist who revived Hawaiian culture.Photo by Kate Poss

Back at our ohana now, I’m typing this story in the office, a little cubby, on the former desk of Krisann’s late father. Tomorrow she will tell us his story and the story of how Samuel found his father after 50 years.

 

 

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