Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Nights at the Volcano House

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Volcano House sits on the rim of the giant Kilauea caldera on the big island of Hawaii.  We had hoped to see the flow of lava cascading down the eastern side toward Pahoa, but it was strictly off limits and most of it inside a tube.  There were some illegal tours available, but after talking to the staff, we decided it wasn't too smart to join one.  People were losing their homes.  Many of the people working at the hotel were waiting for word on mandatory evacuations.  This volcano, a tourist destination since the early 1800's, was once again causing massive disruption to the local population.

Many discussions at the hotel's bar centered on Pele.  The locals have a very fatalistic attitude about living here.  They can't buy insurance for their houses anywhere on the island.

"A steam vent could open up right here beneath us," the bartender said as he handed us our second mai tais.  "And Mauna Loa is starting to stir."  Gulp.

We took our drinks to the observation room and watched the continuous plumes of smoke rise from the lake of lava.  The truth is, in California we live with the same threat under our feet.  A massive earthquake is due any day now.  And yet, we shrug our shoulders and move on, hoping we aren't in the wrong place at the wrong time.  At least we can buy insurance!
When Mark Twain visited Kilauea in 1866, he witnessed a nighttime eruption of the volcano.  Despite warnings from the Volcano House staff,  he walked out to the crater and looked into the bubbling lake.  He had to navigate around the flow of lava all by himself since the guides refused to go with him.  Stupid?  Oh yeah!  But what a story.  He made Kilauea and Volcano House famous, by writing (so eloquently) about his foolhardy adventure in Roughing It.

Today, of course, the caldera is off limits, but there are many trails around the hotel and this is one reason we stayed here.   The element of danger, the smell of sulfur and the lush plants, all evoke a prehistoric era.  But the 21st century awaits in all its splendor once you're back safe and sound.  A great bar, a great restaurant and unparalleled views of the crater from every room.  I had that "no place else I'd rather be" feeling the whole time I was there.

The historic Volcano House is one of the most fascinating hotels I have ever stayed at.  I hope and pray Madame Pele leaves it alone!!

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