The One with the Goddess Pele

Last weekend, I was moving some things around in my closet and found this business card on the floor tucked behind some storage bins. Somehow it survived a move, several closet reorganizations and the actual camera, which was the reason I had it in the first place. This card takes me back to a time known as P.D. (Pre-Digital).  During P.D., when things broke we took them to be repaired instead of just replacing them. It was a very dark time. Luckily Paul Brink was able to fix my broken camera, but it was the final revenge from Goddess Pele.

Business Card

Before we get to that, we have to start here, at the beginning of our trip to Hawai’i. After the nine-hour flight, we landed in the cloak of darkness, got our rental car and hurried to the little place we’d booked in a town called Lahaina on the northwest coast of Maui.  We had to be up by three a.m. for our first adventure: a visit to the top of Haleakalā, Maui’s impressive (and the world’s largest) dormant volcano. We would be driven to the summit to watch the sun rise.

Sleepy and jet-lagged, our guides handed out astronaut-sized gloves and parkas, two things we definitely did not think to pack for a trip to Hawai’i. It was still dark as we made our way to the edge of the crater at 10,000 feet (3,050 m) along the narrow and steep switchbacks (33 to be exact). I barely registered this in the moment but it would become central to my wellbeing in a few hours. We all stepped out of the van onto the overlook and stood there for a while on the tippy-top of a volcano with nothing to buffet us from the whipping winds and temperatures below freezing.

As we waited, our guide told us about the native flora and fauna around Haleakalā and Pele, the most powerful goddess of the islands. Pele makes her home on Kilauea on the Big Island, but she and one of her siblings did battle in the crater of Haleakalā.  “If you want to have an enjoyable visit, you need to be in good with Pele,” he said. “She is not to be messed with.” Pele is in charge of everything on all the volcanoes of Hawai’i, he told us. And when we leave the only thing we should take with us were our memories and the only sign that we were here should be our footprints.

Pele, Goddess of Fire and Volcanoes

Pele: the goddess of fire and volcanoes, among other things. Image via Wikipedia

Then, at the horizon, was a slash of light. Moment by moment it spread higher as the sliver between the earth and sky changed from inky black to navy blue to light blue to pale yellow to orange to fiery red. It was easy to forget about the cold. It all changed so quickly. The sky went from night to day within fifteen minutes. It all just seemed miraculous. Mark Twain called watching the sunrise from above the clouds at the top of Haleakalā “the sublimest spectacle” of his life. That, it was. As we returned to the van, I picked up a smooth egg-shaped stone and put it in my pocket.

Sunrise over Haleakala

Please excuse the grainy photo. This was taken P.D. with a thing called film.

Sunrise over Haleakala

I really wish these photos were better. The view was breathtaking.

Sunrise over Haleakala

Those are clouds just below the sun in the center of the photo.

And then it was time for the “active” portion of our adventure. We exchanged our parkas and gloves for helmets. Because we weren’t going to ride to the bottom in the climate controlled comfort of the van. That’s for sissies! We were going to get on bicycles and ride careen down the side of Haleakalā, sharing the winding, two-lane road with cars. The switchbacks were so narrow they looked like this: WWWWWWW. Despite not having ridden a bike in at least a decade, for some reason, I thought this sounded like fun. And it was fun, in much the same way a root canal is fun. I would learn later that the grade (pitch) of the volcano is 8-10% with some areas as much as 12%. That may not seem steep, but I didn’t have to pedal once. Instead, I squealed the brakes the entire way down to keep from tumbling over the measly guardrail and flying off the side of the volcano.  Then, I braked too hard in the damp corner of one switchback and the wheels slid out from under me, across the road and dangerously close to the guardrail, tearing my pants and digging one of the pedals into my skin. I had not yet made the connection between the little rock in my pocket and Goddess Pele.

Haleakala Horse

Me with my new friend, before Pele got to me. That helmet the guide made me wear was so heavy I felt like a Weeble.

Part one was longer than I anticipated so stay tuned for part two to find out what Pele still had in store for us!

Have you ever gone to the summit of a volcano or mountain? Tell us about it in the comments.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

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35 comments

  1. Wow, what a story! I would never in a million years have ridden a bike down the volcano — I’m way impressed with your bravery! I’ve never been to a volcano (would love to!) but I’ve been to summits of mountains in the Alps, Sierra Nevadas, Rockies, and Green Mountains (not nearly as dramatic)…love them!

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  2. I’m such an extreme city slicker I would have insisted on being air lifted up as well as down. But, back in the day with some friends I did climb some path up some famous steep mountain in Yosemite. I apologize for not researching exactly where I was; I’m writing this comment on my phone since I’m on vacation in the Bay Area. Somehow I have this uncharacteristic fit of athleticism and I reach the top first. I pump my arms in victory and then Aunt Flo arrived.

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  3. Lahaina–I’ve been there! I didn’t climb this volcano though. However, I have a vague recollection of playing Frisbee golf around there–now that’s an odd memory since that isn’t my usual sport. Can’t wait for part two!

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