|Sue appreciates the surf at Mauna Kea Beach.|
It would be easy to mistake this exotic place for some other country. You might want small money for trinkets or ice cream.
But big American money works just fine on the big island of Hawaii. And turning big money into small is no problem for Americans on vacation in America.
This particular outpost of America isn't like where you or I live.
The locals here are copper-skinned Polynesians and black-haired Asians. They smile warmly and say aloha and mahalo (thank you).
|Statues guard an ancient Place of Refuge.|
In the Kona Coast's service economy, the locals live quite humbly on modest wages. Their reality is different than ours and that's just how it is.
Underpaid or not, it's the natives' job to separate visitors from their money.
This is easy to do in a fairyland of luxury accommodations, endless golf, umbrella drinks, helicopter rides, ziplines and whale tours, for example.
In my low-key, Norwegian way, I was quietly celebrating the end--I hope--of lymphoma and chemotherapy.
|A railroad runs through the lobby.|
And life is good for the tourists on Hawaii's Kona and Kohala coasts. It is so surreal that guests of the Hilton may choose either a futuristic train or a canal-boat to convey them elegantly to the hotel's outlying shops, restaurants and rooms.
We caught the train to the Lagoon Tower with Langley friends, Paul and Sherryl, for a lovely outdoor dinner. The artists in our party, Sue and Sherryl, chatted-up a lonely coffee barrista in a quiet alcove and she showed them her body art in places only the privileged see. This happened while the writers, Paul and I, were distracted.
The story gets better with re-telling and I'm doing my bit to add to it here.
Our dinner seemed like the best meal of my life, and our companions were above-average, too. That part is true.
|Palms at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Park, south of Kona.|
Getting here entails 6-1/2 hours of sitting six-abreast in a cramped Alaska Airlines 737 twinjet, bucking headwinds that eat time, from Seattle. Maybe you can tell the flight was not my favorite part of the experience, though the Alaska crew tried heroically to keep us amused.
At Waikoloa Bay we stayed with good friends, Candace and Bob, in a beautiful vacation rental condo. All four of us had our own agendas and I think we accommodated them well. Sue sketched. Candace swam. Bob read his Kindle in the shade and I walked.
|Dawn breaks over the lights of Waikoloa Village, on my walk.|
I was out the door under a starry sky an hour before dawn. My route took me past the service entrance of the Hilton Waikoloa, where weary night-shift workers dozed and slouched on rock walls and benches while waiting for the "Hilton Team Bus" to haul them off. Tip o' the hat to Human Resources for that one.
|Palms in the lava field.|
Here, developers have carved pockets of lush lawn, landscaping, flowers and palm groves from a desolate lava field that flows down to the shores from upland volcanoes.
Lava is not my favorite landscaping, so I enjoyed our forays into the alpine ranch country at higher elevations and to the rainy, east coast of the big island.
|Akaka Falls, 442 feet.|
The jungle was soothing. It rained as we walked in 80-degree warmth and we didn't care. At home on Whidbey, in the 40-degree wintertime, we care.
But probably the highlight for me was a gorgeous bayside beach called Pu'uhonua o Honaunau, south of Kona on the west side. Preserved within this national park are some beautiful "royal grounds" next to an ancient, walled, place-of-refuge. It all dates back to about 1550.
In ancient times it was awfully easy to violate taboos and norms of behavior and acquire a death sentence. Bananas, for example, were forbidden fruit except for the royals. How badly do you want a banana? If no one was looking I'd filch one, especially knowing the taste is so exquisite I'll never be allowed to experience it in this short life.
|Butt view at the Place of Refuge.|
The statues, structures, exhibits and sheer beauty of this national park's setting swept me away.
The ranger who spoke to us called it her favorite place on earth.
It would be easy to say the same for any number of beaches and coves on this stretch of west-facing coastline. One of our favorites was "69 Beach," allegedly named for the number on a nearby utility pole. Okay. We didn't see the pole. This beach is also known as "the shade beach" and true to its name, it is a delightful place for shade-lovers, swimmers and sun-lovers alike.
|The instant before sunset at the Lava Lava Beach Club.|
For them, the major highlight and ritual seems to be watching the sun set from a table at the beach, while nursing cocktails.
Sue and I did that with Candace and Bob at the Lava Lava Beach Club on our final night and it was a perfect note on which to end the trip. People say they observe a green flash on the horizon the instant the sun sets. I watched for it and tried to photograph it, but saw no such flash. Another time, perhaps.