The Lava has come and gone, as it has for millions of years. Some folks are heading back to the mainland or Alaska after losing their homes to the will of Pele, goddess of lava. Many farm families shrug off the inconvenience of access roads to markets that are still blocked by lava. They continue planting and harvesting, bringing papayas and avocados, rambutan and coconuts to the farmer’s markets. Everyone in the farming community hopes the local authorities will rebuild all major roads instead of routing dump-trucks, short-bed trucks and cars along narrow forest tracks better suited for bicycles and pedestrians. Surely, the roads will be repaired as in other disaster areas in the United States. Change is part of life; everyone copes.
People still dream of living on this mostly rural island and they are snapping up property. The Island of Hawai’i attracts newcomers and people from other parts of the state because of its relatively lower cost of living compared to Honolulu and Oahu. Puna, the southern district on Hawai’i Island affected by the 2018 lava flow, is said to be one of the fastest growing area on Big Island. The skies are clear again, the lava gone, quakes finished and the living is easy.
Some families are leaving the island, selling their dream houses and businesses. Others changed their lifestyle and moved closer to Hilo, trading fire ants for fine arts.
One friend is headed back to Europe. She is selling her gorgeous one acre estate with splendid house and many ornamental trees, notably a mature Bismarckia palm.
Alas, my Bismarckia perished in 2018 because of poisoned air during the lava inundation. Lava didn’t smother or burn it, the noxious VOG , a by-product of the eruption, killed the palms, ornamentals and other trees.
A few photos of my friend’s piece of paradise are below and the listing is here. I wish I had the resources to buy her house with the thriving Bismarckia nobilis in view of the lanai.
I’ve been to Asia again and it sucks. You know those places on the Lonely Planet beat? They’re crowded with brusque, loud travelers from places where respect for other cultures wasn’t taught or the current bunch of road-killers didn’t learn.
Here we are in South East Asia, where the overland hippies from Europe and America brought banana pancakes to Samosir Island in Lake Toba in the 1960s and 70s. Where Bali was already an artsy rest stop by the 1930s. Where Thailand lured Vietnam War vets on R&R leave. The same areas that by the 1980s found Swiss and Germans with months of paid vacation hanging out on remote Andaman islets frittering away long winters.
Then came the ’90s and the ’00s. Western travelers flew to the obliging “Far East” for smokes and more-different-stranger-sex. Indonesia’s money values swooped low, some Christians were killed in Ambon and there was a worldwide slump with the dot-com bust. And hello, wake up, what happened to quiet peaceful Asia? Now comes terror bombings on the beaches where Ozzies rave. The world recession-depression through the ’00s, meant travelers didn’t need a trust fund to waste a year on beer, naked mud slides, temple massages and cheap beds in Chaing My and Koh Tweetie. Tsunami Tragedy and more of the same. Wow, what an awesome mess. No one spells correctly anymore and respecting local cultural norms has ended, full stop. And don’t think it’s only the westerner travelers who dress inappropriately and spurn local customs.
Asia’s relentless push to acquire the consumer veneer of success has displaced the traditional culture that attracted travelers in the first place. Do locals have any images about life in the west except what is online or in film/video/tv? They see a Droid sized version of superficial trappings. A highway of revved cars, bright skimpy clothing, painted fake fingernails and Red Bull parties. That’s the western culture dumped by itinerant bored travelers on gap year and beyond. The intellectual and cultural understanding, once as necessary for successful travel as a passport and a guidebook, could be missing.
Development Requires Water
In a land of monsoons, peninsular Malaysia and Western Indonesia are developed with scant regard for water run-off or sustainable civic management. Public buildings spring up swiftly without plans for increased car ownership, traffic routing, sidewalks or transportation safety amenities like cross walks, ramps for the handicapped and bicycle lanes. Existing public facilities that don’t serve the image of the emerging computer chip state, like bus stations, cross walks, public toilets, are left unmaintained. And all the bustle and growth is to the tune of the requisite recorded mullah blaring off-key from radio speakers, rooftops and storefronts. No, I’m not politically sensitive, so what. This is the reality I experienced.
Highway fatalities escalate because driver’s licenses can be purchased and training would take too much time. Perhaps even contrary to the arrogant Muslim male who feels the seed of Allah in his loins, and struts as if he alone were responsible for populating the world. Women are said to share public life, yet they aren’t seen and certainly not heard. Facilities for women are limited and shared public space can harbor danger. In a world of men, litter, urine, cigarette butts, trash, chewing gum and food wrappings are tossed everywhere. No one cleans up when women don’t have a place or voice in the public spaces.
In a world where men believe they are the holy endowed, women are ignored, patronized or baited into compromising and uncomfortable situations. Mercedes speed along the roads beside open sewer drainage ditches which irrigate the city and overflow when it rains. Tropical forest has been slashed for furniture, replanted for palm oil production and bordered with toll plazas and shopping theme parks.
Huge tour groups from the new middle class of China and South Asia parade around, while tour buses chug, sending fumes into the already smelly air as the drivers smoke and chat, or sleep in their seats, bus motors running to fuel the A/C. How much water do these visitors use? Can the local villages in Myanmar, for example, sustain their own people’s needs with the onslaught of tourism?
Contemporary politicians have grafted their ideas onto the glory and prestiege of the sultanates to gain depth to their history. Has regard for the masses ever mattered to those elevated by lucre, king or church?
Did I really expect places to be the same?
In Kraabi, the town appears changed for the better with a jetty promenade and flowers planted down the new four lane roadway. Why did they need a four lane road? To handle the tourist influx. Yet the old buildings endure and you can still find a clean bed for $4. Thailand seems more prosperous than years back, but not in the flashy way Malaysia has opted to express prosperity. Public services, structures facilities are reasonably advanced. Trash bins, road signs, curbs, stoplights a bus station with waiting benches and an indoor toilet. Here, I see a balance of women and men in public. Women wrapped in headscarves stare vacant eyed and follow careless, pushy loud men. At least they’re not smoking.
In the bright morning light filled with promise, fishing boats chug out from Kraabi to sea. Dried fish on woven mats during the day. A cat nibbles at the fish. Women sort the dried minnows and smelt. I saw a cicada caught in a spider web last night. Cigarette butts everywhere around the public space. Why is it travelers never realize they’re littering when they flick away a butt?
Occupy Sydney during 2011-12 defined their points with recycled cardboard boxes on Martin Place, a pedestrian area in downtown Sydney.
On this rainy day, I watched while police systematically dismantled the cardboard box barricades and the Occupy Sydney team responded by hastily shifting position, moving their cardboard space definers to confound the police.
Photos of the police “evicting” Occupy Sydney protestors from a public plaza in Sydney ~
Three months earlier, in November, 2011, I’d visited the Occupy London semi-permanent base camp of tents around St. Paul’s Cathedral.
During 2011 and through the winter until June, 2012, Occupy DC protesters in Washington, DC settled in tents or tarpaulin structures in McPherson Square. By Spring, the Occupy DC movement had built wooden structures on the public park.
See: Amendment 1, The Constitution of the United States of America. Freedom of religion, speech, and the press; rights of assembly and petition. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Ninashka Hanz talks about being a good witch. How Wicca is the only religion a young woman like her could embrace. The Slovak grandmother taught her the old ways and what was the point of life but to be one with nature and your own true self? Her Czech grandmother from the other side of her family was a witch too, but deep and dark.
Twenty and wondrous to watch, she moves from one campsite to the next, changing conversations, flipping campers’ radio dials. She approached our site after a short exchange in laid-back FM station style with Don the post office warehouse worker whose tent was pitched nearest the forest. Then we watched her sashay up to AM Top 40 tuned Joe Six-Pack camping with a family not his own, having exchanged his kids for someone else’s when a new Momma came into his life. I thought I’d seen the young woman roving the campsites somewhere before.
Nina says the big Rec-V next to our van belongs to an ex-Navy guy who was at Ft. Meyers back in the late sixties and now drives around the lower 48 from state park to federal forest, camping out year-round. “I tried to sell him on driving up to Alaska,” Nina said, “but he didn’t want to drive outside the borders of the USA. Go figure.”
Later we realized we’d seen her hitching on Route 101, fetching groceries. I spotted her first, warned Les to slow down. “It’s a girl. We have to pick her up.” He shrugged, drove past. “We’re headed up to Mono, need to get there before dark.” By now, surely he sensed I was exhausted by his silence on the road and needed to talk to other people. We’d been road tripping the better part of a month without saying much. Get up in the morning, drive, stop, gas up and go on. Smoke into a state recreation area, eat, sleep and do it all over again. The pots of coffee on the Coleman burner marked the passing days.
I told Les that he and I used to be on the opposite sides of some line. If I hadn’t crossed over and made a move, nothing would have happened. Now I crossed the line to move outward again, in this case the line is a sandy gritty campground path that connects the tent sites to the restroom and bathhouse. I’m headed for a young couple huddled around a campfire and soon enough I realize the female is the same person I’d seen that afternoon on 101.
I offer Nina and Joe Six Pack a bag of marshmallows. I’m guessing that Nina is reluctant to waste her time with him because that’s what she calls him to his face, Joe Six Pack. I hang around, toasting marshmallows and keeping the conversation around the crackling fire drifting upward instead of down into a silent gully of stoned introspection. Nina is sucking her beer bottle and complaining her life is not worth much, the other face of the girl who says her ambition is to make money packing Alaska salmon. I tell her what she’s doing now is still an opportunity, not a mistake.
Nina holds court at Mono Campground, so named after the last great mononucleosis epidemic of 1969. Not really; Les and I entertained ourselves with such made-up road stories. We’d been there ten days now and Nina long ago installed herself as unofficial hostess greeting all newcomers, visiting her favored campers each day.
Nina would come round, telling the older folks how she lives in state parks and national lands. “It’s my land,” she’d say. “Yours too. Take advantage of it. Stay as long as you like. Remember, these forests belong to us — We the American People.” I’d nod and smile at Nina, then repeat what she said to Les who was cleaning his revolver under the plastic pull-out awning. I’d asked him to show me how to aim and shoot it, not like I knew anyone else with a weapon like that. “It is her land, you see, Les? And ours too. America, land of the free. This is government forest, owned by we the people, so she’s living on her own property.” My volume climbed. I was trying to shake Les from his skeptical view of Nina. He pulled his lips back in the fake mad-dog smile. We hiked far into Los Padres Forest and I learned to hold, aim and release the trigger, without ammo.
If anyone interesting pulled into the neighborhood, as we called our corner of the three campgrounds, Nina invited them over to her site for wine, dope and guitar tunes. “Before I became a witch,” she said, “I was a singer in a rock band. I was the drummer’s old lady,” she bragged. “They had to let me sing or he wouldn’t play and that group needed a drummer. Couldn’t play for nothing without him.” She’s her own old lady now, just twenty years, writing ballads about the meaning of life, too young to have a storehouse for the meaning.
We bathed in the sulphur hot springs and she talked to her dog Sugarfoot. “All bark, no bite, but they don’t know that,” she confided, pulling shreds of Bugler tobacco out of the economy size can and piling it into two glued together Top rolling papers. “Hey Sugar, hey Foot — go kill, maim and scare,” she joked at the dog, a mangy white cur that splayed on the dusty dry grass nosing its hindquarters . She spoke without raising her head from licking the seam on the cigarette. I ask her where she got the tobacco. “Downtown, you know, in Carthage, east of Santa Barbara.” The joke was there’s nothing east of Santa Barbara but mountains.
Another time when we were together in the bathhouse, I asked her, “You ever get scared out on the road alone, sleeping in campgrounds? Not knowing where your next meal or ride is coming from?” Nina laughed, “Fear? Of what? Magic protects me,” she said. “I really am a witch; no one would mess with me.” Like Sugarfoot, she’s all bark, no muscle. I think Sugarfoot does his part; looks like a mean junkyard dog.
Later I heard her giggles while she toyed away the night. She’d moved on from Joe Six to the ex-Navy guy in the big motor home. When I walked by, they leaned back on folding chairs looking at the stars. “Have some wine and weed,” she urged. “Andy has some of the good stuff, Maui magic. Come on, let’s talk about things tragic and all that good-lookin’ magic.”
“That sounds like a line from a song,” I said. “Write that one up!” Nina grimaced and pulled her guitar from behind the chair. “Sure, I’ll come by later when I’ve punched it out.”
Toting her guitar and Bugler can, a stack of tattered songbooks under her armpit, Nina sloped towards our camp. She showed me her own lyrics copied on three-hole lined school notebook paper. She banged out her twenty year old lament, a defensive answer to a world that has not dealt her well. In the song, she wants to go to Scotland and she wants to go to Budapest to see what her grandmothers talked about.
“My name was Hanzlik in the old country — Czech and White Russian.” She sang patches of a language that only a million people know. “There’s none of us left,” she slurred. “We gypsies and witches, ‘zey killed all us women. ‘Cept ‘zose who went hiding, ‘zey killed us all off.”
Nina slugged back cheap wine, fisting the bottleneck. Now she’s sitting on a picnic table. The ex-Navy man is sloshed and amazed by her. He’s wandered over to see why she’d been gone so long. Nina says fuck a lot, has no lasting interest in him, knows the difference between knaves and knights. She’s telling us about different men she’d known, maybe to shuck off Andy-the-Navy-guy or maybe to stir him. On the one hand I want to give her my time and my ear, but she talks cheap. Not new to me, this story.
She sings: “Jest mello down some backroad, bein’ native and naive, eatin’ weeds and grazing dope, sniffing each other’s breeze. Me and this spring’s lover, me and love me later. Sometimes my mind I play, sometimes each old day. Beat the clock in corridors of plenty, listen to the voices rhyme, magic airwaves on the sundial.” The song was truly awful.
“It might be time for me to leave Mono campground. Change my life,” she says, dragging on another Bugler reefer. A scrap of tobacco from the end of the rolled cigarette sticks to her lip.
Sure enough, she hopped in our van the next morning, headed out with us to the highway west of Santa Barbara. The coast road, 101. Sugarfoot curled on a throw rug in the back and Nina crouched on her gear. I swiveled around in the shotgun seat so I could talk to her and still keep an eye on the road ahead. Les drove as usual, nodded once in a while towards the side view window. Kept his peace when she broke the no smoking in the van rule and lit up in the back.
We dropped her off in Christmas (the town named Solvang), California within sight of the big yellow house that she said was her adopted mother’s. “I’ll stay here with her for a while, then head up to Alaska. Time to get some money.” In the right side-view mirror, I saw her stall around, put her knapsack and guitar on the ground next to Sugarfoot, then stick out her thumb.