Murder. We were going to get murdered; I was sure of it. The dark and empty parking lot at the end of HWY 130 eerily reminded me with every rustle of the leaves of our precarious state. There we sat, in the middle of nowhere with no civilization for miles, in our rental waiting for our supposed tour guide at 3 AM in the morning. The flickering of a lonely light bulb in a sea of light poles with broken light bulbs sent chills up my spine. I clenched my fist firmly on the only available object that could be used as a weapon, a half empty coffee mug. Now and then my eyes played tricks on me and I would see a young girl in white pajamas strutting across the road and disappearing into the dense forest. I always joked that characters in horror movies deserve to die because of their stupid curiosity, always running into dark and ominous settings. But here we were, decidedly staying in this prophetic scene, hoping for the best.
We waited. No one came.
I got annoyed and grabbed the key to turn the ignition. A bright light shot around the corner and stopped my heart momentarily. Time stood still. Was this the bright light people always suggested before you leave the mundane world?
As the light inched its way closer to us, I made out a man rolling down the window. Who has manual windows anymore these days? Murderers! His beastly arm shot out. These windows better be bulletproof!
He waved and signaled for us to follow him. “Come on! Follow me!”
F**k it! We followed. Two on one. Perhaps we could take him if it came down to it. I’d bite his ears off and Lina could kick him in the nuts. We might even turn on RAGE mode and unlock our superhero powers.
We drove to the other end of the parking lot. The mysterious driver stepped out of his truck nonchalantly. In the dim of the night he looked like Sideshow Bob from the Simpsons, but more vile and evil.
“Hey guys, I’m Chris. You can call me Grrr.” Relief washed over me. I knew we were going to be okay. Nicknames are indicative of people’s disposition. If you were a killer, your nickname would be something ridiculously cute. If he had introduced himself as “Cheesecake” or something delicious like that, I would have hit him in the face with a rock then run away like a little girl.
Grrr handed us each a long walking stick and headlamp. “The ground you’ll be walking on is like glass and there are lava tubes underneath that could give way. Use the stick to poke the ground in front of you to make sure it’s solid before taking a step,” he explained. And just like that, we began our night hike to the lava field. Finally relaxed, I looked up ahead and, on the side of the mountain, a bright red streak lit up the night sky. Excitement shivered up my spine. Into the fiery inferno of Kona’s holy volcano we went.
The ground crunched with every step we took. We hadn’t gone very far and my shoes were already cut up from the rough and sharp glassy surface. Grrr would stop now and then to give us a history of the area. His aunt used to live in this now barren landscape. Years ago lava tubes raged down the mountain and engulfed a whole community. The area was thus cordoned off from the rest of the island and access was limited to former residents and their relatives. And that was the reason we could take this incredibly amazing hike out to play with magma.
Grrr and his family originally came from Portugal. He was the typical surfer boy. Big puffy blond hair covered his relaxed and happy face and demeanor. Grrr was “stoked” about everything. A loose shirt and board shorts complemented his youthful attitude. He mentioned he was 40. Liar! He looked more like a 20 something adventurer ready to catch a wave at any moment. I suppose when you live in paradise, you don’t age like normal people weighed down by corporate slavery. He must have been drinking before taking us on this journey because he would excuse himself to relieve his bladder in the middle of our conversations. No trees. Nowhere to go and hide. So now and then he would take a few steps to the side and take a piss. I watched in admiration. Not at his junk (duh!) but at his “hang loose” mannerism. I wanted to be like Grrr when I grew up.
After a long 3 hrs hike on uneven cereal ground, we stopped at an active lava field. We were stoked to death! It was a surreal experience to see lava spewing out of the ground, hardening as it oozed over the blackened landscape. Grrr ran around excitedly, taking pictures as if he were the customer and we were tour guides. As soon as the top layer hardened, Grrr would jump on it and encouraged us to do the same. This must have been his strategy for killing us: by suicide. But alas! We gave in and started running around like little children at Disneyland, only with potentially deadly consequences. We got intimately close to the lava and the heat from the magma singed the man fur on my legs. Imagine touching it…
Grrr showed us how to make shot glasses: 1. Poke the lava with the walking stick; 2. Swirl and grab as much as you can; 3. Work as quickly as you can to form the shot glass shape (you have less than 20 seconds before it’s hardened). Grrr was a pro and produced several shot glasses (one of which currently sits above our fireplace mantel today). All my shot glasses had holes in them.
We stayed there for quite some time. I had lost track of time at that point. It didn’t matter. No one else was there. There was no rush, no selfie sticks, no annoying children and tourists. We were in a volcanic desert and this was a fiery oasis where land formed. I felt supremely grateful.
Finally we decided to head back after the sun took a beating on us. In the light of day we could at last see the destruction of Mother Earth as remnants of the old community bared their souls. A bathtub surrounded by lava, rooftops jutting out from the ground, an old car charred to a lifeless frame, and so many more ordinary life reminders buried by this unforgiving force. Looking out to sea, Grrr noted the huge area that didn’t use to be there before. Nature made this land a few years back. I couldn’t comprehend his words until much later. How foolish we are to think we can control the savagery of the natural world. And how foolish we are to disturb its balance.
We hiked back to the car in relative silence. Grrr offered us lychee when we made it back to his truck. It was delicious. And though we said our good-byes, I don’t think I ever left.
To experience this incredible hike with Grrr, visit Big Island Outfitters and send Chris Arruda our regards. He probably won’t remember us, but I will always remember him and that beautiful journey we took together.