No rush, no rush

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
– Lao Tzu

It’s the strangest thing: all the time in Saint John, and most of the time just about anywhere else, keeping within the speed limit is an act of will. Not having to worry about speeding on the highway makes cruise control the one optional (assuming it IS optional anymore) feature that I cannot do without. I don’t think of myself as having a “heavy foot” but 50 kms at all times seems just about impossible to maintain.

Now consider Hawai’I or, more specifically, the main byway that runs from Keauhou Bay down to the Kona pier. It’s quite long – probably close to 8 kilometres end-to-end. The posted limit is never any higher than 30 mph and falls as far as 15 mph depending on where you are. And repeatedly, I find myself having to speed up.

It seems a kind of spell falls over you, a spell that so relaxes the muscles in your feet that, without noticing, your foot stops putting pressure on the gas pedal and you begin to coast ever slower. A quick glance down at your speedometer hovering around 20-25 reminds you to pick it up a bit. Call it habit but it is hard for me to imagine that the cars behind me aren’t wondering what’s wrong with the guy in front.

That being said, I suspect that’s more about a habit of mind than reality. I think colder climates can encourage speed. We need to get there faster to get out of the cold; if we walk faster, it will heat us up a bit; the more frantic the movement in general, the more we’ll begin to generate heat. It’s been noted before that northern climates tend to encourage greater productivity, something, if truth be told, that probably results from dealing with the need to work to stay warm during a good portion of the year.

Some years ago now, when I was in Ghana with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, a colleague and I observed one day when we were out tearing through the neighbourhood where we were staying (and sweating like crazy as a result) that we were outpacing literally everyone else walking on the road. It hadn’t occurred to us to notice that the Ghanaians around us uniformly took their time, sauntering along without a care in the world, or so it seemed to we hyperactive Canadians.

That’s when we realized that there was method in this particular madness. Ghanaians moved slowly because it was so damned HOT. One way to avoid drowning in perspiration was to walk a little more slowly. Truly, this was a revelation for us and from that moment, as difficult as it was, we slowed down and ultimately rejoiced in the benefits.

Now Hawai’I isn’t Ghana. It certainly isn’t as humid although at times the actual temperature might be comparable. But it does seem to have something of that same slow pace that we noted in Ghana, although perhaps for its own reasons.

Needless to say, I think, tourists are far more prevalent on the Big Island of Hawai’i than they are in Accra, Ghana’s capital. And there is no denying that the same consumer drive is evident in Hawai’i as anywhere else in North America: Costco is just up the road, the big malls are bustling and commerce is evident in everything from restaurants, to souvenir shops, to all the opportunities for “adventure” advertised in every publication and on a great many street corners.

Still, for all that, the urgency that feels so much a part of everyday life in my “real world” seems lessened here. I’ve been here for over a week now and been on the road every day, and I have yet to hear even a single horn honk. As I’ve meandered slower than the speed limit – unintentionally every time – I haven’t had a single impatient tailgater, finger-flipper or even an exasperated and impatient look from anywhere. Instead, people routinely slow down to allow others into traffic (commonly more than just one vehicle) and wait patiently while the guy up ahead slows down even more to see something or other.

When natural beauty is an easily recognized constant, maybe relaxing doesn’t require work. We in the frozen north know a blizzard has an undeniable allure but its beauty is easy to forget when you are shoveling snow and dealing with the many consequences of “after the storm”.

So yes, Hawai’i has signs indicating tsunami evacuation areas, and earthquakes happen here but somehow both seem very far away. “Paradise” can seem overused when describing tropical climes but I can’t think of a better characterization for the west coast of the Big Island. The climate, the pace, the people (universally friendly, it seems) all fit what I imagine such a place should be. It’s my last day here amidst the undeniable beauty of this place. I’ll take the ease of the moment – for the moment – because the blizzard’s terrible beauty and its aftermath is waiting for me. No need to hurry.



1300 feet is a long way down . . . and up!

DSCF1177Kealakekua Bay

My first full day on the Big Island of Hawai’i and I had a plan. I was going to get up early so I could hit the road and make my way down the highway some 90-100 miles to the volcanoes. My thinking was “I’ve been there before but it was some time ago and a visit was on my to-do list so I might as well get it over with”. As so often happens with travel – if you’re open to possibilities – my plans changed.

After I was on the highway for 5 minutes or so I saw a sign for a Sunday farmer’s market. It opened at 9 and it was just after 8 so, if I wanted to go, I would have to forego the volcanoes unless I wanted to arrive at Volcanoes National Park much later than I had hoped. Now, a ¼ mile or so before the market, I saw a sign for Kealakekua Bay some four miles down a road to the right so I decided that would be a good way to kill some time before the market opened. It turned out to be a fateful choice.

Narrow and twisting the whole way, the road took me down the side of the mountain (everything seems mountainous around here) to a beautiful bay where the surf was breaking against a beach composed entirely of lava boulders. That didn’t stop some intrepid snorkelers who had found their way out into the water. I envied them but I wasn’t comfortable snorkeling alone in a place with such obviously turbulent waters. It got me thinking though.

So I checked my Lonely Planet guide and, sure enough, it identified the northern end of Kealakekua Bay as a primo snorkeling spot, although it wasn’t exactly easy to access. The choices were being transported there by one of the tour companies or hiking for an hour down the Captain Cook Monument walking trail, a path that drops some 1300 feet from the trailhead to the bay. I was quite pleased actually: I could kill two birds with one hike – get my exercise in and have my first chance to snorkel.

Having come up with a plan, I retraced my route in time to be there when the market opened. I’m glad I went. A great selection of local crafts complemented some produce and a food vendor or two. It was small but worth the time.

From there it was back to the hotel to change and pick up my snorkel gear, all of which put me back at the trailhead at around 10. I parked on the shoulder and headed out.

Just for the record, I am not a hiker, if being one means that everywhere you go you seek out opportunities for hiking. I like a hike every once in a while but I don’t live and breathe it. This, as it turns out, would have to qualify as the toughest hike I’ve ever taken.


The trail begins as a path through rather long grasses. Immediately apparent is the fact that this is a descent. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that no straight and level portions were about to appear. This was going DOWN. 1300 feet, it turns out, is a long drop and the path made that evident. Adding to the adventure was a varied and sometimes treacherous trailbed of loose lava, large boulders, and lava faces with both smooth and jagged surfaces. In some ways, the trip down was harder than the trip back, at least as far as footing went.


Water and the coastline appear after you’ve traveled about halfway. On either side of the trail itself are vast fields of lava. I can’t help calling it a scene of devastation. It’s what I might imagine some alien landscape would look like. Far below is the water and cliffs but, by now, I’m halfway there.


When I finally arrive at my destination, it does not disappoint. The monument to Captain Cook is there, placed by the government of Australia, and the waters are, indeed, calm enough for some good snorkeling. It’s my first time using my underwater camera so that is an extra thrill, but the fish and the coral are the attractions.



Eventually, the time comes to steel myself for the journey back to the top. As it turns out, it is as gruelling as I had feared it might be but I have plenty of water and I stop many times along the way. That may very well be the longest climb I have ever made without any level places to provide relief. It was all downhill on the way and it was very much all uphill going back.