My friend Stacy invited me to join her and two friends on a long weekend to Puna, a Hawai‘i district that has a reputation for life on the wild side. I was reminded of that when we stopped for lunch in Pahoa, the only sizable town in the district. The restaurant parking lot was surrounded by chain-link fencing and the two businesses sharing the lot posted interesting warning signs. But I knew we would be in a gated community and safe, so I didn’t see a risk.
We were all delighted with the rental cottage: two bedrooms and a well- equipped kitchen, in which we took turns making gourmet meals. It’s always a risk cooking for others. Seems that everyone has some sort of food allergy or preference these days. Within this group, one won’t eat fish, another won’t eat chicken, and I won’t eat beef. One is on a paleo diet, and I try to eat gluten-free. None-the-less, we managed to eat a great deal of food in four days.
But the best part of the cottage was the huge lanai where we ate at the large table and played games (I’m now addicted to Rummikub), read and drank our morning coffee on the padded lounge chairs, and held deep conversations. One of us even chose to sleep out there. Surprisingly, there weren’t many mosquitoes.
Just steps from the lanai was the real draw for this rental: a large pond bound by lava walls. The ocean water filtered in, raising and lowering the level in the pool with the tide. We could feel springs feeding the pond too, warm from its journey through the thermally hot lava tubes. The pond temperature fluctuated a bit as the ocean water filtered in, but was always warm. It was long enough to swim laps, and about eight feet deep.
The pond is shared, but the other house was empty this weekend so we had it to ourselves. Unfortunately the water was within view of an elderly gentleman in a third house who often stood at an upstairs window. If not for him, we could have done more skinny-dipping. On the other hand, what was the risk? He probably would not have reported us. Poor Stacy couldn’t swim at all; she was recuperating from knee surgery.
The clear water always beckoned. (This was nothing like the sometimes-brackish waters of Ahalanui County Beach with its almost Olympic pool size pond. Unfortunately, it’s only 2-5 feet deep and overused. We visited that pond a couple times before moving here, but stopped when we saw bare babies in the pond: too high an ick factor.)
Morning was the best light to see the tilapia near the steps leading into the water. The owners had stocked them years ago to keep the pond clean. They gathered expectantly, darting about in large schools, waiting to be fed. We were allowed to fish, but only if we ate what we caught. No thank you – the fish were just fun to watch. The reflection of the palm trees at that time of day gave the impression of a painting.
I spent many hours just drifting around on a noodle, doing my best impersonation of a manatee. The hours passed by quickly as we talked about issues important to us. But eventually we had to get out and dry off. Then there was time to walk in the quiet neighborhood.
Most of the houses in this gated community had these natural ponds in their yard. The area had clearly been one of small cottages at one time. A few of the old cabins remained. But most of them had been replaced by larger homes, many with ornate gates, even though the whole community was gated. I guess they didn’t want to take any risks. But kids being kids, we saw unlocked bicycles piled up at points that lead to the ocean.
I couldn’t wait to tell my daughters about this cottage. But all I got back from them was a polite “no thank you” accompanying an article about someone being infected by flesh-eating bacteria in the Ahalanui County Beach Hot Pond.
I’ve done some research since. There’s a Hawaii State Department of Health advisory site that includes clean water reporting. You can insert any site in the islands into the search field to check current conditions. The Kapoho tide pool area has four monitoring stations that check for Clostridium perfringens and Enterococci. When I looked, this area was safe. (Whew!)
But I also began to think about calculated risks we all take. My daughters swim in the ocean, even though they could be bitten by a shark. My friend smokes, even though she could develop lung cancer. We drive, even though we could be in an accident.
I think I will go to this rental again, despite the risk. It was just too perfect not to indulge. I’ll be cautious and refrain if I have open cuts, or if the state’s website has posted a warning. That’s taking prudent responsibility for living life full out. But if these conditions are met, I’m going.
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