We inched closer.
Because there was nothing stopping us beyond our better judgment. There were no guards, no rails, no signs for directions for viewing the active lava flow. This was the wild. What we did was up to our discretion, our safety.
My heart leapt with excitement. The hot lava oozed all around us, destroying and creating at the same time. The island of Hawai’i has lost many lives and homes to the four volcanoes that make up this beautiful island. The story of the volcanoes is an ongoing thread through their history. The volcanoes make the island. The volcanoes destroy the island. The people who live here revere it. And understandably so. Before I witnessed the flow, I would hear people talk of the volcanoes with respect. After viewing the active flow, I see why. You have to respect something this powerful in nature. It’s God’s creation, still at work. It’s His creation, still creating. It’s humbling and awe-inspiring.
When we had planned our trip to the Big Island of Hawai’i, we hadn’t planned on visiting Kalapana, the sight of the active lave flow, but a chance encounter with a French Canadian hiker on Mauna Kea sent us on the adventure. From Kalapana, we rented bikes from one of the many vendors and we rode three miles along the coast to get as close to the active flow as we could. It was a bumpy ride, past tiny homes and shacks built on the existing lava fields. On one side of their home, the Pacific ocean looms; on the other side, there’s an active volcano. It’s a desolate place to build one’s home, and I wondered who decided to set up camp here. Artists trying to escape the world? Scientists? Daredevils? It’s a life sandwiched between water and fire.
At the road block, we parked our bikes and turned away from the ocean, it was an estimated 1.5 mile hike to where the lava was flowing. We strapped our daughter onto my husband’s back, and we took off toward the volcano. The cooled black lava, cracked and bristled beneath our feet. It reminded my husband and I of the ribbon candy you see at Christmas time, but a much more sinister version. The color of licorice, but the consistency of rock in some places, and ash in the other, it was unlike anything I had ever encountered before. Some places were firmer than others. My husband yelled back to watch where I stepped for fear of slipping through the many layers of the ash. Some places chipped with the slightest pressure. It was both an exhilarating but exhausting hike. You could only move so fast over the vast lava field. The trek was uneven over ribbons and ribbons of cooled lava flow. Cracks in the earth would suddenly be in front of us, mounds of lava built up on either side. We carefully picked our path closer to where the flow was coming from. It was desolate but beautiful at the same time. The closer we got, the hotter the air grew.
And the ground.
The ground itself felt like it was on fire. My feet grew warm inside of my shoes slowly like a frog in boiling water.
Steam rose up through vents in the ground, and we knew we were getting closer.
The smell of sulfur told us that we had arrived. The black field was now broken up by silver streams of fresher lava flow not yet cooled and speckled with blazing lava in the cracks.
We couldn’t believe what we saw. Despite being told what we would see, it’s a different feeling seeing it in person, experiencing the heat and the steam a mere few feet away from you. All around us, the air crackled like a fireplace. And suddenly, it started to rain. The hot ground sizzled as the raindrops met it.
Fire and water meeting yet again.
We inched closer to see the ground ooze forth with the red and orange flames, and suddenly another explorer yelped. The ground beneath us cracked. I looked down and realized that lava flowed under the crack beneath my feet. I jumped back farther away, realizing that my exhilaration for this moment couldn’t completely override my sense for safety. I wasn’t Frodo trying to destroy the ring of power at Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings. I was simply a witness to this power.
Standing there staring at the lava, with all of my senses alight, I soaked everything in as best as I could. These were the moments, we travelled for.