The next morning we wake to yet another deluge on the roof of the house where we are staying. It is louder, even, than the frogs.

The frogs. Oh the frogs. I wish I could see one. I imagine it is tiny with an outsized voice.

After breakfast we are on our way toward Kona. We leave behind the rainforests and markets of Pahoa and Hilo, heading first northwest, eventually going west. Next stop is the Waipio Valley.

IMG_0972Even if you don’t know it, you have seen the Waipio Valley. It is wet and green and prehistoric in its sensibilities. I think they filmed much of Jurassic Park here, and it certainly doesn’t surprise me. (editor’s note: this is factually incorrect. oops!)


As we drive down the road into the valley, the sign warns us 4×4’s only – no AWD. I look at the Hyundai two cars ahead of us and think “hmm … I have a feeling about this”

When I say we went down into the valley, I really mean “down.” Not in a vaguely casual-descent sort of way. Rather an aggressive amusement-park sort of way. The road is almost vertical. But we made it to the floor of the valley, eventually leaving the overmatched and hapless Hyundai in our wake. Winding and turning around the valley, the road was, after some time, crossed by a river.

IMG_0975And we forded it without trepidation. D had driven this road before.IMG_0966

And we came to another river, this time seemingly deeper and wider. The sign said it was the end of the county road. This time we paused and turned back. But we were quickly overtaken by a Jeep that must have come across the road, so we turned around and went for it. Successfully. Scarcely a hundred yards beyond there was another river. This time there was no obvious matching road. D was at a loss. I facetiously suggested that he drive upstream. Instead we turned around.

IMG_0979Once again we would turn around, because we found a tourist van headed the opposite direction so this time we followed him … and it turns out I was correct! We drove briefly upriver to the next road. After one more of these we gave up. Our final destination had been a pair of waterfalls that we decided we would never reach, so we turned around for the last time and …. saw a remarkable view of them that we had overlooked repeatedly (yes only one was flowing at the time).

IMG_0981After that we left the valley, on a near vertical climb, fully expecting to roll over backwards. But that never happened. We made it out and continued on our quest to Kona.

In Kona we checked into a very nice functional chain hotel with a nice view of the ocean. We were here with a specific goal in mind. We had reservations to go swim with the manta rays. Manta rays are large rays that don’t have a stinger and are pretty much harmless (except for plankton).

IMG_0658So we embarked on a 3-hour tour from this tropic shore aboard a tiny ship. As the sun set we arrived at  a location not far from land and in the dark of night we climbed into the water. There were 6 of us on the tour, and the group of us held onto a floating board and stared beneath through our masks, all of us breathing through snorkels and looking for rays while around us the water boiled with other tourists on the same mission.

The water was clear. Very clear. Outstandingly clear, in fact. I had earlier asked how deep it was and was informed “50 feet.” I was dubious – it didn’t look that deep. I was thinking 12 -20 or so. I might even be able to reach the bottom. Then some scuba divers passed below us. They were little scuba divers. Really little. My estimate may have been off.

After 75 minutes or so, there was no sign of rays so other boats were dispersing. We lingered yet a bit longer. Then something magical happened. Word of some mantas rose from the only other remaining group, and we quickly swam our board toward them. And the magical winged sea creatures came to play with us. There were two of them: One was large and aloof, but the other was young and downright jovial.

His toothless maw wide open (feeding on plankton) he swam up to us with his 8 foot span doing graceful backward summersaults just inches from me. Over and over he swam with us. We wanted to touch him, but had been instructed not to do so (it probably leaves bad bacteria) so instead we just watched silently, reminding ourselves periodically to breathe.  They are majestic creatures and I was truly awed by the encounter.

Eventually the ray departed and so did we. The boat took us back to port and we had a light dinner, at long last returning to the hotel for our final night.


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