It was about 7am when we awoke. We had slept pretty soundly, but subconsciously I could’ve sworn it had rained hard last night.
Well, it turned out that I wasn’t dreaming because both Julie and I heard the rain continuing to fall hard outside.
As the skies started to brighten (which took awhile due to the presence of still dark clouds), we could get a partial view of the swollen Kulaniapia Falls from our window.
Since we were only spending one night at the Inn, we quickly got packed and ready to go before going downstairs for breakfast.
I went ahead and went downstairs to the sheltered patio area to try to get some photographs of Kulaniapia Falls. There was still insufficient light to be able to photograph without a tripod so I used the patio railing to steady the camera while fighting condensation from the surprisingly cold weather.
When I was finished taking photographs, I turned around and noticed someone inside the kitchen. When he immediately saw that I noticed him, he quickly walked into the open living room area where he introduced himself.
His name was Lenny, and I knew right away that he was the owner. He was a tall, peaceful, Caucasian guy with a taste for Asian culture, which I could tell from the pagoda-like architecture of the house and other cabins as well as the Chinese furnishings both inside our room and even inside the living room area.
I asked Lenny about this rain, which he proceeded to tell me that this rain wasn’t normal – even by Hilo standards (they’re no strangers to rain). In fact, he said in all the years at the Kulaniapia Falls (15), he had never seen the falls as swollen as it was. The storm was also state-wide, and that there had been other storms since December.
When I told him that we had planned to go to Waipi’o Valley today, he shook his head and said that the gulches north of Hilo were flooded and probably forced the closure of the Hawaii-Belt Road, which we had to take.
When I asked him how much visitation he gets, he indicated to me that they actually get pretty busy. He even told me that people had filmed an Indiana Jones movie on his property. That got me in the mindset to look for Kulaniapia Falls the next time I see a rerun of one of those movies.
Finally, Lenny insisted that I treat myself to some tea as he retreated back to the kitchen.
As I prepared myself some mango tea, a lovely young lady joined me in the living room. She introduced herself as Raquel and said that she worked there. When she learned that I came from Los Angeles, she mentioned that she used to live in San Diego. We engaged in some small talk about leaving life in the big city to the relative quiet of the Hilo suburbs.
Then another woman came out to greet me, and her name was Bobby. She must’ve been the co-owner since she was doing the cooking of the breakfast and that she used possessive adjectives to describe the Inn as well as the rest of the land.
Eventually, Raquel saw the gushing falls and decided to take a photo of herself by the patio railing since she had never seen the falls like this before as well.
“Do you want me to take your picture?” Bobby asked.
“Nah, I’m good at this,” Raquel insisted.
And there she was pointing the tiny point-and-shoot camera at herself posing before the raging waterfall by the patio railing. Bobby and I chuckled at this as it was apparent Raquel wasn’t kidding about her photographic prowess.
By this time, Julie came down to take some photos of her own. Then slowly but surely, more people started showing up for breakfast.
Indeed, it really was nearly a full house here!
The breakfast consisted of tropical fruits like pineapple and guava. There were also cherries and bananas. Bobby also cooked cheese omelettes and waffles. Toast was also available.
Julie and I sat at a dining table and were joined by a guy from Denver and a couple from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
The guy from Denver mentioned that the falls were actually pretty nice yesterday before the rains started to come down. I guess we missed our chance to see the falls in its normal state on this trip.
Hindsight’s always 20/20, yeah?
We engaged in a longer conversation with the Canadian couple talking about the rain and how life was like in the Vancouver area. I’m sure they were no strangers to cold, rainy weather. Besides, I actually contemplated moving to Canada so I was particularly interested in what they had to say.
When breakfast ended, the rain really came down hard again.
I was determined to walk closer to the bottom of Kulaniapia Falls despite the crazy conditions. So I donned a rain poncho and proceeded to walk down the soggy grass route.
While walking down the trail, I had recalled that Bobby had told me it was Lenny who used his manual labor to create the trail that I was on. It was quite impressive considering the whole area was once impenetrable jungle making it hard to get to (let alone see) the waterfall.
As I got further down the trail, it sloped relatively gently amongst a stream of water rushing down it from all the excess runoff. The trail eventually switched back once away from the base of the falls so I could get a more direct view. However, the mist and the heavy rain made it difficult to take a clean photo without water on the lens.
Julie eventually joined me as I was on my way back up. She decided against proceeding all the way to the base. So we took a few more hasty photos from a concrete platform bridging over a tiny stream overflowing with excess runoff before returning to the relative dryness of the Inn.
By now it was 10am, and we proceeded to check out and pay Lenny the remaining balance. Afterwards, we loaded up the car trying to keep the car under the canopy without blocking traffic while rushing on foot between our room and the car in the drenching rain.
Julie had received a message on her cell phone about the Waipi’o Tour being cancelled due to the bad weather.
As we drove towards Waianuenue Ave, we passed over a bridge that people were stopping their cars for in order to take photographs of the raging Wailuku River. I figured we could come back later to watch this spectacle as I didn’t feel like blocking traffic and joining the mob.
We continued to go towards Rainbow Falls arriving at 10:30am. Despite the drenching rain, Rainbow Falls was quite busy. Armed with our rain ponchos, we braved the rain and watched the muddy swollen Rainbow Falls going crazy and providing a show for the hordes of onlookers. Even locals were entertained as they came out to take photographs of a sight I’m sure they rarely see.
We proceeded to walk up the stairs towards the top of the falls, where we took more photos of the crazy waterfall from a different spot away from the crowds. The banyan trees nearby provided a little bit of shelter from the pelting rains.
After having our fill of Rainbow Falls, we returned to the car and proceeded further up Waianuenue Avenue towards the Boiling Pots. Once at that parking lot at 11:15am, there were already a handful of cars and people at the overlook.
“Whoa!” we both said in unison.
Pe’epe’e Falls now went from two narrow plumes to a giant wall of water in the distance. The Boiling Pots were barely distinguishable from rapids except for the noticeable drop of what appeared to be a turbulently cascading waterfall.
The trail I had walked last year to try to get closer to Pe’epe’e Falls now disappeared into the river. No one was nuts enough to get close to the river on this day!
After taking the obligatory photos here, we returned to the car and then proceeded to go further up Waianuenue Ave to see Wai’ale Falls.
Sure enough, this two-tiered falls went crazy and became a turbulent chocolate-colored mess like the rest of the falls.
Heaps of locals checked out the falls. Some of them even engaged in some conversation with us breaking the ice by commenting how crazy the falls were going.
“See that?” said one kama’aina, “That used to be an island up there!”
He pointed to the trees engulfed in the middle of the river between the two tiers of the falls.
I nodded knowingly since both Julie and I were here last March.
I was struck by how close the water was to Hwy 19 when I looked downstream. Indeed, it seemed as if the water nearly lapped the underside of the bridge.
With all the street and flash flooding, now I could easily envision why gulches would be unsafe to pass if they were rushing over Hwy 19.
Civil Defense gave regular radio announcements urging people to stay indoors and not drive if you don’t have to. The mayor of the Big Island also declared a state of emergency. Closures were definitely in effect north of Hilo due to both flooding and landslides. Some roads within Hilo Town were also flooded and that created a bit of traffic.
To the south, the belt road leading to Puna and Volcano was also closed. That meant the Saddle Road was the only way in and out of Hilo.
With the rest of the afternoon ahead of us and our waterfalling aspirations dashed, Julie suggested we go to the University of Hawai’i at Hilo to check out their Astronomy exhibits.
I welcomed the idea considering that I’m a big fan of astronomy (especially all the science behind astrophysics and cosmology). Besides, I figured astronomy in Hilo is better than battling a snow storm atop Mauna Kea or getting soaked doing what limited outdoor excursions were left. And so UH Hilo was where we went.
When we got there at 12:30pm, it was apparent that other people had similar thoughts because it was quite busy. Julie wanted to see the 3-D Planetarium show about the Dawn of the Space Age, but the 1pm showing was sold out. So we had to settle for the 3pm showing.
In the mean time, we had ourselves a quick lunch and then self-guided ourselves through the Astronomy exhibits.
The planetarium show basically showcased the progression of the Space Race between the US with the Soviet Union, and how it eventually led to the collaborative effort of the International Space Station. I was hoping for something more about astrophysics and cosmology, but Julie was impressed with the 3-D show and some of the little-known historical aspects of the race.
By 4pm, we went to check in at the Castle Hilo on Banyan Drive. The rain was still coming down hard and Kamehameha Ave was closed due to severe flooding. So we took a more roundabout way to get to Banyan Drive. Then, I wasted no time dropping off Julie and the bags under the shelter of the front of the hotel lobby before I parked the car and ran through the rain to join her.
After a brief rest, we headed back into town to eat at Cafe Hilo. I worried that the place might be closed due to the state of emergency conditions in town, but when we got there, it was busy.
We ended up sitting at the bar and got to order moi and ahi tuna dishes anyways.
Eventually, we engaged in a conversation with a guy who happened to be sitting near us at the bar. He introduced himself to us and upon learning that we were from Los Angeles, he told us that he was a former Californian who ended up moving to Hilo. When the topic turned to the rain, that got him going about Climate Change.
“…and there are still idiots out there who think Global Warming isn’t happening!”
I nodded my head knowingly.
He happened to know a thing or two about emissions control, and he claimed that catalytic converters actually put out more Carbon Dioxide in lieu of the visible smoke coming out of the exhaust.
I had never heard that before, but it wouldn’t have surprised us if it did turn out to be true. We’ve learned at this point that oil-affiliated people would do anything to maintain their energy monopoly.
The conversation proceeded to turn even more political, and with the upcoming Super Tuesday elections, all sorts of crap that came out of the Bush Administration came to the forefront of the conversation.
Then, when the topic turned to Clinton, Obama, and McCain, he best summed up the latest choice of politicians with this classic saying…
“We don’t have leaders anymore. We just have pimps!”
When Julie and I thought about it, what with all the campaign finance and money for favors in politics, we couldn’t agree more.
Anyways, the dinner was over and the rain continued to fall as night time was upon us.
We returned to the Castle Hilo for a shower and then some TV. That was when we saw on the local news that today’s situation was the main news of the day.
Of course with only the Saddle Road preventing Hilo from being completely isolated from the rest of the island, I was concerned about how that route would hold up with this persistent downpour.
Being stranded in Hilo tomorrow was a worry since we’re supposed to be flying out of Kona Airport at 2pm on Super Bowl Sunday!
So with plenty of worries and sentiments of a trip lost to excess rain, Julie and I slept. Even though we came for waterfalls, we were actually looking forward to get out of town to the sunnier Kona side…