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How I Found My Dosha in the Big Island of Hawaii

July 26, 2011

Rock fall area on Mamalahoa Highway, Hawaii Belt Road

On Day 8 we left our hotel on Kohala Coast in the morning for an eighty-mile drive to Hilo, heading north, then east, then south on Highway 19 to the other side of the Big Island. The highway had a single lane snaking each way, and it looked as though the paving was fresh. I wished the roads in Chicago were smooth and did not have potholes. I felt suspicion, a bit of deception perhaps. Cars zoomed by us and road signs warned of falling rocks and hidden driveways. No stopping and no passing were allowed, only snapshots of perfection and wonder. My mind was composing a conspiracy theory about Obama’s infrastructure budget, but I quickly snapped out of it: It was a tiny freakin’ island; it had one highway with one lane; there clearly was no budget conspiracy. I noticed an infinite horizon form where the blue sky met the bluer sea, and spotted red origami-like blossoms resting on a branch. And we saw a runner. He was making his way from nowhere to nowhere else, carrying nothing but a bottle strapped to his hand. “Whoa,” I was thinking. “Training for the Ironman,” I said. My head turned to follow him and the car slowed down to show respect.

Fruit preserves at Mr. Ed’s Bakery on Highway 19, Big Island

We passed by Mr. Ed’s Bakery in a strip of stores on the highway at Mile 63, a minute before the right turn to Akaka Falls. On Day 4 we stopped there for ice cream. We sat in white plastic chairs out on the sidewalk and I ate a scoop of coconut in a cup. The ice cream was a precursor of what waited inside the store: The magnificent wall of jam. Hundreds of little jars of marmalades and spicy chutneys stood there on narrow shelves behind ironic paper labels: ‘Jackfruit Preserves’, ‘Sugar-Free Passion’. There were samples inside the short refrigerator in the center of the room. I tasted a purple sweet potato jam. It was creamy and thick and it had a divine purple color, but it was too sweet and I could not envision a scenario where I would want to eat it again. Mr. Ed’s Guy smiled, “Everyone wants to taste it but nobody wants to buy it.” It was a glorious marketing scheme. I sampled away and landed on a jar of poha mango chutney. It reminded me of Israeli street food; it resembled ‘amba’, a pickled mango spread in Israeli lamb kebob sandwiches, only with a milder heat and a coarser texture. The poha berry was also delicious in the fruit preserves: Orange and juicy, a bit tangy, with yellow seeds that gave it a poppy texture. I selected four jars and Mr. Ed’s Guy wrapped them in layers of paper bags and plastic, made them cozy for their flight to the mainland.

Jack Thompson’s house near Hawaii Volcanos National Park

At Hilo International Airport, we boarded a Eurocopter EC130 for a trip to Kilauea volcano. Our young declared Day 8 the awesomest; it was the bestest combination of a helicopter ride, a smoking volcano, and orange flaming lava. Pilot Tim said we got lucky. He said there usually was smoke on the mountain, or lava, but not both. With the volcano out of the way, we flew over the black sand beaches toward the village of Kalapana that sits at the bottom of the volcano mountain. Lava destroyed the town in 1990 and now a black layer coated the hillside with what looked like chocolate fudge. Most of the residents returned and rebuilt their homes. The most fascinating was Jack Thompson’s house in the path of the active volcano. He had solar panels and storage tanks for rainwater. There was no electrical or phone service in his house, and to get home, Thompson rode a motorcycle.

Aboard Blue Hawaiian’s Eco-Star at Hilo International Airport Terminal

The other parts of the helicopter ride were redundant. We saw waterfalls that from a bird’s-eye view looked like drain holes on the side of a sidewalk, and we saw a matrix of macadamia trees that looked like a bunch of trees. There were no chocolate covered macadamia nuts aboard the aircraft, and no lattes.

A Whoa sign at Parker Ranch Shopping Center in Waimea, Big Island

The day before, I had iced coffee at KiMOBEAN in Mauna Lani. The barista called it a ‘Coffee Freeze’. She put ice in a blender and poured in milk and vanilla, then she ground coffee beans into the metal basket, just the amount I needed. She tamped them, made sure they were smooth and even; she said they were from Greenwell Farms. She screwed the filter in place, pressed a button and kept an eye on the operation as if it were her kids performing on a stage. We all waited, the barista and I, the ice, the milk and the blender, until the hot shots of espresso came out. There were a few containers of ice cream behind a glass panel and a waffle maker on the counter by the window. I looked at the walls. I found waffles in the big menu and a flattened burlap coffee bag by the door with the Greenwell Farms logo. “It’s forty miles south of here,” she said. “They give tours.”

Chili Loco Moco: Rice, Angus patty, spicy homemade chili, cheddar, onions and eggs at Ken’s House of Pancakes in Hilo, Big Island

Back in Hilo, I searched TripAdvisor for lunch after we landed. The Number 1 restaurant in town was Hilo Bay Café, which shared a parking lot with the local Walmart. The place seamed neat inside. It had wine bottles on the wall, the colors were warm, the tables looked smart. The only problem was that the restaurant was closed. We were stuck in the twilight hours between lunch and dinner. I phoned the next two restaurants on TripAdvisor, except for the one with reported cases of food poisoning. Ken’s House Of Pancakes was open. It was perfect. At a long table near the entrance sat a group of Japanese American women, about ten, who ate noodles and rice dishes out of deep bowls. I wanted to have everything they were having. The menu had an insert with local favorites. I ordered a Chili Loco Moco: Steamed rice on the bottom of a bowl, layered with an Angus beef burger, chili, onions, cheddar cheese, two fried eggs, and a splash of hot sauce. It was beautiful and delicious and it was impossible to be hungry after eating that.

Tsunami evacuation area on Mauna Lani Drive, Kohala Coast, Big Island

I overslept on Day 6. I started my morning run in 80 degrees and 60% humidity. There was an open road that stretched two miles between the hotel and the highway but it seemed longer than two miles and time seemed to slow down. I was running under a salamander, my eyelids dripped sweat and I felt heavier and powerless. Fumes came out of the asphalt and my sunscreen covered me like a metal shield. I thought about the theory of relativity, and how oversleeping in Hawaii could mathematically relate to space-time and mass and energy. The setting was surreal: The earth and the sky in black and white. The black soil on both sides of the road looked like chocolate crumbs of a giant devil’s food cake that were dumped from a flying food processor. On my left, a shiny ocean lay face up and glistened like a piece of a broken mirror. The fluffy sky looked down on me and laughed at my suffering. I had a memory of seven palm trees lined up at the top of the hill where the road met the highway. The trees marked the halfway point of my run, where I would stand in the shade for a minute and drink half of my water. But I could not see the trees. I had to ration my supply of water. I devised a 3rd grade math problem: If a runner drank 3 sips of water at each stop, how many stops could she make before she ran out of water? I made up new milestones: Run to the curve; run to the orange spray paint mark on the road; run to the end of the song.

A VW Truck near Kona

After my run I made a bad decision: I went to the spa to get a Shirodhara massage. Calling it a massage was false advertising. It started with a questionnaire which was the only fun part. I marked Xs in the boxes to rate the curls in my hair and the strength of my teeth, my dreams, my focus, and the consistency of my poop. The therapist tallied my answers and calculated my dosha. It turned out I was a Pitta; I was dominated by fire and water, with mild influences of air and earth. Then she microwaved rose oil and poured it over my third eye. She talked me into having the session in the dark, with no music. “That’s how the ancient Indians used to do it,” she said. I regretted the silence as soon as she started wasting her time moving the silly bags of rice between my hands and my feet. I was blissful when it all ended. Eager to get the stupid oil out of my hair, I did not notice at first that there was no soap in the shower and only a small towel. Later I realized it was the wrong shower. I also miscalculated the tip and charged the experience to the wrong room number. I would be surprised if the ancients got it right every time.

A double rainbow at Mauna Lani Drive, Kohala Coast, Big Island

In the afternoon we headed south to Kona to visit Greenwell Farms when we saw a double rainbow. It was real. Drivers searched for a camera with one hand and steered with the other while their eyes locked on the sky, as if the rainbows would disappear if they looked away. Then, like in a well executed flash mob, the cars stopped in the shoulder and everybody stepped outside. People stood still and stared at the horizon with their arms folded on their chests. What we saw was magnificent. If it were not a double rainbow what we saw, then it must have been two alien transporters beaming up earthlings into a cloud.

Coral graffiti on Queen Kaahumanu Highway, Big Island

The drive to Kona was filled with love notes on the sides of the road. Little white corals spelled out messages on the the black lava crumble: ‘Nina Loves Chito’, ‘Ashley and Josh Forever’. At Greenwell Farms, we entered through the gift shop and then Jackie gave us a tour of the property. The Greenwells started growing coffee cherries in the 1800s. They trimmed the trees to the height of a person so that they could pick the fruit by hand, without ladders. Jackie said it tasted like pomegranate. Greenwell followed an old Japanese method of drying rice on raised beds to separate the bean from the outer layers of the cherry. We also met Alex. He is the coffee grader. Alex corrects the discrepancies after the beans come out of the sorting machine; he manually picks the sour beans or the beans that are the wrong size. They roast the coffee beans according to their grade. Greenwell calls the largest beans ‘Extra Fancy’ and labels them with big words: ‘Estate’, and ‘Private Reserve’. The knowledge I gained made the fancy roast taste better when we had a second tasting at the end of the tour, although all drip coffee tastes yucky. Real coffee is espresso and I was curious why Greenwell did not know that.

A KonaRed coffee cherry juice from Kona, Big Island

I walked away from the useless carafes and discovered a mini fridge in the corner with rows of little red bottles behind a glass door. It was a shot drink called ‘KonaRed’ which is made from coffee cherries and has aggressive amounts of antioxidants and superpowers. We each had a single shot. The next morning I regretted not buying a whole case to take home, or the entire KonaRed factory, when the magic potion cured my husband’s cold. The drink had a concentrated sweet flavor, it tasted like a condensed berry blend and had tones of coffee flavor in the background.

The Daniel Thiebaut restaurant in Waimea, Big Island

On the way back north, we made a detour into Waimea for dinner at Daniel Thiebaut‘s. I liked that the house did not look like a restaurant. Its design inconsistencies made it friendly and welcoming. Inside I spotted French-Country chairs and lamps and beautiful wooden ceiling fans. The awning windows and wall paneling seemed like someone’s do-it-yourself weekend project. The menu had no predominant theme, every dish was a surprise. We ordered a vegetarian dish that had layers and patches of colors and ingredients, too many to count or remember. The center of the plate displayed an overwhelming tower of sautéed eggplant, cheese, herbs, and sauces. Surrounding it was an entourage of root vegetable purées, and more herbs and sauces of every species of herb that lived on the island. The veggie purées were smooth and bright and flavorful; they could have made an excellent dish on their own. My main course was disappointing. I had a grilled fillet of fresh Ono, black rice risotto, and green beans that were giant. The fish was dry, the beans were under-cooked, the rice was bland. The dessert I ordered was delicious and shockingly minimalistic: Freshly picked strawberries swam in a bath of crème anglaise and Grand Marnier. The strawberries came from the Rincon Family Farm. They were divine; they were small and ripe and velvety, and it seemed as though they had traveled in time from a period when strawberries tasted like strawberries.

The herb rack at Merriman’s in Waimea, Big Island

Driving through Waimea was romantic. The west had goats and cows in brown, black, and white roaming in open fields. The east had horse ranches, white picket fences and eucalyptus trees. Waimea seemed like a model of organic farming and local economy. An epic dinner at Merriman‘s on Day 3 made the experience complete. The founder of the restaurant, Chef Peter Merriman, prides himself on sourcing local ingredients and having personal relationships with the farmers. We started with thick slices of Lokelani tomatoes, redder than red and sweeter than juice, with anchovies and capers on top. Then came fresh corn risotto that padded the plate for three large scallops, sautéed to perfection, and a swordfish dish. The herbs in the broth and the crust of the fish came from a three-tier rack that was rolled in from the patio and now stood in the hallway between the kitchen and the dining room. I should have stopped at espresso because the dessert did not play well with the other plates. The meal was a celebration of crisp, lean freshness until I ordered the coconut crème brûlée. It was the oversized fat custard that crashed the party. My mom would have said, “What a waste. It could feed a hungry village.”

Chocolate Beet Cake: Island chocolate organic beet cake, Hilo corn ice cream, and Jack and Coke sauce at Manta at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Kohala Coast, Big Island

The most exquisite dinner dishes, coupled with the most despicable service, were on Day 5 at Manta at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. We sat outside on the terrace. Mini oil lamps beautified the tables, iron torches lit the path to the beach. The night was made for a linen dress, flat sandals, and wavy hair tied in a messy bun. Silver bangles were singing duet with the ocean. Paradoxically, our waiter was angry. He kept rushing the meal fast forward as if it were a speed eating contest. The wine list was confusing. Manta priced their wine by the ounce. I had to pause the romance and devise a solid plan for the number of ounces I would acquire with dinner. I ordered a glass of Ken Wright Pinot Noir from Oregon. It was extremely appropriate; it had a tangy sweetness and a cherry fragrance. But when I was not looking, my ounces of wine had vanished from the table, which made the experience more annoying than necessary. The food was sophisticated. We had ravioli stuffed with Keahole lobster and goat cheese, edamame, corn, and smoked bacon. And a shaved fennel salad with crisp prosciutto, Asian pear, grapefruit segments, avocado, and hearts of peach palm from Hilo. My main entrée was less memorable, but the dessert was superb: A chocolate beet cake that was dark, deep and juicy as the name implies.

A coconut weaving class at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, Kohala Coast, Big Island

Every night at 6 PM, a native Hawaiian in a bikini bottom and body paint was running barefoot around the village carrying a flaming torch and blowing a horn. He reminded me of David Kawena, the surfer boyfriend from Lilo and Stitch. The barefoot runner came from the cultural center at Mauna Lani which was filled with treasures and other barefoot people. Mala was teaching how to weave coconut leaves into a ohana bowl. “Ohana means family,” I remembered Lilo said that on the show. I signed up with my kids one afternoon and we each tried to make a bowl. Mala walked around and corrected our weaving. “Don’t squeeze too hard,” she said to a boy. “This is how you hug your girlfriend?” Mala had to fix the square base for everyone in the class because nobody was able to follow how she did it. The four corners represented north, south, east and west, and each leaf was a family member. The weave kept the family together, no matter were we were in the world.

Koko Brown Ale and Wailua Wheat Ale, a beer sampler at Kona Pub & Brewery in Kona, Big Island

On Day 7 we drove south to Kona Brewing Co. for pizza and beer, partly because José was making fun of the coconut cocktail he served me at the pool. “A women’s drink,” he called it, and then rested a purple orchid to float in it. The scene at the brewery looked like my Twitter feed, only in real life and with actors standing in for my tweeps. One table had eight people in loud colored gear, athletic shoes and tattoos, having a post-beach reunion. Two pairs of tourists were sitting quietly at another table wearing black, white and jeans, the type of clothes that did not wrinkle and went with everything else in their suitcases. Across from us on the right, a couple of guys on a date were sharing the same side of the table, drinking tall beers and watching the people. There was a birthday party inside with women in skinny heels and kisses and infinity smiles. The patio had a collection of mismatched wood tables and giant red umbrellas. Black tiki torches and large leafy plants filled the remaining spaces. In the corner stood a hefty piece of art by Amber Aguirre — a sculpture of a turtle covered in stained glass mosaic — and a plaque describing the art and the 36 cuts she suffered while working on that piece. We sampled the seasonal brews. We had the Black Sand Porter and the Longboard Island Lager. My favorite beer there was the Wailua Wheat Ale. It was the color of orange marmalade and it had a cloudy, unfiltered look. A wave of passion fruit aroma hit my nose before every sip and then a complimentary fruity flavor closed the deal. My other favorite beer was the Koko Brown Ale. It had a deep, clear cognac color, it smelled like coconut and tasted like a coffee toffee candy. Between sips, it left a mild taste of dark cherry on my tongue and a lingering haze of perfumed blossoms in the air.

Homemade malasadas with passion fruit custard filling at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, Kohala Coast, Big Island

The sign on the Alamo shuttle bus read ‘Welcome to Kona’, but it was not welcoming me; it was seeing me out. In the end there were four brown napkins on the breakfast table and the memory of the homemade malasadas: Portuguese-style doughnuts filled with passion fruit custard. I laid our lei necklaces neatly on the shelf above the bed and put pieces of Hawaii in my luggage to bring home to Chicago: Lava sea salt, a pound of Kona coffee, and four kukui nutshell bracelets. And in my heart I packed the color of the wind and the energy of the road.



Photos of the Big Island © Nurit Pazner, available on Flickr under Attribution, Noncommercial, No Derivatives license

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