It was Monday.  But what does that mean when you are on vacation?  I had no work to go to, and I was well rested from our travels.   The previous day, we’d explored the village of Kailua-Kona.  We’d met the locals and found a c-store.

Today, it was time to go further afield.  When I was planning our vacation, I read reviews of various big island tours on Trip Adviser, and discovered that people thought highly of Waipio Valley Wagon Tours.

A note about the geography of the Big Island:  It’s roundish.  It has mountains in the center (tallest mountains on earth, remember?).   The coasts are mostly lava fields.  This is not a terrain that calls for easy road building.  Also, remember that Hawaii is much less touristy than Oahu or Maui.  So, the roads follow the coast and the mountains.  The speed limit is low, because the roads are narrow and curvy.  A trip that would take an hour in Minnesota will take two hours or more on the Big Island.

Waipio Valley is on the north end of the island.  Kailua-Kona is on the west-central side.  So, a trip up to the Waipio Valley will take a couple hours.

Thus, when it was closer to 9 than 8 when we discovered the desire to hitch our wagon up to the mills on the north side of the island, we had already missed the ability to sign up for the 10:30 a.m. tour.  However, when we called, there were still spots available for 12:30 p.m.  Normally, I prefer to take tours in the morning or late afternoon, but somehow my natural inclination always gets me to my destination mid-day.

Go figure.

Having sown our plans for the day, we went out into the village for food.  Nothing looked appetizing close by, so we wandered a little further afield, and asked for advice at a coffee shop for a nice, local breakfast spot.

Warning:  Do not take the advice of coffee shop owners on the tourist strip for breakfast food.  (I knew it was a bad idea, but Tom has this thing where he diverts to seek local knowledge before he asks me my opinion.)

We were directed back to Tante’s, where we had eaten the day before.  I got the feeling that the owner of the coffee shop knew everyone, and had a deal for everyone.

Now, here’s the deal with Tante’s.  It’s in prime retail strip.  The prices aren’t bad.  They had entertainment, and service wasn’t bad.  But, they have a barker on the sidewalk, and it has always been my experience that good restaurants don’t need barkers.

The night before, the food had been okay.  This morning, Tom’s corn-beef hash had no corn-beef in it.  The menu had no Polynesian items.  Breakfast was a half-hearted affair.

Still, it was a beautiful setting.  And I really kind of enjoyed the corny Hawaiian songs performed by a singer accompanied by a ukulele and a steel guitar.  And it was a Monday morning without the Monday.

By 10, we were on the road to the Valley.  It was a scenic drive through lava fields and ranches.  I saw quail!  And horses and cows.  It was 11:30 when we got to the Waipio Valley outlook.   

Waipio Valley is also known as the Valley of Kings.  Two hundred years ago, Hawaiian royalty lived in the valley, among taro farms and royal fisheries.  Until the mid-twentieth century, the valley was densely populated, with native Hawaiians and Chinese immigrants.  However, in 1946, a devastating tsunami destroyed much of the valley.  Today, only about 50 people live in the valley, and there is only one steep road into and out of the valley.  Only 4-wheel drive vehicles can manage the road.  The valley is totally off the grid, and people who live there tend to live off the land.  Given the transportation difficulties, it’s easy to see why.

The valley abuts the ocean, and there is a beautiful black sand beach there.  Tour companies don’t go there, but if you don’t mind a difficult hike, you can walk there.  Better yet, you can get down the hill in a 4 wheel drive vehicle, although the drive down the hill is only marginally better than the walk up the hill.

Our wagon tour was advertised as a good way to see the valley, because of the lack of roads and the fact that much of the valley is owned privately.  We began up the hill, in a van, and drove down the 25% grade with a guide explaining that cars going uphill have the right of way on the one way road, and that the road has been improved since the last bus plunge.  Seriously.  This was a scary ride.

At the bottom of the hill, we found ourselves in a mule drawn wagon, which forded across a couple of streams, while the guide explained the valley’s history and stopped to show us the plants that grew there.   We saw wild horses.  We also saw some amazing views.  It was dry season in a dry year, but we could just barely see waterfalls in the distance.  Our guide told  us that in wet season, the waterfalls are amazing.  During our trip, it was drizzling in the valley.  I realized that even in a drought… even in dry season… this valley is a haven for its inhabitants, who clearly live the balance between isolation and sustainability.

I wondered what it would take for me to live in this valley as the wagon forded our last river. Could I live off the grid?  Could I live where I would have to drive up a road with a 25% incline in order to pick up my packages from Amazon?  I saw Tom check his cell phone, and I think he might have been just a little worried when he saw there was no service.  After all, it was possible, I suppose that we could end up stranded, like the wagon that had been abandoned only the prior year….

But then, there was this:  That night, we returned to our hotel, and we didn’t care where we ate.  We had just seen the most beautiful place on earth.