We woke from our Hawaiian dreams with a divided agenda. I checked my work email, and discovered that an emergency had arisen that required me to do a bit of work. Before I go on vacation, I do my best to wrap up work projects, but because I own my own business, something always pops up. For that reason, I always travel with a laptop, and I make sure that we have some kind of internet connection and access to a printer.
I drafted a quick email, and Tom and I discussed what we were going to do that day. Tom wanted to visit the Lyman Museum in Hilo, and I wanted to visit the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. To get across the island, Tom and I decided to brave the Saddle Road.
The Saddle Road is a famously bad road that sits between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. As you enter it from the western side of the island, it is extremely narrow and winding. In years past, the road was so bad that rental car companies prohibited renters from driving on it. A check of our rental contract indicated that we were okay to take this road, but I was still a little hesitant.
You see, my husband Tom does most of the driving in our relationship. He is a famously erratic driver. He does not speed, but he also does not always stay on the road (much less his lane), and while he’s driving, our cars seem to develop a stopping problem that can be quite terrifying. Although I am a better driver, I am also a better navigator than he is. I see signs and I can read maps more quickly. Also, this trip, Tom and I were using GPS for the first time, and I was the one who knew how to operate the GPS programs.
Tom likes a challenge. He also likes to go to the “end of the road”. As soon as I showed him the map of Hawaii with the one cross-island road that was marked dangerous, he wanted to go on it. So…
As we first turned onto the road, I noticed how narrow the lanes were, and how the side of the road led to deep ditches. I don’t know whether I noticed the truck coming our way, the car veering into the ditch, or the cute little chicken on the side of the road first, but I know I stopped breathing and almost screamed….
Fortunately, about 10 miles east, the road improved, becoming wider. I can’t say it was a particularly scenic road. There was so much lava… and so little of anything else. As we neared the high point of the road, I could feel the air getting thinner. It was at least 20 degrees cooler than it had been in Kailua Kona. We could see the road going up to the astronomical observatory on Mauna Kea, and within a mile or two, it felt like we were driving on top of the world. It was really barren… and yet… compelling.
It started to rain on the way down. The road on the Hilo side was much wider, but I didn’t relish the thought of crashing. About halfway down the hill, we were in a lush, tropical forest. And then… we found ourselves in Hilo. We had a map to the Lyman from a tourist magazine, but the map did not show the turn in the road at the base of the Saddle Road. I fired up my GPS, and we quickly righted our wrong turn, and we found ourselves in front of the museum.
The Lyman Museum is a museum devoted to Hawaiian history, both natural and geological. Next door is the Mission House, a home owed by David and Sarah Lyman, some of the first missionaries to come to Hawaii. The museum offered to give us a special tour of the Mission house, since we had just missed the morning tour. While we waited, we looked at the museum’s exhibits which focused on the island’s geological and botanical development, cultural history, and immigration. There was a special exhibit about canoes, which play an important role in the island’s habitation. (Although, when the south pacific islanders landed in their canoes, there were already people living on the island).
Soon enough, it was time for our tour. Our tour guide explained that the Mission House was originally built by the Congregational Church to house the Lyman’s efforts to bring Christianity to the islands. I found it interesting that the Congregational missionaries focused on educating Hawaiians in their own language, rather than in English. Moreover, the church was not interested in a long-term missionary occupation of Hawaii, but rather wanted to create a self-sustaining Christian culture. In the early 19th century, the Congregationalists stopped all missionary work, having achieved its goals of a self-sustaining local church, and gave the Lymans the choice to return to their home in New England or remain in Hawaii. The Lymans decided to stay in Hawaii, and they were given the Mission House. They never returned to the mainland.
The house was built of Hawaiian Koa (a very hard wood), and is furnished with items that might have actually been used by the Lymans. Sarah Lyman and her daughter managed a furniture mill that produced some of the furniture in the home.
After our tour, Tom and I were famished and hot. The Mission House was not air conditioned, and the rain from earlier in the day had stopped, leaving a steamy oppression that battled against the brilliant sun. Life in the tropics?
We drove north out of Hilo towards the Botanical Garden, enjoying the car’s air conditioner. The Hilo coast is lush and wild, much more like the Hawaii of my imagination than the Kona coast. To get to the Botanical Garden, you drive into a rain forest on the coast. We stopped at the entrance to buy our tickets, some water, mosquito repellent, and a snack. We sat in the car for a few minutes, to harness our energies.
And then we walked into the garden… (I’m not even going to attempt to describe it…. just take a look at the pictures….)