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President and secretary of the Kona welcoming committee.

When we arrived yesterday, it seemed like a family’s cat had wandered onto the resort property. I pet her–she looked a little dirty and on the thin side, but feral cats don’t approach people and press their forehead against ankles and knuckles and purr. But it becomes apparent when we wake up and see the young orange tabby sitting outside our sliding glass door on our little first-floor balcony that perhaps this cat has nowhere else to be. We see a dumpster not far off, and near it, another cat. In all, there are three, who we’ll come to refer to as Nice Cat (ours), Not As Nice Cat (same orange and white stripes, but not as nice), and Mean Cat (a true black and orange tabby, who sometimes bullies Nice Cat). A well behaved stray, Nice Cat never tries to come inside our condo–she just wants us to come outside and pet her. She probably wants food, too, but we see that there’s a food dish near the dumpster. (Not to mention the dumpster.)

We establish our morning routines–mom with her prayers and walks, my sister with her runs, dad and me with our, sigh, work email. We all take turns sitting on the patio, listening to the birds, and probably watching the cats more than we’d like to admit. They’re very entertaining. At some point, I exclaim to whoever will listen that my breakfast, my little cup of Meadow Gold fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, is the best yogurt I’ve ever had. I’ve eaten yogurt for breakfast for most of the last ten years, and it’s been fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt for the last two, and I love my two organic brands in California. But they don’t put papaya, guava, or pineapple under their yogurt, and they’ll never surpass Meadow Gold until they do. Even if I got to live in Hawaii and eat Meadow Gold every day, I would never get tired of that sweet papaya filling, with its wisps of coral food coloring and unapologetic dose of sugar. “Hawaii’s Dairy since 1897,” with good reason.

I pick up my mom’s guidebook to read about Hawaii’s history. In brief, it’s the youngest island, with two dormant or inactive volcanoes and three active volcanoes. Kilauea is the youngest, and it has been erupting for as long as I’ve been alive. Kilauea’s flow is actually increasing the size of the island (if covering villages), while other Hawaiian islands have begun to slowly shrink into the ocean. Along the west coast, where Kona is, layers upon layers of craggy a’a and smooth pahoehoe lava comprise the ground, from gentle inland slopes all the way into the ocean. The dried-up flows extend for miles, overlapping each other, often broken apart into huge slabs, like gigantic crumbled, ashen charcoal briquettes. The land is dark gray, with highway 19 cutting a line through it, so mischievous locals use white pebbles to write out their graffiti tags and professions of love along the roadside. The beaches are oases lined with palm and coconut trees and tall grass.

Polynesians came to Hawaii in spurts throughout the last two millenia and formed communities led by powerful chiefs, who often fought with each other for land and resources. These early Hawaiians governed themselves with the “Kapu” system, which imposed harsh penalties and even self-sacrifice for such shameful acts as men and women eating in each other’s presence. British explorer James Cook was the first European to find the Hawaiian islands, in 1778. He returned but was killed in a violent confrontation before leaving. Still, word returned to the western world of Hawaii’s beauty and riches, and the native population would soon suffer from disease and shrink. The tribes fought throughout the 1780s and 1790s until King Kamehameha triumphed and united the islands under his rule. The US inserted itself into Hawaii’s politics in the 1880s and 1890s, and would take responsibility no earlier than a century later for having overthrown the sovereign rule of Queen Lili’uokalani. Hawaii used to be a major grower of sugar cane and pineapple, but thanks to development and tourism, I doubt the sugar or the pineapple in my yogurt are locally sourced.

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Beach day.

We spend the day at a fairly crowded white sand beach up the coast from Kona. It’s sort of nice not to have my phone–I’m more social, and I can appreciate the sound of waves and little kids laughing. I get in the water only briefly. I have a little fear of swimming in murky ocean water, what with the man eating sharks and giant squids that can swallow me whole, and even though the water is a perfect crystal blue, I just get nervous. I’ll need to get over it, though, since my dad is paying good money for us to go snorkeling later in the week, and I’ll have to be a lot less wussy if I want to swim with a sea turtle, an item on my Life To Do List, which would make the cost of my flight look like a small pittance to the vacation gods.

On our way back to Kona, we see a goat standing atop a lava flow, and then another. It’s reassuring to know that Hawaii is still a little wild. Also, I love goats. Back at the condo, we sip box wine and shower and make note of the tans developing on our shoulders in spite of the SPF and umbrellas. And then we go to Lemongrass Bistro for dinner, in a charming strip mall near the resort.

We wait for a table on the small patio and order dumplings for the table. Liz and I share a sweet, creamy coconut sake that comes in a round plastic pitcher with a compartment for an ice cube. It’s like sipping a melted tropical milkshake, with a kick to it. I order a bright red curry that arrives with seven or eight large cubes of salmon, perfectly-cooked (to medium), with torn pieces of mango at their sweetest just past ripe, and salty bamboo shoots. It can feed two comfortably but I devour it, and then I’m upset it’s gone. But we’re determined to return to Lemongrass. The meal sang to us like a slow Hawaiian ballad. Soft notes, harmonious, a little piquant. Minus the ukulele.

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