Sustainability in Hilo

Caveat: There is not much information from today as we did not do very much. Also, there are no pictures because the place we went would not allow photography of any kind.

Puna Geothermal Venture is a power plant that supplies 20% (I believe) of the energy consumed in the Hilo area. We got the chance to go and visit their control room and get talked through the process by one of the lead technicians. Unfortunately, due to safety concerns, we weren’t allowed out to see the plant, but we got a pretty good idea of how it worked.

The PGV drills wells 4-6,000 miles into the crust creating an artesian well. They then collect the steam and water that comes up and allow it to go into a separater and the water gets injected back down into the ground through a 5-7,000 foot-deep well. It then goes through a series of other separaters and turbines until a generator can get the steam and convert it into usable energy. The plant produces around 30 megawatts per 24-hour period. They are currently working to drill another well and up that to 38.5 megawatts per 24-hour period. They are a private company but are contracted by the government. The state of Hawai’i is very supportive of geothermal energy use and pushes PGV to work harder and produce more, which makes PGV really happy.

After that trip we went back to our houses and stayed inside during a huge rain storm and had dinner. Now we are worried about getting homework done and studying for our first test on Monday as well as updating our Facebook pages and contacting family and friends.


Tsunami, Earthquakes, and Botany – oh my!

The group perusing the Pacific Tsunami Museum

Yesterday was a full day of science. It started out with us going to the Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hiloto study tsunami and earthquakes around Hawai’i and the effects of each on the islands. We spent a good amount of time there listening to a lecture by one of the curators and learning about the 1946 tsunami and the 1960 tsunami and how they hurt the island. We also found out interesting facts such as tsunami can wrap around islands and pick up speed again on the other side. Weird, right?

Well, once we had finished browsing our way through all the displays and films we got about an hour to go into Hilo and find someplace to eat before our next stop. A few of us ran to the post office briefly to drop off postcards and then stopped into this wonderful little crepe shop called Le Magic Pan. I had a Russian Stroganoff Crepe that was really filling and quite tasty. Now that you’re hungry, let me talk about something else.

The group having fun with the displays at 'Imiloa

We went to the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center after lunch where we got the chance to learn a bit about space and walk around their exhibits about Hawaiian culture and their relationship to science before we were ushered into their large planetarium. This is where I got really excited because I haven’t been to a planetarium that I can remember. We were handed 3D glasses as we walked in, which frightened me a bit, but otherwise I was bouncy and ready to get the show on the road. In the show we were shown what the sky would look like last night, which was cool because we could then go out later and look up and figure out what we had seen in the show. He cycled through from sunrise to sunset and pointed out different constellations and stars that would help us navigate through the night sky.

Students modeling the 3D glasses

Once he finished with the main show he had us put on our 3D glasses and he took us back so we could look at earth, our solar system, then our galaxy. The best part of this show was being able to see the constellations as they actually sit in the sky instead of in flat pictures. It was really eye-opening.

"Uncle Don" showing us around the gardens and introducing us to Hawai'ian plants

This was followed by a guided tour around the gardens surrounding the astronomy center. We learned about indigenous plants and “canoe plants” alike. Canoe plants are plants that the ancient islanders brought with them from other places and planted here. We learned about Hibiscus, Noni (which is possibly the most disgusting fruit I’ve found yet), Turmeric and about 100 other types that I could go into too much detail about now. This rounded out our day and gave us much to reflect on in our Field Books.

The rest of the night was spent doing homework, playing Bananagrams and watching Celebrity Wife Swap all after going outside and testing our knowledge of the night sky.

Mauna Kea at its best (and worst)

The view from the Mauna Kea Visitors' Center at elev. 9200'

Today was a day for trekking. Luckily, this trekking could be done mostly by car saving us from having to hike up nearly 14,000 feet of mountain. We began the drive early in the day and got to the visitors center at 9200′ around 11am. We had to wait here for at least 30 minutes due to the elevation gain and to make sure that none of us would get sick. We took that chance to eat some lunch and check out the visitors center while others took deep breathes and tried to gain their footing (not me, of course).

Two of our group having fun in the vistors' center gift shop

The visitors center had all sorts of interesting things. They had computers where you could test your knowledge of the mountain, astronomy magazines to paw through and, most importantly, a video introduction to Mauna Kea‘s cultural significance as well as the many observatories and telescopes at the summit. We sat and watched the video noticing ourselves starting to yawn a lot more (in order to gain more oxygen) and some of us got a little sick to our stomachs, but not so much so that we couldn’t summit the mountain.

We also took this chance to go on a short walk out on the mountain and observe the Silver Sword plants that only grow on Mauna Kea. Unfortunately, these plants nearly died out many years ago due to non-indigenous fauna eating them and grazing away their land. Several years back, though, they found one left and took seeds from it, cultivated them, then re-planted them all over the mountain. This time of year they are not in bloom, but their bases still looked amazing and shone in the sunlight.

Several of the observatories at the top of Mauna Kea; Keck I and Keck II are the farther twin white observatories; to their left is the Subaru observatory and the closest to the camera is the famed Gemini observatory

Once we got back into the van we drove up the extremely perilous gravel road that bumps its way up to the summit. We did not die, thank goodness, but the views were spectacular. Pretty soon we could see the telescopes at the summit shining ahead of us and we got really excited in our semi-woozy states. We eventually reached the top and stopped at the Keck Telescopes to go into their visitors center for a brief lecture and to look at the telescope itself. We could only see the base mechanism and the back of the mirrors, but it was still quite impressive.

At this point a few members of the group felt adventurous so they took the trail to the absolute summit (it only took them about five minutes to reach the top). Half of us stayed in the van, however, as it was quite cold and we weren’t willing to subject our lungs to the thin air while hiking.

The five who decided to reach the true summit

This brought us to the end of our journey and we returned home stopping at Safeway along the way to finish provisioning and get ready for a movie night later tonight as well as our trip to the Planetarium and Tsunami Museum tomorrow. And thus I leave you with a couple extra pictures for good measure.

Several of us looking at the base of Keck I

The group posing in front of the lower cloud banks

Worshiping in God’s Creation

Some of our group glad for being at Puna Baptist today

Today has been a great day for me. It started off by the sunrise in my previous post and was followed by church at Puna Baptist Church in Pahoa. The sermon really hit home to me and was illustrated very well. The pastor preached on Matthew 5:13-15 which seems to be following me around wherever I go. In talking about being salt and light he used several examples that I’ve never thought of before. One is the fact that salt was worth so much in ancient Roman society. Roman soldiers were even paid in salt. The next was that, in ancient times, they would put salt under their stoves to help them retain heat but, after awhile, the heat would cause a chemical reaction in the salt that would actually cause it to lose its flavor. Both of these gave me a lot to think about.

Once church was finished we were greeted by the congregation with “aggressive hospitality” (all my Worldview Academy friends will understand). We got to talk to the pastor a bit and get to know the congregation and be asked, several times, where we were from and why we were there and how long we would be there.

Our professor's wife and one of our group with "Just Tom" and Snow White

They got excited that people from the Mainland came to visit them and wanted to worship with them. We also got to meet a man whose name tag read “Just Tom” and he had a chicken named Snow White. He let us all hold her and visit with her. In general the people were very genial and it was wonderful to get to know them and I can’t wait for church next week.

The back of the guys' house... The cliffs down to the water are about ten feet behind me

After church we got a chance to go to a farmer’s market down the street where I got some sweet Hawaiian bread and got the best Pad Thai and Thai Iced Tea I’ve ever had. This experience, however, was marred by a gigantic beetle (seriously, folks, this thing was the size of Godzilla) landing on my shoulder and causing me to throw my chopsticks down which, in turn, spilled Pad Thai all over the table. I was very traumatized by that bug. After our trip to the farmer’s market we went, semi-anti-climactically, to a place where we could go to Starbucks and Yogurtland (guys, my frozen yogurt was $3.99… I couldn’t have gotten the same amount for less than $6 in Spokane), then go to Target to buy groceries and anything we forgot to bring to Hawai’i. This finished out our first excursion off the day and we headed back to the houses.

The whole group at the black sand beach

Next thing we know we’re driving around, kind of getting lost after having changed into our swim clothes and sunglasses with cameras in hand. Eventually we made it to the black sand beach that was around 30 miles away instead of the 15 miles we thought it was. Once we got there we climbed over several miles (okay, I exaggerate… It was more like half a mile) of Pahoehoe lava to the black sand beach where there were hundreds of volcanic rocks all over the beach making a beautiful noise as the waves crashed on the shore. We stayed here for an hour or so while some of us built cairns out of rocks or stood in the waves or sunbathed. While there we were called “haoles” only once by a guy that looked like he had been on the island for less time than we had.

After lecture we were checking notes and getting ready to go home

Once we finished there we returned to “Home Base” for a brief lecture on astronomy, radiation, and telescopes. This turned out to be quite brief as student attention was waning and we were all getting tired. This resulted in us finishing the notes and going back to our respective houses for some sleep. And, for that, I say good night.

Hilo Morning

Hilo Sunrise this morning (photo credit: Nathan Reid)

Today I was woken up by the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. My bedroom doesn’t have a curtain over the giant sliding glass door that looks over the ocean, so as soon as the sun was up the light flooded my room. I woke up and blearily looked out at a palm tree and glistening water and blinked a couple times then realized that I was, in fact, in Hawai’i. Now that’s how you wake up in the morning.

Aloha Hilo!


My plan from Seattle to Honolulu taken around 7:30am

Getting underway was as usual as could be expected. I got three hours of sleep, freaked out because I was hungry but no food sounded good, got super stressed about TSA and probably left a dent on the seat in front of me in the car because I was holding onto it so hard (Dad, you’re not a bad driver, but you were definitely sleepy). This was all topped by the fact that I forgot my cell phone charger. Luckily I realized this fact about five minutes from home so we were able to go back and retrieve it.

Every time I fly I get stressed out about TSA. I don’t know why and I have no logical reason to be, but I get butterflies, dry mouth, everything. Flying is awesome, getting to the airport is okay, but TSA freaks me out. Of course, I forgot to take my laptop out of my backpack as I went through security and the agent just rolled her eyes at me as I pleaded for forgiveness. It’s 7:30am, my brain does not work until at least 9am, if I’m lucky. They should count their blessings that I remembered to take off my rings. I usually forget that. I also somehow got out of the full body scanner. Don’t know how that worked. The last ten times I’ve flown I’ve gone through the scanner and it’s preferable. So much easier than having to be patted down. But I didn’t even need a pat-down this time! I was so proud of myself.

I think my favorite moment at the airport had to be sitting at Gate A11 at 7:59am and seeing a grown man walk up from behind me to the window, place a stuffed monkey in front of the window and take a picture of it, assumedly for a scrapbook or Facebook album. Totally made my day right there. Thank you, random guy with the 16″ Monkey. I needed that smile.

I think it finally hit me that I was going to Hawai’i when I saw the tail fin of the airplane through the window. That lady with the giant flower in her hair just exuded warmth and happiness and nothing could be farther from welcome on a dreary, foggy Seattle morning.

The flight was incredibly long concerning I had to relieve myself starting halfway across the Pacific. I swear, the flight attendants must want you to have an uncomfortable bladder with all the soda, water and coffee they push your way. The breakfast wrap was extremely edible, however. The length was aided by my iPod giving me some background noise and the view from my window. The clouds look like hundreds of steamed humbao and it made me hungry for Chinese food.

I have something to admit. I watched the in-flight movie and actually cried. They showed the new movie, “Dolphin Tale.” It was a typical tear-jerker family film, but boy, did it jerk some tears from me. I won’t say much to ruin the story, but the family dynamics and situations made me cry more than the dolphin getting a new tail. Just sayin’.

View from where I was sitting at the Honolulu airport. This turned out not to be my plane... They switched gates on me without telling me.

My first glimpse of the island made me smile. We descended through a huge cloud bank (which was gorgeous, in and of itself), and saw nothing but ocean. Then the deep cobalt turned to a light turquoise and, all of a sudden, there was land. After five hours of water and clouds, there was land.

And that was just the flight into Honolulu. From Honolulu to Hilo (I don’t want to say it for fear of sounding weird, but I am so it’s okay) I could see the shadow of the airplane on the clouds below and around it was a double rainbow haloing the plane. It was so cool! I felt like I was inside Robot Unicorn Attack.

On top of that, Hilo’s airport was like something out of an old Hollywood let’s-pretend-we’re-in-the-tropics sort of thing. It was awesome. Open-air, palm-frond thatched, the whole nine yards. While we waited for everyone to get into HIlo we went downtown to the farmer’s market where I bought a pineapple, two limes, three giant avocados and a bunch of bananas for less than 10 dollars. Totally awesome. Contrast that with the price of gasoline – over $4.15 per gallon – and you understand why you buy locally-grown products.

As appointed by the tour members, "Cornerstone 2.0"

The view from behind the girls' house (aka "Cornerstone 2.0")

Nathan and Josh having a moment while viewing the large expanse of ocean before them

The author having fun with his camera and the Hawaiian coastline

And now that we’re settled into the house we’re about to have a spaghetti dinner then go to bed to get up and do some provisioning and touring as well. By the way, the birds here are so amazing. I can hear so many birds and other nocturnal animals calling to each other and it’s possibly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.

Well, off to bed to sleep before church tomorrow! Aloha!

On Your Marks…

Well, this is the first entry for this blog. There isn’t much to say, however. I’m packing and making sure that I have everything for my Hawai’i trip as well as making sure everything is packed to go back to school at the end of the month, so that’s a bit harrowing. I’ve already left my swimming clothes at school and had to have a friend pick them up and bring them along on the trip so I can use them… I feel like a bit of an airhead.

But for now I’m buying supplies, reading my handy-dandy guide book of the Big Island and preparing.

This trip will last from January 7th, 2012 to January 27th, 2012 and will comprise of me traveling with nine students, my professor and his wife, and living in Hilo for the first ten days and then moving to Kailua Kona for the latter ten days. While we are there we will study geology, marine biology and astronomy while snorkeling, having snowball fights and touring the island.

Stay tuned for my adventures and, if you’re lucky, my misadventures!