The landing in Kona, about an hour after sunset on Sunday night, is a shock. It is the most hidden, unlit runway we’ve ever seen. We know we’re descending for landing, but have no idea the ground is anywhere near as close as it is until the wheels unexpectedly hit ground in what seems to us to be utter blackness. Do the pilots know how startling this is? If they do, they have no time to feel sorry for us – these island runways, both on Maui and Kona, seem awfully short. Just enough time to slam on the brakes and come to a screeching, perilous halt in an amazingly short space. Or at least that’s how it seems to us. We lose our shoes, my purse, and various other artifacts as they slide several rows forward in the cabin from the rapid deceleration. The nice folks in front of us, the only other folks in first class who did not disembark in Maui, hand it all back to us, and we reassemble ourselves and try to start breathing normally again now that we’re apparently safely at a stop without falling into the sea.
About twenty of us get off at Kona Airport, on the big island of Hawaii. The other hundred or so folks on the plane boarded in Maui and are bound back to Seattle. I don’t envy them the long, dark flight ahead of them. The stewardesses who accompanied us over on the first five hours of the flight all switched over to other flights in Maui, so the new crew is looking fresh and remarkably unbleary-eyed compared to those of us staggering off the plane. We’re all shedding layers as we do – we’ve gone through a major climate change over the course of the day. The smart ones have dressed in layers – skirts or shorts with long sleeved top layers that will see you through the flight but can be peeled off like onion skin upon reaching Hawaii. By the time we get to baggage claim, we’re seeing much more skin than we did before.
Brett buys me a lei, because he didn’t last time we were here and regretted it – I pick out a lovely white-and-yellow plumeria rope, simple and elegant, and – boy! – fragrant as anything. It perfumes the whole cab on the way to the house we’re staying at. I wish it would last forever - plumeria, or frangipani, is the most gorgeous flower, all creamy white with a center that sort of redefines what the word yellow means, as if previously it had been a rather dimly held concept that only now starts to have meaning. It can't survive in our Seattle climate, so I'm doubly glad to see it again after a nine month break from our last trip.
Our cab driver, used to taking people to the big hotels, is a bit nonplussed by the fact that we’re going someplace else, somewhere he apparently has no idea how to get to. Luckily, our hosts have given us printed directions to the house we’re borrowing from them, and after a few read-throughs we head off into the night. I blink out the window sleepily and wonder if I’m hallucinating – although it’s black as pitch out there and seemingly rocky (I’ll find out tomorrow that these black areas are old lava flows), I keep thinking I see large white lettering on the side of the road – not on signs or billboards, but on the rock face themselves. I keep catching a white blur out of the corner of my eye that looks like letters but goes by too fast to resolve. Am I imagining things? Making letters and symbols out of grassy plants that are reflecting the headlines? I can’t make any sense out of it – this is a mystery that will have to wait until later to resolve.