David and I kept on schedule to offer a balance of daily asana practice, workshops, and sight-seeing excursions. The North Kohala Coast is surprisingly remote and commercially undeveloped so the quiet, miniscule town of Hawi became our favorite place to visit during breaks throughout the week. Hawi, just a few miles down the road from the retreat center on Highway 270, consisted of a cluster of historic buildings dating back to the 1800s when there was a prominence of sugar plantations and trade in the area. The Kohala Sugar Co. founded in 1863 by Reverend Elias Bond, was in operation until 1973. Still to this day, Hawi town seems untouched and frozen in time, with just the right amount of necessities: an ice cream parlor, Kona Coffee, a couple of boutiques, galleries with goods made by local artisans and a handful of restaurants. By the time I had left the Big Island, I had brought three hand- blocked pareros in a local shop and all of us had eaten our generous share of delicious and exotic flavored ice cream at “Tropical Dreams.”
On the second day or the retreat after a full day of: morning class, a visit to Hawi, and an afternoon Inversion workshop led by David, we headed off to the Mauna Kea Observatory around 4:30 p.m. Mo packed some snacks in our coolers and we bundled up in layers in preparation for the frigid temperature at high altitude.
We drove off on a scenic Highway, 200, which cuts across the middle of the island, inching higher and higher to the top of the Big Island as darkness fell. Ascending slowly to Mauna Kea, which is 13, 796 ft. above sea level, the landscape noticeably changed to vast desolate acres of lava, stark, lunar like and barren.
Mauna Kea (White Mountain), which Hawaiians refer to as the “sacred realm of the Gods,” is a dormant volcano and the site of the world’s largest astronomical observatory. It is also the highest island mountain in the world and the highest point in the Pacific Basin. The summit of Mauna Kea is above 40% of the Earth’s atmosphere. The extremely dry atmosphere is cloud free, inky dark sky, making it ideal for observing the faintest galaxies that lie at the very edge of the universe. Night viewings are held at the visitor’s center.
Towards the end of our long drive, David called me on his cell phone to tell me that his van was out of gas and running on fumes! We inched our way up to the visitors center at 9,000 ft. Luckily the camp at the top gave us enough gas that would help us make it back to Waimea!
Shivering in the bitter cold and windy night, we meandered around the visitors center to peer through a handful of telescopes that were set up and directed towards brilliant stars and planets. Apparently 85% of all stars visible from the earth can be seen here. Peering through the various telescopes I saw: Saturn encircled by rings, Venus, and the Moon, which loomed so large and close, we could almost touch it! An astronomer pointed out the many constellations in the night sky with a laser.
We made the long trek back to the retreat center, arriving there sometime after 9 p.m.
Star Gazing Program at Mauna Kea: http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis/visiting-mauna-kea/star-gazing-program.html
Saddle Road towards Mauna Kea: https://lovingthebigisland.wordpress.com/tag/saddle-road/