‘A Steady Rhythm Of Exploration And Adventure’

By Claire C. ’17
Photos by Julia R. ’17

The second the Hawaii trip crew arrived back at the Philadelphia airport, we were already planning our return. As we stumbled to claim our luggage, it was obvious that all our minds were still fixed on the island we had just left. And who could blame us? Hours earlier, we were in a sunny paradise with exotic fish, incredible landscapes and kind locals. But most importantly, we were also in the place where 15 classmates became a family that will forever share the memories of a fantastic, enriching experience.

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At 2:45 a.m. in the wet, chilly darkness, the Science of Hawaii class hit the road for the airport with visions of beaches dancing in our heads. Two five-hour flights and a quick stop in Phoenix later, we stepped off the plane at Kona Airport and a tropical island breeze greeted us.

After that first day, we fell into a steady rhythm of exploration and adventure.

We rang in our first full day in Hawaii by watching the sunrise from the peak of Mauna Kea. After hiking and listening to Hawaiian myths that directly connected to the natural features around us, we made our way to Mauna Loa Observatory. The observatory has been measuring the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere continuously since 1956, and that data has been invaluable in helping scientists understand climate change. On a tour around Mauna Loa, we learned more about the principles of global warming and its potentially dire implications, building on what we had studied in class and making the first of many interesting connections.

After this day of volcanic exploration, we spent the majority of our time at beaches, snorkeling and observing the wildlife. I use the term “beaches” loosely because instead of sand, we often had to scramble over volcanic rock to reach the ocean. Once we finally got in the water, we were surrounded by yellow tang, eels and one graceful sea turtle. The entire class found it fascinating that the fish we had studied in class were now swimming before our very eyes.

The next day we traveled to the Pololū Valley for a hike down to the famous black sand beach. A passerby informed us that the hike down was the difficult part, and that the uphill trek back would be easy for us.

This information was incorrect.

However, we did enjoy walking on the black sand, skipping rocks and building cairns (delicately balanced rock sculptures).

After our day at the beach — or at least near the ocean — we had to mentally prepare ourselves to go exploring inside a cave. But before heading underground, we visited a beautiful lookout and the site of a school swept away by a tsunami 50 years ago. The class had learned about this particular spot in school, and it was poignant to view this area, scan the ocean for whales, and pay our respects to the tsunami victims.

Then it was cave time, so we donned our rain jackets and head lamps and entered the giant lava tube. Inside we not only learned about the different kinds of rock and lava present, but the group also heard a ghost story from Dr. Winterer. This offered definite, scientific proof that ghost stories are five times spookier when told inside a damp, dark cave.

We started the next day snorkeling in tidal pools alongside brilliantly colored fish. Once back on land, we voyaged to Volcanoes National Park, investigating cracks in the Earth’s surface spewing natural gas, learning fun facts about Kilauea, and traversing a volcanic crater.

We ended the day with a few special minutes on the beach, shooting photos of the masses of sea turtles congregating there.

The following morning, we found ourselves in yet another of the Aloha State’s many climates, hiking through a desert. Dusty paths and dry grasses surrounded us on our three mile trek to the sacred green sand beach. Off the traditional tourist’s path, the pale emerald sand of Papakolea Beach was spectacular, and if it weren’t for its importance to the indigenous people of Hawaii, we all would have filled our suitcases full of the stuff.

As we neared the end of our trip, the Science of Hawaii students set out on a kayak and canoe tour to Captain Cook’s Cove. During the tour, we were lucky enough to encounter a pod of dolphins that came so close to us that they swam directly under several of our kayaks.

Once we got back on shore, it was time for a luau in Kona. The traditional Hawaiian food was delicious, but the coming end of the trip made the evening slightly bittersweet.

As we boarded our flights home, we all agreed we hadn’t spent nearly enough time in paradise. But even so, each and every member of the trip learned something new every day, whether it was a fact about the volcanoes that formed the islands, or the art of clambering over volcanic rocks without needing stitches afterward.

Most importantly, 15 students and three teachers became a family, and that part of paradise will stay with us long after our toes have left the Hawaiian sand.

Mahalo for the memories, Hawaii.