In spite of its
generic title, I’ve rather neglected the ‘Now and Then’ element of this space just
lately. Instead, I’ve written about recent travel experiences at home and
abroad. If apologies are required, consider them humbly offered.
But ‘Now and Then’
came right back into focus when I read accounts of the volcanic eruption on the
island of Hawaii – the largest of the eight which make up that well-known
The reason is that
I have strong memories of staying in a magnificent hotel which was built on the
site of a dormant volcano on that very same island. I write ‘dormant’, but the
truth of the matter is that one can never be absolutely certain about volcanoes
because the little beggars have a habit of playing up when you least expect
Anyway, all those
years ago I pitched up – with a film crew in tow – at the Hyatt Regency
Waikoloa. It was one of the most
magnificent hostelries I have ever encountered (and, believe me, I have
encountered some of the best in the world).
It had been built
on the vast bed of lava which, long years ago, had flowed from the Waikoloa
volcano. It spread over 35,000 acres with magnificent suites in a handful of
tower blocks, apartments for long-stayers, shops and restaurants. There was
even a magnificent 18-hole golf course and, when you consider that it, too, had
been built on the lava bed you had to admire the effort and ingenuity which
went into creating and maintaining it.
From the check in
area you had a choice of a tram or a motor boat to convey you to your ‘accommodations’.
We chose the motor boat, as it was driven by a very attractive lady. As it ran
on rails set on the bed of a specially built waterway, this task did not occupy
much of her attention, so she had plenty of opportunity to pose prettily and be
gawped at by the male members of our film crew.
(Nowadays I suspect
their conduct, not to mention their comments, would bring down an Amazonian wrath
upon their heads, but then was not now.)
The largest of the
swimming pools – yes, of course there was more than one - was so vast that one dared not venture into
it without checking the shipping forecast, and the corridors on every level
were lined with millions of dollars worth of art.
During the course
of our stay we boarded a helicopter (having first taken off the door) in order
to film the hotel and its surroundings from the air. And only then did we
realise how close it was to the still-active bits of Waikoloa.
bubbling and heaving and spewing up of molten rock was happening on the other
side of the volcano, closer to the coast, so the lava flowed into the sea
without doing any damage.
You may imagine, then, how I felt when I heard news, at the beginning of May, that a volcano on that very same island was erupting mightily. And how relieved on learning that it was not Waikoloa but Kilauea, which is several miles away towards the south coast.
The relief was
short-lived when I realised that, although the magnificent hotel of my memory
was safe, other buildings, not to mention their inhabitants, were in grave
danger. And the horror of their situation was driven home by the television
Throughout May the
news from Hawaii, like the volcano, rumbled on. Kilauea shows no signs of
easing up. One can only hope that lives will not be lost and that, eventually,
homes will be rebuilt. And, when enough time has passed, the lava can be
blasted and bulldozed, roads can be relaid and, who knows, maybe another
magnificent hotel will be created.
volcanic activity, the islands of Hawaii have long interested me, because of
odd facts about them.
I am, as those who
know me will testify, a collector of odd facts and was, indeed, for some years
a member of ‘The Useless Information Society’ which numbered many distinguished
(but now, alas, almost all dead) writers in its ranks.
The last king of
Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands) was Kalakaua, who had visited
Europe, was smitten with Great Britain and nursed hopes of his land becoming
part of Victoria’s great Empire. Unfortunately he died in 1891 with his hopes
unfulfilled and was succeeded by his sister. Her virtually unpronounceable name
was Lili’uakalani (‘Lily’ for short?) and the mess she made of things gave the
USA the excuse it needed to take over, which it did by sending in a force of
marines from the USS Boston.
So Hawaii never
did become part of the Empire ‘upon which the sun never set’, and the only
evidence of King Kalakaua’s dream is the fact that the Union Flag forms one
quarter of Hawaii’s state flag to this day.
volcanoes I have written about are located on Hawaii (or Big) island, most of
today’s tourists head for the island of Ohau, where Waikiki Beach, Honolulu and
Pearl Harbor are located.
there? I hear you ask. (Actually I don’t hear you asking anything of the sort,
but this is a device we writer chaps use when we want to change tack and
shoehorn in some more interesting but useless information.)
Well, Pearl Harbor
is twinned with Hiroshima – one of the world’s most unusual ‘pairings’, other
than that of Paris with Whitwell, in Rutland. And there are now more dead
sailors on the USS Arizona than when she was destroyed on 7th December
How come? (see
above). Well, Arizona sank on the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, taking 1,102
men to their deaths. She is now a memorial, and as time took its toll of the
survivors, many asked that their ashes be scattered there so they might rejoin
their comrades. Sailors from other ships have, over the years, expressed the
USS Arizona remains a commissioned vessel, so the US Navy will never have another
of that name. For exactly the same reason the Royal Navy will never have
another HMS Victory.
Oh dear, I appear
to have strayed somewhat from my thoughts on volcanoes then and now. I suppose
I could recount a volcanic adventure during a long ago visit to Iceland, but I
think that ought to be saved for another time.