Pana’ewa zen gardens a real orchid zoo

I go to Hilo about as often as I go to the mainland, which isn’t that often, but this time (well, this year) it was the Hilo Marathon that had drawn us over to the rainy side of the island.

Chanda was running in the half marathon, which was to be held on a Sunday in mid March. So on the Saturday before, Chanda, Sawyer and I departed Captain Cook early in the afternoon and made the long trek south on Highway 11. We arrived just in time for the 4pm registration at the Hilo Hawaiian on Banyan Drive, then later found ourselves driving around aimlessly on the strange yet scenic one way streets of downtown Hilo.

Well, I found myself driving the streets; Chanda was riding in back with Sawyer. I guess it was more like a taxi than anything. Chanda wanted pasta, so we put in a to-go order at Pescatore, then waited in Kalakaua Park across the street.

Chanda sat on the lush and plush green grass with Sawyer. There was a Banyon tree built like a house off to the far corner, and to the other side there was a large but shallow rectangular pool, beyond which stood columns of an evidently old and historic building. It was overcast, as it always seems to be in Hilo, but fortunately there was no rain. The evening was clear and still, and I could see my reflection like a mirror in the water before me.

The next morning Chanda was up and in the shower by 4:30 am. It was pitch black outside but I could still hear the coquis going strong. The race didn’t start until six, but since it ended just up the road from our motel on Banyan drive, somewhere along the main highway bordering Bayfront Park across from downtown, we had to drive 13 or so odd miles north of town for the start of the race. Or I had to make this long, grueling drive, so that I could drop Chanda off…

Always thinking ahead, I had slept in my clothes. So when I heard Chanda calling to me after her shower, I was able to just roll off the mattress, pick up Sawyer and the diaper bag, and stumble out the door.

Everything is still a like a dream before six in the morning whether you are awake or not. Downtown was completely empty and undisturbed; Hilo was still asleep. All of Hawaii was asleep at this hour, as our days on the islands seem to be inevitably governed by the sun.

We drove north on highway 11 in the dark, turning in at Pepeekeo approximately 10 miles north of town near the wagon wheel. The starting line was near an old baseball field off Alia Street, which I was beginning to know quite well as this was Chanda’s third Hilo half marathon to compete in, and I was disappointed in myself for initially missing the turn on Kaakepa. Hard to believe two years had passed since the last one … in fact, I think that was the last time we had been to Hilo. Had it been that long?

I thought about this as I sat in the car with the heater running, watching Chanda stretch and all the other runners mill about. To me, running was always best summed up in an 1885 bar scene from the 1990 movie Back to the Future 3 – “Run for fun? What in the hell kind of fun is that?” You get my point. I couldn’t imagine doing anything at this ungodly hour, much less run. These people all had a dedication I couldn’t fathom. All I could think about was coffee. Where was it going to come from? When?

The dark night sky began to lighten as six am approached. The runners shuffled towards the starting line. Sawyer, all the while sleeping soundly in his carseat in the back, suddenly seemed to sense the change, and awoke. I took him out, and we walked over to the starting line. He watched with a smile as the gun sounded and the runners were off. People everywhere, lots of commotion, then Chanda suddenly waved and ran by us in a flash … and just like that, everyone was gone. A few late stragglers came running out of the bathroom and ran to join the race, then all was quiet.

I walked back to the car and watched as the eastern sky began to turn remarkable shades of red. I stood at the now empty parking lot of the ball field, holding a wide-eyed Sawyer up in my arms, watching the sun rise from this whole new perspective.

Sawyer looked on intently, then (thankfully) fell asleep right on cue. I drove back to town and found coffee. The day was getting lighter and brighter by the minute and the ghost town I had passed by earlier in my sleep had now woken up and sprang to life. By the time we had parked and regrouped back at the hotel, I realized it that it was nearly 7:30 … How long was it going to take her to finish the race? If it normally took her about two hours … slow math ran through my head as we rushed back out the door.
The  enchanting Liliuokalani Gardens in HiloIt was then that I realized I had grossly underestimated our walk. Not only the distance itself and the added weight of carrying my 7 month old son, a diaper bag filled with an assortment of baby goods and toys, plus a backpack full of Chanda’s post race necessities (sandals, water, Gatorade, etc..). I withstood all of that pretty well, I thought, but I had mostly underestimated the enchanting Liliuokalani Gardens, which quickly sucked us both into its brilliant labyrinth.

Sawyer smiled at all the birds, we watched a pair of mongoose dart across our path … each tree was a giant bonsai, the grass was green, the reflections off the ponds all made for a place like I had never seen.

It was like looking at a picture from nearly every angle, but naturally my cameras were both inaccessible … one clanging around in the bottom pocket of my pants, which kept falling down because I had forgotten my belt, and the other draped even closer around my shoulder but obscured by the straps of heavy diaper bag and an even heavier active kiddo …

I tried to walk as fast as I could despite all the distractions, and I was sweating and out of breath as I neared the finish line. I fumbled for my phone. 8:00 . Chanda and Sawyer at the finish line of the Hilo Half MarathonI looked up, and there was Chanda walking towards us, sweating and a little flushed, but overall appearing to be holding up much better than I was. She smiled and swept Sawyer up in her arms while I apologized for missing the big finish (which I later learned was only by about 20 seconds).

On the way back to the hotel, we took a leisurely stroll back through Liliuokalani Gardens, and thankfully this time my cameras proved more of use than a hindrance.

We packed up the car and headed southbound out of Hilo the way the came … but we weren’t quite done with the rainy side yet. For any time we are in Hilo, we always make it a point to stop at the zoo. And although we have been to the zoo a half dozen times, we had not been in two years … so this was not only Sawyer’s first trip to the zoo, but I think our first time to visit since we joined the orchid club. Not to mention that this was the first time we’ve been and it wasn’t raining …

Which was exciting, indeed, but not just because of the obvious fact of staying dry. Usually we have to rush from exhibit to exhibit, quickly glancing at one animal and then the next. This time, we weren’t forced to run for cover, and we were able to take our time going from one place to the next. But the funny thing is that this time I hardly even noticed the animals. A blooming pink orchid clings to a moss covered tree at the Panaewa Zoo in HiloNot because they weren’t there, but because I was too busy running from tree to tree, staring at all the orchids. The grounds of the Pana’ewa Zoo are beautiful, orchids burst out at you from all directions, clinging to nearly every moss-covered tree in the dense forest. They are very up-close and personal, and I can’t imagine a better setting for a display. The zoo is essentially just a large garden, a patch woven into a small patch cleared out of the surrounding Pana’ewa Rainforest … so quickly we were transported from the busy streets of Hilo to the stillness of the forest … which was then broken by the mating call of a male peacock, strutting his own illustrious pedals and reminding me that I was in a zoo.

Hawaiian Hawk perches on an electric line in Pana'ewa forest outside of HiloAs we were leaving the Pana’ewa forest I slowed down as we approached the stop sign to get back onto Highway 11, and at that moment I heard a familiar loud screech. I looked up, and there was an I’o Hawk, perched up on the electric line above me, making himself audible enough to be noticed. He sat there, acknowledging my presence, then politely posing for all my pictures.

Our run to Hilo this year made me realize that, in addition to the orchid zoo, there are gardens everywhere on the east side, all of which offer their own unique escape.
The only problem was that my legs were sore the next day from all the walking.

– Clint Zavodny

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