How To Eat Like A Pig and Lose a Pound a Day

the surreal world of witnessing the creation of new land on the Big Island of Hawaii

The skinny: 4 photographers, 4 guides -- couldn’t ask for a better ratio! Up at 12:30 am to leave the hotel at 1 am. Out until 8:15-8:45 am, then drive back to Hilo for breakfast. Back to the rooms by 10:30am or so. Charge batteries, download images, clean camera gear. Try to nap. Meet again at 3 or 4 or 5pm for an evening session at the crater, on a boat or helicopter. Dinner around 8. Back to the hotel around 10 or 11pm. Charge batteries, download images, clean camera gear. Try to nap. Repeat. And again. Total of 3-4 hours sleep per 24 hour period.  A little yoga.  Lost 5# in 5 days eating like a pig.

The fatty: October 21, 2016 12:30 a.m. Time to get up to meet the group at 1am. We pile into 2 trucks and drive in the dark & sometimes rain, past the end of the pavement, where Tom & Bruce of Extreme Exposure Gallery in Hilo, slow to a crawl and turn the headlights off so as to not disturb the residents. It’s raining when we park. We sit there as the leaders confer. After a bit, we shoulder our packs and begin walking up the emergency access road, the orange plume of smoke guiding us after a little while. We’ve been issued umbrellas that double as walking sticks and gas masks to be worn around our necks when not in use so they’ll be quickly accessible. Leaving the road for the pahoehoe, headlamps become handheld as we move closer to the plume. Soon, we are close to the edge of the cliff, looking down into an amazing sight: yellow, orange, red lava streams from the openings in the earth and plunges down into the sea. Explosions of hot lava hitting the water erupt in the distance. Is it lifeblood of Pele oozing through rents in the lava? Is it a new world being birthed? Are the innards of our earth spewing forth as precursor to a cataclysmic event? Did the Hawaiians infuse the air in our hotel rooms with pakalolo and we’re all just hallucinating? Everything? Nothing? It just is. I had no words beyond a quiet, “wow”. Tom, Bruce, Miles & Ryan help us to get set up safely. We have no idea how to shoot the lava. Even manually focusing lenses is a challenge as the rocks by the lava are covered in steam or waves more often than not. It begins to rain. The umbrellas are no longer walking sticks, but actual umbrellas being held over our heads by our guides. On my last trip to Iceland, I learned how to shoot in the rain, but we weren’t standing in the same place for hours. Umbrellas were a good idea. Fortunately, it wasn’t too windy. The rain stops. Umbrellas come down. More rain. Umbrellas up. Down. Up. Down. We keep shooting, then we’re back at the trucks around 8:15am. Drive to Hilo for breakfast, where I find my mouth down at plate level, shoveling food in. Arms protectively encircling my plate. I. Just. Can’t. Stop. I mean, one of the things I love about going to Hawaii means I can eat the foods of my youth, that I’ve forgotten about, living in Colorado, but I usually don’t trough feed! Then it was back to our rooms to dry our gear, download photos to our computers, recharge batteries and try to get some sleep before we meet again at 3pm for an evening session. Up to Halemaumau Crater for photography followed by dinner. Back to our rooms around maybe 10:30 or 11pm, again charging batteries, downloading files and getting a little sleep before we’re up at 12:30 or so to depart at 1am.

Day 2 and it already feels like the movie Groundhog Day and that we’re at least on day 3. It’s drier this time. Similar routine. This time Tom wants us to see the delta after we’ve been on the cliff edge/bench, the broad, flat (ish) plain of pahoehoe flows with small drips and pools of lava. As we file along the cliff bordered by steam, it’s so dark and eerie, I feel that we are on a journey to return the Ring to the fires of Mordor. When we get to the delta, there’s a lot of steam and the plume is being blown inland, so our views are brief teasers. The guys nickname this spot Sulphur Ridge for the sulphur dioxide in the steam plume. Our gas masks are put to use as the hydrochloric acid, sulphur dioxide and silica shard-laced plume rolls over us. A panoramic shot of this Mordor-like scene would be wonderful......if it weren’t covered in the steam. I’ve gotten a glimpse of some pools that draw me & I stubbornly wait for the steam to thin out. Everyone is packed up and starting to leave. Finally, I get my wish just as the sun lights up the plume. After we leave the delta, we go to the Skylights, active lava tubes on the surface that have sections missing so that one can look inside. The inside of the tubes are glowing yellow, orange, red with heat. The river of lava flowing through is the same and it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. They look like the eye of Smaug, the dragon guarding the riches in Lord of the Rings. This place is not the happy little hobbit towns, but the dark side of the Tolkien stories. That evening, we go for our first heli-tour. The clouds are obscuring the volcano, so we skip that and concentrate on the ocean entry. The pilots work with Bruce & Tom weekly and know what we’re looking for. They are rock stars, feathering the choppers against the winds and updrafts created by the heat, staying cool and giving us the best shots we could hope for.

The real day 3 and we’re back at the flow. This time some of us go halfway down the cliff so we can get a different perspective on the waves and lava. I left my long lens behind, thinking that I should get some wider views for a change. Bruce & Tom are so saddened by this that they strongly encourage me to use Bruce’s long lens & I get one of my favorite shots with it.

The boat ride. Play ominous music. The boat captain Tom & Bruce usually use is not available & the seas are rough, so we join Lava Ocean Tours. This tour is not a photographers tour, but a “thrill the tourists” tour. 30’ boat rips out across the swells for 45 minutes to the ocean entry lava, sits at practically the base of the cliffs with one side facing the lava. Then he backs up and turns around so the other side can see the lava. That was it for me. Fortunately, I had made it a point to not eat before going. But that does nothing to stop my stomach from contracting and emptying what few liquids are in there. Then he takes us right into the steam plume. Remember the composition of the plume when it reacts with sea water? Back to the cliff base for more lava viewing. I’m fine looking through the viewfinder until the waves or steam covers the rocks and lava and there is nothing to focus on. I have never been anywhere near this motion sick. Finally he heads back, even faster than on the way out. One of our group who had graciously moved forward in the boat to accommodate a seasick woman who needed to sit further back, gets bounced so hard that pain shoots up his spine & he can barely move. He’s only 30, but his back is much older. I skip dinner that night as the thought of having to be vertical is too much. Between the 2 of us, the 1am start for the next morning is tabled. Everybody is relieved at being able to catch up on sleep.

Day 4 is a seminar on post-processing. We have tentative plans for an evening heli tour, but it’s cancelled due to the weather. We re-schedule it for the next morning. One of there guys says he's disoriented from too much sleep.

Day 5, final day. We get to sleep in again as we aren’t meeting until 6am or so. I was up much earlier, so, of course, I got busy doing things and noticed that we were meeting in 3 minutes, so I grabbed my cameras & headed downstairs. Once out there, I realized I’d forgotten to put on my long pants. Which were neatly laid out on the bed so I wouldn’t forget them. At the airport, I realize I’ve also forgotten my jacket. The pilot said it’d be 20 minutes before we could take off, so I asked to be taken back to the hotel so I could get my forgotten clothing.  We were on our way as soon as I got back and we had wonderful weather, though the crater was still pretty cloudy. We met for dinner once more before we all went our separate ways.