Transformational Hoop Dance

Hot Lava Hooping!

I told everyone before leaving for Hawaii that I was going to get a photo of myself fire hooping with hot lava in the background. I really did not know if it would be at all possible, so I had made the declaration half joking, half hoping. Well my dream somehow came true through a series of serendipitous events. All I can say is that Pele must have wanted it to be and so it was.

It was not my only goal (to fire hoop with lava) on my trip however it did end up being a definite high light of the trip. It was in fact a much longed for vacation that finally came to pass. I got to visit the Big Island and Kauai. Both were amazing in different ways. But I will get into that later, maybe in another post.

With this image of hooping by the lava in my head I did pack the necessary gear for the trip. Collapsible hoops and ‘quick wicks’ (courtesy of Max Reid, thank you Max!) as well as a ‘duvetene’ safety blanket and then I bought the camping fuel and lighter once I arrived. This all came in handy not just for the lava hoop session but for some fire performances I did for the hosts and guests at the different places I stayed. (Too bad it didn’t pay for my lodgings!)

So when it came time during my visit to the Big Island to find the lava I had to first visit Volcanoes National Park (where one would assume the lava would be.. right? Wrong! The lava changes it’s mind about where it wants to go daily, nay hourly, well really by the minute.. though fortunately it doesn’t move all that fast so it usually gives ample time for one to get out of its way, that is unless you step on soft rock that has lava flowing under it that you can’t see..) So sometimes it flows in the park and sometimes not. This was one of the ‘not’ occasions, which meant driving about two hours away to find the flow. Which I did, only to discover that the flow that evening was a good ways away from the end of the road (the road ‘ended’ because lava decided to go over it.. now it is miles of lava fields between both ends of the road on either side, which I visited (both ends of the road), and it takes about 2 hrs. to get from one side to the other as you basically have to go up and down a mountain to get around the lava part). So I could just make out glowing embers in the distance that could only be lava. I was disappointed, not just about not being able to fire hoop with it showing behind me (which was my original idea btw, I had not intended to get so close, but I didn’t know it was the only way to actually get the lave to show up in the photo since it does not typically flow in the grandiose manner I had imagined) since I wasn’t sure I was going to be permitted to actually fire hoop (and so was really just scoping out the situation) but because I honestly wanted to see lava. I mean, I had never seen lava before in real life. I mean, have you? It’s not like something you get to see every day.. unless of course you live on an island with an active volcano like these folks did.

Still it was fascinating, these seemingly endless lava fields. So barren and desolate looking, yet somehow beautiful and enchanting. It was true, as a friend had told me who had seen this place, it looked and felt somewhat like being on the moon, or what one would imagine it would feel like to be on the moon (since I have yet to hoop on the moon.. that would be something! Not a bad idea.. maybe I could start looking into that as my next ‘hoop stunt’! LOL!.. Joking.. or am I?)

What I couldn’t understand was seeing houses built on the lava, just beyond the ropes to contain the tourists and just past the end of the road. What were they doing out there? Were these people crazy or did they just wanted a better view of the lava flow? Turns out for the most part they had owned the once lush jungle like land prior to the lava deciding to come, well destroy it all in one nasty firey flow. Some bits of houses could still be seen melted into black lava rock. Even a BBQ pit was melted fast on top of a black chunk of rock, out in a sea of more black rock that sometimes looked like pieces of charcoal so that I felt like a little ant walking across it all …once I did get to (which I am getting to soon, I promise!) go out there. So these people, still owning the land, figured lightning can’t strike twice in one place, right? Right?! Well, with lava, one never knows.. but they hope and they keep a watchful eye out for it. It seemed like a creature, the lava, the way people spoke of it. Where is it today? What’s it up to? What’s it doing? Where is it going? How fast, how big? How close to my house! Some of the re-builders just stuck with basic shack like structures (which is probably what I would do, I mean, why invest?) but then others spent a pretty penny on their homes. One cost over 100 grand  so I heard.
Well it certainly reminds one of the temporary nature of life. And the lava… out there, creating, destroying, creating, destroying….

So I went back from the viewing station down that long empty dark road back to the car. Near the parking lot some booths were up. Some tour guides promising to take you out over the, at times very unstable, lava rock fields to see the lava up close and personal. Fifty dollars for about a 3 hr. roundtrip hike. And almost 200 to do the boat tour which allows you to see the lava flow right into the sea. Something I definitely wanted to see, but 200? Then I saw a photographer’s stand. Displaying countless beautiful images of the lava. Looking at these photos made me really come to see the lava as a creature, a force. It was pictured in all it’s ‘habitats’ as it were, different times of day, different locations, destroying different things (like burning up entire forests) and jumping into the sea in such a way that you would swear it had a spirit to it. Animated for sure. And then huge chucks of lava rock collapsing and jumping into the now boiling sea water with it.  Amazing.

I got to talking to the talented photographer and because of my photo background we got to talking shop for awhile. While I was talking to him and after having seen that the flow was way out there, it occurred to me that I would need someone to take this photo that I wanted for me. No longer would mounting my camera a top my car and pushing the self timer button work. There was nowhere I could put my camera besides possibly hot lava rock ground nor did I feel confident to make that trek out there on my own. So I gave it a shot, let Leigh Hilbert, the photographer, know what I was hoping to do. He seemed interested, but not committedly so. It took some convincing. I offered to pay but he refused my money. And in the end (actually after calling and pestering him the next day) he agreed to take me to the lava AND take photos AND video! I was so excited!
I couldn’t believe this was really going to happen. We headed out for the lava the next night (since I only had two nights left on the island) me with my hoop coiled around my torso, my fuel which I had poured into a smaller more portable container for the hike, my washed out can of spagettios I had found in the recycling bin in which to pour the fuel  so I could dip my wicks, my duvatene cloth, lighter and flashlight. I was set, and Leigh with his usual camera bag and tripod.

He walked ahead of me sure footed and quick, having done this trek for about 10 years already! I, on the other hand was a bit slower, as I was concerned about what I had read in my guide book about possibly falling into the lava under the softer rock. Some rock was softer and made an interesting crunching noise as we walked across it, some was quite hard, some sandy, and some sharp and had the consistency of little pieces of glass. Some did in fact have orange red hot lava flowing and glowing under it some layers beneath which you could see shining through the cracks as you walked over.  And above which you could smell and feel the hot noxious gases being emitted. These were the bits that worried me. I had to ask Leigh to slow down a few times since I wanted to walk where he was walking, since I knew he knew where to walk and not and I could see that he had not fallen through. THAT was reassuring. However the thought went through my mind that it could mean that he had further loosened possibly unstable rock to the extent that all it needed was another set of feet on it (mine) in order to cause it to collapse.

So it was about an hour walk out there this way, till we got to a decent outbreak. Not totally amazing but decent enough to try our photo shoot in front of. Leigh called this our practice run anyway. If it went well we would come back for a dawn shot. Which we did and which happened to be only a few hours later as it turned out. But the lack of sleep was totally worth it. It was all worth it. Being out there in this windy eerily beautiful place and getting to fire hoop feeling the heat from the lava at my back, the temperate night island air blowing away, stars overhead.. totally unforgettable. And now I have a scar to remind me in case I forget. Pele, the goddess of the volcano and protector of the islands made sure of that. She branded me. Gave me a little flash of fire on my arm to show me whose boss. Well it was from my hoop. But I had never been burned by it before. And this was a nasty burn. Blisters, then puss, then blood, then new skin, a scab, the works. But I wasn’t bothered at all, knowing that it was simply my initiation mark. Leigh had been initiated too. His first night out on there 10 years ago, he stumbled onto some lava and got burned. But never again since. And he said that Pele also grants you with gifts. Gifts for dancing my fire dance in Her honor. It WAS in Her honor too. It felt that way. I felt the spirit of the lava and that place with me during my dance both that night and in the morning. At dawn we found a bigger outbreak that was really flowing and the heat from it I could feeling burning my fresh burn and I swear nearly melted my hoop. It was so intense. None of the rock surrounding us was cool as it had been at night (which was why I was able to do a couple of bare footed shots). I ended up using my fire safety  (shh!) to put my backpack on so it wouldn’t melt into the rock. And still my stuff was nearly melting when we finished our shoot and my flash light had stopped working.

We weren’t far from the point at which the lava dances it’s dance down to the sea so Leigh said he would take me to see it but when we came to a point maybe 500 ft. away he said that if we continued past that point we were taking a chance that the lava rock, the ground beneath our feet, could all collapse from under us into the sea as well. He could tell it was getting close to giving way.  So we made it a brief visit and stayed a safe distance away from the boiling water and toxic gases. And I have my photo to prove it thanks to Leigh.

The rest of my Hawaii trip was fantastic in its own right, but this was otherworldly. Thanks again Leigh! And thank you Pele!

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