Dina Ostrovsky’s review:

“Today, we are finishing the “Dolphin Dance” tour. We accomplished everything that was planned: we reached the most remote areas of the Big Island, descended into the mysterious and secluded Waipio Valley, visited the highest point of the island — the 4000m tall Mauna Kea, and got to do some shamanic rituals on the lava. Most importantly, we got to communicate with dolphins! The 10-day trip stayed in our memories like a whole different lifetime, saturated with adventures, the bright colors of Polynesia, tropical fruit flavors and the smell of Hawaiian flowers. Each day was filled with amazing experiences, beautiful sights and pure pleasure…

Here goes:

Day 1. Kawa and Aloha.

The group we had gathered this time was pretty small — 7 people. I led the tour together with my daughter Vika, who spent a year living in a yogi community on this island and knows it like the back of her hand. Because of her, we can get to the places that stay unknown for most tourists. She knows all the local trails and Hawaiian words for places and things, as well as the accompanying myths and legends; she is our guide to the Big Island. The third leader is Svetlana Doroganich, a dolphin therapist with 20 years of experience. She is looking for a place to work with dolphins in the open ocean, instead of the dolphinarium. The tourist group consists of four women, three Alenas and one Olga. One Alena came from NYC, the others — from Moscow. So clearly, it was an all-girls team this time.

On the first day, we pick everyone up from the airport and check in at a Kona hotel. Kailua-Kona is a tourist town located on the beach; possibly the most “non-Hawaiian” and civilized place on the whole island.

Following the local tradition, we brought leis for our guests — a lei is a necklace made of fragrant Hawaiian flowers. After dinner, we go to a kava bar and open our tour with a kava ritual. This drink, made from ground up kava root, is consumed during most Hawaiian ceremonies. The taste is not too pleasant but tolerable, especially if you chase it with some fruit. The effects, however, are wonderful — exhaustion melts away, your body becomes relaxed, and mood is lifted. After offering Kava to the local spirits, we have a drink ourselves and enter the bright and happy world of Polynesia. After that, we teach our guests the meaning of the most common word and greeting on the island — “Aloha”. Aloha means breath, prana, love. After that we demonstrate the Hawaiian way of greeting each other. It involves touching tips of noses and exchanging breaths — for when you share your breath with someone, the boundaries between you disappear.

Day 2. At the big turtle’s place.

Today we’re doing a beach day, letting our visitors from Moscow warm up and get some rest after the long flight. We’re going to Makalawena, one of the most beautiful and secluded beaches on the Big Island. The shoreline is breathtaking: white sand, black lava rock, bright green vegetation and deep blue ocean water. The only way to get there is by trekking across a lava field. I held a small shamanic ritual, offering some food to the spirits and asking them to accept our little ladies’ group to the island and provide us with protection.

Sveta leads a yoga session, and afterwards teaches us how to use diving gear and dive properly: she is a specialist in freediving (diving without a SCUBA).

We meet a giant turtle on the shore — it came here to sleep. I ask the girls not to bother her, since this beach is its bedroom and we, the intruders, should be quiet and polite.

After sunset we arrive to a retreat center in Waimea town. The house is very cute with separate small rooms, a kitchen and a yoga lounge, so we settle in comfortably.

Day 3. Trained dolphins and people.

A kundalini yoga session in the morning, breakfast accompanied by delicious local fruit. Today is a big day: we are meeting the dolphins. In a dolphinarium, and only the tamed ones — for now. The Big Island has one of the best dolphinariums in the world, with its “tenants” living in small bays near the ocean shoreline. This place has a really good reputation because it has proper living conditions for the dolphins.

The dolphinarium is located in a huge expensive hotel — the Hilton. As we wait for our session, we watch dolphins in training and a small baby dolphin at play. They truly are pretty and pleasant to watch. After that we get our life vests on and finally enter the dolphin pool. Their cheerful, blonde handler tells us a bit about them and then calls one over. His name is Kai Nalu — ocean wave. It’s a huge male that weighs 400 pounds, but you don’t feel fear next to him — his snout is way too friendly and smiley.

The show begins, with everything going according to a practiced scenario — the handler gives commands, the dolphin performs tricks. He places his snout before our faces and we take turns kissing him, so it’s not too clear who’s the one getting trained here — us or the dolphin. But both parties get a ton of pleasure — the dolphin certainly looks like he enjoys the pets and the fish treats, and we are all squealing with delight. He’s very pretty and pleasant to touch, with tender, smooth skin and human eyes that seem to be smiling at you.

Once the show is over, Sveta asks if it’s okay for the dolphin to swim around us and echolocate while we quietly lay in the water. The handler gives her permission, and we hold a seance of dolphin therapy. We ask the handler whether anyone in the dolphinarium thinks dolphins have some healing power. She says they do not believe in any of that, before proceeding to tell us a story of how one of their clients got rid of kidney stones after a few sessions with the dolphins.

I do not have kidney stones, but my body sensitivity is very high — a result of many years doing yoga, qigong and other practices. After the session ended, I clearly felt the channels open in my heart and throat chakra, and all the blocks became relaxed. The whole group seemed to be in a state of quiet euphoria after the session was over; the girls were relaxed, all smiles, and even Vika fell silent. We drive over to an incredibly beautiful beach, humorously named “Beach 69”, to meditate at the sunset before going home. I’m feeding my group some local food tonight — raw fish Ahi Poke from a nearby supermarket. The fish is super fresh and extremely delicious, almost like dolphin food. After dinner, we draw mandalas to integrate the experience.

Day 4. The “Lost” show.

Today, we begin to explore the depths of the Big Island — we’re going to the Waipio Valley.

It is a huge canyon, open towards the ocean and stretching far inland. Hawaiians have lived in this valley for thousands of years, and it used to be called «the Valley of the Kings.» Hawaiians believed that the valley has accumulated “mana”, or magic power over the millennia and is a place of passage into another world. After the 1948 tsunami hit, people left the valley and the only people living there now are those who want to get away from civilization. First, we descend into the valley and situate ourselves on a beautiful deserted black sand beach. We have  a snack, and are about to do a breathing meditation when Vika walks off into the thickets and finds a Heiau — an ancient stone block for offerings. The valley’s magical power is leading us. We offer food to the spirits of the valley and do a small, spontaneous ritual. I get a vision of fleets of boats arriving into the valley.

We trek to a waterfall located in the depths of the valley. Because people have lived here for centuries, there are lots of fruit trees and various edible plants all over the place. I keep stopping to pick up lilikoi (passion fruit). We’re gathering grapefruits and oranges, examining coffee and cocoa tree fruit. On our way we keep coming across little houses — many abandoned, others clearly inhabited. The atmosphere is magical here, and the intensity of colors, smells, and tastes is off the scale. I have never seen the «Lost» series, but the girls are saying that the feeling of nature and the environment from abandoned houses is just like in the show. We meet a young woman with her 3 children at the waterfall. Originally from Connecticut, she came here with her husband and «got stuck». Once a week they leave the valley to buy food and exchange library books; their children are homeschooled. She says she tried to return to Connecticut and failed; after the paradise that Waipio is, civilization simply did not appeal to her anymore. We make our way through Taro fields (a local edible plant), meet a wild horse with her foal, and come back to the road leading out of the valley. Climbing the steep slope takes about an hour, and as we finally emerge in the dark we feel as if we came back from another world, a world of magic and adventure. We draw mandalas that evening, and their colors come out just as bright as the day’s experiences.

Day 5. Visiting the goddess of the mountain lake.

After hiking into Waipio, next thing on our schedule is getting to the top of the highest mountain on the island — the 4 thousand-meter-tall Mauna Kea. There is a scientific community on the mountain, and many observatories belonging to universities from all over the world. Our task is finding the sacred Waiau lake, one of the most mysterious places on the island. Hawaiians came here to throw their newborn babies’ umbilical cords into the water, and the chiefs came here to ask for a blessing before making important decisions. Finding this lake is not easy — Vika and Katya have tried before to no avail. Also, at an altitude of 4500 m, even a small trek can be a challenge. We drive uphill, making a stop halfway up — a necessary measure to adapt to the altitude. We reach the mountaintop as the sun begins to set. The landscape is very Martian, and the observatories gleam pink and silver in the setting sun’s rays. Vika was well prepared this time, so we quickly locate the trail and find ourselves at a small mountain lake before the sun is gone.This is the home to one of the Hawaiian goddess of snow. We make offerings and dissolve into the otherworldly landscape. A cloud sits right on top of the lake, moving constantly — it looks like the misty-veil-covered goddess is greeting us. Silver cosmic energy is pouring on us, leaving a feeling of clarity, awareness and peace. We don’t want to leave this place, but we wander back in the darkness slowly, looking back at the goddess’s misty veil flowing over the lake.

We arrive to the visitor center in the darkness. Here you can look at the stars through a telescope; one telescope is pointed at Saturn and its satellites, the other points towards the Milky Way. When you see what an incredible number of stars our galaxy alone holds, you get the thought that it is impossible for earthlings to be the only living things in all this space.

Day 6. Relocating to the hippie district.

Today, we are leaving our cute little Waimea house and moving to a different area of the Big Island — the Puna district. The island has twenty-three climatic zones; we are now going to a tropical rainforest. The mountains trap the clouds on this side of the island and all the moisture and humidity stays here.

This area is where the lava is currently active. It is also known for a large amount of hippie and yoga communities. Not all hippies have died from drug use or transformed into accountants — some of them bought cheap land on Hawaii and continue to live on happily , in harmony with their ideals.

I am very familiar with and fond of this particular part of the Big Island — my daughter Vika has spent a year in a yoga community out here, and I have also lived in this area for two months last year.

We stop by Akaka Falls on the way; it seems like the forest in “Avatar” was copied from the local nature. We then walk around the botanical garden for a few hours, until I grow tired of admiring and photographing the beautiful tropical flowers and the girls standing next to them.

At night we arrive to the “Yoga Oasis” retreat center — we will be staying here for the next 3 nights. I rented 2 rooms in the main house and a small Bali house — one wall is completely replaced by a net, and you feel like you’re sleeping right in the middle of the jungle. It’s very humid, but the rain’s murmur and the jungle noises make a great night’s sleep.

Day 7. In the field of Pele — the island’s mistress.

The rain will not stop. It seems like we have teleported into the world of eternal rain. For breakfast, I pick fruit right off the trees — oranges, grapefruit, lilikoi, starfruit, and the main course: a giant yellow rollinia, looking like a small dragon and tasting like the most tender lemon pudding. You can never get it from a store because it goes bad a mere few hours after being harvested.

We get ready under the rain and head out of the Yoga Oasis. We’re going to a lava field to visit “Madam Pele” — the volcano goddess. After five minutes of driving the rain stops — weather is different everywhere on this island depending on where you are.

The Big Island’s volcano is active but it never explodes, oozing lava slowly and continuously instead. The lava burns tunnels in the ground as it flows, eventually ending up in the ocean.

Pele — the volcano goddess — is constantly creating and reshaping the land of the island. She can cover a whole beach or a town with lava, as well as destroy a road. Last year the lava was flowing right next to the road and anyone could come up and poke it with a stick. It is a marvellous sight, watching liquid molten rock flow past you. This year the lava is flowing far away from the road — it would take 14 hours of trekking through a lava field, and we’re not willing to take the risk. The lava field we are walking on was formed only 4-5 months ago. As we walk, Vika entertains us with legends about the volcano and lava goddess. Pele likes to turn into a woman and roam the island looking for romance. Her personality is jealous and demanding, but she is also very creative — the lava fields are a beautiful example, with its fascinating sculptures created by Pele from the glistening molten rock. We meditate on the field, asking Pele for fire and creative energy, and then walk on to keep exploring the shoreline.

We go diving in a bay full of fish and coral and then wrap up the day, bathing in a natural warm pond where Sveta teaches us watsu massage and water breathing exercises.

Day 8. Yoga community and a Hawaiian village.

It rains again during the night but stops in the morning, so we head out to a black sand beach. This beach is often visited by whales and dolphins, but none show up today.

Our next destination is the Lava Tree State Park. Lava engulfed the tree trunks and they burned down but the moisture that evaporated in the process cooled down the lava, freezing it into obscure looking rock columns that look like Shiva lingams. Perhaps that was Pele’s way of erecting monuments to her numerous lovers?  

At dinnertime we go to visit Polestar — the yoga community where Vika lived for a year. We go around and take a look at how everything works here — the community is almost entirely self- sustained, with solar panels, water catchment system, a greenhouse and a garden. We are treated to a lovely vegetarian meal and spend some time listening in on a rehearsal — the yogis are getting ready to go sing Christmas carols at a hospital — in short, they all lead busy and fulfilling lives. To balance out the experience from the Christmas carols we go to a Hawaiian village to drink kava. Every Wednesday and Friday night there’s a party there, with Hawaiian music and rock performed by local bands. A local man is dancing hula masterfully to the Hawaiian music. We’re drinking kawa and people-watching. Also located here is a mini-museum commemorating the events of the 1990 (very recent!) lava flow which destroyed most of the village, as well as the history of United States’ unlawful annexation of Hawai’i. Next to it is an altar with four portraits: The goddess Pele, Jesus Christ, and the village’s current chief with his dad…

Day 9. In the volcano’s crater.

We’re leaving rainy Puna behind, excited to return to the sunny side of the island. On the way we stop at a large fair in Hilo town, and then at the Volcano National Park — Pele’s main house. In Hilo, the girls shop for souvenirs while I stock up on fruit and buy some kawa powder for a ceremony I want to do with my New York friends after I get back.

Volcano National Park is cold and rainy, and we almost decided against leaving the car. We do muster up the courage eventually and make our way down into the dormant volcano’s crater. The scenery is surrealistic: a black field, some ohia trees with bright red flowers, rain falling down from the sky and steam clouds rising from the ground. Through this field, a team of women marches on in bright ponchos, and one of the Alenas is holding an umbrella. The rain stops for a little bit and Sveta conducts a journey into the lower worlds with us; this is the perfect place. We get out of the crater and drive over to the museum. From here, you can see into the glowing crater of Halemaumau — an active volcano. You can also look at a local artist’s portraits of Pele and other local deities — looks very impressive. We arrive to a cozy retreat center by the ocean at night; tomorrow is the day we meet with the wild dolphins.

Day 10. Wild dolphins and Mister Aloha.

Today we swim with the wild dolphins. Sveta led a meditation session with us last night to prepare for the encounter, and for some reason, a man’s figure appeared during the meditation — we decide it’s the guide to the dolphins.

In the morning, we met with the sun-bronzed, cheerful Chris, loaded up in his boat and set out to look for the wild dolphins. Dolphins come close to the shore to sleep: they sleep with one half of their brain, while the other stays alert and keeps them swimming in large circles and coming up for breaths of air every now and then. We started our trip around 9am — dolphins go to sleep around noon, so we had enough time to catch them while they’re still awake. We spotted a pod rather quickly — shiny fins were flickering above the water and several tourist boats and some locals on surfboards were already gathered around.

I have already swam with wild dolphins last year, and even though it was very pleasant and beautiful, it didn’t really leave a big impression: the dolphins swam super fast in huge circles, flying past me with inhuman speed, and I just watched with admiration as they swam past me. This time it was different: the dolphins were awake and they were curious, circling around us, coming up to the surface and swimming away only to immediately return. From Sveta’s stories, we knew that dolphins can sense anybody that’s “hanging out” next to them, as they can monitor a radius of up to 3 miles with ultrasound. All they need to swim away from a person they don’t like is a slight flick of the tail. And yet here they were, swimming around us and acting interested. One of them even swam next to one of the Alenas for a while.

Swimming with a dolphin pod and being among those beautiful sea creatures is a feeling uncomparable to anything else — you feel like a dolphin, beautiful, dexterous and free in the ocean’s vastness. We got to see some of the dolphins’ family life, too — dolphin moms were caring for their kids, the males were engaging in amorous play. Vika said she never had an experience like that, despite living on the island for a year and swimming with dolphins many times before.

Before we even had a chance to recover from all of these experiences, we had a next adventure waiting. While we were swimming around, one of our girls got brought back to the boat by a Hawaiian guy — she swam too far off. We made acquaintances — he’s a good-looking guy of about 50 year of age, his name is George and he has the most amazing nickname — “Mister Aloha”.

He told us he’s been swimming with dolphins for the last five years, and once even helped a female give birth — she couldn’t stay on the surface by herself so he helped her stay afloat. Mister Aloha invited us back to his coffee plantation and gave each one of us a bag of amazing Kona coffee, fed us some delicious Ahi fish, and showed a whole bunch of local plants. To each one of us, he gave a rose from his garden (we’re all holding bouquets on the pictures). We made arrangements to work with George on our future “dolphin” tours. Sveta was very happy — we have found a Hawaiian guide into the world of Dolphins!

Dumbfounded from all the experiences and positive emotions, we returned home and drew a group mandala that turned out incredibly colorful — a real work of art!

Day 11. The last one.

Today we’re parting our ways: Vika is driving the girls over to Kona to get souvenirs and catch their flight while I catch up on some sleep — ahead of me is another tour in California, in the Death Valley, and to top it off, this time I’ll be leading teenagers.

Aloha!

11/22/2011 Dina Ostrovskaya


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