By Connor McKenzie
It’s 3am, and everyone but the driver and I are asleep. As the bus continues its ascent up the hill, the thirty or so people around me curl up into uncomfortable-looking balls, desperately trying to compensate for their early morning wake up. The firm, plastic bus seats don’t help either. The woman seated next to me has also drifted off -thankfully not on me. I, however, am staring through the window, out at the dark, early morning sky. From my vantage point, I can see for miles.
What seems like the entire island is mapped out by specks of light dotting the landscape: the tiny clusters of specks by the water are towns, the dot-to-dot trails across the darkness, roads. There are no lights on the road in front of us though, but the driver has travelled this way many times before. What seems to be an endlessly twisting and possibly deadly trail to me is simply another road to him.
Almost mirroring the lights below, the many stars above shine bright; pinpricks of light, clear of the pollution that would have blocked them from view back home. The bus continues to climb higher and higher and higher along the world’s steepest paved road, and soon the dotted landscape below is blocked out by tall, dark trees on both sides. But the stars are still high above, and I stare at them, eyes half open, suddenly feeling incredibly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Time must fly when you’re half asleep, because before I know it, we’ve arrived at the peak of the volcano. The sleepers stir, rubbing their eyes and groaning as they all slowly sit up and stretch, like a groggy yoga class. When they look around themselves, they murmur in excitement as they realise just how high above the ground we are. As the bus driver explains, we are now almost ten thousand feet above sea level, a feat which would have seemed impossible for a minibus to achieve a couple of hours ago. Now, we’re even above the clouds.
Above us is nothing but blue sky, uninterrupted in all directions. I can’t see the stars anymore, meaning the sunrise is close. But that’s what we came all this way to see in the first place. The bus driver rattles off a list of safety precautions and directions, which – like the drive up here – he’s done many times before, but he does it with very little enthusiasm. At least he does it with a smile on his face.
He opens the doors and we all file slowly out of the bus. I immediately regret it though. An ice-cold wind cuts through us, sending shivers down my spine and every other part of me. (Who knew that it would be so cold ten thousand feet in the air?) There’s a small shelter nearby and we all scurry towards it, hands rubbing together, trying to gather any sort of warmth. Thankfully the wind can’t reach us in the shelter.
I open the package I had been given before getting on the bus. Inside are bright yellow plastic clothes, a jacket and pants, which are supposed to protect me from the cold. I pull them on as quickly as possible; the more clothes the better. But when I step out of the shelter, the yellow suit doesn’t help much at all. The wind still chills me to the bone. I’ve lost some of the feeling in my nose.
I head towards a guardrail overlooking the edge of the volcano, leading almost straight down. More people join me, all braving the fierce cold to see if it was worth getting up at two in the morning. I recognise people from my bus, mainly from our matching yellow tarps. We unconsciously huddle together, both for warmth and to fight for a good view, when a strong voice echoes around us. I look around to see that the voice belongs to a short, stout woman who seems to be singing—though not the sort of song I would usually hear on the radio. She’s wearing tracksuit pants and a sleeveless vest; I can’t imagine how anyone could ever get used to this cold. She finishes singing and explains to us over the roar of the wind that her song is an ancient one, welcoming the sunrise of a new day. The rest I can’t hear properly. My ears are ringing from being so cold.
But then, from behind the clouds far in the distance, a dazzling orange light shines, making the clouds seem as though they’re glowing. Everyone falls silent; the wind is the only thing I can hear. Slowly but surely, the light slowly rises, casting a welcome warmth upon us all. The sun ascends from the clouds, shining brighter than anything I’ve ever seen. As it has done for millennia, the sun once again takes its rightful place in the sky above, and as it shines its light warmth down upon the tropical island of Maui, I realise just how far from home I am. I also realise I’ve lost all feeling in my face.