Nightlife on the Volcano
Story by Thatcher Moats
Photo by Megan Spelman
Kaimu-Chain of Craters Road on the southeast of Hawai‘i Island ends abruptly at a wall of rock. It’s here that lava from Kilauea crossed the highway almost twenty-five years ago to form the ultimate roadblock. This remote end of the highway feels like the edge of the world, and it sort of is; beyond it is a barren expanse of lava.
But every Wednesday at sunset, the lonely village at the end of the road becomes a festive scene: the Kalapana Night Market. Locals, tourists, old hippies and families with kids flock to the collection of metal-roofed pavilions and tents known as Uncle’s ‘Awa Club for live music, food, drinks, crafts, fresh produce and, perhaps most of all, each other’s company.
“It’s a gathering place for people in our community, and I know they look forward to it every Wednesday,” says Uncle Robert Keli‘iho‘omalu, the 75-year-old owner of the ‘awa bar that bears his name. “They enjoy each other’s company and are like brothers and sisters, and to me, when I see that, my heart is filled with joy.”
The night market, like the town of Kalapana itself, almost wasn’t. The Kilauea lava flow that began in 1983 and buried most of the town of Kalapana in 1990 came to the very edge of Uncle Robert’s property, but he and his family didn’t evacuate. His wife stayed and wept and prayed near the slow-moving flow, and in the end Pele spared their land. A few feet from a stage where the band is strumming Hawaiian songs on ‘ukulele and guitars, the ground rises a couple of feet, marking the lava flow’s edge.
The night market is nothing if not eclectic. You can down kombucha, Jell-O shots or ice-cold beer. You can buy jewelry, honey, orchids or gelato. You can dine on wood-fired pizza, barbecue or Thai food, among others. And of course you can drink ‘awa till the wee hours. The crowd is just as diverse, and Uncle Robert points out that “all kinds” come out as the daylight fades and makes silhouettes of the palm trees. Taken together the night market adds up to a happy, distinctly Hawaiian vibe. “I believe God intended us to be together with aloha,” says Uncle Robert. “At the end of the road, aloha begins.”