The Tale of the Ten Dollar Bill

The Tale of the Ten Dollar Bill
A ten dollar bill in front of a temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The traveling ten dollar bill

Find out why I have carried this ten dollar bill around the world with me for the past thirteen years. What does Madame Pele (the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire and Volcanoes), green sand and two high school virgins have to do with the story? You will have to read on to find out.

Sometimes the bill is in a suitcase or a camera bag or in my wallet. This bill is not always on me but it is always near me. I carry it with me when I travel and when I am home. Now that I have no home it is on a constant journey as I make my way around the world on my bicycle.

Back in 2001 I made my first trip to Hawaii. It was the last of the fifty states that I needed to visit and it was the one I thought I may never have visited. For some reason it seemed so far away and so unattainable I thought I would never get there.

Through my research I knew that Hawaii was considered magical and a place that is closely watched over by Gods and Goddesses. It is a place where you leave nature as you found it resisting the desire to take a bit of Hawaii back home with you.  Many a story can be read about the mishaps that follow people after they ignore the advice of locals. Who can ever forget the saga of the Brady’s after Bobby took the tiki from the construction site? Hotels have volumes of letters that accompanied simple things like lava on their return trip after a visitor found the tales to be more true than they were comfortable with.

One of the places we wanted to visit on the Big Island of Hawaii was the green sand beach. I had never heard of a green sand beach before which only increased my desire to see it in person. It was a rugged trip down to the southern most point of the United States along eroded dirt roads followed by a long walk under the blazing heat of the midday sun.

While on the beach I found an old soda bottle. I looked at the bottle then looked at the sand. What could it hurt I asked myself. I rinsed the bottle and filled it with the green sand, threw the bottle in my backpack and we went off on our way with no other care other than finding something cold to drink.

Small fingers of lava can be sen in the hills above Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Glowing lava in the hills.

Later that evening my son and I headed for Volcanoes National Park to see if we could find some active lava. Driving down the Chain of Craters road we watched the sun dip towards the horizon as we made out way down towards the ocean. As it became dark little fingers of light could be seen on the hills in the distance. It was hard to judge how far away the red glows were but we decided to walk towards them. In the dark. Over rough hard lava.

Being somewhat (or completely) unprepared I only had one small Mag-lite flashlight between the two of us. Somewhere between the car and the glowing lava that flashlight decided to shit the bed. We were left out on the dark black lava with no light. It was a moonless night and the clouds covered any stars that were up there. There was nothing to light up the darkness that surrounded us. After some time to have out eyes adjust to the darkness it was possible to see just a couple feet in front of us.

We started the long walk back to the car in almost complete darkness. Hiking in we saw lights in the distance from the other hikers. Once our light was gone those lights seemed to magically disappear. Since we arrived here in the dark I had no idea what the lay of the land was so I put the fingers of lava light behind us and walked in the opposite direction where the car should be. I knew the ocean was out there somewhere and we would probably hit the road before we got to any water. It seemed like a good plan. It was the only plan that came to mind.

With darkness blocking us at every angle we trudged along. Sometimes we had to shuffle our feet to feel what was on the ground. At times we climbed massive hills that during daylight would have been easily traversed to the left or right with nary a change in altitude. IN the darkness there was no way to tell what was ten feet to the left or right.

After a couple hours I found a flashing construction marker. I ripped the light from its stand to use as a makeshift light. It wasn’t the best but it sure made a difference. Anything was better than the darkness that enveloped us for the past few hours.

We finally make it back to the car with a few scratches from using our hands to feel our way up the hills we encountered. It was a long ride back to our lodging where we were able to enjoy two hours of rest before we had to get up and continue on our journey.

Waves crash over sharp lava at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Kealakekua Bay

That morning we stopped at Kealakekua Bay to do some snorkeling. It seemed like a pretty benign place but soon the waves kicked up which caused my son to swallow a little bit of seawater. That brought an end to our water journey as we switched from sea to land to return to the car. In bare feet we had to gingerly our way along the sun scorched hot, sharp lava on the shore with our delicate winter ha’ole feet. Crabs scurried left and right as we awkwardly inched our way back to the car. Our feet showed visible signs of the abuse we put them through as the surface turned to sand.

Never during these times did I equate the bad luck we were having with the stealing of the green sand. I am not a superstitious person so it would not be unusual to chalk those two experiences up to a bit of bad luck on an adventurous vacation. But after moving to Hawaii two years later and being more immersed in the culture I started to put two and two together

Okay, I can sense the impatience. What the hell does this have to do with the ten dollar bill? I’m getting to that.

In 2005 I was back in Rochester for my grandmothers funeral. I thought that would be a good time to finally empty out the storage that I had been paying for since I moved my stuff from my house. While sifting through piles of unneeded articles I came across the bottle of green sand. I could have tossed it in the garbage since, as you now know, I am not a superstitious person. But I opted for bringing the sand back to Hawaii.  You know, just in case.

The following month after arriving back home in Hawaii I went on a trip to get some pictures of the flowing lava on the Big Island. This would be a good time to return the sand to its rightful place. I retraced the same route I took three years prior and hiked back to the green sand beach. I emptied the bottle, rinsed out all of the sand out and continued on my way.

Later in the day I returned to Volcano National Park to hike out to the lava. This time it much closer to the parking area where previous lava flows brought the road to an abrupt end..

I learned my lesson last time and came prepared with more illumination devices. I had a headlamp, a large flashlight, and the same small Mag-lite from my previous trip here.

Darkness had already fallen by the time I parked and started to hike. About an hour into the hike I started to see an object emerging from the darkness. As it got closer I realized it was two people walking towards me in the dark. When I stopped to talk with them I found out they were a couple from Australia. They had misjudged the time and were left out in the dark without a flashlight. Been there, done that I told them.

I offered them my small Mag-lite and told them what kind of car I was driving and where it was parked. If you find the car just put the light on the windshield. If not, just keep it and remember your hike out here in the dark.

Glowing lava at night over the dark lava that has cooled.

Lava flow on the Big Island of Hawaii

I continued on my way and came across a few spots where I was close up with lava. Night time is not the best time to get lava shots but I did what I could. At times I walked over cracks with the red molten lava heating me up from below as the stench rose to the skies.

I was taking pictures near a family when the mother came up to me and asked me if I would take her two daughters back to their car. Apparently her husband and younger son had already turned back and her older son wanted to continue. Why she thought I was a good candidate to escort two high school virgins through the darkness back to her husband waiting anxiously in their car I will never know. Of course I have no knowledge about the status of their virginity but rescuing virgins adds nuance to the story.

The walk back to the cars seemed much quicker than the walk in.  About an hour later we were back at the road looking for our respective cars. I talked with the dad for a bit then continued to my car. On the windshield of my car I found my flashlight along with a note and the ten dollar bill. The couple thanked me for ‘saving their lives’ and gave me ten bucks to have a pint on them.

To this day I have kept that ten dollar bill near me on my travels. Even though I am not superstition it can’t hurt.

Can it?

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