After a bizarre incident during e-ticket check-in that required me to pick up a phone and wait on hold while surrounded by some one hundred United Airlines employees – the final nail in the coffin for the theory that technology saves time, some lost baggage and a wrong turn on a road wiped out by lava, I’m in a rain forest on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Without a raincoat.

And I left my digital camera at a USTA match last weekend so I’m in one of the most beautiful places on earth with an $8.95 throw-away camera.

The Big Island – also called Hawai’i – is a volcanic island currently being chased by two cyclones. The tennis court is submerged and I happen to be staying in a cottage with a tin roof. It’s not only raining cats and dogs but it also sounds like them.

There are actually five volcanoes here but only two of them are active. That’s more than enough. You can drive forever on hardened lava and end up in a parking lot that is within four miles of the volcano called Kilauea. At night you can see the red spots where the lava comes to the surface. If you look up, you see steam where lava is still spewing out of the top of Kilauea. If you look out over the beach, you see steam where lava enters the ocean.

A man recently walked the four miles to get a closer look at the lava. He misjudged the distance on his return walk and ended up lost on the huge expanse of lava for three days.

Not one person has mentioned sports during my stay here. It’s not that there aren’t a lot of athletes in Hawai’i. Dylan Rush, of Konawaena High School on the Big Island, was named the Bigger Faster Stronger 2005 National High School Athlete of the Year. An All-American in football and wrestling, he also competes in powerlifting and Judo and plays on a baseball team. He has accepted a scholarship to UCLA to play football.

Two weeks ago, Brian Viloria from Waipahu, O‘ahu, won the World Boxing Council light flyweight title by beating Eric Ortiz. In his previous fight, Viloria pounded his opponent, Ruben Contreras, so hard that he suffered brain damage. Viloria invited Contreras to the title fight and gave him a check for a few thousand dollars in front of the newspaper cameras at the end of the match. This is similar to Shaquille O’Neal’s offer to pay for George Mikan’s funeral. Mikan, the NBA big-man pioneer, died earlier this year. Offers of financial aid should be made in private and carried out in private. It’s embarrassing to need a handout. Helping someone should be a noble activity, not a photo-op.

Anyway, the point is that there are sports here but when you can hike around lava fields for days at a time and surf in the Wai’pio Valley, a stunning beach with two impossibly high and beautiful waterfalls, you don’t spend a lot of time indoors watching college football. Even if you do, the islands are six hours earlier than the east coast on the mainland so you can watch your game and still have time to spend the afternoon swimming with the dolphins.

My swimming was limited to riding on a blowup dolphin in the pool at the resort where I am staying. Sounds easier than it was, the damn thing kept tipping over and it was very hard to mount because it sat so high in the water. But that was enough for me. I had no urge to sponge off the tennis court and actually exert myself.

Maybe that’s why there aren’t a lot of professional athletes from Hawai’i. Who needs the stress?

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