Monday, November 18, 2013

Wailea - November 9, 2013

Our last day in Hawaii! We considered trying to have an adventure on our last day, but we'd done everything we wanted to do already, and after our mega-relaxing resort stay we were feeling especially lazy. The one thing we were considering doing was a scenic drive called "Hana Highway," but it turned out that we wouldn't have had the time. We ended our resort stay with a delicious breakfast, quickly stuffed everything into our suitcase, and high-tailed it to the part of Maui where the airport was located.

Once we got there we stopped in at a grocery and bought nine pineapples for stuffing in our second suitcase we'd bought a couple days previous. We had investigated the rules on taking fruit out of Hawaii and while they have some fairly strict rules about most fruits, pineapples are too acidic to be a bug problem. Our suitcase might have been able to hold more than nine, but we knew we were cutting it pretty close to the max weight limit. We then went to a Starbucks to post blog and photos, as well as chop the leaves off the pineapples so they'd fit well in our suitcase. We spent some time at Starbucks catching up on Internet stuff, then went to an Italian place for a quick lunch.

Nothing left to do! So though we had hours left before our flight we headed to the airport early to get security out of the way. Security was an absolute breeze. We had to check our bags through agricultural checks, but because we had nothing but pineapples it was no problem. We found a couple of comfy chairs near an outlet in the vicinity of our gate and spent the next few hours watching shows on Netflix.

As the time came near to board the plane Elly and I tried to negotiate a seat change. We somehow wound up seated in the same aisle, but Elly was in the aisle seat to the right of the aisle and I was in the window to the left of the aisle. The people at the gate did their best but weren't able to Tetris us into seating together. After we boarded, though, I was able to trade my window seat for the aisle (thanks to a nice, friendly couple I was seated with) so Elly and I wound up seated together.

The plane took off at 11:05 PM, so Elly and I mostly just slept. It was crappy airplane sleep, but better than nothing. We touched down in Denver 8:45 AM. Safe and sound and home!


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Wailea - November 8, 2013

Our last full day in Hawaii, and we were set to max relax! We ate chocolate muffins at the hotel cafe, and then it was off to our spa day. Though the couples spa thing was my idea, I was still very nervous about doing it. I'd never done anything like it before, except for a couple short chair massages back in the good old days, when money was flowing a bit more freely at my office. On the agenda for the day was the following string of (to me) nonsense syllables: Natural Sugar Cane Body Polish, 'Ala Lani Signature Body Wrap, and Kea Lani Customized Facial. It all sounded girly and weird to me, but I've always had the policy that you should try (almost) everything once. You can try something and decide you don't like it, but if you don't try it you can only regret not doing it.

We were greeted at the temporary "spa", which was two rooms at the end of the hall that had been converted into a massage room while their new digs were under construction. We were offered water and fresh fruit, and then we received (gasp) another orientation. We were shown into a dimly lit room with soft island music playing. We instructed to strip down as far as we were comfortable, then given privacy. I did a bit of research on massage etiquette before going in (in classic nervous-Branden fashion, lol -E), and apparently it is normal and even recommended (though not required) that you are fully nude for a full body massage. If you're going to do something at all, you may as well do it right! So Elly and I ditched our skivvies and laid on the message tables, face down, sandwiched between two towels. We told our masseuses that we were ready and they came into the room.

The sugar scrub was exactly what it sounded like. They had scented sugar that they used to exfoliate our whole bodies (minus bathing suit areas, of course). Initially I found this quite unpleasant, but once I got over the initial shock it was actually kind of nice. My masseuse kept me mostly covered by the towel the whole time, tucking and folding the towel strategically as she individually exposed all my limbs, and rolled me around to get the other side. When the sugar scrub part came to an end she even swapped the moist drapery towel for a fresh one in a ninja move I didn't quite follow. Somehow, without ever being exposed, both the towel underneath me and the one above me were swapped for fresh ones. It was kind of awesome.

With the top layer of my skin now flayed away (I kid) it was time for the 'Ala Lani. This was a full massage, using a rich body butter. It was pretty awesome! 80 minutes of rub down! (For the record, the whole thing - scrub and all - was 80 mins. But who's dividing? -E) At the end of it, with my skin positively greasy from the body butter, we were cocooned in heavy blankets to allow the body butter to soak in. With that, the masseuses excused themselves, leaving Elly and I alone for a while until the facial specialists arrived. We both pretty blissed out and looked so silly cocooned in our wraps that we basically spent the whole time just smiling and laughing at each other.

Still wrapped in our wraps, the facial girls arrived to do their thing. Apparently the facial thing is customized to treat our specific skin type. My masseuse explained each step as she went, but I basically spent the whole time on the verge of napping, so I couldn't begin to tell you what all I went through. It was pretty similar to the body massage, though: exfoliate, moisturize, and then wrap. The wrap, in this case, was a clay mask. So there I lay, wrapped in a big blanket, with circle pads on my eyes, wearing a clay mask. This was the pinnacle moment of girly stereotype in the whole experience. At the time it didn't make me at all uncomfortable, though. The whole spa thing was executed with such professionalism that it felt much more like a medical treatment than a girly pampering. Not that I didn't feel relaxed and awesome! And not that they weren't friendly! It just never felt uncomfortable or emasculating. I don't think I'd probably do this kind of thing alone, but I'd definitely be interested in doing a spa day again with Elly at some point in the future.

My mask was wiped away, and I had a few more goops applied. All the while, I was receiving a pressure point massage on my face, neck, shoulders, and scalp. It was pretty awesome. When the whole thing wrapped up I felt like I was made entirely of jello. I don't know that I've ever felt so relaxed! We were granted privacy again, enrobed, and settled our bill. By then, we were starting to get hungry.

We didn't feel like doing a big ordeal for lunch, so we headed to the most casual restaurant in the place (except for the deli/bakery): The Polo Bar and Grille. This bar has tables on one side of the bar, and a swimming pool on the other. We had a sit-down lunch on the table side of things. Elly had a bento box that was really delicious, and I had a teriyaki burger topped with a pineapple ring. I was in heaven! I'd been craving this specific burger since we landed on The Big Island, and it hit the spot perfectly!

We had absolutely nothing planned for the rest of the day until our dinner reservation. We wandered around the resort grounds, laid in a hammock for a while, and watched a show on Netflix from the comfort of our room. I also swam up to the pool-facing side of The Polo Bar, sat down on a fully submerged bar stool, and ordered a beer. I drank a Maui Mana Wheat and snacked on the mixed crackers and nuts cup the bartender gave each customer. The beer was pretty good, but in that context I think it was the best beer experience I've ever had.

As the sky began to darken a horn sounded, and a fit, grinning Hawaiian guy with a long, burning torch ran around the resort yelling "Aloha!" to everyone he passed. Soon this torch-lighter had a long procession of giggling children following him and aloha-ing their heads off. I scrambled out of the pool and snatched up my camera. I got a few blurry shots as he ran towards us, but as he was about to pass me he stopped, Aloha-ed, and gave me enough time to snap off a picture. Then he was off down the path again to complete his circuit. In the distance we could hear that this torch-lighting ceremony had some kind of a finale, but from the comfort of The Polo I missed it.

Elly and I capped our night with an excellent dinner at Nick's Fish Market. We didn't realize this beforehand, but the restaurant was participating in the local Restaurant Week, which meant you could get a 3 course meal from a reduced menu for a little less than half what it was normally priced at. This was a pleasant surprise for us, but it did mean that the place was absolutely packed! We made our dinner reservation before noon but the best time we were able to get was 8:30. This wasn't a problem, though, because our day was running late anyway. At Nick's we each ordered an appetizer, a fish entree, and dessert, all of which was quite delicious. We had told the resort when we checked in that we were there celebrating our anniversary: we had originally planned this vacation for May, but due to some scheduling problems we had to bump it to October. Apparently this tidbit of information got filed away somewhere, and when our two desserts came out, they were accompanied by a third with "Happy Anniversary" written on the plate in chocolate drizzle. This unexpected third dessert definitely put our already large dinner into the realm of over-eating, but it was still very appreciated.

By the time we were out of the restaurant, it was almost 10:30, so we changed into our swimsuits and went to take advantage of the 24 hour pool. Despite our full day of relaxing we were both feeling too lazy for much of a swim, but we spent 10 minutes soaking in the jacuzzi before bed. Back at the room we watched another show on Netflix, and then fell immediately asleep.

I knew in advance that our lazy day would not produce many photos, so I made it my job of the day to snap a picture of any statuary we passed. In the course of my quest I came across a horse statue that looked enough like Paralyzed Horse from the show Bravest Warriors to elicit a chuckle.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Wailea - November 7, 2013

We were so excited about parasailing we couldn't get checked out of the condo fast enough! Our packing the night before meant that getting out the door was mostly just a matter of carrying the bags to the car. We dropped off our pool key and it was Aloha Kihei Akahi! We crossed to the west side of the Maui where our parasailing trip was scheduled and got there almost 30 minutes early. We used the extra time to walk along the beach to a nearby Starbucks and get our dose of caffeine for the day. Then it was time!

We took a small motor boat from the beach to the awaiting speedboat. There were 8 of us total: Elly and I, a pair of college-age boys (who were flying) and their parents (who weren't flying), and another couple. The transition boat couldn't hold more than 6, so it had to take two trips. Once we were all loaded up on the speedboat we were given an orientation (I'm noticing that an adventurous vacation has almost as many orientations as first semester in college) and then we were ready to fly! Elly and I were the last of the three groups that flew that day, which was awesome. We got to speed around in the boat and watch the other people parasail. I found out today that I love boats. Speed boats, at least. I love zipping around the ocean, leaving long foamy trails, wind whipping through my hair. It's such a great feeling.

Finally it was our turn to fly! Elly and I were strapped into harnesses that were basically strappy chairs and then those harnesses were locked side-by-side underneath the parachute. They had us sit on the back of the boat gripping the straps of our harnesses. Then the boat gunned it, and as they went faster and faster the wind took our chute; they let out the line and we lurched into the air. The boat sped along, slowly letting out the cord connecting our chute like we were a kite. We quickly reached the peak of our flight (1200 feet) and then the boat turned lazy-ish laps in the water, giving us a 12 minute flight to enjoy the sky. It was so peaceful up there! All you could hear was the far off purr of the boat, the breeze, and the occasional flutter of our parachute. The ocean had an amazing shattered-glass texture below us. I snapped some pictures of Elly and I, and lots of pictures of the islands around us, but none of the pictures did it justice. I didn't even bother to post any of the island pictures; they just look like pictures of islands. But from up there! Everything looks different from high up, almost magical. Ah well. There is one picture of our legs dangling 1200 feet above the wake of the boat that I'm really happy with.

Our ride came to an end and they slowly pulled us back in. While we were still a few hundred feet out they slowed way down and let us gracefully glide down to touch the ocean. Then they gunned the boat, keeping it so that just our feet were skimming the water as they continued to reel us in. It was absolutely awesome. Before you go up they ask how badly you want to get wet; I opted for just our feet because I took our camera up with us. The parents of the two younger guys insisted that the captain give them a full dunking, and dunk them he did! He let them drop until they were about chest deep, then he dragged them around for awhile. When they finally reeled them all the way in they were sputtering, and complaining about water up their noses, but clearly quite happy with the experience. Apparently things like parasailing are still "awesome" and "cool."

We left parasailing quite hungry, plus we needed to get our parking validated, so we ate at the nearby Maui Fish and Pasta. Elly got a blackened fish fettucini and I got a blackened fish greek salad. Both were very good. Our server was very attentive and nice, but was pushing us to come back for dinner way too hard. (She definitely seemed like a walking commercial. -E) I guess she must be under a lot of pressure to drum up repeat customers? The area around Whaler's Village (the shopping center where our morning was taking place) has a lot of hotels, so I guess the majority of their customers come from there. Still, every time she stopped by our table she was really pushy about coming back in later, to the detriment of our current meal. She stopped by to ask for our drink orders, then before we could respond she went on a big tirade about all the cocktails and appetizers that would be available during happy hour (two hours away) and then ran off again without even waiting for us to tell her what we wanted! After we put in our lunch orders she told us all about the dinner entrees that would be on special later in the week. So weird. But! We didn't let the weird management of the restaurant ruin what was otherwise a very enjoyable lunch. I got the maui onion soup with my salad and it was beyond compare the best onion soup I've ever had. I doubt I will ever be able to enjoy onion soup again, it was seriously that delicious. I'm drooling now as I blog and I am so far from hungry (we just got back from a large dinner).

After lunch we went to go buy a second suitcase. Our second suitcase at home is falling apart literally, and we intend to fill a suitcase with pineapples to take home with us to Colorado. We Googled a luggage store and the closest was adjacent to Lahaina Banyan Court Park which turned out to be really cool. Once we'd purchased a suitcase and wrangled it into the car we bought a shave ice from Local Boys and walked through the park. Local Boys is the best shave ice we've had in Hawaii. They serve it with a scoop of ice cream underneath and then top it with a cream sauce that is really good. I got coconut ice cream underneath a kiwi passion fruit shave ice. It was really really good. The banyan park was really cool. The park is built under and around the largest banyan tree in Hawaii. This single tree covers ⅔rds of an acre! Seeing this tree it became clear that the branch tentacles become other trunks. Other than the main central trunk the tree had probably a dozen other sub-trunks growing out of its branches. It really was quite amazing to see.

After finishing our shave ice we drove to the Fairmont Kea Lani and checked in. The resort here is really quite awesome. It doesn't have quite the same equally-spaced-trees-in-a-line kind of fakey vibe the other Fairmont had. It has well tended gardens, to be sure, but the whole situation here is much more organic. Walking from the front of the building through the lobby is breathtaking. Everything is really open and big and beautiful and opulent. At the check in they gave us a traditional Hawaiian greeting complete with leis. Elly got a fresh-flowers lei and they gave me a kukui nut lei. We were feeling a bit overwhelmed at first, so when it came time to unload the car we felt weird and vulnerable about letting someone take our bags. Then we felt like total yokels taking our own bags through the lobby. At first we weren't quite ready for resort life! As we walked through the grounds, though, it started really sinking in that this is a place to go to be pampered to the max! There are three large, main swimming pools (open 24 hours!) including an adults-only pool if you just want to bob around and relax. Everywhere you look are servers and sun chairs and couches. There are even complimentary sunscreen dispensers near every pool. One of the pools even has a full-service bar you can swim right up to to order! And quite a bit of it is complimentary. There is a shuttle that can take you to anywhere local you want to go, bikes, boats, and the like that you can borrow, fitness classes and cultural activities, all included somewhere in the price of your room. So if we're going to do this right we have to do things like call up people to take our bags to the car. That room didn't come cheap, after all. Growing up blue-collar middle-class, this is all very new and strange to me, but I think I like it. At least as a rare treat, I think I might hate it if I had this kind of luxury all the time. Well... maybe not.

We had dinner at Kō, one of the three restaurants on the resort. We started with a spicy tuna poke which was really good. I got a martini that was gin, blueberry, sage, and honey. It was interesting and really delicious; I think tomorrow I'll have several more! For dinner I got the special, a fish dish I don't remember the details of. It had fish, and mashed potatoes, and left me kind of blissed out. Elly had the wok-seared opah with black bean sauce, and was very happy with it. She let me have a taste and it was so good it felt like my brain melted. For dessert we split two desserts between us: baked chocolate custard with strawberry gelato and a pineapple cake that brought a tear to Elly's eye.  It sounds like I'm exaggerating, but I'm really not. We were extremely happy with our food. Our server was also really good. She was nice and attentive, and really friendly. She was very conversational, and put us both quite at ease.

Tomorrow we're going to have to focus on taking full advantage of our opulent luxury. I think we're going to do all right though: we're starting things off with a couples' spa treatment.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Kihei - November 6, 2013

Though we came to Maui for the beaches, our day of play yesterday pretty much beached us out. We decided to consult the guidebook for other things to do in Maui and it turned out there were a couple of interesting-sounding hikes we could go on. So we filled our Camelbaks, tightened our hiking boots and set off.

First on our list was 'Iao Valley. It used to be forbidden for anyone but Hawaiian royalty to enter the valley, but the kapu has been lifted and the site is now a state park. There are all sorts of mythologies and histories behind the place which I'll leave to you to Google.

The hike was more of a paved walk, but it was quite beautiful. Lush green mountains lined every side and multiple streams flowed through the site. There was a zen botanical garden you could walk through that was very beautiful. The highlight of the walk, though, is the 'Iao Needle, a giant spire of rock climbing into the clouds. I took probably 20 pictures of the Needle but restrained myself to only posting two or three.

It was pretty clear that the locals considered the place to still be restricted to tourists, and only to tourists. We passed many groups of natives wearing swim trunks, walking back from behind signs that clearly say to stay on the trail. At one point we even came across a couple of girls lounging in a stream and I felt like a bit of a voyeur zooming in to snap a picture.

'Iao was nice, but we were definitely ready for something a bit more challenging. Waihe'e Ridge Trail definitely delivered. We drove past a gate that was very clear on the fact that it would be shut at 5:00, and we'd better be on the correct side of it when that happened. After a short paved incline we reached a gate. To one side of the gate was a zig-zag path that Elly and I had to carefully squeeze through to keep from tearing our packs. I'm glad I lost that extra weight, otherwise Elly might have had to leave me behind!

The trail then zig-zagged up and along the ridge at a pretty steep climb. Sometimes the trail was deep in the forest offering excellent shade, and other times it wound along the top, exposed to the sun but also to a cooling breeze. We weren't too hot, but the extra humidity and the steepness of the climb meant we were both sweating buckets. On and on the trail climbed. We'd see something ahead and say "Surely this is the top, I can't even see anything further up. We couldn't possibly go any higher" yet on we climbed. At one point after passing a sign that said "Stay on trail" Elly joked "I know the sign is meant to say 'Don't take shortcuts.' but to me means something else. To me it says 'Don't give up! You can make it.'"

We kept climbing until we broke through into the clouds. Finally, after climbing a bit further, we reached the summit! We were drenched from sweat (drenched is not an exaggeration here. It was sincerely gross. -E) and cloud condensation and completely exhausted, but we were rewarded with an incredible view! In one direction we could see down into a beautiful valley, and across the valley we could just barely see the mountains across through the fog of the cloud. Turn 90 degrees and we're looking at the ocean, and a beautiful neighborhood built on the top of a mountain overlooking it. Turn again and we can see a city below, built along the coast line. Everywhere we looked was cloud just barely obscuring a beautiful view below. It felt very mystical, like it should somehow be the end of an epic journey, where we'd talk to a wise yogi or something, and learn the secret of the future.

The trip back down was much faster, but we were definitely stressing the time a little bit. We joked that we'd only barely make it into the car, Elly peeling out in the gravel and zooming away even before I'd had a chance to shut my door. Ahead the gate would be closing, and we'd gun it, barely making it through, losing a layer of paint as the closing gate scraped across our side. Inexplicably, half-naked dark-skinned warriors in elaborate face-paint would shake spears at us, cursing us in a language we didn't understand. But, in reality, we made it through the gate driving a normal speed, and with almost 10 minutes to spare. I like the other version better, though.

We finally made it home, utterly exhausted. We fried up the rest of the fish and had a repeat of the previous night's dinner. I blogged while Elly packed. Then, due to a miscalculation on my part, we have to each eat most of a pint of ice cream or resign ourselves to throwing it away. There are several hours of hot car between check-out tomorrow and check-in at the resort, so we can't keep it. Bon appetite!



Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Kihei - November 5, 2013

After a quick cereal breakfast and a short, lazy lay-around we headed to Starbucks to write our blog post (because the condo doesn't have internet). I felt very modern bohemian sitting at a Starbucks, blogging my island vacation and sipping an iced latte.

Blog posted, we headed to Snorkel Bob's for snorkel gear. While we were there, we also booked a parasailing expedition for Thursday. Fun! A quick stop at the local Foodland (that's like Foodworld, only for the Gameboy, heheh) for sandwiches, and we were off to the beach!

The guidebook promised that Malu'aka Beach in a stretch of Maui called Turtle Town had the best snorkeling on the island. So off to Turtle Town! At the far end of the beach was a shoulder-height, naturally occurring lava rock wall which segmented off a narrow stretch of the beach from the rest. This would be Conley Cove, our "secret" snorkeling hideout. We applied sunscreen then sat on the beach and ate our sandwiches.

Fed and ready to swim, we headed out into the ocean. The reef was a lot further out here than it was on The Big Island. That meant more swimming to get to the action, but it also meant that we never felt like we were in any danger of accidentally kicking the reef. We snorkeled for probably an hour and a half, covering most of the reef up-and-down the beach. We even swam all the way out until the reef ended (at least the portion of reef in the swimming section of the beach). We saw many fish, even a couple of large schools, but the snorkeling here wasn't even half as good as it was on the Big Island. Another point against Maui.

We weren't seeing much, and Elly's gear was misbehaving, so we decided to ditch the equipment and just play around for awhile. We swam, and made a sand castle (more like sand egg lol -E), and splashed around. All told we spent about 3 hours on the beach. The sun was hanging low in the sky and we were both pretty tired, so we decided to call it a day.

We went back home for a quick shower, then back out to Foodland for dinner supplies. Tonight we had lilikoi-ginger sweet-and-sour red snapper with ginger-spiced starfruit honey wine and the last of the pineapple mac-nut pilaf. It was quite good.

A brief aside about lilikoi. Lilikoi (a.k.a. passion fruit) is a small, hard fruit about half-again as big as a golf ball. When you crack them open they are filled with pips similar to a pomegranate, except yellow, soft, and a bit slimy. It doesn't have the pithy fascia separating it into sections. If you're eating a lilikoi straight you use a spoon (or your tongue) to scoop the pips out of the 1/2 inch thick shell and eat them, seeds and all. Our recipe called for lilikoi juice, so following a guide on the internet we made homemade lilikoi juice by blendering the pips of 5 fruits slightly to break up all the pips. We then strained out the seeds and mixed it with some water (straight lilikoi is pretty strong).

This homemade lilikoi juice was then the base for the sauce, which also included ginger, garlic, onion, and bell pepper. The fish was then breaded, deep fried, and served covered in the sauce. Delicious!

I had black sesame ice cream and Elly had lychee sorbet. The sesame ice cream took a bit of getting used to, but it was quite good. We had a hike planned for the next day, so we went to bed early.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Kihei - November 4, 2013

Today we flew to Maui!

We'd done a bunch of packing the night before, but the morning before was still a frantic scramble to pack last minute things and to pack or eat all we could of our leftover food. Elly's breakfast was the last bowl of Cheerios, chased with a tall glass of OJ, a tall glass of milk, an apple, and 1/4 pineapple. My breakfast was a mozzarella braid dipped in hummus, 2 tall glasses of OJ, and 1/4 pineapple. Then we stopped at the post office to mail home our accumulation of souvenirs as well as a large portion of our clothes... Who needs socks in Hawaii? Or a second pair of long pants?

We dropped off the rental car (stay strong, Zack Fusion!) and then checking in to the flight was quick and painless. This flight was pretty funny. From runway to runway was a bit over 20 minutes. We took off, got to cruising altitude, they served everyone a juice box (12% juice, oh boy!) and then we were descending again before they'd even collected the garbage. They never even turned off the seatbelt sign.

Initially the transition to Maui was pretty shocking. The airport was a regular, boring, indoor airport, situated in a busy, congested city. As we drove our new rental car (Chevy Sonic: RRF-202. Any suggestions for names?) to the condo we passed massive smokestacks spewing something into the air. At first we'd felt like we'd make a mistake coming here. But after a couple minutes drive it began to look a lot more like the Hawaii we'd come to expect.

The condo wouldn't be ready for another hour and a half, so we consulted our guidebook for a lunch recommendation and wound up eating at Cafe O'lei. The cafe was situated in a strip mall, but was decorated so nicely that it was pretty easy to forget that fact. I think neither of us was feeling particularly adventurous after our disappointment: Elly got a pulled pork sandwich and I'd been craving a burger for days, so I got the Cafe O'lei's burger topped with grilled Maui onions. It was pretty damn good. We still had a bit of time to kill so we stopped by the store for milk and cereal, as well as some pesto and ravioli for dinner that night.

When we checked in to our new condo we were a bit disappointed again. While our Kona condo felt immediately like our island home away from home, the new condo (on the fifth floor!) was a cross between a budget hotel room and a cheap studio apartment. It threw Elly into a bit of a funk, and though I was doing my best to keep both our spirits up I was getting a bit down as well. We both had a short bout of laying around feeling sorry for ourselves. We never should have left Kona.

Eventually we snapped out of our funk enough to decide to check out the beach across the street from our condo. We were still a bit gloomy, but Elly donned her new bikini for the first time, and we both slumped out of the condo, sandals flip-flop-stomping against the sidewalk.

The beaches in Kona weren't very good. The coastline was great for cafes and short walks, but the best beach we visited was the one we snorkeled at, and I don't think it had more than maybe 200 square feet of sand. The beach outside the condo would be considered tiny by west-coast standards, but for us it was like a vast expanse of perfect sand. Unlike the course, volcanic sand on Kona beaches this was perfect, infinitesimally fine, white sand that spread far to either side and gradually sloped down into the ocean. It was then that I remembered that we went to Maui because it has the best beaches in Hawaii. The whole point of this leg of our vacation is to spend as much of it on the beach as possible. Who cares if the condo is bit crappy, we don't intend to spend any time there!

We kicked off our sandals and ran into the ocean. It was chilly at first, but we quickly grew accustomed to it. We spent quite a while just splashing around out past standing depth. Eventually we grew tired and Elly decided she'd just relax and let the waves take her back to the beach. As I frolicked in neck-deep water, she was eventually beached on the sand, where she continued to submit to the whimsy of the waves. The wave would come in, pushing her up the beach a few inches, then as the wave went back out she'd allow it to roller her back down the beach. She rolled up and down the beach for another 5-10 minutes, giggling and splashing. She said later that she was worried that she looked like a person with a mental disability, and I can't in good conscience say she didn't. I found her uninhibited enjoyment quite endearing, though.

From the beach you could clearly see the nearby islands of Kaho'Olawe and Lanai. I took a pano photo of the view from the beach. They seem close enough to swim to, but I'm pretty sure if I attempted it the funeral would ruin Elly's vacation.

By the time the sun was touching the water we decided we'd had enough, at least for today. As we walked back we were excitedly debating whether we should go snorkeling the next day, or if we should do the scenic Hana drive the guidebook raved about. We got back to the condo and, though the quality of the accommodations hadn't changed at all (it turns out that 2 of the 7 lightbulbs in the place needed changing) it felt a lot more like home upon our return. It really was just a place to shower off and sleep. A place we could kick off our sandals, and never have to worry about cleaning the sand up afterward. Maui was very different from The Big Island, but as long as we kept our perspective and focused on the good parts we'd have a great time. How spoiled we'd become! We were still in an island paradise, just a slightly more populated one. We could still see a beautiful ocean view from our condo balcony. Elly and I realized how on day 1 of Kona we were frustrated at how slow everyone drove, but here in Maui she was getting a bit stressed about how fast and reckless everyone around us was driving. At some point while we weren't paying attention Island Time had taken root deep into our bones. I have a feeling we're in for another shock when we get back home and find out that Maui was also on Island Time, just keeping a slightly faster tempo. Maybe this gradual easing through Maui would turn out to be a good thing.

We enjoyed a dinner of pesto ravioli and watched a couple episodes of the original Law and Order before bed. The condo has no Wi-Fi, so we had to watch on Elly's phone. The next day we'd need to go to a Starbucks to post photos and write the blog. Wah, wah.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Kona - November 3, 2013

The alarm clock started ringing at 3:15. We dragged ourselves out of bed around 3:40. After doing some things I don't remember doing (presumably putting on clothes), we were on the road by 4:05. Elly drove while I wrote the blog post and captioned photos from the day before. We were parked at Hilo about 15 minutes before the sun began to rise, still in full dark.

We got ourselves oriented toward east and walked until we could see the ocean. Our quest was to find a beach described to us by Shad where crabs scuttled out to the rocks and performed Sun Salutation to the dawn. We didn't find his crab beach, but we did watch an excellent sunrise.

We walked down Banyan Drive, admiring the strange, awesome, almost horrific trees. Their branches spread high and wide, then long tentacles of vines grow downward. As far as I can tell, they then grow back into the ground, forming massive clusters of trunks. I could google it, but for now I'm entertaining my unlikely story of ouroboros-like trees.

By the time we got back to the car the sun was pretty high in the sky. We wandered through the massive japanese Lili'uokalani Gardens. Bridges and stepping-stone paths connected plazas and pagodas and arches. Massive banzai-like trees, and interesting asian structures made from lava stone, and ponds. It was really quite amazing, I'll let the photos do most of the talking for me. At the Gardens Elly found a pack of semi-domesicated cats. She was able to coax one to play with her using a tattered palm frond.

Pretty tired, we took a break for coffee at Surf Break Cafe, and used their Wi-Fi to consult the guidebook for more Hilo-based activities while we killed time waiting for our helicopter ride. Did I forget to mention? Today we get to ride a helicopter over active volcano sites! The guide recommended checking out Coconut Island and Big Island Candies.

Coconut Island was a beautiful park built on an island a short ways from the shore and connected by a man-made walking bridge. We spent a while wading across to other smaller islands, looking for crabs and rocks. On the return trip from one of these outer islands Elly slipped and went butt-first into the ocean, drenching herself up to her waist.

By the time we got back to the car we had just enough time for a short visit to Big Island Candies, a chocolate shop known for their macadamias. Elly, still soaked through but no longer dripping, and I roamed the store looking at all the awesome sounding (but quite expensive!) chocolates. We decided to get a small box of passion fruit filled chocolates for ourselves. Then it was off to the airport!

After a short orientation we joined two other couples in the helicopter. We had our seats buckled, our inflatable life vests strapped on, and our headphones clamped over our ears, pumping island music (and later the pilot's narration) directly into our brains. Then it was take time for take off! Taking off in a helicopter is much different from a jet. Instead of the forward motion eventually becoming lift, in a helicopter there is a sudden, unsteady feeling lurch and then you're airborne! We watched the airport fall away, and soon the town of Hilo looked like a toy model.

We flew over Hilo, then huge macadamia nut fields, miles of untamed jungle, and then eventually the lava fields. We got to see active lava cones glowing red hot just under a thin crust of rock. We saw thin streams of lava breaking through the crust and igniting the nearby forest. We saw a town that has been rebuilt directly on top of the now cooled lava directly over the site where a town used to exist before it was covered in rock. We flew through clouds, and we flew lazy figure eights over the Akaka Falls (which Elly and I would hike later that day). The pilot narrated the flight, telling us facts about the various sites we were seeing. It was really incredible.

We landed safe and sound but hungry. We'd pinned down an asian/Hawaiian greasy spoon the guidebook recommended before the flight so we made a beeline straight to it as soon as we hit the ground. Elly got a patty melt (I think she'd had enough adventure since breakfast) but I decided to try the Loco Moco. This dish, originating in Hilo, is a scoop of rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and brown gravy. There are many variations, but that one is the original. It was quite good, but clearly not something you should eat on a regular basis!

After lunch we drove to the site of the Akaka Falls, which we had seen from the air. When we got there Elly found more kitties, so we took another break from our regular adventure to play with cats. This group of cats contained several young kittens, clearly only a few months old. A lady eating her lunch at the park gave them an avocado rind that they eagerly scraped clean. Who knew cats liked avocado?

You could park right at the start of the hike, which was a paved loop around the valley. The walk was just under half a mile, but the views were incredible. The pièce de résistance is a 442 foot waterfall, but the rest of the walk features beautiful, vibrant plants growing along the river, vines dangling over the water bearing beautiful flowers, and several other smaller waterfalls. Unfortunately, just after we began the walk it began to pour down rain. Did I say it didn't really rain in Hawaii? Boy, was I wrong. This was a monsoon. In just a couple of minutes Elly and I were completely drenched to the core. We were worried about the camera getting wet (we couldn't afford another replacement camera!), but we took what pictures we could, while Elly ingeniously sheltered the camera using a large leaf she found on the ground. Completely soaked to the core but still in good spirits we returned to the car to find that the heater in the rental car didn't work. We wrapped ourselves in towels for the drive home. While we never really got dry (my shirt is still soaked through nearly 6 hours later) we were warm enough in the 80 degree weather. In Colorado this time of year that drive would have been a death sentence!

As we pulled in to Kona I was snapping a frenzy of pictures out the car window. This had been the first clear-skied night during sunset that we'd had the whole trip! The second the car pulled to a stop I leapt out, scrambled into the condo, exchanged my sopping clothes for my dry swim trunks, and continued snapping pictures of the sunset from the beach. When I felt I'd gotten enough pictures I joined Elly in the jacuzzi. Every few minutes as the sky turned another shade I'd leap out, dry off my hands, and snap several more pictures. I continued to do this (jacuzzi, pictures, jacuzzi, pictures) until the camera had run out of batteries (we just charged it that morning!) then I switched to taking pictures from my phone until the sun was down below the horizon. Then we splashed around in the pool until full dark.

As I write this blog post Elly is preparing for the flight to Maui in the morning. She's packing the bag, making sure we eat all the remaining food in the condo, and trying to figure out what can be mailed home now so we have less to take on the plane. I'm going to go help her out now.

Tomorrow: Maui!

(I gotta do a little bragging here - B's photosphere of Lili'uokalani was accepted by Google Maps to appear on its [google maps'] official page when people search for/look at Lili'uokalani Gardens. Mah Man! -E)