Day 8: The Day We Say "Aloha, And Mahalo For All the Fish"

The morning of our last day here has arrived far too soon. Lucie and I have pretty much decided by now that as far as we're concerned, one of the main reasons we'll be working the other 50 or so weeks out of the year is to come back here for a week.

In only a week, it really does feel like a place I would happily call home.

Now, if only Hawai'i could open up a nice technology park or something, so I could get a job out here, we'd be all set...


We'd already packed up the night before, so we have a couple of hours to kill. We head on down to the Royal Kona's private lagoon and get our rented snorkel gear wet for the first time. While it's not as pristine as hitting the actual open ocean, it's a good start, and it whets our appetite to do the real thing the next time we're here.

We see crabs -- lost of crabs, moving far more quickly than I would have expected -- jumping amongst the rocks, several small fish, and some sea urchins. I take several shots with the underwater camera, hoping I get something decent, and we head back to our room to change for the flight.

Well, okay. First, we stop by the front desk and get a new room keycard, since Lucie thought I had mine with me, and I... thought she had hers with her. Whoops.

Back in our room, as rinse off the salt water, put on our airplane clothes, and head off to the airport, waving a fond farewell to the town that we called home for a week.

At the airport, we check in only to find that our flight has been bumped back an hour (thanks, Aloha Airlines!), so we've got nearly two hours of time to kill before our flight takes off. I do my best to make it exciting, getting pulled aside by TSA security and getting the once-over with metal detectors. Forgot my spare change when I walked through the gate, you see.

However, the increased security measures only give us ten minutes or so of fun, so with over an hour and a half to kill we go to the airport cafeteria for a light breakfast of airline-quality loco moco for me, and a toasted bagel for Lucie. One last guava juice, and we head over to the departure gate for a long wait.

The Kona airport is a quaint setup, with lots of open-air buildings nestled closely together like a series of bungalows. I personally find it somewhat charming, and am a little distressed to hear that some plans are in effect to update the airport, and I imagine them changing it to the typical airport setup consisting of a big nondescript off-white building that lacks any sort of charm. I hope that's not the case.

At any rate, being outside for over an hour gives me a chance to break out the camera and take pictures of several of the birds flitting around, hoping that I might stumble across the mythical nene. I don't.

If the nene exists -- and I'm still doubting that it does -- it's probably hiding deep in the bushes, getting its other bird buddies to come out and get my hopes up.

Our interisland shuttle arrives, and skip over to Maui. The scenery here is just as beautiful as on the big island, and we have a very nice view of Haleakala from the walkway. Unfortunately, because our interisland was bumped back an hour, we don't even have time to take a picture, as we have to rush through the USDA checkpoint and then to the next departure gate, where we arrive just in time to board the plane to Oakland. Hey... thanks, Aloha Airlines.

A somewhat delayed departure once we're boarded, and we arrive back in California about 45 minutes late.

We're home.

We loved the Big Island.

And we're going back, as soon as we can.



Day 7: The Day We See a Volcano Not in a Tommy Lee Jones Movie

Up a little later than usual today, which is not a bad thing. We're a little startled to discover that there is NOT a cruise ship anchored offshore this morning. Man, that just looks weird.

We head south down the Kona coast, past the coffee places and Kealekekaua; all the way to the southern part of the island on our way to Kilauea.

We make a stop at the Punalu'u Bakery ("The southernmost bakery in the USA!") and buy some carbs. Lucie picks up some Hawaiian sweet bread mix (can also be used to make malassadas) and a loaf of coconut flavored sweet bread to bring home; I snatch up three different flavors of mac nut shortbread (guava, banana, and ginger) to share at work; and we eat a breakfast of liliko'i-glazed malassadas. These things are incredibly sweet -- "like Hawaiian Krispy Kremes" is Lucie's comment -- and we lapse into a happy sugar coma. Approximately twelve days later we wake up, clear our heads, and continue on our way.

We look at the sign indicating the road to South Point as we drive past, but we're not allowed to go there. Dumb rental car. Next time we're going to rent a Hummer, and then NOTHING will stop us... except for the shame of being in a Hummer, that is, so that's out. Maybe a Jeep 4x4.

At any rate, we continue on our way, I get a little freaked out when we hit an actual straight section of highway instead of curvy mountain road, and we eventually make it to Volcanoes National Park.

Before we hit the actual volcano, though, we make a side trip to the Volcano Winery and try out some Hawaiian wines. We particularly enjoy the guava wine, and arrange for a few bottles to be shipped back home.

Back on the highway, we finally reach the volcano proper. We drive along the Crater Rim Road, which circles the caldera of everyone's favorite active volcano Kilauea. We see steam vents, where moisture from plants or condensation hits the molten rock and comes up as steam through cracks in the round; old lava flows, where as recent as 25 years ago molten lava had flowed across the roads right around Kilauea's summit; stark, desolate areas of land that have yet to recover from lava flows that destroyed everything they touched; and nene crossing signs.

Lots of nene crossing signs.

Lots of "do not feed the nene" signs, and lots of "caution: young nene nesting area" signs, and lots of "don't pick these berries, because they're for the nene" signs... but we don't see a single nene. Not ONE.
You know why? Because I don't think they exist, that's why! Lucie says she's pretty sure they're real, but I'm not as trusting as she is. I think that many years ago, the Hawaiians all got together and thought it'd be hysterical if they created a fake animal, and they told all of the mainlanders to be careful not to disturb it. They called it a "nene", because calling it the "jakalo'ope" would have been too obvious. Heck -- for all I know, "nene" may be Hawaiian for "big foot".

I'm on to you, Hawaii. You just watch it.

Anyway, we keep driving past the lava flows and nene signs, and approximately thirty seconds later we find ourselves driving through the middle of a rain forest... as in, lush green vines and trees, birds (but not nenes) calling from the foliage, and... rain. We stop to put the top up on our car, and continue on our way. Again, because we don't have a rental car with 4-wheel drive, we're not allowed down the Chain of Craters Road, so we make plans to see where the lava meets the water the next time we're here, and head toward Kailua.

We make a short stop by Punalu'u Black Sand Beach; Lucie dips her toes into the water and pronounces it wet. It looks like rain again, so we get back into our car and continue on our way. It rains heavily the entire way back, so we don't make very many more stops. We wave to the monkeypod tree that Mark Twain planted, but it ignores us as we drive past.

By the time we reach Kailua, it stops raining, so we stop at the Ali'i Market. I pick up another coffee mug from a new coffee company, and we get some more shave ice.

We once again relax on our lanai and watch the sun set... we're definitely going to miss that view.

After it gets dark, we head down to the open-air bar and order some pupu (no giggling!) and some drinks to end the day. Lucie has the BBQ ribs with Hawaiian glaze, and a Midori margarita and a Paradise Found to drink; I opt for the kahlua pig quesadilla, and a Midori margarita, Paradise Found, topless mai tai, and an original mai tai to drink. Don't judge me, I'm on vacation!

After we relax for a bit, we head on upstairs, where we spend the next few hours defying the laws of science by managing to pack everything we'd packed to bring over AND everything we'd bought into four suitcases. I'm not even sure Carl Sagan could explain how we did it, but we did it.

Ready to end the day, and wishing the next day weren't our last one here, we go to bed and listen to the ocean as we drift off to sleep.


Day 6: The Day We Have a Monstro of a Time

(Regarding the title -- the obvious "whale of a time" seemed too... well, obvious.)

We wake up early today, as we have a 6:45am appointment at the Honokohau Harbor for Captain Dan McSweeney's Whale Watch tour. We had some e-mail contact with these folks arranging the tour, and I was very happy with their friendliness and service, so I've got high hopes for the tour itself.

...And boy, does it deliver! The first hour was a little slow, with us cruising around the deep water without much luck. We do see a pair of beaked whales briefly, but they dive beneath the waves for one of their hour-long submersions, and none of us want to wait for that long, so we begin heading back toward shallower water.

At that point, we see some whales surfacing, so we head over to that spot... and find ourselves in the middle of a pod of what had to have been 25-30 pilot whales, surfacing, spouting water, then diving again. We drift silently, amazed, as the whales float all around us. There was a white tip reef shark swimming amongst the whales as well, but it didn't come close enough to the surface to get a good picture.

We were a little late to see any humpbacks , as our tour was on April 28th and the humpbacks finish their nursing cycle and head back up toward Alaska around mid-April. We decide that the next time we come here we'll try and arrange for a trip in March or earlier in April. At any rate, we will definitely be back. Back to Hawaii, and back on a boat with Captain Dan.

After the trip, I pick up a CD of humpback whale song and a ball cap, and Lucie splurges and plunks down money to adopt a pilot whale (all proceeds from whale adoptions go toward McSweeney's "Wild Whale Research Foundation", a charitable nonprofit foundation created to research whales and dolphins and help their environment). She decides to name the pilot whale "Silverfin"... we'll be receiving the official certificate in a few weeks.

(And that, folks, is one of the reasons I love her. One of many.)

After we get back on dry land, we head on up the Queen Ka'ahumanu highway north along the Kohala coast. We see a sign for fresh malassadas, so we stop by a small roadside stand and order some. We have a small wait -- they don't make 'em until you order 'em -- and by the time our order is ready, there's a fairly large number of locals in line behind us. Looks like we stumbled across a secret locals' hot spot.

We attempt to reach the Kekaha Kai state park, but it's an unpaved lava road that doesn't get along very well with our poor rented Sebring, so turn back and continue heading up the coast -- looks like snorkeling will have to wait.

We also try to check out "A' Bay" (officially called Anaeho'omalu Bay, which is why it's shortened to A' Bay), but it's smack dab in the middle of the Waikoloa King's Shops and we're scared off by the pretension. We continue on up the highway.

The next stop is the Mauna Lani Resort (where Les, from the Waipio tour, works.) We attempt to stop by the Holoholokai beach, but by the time I'm able to finish reading the sign with the beach's name, we're a quarter mile past the thing. We move on.

Up next is the Hapuna State Park. The beach and the water here are simply beautiful -- white sands, clear blue waters, and about a hundred thousand people in front of us, trying to reach the water by climbing over the hundred thousand other people lying on the sand. We shrug and head on home, content that at least we were able to visit the second most popular -- and the deadliest -- beach on the Big Island.

We stop by the Kamuela Deli in Kailua for a loco moco plate lunch (I'm really starting to love those things, I gotta tell ya), and then head to the Royal Kona to relax until dinner, when we head down to Don the Beachcomber's restaurant downstairs. I have some tasty poke tuna and a glass of Reisling for an appetizer; Lucie has the macadamia nut crusted mahi mahi she's been wanting since we got here, and I have a pepper crusted ahi.

The chairs aren't as comfy as the ones by the bar, but the view is just as amazing, so we have our drinks for the evening at the restaurant (a mai tai for us both, and a mango daiquiri to share) before heading upstairs.

Earlier in the week, we'd bought a bottle of kukui nut oil for skin lotion, as it's supposed to be good for sunburn, abrasions, psoriasis, eczema, and other skin conditions. I ask my wonderful and unsuspecting wife if the kukui nut oil would have worked on the contusions I'd have gotten if I'd been hit by the coconut during the luau on our first night. With suspicion in her voice, she says possibly, and then asks why.

I reply, "because then I would have had 'kukui, kukui, kukui for coconuts!'"

She just sighs, and I giggle myself to sleep. Sometimes I crack myself up.


Day 5: The Day We Make Another Notch in the Coffee Belt

Day five starts as usual; we wave a good morning to the latest cruise ship in the bay as we head out from the hotel. Along the way, we stop by Snorkel Bob's to rent snorkel gear in case we get around to doing that. Although we have our own snorkel stuff at home, we figured we'd rent gear here since space in our luggage was at a premium, and we'd look weird wearing it as carry-on during the plane trip over.
We have an early afternoon appointment at UCC, so we spend a few hours cruising lazily down the Kona coast to where we'd stopped the coffee plantation tour on Day 2.

Along the way, we stop by Chris' Bakery, which is listed in several guide books as a good place to buy some malassadas, Portuguese doughnuts that are quite popular in Hawaii. And why shouldn't they be -- malassadas are basically beignets made with Hawaiian sweet bread dough, deep fried, and sprinkled with sugar. What's not to love?!

We'd bought a couple of malassadas at the Hilo farmer's market the day before, and while they were tasty we wanted to try some that were freshly made. It was definitely much higher on the yummometer.

From Chris', we cruise on down to the Surfin' Ass coffee company... or maybe it's the Keoki's Donkey Beans coffee company; we're not really sure which... the burlap sack says Keoki's, but the storefront and the coffee mug we bought both say Surfin' Ass. Either way, the espresso smoothie they make for me is -- while not as strong or as heavenly as the Kona Joe's espresso smoothie -- still mighty tasty indeed. Plus, they have soymilk, so Lucie is able to have her first Kona mocha with vanilla soy, and she gives it a definite thumbs up as well.

From there, we walk across the street to a fabric store where I purchase some cool fabric to have a Hawaiian shirt made (we didn't want to spend time running around trying to find a store that had shirts my size), and I find a Hawaiian print bandanna to add to my do-rag collection (all I need to do now is find a matching shirt.)

We drive a bit further down the highway until we get to Greenwell's coffee plantation and living history museum. They'd recently closed down the gift shop (what?!!), but a lady in frontier clothing informs us that we could drive a mile or so down their private road and buy some coffee there. Frankly, we're both getting a weird sort of vibe from the place, and it's almost time for our UCC tour anyway, so we feel it's probably best if we just moved on.

We arrive at UCC (the Ueshima Coffee Company) on schedule, and our friendly host Seichi-san takes our picture and then brings us into the back room where our prize awaits us -- the chance to roast our own coffee beans!

We use a row of small roasting vats that sort of resembled miniature cement mixers over propane flame. The roasters are from the early 1900's, and are still used today for training purposes so people don't waste a lot of beans if they mess up -- each roaster can hold up to a half pound of beans. While our beans are roasting and tumbling in the spinning barrels, Seichi-san talks to us about the history of the place, about how they "crack-u-late" the beans instead of grinding them (since grinding the beans creates additional heat, which can affect the flavor, they essentially chop them instead), and how we could even roast our own coffee beans at home by using a hot-air based popcorn popper. We also get to enjoy a taste test of their coffee, dark and white chocolate covered coffee beans, and a roasted macadamia nut that they also grow and process at this location. All in all, it's a very cool way to spend some time... and we each got some personalized bags of the coffee we'd roasted as souvenirs!

Seriously, as coffee lovers, we majorly geeked out at this. I'm sure I had a big goofy grin for hours afterward.

After our UCC roasting experience, we head back up to Kailua for lunch, and stop by O's Bistro. This place used to be called "Oodles of Noodles", and was listed in a few books as a good place for handmade pasta of all sorts. We enjoy an expensive but very tasty meal of calamari appetizers with a chile-lime sauce, a spicy and exceptional fish sandwich for Lucie, and a plate of spinach and regular fettuccine with a mushroom, pea, and prosciutto cream sauce for me. For dessert, Lucie enjoys a five-flavor pineapple upside down cake (the pineapples for which HAD to have been soaked for at least a week in rum, judging by the taste), and I have a bowl of ancho white chocolate ice cream. A ginger lemonade during the meal also hits the spot, and our taste buds thank us for the treat.

From there, we move to the Hilo Hattie's location in Kona, where I buy a couple CDs of Bruddah Iz (real name Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, one of the most popular Hawaiian singers in recent years and whose music I found and loved earlier this year thanks to iTunes), and Lucie picks up a fridge magnet and some poke mix because I liked the poke tuna so much at the luau.

We briefly consider stopping by Kahalu'u Bay to try out some snorkeling, but decide against it for three reasons: first, because Snorkel Bob says that the sheer popularity of Kahalu'u Bay as a beach spot has all but killed the coral there and thus endangered the ocean life that eats the live coral polyps, and we trust Snorkel Bob to know about what he speaks; second, because we'd just eaten; and thirdly, because Lucie keeps referring to it as "Kthulu'u Bay", and I don't want to run across The Fish That Should Not Be.

Gotta love obscure references. Sorry about that.

So instead of snorkeling today, we decide to relax on the lanai for the rest of the day. We pick up some flower leis (our first actual flower leis since we got here), a big submarine sandwich and several drinks for dinner, and we head on back to the Royal Kona.

We relax on our lanai, reading books and enjoying the sun for a few hours, then eat dinner and enjoy the sunset of our fifth day. Shortly after that, it begins to rain, so we call it a night and come inside.
Even with the rain, we can still hear the ocean crashing as we fall asleep.

Day 4: The Day We Go To Hilo... And, a Handbasket.

Day Four starts... the days are extremely relaxing, but all the same, they seem to be going by far far too quickly. We head up the Mamalahoa highway once again through Waimea, as we had the day before, only this time our goal is to continue past Honoka'a, past Pa'auilo, and all the way to Hilo.

The road along the way is smooth, with only a few winding areas that remind me of Hwy 1. There are several gulches along the highway that are filled with amazingly lush foliage, reminding us that while it's an ocean view the entire way, it's also a rain forest. Fun little-known factoid about the big island that almost everybody knows: the big island contains eleven of the fourteen climate zones -- everything from rain forests to desert lava-strewn desolation to sub-arctic tundra on the top of Mauna Loa. Odds are we won't be witnessing the Mauna Loa snow this trip, but we're certainly enjoying the others.

Once in Hilo, we stop at a farmer's market, marvel at the fruits and veggies we've never heard of before, much less seen (avocados nearly the size of cantaloupes!), buy some jewelry from a vendor there (some for family as gifts, some just for us, and I pick up a koa wood medallion of a turtle that for some reason really strikes me as being way cool) as well as a floral bouquet that had flowers you only see in photographs, and then we have a late breakfast at a nearby cafe.

The plate lunch (of course!) for which I opt is called the Hungry Tigah... four eggs sunny side up, 2 strips of bacon, 2 slices of Portuguese sausage, 2 slices of fried Spam (can't go to Hawai'i witout havin dah Spam, brah), placed on top of a large pile of fried rice, and accompanied with a short stack of pancakes and the beverage of your choice. I choose a root beer float, since any chance of it being considered healthy was out the window anyway.

We waddle (well, I waddle; Lucie can walk normally since she ate a normal-sized meal) over to a gift store where Lucie gets her shop on, buying a woven straw handbag for herself, a carved bamboo kingwhistle for me, and several other small gifts for friends and family.

From there, we head on out to the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory, where we pose with MacNutty, the Mauna Loa inflatable mascot, view a video tour explaining how the nuts are processed, and raid the gift shop for edibles.

(Just a side note -- almost all of the tour books we read said to turn on Macadamia Nut Road to get to the Mauna Loa factory, but it's actually Macadamia Nut Drive. Lucie thought it was the correct place to turn, but I disagreed and kept on driving until I had to admit I was wrong. Tourists beware!)

Not having an ice chest to keep the chocolates from melting, we make only a short stop at Onekahakaha State Beach to dip our feet into the Pacific on this side of the island before heading on back. One thing about the big island that's different from most of the other islands -- the beaches here are still relatively new, and contain more lava rock than sand dunes. One or two small missteps and you learn to really watch your step afterwards.

Now, nothing against Hilo, but I personally found it to be way too urbanized to be relaxing... people were cutting each other off and speeding, I saw a couple of near-accidents and ensuing arguments, and I could feel myself starting to tense up. I find Kailua-Kona, while more tourist-oriented, also a lot more calming and welcoming. Of course, since we were only there for that one day, I might be judging prematurely. I'll leave it to other tourists to decide for themselves.

On the way back through Waimea, we stop at an authentic German eatery called Edelweiss, run by the very Germanically-named Hans-Peter Hager. Although the critics panned the place when it opened, saying that the heavy food would be too strong for the Hawaiian palate, the restaurant not only has flourished, but is consistently listed as one of the top restaurants on the big island. Reservations are recommended, although Lucie and I get there early enough that they're able to fit us in without waiting. We get our menus, enjoy a bottle of tasty Reisling, and listen to our waitress go through the list of OVER A DOZEN daily specials by memory before placing our order. The menu offers local beef from Parker Ranch right up the road, and the very European menu offers more veal than you can shake a baby cow at, but Lucie and I go for adult-cow-based steaks instead. Our waitress once again impresses us with a list of over a dozen desserts available that day, and we enjoy a cup of coffee before heading back to our hotel.

Once back at the Royal Kona, we finish off the night with some cocktails by the ocean in those crazy comfy chairs (we each have a Malibu and Coke, Lucie supplements it with the trusty piƱa colada and I with my new friend, the mango daiquiri). Once again relaxed and in the Aloha frame of mind, we head upstairs to our room, where I distress Lucie a little by breaking out the kingwhistle and playing my very first tune on it... the riff from Smoke on the Water.

We fall asleep listening to the ocean crashing against the rocks.


Day 3: The Day We Emulate Kevin Costner

We awake in the morning on Day 3 and have a nice leisurely breakfast at Don the Beachcomber restaurant downstairs. Our appointment for the tour of Waipio Valley isn't until that afternoon, so we decide to go a bit further up the road from Waipio and find the Hawaiian Vanilla Company situated in Pa'auilo.

Yeah... we didn't have any idea where the heck that was either.

However, with only one misstep we find the vanilla plantation... and several dozen tourists who are arriving for a luncheon, which is just about to start as we showed up. Our timing is incredible as always, but while we aren't able to tour the place like we'd planned (it's a very small family-run place and everyone was busy taking care of the lunch reservations), we are able to raid the gift shop there and buy some very nice vanilla-themed presents for ourselves. And maybe one or two things for other people, as well.

On a side note -- it kind of freaked me out how well my clothes for the day matched the vanilla company building.

After that, we have enough time to make a stop in the town of Honoka'a where we stop by a roadside restaurant and I am able to experience my first plate lunch. The loco moco I have is actually quite tasty and -- other than the unfortunate name -- has nothing whatsoever to do with crazy boogers. I hope.

After our plate lunch experience, we head down to the ridiculously small town of Waipio where we hit the art gallery / gift shop / cafeteria while waiting for our tour. One-stop shopping for both tourists as well as locals is a sure sign of a town with only a double-digit population.

We meet our tour guides, a married couple named Les and Renee. Renee's family owns a bunch of the land around the valley, and she and Les have a house down in the valley where they have a taro farm. In addition to being a taro farmer, Les is also a private chef at the Mauna Lani resort, which makes him pretty darn cool in my book.

We get a quick glimpse of the valley from an observation point before heading up several ridiculously steep hills to get to the ATV tour start point -- their 4x4 van seemed to have trouble in some spots.

Once we get comfortable on the ATVs and get our Introduction to ATV Safety lecture ("This makes you go, this makes you slow down, that tree will make you stop real quick") we head off along steep, rocky, and what sure as heck seem like impassable trails on our rides. The views of the valley from right near the cliff edge are amazing.

Along the way, we run into a variety of wild flora and fauna, including Hawaiian ginger flowers; wild macadamia nut trees and coffee trees (!!!); a lone Hawaiian hawk; and some wild pigs, one of which wanders right up the the fence separating it from us and seems either very friendly or very curious, and at any rate very willing to have its picture taken.

Also along the way, we make a stop at a secluded lagoon fed by a small waterfall, and we take a break for a bit so we could play in the water. Back in the old days, this place was reserved for royalty only and off-limits to the regular folk like Lucie and myself, but with Hawaiian royalty being in short supply nowadays, it's open to the visitors who are on the tours (it's still amazingly remote and on private land, so access by the general public is prohibited.)

The Waipio Valley is one of the most undeveloped areas of the big island... only a handful of people live in the valley, and only two of the houses actually have electricity. Access to the valley floor is limited to a one-lane road that's almost a 30% grade, making the drive treacherous even with a 4x4 vehicle, and impossible without one. Several waterfalls cascade from the cliff walls, though one of the larger ones was unfortunately blocked up by the earthquake that happened in October 2006. A federal grant is currently pending to get the waterway unblocked so as to once again allow the water to flow freely -- as it is, the blocked waterway has caused closure of a few businesses in the area, and is causing a hardship on some of the farms that needed the flowing water for irrigation. As if being a taro farmer weren't hard enough.

(Waipio Valley is also where they filmed the ending to Waterworld, in case you didn't get the reference in the title.)

I highly recommend the ATV tour for everyone who goes to the big island... and I also highly recommend Les and Renee as tour guides. These guys were outstandingly friendly, entertaining, and made our trip not only loads of fun but also educational, with Les "talking story" and giving tips on local history and culture as he led us along the paths. These guys made us feel like family, and we can't thank them enough for the experience. Mahalo, you guys.

After the tour ends, we head on back to our hotel, stopping at a deli in Waimea for dinner (another plate dinner for me, this time with chicken katsu and char siu pork; and saimin soup for Lucie).

No drinks by the ocean tonight, as all of the chairs are full. We'll make up for it tomorrow, but for tonight we head off to bed, still awestruck by the beauty of the valley and feeling more and more relaxed by the island's spirit.

I love this place.


Day 2: The Day I'm Unable to Blink

We wake up on our second day, wave to the latest cruise ship anchored out in the bay. and head into Kailua. While Lucie does some shopping, I hit a tiny little internet cafe for breakfast. She gets some jewelry and a cool handpainted sarong, and I have a triple mocha and a breakfast sandwich with double bacon, egg, and cream cheese on toasted Hawaiian sweet bread. Both of us are very happy.

We also pick up our second Hawaiian shave ice (Mountain Dew over shave ice for Lucie, coffee and lychee flavors for me), and head off to the car. Along the way, Lucie turns down some guy asking us if we wanted to buy some herb; the correct reply ("What are you, high?!") doesn't occur to us until about fifteen minutes later.

The Coffee Belt

Stop one: Mountain Thunder. The highest coffee plantation on the big island, Mountain Thunder is also the only purely organic coffee place. We have our first taste test, thoroughly enjoy an explanation of the roasting process, and get my picture taken with a bag of Kona coffee beans.

The next place we hit is Mauka Meadows. There is a display of coffee for sale, but the actual roasting location and gift shop is located quite a ways down the mountain, past a hike through their nice gardens, and even with the tempting offer that they would drive us back up to our car after we buy some stuff, we pass on the idea and head off to the next stop.

In the tiny town of Holualoa, we find the Ferrari Coffee roasting company. We don't know where the actual plantation is, but we have a taste of the coffee in the retail outlet, buy some flavored coffee to give out as gifts, and enjoy our first experience with pidgin English spoken by the very Hawaiian lady behind the counter.

After Ferrari, we proceed to the Blue Sky coffee plantation where we not only have a taste test of several different brews of coffee but also go on a short walk through their garden area where we see several coffee trees, some pineapple trees, apple bananas, papayas, and an actual cacao tree. Blue Sky is one of a handful of places that have begun to grow cacao trees in order to kick-start chocolate as another Hawaiian export business venture. Yum!

After that. it's a short jaunt to the Holualoa Coffee Company, where I not only enjoy a taste test of more coffee (chocolate macadamia nut flavor this time) but we also wander through the place where they process the picked coffee cherries from several other plantations, hull them, dry them, remove the chaff, and return the fully processed raw beans back to the plantations to be roasted -- they have a wall and a half of the burlap sacks from all the different coffee plantations with whom they do business and we take a picture of it all for posterity and move on to the next place and I start to feel a bit of a coffee buzz kicking in.

After Holualoa we head on down to the next stop which was a place called Buddha's Cup which was very hard to find but we found it anyway even though it was hard to find and I had another taste test of their coffee also and I realized I was drinking a lot of coffee but it was all yummy and I bought some coffee from them and another coffee mug and we met a tiny little dog named Pancho who was cute and didn't want to stop being petted and tried to get into our car but we said no and the gal who was there had to herd him away from our car so he wouldn't jump in when we opened the door and then we left and found the next place.

After Buddha's Cup we went to Kona Joe's well we were originally going to get some lunch since by that time we were both hungry but there was a bunch of traffic (even in Hawaii there's a rush hour we found out) so we decided to make one more stop which was a place called Kona Joe's that grows their coffee on trellises like grapes (I like grapes!) but it's not grapes it's coffee and I had an espresso smoothie from the snack bar and also bought a coffee mug and because the total was over $15 I also got a free cup of their iced coffee I ordered a medium sized instead of the large size because I was starting to feel the effects of coffeecoffeeCOFFEE but it was okay and yummy tasty and then we went to the gift shop and bought some of their coffee too (coffee is a funny word) and they were offering free taste tests of their coffee but since I'd already had an espresso smoothie as well as cup of their iced coffee (which were both yummy tasty) I decided not to have any more coffeecoffeeCOFFEE but we bought a bag of their award-winning coffee beans (whole bean medium roast peaberry is the best kind to buy) for home and then we had to leave because we were both hungry by that time but I think I already said that and then we drove though the town to find some place to eat but most places were closed because for some reason a lot of places are closed between 1:30 and 5 in the smaller towns because they don't cater to tourists as much in the small towns but we finally found a place that was open and we sat down and had a late lunch and I was able to eat some food which helped since I was a little wired from having so many taste tests and the espresso smoothie yummy tasty from Kona Joe's and also the iced coffee yummy tasty coffeecoffeeCOFFEE

After lunch, I feel much better.
We continue to drive South down the Kona coast, and wander down to Kealakekua Bay. On the way, we notice a few other coffee places; however, since it's already past 5 (and since my heart rate is still somewhere in the 300-400 beats per minute range), we opt to leave them for another day.
We head back to our hotel, and once again enjoy drinks by the ocean to end out the day. Lucie opts for a blue Hawaiian, and I have the obligatory mai tai, as well as a strawberry daiquiri... and my first mango daiquiri, which I immediately declare to be one of the Best Drinks Ever.
Sated and happy, we retire for the day, and I hope I can actually fall asleep.

Day 1: The Day I Learn a Lesson And Almost Get Killed (the two being unrelated)

Early Monday morning, we head off to the Oakland airport. Since my Rodeo isn't in all that hot a condition, and since we don't really feel like spending a couple hundred bucks on long-term parking for a week-plus, and since we don't really like the general public and don't want to share a shuttle or anything, we instead opt for a slightly different option, and arrange for a limo ride from our apartment to the airport. It's an hour or more from San Jose to Oakland, and we have to leave our place at around 5:30 in the morning to make the flight; might as well be comfortable.

Original plan was an 11:30 flight direct from Oakland to Kona, but the flight got changed to an 8:20 flight to Honolulu, and a 45-minute layover until an interisland shuttle from Honolulu to Kona. Thanks, Aloha Airlines!

We arrive in Honolulu, and humidity strikes early. We transfer to the shuttle airplane (general seating, and we get stuck way in back of the ridiculously small craft -- thanks, Aloha Airlines!) and end up on the right side of the airplane. The left side, of course, is the side with the view of the other islands as we fly.

We arrive, I get the rental car (a convertible, of course), and we check in to our hotel. While doing that, we also get tickets for that night's luau.

During the luau, I bring along my trusty digital camera, so we can fondly look back at images of our vacation forever. I get two pictures taken -- one of the view from our hotel room and one of our first Hawaiian sunset -- before the batteries run out. No problem -- I brought along four rechargeable batteries just in case something like this happens. And I even charged them up.
...sometime last year or something, because they're dead as well. Lesson learned: remember to charge your rechargeable batteries before you go on vacation.

So I don't get any pictures of the luau dancers or the fire dance. And I don't get any pictures of the fist-sized coconut that fell from the tree above me and demolished my mai tai cup, only missing my head by about a foot. Ah, well. At least I have the memories. And an undamaged skull.

After the luau, we discover the perfect way to end the evening: the hotel has a bar, with ridiculously comfortable chairs facing the ocean. We grab some comfy chairs, sit back, and drink a mai tai with our shoes off, and our feet on the barricade separating us from the ocean crashing against the rocks fifteen feet below.

We resolve to buy batteries first thing tomorrow morning, I kick myself a little for not keeping the head-seeking coconut as a souvenir, and we retire to our room for the night.

It's a slightly rocky start, but one heck of a nice way to end the first day here.

The view from our hotel room, right in the middle of the Kailua coast.

Hawai'i sunset #1.


Eight Days in Hawai'i: Introduction

Hello, folks; Raymond speaking! The following several entries are from our trip taken to Kailua-Kona, by both myself and Lucie.

I'm the one telling the story, so what I post and what actually happened might differ in some spots, either by conscious choice for ease of narrative or just because my memory is shot. You be the judge.