Hawa1'1, Day 10: "Déjà Brew, Again (Or: a ThreePeet's)"

Dawn breaks on our last full day in Hawai'i, but we're still sleeping. Later that morning breaks, and we wake up, open the sliding doors, and see our first cruise ship on the Big Island. Maui has Kahului Harbor right near the airport, so you get off the airplane and there's a big honkin' cruise ship parked in your face; the Big Island, on the other hand, makes the passengers shuttle back and forth from where the ship is anchored in the bay to the small dock next to the wa'a launch. The Big Island's all supercool that way. You gotta work for the Kona, baby.

Speaking of which, we had three different plans for today: drive down to Volcanos National Park and say hello to Kilauea; drive up to Hawi in the northern tip of the island and say hello to the statue of King Kamehameha; or go wacky crazy and visit more coffee plantations. We did Volcanos on our previous two trips, and while it's incredibly cool going there and knowing you're watching an island actually growing, we're okay with skipping that this time around. We still haven't been to Hawi, but that's kind of an all-day thing and we have tickets to tonight's luau, and we don't want to have to rush if we don't want to (Big Island and all, you know.) So we decide to hit more coffee plantations -- we go through our old Coffee Tour map (which, yes, I have saved in my iBooks library on my iPad), pick a few new farms to try out as well as a couple of old ones we want to revisit, plan the best route (hint: it rhymes with "drive down the Obamalahoa Highway"), and head out.

Our first stop is UCC again... not to buy more coffee or to roast more ourselves -- though we wouldn't be adverse to that -- but because we tried a couple of those coffee flavored Pretz biscuit sticks and need more. Pocky Pocky Pocky. The guy behind the counter remembers us; I'm guessing because Lucie's clothes are so recognizable. We chat for a bit, buy a couple boxes of Pretz, and continue on our way.

Our next stop is in Holualoa, at Blue Sky. Unfortunately, they don't have any more of that nifty liliko'i and chili jelly I got last time, but they still have some good coffee, CDs of Kona-related Hawaiian music produced by the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival with all proceeds benefiting the Coffee Festival's "Aloha Makahiki Concert", and some other yummy foodstuffs. We fill a bag or two with purchases and chat for a few minutes with the proprietors, then continue on our way.

We make a left onto Old Poi Factory Road and drive up a steep, sort of paved, unstriped, one and a half lane road until we get to Buddha's Cup. We had a fun visit on our first trip but weren't able to make it last time, and wanted to see how Pancho, the cute dog we met, is doing. We don't actually see Pancho, but instead we meet Manny, one of the cohabitants of the residence-turned-coffee farm, and he is flat-out, full-on, 100% entirely totally and completely AWESOME. All caps and boldface. He greets us with an exuberant full-body hug and huge smile; talks nonstop about his love of growing coffee, drinking coffee, living in Hawai'i, and enjoyment of participating in the coffee competitions (for which Buddha's Cup won 1st place in 2010, at the Gevalia Cupping Contest); he gives us a free pound of his own "Manny's Brew" coffee, as well as a Buddha's Cup burlap tote bag; he's so stoked that people like us love coffee so much we're willing to drive all the way up the mountain to visit the farm that he even offers to house us on our next trip to the island. We mention meeting Pancho last trip and he gives a deep laugh. "Oh, Pancho... that guy is great! He loves hanging out with me when I'm working outside, and was teasing me through the window just a while ago!"

He's by far one of the most warm and welcoming people we've met in Hawai'i, which really is saying something. However, it's getting on in the day and we've got another couple of coffee farms to visit, so we regretfully say our farewells (or our "aloha a hui hou"s), and leave with our Buddha's Cup and Manny's Brew coffees stowed snugly in our Buddha's Cup tote bag.

About halfway down Old Poi Factory Road back toward the Mamalahoa Highway, we make our next stop at Heavenly Hawaiian Farms. We're a little distressed when they tell us that they brought in some coffee breeds from Costa Rica a while back to mix with the Kona, and which have since cross pollinated and done who knows what to the coffee purity on adjacent farms ("They taste exactly the same now!" the wife says happily) and we're also a bit distressed when they come across as a little bigoted ("we got checked by ICE a couple of years ago, and lost all of the Mexicans working for us, since they were all illegals except for the foreman. We have Filipinos now."). However, they are polite and nice to us during our visit, and their coffee is pretty darn tasty, so we buy some of the arabica Kona coffee they sell and head back down the coffee belt road.

We head through Captain Cook, past Onouli Road, past Keopuka Mauka Road, past Hale Ke Eke E Place, past Pele Lane, past Kalamalani Place, through Kealakekua, past Telephone Exchange Road, past Lau Wiliwili Nukunuku Oi'oi Drive, past Napo'opo'o Road, past Filipino Clubhouse Road, all the way to Lion's Gate Farms. And yes, one of those street names is made up. No, I'm not telling.

Anyway, I take a quick picture or two at Lion's Gate of the coffee trees -- not only because they've got a lot of ripe red coffee cherries everywhere whereas most places are just starting to ripen, but because they also have a big prickly pear cactus growing in the midst of the trees, and it's kind of a cool pairing of red hues -- and we're welcomed into the foyer of the main house by the nice lady there. Her daughter's the business person, she tells us, and she's just filling in while she's away, but she's polite and informative and friendly (like just about everyone we've met.). She talks about their macadamia nut trees and how the nuts are harvested and aged to detach from the shell, and how nobody sells them raw because the oils go rancid too quickly to have a viable shelf life... and then she gives the opportunity to crack open a macadamia nut and try one raw.

The nut needs a specialized machine to open, since mac nuts have the hardest shells of any nut on earth -- you could use a hammer, but that usually results in macadamia nut paste instead of a whole nut. Mac nuts also have the highest amount of monounsaturated fat of any nut, so the raw nut meat is incredibly creamy in texture. Roasted mac nuts are tasty and all -- salted, honey roasted, chocolate coated, flavored, with cayenne, whatever -- but eating the nuts raw is an entirely new experience. They'll even sell them raw by special request, which Lucie and I agree we may need to do once we're back in California. And kudos to you if you didn't giggle at all during that last paragraph; way to go.

We buy a few bags of chocolate covered coffee beans, powdered sugar coated toffee mac nuts, coffee, and some macadamia nut oil for cooking, then head on back toward Kailua. It's just after lunchtime, so we stop off in Kealakekua at a place we've driven past several times now, Rebel Kitchen, for a bite to eat.

The owners are Bay Area transplants who moved out here earlier this year to pursue their dreams of opening a restaurant, against people's advice (hence the name)... And if that dream includes making some really groovy food, their dream is coming true. Their jerk chicken sandwich is a little messy because of the jerk sauce runoff, but the flavor is outstanding -- sweet, tangy, and with just a tiny bite of heat, all the while keeping the chicken moist and tender. The bun is soft and freshly baked, as are their desserts (we split a banana oatmeal dark chocolate loaf, a chocolate lover's cupcake, and a slice of outstanding liliko'i cheesecake with what tastes like a macadamia nut crust.) As with most meals, we stick with cold bottled water and I supplement with a can of POG. I'm mildly entertained by the fact that while most of the water we've had so far has been Hawaiian brands, our entrepreneurs from San Francisco are offering Crystal Geyser water, bottled in California and shipped to Hawai'i... maybe not the most ecologically friendly choice but it makes me chuckle a little.

After lunch, we return to our hotel and relax for an hour or two before getting gussied up in our finest casual wear to head downstairs to the Royal Kona's luau. I have linen pants and the new Hawaiian shirt we bought in Hilo, and I also bought a new pair of sunglasses in the hotel's gift shop a few days ago that matches my shirt almost perfectly (which is pure happy coincidence, since I hadn't bought the shirt at the time.). In the elevator on the way down, a fellow passenger comments on the brightness of my shirt ("I probably wouldn't wear that, and I'm from here!") before pausing briefly and asking, "Is that a Mamo?" I glance down at my shirt and its handwritten "Mamo" appearing here and there, and say, "It sure is.". He nods, more impressed than before, and exits the elevator ahead of us.

As soon as he's out of eyesight, both Lucie and I whip out our iPhones and Google "Mamo Hawaiian shirt" -- oh, hey; looks like I managed to buy designer wear created by Hawaii's most famous clothing designer. I had no idea -- I was just buying something that actually fit for once. Groovy.

Feeling more stylish than usual, we head into the luau, have our picture taken for later purchase, grab some watered down mai tais, and find some seats that aren't located beneath any palm trees. We end up sitting next to a couple from England on their honeymoon; we chat a bit as the evening progresses, but the new bride seems somehow impervious to my attempts to sell her on drinking coffee instead of tea.

The food is very much the same as when we attended the luau on our first visit; the teriyaki and short ribs are nicely saucy; the kahlua pig is always tasty, and the poi still tastes like Elmer's paste. However, we're here for our now-traditional experience as much as the food... the dances and commentary are somewhat familiar (not that if you've seen one luau you've seen them all; it's just that we've actually seen this luau once already), and I give Lucie a laugh at the start of dinner when everyone at the tables jumps up and rushes the imu to see the unearthing of the kahlua pig, and I calmly demur with "this isn't my first luau.". Trust me, when said in that context and meant to be synonymous with "this ain't my first rodeo", it is HYSTERICAL.

At the end of the night, we buy the luau picture to add to our collection, head back to our hotel room, and sadly begin packing our coffee, souvenirs, and clothes for the flight home tomorrow.

Leaving Hawai'i sucks.

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Hawa1'1, Day 9: "Our 4th Full Day on the Big Island, No Les."

So when we were first planning for our trip, we had originally picked today to head back out to Waipio Valley and take another ATV tour with Les and Renee, but we had cancelled for two reasons: first, Renee no longer works for the company so it would be Les and some other person with whom we haven't bonded; and secondly, they had raised their price by over 20% and while we certainly appreciate Waipio and don't mind supporting small businesses, that's a lot of bucks to throw down on an activity that last time we participated tried to kill me.

So this time around, we won't be taking a day to visit my brother from another mother; my chum from a different mum; my mate from a different state; my pally in a deeper valley; my hombre with a different last nombre.. or, as they say in Hawai'i, "my 'ohana from a different mama."

Instead, we've made plans with the Kona Boys for a chartered tour on a wa'a, or outrigger canoe. We're a little unsure of going out because of the high surf -- we see some waves spilling over the retaining wall and flowing onto the street along Ai'i Drive as we drive to the dock -- and because so far this trip, Hawai'i has not yet tried to kill me. First trip, coconut; second trip, ATV mishap... third trip, wa'a?

What actually seals it for me, though, is when I try to fit into the canoe and don't quite fit. I was a bit worried about this happening; I could probably make it work okay for a while, but I'm on vacation and don't feel any real urge to pay to be uncomfortable for an extended amount of time, in the ocean during high surf conditions. We regretfully cancel our appointment, and swear to ourselves that on our next visit here, we'll be back. The ocean should behave itself better next trip, and in two years' time I will be smaller and will fit more comfortably.

We do make our next scheduled appointment, however, back at Mountain Thunder for the roastmaster tour we arranged several days ago. We make the drive up the mountain to the plantation and meet with Brooke, our host for the next hour; she walks us over to the smaller sibling of their main Diedrich roaster, located in a small room next to their gift shop. I am handed a huge bucket with raw coffee beans, and pour them into the roasting drum.

As the beans slowly roast and turn from a pale pistachio green to their final milk chocolate brown, Brooke chats with us about her training as Mountain Thunder's current go-to roast master, our experiences with other coffee plantations, living on the Big Island, and other topics. She compliments us on the picture we chose to use as the coffee labels and the name of our roast (it's the shot of us at the summit of Haleakalā, with me in my pastel tie dye and both of us wearing sunglasses, and the name we chose is "Ray & Lucie's Bright & Early Roast") and says she's never done the sunrise before but wants to; we counter with us never having lived in Hawai'i and grown coffee but wanting to.

Soon enough, the coffee is roasted to the proper temperature and I get to pour out the beans into the cooling tray; they're a perfect medium roast, milk chocolate in color and the oils just barely coming to the surface. I pour them back into the huge bucket (it smells fantastic!) and we make our way to the packaging area, where I measure them out into the proper amounts, attach the labels, and seal the bags. Mountain Thunder coffee is nitrogen flushed to provide a much longer shelf life than most other coffees that just vacuum seal their bags, but it's not really necessary in this instance -- it'll be gone well before it ever has the chance of spoiling.

After the coffee roasting, we head back to the hotel room to lighten up our luggage for the flight home. We ship a large box that is later referred to as a "baby elephant" of coffee, cookies, macadamia nuts, Hawaiian print fabric, and cold weather clothing (worn only for the frigid pre-dawn conditions on Haleakalā) back to California, then head out to our lunch destination, Da Poke Shack.

We've heard good things about this place when we were researching places to eat on vacation, but the last few times we've driven past it's been closed. Today, however, it's open for business, and we head in to try out their goods. I try "Pele's Kiss", a spicy ahi with a light mayo sauce, with seaweed salad and rice with furikake sprinkled on top; Lucie goes for the sesame ahi poke, with edamame and plain rice. Both are fantastic -- fresh, light, flavorful, and all-around serious ono kine grinds. Before we leave, I also grab a half pound to go of their Dynamite poke, a spicy ahi with creamy avocado and tobiko. Like the other flavors we tried, and no doubt like everything else they serve, it does not disappoint.

We spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the lanai of our hotel room, enjoying the sounds of the ocean, the view of the still-high surf frothing as it spills over the rocks below, the taste of some outstanding poke, and the always stunning Hawaiian sunset. After we get in a couple of hours of relaxation and tanning, we head downstairs for dinner and drinks at Don's.

My dinner selection is a steak Caesar salad paired with crab and scallop chowder -- they do their best to grill the steak Pittsburg rare, but can't quite do so; however, it's still nicely rare, with a good char from the fire. The chowder is thick and heavy on the cream, as all good chowders should be. My choice for alcohol is a classic piña colada and their "tiki sampler", a half-size foursome of a mai tai, a Pele's volcanic kiss mai tai (with amaretto and 151 rum), a topless mai tai (with clear coconut and mango rums instead of dark rum), and a green flash. Lucie opts for their basic Angus burger with sweet potato fries, and accompanies that with a green flash and a mango daiquiri.

We spend another hour or so sitting in those chairs, looking at the ocean and the heavy rains that have been showing up most nights, and enjoying our time together on the island. After a while, though, it's time to retire for the evening. We head back upstairs (and if Lucie's a little steadier on her feet than I am after my mai tai bonanza, I'll never say it out loud), and fall into a deep, happy sleep.

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Hawa1'1, Day 8: "Google Maps Takes Us to Hilo and Back."

We wake up slowly the next morning with a slight relaxation hangover from the massage. And what better way to get rid of all that excess relaxation than to head over to that bustling metropolis, that overcrowded urban conurbation, that densely peopled concrete jungle that is Hilo (pop. 43,263)?

So we plan our route. Not having learned my lesson from our last trip, I enlist the help of Google Maps on my iPhone, and get directions to the Hawaiian Vanilla Company in Pa'auilo. We'd gone there on our first trip but weren't able to make it last time, so we figure we're due for another visit. Google Maps tells us to take a different route than I remember us taking (up along the Kohala coast before cutting inland to Waimea, while last time we took the Mamalahoa Highway until it hooks right and heads down the Kona Belt, then followed Hawai'i Belt Road -- which, confusingly, is also called the Mamalahoa Highway (guess those Hawaiians like at name as much as I do) -- to Waimea. We ponder this for a moment, then in a fit of insanity I suggest we go ahead and try the Google Maps directions; we do like the Kohala coast's continuous view of the ocean, and either way we get to Waimea, so it's all good.

You do see where this is going, don't you? 'Cuz I sure as heck didn't when this is happening.

The trip up Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway along the Kohala coast is as pleasant and calming as we remember; the ocean is that spectacular pāua shell combination of intense and vibrant blues; the locals' roadside messages created by white rocks arranged in the black lava landscape is still as quaint and cool as I remember (and I'm still tempted to grab some white rocks and make my own message for future travelers, though I don't); and the turnoff for Waimea is right where we remember it from last trip when we drove this route (although last time we continued along the coast, and this time we turn inland.) The weather ranges from partly cloudy to cloudy to slightly drizzly, but never really enough for it to warrant us putting the top up on our car. Before long, we end up in Waimea... we notice sadly that the German restaurant Edelweiss is no longer in business (apparently the owners retired in late 2007), which is a bummer, but we continue on our way, following the INCREDIBLY PRECISE AND ACCURATE directions from Google Maps.

We continue on past Honoka'a, home of Waipio Valley and Les and Renee, and drive just a few miles further to where my iPhone tells me to turn off the highway and head mauka ([mah-oo-kuh], adv.; toward the mountains; inland. Also, "place where haole tourist gets no cellular reception") so we do. The iPhone then tells me to turn from Kalopa road left onto Kalopa road, then right onto Kalopa road then left onto Kalopa road, then to shake my iPhone all about and to do the Kalokey Pokey, then -- aww, CRAP, we're lost again! By the time I'm willing to admit that this looks nothing like what I remember from our last trip here, we're way up in the mountains, a mile or two up a one-and-half lane road, and have driven over several one-lane bridges, built apparently for two-way traffic, and we don't have cell service so we can't verify the directions using a different source. I make a truly frightening eleven-point turn in a "wide" spot of the road, hoping that nobody comes along the road from either direction and slams into us broadside, then we head back makai ([mah-kaee], adv.; toward the ocean; seaward. Also, "get off of our mountain, devil white man") until we find a place where we get a whole one bar of cell service, and I do what I probably should have done in the first place, namely go to the stinkin' Vanilla Company website and get the directions they offer, because the Hawai'i Vanilla Company wants our business, and Google Maps is apparently in cahoots with either Hawai'i or the nēnē, to either kill me or mock me, respectively (yet at the same time without any respect whatsoever.)

Using their friendly and easy-to-follow directions, we get to our destination without incident. In a fruitless attempt to feel less like a complete idiot, I encourage Lucie's impulse buys in the Vanilla Company store, grabbing vanilla-infused soaps and lotions and coffee and tea and home fragrance spray and lip balm and Hummel figurines and everything else they sell. Finally, my ego slightly mollified and the trunk of our Mustang filled, we get back onto the highway and continue on our way to Hilo.

(Incidentally, the directions on Google Maps would have taken us to the vanilla plantation as well, just not by the fastest or most direct, or most paved, route. Hopefully the new mapping app that Apple is rumored to be working on has more features.)

The rest of our trip to Hilo is relatively hassle-free. There are a few lane closures where road crews are reinforcing cliff walls and trying to unbend "danger: falling rocks" signs, but other than that it's smooth sailing.

Once we get to Hilo, our first stop is at the Discount Fabric Warehouse located on this side of the island -- Kona's was closed yesterday so we make up for it here by buying several different colorful prints to have shirts made back in California. Lucie also scores a huge bonus when she snaps up a bolt of garlic print fabric. Awesome.

After I get my cotton on, we decide it's time for lunch, so we head to one of the most famous restaurants in Hilo, Ken's House of Pancakes. It's a little busy, even though we're sort of between breakfast and lunch right now -- apparently, there's always a crowd. We check out the Rock wall (as in, there are a bunch of pictures of actor/wrestler the Rock hanging behind the register; the owner is a relative) and are seated in short order.

This is a polar opposite from Edelweiss; it looks and feels as though it's a diner stuck in the 50's, the waitresses are local aunties who move on Big Island time, and the booths are orange vinyl. But, you don't come here for the ambiance, you come here for the hearty food, the big portions, and the experience. The hearty food in our case is corned beef hash moco for Lucie (eggs and gravy over corned beef hash) and the "Kilauea" for me (a triple stack of huge buttermilk pancakes, with ham and bacon between the pancakes, and fried eggs on top), which is downright delicious when I alternate with the maple and coconut syrups they offer. Lucie also orders me a Vietnamese iced coffee, which is passable, and we order dessert, which is awesome -- my coconut cream pie is smooth and sweet and creamy, and Lucie's pineapple upside down cake is intensely flavored, still steaming hot when it gets to the table, and gone in seconds. Ken's (referred to as "K-HOP" buy the locals) has been voted best breakfast on the island for 14 years, and we agree with that assessment.

After lunch, we head on over to Hilo Hattie's. Sure there's a Hilo Hattie's in Kailua-Kona, but this is Hilo Hattie's... you wouldn't go to an Outback Steakhouse anywhere other than in Australia, would you? Or shop at a Tommy Bahama's anywhere other than Nassau?

Okay, yeah, well sure -- so would I. But it's right there, on the way to the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory, so we might as well. The nice lady behind the counter as we come in asks us if we're locals -- and honestly, that seems to be happening to us more often this trip than before -- and we regretfully say no. We poke around, I try on some clothes (which I've never bothered to try and do before, since they don't have my size), and I actually find an amazingly bright floral print shirt that fits! Woo-hoo! We also find some jams and macadamia nuts and candy and other stuff, which is pretty much one size fits all, so we load up on those as well.

After that, we head to the Hershey's Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation Visitor Center, formerly just the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory but now apparently yet another cog in the giant foodstuff machinery of Hershey's. We buy some mac nuts, and some mac nuts, and then some mac nuts, and a bottle of water along with some mac nuts (seriously, what else would you buy here?), then head back toward Kailua. We had also wanted to stop by Big Island Candies but it's too close to closing time, so a tour of their facility will have to wait for another day, perhaps one where we don't waste a lot of time trying to get unlost after listening to what Google tells us to do.

We stop in Honoka'a, at Tex Drive-In -- they're rated pretty high in Yelp for their malasadas, and it's about dinner time, so we figure we might as well take advantage of the situation. Unfortunately, we didn't read through all of the reviews, or we'd have seen several comments about the rest of their food being somewhat hit or miss, and it is... the filled malasadas we buy (pineapple for Lucie, mango for me) really are awesome, but the saimin Lucie has is a bit too strong on the fish sauce and the variant on Hawaiian pizza I get (pineapple and what they call kalhua pork) is overly greasy and barely passable; but the bento box of teriyaki, SPAM, Portuguese sausage, fried chicken wings, and a krab omelet over rice is pretty good, and fills us both up decently even if we don't finish our first choices.

We take the inland road back to Kailua -- it's a little windier and wetter, and more hair-raising than the coastal Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, but I kind of missed driving this route on the way out -- and make our way back to our hotel. We head upstairs and listen to the ocean as we relax in our room. The ocean is a bit louder than usual, as the surf is still high (Lucie says there's a high surf warning for tomorrow, but it seems to be arriving earlier than expected), but it's still some of the best background noise one can ask for.

We go to bed for the night, with the ocean still barely audible behind the closed doors and the sound of the AC.

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Hawa1'1, Day 7: "'PSYCH-K Methods Engage the Magical Something Else That Releases Resistance to Making Your Outer Life a Perfect Match for Your Highest Inner Wisdom' Means... What, Exactly?"

Our seventh day in Hawai'i begins on a somewhat slow note as we spend the morning doing laundry and/or sitting on our lanai, watching the ocean, and seeing snorkelers, and a honu, and dolphins cavorting in the ocean, and the dolphins being stalked by the snorkelers, and boats converging on the area and more snorkelers entering the water from the boats to interact with the dolphins, and people on paddle boards making their way over to the dolphins, and many other forms of dolphin-related excitement.

The sign of a true geek, roasting coffee, iPhone in hand...
Eventually, though, we head on out along Ali'i Drive, and stop at Kamuela Deli for lunch (I have a small loco moco; Lucie has chicken katsu) before heading up to Ueshima Coffee Company where we have an appointment to roast some coffee. We've done this on all three trips to Hawai'i, and while we're sort of okay with skipping a bunch of the buildup on the tour (explaining how coffee is grown and processed, showing us the coffee trees growing on the hillside below us, telling us how the beans crack twice during the roasting process [the first time is when water escapes from the beans; the second time is when the oils come out and give dark coffee beans that shiny appearance], etc.), we still geek out a whole lot when we actually roast our own beans.

Our Roastmaster guide for this experience is Jeff, with whom we talk about other UCC employees ("yeah, Seichi-san is great; and I started working here when June had her baby back in 2010"), living in Hawai'i ("it's actually a pretty good time to consider moving here right now, since there's a lot of available places"), and our mutual appreciation for a good medium roast on our coffee. After our coffee has been roasted and bagged and labeled with or custom labels, we hit the store and buy some more coffee, cookies, their always refreshing Kona coffee ice cream, and a major score -- "Coffee Pretz", basically coffee flavored biscuit sticks like Pocky but not actually Pocky but from the same people who do make Pocky so it's basically Pocky but not Pocky.

Pocky. I like saying that. Pocky on the Mamalahoa Highway.

Anyway, after we leave UCC, we cruise a bit north of Kailua and stop by the Discount Fabric Warehouse, to buy some fabric for shirts; unfortunately, I get a bit lost trying to find the place... by the time we eventually find it -- after we stop at a grocery store and buy some drinks and ask the person working the register which driveway we need to take (the first driveway on the road, as it turns out, and of course I tried driveways two through six already) -- we arrive ten minutes after they've closed for the day. Curses! Not only that, but it begins to rain moderately hard as we sit parked in our car.

We consider our options as to what to do next, and Lucie suggests the Kona International Market, just a few blocks away from our current location. It seems a little touristy, but technically we are tourists (repeat tourists and wannabe kama'aina, but tourists nonetheless) so we decide to give it a go. It's almost closing time -- they close half an hour later than the Discount Fabric Warehouse we just left -- and no other customers are still there because of the late hour and the rain, but we peruse through the stores that are still open and find a few things to buy for family and friends and ourselves before they announce that business hours are over.

We return to our room at the Royal Kona, make an appointment for a couples massage later that night (it'll be our first, and an extravagant impulse buy, but it is after all vacation and it's good to do things like that on vacation sometimes) and rest for a bit on the lanai looking at the ocean. The dolphins are gone for the day, but they'll be back; it's Hawai'i.

We head to the "Lotus Center" at our arranged time and meet our masseussesses, Chakra and Reiki (not their real names [I don't think so, anyway]) and we begin our massage. We avoided any of the metaphysical stuff they offer (I'm more than a little bit of a skeptic) like astrology or crystal biofeedback or PSYCH-K, whatever the heck that's supposed to be (the title for today's entry is from an actual quote from the web site describing PSYCH-K's benefits) but the basic massage is incredibly relaxing, and we spend the hour appreciatively limp and drooling, listening to the calming music playing in the background. My masseussess, Reiki (or is it Kinoki?) tells me afterward to make sure and drink lots of water because she had "activated the lymph noids and they need replenishing.". I nod politely, thank her for her consideration (misinformed and mispronounced though it may be), and Lucie and I walk back to the main building, a little unsteady on our feet still since we're so relaxed, but happy.

We have dinner at Don the Beachcomber's, our feet on the barrier wall, as we watch the waves crash against the rocks below. The surf is higher than usual, which makes for some spectacular splashes as we eat and drink and continue to relax. I have the "bleu Hawaiian burger" with bleu cheese, bacon, and grilled onions, a passion-guava daiquiri, a scorpion, a mango daiquiri, and a sweet potato haupia pie for dessert; Lucie has a turkey sandwich, a paradise found, a green flash, a mango daiquiri, and a chocolate molten lava cake for dessert.

Happy, relaxed, full, relaxed, and relaxed, we head back upstairs to our room for the night, relaxed.

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Hawa1'1, Day 6: "The Day We Experience Déjà Brew."

Our next day begins slightly early and slightly slowly, as we awaken to the sounds of the ocean crashing below our room. Our room at Kā'anapali Beach Hotel was in the building closest to the water, but it was still far enough away where we couldn't hear the ocean; our room at the Royal Kona Resort, while up much higher, is almost directly above where the waves crash against the rocks, and that really does make a nice alarm clock.

We eventually leave our air conditioned room and cruise down Ali'i Drive. We make a stop in a small commercial section for breakfast (me) and shopping (Lucie.) The Internet cafe (Surf Dogs) that was here has closed sometime in the last fifteen and a half months since we last visited, but I make do with the new joint, Ali'i Buzz -- their breakfast wrap of cream cheese, eggs, and turkey bacon is decent, but the poor girl behind the counter is new and unused to the coffee equipment, and doesn't have enough supplies to make a triple mocha, so I have to downgrade to a double. After breakfast, I peruse the small Country Samurai Coffee store I've seen before but never entered and pick up some of their beans. Lucie's trip into Island Silversmith is fruitless, but her trip into Sarongs "R" Us (which Lucie swears is NOT the actual name, but this is my blog, so there) is good, so we're both mostly appeased by the stop.

After breakfast, brew, and clothing blue, we head up Palani Road to our favorite first stop of every coffee tour, Mountain Thunder. This is our third visit here, and it's been getting more crowded and busy every time we come. This is a good thing for founder Trent A. Bateman, of the Mountain Thunder Coffee Farm Batemans, and his family; but we kind of miss the last couple of times where we were able to get complete privacy or personal service from Trent himself. That's fine, though; we entertain ourselves by trying out some of their coffee and watching TV clips about the farm (Dirty Jobs, Food Network's All American Festivals, and several Hawai'i-based foodie shows) and buy several bags of beans and other gifts, and sign up for their new Roastmaster Tour for a few days from now.

From Mountain Thunder, we backtrack slightly to the (and I really *do* love saying this name) Mamalahoa Highway and hit our next planned stop, Hula Daddy. The view of Kailua-Kona from their balcony is as amazing as it was last time, but unfortunately it's about three weeks away from when the coffee cherries will be ripe and ready for picking, so they don't have too much in the way of coffee for sale. We still pick up one bag of their premium bean, Kona Sweet, a cool Hawaiian print burlap bag, and some other nifty goodies, and we continue down the Mamalahoa.

We wave at Ueshima Coffee Company as we drive past, but we've got a "roastmaster tour" arranged for tomorrow so we delay our stop until then and we continue past. We also pass by Old Poi Factory road, which leads to Buddha's Cup Coffee, but it's getting near lunchtime and we're in the mood for a bite to eat, so we postpone our reunion with Pancho for another day, and head to Kona Joe for their great combination of clean restrooms, awesome espresso smoothies, and great coffee. Their espresso smoothie is just as awesome as I remember it being, and the huge honking banana muffin that Lucie gets is nicely sweet, dense, and moist, and staves off our hunger enough to hit their gift shop where we buy (wanna guess? Wanna guess? Rhymes with "koffee"...) coffee, some various kitchen foodstuffs, and some coffee before heading further down Mamalahoa to Big Jake's Island Barbecue for lunch.

We buy a pulled pork sandwich and a brisket sandwich, and split each to have some variety. The sauce is sweet and smoky, and the protein is tasty (Lucie prefers the pulled pork while I kind of dig the brisket), and the cold bottles of water really hit the spot. From there, we cruise further down the road and relive our We Don't Know Where the Heck We're Going experience from last trip -- except that this time I do know where I'm going, and don't even need to look at directions -- and visit Kona Lisa Coffee.

It's still as great an experience as last time, and we chat with both Mary and her husband Ron (we met Mary last time, but this is our first time meeting Ron) about coffee, life, and retirement in Hawai'i. They're both friendly and talkative, and they still have some coffee that they'd just roasted a couple of days ago, so we say hello to their cats and their new dog, buy a few bags of medium roast coffee, and leave them to their work.

We stop by the Kona Coast Macadamia Nut shop, but we've just missed them closing for the day; we make plans to hit them again later on our stay here. We also stop by Sacred Grounds as we head back up the Mamalahoa toward Kona, but they're still closed... we'd heard they they'd opened back up, but Ron and Mary had told us that they didn't have insurance back when they'd had the fire (it's a combination pottery store and coffee farm, and the pottery studio kiln was above the coffee area, which turned out to be a bad idea) and apparently their insider knowledge is more accurate than something we'd read about online... who knew?! Also on the way back, we stop by the site of Sam Choy's new restaurant, Kai Lanai. It was expected to open already, but the construction crew is on Big Island schedule, so they're still working on it as we drive past. It looks really cool, and we're both big fans of Sam, so we just shrug and remind ourselves that nothing hurries on the Big Island, and we'll make plans to stop by here the next time we go on vacation.

We continue back to Kailua-Kona, find a parking place along Ali'i Drive, and make our last planned stop for the day at Kona Henna Studios. I've been working on a small doodle off and on for a couple of months now, and I'm eager to see how it looks in real life; and Lucie really enjoyed the hibiscus pattern she got last time and wants to have something similar. My tribal San Jose Sharks logo looks awesome when it's finally applied, and I couldn't be more please with it. Lucie get a hibiscus pattern on one foot and a stylized manta ray on the other. They both look great as well -- our henna artist this time around has over a decade of experience in Henna, and is amazingly fast and precise with the applicator.

We walk out happy and satisfied with the results, but realize belatedly that we can't go out to dinner anywhere since Lucie needs to keep the dried henna on her feet for at least an hour, and even in Hawai'i the restaurants won't let you in barefoot. Our solution is simple, easy, and in a weird sort of way what a local would do: we hit a McDonalds drive-thru. The food is almost exactly what you'd expect from a McDonalds, except that apparently in Hawai'i they offer some location-unique items, such as the Spam or Portuguese sausage breakfast plate, or the haupia fruit pie.

We return to our hotel room (you're not supposed to walk barefoot through the hotel lobby area either, but nobody says anything) have some simple food (including a pretty darn tasty deep fried fast food fruit pie) for dinner, lounge around until our henna has been on for the recommended amount of time, and then shower and go to bed; stained, suntanned, fed, and still slightly caffeinated.

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Hawa1'1, Day 5: "Happy Anniversary."

Our fifth day in Hawai'i, our tenth anniversary, and our last day on Maui. We finish packing our suitcases, and call our friends the bellboys to come lug our suitcases downstairs to the hotel lobby. We've managed to keep the number of suitcases the same at three (I've got my smaller suitcase full of clothes stuck inside my larger suitcase, in anticipation of Kona coffee from the Big Island) but we do end up with an additional piece of carry-on luggage.

One of the many ways that the staff of Kā'anapali Beach Hotel shows their Aloha is that the hotel gives a kukui nut lei ceremony to its departing guests. The kukui nut is also called a candlenut, since the nut's oils used to be used for lighting homes; our friend Malihini explains as she puts our leis on that the symbolism is that they want to share their light with us and to have us carry it when we go. Some people might think that giving out kukui nut leis is a little kitschy or gimmicky, but in my opinion the sentiment behind it is pretty cool.

We pick up our Jeep for the last time and make our way across the island to Kahului, I drop off Lucie and our luggage at the airport and drive to the car drop off location. The airport is very efficient today -- before I finish dropping the car off, Lucie texts me that she was able to find porters to assist, the luggage has been checked, and she's got our tickets ready. The flight to the Big Island is almost as fast -- just enough time to hand out a mini bag of macadamia nuts and a drink (POG, since we're still in Hawai'i) and we're on our favorite island.

Our car for this leg is a convertible Mustang, whom I name Sally (trite and obvious, I know, but it still makes me smile) -- back when we were having trouble with our SUV Leasa and we had to rent cars, I tried out a Mustang one time but wasn't able to fit behind the wheel. Now, however, I'm not only able to fit behind the wheel, but I don't even need a seat belt extender like I did with the Jeep. Lucie says this is proof that I'm actually losing weight with my diet and exercise; I'm still a bit of a pessimist about it so my suggestion is that they're just making Mustangs bigger than they did a few years ago. Either way, I put the top down, and cruise happily back to the airport to pick up Lucie and our luggage. We need to put the two large suitcases in the back seat -- convertibles aren't really known for their trunk space -- but we get in and head toward Kailua.

Halfway there, we start to feel the intense sun and heat, and make a quick stop for some slushy drinks. We both enjoy the icy beverages for about twenty seconds before we're both incapacitated by dual brain freezes, but eventually recover, look around to make sure there are no witnesses, and get to the Royal Kona Resort where we check in. Not to be outdone by Maui, the Royal Kona has also congratulated us on our anniversary by upgrading our room and giving us a bottle of champagne.

I wonder if we can use this every time we check in to a hotel... seems to be a good way to get some nifty perks...

We drop off our luggage and make our now-traditional trip down the Mamalahoa Highway to Kealakekua where have appetizers at Aloha China BBQ. The food here isn't extravagant or amazing; it's simple Chinese food, good and well priced (especially for Hawai'i), and we still remember how on our first trip to Hawai'i they helped bring me down from my first Kona-based caffeine high. We don't actually want a full meal, since we're slated to have a private dinner in just a couple of hours, but since we didn't have time for breakfast before leaving Maui this is our first solid food of the day, and it's very appreciated. We have some cold drinks and have crab and cream cheese purses (because of the cheese content, these are mostly for me), egg rolls, and fried shrimp; mostly sated and cooled down, we head back to the hotel.

We relax for a bit and enjoy the air conditioning, then change into "formal clothes" (meaning I put on something other than shorts) and meet our dinner concierge Ashley by the lobby. She introduces us to our musician for the evening, Kula, and we proceed over to the private bungalow at Nohea Point where we'll be having our sunset dinner.

Michael, our waiter for the evening, greets us and gives us flower leis, and we sit down for our anniversary dinner. As the sun slowly sets in front of us and Kula plays a selection of Hawaiian mood music for our enjoyment, we have one of the best meals we've ever had. And I'm including the five course meal with Kobe beef we had at Alexander's in Cupertino.

We both chose the same appetizer, a jumbo lump crab cake, served on a mound of corn salad, and with dollops of roasted bell and mango tartar sauce placed in the sweet chili sauce along the edge of the plate. The crab cake is big, meaty, and flaky, and perfectly crispy on the outside while remaining moist on the inside; the sweet corn mixes incredibly well with the chili sauce, and the tartar adds a nice savory touch. There's an orchid also on the plate, adding a nice touch of color with its deep magenta; Michael informs us that they're edible ("but they look a lot better than they taste.")

Our second course is a Caesar salad; they serve the croutons and Parmesan cheese on the side for Lucie because she'd told them when we arranged the dinner that she's lactose intolerant and they're going above and beyond in their efforts to make sure everything's acceptable. Their obvious efforts in this regard (her appetizer didn't have tartar sauce, for the same reason) is impressive, and exceedingly considerate, and very much appreciated. The salad itself is light and tasty, with an anchovy fillet placed unobtrusively along one side in case we wanted the extra flavor (I do, Lucie doesn't.)

Shortly before the main course begins, Kula says that he's about to play his last song for the night, and that he hopes the rest of our evening is wonderful. We take a break from our dinner and dance to the song we specified when we made the arrangements, the final song that played at our wedding, Adam Sandler's Grow Old with You from The Wedding Singer.

Our entrees arrive next; Lucie has chosen the beef Wellington and I've opted for the fish. The beef is a tenderloin, cooked perfectly and topped with a portobello mushroom mixture and a wine reduction sauce drizzled alongside, roasted potatoes, and a grilled baby bok choy with truffle oil. My seared ahi is draped over a mound of coconut rice, surrounded by a ginger-wasabi sauce, with grilled asparagus, lychees, and a seaweed salad accompaniment. The bite Lucie gives me of her beef is incredibly tender -- as it is every time I taste Parker Ranch beef; my ahi is also cooked perfectly, and the ginger wasabi sauce has a good sharp bite while still being mild enough where it doesn't drown out the delicate flavor of the raw center of the tuna.

Halfway through the main course, it begins to rain. It begins as gentle, whispering and warm, a soft background white noise as we eat and talk and reminisce about the wedding; before long it becomes much heavier, and we hear the sounds of the distant luau falter slightly before resuming. Michael is stoic and accepting of the weather (he's Hawaiian, after all), and Ashley makes an appearance to give us emergency rain ponchos for the walk back after dinner (the thatched roof of the hut above is impressively waterproof and is keeping us dry during our meal), but the rain doesn't bother us -- tonight, I believe nothing could.

Our dessert arrives during a lull in the rain. The chef has created a mixed fruit tarte tatin for Lucie, but has somehow managed to form it without a crust to avoid milk content; my dish is a banana liliko'i creme brûlée, with some fresh berries and mint leaves. The creme is thick and warm, and the crust is crispier than any creme brûlée I've had before, without having any hint of bitter burned flavor at all -- it's simply amazing.

The entire meal has been simply amazing, really. The rain, which had picked up some during dessert, even stops completely before our dinner is ended; so the walk back to our room is merely humid, with the ponchos unneeded and kept in their sealed bags.

The new winner of the most expensive meal we've ever had, as well as the best meal we've ever had, has ended. The rain has ended. Our first day back on the Big Island has ended. And our tenth anniversary has ended.

The rest of our lives together remains ahead of us.

We can't wait.

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Hawa1'1, Day 4: "This is not a boat accident! And it wasn't any propeller; and it wasn't any coral reef; and it wasn't Jack the Ripper!"

A new day on Hawai'i begins bright and early, made better by the fact that the tour we're taking today doesn't require us to get up as early as the Haleakalā sunrise tour... as a way to celebrate our last full day on Maui, we have decided to leave Maui and take a day trip to Lana'i.

We drive along the amazingly-close-to-the-ocean highway to Lāhaina (in several places, it would literally be possible to drive ten feet from the road, park and walk another ten to twenty feet, and go surfing ... no barrier at all, just road, shoulder, sand, then ocean) and park in the designated lot near Front Street. We're a bit early, so we walk along a few of the shops to get a pedestrian's viewpoint of the drive-by we did a couple of days ago... lots of shirt and swimwear shops, but of course nothing in my size. We proceed to the harbor where Trilogy Tours has their ship berthed, and board along with a few dozen other people.

We're met by Captain Chuck, who's being assisted today by Captain Owen and Captain Riley (lots of captains!) and Snuba Instructor Nick, with young Shipman Sam playing the part of Ensign Smith (although without the red shirt, which no doubt comforts him greatly.)

The trip from Lāhaina Harbor to Manele Harbor on Lana'i takes about an hour and a half on Trilogy I, their 64-foot sailing catamaran. Along the way they offer cinnamon rolls, fresh fruit, beverages, and sandwich wraps ("feeding people is the best way to avoid mutiny," Captain Chuck declares) as we enjoy the amazingly blue water, clear sky, and the wind. We managed to snag what we consider a prime spot on the boat, the right rear corner; so we get a smoother ride, some privacy since all of the families have the kids clustered along the front of the boat to get splashed, an amazing view, and the chance to chat with the guy behind the wheel. For the trip over, this is Captain Chuck -- Cpt. Owen is the senior captain but he'd rather relax and have fun with the passengers.

We also chat briefly with Captain Riley who's from Hawai'i but went to school at Santa Clara University; our curious question of "why did you ever leave?!" is answered with a good-natured "that's why I'm back here... you gotta leave the rock to appreciate the rock."

Captain Owen gives us some geology lessons as we near Lana'i -- the sheer cliffs we see as we approach the harbor are a result of the makeup of the Hawaiian islands -- as the ocean waves undercut the rock, eventually huge pieces of the hills detach and fall into the ocean, leaving sheer vertical walls. This is common on older islands (the Big Island, for example, has none of these cliffs as it's the youngest of the islands) and is a sign of an island starting to deteriorate. The white cliffs of Dover? Same thing, just with more chalk.

We reach the harbor and dock, and are shuttled to Hulopo'e Beach Park and Marine Preserve, voted the #1 beach in America in 1997 by Dr. Beach (based on impressive name length alone, I'm guessing.) It's a beautiful white sand beach, with half of it reserved for the tour guests. We grab some beach mats and chairs, stake out a place, then wander over for the snorkeling gear. My mustache gives us a bit of an issue since I can't get a good seal on the mask, but a little bit of lip balm helps.

We head out into the water and poke our heads around in the shallower areas, but it's a bit murky from the sand. Captain Owen comes out to us and escorts us deeper into the bay, pulling a surfboard as we hold on and look around, and all of a sudden the water clears up. No longer murky, it's clear and bright, and we can see everything around us -- coral, yellow tang, parrot fish, surgeon fish, rainbow fish, bandit angelfish... and then Captain Owen hears some people talking about seeing a shark a bit further out.

So he takes us out there, because I'm assuming that at some point I must have angered him, and we see it -- a 5 to 6 foot long white tip reef shark, swimming below us under a coral shelf. It's somewhat small for a shark, and it's minding its own business, which is just fine with us, but it's an unreal experience nonetheless. It's Lucie and I facing our fears and being in nature with a carnivorous dinosaur that gets its own week on Discovery Channel. It's us, taking Jaws and Deep Blue Sea and Shark Boy and Lava Girl and Open Water and Sharktopus and turning it into our own personal Care Bears Movie. Only, without the horrified screams and nightmarish mental imagery.

I mean, don't get me wrong; it's not like we saw a nēnē or anything, but it was kinda cool.

After we get back onto dry land and I once again thank my lucky stars that I decided to use some of my Reward Points to buy that underwater digital camera, we dry off a bit and board the van to take a tour of Lana'i. Our driver Moana takes us through the small city, talking story about the history and economics of the island... It's a plantation town, the last one still standing in Hawai'i, which has had to turn into a tourism-based economy after the pineapple and sugar cane industry was moved overseas. Moana's history lesson is at the same time both fascinating and a little sad; if not for the two resort hotels on the island, Lana'i wouldn't have any economy at all... the pineapple fields are now wild growth; coffee and macadamia nuts, crops that are plentiful on other Hawaiian islands, have never produced anything noteworthy; and it's considered one of the United States' most endangered historic sites because the current owner wants to remove the old buildings and build more resorts.

The tour ends, and Captains Chuck, Owen, and Riley, and Snuba Nick and Ensign Smith treat us to a luncheon of mesquite grilled chicken, mixed salad, peas, vegetarian soba stir-fry, and pineapple. It's a simple meal, fresh and delicious, and the view overlooking the harbor is outstanding.

On the trip back to Maui, they cut the engines and raise the sails, and for several minutes we cruise through the water, the strong afternoon winds tugging at us as we reach speeds of 10 knots, which in miles per hour is exactly as fast as we'd be going if we were doing 10 knots. Captain Riley, given the wheel as everyone else scurries about hoisting jibbers or something (Captain Chuck) or changing the angle of the sails (Snuba Nick) or walking about the catamaran, offering ice cream sundaes (Shipman Sam) or standing around joking with the passengers (Captain Owen), whoops and hollers in joy as he steers our craft swiftly through the water, then a little slower through the water, then at a standstill in the water, then through the water again as they give up and restart the engines and we power our way across the ocean once the wind dies.

We reach Maui safe and sound, and only slightly miffed because some jerk and his blonde-in-every-way girlfriend have taken our spots in the rear of the boat. Dude, that's just wrong; don't bogart someone's spot unless they let you know they no longer want it. What a tourist.

Anyway, once we get back on dry land we stop by one of the stores on Front Street and get a shave ice, then drive back to our hotel. We sit for a bit and enjoy some of the hula show they the hotel offers (and recognize our Hawaiian language teacher Malihini performing), order food to go from the Tiki Grill (fruit salad and a mahi mahi sandwich), then head upstairs to our room. We eat our food, open the bottle of champagne and have a glass to toast our last night at the extremely warm and welcoming Kā'anapali Beach Hotel, pack for tomorrow's flight to the Big Island, then go to bed.

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Hawa1'1, Day 3: "How to Speak Hawaiian Like a Haole."

We wake up this morning a little confused and disoriented -- it's the next day already?! After gathering ourselves, however, we decide that today's going to be a relaxation day; it seems fairly obvious that we need a bit of rest after the lack of sleep we had over the past couple of days.

Bearing that in mind, we go to the free buffet breakfast that our hotel offers... it's a "welcome breakfast" where they talk about the special deals they offer for tours, and the free lessons they offer, and the magic show they host and for which we can buy discounted tickets; it feels much like a timeshare spiel, except with tours and shows instead of condos, but hey, free food!

So we sit and listen to Sam (actual Hawaiian name unpronounceable) talk about how we can spend our money while we help ourselves to scrambled eggs, Portuguese sausage, crispy fried potatoes, fresh fruit, and Danishes to go with our coffee and ice water. It's very good for a free breakfast, and Sam is entertaining enough, so a nice time is had.

Afterwards, we go back to our room and put on swimwear, then head out to the adjacent beach. We stop by the rental kiosk and rent a cabana for a partial day, then spend the next several hours relaxing on the shaded lounge chairs on the sand; enjoying the view, and snoozing, and reading books we brought along for the occasion, and shaking our heads judgmentally at the people we see walking along the beach talking on their cell phones and gesticulating wildly, and playing in the water, and getting a little sunburned because I'm unused to the aerosol sunscreen we bought and end up missing parts of my farmer's-tan shoulders and my non-driver's-side-of-the-car arm.

For lunch, we go to the hotel's courtyard and have a seat at the Tiki Grill. We share teriyaki beef skewers, Lucie has a fruit salad, and I opt for the extremely Hawaiian Reuben sandwich. YES, the Reuben sandwich is authentic Hawaiian -- what else says "Polynesia" than thousand island dressing?

After lunch, we head to the free lesson we signed up for, the Hawaiian language class. It's hosted -- like all of the culture seminars at the Kā'anapali Beach Hotel -- by one of the employees, in this case a nice woman named Malihini. She walks us through basic pronunciation (vowels and consonants pronounced very much like Spanish, with the exception of the w ["veh" instead of "double you"] which can be either a v or a w sound) and many of the basic words (aloha, mahalo, pupu, humuhumunukunukuapua'a), and other essentials such as diphthongs and accents. It's a fun and informative class, and Malihini is warm and encouraging and entertaining ("and I was born here, even though "malihini" means "newcomer", she admonishes), and we like her. Heck, we've liked everyone we've met here; that's one of the great things about Hawai'i.

It's also one of the great things about the Kā'anapali Beach Hotel... as previously mentioned, it's called "Hawaii's Most Hawaiian Hotel." They received that moniker from other groups (Waiaha Foundation, and the Hawaiian Tourism Authority) in large part because of their employees' actions... welcoming songs sung at the welcome breakfast and (at their request) Fridays in the lobby; carving a single hull outrigger canoe and hundreds of other authentic Hawaiian traditional items; offering free hula and Hawaiian language and lei-making and other lessons; planting and maintaining traditional flower gardens... they were even named as one of President George H. W. Bush's "Points of Light."

After the language lesson, we rest for a bit, then walk to Whalers Village just down the way -- there's a paved walkway along this stretch of beach called the Kā'anapali Beachwalk so we stroll to the shops while enjoying the beach view. Once at Whalers Village we make a few stops at some of the stores (The Honolulu Cookie Company for -- surprise! -- cookies, and Soul Lei for a honu pendant for Lucie) before going to the Hula Grill for a sunset dinner.


We have a very nice view -- apart from all of the tourists along the Beachwalk who end up in our way -- and a very nice ambience -- apart from all of the noise and screaming children -- as we enjoy our dinner. Our appetizer of kalhua pork potstickers is yummy, Lucie's entree of macadamia nut crusted moonfish is juicy, and my fire seared ahi is cooked perfectly; Lucie's "Hana hou" (a concoction of vodka, ginger honey, liliko'i, iced tea, and lemonade) and my "Kā'anapali cooler" (gin, ginger syrup, mint, and lemonade) and liliko'i mojito are cold and refreshing, and make the screaming children a little more tolerable as we watch the sun set from our table.

After dinner, we walk back to our hotel and sit at a table near the stage, where the slack key guitar band is once again playing songs. We request Hawaiian Suppa Man from Iz and Drop Baby Drop from Sean Na'auao, both of which receive appreciative nods from the band as they hear them called out. We order piña coladas from the courtyard's Tiki Bar (located right next to the Tiki Grill where we had lunch) and listen to the band until they retire for the evening, and chat with the band afterwards; they ask if we're kama'aina and we regretfully say no. When they hear that we're from San Jose, they perk up a bit and ask if the store Sun Jose Hawaii is still around (it isn't) and we ask if they've played the Hukilau (they have, but the San Francisco location, not the one in Japantown)... Turns out the bassist has a relative living in the Bay Area, so as far as they're concerned we're practically ohana.

We pay for the drinks ("charge it to our room" are five words that go very well together) and head upstairs for the night, full and happy and feeling welcomed and just maybe slightly tipsy. It's been a good day.

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Hawa1'1, Day 2: "Up Before the Sun."

Our second day in Hawai'i begins shortly after our first day ends -- just about 45 minutes afterward, as a matter of fact. Our guide for the Haleakala sunrise tour is scheduled to pick us up shortly before 2AM, which means we get up shortly before 1AM... which means it was probably a mistake to go to bed at 11:30PM, but it's a bit late to change that.

We manage to get to the lobby only one minute late and meet our tour guide from Temptation Tours, Eric. His entertaining monologues and offerings of local trivia and really just his overall personality remind Lucie of Crush, the turtle from Finding Nemo, so that's how she refers to him (to me at least) for the rest of the day.

As we drive to our next stop where Eric/Crush is to pick up some more passengers in or limo van, he regales us with various trivia about Haleakala, Maui, and the cities through which we drive, such as:
-There's a 3-degree drop in temperature for every 1000 feet in elevation on the extinct volcano, meaning that at the summit of just over 10,000 feet it'll be 30 degrees colder than it is now, and that 40MPH winds at the top are not uncommon;
-Approx. 92% of everything in Hawai'i has been introduced by man -- this includes such "Hawaiian" things as pineapple, plumeria, sugar cane, and birds of paradise;
-Wailea is Hawaiian for "waters of Lea" (the canoe goddess);
-Likewise Kalahaku means "eye of the clouds" and Puka'alakea means "hole to heaven";
-Haleakala, actually Haleakalā, means "House of the Sun"

He also entertains us with various of his favorite lines such as having PMA (for Positive Mental Attitude), or his weather report of "Welcome to Maui -- the weather will be partly cloudy, with temperatures between 76 and 84, for the next 85 years..."

After we stop and pick up the other passengers (a family of four staying at the Grand Wailea, in Wailea), we begin our ascent to the summit. Eric points out some wild deer feeding in a golf course along the way -- axis deer, African in origin and introduced into Hawaii as a gift to King Kamehameha by Hong Kong in the 1800s, and brought from Moloka'i to Maui around 1960 for hunting. We also see a small wildfire by the side of the road, and Eric calls 911 to report it. The father of the family tries to make a joke and suggests that the deer had started the fire, and before I can make my planned deer-related pun that arson doesn't bring in the big bucks, Lucie quips that they were deer, not Camels. Outpunned by my wife -- curses! And it was a great pun, too, although only the wife seems to get it since after a few seconds she gives a quick bark of laughter and everyone else remains silent. Sigh.

We make a quick stop at a roadside coffee stand in the city of Kula (no espresso machine, so I get a cup of coffee since it's only 3:30AM at this point) and continue our drive. We reach the viewing point on Haleakalā around 4:45. The elevation here is 9740 feet, and there are no clouds to be found this high -- we've already passed through the cloud layer on the drive up. The temperature is surprisingly mild compared to what we were expecting -- somewhere around 45 degrees, with only a slight breeze. The view of the stars, however, is just breathtaking -- we have a clear view of the huge expanse of the Milky Way, with no city lights or airborne pollution impeding our view.

I have never seen more stars in the sky in my life; nor has Lucie.

We spend the next hour or so bundled in our warm clothes, huddled together for warmth, splitting our time between looking at the stars and watching the horizon, as the sky gradually turns from black to midnight blue, to royal blue, then continues from blue to peach as sunrise nears. As the sky lightens, we're also able to see more of the caldera of Haleakalā beneath us. We're standing at the edge of a sheer dropoff, with the caldera floor 3000 feet below us. The far edge of the crater is 7000 feet away, but without any trees or manmade structures in the crater, the distances are very deceiving... It looks like it's only a thousand feet or so at most in diameter, and maybe a few hundred feet down. The reddish hue of the rocks, an artifact of the presence of iron oxide, makes the landscape almost look like that of Mars.

Finally, at 6:05, the Sun begins to make its appearance. From behind us, a group of elders begins their traditional chant welcoming the Sun.


E ala e
Ka la i kahikina
I ka moana
Ka moana hohonu
Pi’i ka lewa
Ka lewa nu’u
I kahikina
Aia ka la.
E ala e!


(Awaken/Arise
The Sun in the East
From the ocean
The ocean deep
Climbing (to) the heaven
The heaven highest
In the East
There is the Sun
Awaken!)


The sky is clear, the sunrise is amazing, and it's something that we will remember forever. It's not just seeing a sunrise, it's seeing the Sun rise from one of the tallest places in Hawai'i, and one of the most untouched by man; it's the combination of seeing one of the most beautiful things in nature, in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and on this particular day with one of the best viewing conditions possible.



We admire the sunrise for a while, then Eric takes us further up to the summit itself, 10,023 feet above sea level. We walk through the information cabin at the top, reading about the weather conditions on Maui and why some parts of the island are bone dry while others are straight-out rain forest, and about the fact that there are supposedly nēnē living around here, which as ALL know is a total scam and there are no such things as nēnē, and about such rare plants such as the silversword which is endemic to Hawai'i, and -- Lucie nudges me and points down to the parking area and we see some birds down there, which look kind of like... OMG!!! NĒNĒ!

We scoot out of the cabin and take the stairs down to the parking area as quickly as we can -- which, given my bad knee and the fact that we're almost two miles up and there's not all that much oxygen up here so it's a little difficult to breathe when we exert ourselves, isn't really all that quickly -- as I take picture after picture with my iPhone.

Trying to look inconspicuous and as native as possible so the nēnē won't catch on that they're supposed to be hiding from us, we get closer to our quarry, whistling Hawaiian songs nonchalantly as I pretend to play Angry Birds while actually taking picture after picture... we see Crush -- sorry, Eric -- nearby and tell him excitedly about what we'd seen. "Yep," he tells us happily, "those are chukars, originally brought to Hawai'i in the 1930s, and introduced to Maui in 1954; those guys are everywhere up here."

D'ohh. D'ohh!!. Already in my mind I can hear the laughter of the Hawaiians at the big tie-dye-wearing haole falling for their big prank. I'm pretty sure that right now the chukars are guffawing and giving each other high fives (or high feathers, or whatever it's called when birds do it -- I'm pretty sure there's a specific term for it.)

After a few moments of soul-crushing humiliation at actually allowing myself to believe in the presence of the nēnē, we soothe our feelings by taking pictures of the silversword plants. Haleakalā silverswords are endemic, or found nowhere else on earth than on this mountain; once the silversword's flower stalk blooms, which can be anywhere in the plant's lifecycle from 5 to 50 years, the flowers bloom for just a month or two before the stalk and the plant then shrivel and die. Needless to say, because of both this reproduction method and the extreme conditions in which the plant grows (and the clueless or willfully ignorant tourists who cross the erected barriers and walk near the plants, ruining the root systems and killing the plants before they can bloom) these plants are extremely rare.

We take some more pictures of the summit, the silverswords, and the science city nearby inhabited by NASA workers who use the summit buildings for infrared laser and satellite studies, but NOT of the chukars, who are still chirping hysterically and mooning me, and then we head down the mountain. Since we'd talked about seeing nēnē with Eric, he makes a small detour on the way down and stops at a few places to see if he can find any. We see plovers, more chukars, and even a wild pheasant, but (of course!) none of the fabled and imaginary nēnē. We do get a very nice above-the-clouds view of the town of Puka'alakea ("hole to heaven", remember?), named such because a vortex of air currents created by the valley between Maui's mountains creates a huge circle of clouds with an open spot directly above the city. It's a much more impressive view from up here than it is from ground level.

We stop once again in Kula, at the same location where we stopped for coffee on the way up. As part of the tour, we're getting breakfast at the Kula Lodge, owned by the wife of the guy who runs the coffee stand. I sense a bit of a cooperative deal here, but after the awesome experience we just had (sunrise, not nēnē) I'm not bothered at all. After a short walk through the garden where they have ivy, roses, and protea growing on a steep hillside with an amazing view of the Maui coast far below us, we sit down for breakfast. I have cinnamon raisin French toast with coconut syrup and Lucie has a classic breakfast with eggs, toast, potatoes, and ham, and we both have coffee. Lots of coffee... at this point, because of the early flight yesterday and the time change, and the late night last night combined with with the early morning today, we're running on about two hours of sleep in the last 30-plus hours, and I'm getting too old for that stuff.

After the breakfast -- which was tasty and very large, and came with an impressive view of Maui and the Pacific Ocean -- we head next door to a protea shop and I buy my mom a bouquet for a belated birthday present, then head on down again into Kahului, then across the island to our hotel. Along the way, Eric gives us more running commentary about the island... all of the sugar cane growing around Kahului is actually a loss crop -- the Baldwin family (not associated with Alec or Stephen or, sadly, Adam) who own the majority of the land at best break even with the sugar produced (which gets turned into turbinado sugar products like Sugar in the Raw) but they want Maui to remain agricultural instead of selling the land for condominiums, a desire I wholeheartedly support.

He also points out a huge building located halfway up a mountain, a large pink structure originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as a 7,000 square foot home but adapted into the 74,000 square foot building it is now, used as a clubhouse for the King Kamehameha Golf Club. Originally named Crownfield, FLW had originally designed the home for a family in Fort Worth, Texas, which ended up being scrapped; then adapted it for an official in the Mexican government to be built in Acapulco before those plans were scrapped; then redesigned it again to be build in Connecticut for Marilyn Monroe before those plans were scrapped; then finally the building plan was eventually purchased in 1988 by a group of Japanese businessmen and redesigned by Wright's firm to fit the current setup.

Eric drops us off in front of the Kā'anapali Beach Hotel lobby at approximately 12:00; we thank him profusely for such an incredible experience, and he leaves to take the other passengers back to their lodgings. We briefly consider going upstairs to sleep, but it's about lunchtime and we're both famished, so instead we pick up our car from valet and head off in search of food.

We drive down the highway from Kā'anapali to Lāhaina (Hawaiian for "merciless sun", a fitting name for this oceanfront but scalding city) and drive along the popular Front Street to see if there's anything that looks good. Unfortunately, everything here seems so tourist-based that there's really nothing that says Hawai'i to us... there's a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, a Hard Rock Cafe, a Dairy Queen and Orange Julius... honestly, to my slightly cynical and definitely sleep-deprived eyes, it's really not all that different from what we could find in Monterey other than the impressive and rightly famous banyan tree; and we sort of want something a little more of what the locals would eat, so we continue on down the road.

After a wonderfully scenic but seemingly long drive, we end up in the city of Kihei, where Lucie's read about an eatery named WokStar that has a devoted Yelp following. Sounds good to me, so we hunt for a bit and eventually track the place down. It's a sort of hole in the wall joint, easy to miss unless you're looking for it; but the menu is impressive and I'm immediately liking the place based solely on an "I (heart) sriracha" sticker I spot on the cash register. We order and have a seat outside under the awning, and the food comes out to us shortly.



For appetizers, we pick the chicken satay skewers and the potstickers -- the peanut sauce is tasty and the chili sauce they have on the table goes very well with the potstickers. For the entree, Lucie's teriyaki stir fry has udon noodles cooked with bean sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and other fresh veggies with a plum-ginger teriyaki sauce; my 13 Dolla' Salad is a huge mound of greens, tomato, carrots, broccoli, spiced stir-fried tofu, bacon, and shrimp tossed in a Thai vinaigrette -- it's a delicious combination of flavors, enormous in size, and (if you ignore the bacon) remarkably healthy for me to actually enjoy as much as I do. We both have water to drink, and Lucie also buys me an iced Thai coffee, the caffeine and sugar of which helps my alertness to the point where I feel awake enough to drive back to the hotel.

We return to our hotel at 4PM (at this point working on 2 hours of sleep in the last 40 hours,) manage to make it upstairs to our room, and plan to lie down for a brief nap before dinner. That's the last thing we remember until we wake up the next morning.

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Hawa1'1, Day 1: "Maui. Maui is What Bwings us Togethah... Today."

Okay, so yeah... I've been wanting to use that as a title since our first trip to the islands.

Our third trip to the Islands starts the same way as it has the other two times -- Dean from our friends at On Time Limousine picks us up at 5:00 for a 7:20 flight. He remembers us, we remember him, and we enjoy a calm (since we don't have to drive to Oakland on a Monday morning) ride to Oakland International Airport while he entertains us talking about his opinions on early mornings, late nights, and long-distance relationships.

Our trip out to Hawai'i this time around is on Alaska Airlines -- they'd just started offering flights from OAK - HNL our last trip, but they've since also started flying direct to OGG, the main airport in Maui (called OGG since it's named after Bertram Hogg, aviation pioneer who flew for what is now Hawaiian Airlines), and since their outgoing trip prices are better than Hawaiian, and since Lucie is pretty darn good with getting the best deal possible, they're getting our business.

The trip through the TSA Fear & Humiliation Zone is uneventful; I've learned from my previous flights not to wear real shoes or anything that requires a belt, so my drawstring shorts and Crocs not only allow me to cruise through the metal detector and full-body scanner without a hitch, they also give me a fun "Crocs on a Plane" reference. Yay for me!

Our first class flight out is -- for the most part -- calming and relaxing. Offerings of iced beverages (I start drinking POG immediately, to get into the Island frame of mind), gourmet meals (fruit salads and pastries, and Lucie has the sweet potato and pecan Hawaiian bread pudding with asparagus and chicken sausage link while I opt for the asiago and Maui onion quiche with Portuguese sausage), and in-flight entertainment (Lucie's choice being Red Riding Hood and mine Rio) just about make up for the fact that the seat behind us is occupied by a young baby whose idea of in-flight entertainment is crying. Loudly. For the last hour or so of the flight.

Eventually we touch ground in Kahului, Maui, and we disembark. There's a definite smoky smell in the air and we see small charred bits of something or other floating through the air; at first we're a bit concerned but later find out that it's pretty normal for this area of Maui -- the major crop here is sugar cane, and the farmers burn the crops as part of the harvesting process to get rid of the dry leaves and branches as well as eradicating any pests before the stalks are cut for processing. We find out much about sugar cane during our second day here.

After getting our luggage, Lucie waits while I pick up our reserved rental car -- on Maui it's a Jeep Compass that is large enough to handle our luggage and powerful enough to handle the mountain roads while at the same time being small enough to where I don't worry about running out of gas after driving twelve blocks. I also get a decent deal by comparison shopping using the Hawai'i-specific rental web site "Hawaii Drive-0", although to be honest I picked the site about as much for the clever name as I did for the deal as they offer.

After we're loaded and ready for the road, we head on out. Or first stop is at Maui Coffee Roasters, where we (of course!) buy some coffee to bring home, but where I also start my caffeine intake with a six-shot iced mocha ("I don't think we have a cup big enough for that much drink and ice" the barrista tells me doubtfully) and Lucie has a refreshing cola. Liquids replenished, we head off to our next stop -- Tasaka Guri-Guri.

Once again, freaky how my tie dye du jour matches the pic...

Guri-guri is a Hawai'ian invention, a sort of sherbet made with sweetened condensed milk. It was originally offered, so the story goes, to migrant Japanese farmworkers as "goody goodies", which was bastardized into guri-guri. Whatever the etymology, Tasaka is considered to be the best such joint on Maui, and while Lucie can't have much because of the dairy involved she's eager to try a little bit of whatever I have. The serving size is tiny, only a golf ball sized scoop of each flavor; but since it's got so much sugar that's fine with me. We both agree that the pineapple flavor is a little underwhelming, tasting more like orange to me than pineapple; but the strawberry flavor is very good -- light, fresh, strong, and very very sweet. As a bonus, I also see that they sell bags of One-Ton Chips, slightly sweet fried wonton chips to which I got severely addicted on our last trip to the Islands. I buy two bags, and tell myself I can ration myself. I also know that I'm lying to myself, and that I'll probably eat both bags before the day is done, but I'm willing to take that tasty, tasty risk.

From there, we drive a good way up the side of Haleakala before coming to our next destination, the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm. It's cold, wet, and cloudy, and the last bit of road to the farm is a single lane of winding, shoulderless, pothole-riddled, crumbling asphalt that is not exactly a rare occurrence in Hawai'i. I'm more than a little relieved when we get there safely.


Once in the gift shop, we sample lavender infused tea, which is good; lavender infused coffee, which is weird but not terrible; lavender infused brownies, which are a little "soapy" but tasty; and lavender infused scones, which are delicious. As in, "best scone EVER" delicious. We also raid the store and buy soaps, lotions, herb rubs, teas, and other lavender products before heading further uphill, or upcountry as they say it here.

Our next stop is the Maui Winery, located at the Ulupalakua Ranch, which is in turn located right smack dab in the middle of NOWHERE. Seriously, the road here makes the road to the lavender farm look like Highway 280; it's 5.2 miles of pure butt-clenching terror road, still a single lane of winding, shoulderless, pothole-riddled, crumbling asphalt, but with the added fun of cliffs and -- I am NOT making this up -- a broken down vehicle blocking the road at one point, with someone directing traffic to go around. Finally, though, we do make it safely. It's shortly after lunchtime, so we make a stop at the cafe, where Lucie enjoys a very well made burger and I have steak chili over rice. I wouldn't be surprised if there were actually more steak in my chili than in Lucie's burger -- huge, tasty, perfectly cooked and just spicy enough to enhance the flavor without overpowering the quality of the beef. We both have bottles of water and I have an iced cappuccino just because the road here didn't make me jittery enough.

We head across the street to the winery, have a couple of samples, buy and arrange to have a few bottles shipped back home, and pick up some other assorted gifts before heading back down the mountain to our hotel. We check in to the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel and find that because Lucie mentioned it's our anniversary they gave us a free room upgrade as well as a bottle of champagne. It's an unexpected but very welcome gesture, and one which definitely reflects their motto of being "Hawaii's Most Hawaiian Hotel."

We get to our room (on the third floor of a building without an elevator, but the stairs are fairly shallow and the bellboys get our luggage upstairs to our room before we get there, so it's not a major problem. We snooze for a bit, taking advantage of the air conditioner and ceiling fan, then head downstairs to the hotel's outdoor restaurant for dinner.

Lucie has the beef tenderloin with caramelized Maui onions and mushrooms, while I choose the broiled mahimahi with a crab and Parmesan cheese topping. I also turn cheesy tourist for a moment and order the "Coco Loco", a combination of light and dark rum, vodka, creme de banana, pineapple juice, and coconut milk that comes in a souvenir coconut shell cup. Yeah, it's a bit goofy, but it makes me smile.

For that matter, so does the house band, a slack key guitar band that plays a combination of Hawaiian favorites as well as more classic tunes. We eat and drink and enjoy as they play everything from Vic Damone to Bon Jovi to classic rock to country... let me tell you, if you've never heard a Hawaiian slack key band play Freebird or I Walk the Line, you need to do so. It's not something you're likely to find on iTunes, that's for sure.

We listen for a while, then head up to our room for the night. We've got an early, early day tomorrow and we've been up since 3:30 this morning (plus three hours, including the time change), so we need all the shuteye we can get. Our first day in Hawai'i ends with the sound of the nearby ocean in our ears, the cool air from the fan blowing down on us, and the relaxed and happy knowledge that we're back in one of our favorite places in the world.

Aloha.

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Coming soon: Hawai'i 3.0, 2011 Version

Aloha folks,

A new set of blog posts about our latest trip to Hawai'i, coming soon!

Hawai'i 3.0.

No, Hawai'i 2K11.

No... HIMMXI?

Um, Hawai'i M'MXI?

HI 2K11?

Hawa1'1?

YES.

Hawa1'1, coming soon.

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(Oh yeah, and there may not be any pictures for a while yet -- I'm writing these on my iPad and can't add images; they'll have to wait until I can dump everything onto the desktop and can edit the posts then. In the meantime... words, words, words.)

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