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.
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.