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.
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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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