Hawai'i One-3, Day 7: We go Head Over Hilo

We wake up in the morning, wave hello to the cruise ship in the bay -- another sign of the recovering economy is the return of a cruise ship dropping off tourists almost every day -- and prepare for today's outing, our obligatory trip across the island to Hilo.  Well, technically, it's going around the island, not "across" -- Saddle Road, which cuts over Mauna Kea, is still under construction, dangerous, and generally prohibited by car rental companies; so that's not really an option for us.  For tourists, the two options are to go up and around the island through Kohala / Waimea, or down and around through Volcanoes and Puna; since we're planning on visiting Volcanoes in a couple days from now, we opt to head up and around (which is also actually the only way we've ever done it, since going the southern route can take about an hour or so longer.)

For the trip up, we stay on the coastal highway along the Kohala Coast, up past the airport, all of the various white sand beaches and high-end resorts, and through the lava fields until we reach the turnoff for Hawi.  Since we're planning on doing that tomorrow, we head away from Hawi and go through Waimea, past Parker Ranch, passing and waving hello to Waipio Valley, and making our first stop at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company in Pa'auilo.  Remembering our last adventure when Google Maps tried (successfully) to get us lost, we use the driving directions on the vanilla company's web site and arrive without incident.

The store is technically open, but in a strange turn of events, there's absolutely nobody around when we arrive.  No tour buses, no lunch events, and no other drop-in tourists; it's just us and the teenage son of the owners, who happens to be around in the kitchen -- "if I hadn't been here, you'd be out of luck because there's nobody else here today," he says.  However, it's a good thing for them he is here, because we give him the biggest sale he's seen in a while; buying various baking items, lotions, soaps, teas, and snack foods, and we also decide to have a light lunch while we're here.  
The light lunch is actually just a dessert course, since that's kind of what they specialize in -- Lucie gets their vanilla liliko'i pound cake, I get the vanilla bread pudding a la mode with vanilla rum caramel sauce for myself, and we split the vanilla fudge brownie.  The pound cake is incredibly powerful passionfruit flavor, sharp and intensely sweet, if a little dry; the brownie is slightly crispy on the outside and just gooey enough on the inside, more dark chocolate than vanilla flavor that we can taste but still delicious; the bread pudding is just freaking INCREDIBLE, light and sweet and boozy, crazy hot out of the oven tempered with the frozen vanilla bean (of course!) ice cream, chewy and dense and just fantastic.  I don't even want to know the calorie count of the thing, but this is an absolutely amazing dish.  I'm a little afraid of blinking after eating this thing, since I'm pretty sure my eyeballs have crystallized because of all the sugar I've just eaten and the sugar crystals might scratch the insides of my eyelids.  Plus, it's HUGE -- I'm unable to finish the thing and need to bring part of it and half the brownie back with us for later that night.

We take a few minutes to digest, then head out to our car and continue on along the Hamakua Coast until we get to Hilo.  We continue through Hilo to the far side of the city, and stop at Hershey's Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation and Haole Tourist Air-Conditioned Shopping Mega-Emporium where we buy some stuff (which is -- you guessed it -- macadamia nuts) for friends, family, and coworkers, and possibly for our own snacking purposes later.  Form there, we go to Hilo Hattie's, where I stumble across a nifty find -- because of 1) the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, 2) the 200th anniversary of coffee being introduced to Hawaii (first brought to O'ahu in 1813, though not to Kona until 1828), and 3) Hilo Hattie's 50th anniversary, all of their coffee themed clothing is on sale for 30% off.  I buy coffee-themed T-shirts, coffee-themed Hawaiian shirts, some coffee (also technically coffee-themed, I suppose), Hawaiian salts and other food items, and some other souvenir-type stuff.  After that, we head to Ken's House of Pancakes for lunch, because all of that shopping had made us hungry.

Ken's still has their late 1960s look and feel, quaint and comforting; some people may criticize them for not having the tastiest food in Hilo, but for us it's not just about the food itself, it's about the experience... and besides, the food we have is pretty darn good so it's all a win as far as we're concerned.  I go for the corned beef hash and Lucie goes for the char siu noodles, lightly pan fried noodles with the smoky sweetness of nicely glazed pork.  And, because it's the main thing we remember from our last trip here, we feel the need to have the pineapple upside down cake for dessert... it's still steaming hot, dense syrupy cinnamon pooling around the base, ice cream on the side per our request.  It's a good lunch.

While we're eating, we try and locate our next planned stop for today, Big Island Candies.  We both use our iPhones to find their location, and we opt to use the directions from Lucie's iPhone 5 instead of my new iPhone 5s.  See, there's an issue with the new phone's GPS sensing (which has since been fixed, but not on this day) which -- possibly combined with what I feel is Hawaii's attempts to get us lost when we use technology -- that has it telling us we need to drive into the ocean to get to the candy factory.  I don't remember seeing anything about an underwater secret lair on their website, so it's possible that my phone
may have the location of Big Island Candies a little bit wrong.  Using Lucie's phone, however, we find them without incident -- it's actually only about 5 minutes from Ken's, which is nice serendipity -- and head past a small crowd of Japanese tourists with their translators waiting for the tour bus into the store.  They specialize in shortbread cookies and chocolate, so we buy large amounts of both in our survivalist goal of staving off future carbodehydration (I've heard that's a real thing and we must at all costs avoid it.)

We head back out past the tourists (now much larger in number) and head back toward Kona.  It's about a two and a half to three hour drive, so it's about dinner time once we get to Kamuela, about two thirds of the way back.  Lucie's heard about a burger joint that's supposed to be very good -- picked as the best burgers in the state of Hawai'i by USA Today a while back -- and she wants to give them a try.  It's a little difficult to find -- we have the address available, but the restaurant is tucked into a corner of a strip mall and we drive past it a couple of times before Lucie sees their sign -- but the food is definitely worth it.

I get their gorgonzola burger, a 6.5-ounce patty made with local Parker Ranch beef cooked to a light pink medium and topped with a crazy-thick slab of gorgonzola cheese and bacon, served on a pleasingly crunchy toasted roll from a local bakery -- everything that Village Burger makes is done using local ingredients.  When I first see the size of the slab of gorgonzola cheese, I'm more than a little concerned that the cheese will completely overpower everything else as blue cheeses are prone to do, but these fears are totally unfounded -- the flavor is mild enough so it works perfectly with the bacon and the beef, and it's overall a succulent, juicy, and downright awesome food experience.  Lucie goes for their Kahua Ranch wagyu beef burger with bacon and avocado -- it also looks amazing, but she says afterwards it's a little gamey for her tastes though not too bad.  We share an order of their twice-cooked french fries -- all good fries should be twice cooked for optimal crunch and creamy interior texture -- with wasabi mayonnaise, and I get a vanilla milkshake with 2 shots of espresso to stay alert for the drive home.

We opt to drive back to Kailua-Kona using the more inland Mamalahoa Highway instead of our outgoing choice of the coastal Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway; not that much of a difference in times but a different driving experience with the narrower mountain road and lush foliage.  It rains a little bit on the way back so we need to put the top up on our Mustang (whom we have dubbed "Betty" -- we used Mustang Sally last time, so went with a different name but still a Ford), but nothing too bad at all.  It's dark when we get back into town, but decide to head upstairs to bed instead of heading down to the bar.  It's been a long day, filled with good food and scenery; no need to supplement with plastic drink-accessory monkeys.  Those can wait until tomorrow.


Hawai'i One-3, Day 6: Coffee Run

We wake up earlier than usual on our first full day in the Big Island, so Lucie can make it to Big Island Running Company for their 06:30 couch to 5K group.  This means we need to get up around 5 or so, which for a vacation day that doesn't involve greeting the sunrise on Haleakala is just weird; but Lucie is very eager to get some running in, and we end up being the first people there.  Within just a minute or two, however, the rest of the group shows up (maybe they were hiding in the bushes making nene noises to mess with people -- not sure and don't want to hazard any guesses [it was nene noises, I'm sure of it]) and they head out for their run along Ali'i Drive.  My knee is only begrudgingly willing to do any kind of distance walking, and certainly not willing to do ANY kind of running, so I force myself to go over to Kona Haven for a leisurely breakfast while Lucie exercises.

She runs south along the road, away from all of the shops and traffic, up and down the rolling hills ("they said it was a flat road, but they lied" she says about it later), sweating and pushing herself; I sit at a small table facing the ocean and have a bacon, egg, and cheese croissant sandwich and a hand-drip cup of Kona de Pele medium roast private reserve coffee.  She gets sweat in her eyes; I read the latest issue of Marvel's Avengers Arena comic book on my iPad Mini.  I do, however, exert myself a little when I buy a bottle of cold water to have available for her when the group returns from the run -- I'm not *completely* lazy.

From there, we drive down Ali'i Drive (Lucie has a few flashbacks to the run when we go uphill) to Keauhou, just a few miles south of Kailua-Kona and the location of this year's coffee festival.  We arrive at the Keauhou Shopping Center, but take a quick side trip at the farmer's market that's also taking place here today.  We wander through the stalls; I buy a couple bags of coffee from new farms I discover, some extra-spicy macadamia nuts, and a few jars of handmade jams -- chocolate macadamia nut (think Nutella, but with macadamia instead of hazelnuts) and POG (passionfruit-orange-guava, one of Hawaii's favorite drink flavors) -- and when it gets closer to lunchtime we wander over to the coffee festival.

Last time we came to the festival, it was being held at the old Kona airport location, had a parade along Ali'i Drive on the final weekend, and even had a one-mile running event; this year, however, it seems very much downsized... no parade or Miracle Mile (Melissa at the Big Island Running Company says it wasn't financially feasible to close Ali'i Drive only for the run once they couldn't piggyback on the parade), and several of the art exhibits have been moved to other venues like a quilting store (for the coffee quilts) and the nearby Keauhou Resort's convention area (their coffee-themed art exhibit.)  They do have several small coffee farms exhibiting their wares, so I stock up on several new bags of medium roast whole bean, we stop for a minute to appreciate the Polynesian dancing, buy a Kona Coffee Cultural Festival tote bag, and have lunch at their food vendors.  We look through the options and decide on the local high school volunteers offering mix plates -- Lucie gets the Korean chicken and chicken long rice; I go for the Korean chicken and smoke meat.  The chicken long rice is chicken pieces cooked in thick rice noodles, funky glassy appearance and pretty mushy in texture, but good flavor; the smoke meat is essentially a char siu without the barbecue coating, satisfying with a densely smoky hit; the Korean chicken is fried chicken with a slightly sweet note to the crispy coating, perfectly cooked and crunchy, slightly peppery and oily but in a very good way.  We also have two huge bottles of water -- it's very muggy and humid today --
and some "Bradda Pops", the Hawaiian version of Otter Pops, for dessert.  The strawberry flavor is a pure sugary delight, and the lemon blast with li hing mui is refreshing but confusing to the taste buds, which seem unable to comprehend the salted plum and lemon combination.  I spend a few dollars at their game area, shooting suction cup darts at paper cutouts of coffee tree pests and throwing rolls of toilet paper at giant spiders perched on toilet seats and other, less Hawaiian, carnival standards, before we head out on the road to participate in our own version of the coffee festival parade -- namely, driving along the Mamalahoa Highway and visiting all of the coffee farms along the way.

Our first stop along this leg of the tour is once again also the first coffee farm (we do tend to visit the farms in the order in which they're encountered; doesn't seem efficient to backtrack on the winding narrow roads just to mix things up), Hula Daddy.  We stop by, take a picture of the large clock tower they have nicely decorated for the Christmas season still a month and a half away, take part in a sampling they're doing as we arrive -- it's a dark roast, slightly bitter but pleasingly strong -- and buy a bunch of coffee and coffee related items.  From there, we cruise down the road a ways and stop at UCC, or Ueshima Coffee Company, a Japanese-owned farm.  They're not very busy at the moment, so when we inquire about taking their Roastmaster tour where we roast our own beans (which we've done at UCC every visit to the Big Island), they say we can do that immediately if so desired, which we do.  Our shopmaster is Jeff, who hosted the Roastmaster tour on our last trip; our host this time around is Bertha, who walks us through the roasting process using their bank of tiny cement mixer coffee roasters.  Newly roasted coffee in hand (slightly more than medium roast -- they're using non-prime beans for the customers to roast so the bean sizes aren't very uniform and some of them come out a bit darker than I normally prefer) and additional bags of professionally roasted beans, Coffee Pretz, a cup of coffee ice cream (which Jeff gives us for free, along with a cup of nicely strong iced coffee which I gladly accept), and other coffee items added on, we bid goodbye to UCC and continue on down the road just as a large contingent of Japanese tourists pulls up.

Our next stop is Blue Sky, in the town of Holoalua, there's a large crowd here already -- another sign of the recovering economy, there's a tour van filled with Japanese tourists that seems to be pacing us along the drive -- so we just stop by long enough to pick up a couple of bags of coffee (their estate coffee, whole bean, medium roast, which is all we're trying to buy when we buy coffee) before continuing down the road.  We make a quick stop at a roadside store for cold bottled water and some cookies, then make our way down through Kealakekua until we reach Kona Joe, home of the downright best-ever espresso smoothie I've ever had.  It's slightly changed from our last visit, now called a Kona Joe Coffee Smoothie, and they've added a subtle little cinnamon flavor from what I remember, but this actually only improves the flavor for me, adding some of the sharp sweetness of cassia to the smooth and deep coffee baseline -- I need to stop myself after having two, or I'd end up sitting on their covered patio overlooking the ocean with a frozen coffee beverage in hand all day (which isn't really all that bad an idea, but probably a lot higher in calories than is recommended by any sane dietician.)  We mosey through the gift shop, grab a bag or two of their coffee offerings -- not too much, as Kona Joe tends to run a little on the more expensive side and it's not like we're really hurting for Kona coffee at this point so we can be a little choosy -- and head back up the Mamalahoa to our hotel for dinner and drinks and drinks.

We drop off the several armloads of coffee in our hotel room, then head down to Don the Beachcomber's restaurant -- or, more accurately, to Don's Mai Tai Bar located outside on the patio and walkway, and not to the actual restaurant itself.  Same menu available, but those wonderful, comfortable, relaxing lounge chairs facing the sunset (which by this time has already gone down, but we're not going to stop our relaxation plans because of that.)  Lucie gets the standard burger with sweet potato fries, and I go for the Bleu Hawaiian burger with bleu cheese and sautéed mushrooms -- the sweet potato fries they have here are Lucie's favorite, which is both great (because she can enjoy them while on vacation) and horrible (because she can only enjoy them like every two years or so) -- accompanied with a ginger aioli, they really are spectacular.  I also partake (a little more than is wise,
some might say) of the drink menu, going first for a lava flow sampler -- miniature versions of the lava flow, with different flavor options (I go with mango, liliko'i, papaya, and guava; the guava is really really good) -- then continuing in the sampler vein with their mojito sampler (standard mojito, pomegranate, mango, and ginger peach variants) and finally my go-to vacation drink, the mango daiquiri.  I am for some reason immensely entertained by the fact that the glasses are decorated with a variety of festive doodads, from the classic paper umbrellas to pineapple wedges, to little brightly colored plastic monkeys hugging the rim of the glass.  I decide on a whim to collect the plastic monkeys while I'm here, and end up at the end of the night with a six-monkey troop.  There are no doubt several more technicolor monkeys in my future when I return -- and probably not just alcohol-fueled hallucination monkeys, either.

We relax for a bit longer as the ocean crashes onto the rocks in front of us, then head upstairs for the night.  While we were sitting in the chairs, there was apparently some remodeling done on the hotel that I didn't notice, as the floor is now a little tilted and blurry-looking for some reason.  I hope they fix that by tomorrow.


Hawai'i One-3, Day 5: Living Big

 We wake up -- once again a little bit early -- on our last day on Maui; we don't have much time to dawdle this morning as we need to complete packing our suitcases and head down to the main lobby for Ka'anapali Beach Hotel's lei ceremony for their departing guests. Started after the 9/11 attack as a way of showing support for their guests who were stranded in the hotel (airlines stopped flying, a lot of financial issues with banks and credit companies, and people who had only planned to stay for a few nights found themselves staying for a month or more), and to demonstrate their welcoming attitude and aloha, the hotel gives a brown kukui nut lei to each guest; and every time a guest returns (and brings along the lei) they exchange one of the brown kukui nuts for a white one, to signify an increasing of the light which the kukui symbolizes. During the ceremony, Malihini gets a little emotional as she explains its history and significance -- she does nothing, it seems, without putting her entire heart into the act. After a warm hug, she bids us aloha, we respond mahalo and a hui hou, and we drive back across the island to Kahului's OGG airport. I drop Lucie off at the departures area, return the car (as it turns out, we didn't actually drive nearly as much this trip as we did last visit, but I'm still very happy we traded in the town car for a 300), and grab the shuttle back to the airport for the flight.

There's a long wait at the departures gate, as the arriving plane is running a bit late, and the impatient tourists are a bit chaotic once the plane finally arrives and is cleared for boarding; but First Class has its privileges and we get to board the place ahead of the crowd. The Hawaiian Airlines inter-island shuttle is relatively unexciting, save for the fact that we're headed to the Big Island, our favorite (well, favorite island so far, since we haven't been to them all yet), to hit the last few days of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. Once we land on the Big Island, there's also a long wait at the car rental place (the economy's recovery also means a larger than usual surge in tourism, which is great for Hawaii's economy but in all honesty kind of a pain for our hopes for a quiet vacation), but eventually I get our vehicle -- a Mustang (nice!) convertible (of course!) -- and we head down to Kailua-Kona. We drive past all of the stores along Ali'i Drive, and check in to the Royal Kona Resort.

Once checked in, we take just a minute or two to get reacquainted with our hotel (same corner oceanfront view, only we're on the third floor this time instead of the 6th or 7th like the last few times), then venture back out into the humidity for a walk along Ali'i. The previous trips, I wasn't in good enough shape (more than a little embarrassed to admit that) to walk for very long; but this time around I'm a bit lighter and have better endurance (though ironically a worse knee), so looking forward to being a pedestrian tourist for a change.

Our first stop is one that Lucie has been looking forward to ever since she started running, the Big Island Running Company. They're Hawaiian, they're a running company, and they have branded clothing that says "Run Aloha" and "Run Big" -- what's not to love? It's surprisingly close to our hotel, only the first cluster of businesses on the other side of the street, tucked back a little ways behind a sand volleyball court, and it's staffed by a wonderfully friendly and enthusiastic gal named Melissa, who encourages us to take part in their weekly Saturday morning run the next day. My knee isn't up for running, but since it's a "couch to 5K" running group Lucie believes she's up for the challenge -- she already completed a couch to 5K on her own back home and thinks she can handle the Hawaiian humidity -- and makes plans for tomorrow morning. We buy a bunch of Big Island running items, for ourselves and for family, and move on.

Our next stop is next door at Kona Haven, a coffee shop (I know, right? In Kona?) where I buy an iced coffee with a couple shots of espresso added, grab some bottles of water, and a bag or two of their coffee offerings, a brand called Kona de Pele. I'm assuming they're referring to the Hawaiian volcano goddess instead of the soccer player, but the coffee is mighty tasty regardless of the moniker's inspiration. From there, we figure it's about time for a light early dinner, so we look at our options and decide on Thai Rin, about a block away. It's not one of the busy and loud bars or cantinas that are everywhere, which we'd just as soon avoid; it's not a chain like Bubba Gump or Subway, and it's not very crowded. As it turns out, this might be because the food isn't exactly spectacular... it's not bad either, just average and a little bland, which is surprising for Thai food. Lucie has the chicken pad see ew, and I opt for the tofu in Thai garlic sauce. I locate the container of chili sauce that's available, and do get the food to my desired level of spice and flavor after several scoops (probably about a third of the container.) We continue along the road, past the farmer's market, until we get to Kona Henna Studios.

We've been here twice before, getting temporary tattoos to celebrate our visit, and have always appreciated their artistry and skill with henna; this is no exception. Lucie gets a hibiscus pattern on her right ankle and a honu on her left foot; I go for my own designs -- the same tribal take on the San Jose Sharks logo that I got last time on my right calf, and something a little different on my right forearm, a coffee mug with some coffee bean honu swimming into it. I describe what I envision, using the store's child-distraction device of a magnetic drawing pad to explain in
better detail (something that amuses Lucie a lot, because that's really kind of a geek thing to do on my part), and our artist does a great job making it a reality. We realize belatedly that since Lucie now has henna on her foot and can't wear her sandals for the next few hours until the henna sets, that we kind of need to head back to the hotel instead of walking further along Ali'i. Oops.

We take our time meandering back, not only to go easy on the soles of Lucie's bare feet, but also because there's still a lot to see and do... we stop at a bike rental place and look into renting bicycles -- it's a good idea and one we'll definitely do next vacation, but they only rent the bikes, helmets, and locks, and we'd need some serious hydration if we wanted to ride; so we make a mental note to bring our Camelbak bottles and backpacks, and our own helmets, for next time. We poke around at the Keoki's Donkey Balls store, buying some of their huge chocolate covered macadamia nuts and some other coffee-related items for us and for friends and family. We also take a short break and have dessert at the Daylight Mind coffee roasters restaurant, where we find a quiet table by the ocean and nosh a bit. We share some chocolate covered strawberries, Lucie has their chocolate coconut cake, I go for their brownie sundae, and also have a chocolate spiced rum coffee milkshake. The combination of sweet, sweet, sugary, and intensely sweet proves to be -- surprisingly -- very sweet. Very tasty, a good combination of textures with the gooey crunch of brownie, the cold smooth ice cream, and thick milkshake, and all of it refreshingly cold on this hot and humid evening... but very very sweet.

We take a brief poke around the goods for sale in the lobby, I pick up a couple bags of freshly roasted coffee from two of the roasters' local affiliate farms (Kona Earth and Papa Kona) and an aloha shirt for this year's Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, and we continue on our way. The roadside walkway is a little rough on Lucie's feet, but we make it back nearly without incident -- the only casualty is that the exercise and humidity makes me sweat profusely, and the henna on my forearm slides a little and becomes less clear. You can still tell what it's supposed to be, but it's not as sharp as the Sharks logo or Lucie's patterns, so that's a bit of a bummer, but certainly not in any way anything that subtracts from the appreciation and enjoyment that we feel being back on the Big Island.

After the henna dries, we clean it off and admire the results, then head to bed for the evening; we've got an early morning ahead of us.


Hawai'i One-3, Day 4: Sea Trek

Our day starts relatively early once again -- not as early as the day previous when we exercised before breakfast, but earlier than usual for us. Actually, we both end up waking up somewhat early every single day during our vacation -- might be the time change between California and Hawai'i, might be different beds than what we're used to, might be the thought of not wanting to spend time sleeping when we could be doing vacationy-type stuff; could be any number of reasons.

The reason for today, however, is that we have a morning launch out of Ma'alaea Harbor for a snorkeling adventure with Trilogy Tours.  We had used Trilogy last time for our day trip to Lana'i, and trust they'll provide a similarly great experience this trip as well.  Our drive along the oceanfront highway is a little slow due to road construction (because the highway sits right up against the ocean in some places, there's a near-constant amount of repairs that need to be done to combat the erosion and water damage to the roadway) so we get to the harbor and onto the vessel, Trilogy V, right on time instead of early as I'd hoped; but still not a problem as the crew is on their version of island time and takes a somewhat casual approach to schedule promptness.

Once on the boat we're introduced to the captain, Captain Martin Kirk (who oddly wants to be called Captain Martin instead of the so much more obvious and geekily awesome Captain Kirk), and to the rest of the crew -- snuba instructor Chad, and mates Akeoi and Ted, and also someone else whom I forget but will call Bert (but only twice and to whom I won't refer for another five paragraphs because I don't remember anything else about him or what he did), and after a quick briefing as to our plans for the day we head out of the harbor and toward our first stop, an area off the Wailea portion of the island called Makena Beach.  Makena Beach is also referred to as "turtle town" because there are two large submerged lava tubes in the reef which are popular nesting and feeding areas for Hawaii's famous green sea turtles, also called honu (who knew?  I knew) and turtle sightings are very common.  We're also slated to snorkel at Molokini, but we can see a large number of boats at Molokini while Makena Beach is nearly deserted, and Captain Martin wants us to have the best possible snorkeling experience without the large crowds.

His plan pays off, as I do indeed see a honu swimming near the surface.  It's a relatively large adult, maybe four feet (and definitely four flippers, but that's not the same thing), serenely munching on sea grasses or seaweed or plankton or turtle chow, or whatever the hell honu eat; possibly poi.  I use my handy-dandy and technologically obsolete underwater camera to take several shots of my Chelonian chum, that herbivorous honu, before it drifts down to the sea floor.  Honu breathe air but can sleep submerged; while awake, they normally surface to breathe for a few seconds, then sink below the waves for several minutes.  One unfortunate way that honu can die is if they feel threatened -- whether by natural predators or harassment by overzealous tourists -- they submerge and can actually drown before they feel safe enough to surface to get another breath of air.  Heeding the admonishment from Captain Martin's morning lecture, I make sure not to get too close as I take my pictures.  Shortly after we return to the boat, several other tour boats arrive from Molokini, and the water becomes positively infested with loud and disruptive haole.  This is our cue to leave, so after the crew takes roll call (no re-creation of Open Water for us, thankyouverymuch) we carefully weave our way through the swimmers and head over to Molokini.

A quick side note -- one of the reasons we like Trilogy Tours is that they purposefully underbook their tours -- the boat itself can fit 50-60 people, but there are maybe 30 customers on board, probably more like 25.  This allows the crew to maintain very good control and care for the clientele, as opposed to some of the other boats out there... we see one double-decker boat with easily 75-90 swimmers, and almost no crew oversight.  This can easily lead to animal endangerment, unsafe practices, and the like; there's a comment on tripadvisor that mentions the Trilogy crew having to assist with another boat's customer when they needed help and their tour boat didn't notice.  We prefer our vacation adventures with a little less danger and a lot more enjoyment.  We prefer Trilogy.

After another half hour or so of cruising, we arrive at Molokini just as the last other boat is leaving, essentially giving us the entire area to ourselves.  There aren't any turtles here, but because of Molokini's crescent shape (it's a partly submerged volcano crater) the water is remarkably calm and clear.  We head out again and wander through the water, looking at all of the different fish looking at us.  Crewmate Ted beckons us over, where he gives me the opportunity to hold a red pencil urchin in my hand; Lucie also seems intrigued and interested until Ted says "you can actually feel all those tiny feet grabbing your skin", at which point she politely demurs and leaves the experience to me. The red urchin does indeed have a strong grasp, its hundreds of tiny tube feet creating a surprisingly powerful suction.  I take a picture -- I'm a bit close, so unfortunately I find out later that it comes out pretty blurry -- and hand the urchin back to Ted, trying not to think too much about the mouth with its sharp pointy teeth so close to my skin.  I hope my palm doesn't taste too much like poi.

As we swim back to the boat, we suddenly find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a school of black triggerfish, unafraid of the interlopers in their territory.  We slowly make our way through the crowd -- there are maybe 30 to 40 fish surrounding us -- and eventually get back on board the boat.  A light lunch of barbecued chicken, green salad, and taro rolls is provided, and we head back toward Maui.  Captain Martin cuts the engines partway back to try and sail us back in, but the wind doesn't want to cooperate and he eventually takes us back to the harbor with the engines propelling us.

We exit the boat, thanking and handing out tips to Captain Martin and the mates, and even Bert (and there's the second time he's mentioned!), and get into our rental car.  Including the attempts at sailing, the trip back to Maui from Molokini has taken almost two hours, and we feel like a quick bite is in order, so we head south along the coast toward Wailea.  We stop well before then, in North Kihei, at Ululani's Shave Ice -- this is one of three different locations on Maui, and all of them are highly rated on every food review site.  Lucie orders their "Ka'anapali" flavor combination of grape, lime, and cherry for us to share; and head next door to the Sugar Beach Bake Shop and order a "da kine pie", a tartlet-sized quiche with kimchi and grilled onions, with an asiago crust.  The pie is delicious -- the right combination of sour, spicy, creamy, and sharp; the shave ice is one of the best examples of shave ice we've had -- the consistency they manage to create with their ice is lighter than newfallen snow, and the flavors are intense while somehow managing not to be overly sweet.  As Lucie puts it, we're almost afraid to have any more shave ice for the rest of the trip because we know full well it won't measure up.

After the snack, we head back up north along the coastal highway to our hotel.  We take a short break, then decide to get a little more exercise by walking along the beachwalk path to Whaler's Village.  It's less than a half mile from our hotel, so it's a relatively quick walk, and the scenery along Maui's pale golden beachfront is always nothing less than beautiful.  We get there and wander along the shops, skipping the more ridiculous ones (Louis Vuitton, Coach, a scrimshaw place), poking our heads briefly into others (Totally Hawaiian, PacSun), and spending some money in a few more -- we renew our appreciation for the shortbread cookie at Honolulu Cookie Company, Lucie gets a shirt or hat or something (in all honesty, I've forgotten exactly what -- possibly poi) at Crazy Shirts, and I buy a new pair of "slippahs" at the Flip Flop Shop.  The pair I've been wearing all trip has been a pair I got at a bike swap meet, made from repurposed bicycle tires (rubber soles, inner tube toe thong, and knobby top straps from mountain bike tires; entertaining as all get out to me, but not much in the way of arch support and I'm a bit wary of their aquatic durability, something which becomes more important on the beaches of the islands), and I upgrade to a pair of Olu Kai sandals -- designed to double as water shoes, fast drying, and with very good support to fend off any plantar fasciitis issues.  Plus, Hawaiian company and made in Hawai'i, so we're supporting the local economy in multiple ways.

Dusk has come and gone while we wander the shops, so we walk back to the hotel by the light of the stars (okay -- aided greatly by the lights along the pathway, but "by the light of the stars" sounds so much better) and have a seat at the outdoor stage for some more live music and hula dancing.  I have a drink or three, Lucie has one or two of her own, we have a light dinner (Lucie opts for chicken strips and I have a small Hawaiian pizza, which I consider a light dinner because it's topped with Mozzarella cheese, which is light in color), and enjoy the show for a bit.  Starting tomorrow, Ka'anapali Beach Hotel is hosting their annual "Hula o na Keiki" event, a showcase/competition of traditional hula by children ("o na keiki" in Hawaiian is "of our children" [o = of, na = plural possessive indicator, keiki = child]), a competition which attracts entrants from all over Hawai'i, the mainland, and even a few groups from Japan; so many of the hula dancers during our visit have been students from the halaus that will be competing; it's great to see such a graceful and mesmerizing art form being passed on.

After the band is finished for the night, we decide we are as well; we've got a flight to catch tomorrow for the Big Island and suitcases to pack before then, so we head upstairs for the evening.


Hawai'i One-3, Day 3: Beach Bums

One of the things we loved about our last trip to Maui was when we rented a cabana and spent several hours on the beach; just resting, enjoying the sun, maybe reading a magazine or two, and drinking a cold refreshing beverage. We definitely want to do that again this trip, but also want to supplement that with something new that we didn't do our last trip, so we decide that today will be a hotel-centric day.

We start the day early with some exercise -- Lucie goes for a walk/jog along the "beachwalk" path,
a 3 or 4 mile long paved path that connects several different hotels and the Whaler's Village high-end retail megaplex while I walk for a mile or so then do knee exercises that seem to help my mobility and range of motion. After we shower and get dressed for the day, we head out to the hotel's free breakfast buffet, where they give their temporary residents their fill of the standard fare (eggs, bread, bacon, Portuguese sausage, potatoes, juice, coffee) while talking about the commercial ventures available (snorkeling, Hana and Haleakala tours, etc.) with which they partner with other local companies. It's not timeshare-type stuff as far as predatory marketing is concerned, but it's also definitely not a free lunch (or breakfast) either. We do use the opportunity, though, to sign up for Kupanaha, the hotel's magic show, for that evening; and for a snorkeling trip for tomorrow with Trilogy Tours.

After the breakfast, Lucie and I sign up for some of Ka'anapali Beach Hotel's Hawaiian culture lessons -- we had taken the Hawaiian language lesson last trip, but have forgotten everything we learned. We also rent one of the cabanas on the beach, for later in the day. Our first class is in lei making; KBH's Cultural Expert and Guest Services Representative, Malihini (of whom we have incredibly fond memories from 2011), is giving the class. She greets us warmly, and we take our seats at a table covered in carnations. Using a special needle, we learn to string the flowers so they sit properly on the lei while Malihini tells us about the lei's importance and symbolism to the Hawaiian people. As is custom with married couples, I place the lei I made on Lucie's shoulders and she places the one she made on mine.

We're the only married couple in the class; in fact, I'm the only male in the class -- it's not golfing, and there are flowers involved. There are three other women in the class, and we of course hear a chorus of "awwww" as we place the leis on each other, and Malihini grabs my iPhone to take a picture. It's a nice moment, but unfortunately the picture is a little badly timed and makes me look like a technicolored troll trying to eat the face off a woman who just sucked on a lemon, so it's a picture that will NEVER see the light of day. Ever.

Our next class is a repeat of the Hawaiian language class we took last time. As it turns out, Lucie and I are the only people who signed up, so we get personal instruction by Malihini in the pronunciation, grammar, historical significance, and meaning of Hawaiian diphthongs, words, and phrases. The two of us do have a *very* basic knowledge of some words, so we ask questions as needed, and voice insights when (occasionally) relevant. When we practice the sound pu'u, for example, I recognize this as the Hawaiian word for "hill", and ask if this is the case, mentioning the area of Pu'unene near Kahului. Every time we do something like this, Malihini seems both surprised that we actually know about the language and happy that we're actually trying to embrace the culture. This might just be her job, to encourage the appreciation of culture; but it really does come across as true warmth and generosity of spirit. Everything about Malihini is warm and generous of spirit; and it's not just us that believes this...

After the language class, we head out to the cabanas and get our relaxation on. Early in the afternoon, our final cultural lesson for the day, learning the hula, is scheduled; Lucie makes a difficult spur of the moment decision to stay on the beach and make sure the cabana doesn't get blown away in the (beautiful, sunny, and windless) weather, and I head up to the hotel lobby for my lesson. Because I'm the only participant for this one, Malihini recruits another hotel employee, Rayce, to teach me a hula kane, a dance performed by men. Taking my bad knee into account, he gives me some basic pointers (hula should be performed barefoot, as the dancers are grounding themselves to the earth as part of the performance) and walks me through Kalakaua He Inoa, a traditional dance in honor of Hawaiian King David Kalakaua (ruled 1874-1891), nicknamed the Merrie Monarch, known primarily for fighting to preserve Hawaiian culture and bringing back the art and tradition of hula, which had been banned for religious reasons in 1830 by Queen Ka'ahumanu, wife to the first King Kamehameha (she took over as regent upon his death in 1819.) There's an annual hula competition in Hilo on the Big Island named the Merrie Monarch Festival, named after Kalakaua. Rayce chants the song as I dance (a little slowly and unsteadily at times, if I must be honest), and shakes my hand after we're done.

I've looked at other performances of this hula on YouTube since my lesson, and it's very clear that I was taught an extremely basic version of this particular hula; however, seeing as how I'm an old fat haole with bad knees, it ain't bad for a 45-minute first-ever hula lesson. I also manage to forget most of the dance by the time I perform it for Lucie later that evening, but it's a fond memory nonetheless.

After the lesson, I return to the beach, where Lucie has been successfully defending her half of the cabana from UV rays, and relax next to her for the next couple of hours. The sun's heat is intense but wonderful and relaxing, the water is that amazingly clear blue that one just can't find off the California coast, the other tourists on the beach are for the most part quiet and far enough away to ignore, and the beverages we enjoy are ice cold and perfect -- Lucie makes a trip to the hotel's deli store to provide for us, since they don't offer catering service out to the beach. It's a very welcome time, just reclining and enjoying the moment; doing absolutely nothing at all is sometimes the thing that is best to do while on vacation.

Late afternoon, we begrudgingly leave the cabana for the day and head up to our room to get ready for dinner. We put our best vacation clothes (my shirt for the evening actually has buttons and isn't tie dyed) and go to the hotel's lobby. Just outside the showroom, they preview the show with some decent close-up magic; classic tricks like the Professor's Nightmare (three ropes of unequal lengths that turn into equal lengths and back again) and the Chinese Linking Rings are done to an appreciative audience before the doors open and we enter. There's a brief line as the family groups are posed for the obligatory souvenir photos (which we of course later buy) and we're offered our beverage of choice (we both go with a blue Hawaiian) before getting seated at our table. Lucie, knowing my geeky appreciation for magic, has gotten us seats at the front row of tables, and in a nice example of serendipity our table actually ends up being front row center.

We engage in small talk with the other people at our table -- a retired couple from Austin and a family of three (a twentysomething guy and his parents) from Portland -- as our dinner is brought out to us. Our appetizer of Kalua pork (for me) and grilled veggie (for Lucie) bruschetta is actually on a soft flatbread instead of traditional bruschetta, but tastes fine. A brief tableside performance of the Cups & Balls by the same close-up magician as earlier is fun -- one or two moves that I catch because I know where to look and when, but a finale move that completely takes me by surprise -- and is followed by our main course. Lucie chooses the tenderloin steak and shrimp over mashed potatoes; I opt for the red snapper with asparagus over seasoned rice; both are good (not necessarily outstanding, but certainly not bad at all.) During the main course and dessert (pina colada cheesecake for me, assorted fruit plate for Lucie), the main stage show of Jody Baran and his wife Kathleen and her breast implants (with lighting support by their son Robert and stage assistance by daughter Crystal) performs several intricate stage illusions, with dance routines from a local hula halau as interstitials. The dance numbers are a combination of the traditional Hawaiian and/or Polynesian dances, with one or two modern takes mixed in (one in particular is a heavily World War II - influenced routine with accompanying outfits, as a tribute to Hawaii's home to servicemen, and possibly an homage to the upcoming Veteran's Day holiday.) The tricks are, according to Jody Baran, inspired by various famous magicians that had visited the Hawaiian islands in the last century or two -- Houdini, the Great Nicola, Long Tack Sam, Raymondo (for some reason my favorite magician name) -- and for the most part very well done. There's humor, magic, dance, good food, and family. There's a lot to like about the show, and it's an enjoyable evening well spent.

After the show, we briefly consider stopping by the outside courtyard for additional drinks, but we've got an early day ahead of us -- one of the few planned outings for which we have a timetable -- so we head upstairs to our room for the night. We can, however, still hear the live band playing music from our hotel room, so we drift off to sleep with a Don Ho song as a serenade.

Hawai'i One-3, Day 2: Hana Ho!

Our second day on Maui, and we're off to experience something else we missed out on our last trip; namely, the Road to Hana. This is not a secret eighth wacky slapstick romcom movie starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour; but rather is the name of the highway along the eastern coast of Maui from the port/airport town of Kahului to Hāna. Many harrowing stories are told about the trip, which is only 52 miles in length but takes about two and a half hours of nonstop driving to complete due to the road, which is incredibly winding, narrow, and frankly outright terrifying were you to try and navigate the over 600 curves (most of which are sharp hairpin turns), 59 bridges (of which 46 are one-lane-wide bottlenecks with limited visibility due to the curving road), old infrastructure (most of the bridges date back a full century, to 1910), falling rocks (virtually untouched rain forest, cliffside roads, and rock makes for frequent rockslides -- coming around a sharp corner only to find several coconut-sized rocks in the middle of the road is not uncommon), flocks of wild nene in the road (just kidding; we all know they're not real) and various other road hazards. Because I want to appreciate the trip and not be a nervous wreck the entire time, we make arrangements to be driven there by a tour service instead.

So early in the morning, we head out the lobby of our hotel and meet up with Eric, from Temptation Tours. He was our driver last time when we did the Haleakala Sunrise tour, and is a welcome sight for the Hana drive. Also in the luxurious and comfortable limo van are a married couple from Long Island, Michael and Valerie. In a wonderful turn of fate, they turn out to be very entertaining folks, and Michael's sarcastic sense of humor is very similar to my own, so we have a great time chatting and joking as Eric drives us through the light rain. We cruise through
the artist colony town of Paia, refuge for surfers and hippies turned into artists selling their wares to tourists (this, as it turns out, is a very common occurrence in Hawai'i), and I take pictures of the amazingly clear and bright rainbow -- double rainbow, actually -- that we see over the ocean to the left side of our ride. At a clearing just outside of town, we find a wide shoulder on the side of the road, pull over, and get out for pictures. Along the way, we pass the popular (and expensive) restaurant Mama's Fish House, which is on our list of Things To Do In Maui but which will have to wait until our third visit to the island; we listen, entertained, as native Maui resident Eric discusses how Hawaiians eat ("we don't eat until we get full, we eat until we get tired. I call it 'Polynesian Paralysis'") and why everything on Maui is so expensive (there's only one large factory on Maui, for processing sugar cane into raw sugar; however, even that then has to be shipped to New York to be cleaned and packaged before coming back to Maui -- there are cows on Maui but no real dairy so a similar process is done with the milk and it's not uncommon to see milk selling in stores for as much as $10/gallon.) We also entertain ourselves with a fun and joke-filled discussion with East Coast visitors Michael and Valerie (I don't remember how the subject came up, but at some point I leave Michael momentarily helpless with mirth with a comment about YouTube videos of nenes twerking; Lucie accomplishes the same when we see roadwork and she says they're narrowing the roads for the tourists.) At various points along the way, Eric stops along the side of the road (shoulder space permitting [and in some cases even without shoulder space]) to show us such native or introduced flora as awapuhi (flowering Hawaiian ginger), bamboo (there's a bamboo forest alongside the highway where one can literally get lost for weeks, it's so large and dense), koa (a beautiful exotic wood, prized for its natural beauty and density, popular in handmade guitars and ukuleles but now a protected wood and therefore very expensive when available), and rainbow eucalyptus (a smooth-skinned tree, with vibrant pastel streaks, which really does look painted on.)

We make a quick stop in the tiny town of Haiku at the roadside stand Halfway to Hana (which is really only about a third of the way to Hana) and buy some of their crazy tasty banana bread and "King's Bars" (macadamia nuts, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut, and a graham cracker crust) and a "medium sized" shave ice that's the size of an adolescent German shepherd; we stop further along the way at the tiny town of Huelo, where we see a church built from stone and coral back in 1853, take pictures of some beautiful waves crashing on the lava rocks, and buy candied coconut and macadamia nut brittle from locals sheltering from the drizzle under canopies; and make additional stops at several waterfalls, bridges, aqueducts, and scenic points; and, approximately three hours after Kahului (including a fifteen to twenty minute stretch when we get caught up in a standstill traffic situation as construction equipment clears a small landslide ahead of us that has partially blocked the road), we end up in the town of Hana.

Hana, by itself, could be described as somewhat unimpressive... but it's never claimed to be anything otherwise. It's a small town, very removed from the rest of comparatively crowded and busy Maui; quiet and peaceful, in its quaint way... the experience of the Road to Hana is called "the Road to Hana" for a reason, instead of just "Hana". We have a picnic lunch under a pavilion by a black sand beach, with me and Lucie on one side of a picnic table and Michael and Valerie on the other, eating fresh pineapple, and dark chocolate brownies, and chicken breast sandwiches, and pasta salad, and mahimahi sandwiches, and bottled water and POG. It's a simple meal, with the rain continuing to come down outside the pavilion, and laughter and anecdotes as we share stories as we eat.
From there, we stop briefly at Hana Tropicals, an orchid farm run by members of WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a coalition of eco-friendly organic farmers who -- I'm assuming -- grow trees primarily for hugging purposes. The orchids and proteas they grow are really beautiful, and vibrant; and just like with Temptation Tours' Haleakala Sunrise tour when we stopped at the protea farm, the women in our group receive a small bouquet of cut flowers as a welcome gift.

There's a brief delay along the road back as Eric stops our van to remove several large rocks that are littering the other side of the road and which are blocking a car's route; back in the van he also points out the fence of a home alongside the highway, where some of the fencing has collapsed and fallen partway down the hill -- "That wasn't like that when we drove past here on the way out," he comments -- and we continue down the road a bit to Wai'anapanapa State Park. We park the van and stretch our legs for a bit; Lucie and Valeria walk down the long and steep stairs to the black sand beach, while Michael (bad back) and I (bad knee) opt to stay up at the parking lot level. I wander around for a bit, take some pictures of a mongoose frolicking around the grassy picnic area and of the lava rock arches on the beach below, and once the two women come back up the stairs, I join them and the three of us take another trail -- a combination of ramp and stairs, but nothing too severe -- down to the freshwater pool nearby. There's quaint local folklore about the pool, about a princess Popoalaea who is hiding unsuccessfully from her husband, Chief Kakae, and who is killed by him after her hiding place is discovered; you know, all that touchy-feely stuff that you find in Harlequin novels.

We snooze a bit on the rest of the trip back -- it seems a little jaded to say, but at some point we almost get waterfalled out... the scenery is absolutely stunning, make no mistake; the tree canopy is a bright and vibrant green, the flowers range from blazing crimson to a pastel, almost gossamer, lavender to what is almost a screamingly bright hunter orange, and the ocean is a frothy combination of white crashing waves and a variety of blues and aquas. Even the fact that the skies are a near-constant gray can't dull the artist's dream palette of colors that surround us, or the amazing natural beauty of foliage, waterfalls, wildlife, and earthy green scents; it's almost a sensory overload, but a wonderful one.

One last stop before Kahului, where we stop and watch the waves at Pe'ahi. Also known by the name Jaws, Pe'ahi is the Hawaiian word for wave, although it's actually kind of a play on words -- the word for oceanic waves is nalu, while pe'ahi is the waving or fanning of one's hands, and chosen as the name for the surfing mecca even though Pe'ahi is actually the ancient name of a different, inland location not far away. The surfers are packed into this area, the waves are impressive -- not as huge as the 60-foot waves that can appear during the winter months, but still taller than the surfers riding them -- and the outhouses by the parking lot are horrible. I count myself lucky that I didn't have to avail myself of them, but Lucie did and she says she will be forever grateful to our personal trainer for the strong quad muscles she had to employ to avoid having to actually come in contact with any of the interior other than the floor. Enough of that, though -- icky icky.

We cruise back across the island, along the Honoapi'ilani Highway that runs along the western coast of Maui up to Ka'anapali where Eric drops us back at the hotel. We rest for an hour or so, then wander down to the hotel's Tiki Terrace outdoor restaurant for dinner. It's still drizzling on and off, so we sit under the covered area and enjoy dinner while the live band plays Hawaiian music. We share an appetizer of coconut shrimp, a Hawaiian pupu mainstay; Lucie has a tenderloin steak and rice pilaf, and I opt for one of the daily specials, the braised lamb shank. It's falling-apart tender, flavorful and moist, with a garlic, ginger, anise, and shiitake mushroom sauce, a dollop of white truffle oil on top, and a vegetable medley bed of bok choy, carrots, and sweet Maui onions. It's delicious, robust and could only be topped by an even better dessert, this is managed with their "banana caramel lava eruption", with caramelized banana sliced, mixed with toasted macadamia nuts, surrounding a chocolate lava cake, topped with coconut ice cream, and drizzled with an intense caramel sauce. It's fantastic. Not at all diet friendly, but definitely fantastic.

I manage to finish the dessert, but am too full of sugars afterwards to have any fruity tropical drinks tonight, so we sit and listen to the music for a bit longer before heading back to our room for the night.


Hawai'i One-3, Day 1: The Day We Get Re-Maui'ed


Our new Hawaiian vacation begins, as it has every time thus far, with a chauffeured ride from our apartment to the airport. The ride isn't a stretch limo (as it was in 2009 upon our return) or a town car (as it has been every other time), but a Cadillac Escalade, driven by Demetrius (instead of Dean, who has been our driver on every other occasion.)

While the ride isn't uncomfortable or unnerving in any way, it's not the experience to which we've become accustomed. Instead of engaging and entertaining conversation with our driver, we sit quietly in the back seat as Demetrius plays KBLX on the radio; other than introducing himself to me when he picks us up, I honestly don't believe Demetrius says more than a dozen words to us during the trip, and I don't recall him saying anything to Lucie -- not even an introduction. We listen to the Steve Harvey morning show, which today at least consists of equal parts religious proselytization and bathroom humor "morning zoo" schtick, until we get to Oakland Airport. We wait patiently for a while as Demetrius works on charging my credit card for the trip, before Lucie eventually pulls our luggage out of the vehicle herself so we don't end up late for the flight.

A mercifully short trip through the TSA checkpoint and brief wait at the gate later, and we're on our flight. Alaskan Airlines is our airline of choice for the trip out; their breakfast for their first class passengers (which we are) consists of fresh fruit and a blueberry Danish, and their take on a loco moco -- a junior ground beef patty on rice, covered in a mushroom gravy, with a bit of scrambled eggs alongside.

I do understand the compromises that have to be made -- scrambled eggs reheat much better than eggs fried over easy or sunny side up, which is how *real* loco mocos are made -- but unfortunately this only serves to create a burning need for real Hawaiian mix plate goodness. I spend part of the time watching Hugh Jackman's abs playing "The Wolverine" on the provided in-flight entertainment tablet, followed by my getting back into the Hawaiian frame of mind by watching Arial America's Hawai'i episode in high definition on my own iPad.

Once we land on Maui, Lucie guards our luggage while I pick up our rental car at Avis. They're out of the full-size car (such as Impala or Taurus) that I had reserved, so they set me up with a Lincoln town car. This is *WAY* more car than I feel comfortable with, but I'm game to give it a try -- this is Hawai'i, and we're on vacation, so I don't plan on sweating the small things. (Yes, the Lincoln town car is a big thing, not a small thing. Believe me, I know.)

From the airport, we head mauka (inland or uphill; "mauka" is Hawaiian for "sucking gas") to the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm, which was our first stop last trip as well. This time I'm prepared for the winding and narrow road from the highway to the farm entrance, and for the even narrower and windier road from the farm entrance to the parking lot... but what I'm not prepared for is just how immense the Lincoln feels trying to navigate the roads. We eat a very light snack (their lavender scones are still outstanding, though because the toaster oven is out of order they're room temp instead of warm and tasty; the lavender and honey iced green tea is sweet and refreshing) and make our first major financial hit of the vacation in the gift shop, buying various lavender-scented or -flavored or -themed items for us and our friends and family. Once back in the car, I spend about half an hour on the phone (we actually get service out here, which believe me is NOT always a given in upcountry Hawai'i) with Avis before heading back to the rental car location at Maui's Kahului airport (call sign OGG, after Hawaiian Airlines-affiliated aviation pioneer Bertram Hogg [for some reason he decided against HOG]) where I successfully swap out the Lincoln town car with a Chrysler 300. The 300 is still larger than a Taurus or Impala, but a vehicle in which I feel much more comfortable behind the wheel; I drove a 300 during our visit to O'ahu four years ago and had no issues.

Now in our new, slightly less Brobdingnagian ride, we head out for lunch. Lucie's done some reading around and suggests the local favorite Da Kitchen. They appeared in an episode of Bizarre Food for their deep fried Spam musubi appetizer, so we order that in addition to our entrees -- the beef teriyaki and chicken katsu combination plate for Lucie, and the "Notorious B.I.G. Moco" for me. That particular meal consists of, according to their menu, a "homemade burger steak topped with chili, Mexican cheese, two eggs, mushrooms and onions, served with Spam, bacon, Portuguese sausage, all over our homemade local style fried rice." It must also be noted that their fried rice has copious amounts of Spam, bacon, and Portuguese sausage -- suffice it to say that this is not exactly diet-friendly eats. It is, however, amazingly delicious; Lucie also says that her beef teriyaki is the best teriyaki she's ever had. This one-two gastronomical punch of outstanding tastes and gargantuan portions is a great way to start our trip to Hawai'i, even though it does sort of threaten to put both of us into a happy food coma.

After groggily making our way to the car (which, I'm almost certain, ends up sitting several inches lower than it did before our meal), we make our way across the island to the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel where we check in. We unpack, and enjoy the air conditioning for a few minutes before heading out to the adjoining beach where we walk down to Black Rock and watch the sunset torch lighting ceremony. We'd missed this the last time we were on Maui (my knee wasn't exactly meander-friendly back then [not that it's all that much better now -- it's actually a bit worse -- but I'm more able to manage the walk with the added weight loss and exercise regimen]), and since we're sort of calling this part of the trip Maui 2.0, we wanted to do the things we didn't get to do two years ago.

Torches lit, guy with torch having successfully dived off the cliff into the ocean, we slowly make our way back to our hotel, stopping along the way to take advantage of one of those "stick your head through the hole in the wall for wacky fun picture time" walls for some wacky fun picture time before relaxing at Ka'anapali Beach Hotel's outside Tiki Bar area where we have some cold tropical drinks and listen to the live band play Hawaiian and not-so-Hawaiian selections. Lucie has a lava flow and a Malibu and Coke; I opt for the "Ka'anapali Cooler" (light rum, vodka, sweet & sour, pineapple and orange juices, and a top skin of blackberry & cherry brandy) and a souvenir version of a tropical itch (which comes with a bamboo back scratcher as a swizzle stick.) Sated, satisfied, and a pleasant combination of Hawaiian music and a slight alcohol buzz in our ear holes, we eventually head upstairs and say aloha ahiahi ("goodnight" in Hawaiian; also "hello fishfish") to our first day back in Hawai'i.


1 Diet-Free Day, at the Bacon Festival of America

So yeah -- we've been walking and/or jogging, and biking, and dieting, and seeing a personal trainer, and getting into our apartment complex's Pool of Questionable Cleanliness for pool exercises, and doing yoga and kettle bell routines and chair exercises in our living room for a while now... but I remember hearing somewhere (probably on the Internet, maybe even in this very paragraph) that going off the regimen every once in a while is a good thing to do.

And as it so happens, the Saturday before Labor Day is International Bacon Day. And as it so happens, food truck organizer Moveable Feast is putting on the entertainingly over-the-top named "San Jose Bacon Festival of America" on that same day. And as it so happens, our planned anniversary dinner from the 26th needed to be postponed... and this sounds like a nice proxy for an anniversary night out. A fatty, salty proxy. Mmmm, proxy.

We had ordered tickets a while back, when the event was first announced, and got the tickets for half price (score!), so the parking fee at the flea market is offset by the savings and is essentially free. Free of cost, at least -- there's a highly vocal and self-righteous group of protestors clustered at the entrance of the parking lot, saying that we're all horrible people for encouraging the wholesale slaughter of domesticated swine for consumption purposes; so we do have to pay with our immortal souls, I guess... but hey, it's for bacon, so we're good.

We find a parking space surprisingly close to the entrance and make our way into the night market area of the flea market (passing a few other, closer empty parking spaces along the way, of course, but that's fine.) The Bacon Festival consists of 28 different food trucks, parked along the perimeter of the marketplace; with assorted craft vendors off to one side. We arrive shortly before noon (original plan was to arrive around 11:00 to 11:30, but we didn't account for the half hour it took us to get into the parking lot -- this place is BUSY) and start to look at the various trucks to check out our options.

(Okay, vertically aligned sidebar here -- if you've never done a food truck event, there are several things to keep in mind: line length, food delivery speed, truck popularity, and cost; you need to make judgment calls as to what food you want based on these attributes. If you're hungry, go for the short lines to get something in hand, and feel free to eat said food while you're in line for the truck you really want that has a long wait. If the food vendor takes forever to make their food, even a short line will take longer than a longer line at a fast-preparation truck. For the Bacon Festival, the cost isn't a huge deal -- the organizers have a rule that for this festival no dishes can cost more than $5, and there's a good deal of food that actually costs less than that. This is all fairly obvious strategy, of course, but you'd be surprised at how many people complain about picking the most popular truck with the longest line for their first dish, and then complain about the event afterward because they were there for three hours and were only able to visit three trucks, the last one of which is an overcrowded ice cream vendor on a hot day. Simple enough? Good -- back to the narrative.)

The first food truck at which we stop is Takoz Mod Mex a tacos truck that actually specializes in tacos; their standard beef, chicken, and al pastor tacos -- sorry, "TaKoz" -- just have bacon bits on top as their slight nod to the theme of the day, but their other two food options do sound porkier and we opt for their "Street Dog", a bacon wrapped hot dog nestled in a toasted telera roll, with an arugula greens mix on top, and drizzled with avocado sauce and chipotle sriracha aioli, then sprinkled with cilantro. The hot dog is cooked perfectly, and the slight bite of the sriracha aioli works very well with the avocado sauce as a flavor counterbalance. There's a little bit too much bread in the bun-to-dog ratio for me, but the telera roll is toasted just right so it's crispy and has a nice crunch without being dry. Lucie absolutely loves this dish, and at the end of the day still says this is her favorite.

Our next stop is a Korean food truck called Seoul Bitez (okay, what's with the names of some of these trucks? Was there a sale on truck paint jobs where you get discounts for the letters lower down on the letter frequency list? Should I expect a truck named Jaxkqy'zz to show up one of these days?) that has a few Mexican - Korean fusion dishes listed. We go with their variant on the traditional Korean spicy pork, which is a spicy pork belly taco. The thick cut slabs of pork belly are tender and a good ratio of meat to fat, smothered in a zesty bulgogi sauce. The corn tortillas are soft without falling apart, the roamine lettuce and onion are sliced small enough to accompany the protein well without being a distraction, and the spicy pork belly is superb. Lucie finishes her taco, and after about half of mine I just pull out the chunks of bacon and focus on those -- it's not that the taco is bad at all, but I feel the need to pace myself.

The next truck on our list is one we've eaten from before, the purveyor of Chinese soul food known as Soulnese. The line for Soulnese is pretty long -- it's one of the more popular trucks at every event -- so we divide our forces and Lucie stays in line while I find another vendor.

The line for Grilled Cheese Bandits is crazy long so I rule them out immediately, which is too bad; a grilled cheese with bacon is ALWAYS a good thing, and I've been wanting to try them out for a while now. I make do with Louisiana Territory, a Cajun themed truck, and get their garlic bacon fries for us to share while we're waiting in the Soulnese line. Unfortunately, they seem to have rushed their food to get it out, as the fries are undercooked, limp, and greasy. The bacon pieces are cooked well, but they're added more as an afterthought -- a scant pinch or two tossed on the fries before handing them out the truck window -- than given a starring role. I pick out the new french fries that are the least undercooked, we eat the bacon pieces (because, you know, bacon) and I discard the rest. It's a little wasteful, but we don't want to eat something disappointing just because we bought it.

Soon enough, we arrive at the ordering window for Soulnese, and place our order. They don't have their awesome Seoul Stix (skewers of shrimp wrapped around hot link slices) today, which is a shame; but it doesn't really work with the bacon theme so it's understandable. They do have a good selection otherwise, though, so we choose bacon mac'n rolls, bacon garlic noodles, and bacon wrapped corn dogs. The bacon mac'n rolls are their usual mac'n rolls (macaroni and cheese in a deep fried egg roll) with bacon added; however, unlike Takoz Mod Mex's seemingly afterthought action of "let's toss bacon bits on our usual fare", the bacon mac'n rolls have the bacon mixed in with the macaroni and cheese before being rolled up, and bacon and macaroni and cheese are ALWAYS a great combination; these are certainly no exception. Crispy wrapper, creamy and salty filling -- not too dry but not so moist that it leaks or drips when you eat it -- these are fantastic. I love their standard mac'n rolls, but I love these suckers to eleven. The bacon garlic noodles are slightly underwhelming -- the taste is okay but they're cold and a little dry -- and the bacon wrapped corn dogs make up for that. We love corn dogs, and we love bacon, and we really, really love the two together. It's the Reese's Peanut Butter cup of the savory deep fried food world.

After Soulnese, we wander for a bit through the craft vendors and ooh and ah over the San Jose-centric designs on the shirts (I'm very entertained by the "Fin City" shirts in Sharks colors, but of course they don't come in my size) and pick up a pair of bright red knee socks emblazoned with "BACON" on the sides for Lucie. We also briefly look at the other trucks in the area, but the line for Grilled Cheese Bandits is even longer than before, and none of the other items at Louisiana Territory seem appetizing after their bacon garlic fries, so we head back toward the other side of the marketplace.

We stop along the way at Chutney Mary's, who offer a wide variety of dishes covering many different ethnicities and influences. Today, the truck is very definitely NOT doing their usual http://photos.mercurynews.com/2013/08/08/chutney-marys-food-truck-serves-up-halal-dishes-in-the-south-bay/ shtick of serving halal food -- they're all about the bacon. We get a bowl of the bacon and beer gumbo with andouille sausage and chicken, which is a delicious concoction with densely savory flavors and large chunks of sausage and chicken, sweet onion, and of course bacon. We also buy one of their salted caramel apples covered with bacon and chocolate chips for eating when we get home; the combination proves to be surprisingly good... the sweetness of the chocolate and saltiness of the bacon, reinforced on both fronts by the salted caramel, added to the refrigerated crisp tartness of the apple -- it's a strange combination of flavors on the surface, but the result is much deeper than you'd think. In fact, this ends up being tied with the Soulnese bacon mac'n rolls for my favorite dish of the day.

We also buy a cup of the bacon lemonade, which is just what it sounds like -- lemonade with bacon pieces submerged in it like porky jetsam. The taste actually isn't bad, but the glossy, iridescent veneer of bacon fat on top is a little off-putting, and we discard the drink when we're about two thirds of the way through it so we avoid the top layer. If I'm going to drink bacon fat, it'll be fresh from the pan after frying the bacon (thought cooled down a bit), and it'll be in a shot glass. Actually, that doesn't sound half bad.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: No, it sounds *all* bad. Don't do it. Only a sadistic cardiologist looking to put kids through college would advocate this, and even then it'd be strictly off the records to avoid legal ramifications.)

Our next stop is at Taqueria Angelica's, where we get a churro (no bacon involved, but it's a taco truck and they have churros, and it's our moral obligation to provide positive reinforcement to churro distributors) and a bacon quesadilla. I have most of the quesadilla -- it's cheese, after all, so Lucie limits her lactose intake -- and it's a simple yet effective delivery system for the bacon, much like what I imagine Grilled Cheese Bandits is providing on the other side of the Bacon Festival, only in a flour tortilla and with a much smaller line. It's got monterey jack cheese and bacon, in a flour tortilla with a drizzle of crema decorating the top, and it comes topped with chopped lettuce and tomato that I ignore because I'm not here celebrating the Healthy Food Accompaniment Festival. We wash that down with a bottle of Coke (Mexican Coke, made with real sugar and not high fructose corn syrup) and decide it's about time for dessert.

There are a few different vendors providing dessert (other than Chutney Mary's caramel apples), but the lines at both Fairycakes and Treatbot are prohibitively long and the food options at Rocko's Chocolate Tacos sounds good so we decide to give them a go. This turns out to be both good and bad -- the bad part being that the line, although shorter, moves excruciatingly slowly due to the food preparation process: the customer orders a waffle cone or other frozen concoction which is then hand-dipped in one of the chocolate dipping sauces available, then dunked briefly into liquid nitrogen before delivery to the customer. This, plus the two facts that the customers are ordering multiple items and that there's only one person making them with one canister of liquid nitrogen, makes for very slow throughput. However, the good part of the equation is that the food is very good and worth the wait. Lucie has a frozen banana dipped in dark chocolate with a generous amount of bacon rolled into the chocolate; it's another one of those seemingly strange but very tasty flavor combinations which we've been experiencing today on this day of smoked cured meat goodness. This is her second favorite food item, just after the Street Dog from Takoz Mod Mex. My food choice is a salted caramel ice cream in a waffle cone, also dipped in dark chocolate, and also with bacon mixed in. Salted caramel is one of the biggest trends in the foodie scene right now, but it's a very delicious trend so I'm okay jumping on the bandwagon -- the caramel flavor in the ice cream is a little drowned out by the dark chocolate and bacon, but it's refreshingly cold on this hot day, and even without a strong salted caramel bass beat the lead guitar of bacon and rhythm guitar of dark chocolate crank out a great tune. I don't know what the drums would be, as I didn't think the metaphor fully through... let's say it's a jazz trio instead, and the upright bass and drums carry the tune even without the sax for a while. That actually works, too. Niiiice.

That having been our dessert, we decide to get one more bacon item for the road (to go along with the apple from Chutney Mary's), and Lucie's request is another Street Dog from Takoz Mod Mex. Unfortunately, I get my food trucks (did I mention just how many there are here? Most Moveable Feast events are six or seven trucks, so tripling the number is a little jarring) mixed up with my food names and we end up at the Road Dogs truck instead. In my defense -- Street Dog, Road Dogs... understandable, right? Right?

By the time I realize my mistake (read: check the notes app on my iPhone where I'm trying to keep track of everything we've been snarfing down) we're at the front of the line so we shrug and order from them anyway -- we stood in line already; might as well get something out of it. Ordering off the hot dog slider menu, Lucie goes for their Classic sliders and I go for the Cheesy Bacon sliders; I wait in line for them and get them packaged to eat at home while Lucie heads off to wait in line at Takoz Mod Mex for another Street Dog. The Classic is a cute set of beef dogs with bacon, homemade relish, brown mustard, and ketchup; and the Cheesy Bacon is a purist's idea of a bacon cheese dog -- two short beef dogs smothered in cheese sauce and a large mound of bacon pieces. These are sliders so it's technically a full size hot dog cut into two smaller pieces (or maybe a foot-long hot dog cut into three pieces for cost savings -- the pieces are cooked separately judging by the ends but they don't last long enough to take a really close look), but they're both very good and we end up eating what we ordered before belatedly realizing we could have split our choices and had some of each. That's actually okay, though, since Lucie says her Classic is very nicely made and is mighty tasty (just not at a Street Dog level), but I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it as much since I'm not much of a sweet relish person. Likewise, my Cheesy Bacon slider is pure gooey cheddary salty awesome in a soft sweet roll, but the cheese sauce wouldn't have been a big favorite with Lucie.

By the time the Road Dogs order is ready and packaged and I get over to Lucie, she's almost at the front of the line at Takoz Mod Mex, so the timing for waiting in line is almost perfect. Unfortunately, the timing for ordering food is not perfect, because they're out of the bacon wrapped hot dogs and have stopped selling Street Dogs for the day. Curses! We make do with a BLT Torta (Sorry, "TorTa", because in addition to an infrequent-letter discount I believe they also had some sort of deal on capital letterz), and also bring that home to enjoy once we're on a couch and not standing in direct sunlight. The TorTa is a BLT on a toasted telera roll, with the same avocado sauce and chipotle sriracha aioli that came on the Street Dog. The roll is still very nicely toasted, and the sauces are still a nice kick in the taste buds, but the bacon to bread ratio is way off due to the telera roll's thickness. It's still a decent sandwich, but the bacon is almost lost, which is a shame. Maybe it's just not enough protein because it's early afternoon and some trucks are already running out of bacon (the event organizer says that there are 5,000 more attendees than expected) so they feel the need to ration; maybe they just didn't think about the bread's size and figured that what would be a small-but-acceptable amount of bacon for two slices of sourdough bread would also be acceptable for a telera roll; maybe the guys at Takoz Mod Mex originally had tons of bacon in the sandwich originally but their cost would have been over the $5 maximum allowed price, so Takoz Mod Mex had to KompRomyZz; maybe their Street Dog was so darn delicious that anything else naturally pales in comparison... who knows? At least their Street Dog was freakin' awesome.


So maybe it wasn't exactly dinner at a four-star restaurant, or a private dinner at an oceanside gazebo with a personal musician and private waiter and hostess, but it was -- in my humble opinion, at any rate -- a very nice anniversary meal, on a beautiful day, with the woman I love, fairly close to the 12th anniversary of the day she said "I do."

And that makes it wonderful.