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.


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