Hawai'i One-3, Day 10: Ali'i is Love

It's our last full day in Hawai'i, and it's a strange dichotomy of not much planned for the day but still a lot that we want to do, so we're up a little early and off to breakfast.  We had spoken with our waiter last night at Kai Lanai about where to find a decent macadamia nut pancake, and one of the places he recommended was the Big Island Grill, a favorite spot for locals.  It's definitely a local hot spot, we find out, as we have a little difficulty finding a parking place in the lot; but luckily there's a vacant location on the far side of the lot with an open spot, so we park and enjoy the sunny morning as we walk back to the building. The coffee is passable -- not our preferred medium roast 100% Kona, but not swill either -- and the breakfast plates are generous.  Lucie's macadamia nut and banana pancakes are the size of slightly-larger-than-normal Frisbees, stacked two high and slathered in buttery goodness.  I see an intriguing option in the menu and go for the shrimp scampi omelet.  It's shrimp scampi.  In an omelet.  Definitely good flavors, not shy with the garlic at all, and I'd order it again if given the chance... but it's still kind of weird to my brain as I'm eating.  My taste buds say yum, nose says yum, and gray matter says what the what?

After breakfast, we head up to our one scheduled appointment for the day, which is just a few miles up the Mamalahoa Highway.  From Mamalahoa, we turn right onto Kaloko Road, and drive for several minutes up the steep curvy road, crossing Hao Street, and a few minutes later we cross Hao street... and a minute or two after that, we turn right onto Hao street.  This is confusing for most people, but it's our fifth time coming here in four trips to Hawai'i (maybe it's only our fourth trip, but for some reason I seem to remember coming up here twice one time) -- I'm talking of course about the Kaloko Cloud Forest farm location for the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation, and it's always a welcome sight.  It's also busy -- busier than it was last time, which was busier than it was the time before that, and so on.  These guys have been getting more famous and popular in the years since Mike Rowe first visited them and featured them in his show Dirty Jobs back in 2005, and today there are two small tour buses and half a dozen cars parked along the road and in the courtyard of the Big Island's largest and highest (elevation-wise) organic coffee plantation.  We still have a few minutes before our scheduled tour, so we hit the gift shop -- located off the main courtyard in what looks like two connected shipping containers -- and fill up a couple of bags of coffee-scented lotions and coffee (whole bean, "American Roast" [their name for a light roast]), several T-shirts and a tank top that actually fit me (albeit a bit snugly, but that's only for now), chocolate covered coffee beans, some children's books for our coworkers, and assorted other items with coffee or Hawaiian themes.

Kyle, the nice guy running the register, turns out to be the host for our Roastmaster Tour, so after I bring our purchases out to our car we start roasting some beans.  It's another wonderful experience roasting, as I get to operate their smaller Diedrich roaster (which is still far and away a huge beast in comparison to the quaint tiny cement mixers used for the UCC roastmaster tour) and make a little over five pounds of coffee to a city roast.  I'm slightly bummed that they stopped providing the customized labels like they did last time for the bags the beans get sealed into for the final product, but that's certainly not a deal breaker -- it's really all about the beans.

As with every roastmaster event I've ever done, I once again totally geek out as Kyle walks me through the steps of roasting using the Diedrich -- keeping the vents closed until the machines get to the right temperature, dumping the beans into the drum, venting air at the right time to get the beans cracking, dumping the beans at a city roast -- just a little darker than the light roast of their American Roast, but much lighter than their Vienna Roast (and just forget about their French Roast.)  They're still using the huge 5-gallon Homer bucket to hold the beans before and after roasting, which just tickles me greatly; it's without a doubt the best smelling Homer bucket out there (unless there's someone who stores cooked bacon in one, in which case we need to FIND that guy and take the Baconfryer Tour which I'm assuming they offer.)

After I roast and then package the beans (heat sealed into nitrogenated bags, to preserve freshness), we head back down the mountain into town.  We stop at the UPS Store and ship a suitcase full of souvenirs and food items (and, of course, coffee beans) to my work address so we don't have to pay ridiculous airport fees (although, since it turns out that we ship three 25-pound boxes of stuff, it's still not exactly cheap using UPS either!), then drive back to the hotel.

From there, we decide to take one more walk along Ali'i Drive to enjoy the day before tonight's luau.  We walk up the mauka (inland) side of the road, stopping along the way at the Big Island Running Company to say hello, for Lucie to thank them for inviting her on their run a few days ago, and to buy one or two more items; then up a little further where we have lunch at That Taco Place (very wide range of ratings on Yelp -- they're very slow in bringing out the food, but that's just Island Time so no worries, and the food isn't spectacular but it is tasty so it serves its purpose, and since we eat our food sitting at the counter facing the ocean it's definitely a good experience); poking our heads into the Kona Square Mall marketplace, one of our usual stops (Country Samurai Coffee provides some good swag, but Island Silversmith has closed and they don't offer sarongs any more at the other store Lucie likes); buying more stuff at Del Sol and Whaler's General Store and Big Island Kine; then crossing the street to the oceanfront mauka side of the road and heading back to the hotel.  Along the way, we make more stops at two of the 4 ABC Stores along Ali'i, and at Keoki's Donkey Balls (again), and at one of the local guys selling palm fronds folded into roses, and at Hulihee Palace (we don't go in, though, because there's a coconut tree out front that keeps me at bay), and once or twice just to stop and enjoy the ocean view, and to watch the small crabs scuttling along the rocks just on the other side of the small breakwater wall along which we're walking.  It's a beautiful day, sunny and crazy -- but bearably -- hot, with the ocean twenty feet to my right, and the Island beneath my feet, and my wife next to me holding my hand; there's not much at all in this world that could possibly be better, and I am very content.

We attend the luau at our hotel that evening.  The food is good, as it always is; Lucie hurts her foot when we arrive, however, so we retire from the luau a little early and do our best to nurse the foot back to health by heading to the breezeway bar and having her raise it onto the wall as we drink frozen tropical drinks and watch the ocean.  Don's does a good job of making everything feel better (if maybe a little blurry after several drinks.)


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