Monthly Archives: December 2018

Day 16: Coming Home

December 20, 2018

And, then we went home. We did make it, (yesterday) safe and sound, back to the coldest of cold Northwest winters. But, first we had to travel, yet again, to get there – or here.

Because of my travel anxiety, I made my driver plan for an extra early exit from our condo in order to get to the airport with a three hour window. I couldn’t imagine what the crowds would be like, and every news program was reporting “the busiest travel time of year.”

So, we left the Royal Sea Cliff at 7:30; stopped to fill the car with gas at the Costco gas station (which opened at 4:30 a.m.); returned the rental car to Hertz; grabbed their shuttle to the airport; and arrived before there were any clerks at the Alaska ticket windows. We had printed our boarding passes and baggage tags, but we needed the nifty little plastic pouches to put the printed baggage tags into. There were none to be seen anywhere. And, there were no lines. There were no clerks! We were the only people there. We had to ask a cleaning guy if he knew where we could get an Alaska tag for our luggage. He kindly informed us the counter people would be out in a minute. They were having their morning meeting. (Or was it just their morning coffee? I wondered.) But, eventually, someone did come out and after trying three different keys in three different cupboards, found some baggage tag pouches for us.

We folded our printed pages and affixed them in the pouches and to our bags and went to the next check point – the agriculture check point. We had to send all our checked baggage through the agriculture screening before it could be checked with the airlines. Thankfully, there was no line and we walked right up to the conveyor belt and dumped our luggage on.

Then we wound around to find a TSA line, which at that hour was, thankfully, minimal. We had to remove our shoes, and cameras, laptops, tablets, game systems, and any snacks and put them in buckets to go through screening. Since I had all the tech equipment, I carefully took off my shoes first this time, before dealing with the cameras. They all happily took their conveyor ride through the x ray and waited on the other side for us.

Meanwhile, we were sent through a full body scanner. Stand here; face this direction; feet here, raise your hands over your head . . . “Ok, step, over here please.” There was another set of little printed feet where I waited, not knowing what would be next. The TSA agent came around and pulled up my left sleeve. “Oh,” she exclaimed, “It’s because you have two on.” And, yes, indeed, I did “have two on” as I wear a regular watch and a fit bit. When she saw my watch she exclaimed, “Oh, that’s pretty neat. Where did you get that? Online?” Yes, I replied, online. She liked it very much and wondered if they had it in men’s sizes because she thought her husband would like a watch like that. “This is a man’s watch,” I informed her. She waved me on. A moment later, as I was packing up my cameras after their ride through screening, she came back and took my arm again, pulling my wrist away from its packing chore. “What’s the name on that watch? I really want to get one for my husband.”

I can only imagine that little scenario took place because there was no one else in line . . . I hope her husband gets a new watch for Christmas. If she ordered it by today it might have time for delivery before the 25th.

Heaving a sigh of relief that we were through security without mishap, we found our gate (not hard to do as there were only 10 gates in the whole airport) and found a seat to camp out and pass the time until boarding at noon.

In the open air of the concourse of the airport there were men playing and singing while women danced hula dances. It was very mesmerizing – and their dancing and voices were lovely. Every airport should hire them to sooth the masses. Kona airport is also unusual in that they have no jet causeways. Passengers climb into and out of the planes on “old school” ramps and stairways in the open air. I guess it’s easy when you never have to worry about foul weather.

Eventually our time came to board the plane and we were off – about 20 minutes late by the schedule. But no matter. We were in the air and on our way home.

Six hours and thirty minutes later, we landed in Seattle and our son picked us up. The airport was packed to the seams by that time with holiday travelers. We were so thankful this was the end of our trip and not the beginning.

We got delivered to our doorstep after paying our driver with a pizza and salad dinner. It couldn’t have been a more perfect way to end two weeks in paradise. Home again.

It was wonderful to do; wonderful to be there; wonderful to experience and explore new and different places; but oh, so wonderful to be home! The entire excursion was graced and we are immensely grateful and filled with memories and pictures to entertain us through the winters to come.

Now, we get to enjoy the pineapples we shipped to ourselves. Just a little reminder of the golden sun and graceful, sweet taste of Maui.

Day 15: Final Attractions

Our last day was meant to be a “catch me up” day, in case we missed anything while planning our excursions. And, of course, we did find a few things we wanted to add. One attraction was the lava tube I saw from highway 11 on the way to Hilo the other day; and the other was the Old Kona Airport State Park. Both were worthy destinations.

We woke early and I took off for a walk down to a little coastal park. I wanted surf and sea pictures in the morning sun. Unfortunately, to get there I had to walk along the road, sharing the little trail with other walkers, bike riders, and of course, the cars and trucks that were whizzing by just inches away from us walkers. It was a little bit of a fearful walk, but one I wanted to make. There’s nowhere else to walk to get into town – and everyone does it.

I did make it to my photo spot and was glad that I did. The surf in the morning sun is quite different from what it looks like toward afternoon and even different than  at sunset. The color of the water seems bluer; clearer; the waves whiter and somehow frothier in the early morning.

In the distance a gigantic cruise ship was coming into Kona. It made me happy to think about the flying option. The ship probably housed more people than live in all of Kona – including the visitors in hotels and condos. It makes the number of people on a plane much more acceptable.

When I got back to our rooms, my driver had breakfast almost ready. We ate the last of our eggs and croissants, while making a schedule for the remainder of the day.

The next stop – the lava tube by the highway. When we found it, people were already there climbing and snapping selfies. The sight of it was almost as shocking as looking into the venting volcano caldera. A lava tube. What an amazing artifact of nature. Hard to describe, but amazing in every way. If we had had better shoes, we might have hiked down into the tube . . . others were doing it wearing flip flops. But we had recently walked over a mile on volcanic rock and did not wish to repeat the experience. Lava rock is sharp! Lava rock is very uneven! Lava rock does not make the best walking path to observe or see anything. So, we stayed close to the road near the opening, and then climbed a little ways to the top of the tunnel, where we could look down into it.

On the way back into town, my driver reminded me if we found a place to buy a belt, he could use a new belt. We stopped at Target, where they had no belts long enough. We went across the street to Ross and could not find a parking place as all of Kona was doing their Christmas shopping at this particular Ross. So, my driver sent me in for a belt while he circled the parking lot. I did find one, along with a lovely, large island bag to replace our  much smaller carry on. I thought it necessary for all of the purchases we made while in the islands. We had to have some way to get them home.

With a new belt and a new bag, we drove across the street to visit the Old Kona Airport State Park. The parking lot was once the airport runway and the beach ran the entire length of it. But, it wasn’t your usual beach – it was a rocky, volcanic rock beach – but quite beautiful. Some cloud cover was moving in and being reflected in the tidal pools, making the photos seem surreal. My driver decided to take off his sandals and test the water. Despite the high surf warnings all week, these tidal pools seemed safe. We had been enjoying the park for about an hour and the surf never came up as high as the tidal pools. We could see zebra colored fish swimming in schools in the crystal clear water. They looked like they should be in someone’s tropical fish tank in a living room, but instead, they were in their own tropical fish tank – the Hawaiian shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Before I could leave Airport Park, I had to walk through their gardens. They had the most plumeria trees I have seen since coming to the islands. I love plumeria and I wanted to capture a picture of some. Most of the ones I had seen were too high on their branches to make photography possible. But, here in the park, the trees were smaller and the blossoms at eye level. They are a beautiful blossom, and they smell even better than they look. The aroma of a full blossoming plumeria tree is intoxicating. December must not be the month for full blossoming trees. That’s just one little disappointment of this trip – not enough plumeria blooming to make that lovely tropical scent they are known for – and I love.

Driving past the Discount Fabric Store on the way back to our rooms, required one last stop. I just had to walk through one more time to savor all the island prints before going back to the mainland where all of this is difficult to come by. I had already purchased enough to start my own store . . . but one more look couldn’t hurt.

Stopping at the front desk, we asked to be able to print our boarding passes for our fight home tomorrow. We have less than twenty hours left here now. But, I think we covered the islands, the parks, and the adventures that we had in mind when we planned this trip last March. All that and a few cherries on top as well.

We fixed some late lunch and marveled at how our groceries we purchased the first day have been just about perfect for our entire week. We talked about our adventures and began to think about packing in anticipation of leaving tomorrow morning.

Just one last sunset to put a cap on this lovely escape to paradise. I walked down the causeway in our condo complex and took my pictures off the 7th floor landing. Then, I had to go down to the third floor and try some more, closer to the surf. It really is a shame sunset only lasts about five minutes . . . I could have stood there forever. The birds were chirping loudly, the surf was pounding rhythmically, gentle breezes were blowing, and all the visitors had their eyes glued to the horizon as the sun’s golden disc melted into the blue of the water, turning the sky pinkish gold. It was magnificent. I can hardly believe this is the first sunset I got to fully observe since coming two weeks ago. We have been exploring and enjoying and stopping for the sunset just didn’t seem to coordinate with our movements. I did see several sunsets from the car window, one from a restaurant window and one from the Steak Shack’s outdoor seating on Waikiki. Not too bad, really. We did enjoy every moment.

As I was about to leave my place at the sixth floor railing, I saw the huge cruise ship turn and leave it’s mooring at Kona. Those folks had less than a day here – hardly the way to see the islands. I do not envy them. My time – our time here, has been graced in every way. But, I will be ready to take my memories and my pictures and return home tomorrow.

Day 14: Relaxing, Island Style

There was no plan and no agenda today. This was to be an island day of relaxation. And, so it was.

We slept in until 9:15, had a slow and relaxing breakfast of eggs, yogurt and sweet Hawaiian bread toast. And then, cameras in hand, we went out for a walk toward a little park we had seen one day while driving.

Once again, the sun was bright, the air warm, and covered with sunscreen and bug spray, we perspired our way along the walk. At every opportunity, we took the public access path down to the shoreline and stopped to be moved by the beauty and mesmerized by the waves. At each point, the shoreline was a little different; the waves coming in along a different arrangement of rocks, thereby crashing altogether differently than they had just a few steps away.

We laughed at the Christmas yard ornaments depicting snowmen and other winter scenes while the weather outside was 80 degrees in the shade. I continue to marvel how many folks are wearing sweaters and jackets, presumably because they are cold! It is very hard to remember it is only a week before Christmas. We are enjoying this winter-summer in every way. News from home is that the weather is cold, rainy and windy. No big surprise; that’s typical Christmas weather for the Northwest. I suppose someone from the frozen Midwest would just as easily laugh at our outdoor Christmas ornaments decorating rain drenched yards. We each celebrate Christmas as we can, I guess. Yet, this weather is really preventing me from thinking Christmas is near.

Along our walk, my driver picked a plumeria blossom for my hair and it smelled wonderful for the rest of the day.

We reached the little park and sat in the shade for about an hour just being entertained by nature’s display. There were about six men out in the waves attempting to surf, which added to our entertainment. I don’t think the waves were actually big enough for the surfing they wanted to do, but it was very fun to watch them. Look closely just over the tree branch and you can see one of the guys on his surfboard.Walking back toward the Royal Sea Cliff, we stopped at an outdoor market and examined the local wares. It was such a pleasant experience next to what it was like shopping in Honolulu or Maui. There are many visitors here, but nothing like the populations on the other islands. We enjoyed each different place, though, and rejoiced in the particular differences.

After our exercise, we determined we must have a nap. So, in the heat of the afternoon, we slept and waited for the cooler climes of the late afternoon and evening. When we woke, we decided to go see one of the laval tubes we has seen while driving past it yesterday. Only, then we decided not to. It was so lovely just doing nothing.

Because we had done nothing else all day, we opted to go out to dinner rather than eating in. Looking up options, Kura Thai sounded good and was very attractive to my driver as he loves Thai cuisine. So, to Kura Thai we went. And, it was fabulous. Probably the best Thai food I have ever had – but then I’m not much of a judge as my appreciation for Thai food is extremely limited. We were delighted to find such a great place; that makes four out of four for the Big Island. The best food in Hawaii is on this island; so say these travelers.

Coming back to our rooms, we arrived just in time to catch the last hints of the sunset. It was glorious. As was the day. A relaxing, quiet, lazy, island day. Filled with grace, wonder, appreciation, gratitude and incredible restorative properties.


Day 13: Tropical Hawaii

After days on the dry side of the island, and two excursions into lava beds and steam venting volcanoes, today we opted for the tropical experience by visiting the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, just north of Hilo.

We had breakfast and set out, getting on the road by 9:15a.m. We thought we were doing well with the time. Taking the scenic route north and around the coast on highway 190, it took us just over two hours to make the trip. There was a stop in there about 11:00 in the town of Waimea. It was a lovely little establishment that grew up around the Parker Ranch – which still operates today. I spotted a Starbucks, a sure sign of civilization, and of course a coffee sounded good to my driver. We also made this a comfort stop, and I took some time to explore the Parker Ranch Store while the coffee was being made. I found a tiny pair of plumeria earrings that just caught my fancy. They probably cost less than the coffee, but I just thought they were cute and couldn’t be passed up.

About 11:45 were in the vicinity of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, but we were very unsure we were on the right path. Gypsy had us go off the main road and toward the ocean on skinny local roads that wound down the cliff side. There were private homes and absolutely no signage. It was correct, however, and once we found it, we paid our admission to see the tropical wonders Hawaii has to offer.

The gardens are a private enterprise started as a dream in 1978 and open to the public in 1986. They are comprised of 37 acres of tropical plants that take one from 120 feet above sea level down to the rocks at the base where the ocean licked the shore.

Just walking into the gardens, we were awestruck with the beauty and enormity of the plants; the delicacy and intricacy of the flowers; and the variety and selection of all different kinds of palms, ferns, orchids, and numerous species of flowers and trees I could never name, nor have I ever seen before – all exquisitely, colorfully, beautiful.

We walked every path and back again, admiring the wonders of nature and her abunant variety in the tropics. Finding our way to sea level, we were stunned by the immensity and power of the waves crashing against the volcanic rock. It was a heart stopping show. We could have sat there and watched the waves all day. The beauty was unparalleled.

Watching the water grind with force against the solidity of the rock formations, I couldn’t help but think of the endurance of nature. Over time, these waves will likely reshape the rocks and reform the beach. But it does take time. How impatient we are when encounrtering resistence. If something doesn’t work the first time, we are likely to give up and try something else. But, the slow, certain, work of the waves simply continues until the reshaping takes place. If only we could have that kind of persistence when it comes to reshaping ourselves; when it comes to encountering new people and new ideas; when it comes to reaching out beyond our comfort level; when it comes to reshaping ourselves into good citizens of the universe, at home in places as far flung as these tropical islands. Yes, it does take time, but I do believe it can be done.

We were hesitant to leave the wonder of the botanical gardens, but we needed to rehydrate and had another spot to explore before the sun would pull the shades on the afternoon. About six miles away was ‘Akaka Falls State Park, with one of the most photographed spots on the Big Island. We set our Gypsy and turned in that direction.

Easily finding the park, we paid our parking fee and gingerly took to the steps that lead us down into a jungle ravine. And, we went down and down and further down. The trees and palms rose above us, the vines twisted and tangled overhead, and the insects inspected us as we walked by. (Thankfully, the insect repellant we purchased last night seemed to be working! No small grace.)

We were truly in the jungle, deep down under a canopy so thick there was little light making its way through. And then we turned a corner, went up several stories of steps and came face to face with ‘Akaka Falls, in all its pristine beauty. The falls itself is twice as tall as Niagara Falls, but only a fraction as wide. Still, it was impressive. Several visitors along the path asked us to take their pictures, and they in turn, took ours. It was an international group, and so fun to exchange with folks from so many places.

All the beauty and wonder fed the soul, but our bodies were crying to be fed. We drove into Hilo for the dinner hour and rather than trying to find another excellent place to eat, we opted for a known quantity, The Hilo Burger Joint. Just as before, we dined on their superb burgers and fries, salad and ice cold water. Only this time we each chose a different burger, and both of us determined they were better than the ones we had here only two days ago.

The long day required a drive back across the mountains in the dark, but my driver did a masterful job. Having driven that road twice already in the daylight, he felt confident. We made it back to Kona and the Royal Sea Cliff by 8:00. It was a long day, but one of the most beautiful days we have spent in Hawaii. Grace filled each moment in this tropical wonderland.

Day 12: History Hawaiian Style

Today was a day exploring the National Parks located close to us on the Kona side of the island. We broke fast with fried eggs, ham and Hawaiian sweet bread, the very best way to begin a day of learning about Hawaiian history. After cleaning up the dishes, we packed our hiking bags and water bottles and set out. The first stop was Kaloko-Honokohau, a spot preserving an ancient Hawaiian fishing village and a way of life experienced by the first peoples to inhabit this area.

To reach the village we had to hike a mile, in the hot sun, over a lava flow. The path, if it could be called a path was uneven, rippled by hot lava that dried as it oozed down from the volcano Mauna Loa. The ripples of lava looked much like a cake batter does when poured into a pan before it settles out; each ripple a different level; a different width; and with different widths between the ridges. Add to that, millions of volcanic pebbles amid the various flat piles of lava and some tree trunks that had managed to take hold in the harsh environment. Needless to say, it was very rough hiking. But, we did reach the village and the beach and got to enjoy the beauty of a little cove that must have made life here just a tiny bit easier to catch fish and make a sustainable living. Along the pathway back through the lava beds we saw some petroglyphs from over 200 years ago, before the Hawaiians had an alphabet.

It was a very interesting spot and almost like we had traveled back in time to a place of peace and beauty, where island life was enjoyed. It was such a hot, hot hike, however, that when we returned to the car I drank the entire contents of my 16 ounce water bottle! And, I’m not sure that was really enough! My driver was so exhausted from the heat and the difficulty hiking that he required not only water, but lunch.

A stop at Costco was on the itenieary because we needed gas. But, we also needed hearing aid batteries since the package my driver brought must have been so old that none of them worked. And, we used the opportunity to stop for a hot dog – the cheapest lunch around. I didn’t think I was hungry, but I had no problem at all eating that hot dog!

Our next stop was Pu’ukohola Heiau, the Temple on the Hill of the Whale, built in 1790 by Kamehameha I. This Heiau, or temple played a part in Kamehameha’s ascending to be king of all the Hawaiian islands. It was a fortress built entirely of volcanic rock, smoothed by the waves of the ocean. It’s believed the rocks came from another part of the island and that a human chain 20 miles long was created to carry the rocks from their original location to the site where the temple was built. The structure and the stories that accompanied it reminded me of some of the Aztec pyramids and their cultural mythology that we have seen in the Southwest.

We hiked past the Heiau and down to the beach to savor the views and the beauty. It was interesting to me that at several points along the way there were “gifts” left as memorials, or to honor the gods. The moon was rising over the mountains and the sun was beginning to make its way toward the horizon.

We returned to the car, dehydrated once again from the hot sun and the long walk, even though this walk was on a very well maintained path. We drained our water bottles again and enjoyed the air conditiong of the car, as we traveled on to one more point of interest. My driver wanted to see the farthest northern point of the island where the climate changed from drought and desert-like to a rain shadowed, tropical-like climate.

We could almost see the line across the road as the change happened. We watched black, lava landscape with wisps of weeds transform into green grass, flowers and trees. Not surprisingly, houses began to grow here, too. We drove on to the little town of Hawi, where my driver stopped at a little cafe for some coffee and I walked the couple of blocks to look in the gallery windows and admire the local crafts.

The drive back included a lovely sunset over the laval flows. When we arrived back in Kona we made a quick stop for some bug spray as I managed to provide the local mosquitoes with more than my share of their dinner today. I look like I have chicken pox but it’s only mosquito pox. I just don’t want to give any more blood to the local economy.

Arriving at our rooms once again, we cooked up some udon noodles with chicken and ate like we had not had lunch or breakfast, for that matter. It was a lovely, if hot, day filled with the most interesting historical facts about the locale and the first peoples who lived here.

And . . . my WordPress worked! A grace all its own.

Day 11: Volcanoes and More

Truly, there is nothing more frustrating than technical difficulties while trying to write about the wonders of the day. I simply had to give up last night or I might not have a device to record this on today. I’ll try again and hopefully all will go smoothly.

An early alarm of 7:00 a.m. called to us because today we had planned to see the Botanical Gardens in Hilo on the other side of the island. We wanted to be on the road early so as to see all the sights and be back before sundown.

Breakfast on the deck was lovely as we’d beaten the sun to the spot. But we didn’t linger as we wanted to enjoy the full day. Just as I was packing some water and snacks, I hear a whimpering “Oh no!” from my driver. He had just discovered our destination for the day was not open on weekends.

So, plan B was implemented. We would go to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park instead and save the botanical gardens for Monday. We packed out by 8:45 – pretty good for vacation time – and set out on highway 11 for some 80 miles around the edge of the island. The views were stunning, the roads windy and the foliage along the way gigantic. There are so many plants here that I know as little house plants on end tables, yet in their natural environment they are simply gargantuan. Just like something from the land that time forgot. It still amazes me as we drive by and I see them 100 times the size I’m used to seeing.

About 10:20 we required a comfort stop and managed to locate the one town along the route with a gas station and a convenience store, Naalehu. As my driver bought some coffee, I browsed the little mini mart and my eye caught what my nose smelled . . . the aroma of fresh baked bread. What I found was Hawaiian Sweet bread from Punalu’u Bake Shop, the southern most bakery in the United States. That heavenly smell was coming from the stack of square loaves, about 18 inches long that looked strangely like angel food cake loaves. I simply had to have one. And, it was heavenly – in every way! All afternoon everytime we opened the car door we could smell that sweet Hawaiian bread as if it had just come out of the oven.

Not to be distracted with sideline attractions, we traveled on and made it to the Volcano Visitor Center by about 11:30. Since much of the park is closed due to the recent eruptions, the first thing we noticed were signs all over the place saying there is no active lava flow in the park this week. So we asked a ranger for her expert advice on where to go to safely see the volcano. She advised us not to miss the steam vents along the crater’s rim. So we hiked half the rim of Kilauea and could see steam escaping from various vents all along our walk. When the winds blew, the vapor floating past us felt hot – that’s very hot! It felt as if we had just opened the oven door to a blast of hot vapor in our faces. Our sunglasses fogged up and despite the heat, I was covered in goose bumps. It was very eerie.

You have to physically be there to experience the enormity and vastness; the unpredictability and the wonder of Mother Nature at work. I can’t describe the feeling when I first caught sight of the crater, or what it was like to stand at the rim and look into the caldera. We have been to Mount St. Helens and have seen the crater that blew out the side of the mountain — from several miles away. But today we were STANDING looking into the crater formed in May of this year, when Kilauea blew; actually seeing and feeling the steam venting literally at our feet.

After such an astonishing experience at the crater’s caldera, we hiked back to the car and drove to another suggested viewpoint to see lava beds from a blast that occured in 1974 – when we were in college. Despite such destruction, there is life coming back among the basalt. Life is tenacious and even in the midst of upheaval, life fights for survival. It’s an inspiring sight. There is much we could learn from the messages of nature. 

Leaving the park, we went in search of some refreshment. We found it at Hilo Burger Joint where they served a juicy, piping hot burger complete with crispy hot fries and fresh salad. It could not have been more refreshing. 

One last stop in Hilo was required before going back over the mountains to the Kona side of the island. My driver had found another Discount Fabrics in Hilo, a much larger town than Kona, and he knew my delight in finding another candy store to visit. And, just as my driver predicted, this fabric store was bigger than the one we had just visited in Kona, and it was more delightful as well. I found two more pieces of fabric I simply couldn’t go home without. Now, we could return to our apartment.

As we drove between Mouna Loa and Mouna Kea on the way back, the sun dappled the landscape as it sunk to meet the ocean. It was truly beautiful. Darkness arrived before us, but by this time we could find our way in the night, as the landscape was becoming a bit more familiar to us. There was so much wonder and beauty in this one day, packed between sunrise and sunset on the Big Island.

A very, very full day, with never to be forgotten experiences, made for very, very tired vacationers. Hence, the trouble with the technology last night just about sent me over the edge and I just had to stop and go to bed. But, grace and beauty surmount it all . . . and we are still here to enjoy one more day.

Day 10: Finding the REAL Hawaii

We stumbled out of bed late this morning after our exhaustion of yesterday. But we fortified ourselves with a breakfast of egg and cheese croissant with a side of fruit and Pom Wonderful to wash it down. The deck was the first choice for dining pleasure, but we found it was way too hot in the morning sun, so we moved inside to the shade – still enjoying the same view out to the ocean.

I put in a load of wash, cleaned up the breakfast dishes and took a walk out around the property to explore. This is a massive establishment, and we are definitely in the “cheap seats,” but it is still so wonderful for us. We just love the timeshare amenities of a full kitchen and washer and dryer, not to mention more room to spread out and no housekeeping to come in to bother us all week.

My driver planned for a short excursion today out to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, The Place of Refuge for ancient Hawaiians. Not knowing at all what to expect of the place, we had stupidly not prepared for a walk in the sun and took neither water or sunscreen. But, no matter, we did enjoy the park immensely. We could have stayed all afternoon as it felt, sounded, smelled and looked like one would think of paradise. Really! Walking among the coconut trees and looking out to the ancient temple with the ocean as backdrop reminded one of James Michener’s Hawaii. We could see bright yellow fish, about the size of your hand, swimming close to shore. Some of the beach was cordoned off because it is a resting beach for sea turtles. Various birds called out and sang to each other as we walked over the ancient lava rocks and coral pebbles. The parks department has done a nice job of recreating structures that look like what was most likely in the area when it was considered “holy ground” and the sanctuary of the king. It still feels like holy ground to me today. The beauty is beyond question and grace fills every view in every direction.

After our walk of the grounds, listening to a ranger explain some of the historical significance of the site, and our drive back to our rooms, we were ready for a mid-afternoon snack of peanut butter and crackers, and a lot of refreshing, cold, rehydrating water. We stayed just long enough to snack, fold the clothes from the dryer, put another load in the washer, and then set out into the late afternoon.

Our destination was a fabric warehouse that serves this side of the island. And, it was like a candy store for this seamstress. I said that to the clerk as we were checking out and she laughed and said, “The best kind of candy – without calories.” Only another seamstress could really appreciate that. My driver helped me make several selections and I was delighted. The array of colors and patterns was a kaleidoscope of beauty. And, we will have shirts and table covers to remind us of this beautiful place.

We walked down the street and looked in a few shops as the Christmas lights came on and the other visitors looked for places for dinner. We returned to our apartment and made chicken caesar salad and humbow for dinner. It was delicious.

Today’s slower pace and natural, rugged  beauty was really an island gift. We both enjoyed it thoroughly.

Day 9: The Price of Paradise

13 December 2018

If there is a price for paradise, I think we’ve paid it many times over. We certainly paid for it last Sunday; and indeed, again today. I think we’ve paid every penny for this trip. What price, you ask? The price is travel.

After a quick yogurt and muffin in the room this morning, we finished packing and still had two hours before the shuttle would pick us up at noon. So, my travel partner read his book while I went out for one last walk through the paradise that is Ft. DeRussy and Waikiki. It had been windy overnight and all the evidence lay about the grounds like Mother Nature’s trash. Palm berries and nuts; huge palm fronds; as well as various other leaves and branches were strewn all over the park. There was a man with a little tractor and trailer driving around picking them up. He must have a really big clean green can for all he was collecting! I took a few last pictures in the bright midmorning sun and returned to the room to join my travel partner in checking out.

We left Luana Waikiki after paying an ammenties fee for amenities we did not use once. Well, that’s not true. We did use the Wifi . . . to the tune of $25 a day! But we were in paradise and that makes it all worth it.

Robert’s shuttle picked us up promptly at noon and took us direct to the airport. As we got off at the Hawaiian gates my heart stopped. There were thousands of people milling about and there seemed to be no order at all. Not only that, there was no signage at all. We had said a prayer of thanksgiving after printing our boarding passes yesterday and seeing we were TSA prechecked. But now, here in the airport, we couldn’t figure what line was what and there were several snaking all over the check-in area.

After several false starts we finally located the “inter-island travel desk” and got our luggage tagged. Then we had to stand in a long line to get our luggage to the check-in area. Once we arrived at the head of the line the woman said, “No laptops or computers in any of these bags, right?”

Wait. What? “Yes, he has a laptop in his bag.”

“It has to come out. You have to carry that on.”

“But we looked it up and it said we could put laptops in our checked luggage.” (No acconting for the fact that we’d already checked that laptop on two other flights in the last week!)

“Well, think about it. If a battery burns up and it’s in the hold we can’t stop the fire. You have to have it with you in the cabin so if it starts a fire, we can put it out.”

So, now the flight attendants are also firefighters? I’m sorry, I don’t mean to disparage anyone, but each person along the way making up their own rules just about sends me over the edge. But what can you do? If you don’t want to stand in this line forever . . . if you want to get on the plane . . . if you expect to check your bags and move on . . . you open your suitcase in front of God and everyone and take your laptop out so you can carry it (along with the two other items you have to carry on) over to the TSA check point. Which was yet another long line. . . . But wait! We were prechecked- where do we go for precheck? To another long line, of course. (Still, I have to be honset and report it was not as long as the other line, but it was long enough.)

So we get up to the front of the TSA precheck line and the person says “Nothing out of the bags, sir. You don’t have to take anything out of the bags.” Well, it wouldn’t be out of the bag if the last person hadn’t told me I had to take it out! So now we have to fumble to find a place to fit the laptop into the already stretched to skintight bag – but it did fit. And, we didn’t have to take anything else out of our bags. We got to leave our shoes on, too. What a treat.

By the time we made it through security we were exhaused. We found our gate and took a seat. My travel companion went to find coffee and a sandwich while I watched our bags. The flight left on time and was another short trip from the island of Oahu to the Island of Hawaii. The fun part for me was I got to sit by the window and see us flying over Oahu; Molokai; Maui and Hawaii, where we landed. It was easy to spot Waikiki, Diamondhead; Lahania and Haleakala from the air. It was a beautiful clear day, although at 23,000 feet, there were a few clouds.

Landing in Kona, we deplaned down an old-school ramp and into the open air gates of the airport. Each gate was a little hut and all the surroundings areas were out in the open air! After some searching, we found the direction to baggage claim. My travel partner made the comment that if you were a sign maker in Kona, there would be no work for you, since it’s quite obvious no one is making signs here.

As soon as our bags came up we took them out to the street and there was a Hertz van just waiting for us. He took us directly to the rental car lot and we picked up the car we will have for the week, a Nissan Altima. We fired up our Gypsie (that’s GPS, for those of you you haven’t traveled with us before) and followed her directions to the Royal Sea Cliff Kailua-Kona and checked in.

Our rooms are lovely. The condo is on a cliff and we have a deck looking out to the ocean. We are not as close to the water as we were at Maui, but it is very nice. It’s a one bedroom unit with full kitchen and a deck that joins the living space and bedroom. The sun was just beginning to set as we brought our bags in and started to make ourselves at home. It will be nice to have this as a base for the next seven days.

Now, for something to eat! I was starving as I didn’t have a sandwich at the airport. My driver (yes, he’s turned back into my driver, but is still the same lovely traveling companion) had scoped out a place called The Harbor Grill. Some just plain, good food sounded like the best. We found the grill and had a very satisfying dinner in the open-air dinning room right at a little harbor. As we ate, the sky turned pink and golden; purple and gray, to dark as the sun set.

Next order of business: a trip to Costco for some supplies and an auxilary trip to Safeway so we can stock our little kitchen and have the makings for a few inhouse meals.

Settled now, I think we will be able to relax a little. This travel business is a high price to pay for paradise, but I’m hoping this time and this place will all be worth it. It has been so far. I just have to remember nothing is free. If I want the beauty of an exotic destination, I have to be willing to put up with the price of traveling there. Arriving is its own grace. And, the place is beautiful.

Day 8: A Photo Day at Waikiki

Since this would be our last day at Luana Waikiki, I decided this must be a day for photographs only! Starting out with the one complementary “all you can eat” breakfast bar, courtesy of the hotel, we sat leisurely through breakfast. Soon we determined there wasn’t much point in “all you could eat” since the first helping wasn’t all that appetizing. Nothing was hot unless it came right from the toaster, and the tiny space (only 4 tables) began to be so crowded there was little to no service. Yet, we did manage to find enough to satisfy and send us out  into the day.

Others don’t always understand or share my excitement for photography, so my travel companion made the decision to relax in the room and catch up on some emails, the news, and his novel which is getting exciting.

I took my big Nikon camera and retraced steps with scenic views I wanted to capture in the morning light. Along the way, I enjoyed a variety of birds; their songs; little children delighting in the surf; butterflies alighting the brilliant tropical flowers; as well as tiny birds feeding on the iconic Hawaiian flowers. A couple from England struck up a conversation while I was shooting away. They wanted to make sure I had seen all there was to see in the area. They were leaving in just an hour – and I had a whole day yet. I rejoiced with them that they had seen so much and had enjoyed their vacation, assuring them that I would do the same. I sensed there was just a tiny bit of sadness on their part as they reflected on leaving this island paradise.

Taking over 300 pictures, I realized I should probably rejoin my travel companion and stop for some hydration as well. It seemed hotter today than previous days. I walked back toward the hotel and reviewed my pictures. I can’t wait to see them on my computer at home. Traveling with only minimal technology always seems to be a trial.

My travel companion was itching for a nap, so I got my hat and camera and went back out walking in the other direction. There seemed to be more people every minute, as if the “prime time” at the beach was approaching. But, no matter. I enjoyed the sights anyway. On my way back I stopped at a few shops we had skirted past yesterday and made a purchase or two; ensuring we would have some breakfast in the room before starting out for the airport tomorrow. And, each time I return to the hotel I’m reminded it really is Christmas time. Their tree is beautiful and it will be the only tree we have this year! I might as well enjoy it as someone took all that time to decorate it just for us.

Sometime later my travel partner woke from his nap and was ready to go down to the beach for sunset. That was my bookend for the day. I wanted sunset pictures and perhaps a better shot of Diamond Head, since the morning sun does not do it justice.

As we stepped out, it began to rain – a soft, gentle, misty, island rain that gradually accumulated enough to get us thoroughly wet for a few minutes. I didn’t want to expose my camera to such elements, so we opted to find some dinner first and hoped to see the rain stop so we might catch a sunset a little later.

Since we were already walking in the direction of The Steak Shack, we decided that would be a fine place to celebrate this momentous day. Exactly 44 years ago today my travel partner and I first met. Just about this time of night. And my life has never been the same since. So, we have now spent over two thirds of our lives together. What a grace it is to have such a traveling companion; driver; best friend; lover and father of our children. And he’s the only person in the world I would stand with in the rain on Waikiki Beach. A dinner at The Steak Shack seemed so appropriate.

As we were finishing up the last of our spinach salad, steak and rice the clouds parted, the blue sky immerged and the pink of the setting sun painted the horizon. We cleaned up our little picnic table and walked out onto a quay that was right in front of The Steak Shack. I photographed and documented the sun taking its leave of this day. It was breathtakingly beautiful. And, right beside me was my best friend of 44 years, still taking my breath away, too. There is no greater grace in this world.

We walked slowly back to the hotel reminiscing the events of that evening 44 years ago. It was the perfect cherry on top of a perfect day.

All that needs yet to be done is getting packed up so we can make our connections to the airport and the Big Island tomorrow.

Day 7: Waikiki by Foot

Without a car we had little choice but to explore the beach at Waikiki and surrounding areas by foot. But we had planned it that way. That’s what we wanted to do. And, do it we did.

After a breakfast of yogurt and a muffin purchased from the ABC store last night, I went out with my tracker and walked down the beach and back again for three miles. It was lovely. The sun was shinning and a few spotty showers moistened the area, but it was altogether “magical,” as the kids would say. I enjoyed the sights, the sounds, the flora and the fauna.

I started out by turning right out of the lobby and right again into the grounds of old Fort DeRussy, which is now a city park. For almost 100 years it was an Army recreation center and served as a major place of R&R for soldiers from Vietnam.

By the time I got back from my walk, my walking partner was ready to emerge and walk with me. While out, I had passed Battery Randolph, now an Army museum in the park. Unfortunately, it didn’t open until 10:00, so I walked on. Now, deciding where to go and what to do, I suggested we might start our day with a visit there.

It was a lovely museum and by the time we had finished going through the history of the U.S. Army presence in this area through six wars, we were long over due for some substantial lunch. My walking partner had scoped out The Steak Shack while I was in the museum bookstore, so we set out trying to follow our tracker to this lunch destination. The only problem was, we simply couldn’t find it. We would walk one way and then another. Back the way we came and back again. The Steak Shack was illusive. But we did not give up. Stumbling on a Starbucks, I went in to ask how to get to The Steak Shack. The directions reminded us of directions in D.C. – where there are no straight roads or 90 degree turns. But, eventually we found the Waikiki Steak Shack and were glad we did. It was fantastic. Just a little shack, they served only one thing: steak, rice, and salad. Your only option was how much steak you wanted – 6 oz.; 10 oz.; 12 oz.; or 14 ounces – and what kind of dressing you wanted on your spinach. When our boxes were filled, they called our name and we followed the line before us to get a little picnic table and sit by the beach to eat. While enjoying our steak we met a couple from Illinois enjoying their steak, too. We commiserated about the price of food here and its mediocre quality; but both of us agreed The Steak Shack was a priceless find.

After lunch we walked on through the winding trails of hotel lobbies and street shops that wove their way along the beach route. The sun came out. Then it would rain and the sun would come out again. At the International Market, an outdoor market on the street, we felt like we were running a gauntlet to get past all the hawkers vying for our attentions. But we did stop and buy a few trinkets. One thing we learned about ourselves is we are poor hagglers. When the expected thing to do is haggle, we sadly come up short. So, I’m sure we paid much more for small things than we should have, but I think this entire state survives on a tourist economy. At least we felt we did a little to help support that.

We sat along the beach for a while and enjoyed the sun as the surf rolled in and the people strolled by. Then we walked back to our hotel to get off of our feet. We watched the national news for the first time in days, then went out in search of a light dinner. We wanted not only lighter fare, but a lighter fare. We actually found neither, but we did have an interesting walk trying to find the place. We did our usual – walk this way and back again; no, this way and back again, before a kind pedestrian overheard us and asked what we were looking for. “Roundtable Pizza,” we answered. She informed us it was located in the Royal Hawaiian Village, and even then we couldn’t find it by a direct route.

I’m convinced everything here is difficult to find so that you lose your concentration and give up, settling for something else along the way. But, we did eventually find the Roundtable and got a salad and small pizza to share. It still totaled over $50!

But the walk back to the hotel along the beach at night was worth the price. No one else was about and the birds were singing; the waves lapping; the stars shinning and a periodic gentle rain falling. What a wonderful way to end a day of exploring Waikiki by foot. Having seen and explored everything we could in a day, now we’ll put our feet up for the rest of the night.