Panda in Paradise:  Big Island’s Biggest and Best, Part 1

First, the best:

Best Beach – Waipi’o Black Sand Beach: You can’t really visit Hawaii and not go to a beach.  Unfortunately, most of the postcard-perfect ones are on the Kona side, and there are not too many around Hilo.  I ended up at Waipi’o Black Sand Beach, which turned out to be an amazing surprise.  The hike down was steep (25% grade), and about 1.5 miles long – which means you have to hike it back up.  But the water was unusually calm, warm, and the sand was blistering hot.  The beach is mostly locals, which meant it had the raw Hawaiian vibe.  No touristy stuff here.  And it was perfect.IMG_20170902_131215080

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Best Animal Encounter – Giant Sea Turtles: While there were lots of animals roaming around, from chickens, to wild goats, to mongooses (mongeese?), the best animal encounter was by far the giant sea turtles.  I was hiking on a beach on the Kona side, and much of the path was at most six feet feet wide.  Then, as I rounded a bend, there was a giant honu basking in the sun.  At first, I couldn’t tell if it was dead, but then it slowly bent its neck towards me and eyed me up and down.

While there were signs to stay 20’ away, there was no way for me to continue on my hike without coming about 2.5 feet away.   I figured I could snap a photo while quickly powerwalking over the sand (which is no easy feat, when you sink in about 8 inches with every step), and the turtle seemed unconcerned with my proximity.

Another 0.25 miles down the beach, the path narrowed, and I encountered two of them in the way.  Again, I figured a powerwalk was the best way, and I came very, very close to them this time.  They’re old, wise, and I think the animators of Finding Nemo definitely got it right.

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Best Park – Volcano National Park: I have no words, so I will let the pictures (more to come in a later post) speak for themselves. I also feel quite lucky, since the recent eruptions have destabilized the region, and the park has been closed for quite some time.  A visiting Hawaiian mentioned she was fearful it would never open again, and that we were privy to new earth, the goddess Pele, and something few people will ever get to see.

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Panda in Paradise – Hawaiian Vacation

Grad school started in 2.5 weeks, and I had roughly 15 hours of schoolwork to do prior to the first day of class.  This did not bode well for the next two years.

I needed to go on vacation – one last hurrah before I committed myself to 50+-hour workweeks and 20+-hour schoolweeks, on top of training for my third half-marathon and the typical end-of-year things like Christmas shopping, getting home for the holidays, and a New Year’s purge.

After much deliberation, I found myself booking flights and an AirBNB in Hawaii.  No, it would not be to the crazy capital city and insane waves of the north shore of Oahu, and it wouldn’t be to the cliché honeymooner island of Maui, and it wouldn’t even be to the lush gardens of Kauai.  It would be to the poor, rough side of the Big Island, about 12 miles north of Hilo, in a small town called Honomu.

With fewer than three weeks’ notice, I put in for the week of PTO, and started researching places to go.  It seemed that everything was in Kona, the resort area on the west side of the island – roughly 1.5 hours from Hilo. Looks like I’d have to make do with what I could do on my side, and while hindsight says I should have sucked it up and been more of a tourist, I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the week.

Was it Hawaii, or was it that this is the first time in my whole life I’ve turned my work email off?  Maybe a bit of both, but Hawaii is a truly special place of colored sand beaches, innovation and history, the magnificence of creation, and fried food.

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Crazy Cuisine: Hong Kong Edition

When in Hong Kong, you will have only Chinese food, right?  WRONG.

Culinarily, Hong Kong is a mirror of the many cultures that live and work there, influenced by the Chinese and a thriving expat community longing for a taste of home.  Yes, I had dim sum, but I also I ate Korean, burgers and fries thrice fried in duck fat, baked Alaska, honey mustard chicken, and Indian.

The top three things I tried in Hong Kong were:

Snake Soup – an expensive dish found only in the most traditional restaurants. It had mushrooms, abalone, and thinly sliced smoked snake.  I wasn’t thrilled with the flavor – I liken it to something between salty fish and a pink taco, but at $35 per bowl, I ate it.

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Street Food – No, you might not always know what you’re eating, but I promise it’s worth it.  Hong Kong is famous for its street food life.

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Fruitips – These are some of the most addicting little gummy candies I’ve ever had.  I bought over US $30 worth, and ordered some from Britain when I ran out.

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I ate like a king.  My waistline concurs.

Half Marathons

One of my under-30 goals was to run a marathon.  As you might know, 30 came and went three years ago, and I still have not run a marathon.

In place of this, I ran my first half-marathon in June of 2017, and my second in August.  Prior to the June race, the furthest I’ve ever run when not training was 4 miles.   To run 3x+ that was an insurmountable task, until I started training.  Also, now that I’ve successfully completed 13.1 miles twice, to run 26.2 sounds insane.  I think I’ll skip it…for now.

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I started running to curb my anxiety, and realized I loved it.  No, not because it helps me stay slim. I’ve not lost any weight; in fact, I’ve got these giant thighs that have been known to tear my jeans.  No, not because I like to win races; I’ve not finished better than top 60% at any race I’ve done.  Instead, I love it because it gives me time to focus on myself – anywhere from 30 to 150 minutes at a time.  Yes, 150.  Two and a half hours.  I’m slow.

I could wax poetic on the benefits of running – or the pains it causes.  But I think the biggest lesson here isn’t that running is great, or it will kill your knees, which it is and it can.  The big lesson here is that if you want to do something, it takes time and dedication.  If you want it bad enough, you will be able to do it.

I don’t think I’ll ever be competitive; I just can’t match the times of those with legs as long as my body.  What I will be, however, is happy and accomplished.  And who knows, maybe I will make a full marathon my under-40 goal.

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86! 12! 11! Hike!

One of the nice things about Victoria is that once you’re outside the city, you are surrounded in forests full of amazing hikes.  Weeble and HMR live in Houston, TX (they’re fine, btw – Hurricane Harvey left them relatively untouched), and they wanted to be outdoors in nice, cool weather rather than sweating their both proverbial and literal balls off in Texas.

Because it was their vacation, they chose the hike – around 7 miles round trip – through the forests.  We set off, and I was the idiot who found a beach area on a trail offshoot that was at a 45° angle over rocks.  The beach was worth it, but that up and down was brutal.   Had I known, I’d have skipped the extra half mile detour to the beach.

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I even made a friend on the beach!  They were everywhere, and this little dude was sadly too slow to escape our clutches.  We did let him go, but not after a key photo op. IMG_4195

HMR and Weeble met playing soccer, so they figured they would be fit enough to hike.  Unfortunately, they were a bit underprepared (I’d use the word “woefully” but that seems mean).  Pro tip:  Bring at least one more bottle of water than you think you’ll need, wear comfy, stretchy clothes that you won’t mind ruining with dirt and sweat, and if you are the type to get hangry, pack more food than you think you’ll need.

Despite HMR’s deliberate heaving, we still managed to make it to the end of the trail.  I know I overuse the word “gorgeous” when describing the vistas on these hikes, but I’m not sure there’s another word that would encompass what they actually are.

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VicTORIA!

My friend Weeble and his new girlfriend High-Maintenance Redhead (HMR) were going on their first vacation, and for some reason, they chose to travel around Victoria, BC.  I had never been there, despite it being a 2.5 hour ferry ride, and it seemed like a good excuse to see people and a new place.

People will tell you that Victoria is like a mini-England, and despite all the signs being in French, I’d say that’s an accurate statement.  There are botanical gardens (didn’t go), a castle (went), a lovely parliament building that lights up at night (went), a butterfly garden (didn’t go), a marina full of tiny houseboats (went), a really fun Chinatown (went), and a thriving food and beer culture (definitely went).

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It’s a cute little city – easily navigable both by car and walking, and there are some truly lovely sights to see.  And if all else fails, there’s always the food.  Fresh seafood, craft beer, incredible Asian food, and inventive cocktails.  And it’s all in dollarettes!

Night Market

When I lived in China, going to the Night Market and haggling with the vendors, eating the food, and people watching was one of my favorite pastimes.  You can’t really replicate that here, but when Lt. Dan  and her boyfriend Granola invited me to the Vancouver Night Market, I jumped at the chance.

It’s not a terribly long drive – just going over the border and then finding a parking place takes a little bit.  We got the multi entry card for $30, which allowed 7 admissions to the market and no lines, and then we wandered around.

Lt. Dan was a little hangry, so we got food first.  There are a hundred different things to choose from, but being an occasional Korean, I opted for jap jae and pajeon.  Fast-food-stand Korean is the best.  It was delicious.  Then I saw the hundred other stands with Vietnamese, dim sum, meat on a stick, Thai, Japanese, Indian…did I choose poorly?  Maybe, but I’ll just have to go back.

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We walked around, and I decided we were in the real-life, overpriced version of ebay China.  Everything you find on ebay that ships from China was at these stalls:  cute USB drives, scarves, printed t-shirts, toys, silly lamps, you name it.  I bought two scarves (I was freezing), but we decided to head back when we failed to find me a panda carnival prize.

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At least now, I know if I don’t want to wait the four-week shipping time, I can just head to the Vancouver night market!