Author: Jenna

I'm sassy. I love pandas, cars, and Louboutins. I am a nerd, a racer, a dreamer, a runner, an artist, and a musician. I try not to look back in anger, and I believe in the Oxford comma. I have my regrets, and some are bad enough that I might go back and do things differently, but I'm working on accepting the consequences of my choices and actions, however good or bad they might be. I love good beer. I like to cook dinner and analyze life, while laughing and taking things in stride.

Park It

If you want the “Hawaii movie experience” you need to stay on the Kona side.  The white sands, the warm aqua waters with big, yet gentle waves, the dolphins and fun snorkleing…Hilo was definitely not that.  It was like a completely different island, just an hour’s drive away.  Yes, that means Big Island is bigger than Rhode Island. And Delaware.  Combined.

If you do happen to find yourself on the Kona side and want to see a bit of how it used to be, head over to Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau park.

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The entrance was a bit tough to traverse, but once in the parking area, I was able to truly enjoy “Hawaii” that was closer to the movies than anything else.  There were lava walls, statues, huts, tools, boats – everything to take in about how the natives lived so many years ago.

The statues carved from what looked like solid tree trunks were impressive.  I am guessing they are protection gods, since some were in the water, facing the water, and so forth.  The amount of detail, especially given how they are so exposed to the elements, is really something to behold.

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I am not sure what the large triangle hut is, but it was too big and exposed to live in, so I assumed it was a shelter for a boat.  Cue Moana song. It’s okay.  I’ll wait while you sing along.

Inside one of the (actual) huts, there was an example of how the native dressed and lived on a day to day basis.  I’m sure they did tons with coconuts, because they were EVERYWHERE.  I’m also pretty sure there were gigantic edible mulberries, but seeing as I only had a few days left in my vacation, I didn’t want to end up in Poison Control while trying to channel my inner hunter-gatherer.

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If the little dish on the left is a serving plate, I’d be bikini ready in no time.

My favorite was walking along the beaches to more secluded spots.  The sand is HOT, you sink like crazy (hello, leg day!), and it’s a really killer walk along the shore to get to various parts of the park.  Some of it is over lava rock, so be careful because if you slip, it will hurt.  Ask me how I know.

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After a slightly treacherous trek, the beach narrowed to about four feet wide.  It was going to be either sharp rocks or a thicket.  Why not ford ahead?  Well, in these historical parts, you have to be cognizant that there might be other visitors.  Like, big, thousand-year-old ones that stare at you like you’re taking up their sun.  If you do meet a turtle, it’s best to snap a really quick photo if you can, from a safe distance and keep walking.  They were here first, after all.

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Spamalot <3

Here’s a pro tip about Hawaiian food: it’s not all Spam. While Spam is delicious and a staple food, it’s not all the islands have to offer.

Personally, I think musubi is a delicacy and should be offered in all 50 states.  I realize this puts me in the minority, but during the trip I went to Kawamoto Store twice and spent about $50. On Spam. (OK fine, also on fried Ahi and Korean Fried Chicken, but also on musubi).

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During a lazy Saturday morning, a venture into Hilo led me to a farmer’s market.  I picked up a few things, including an unidentified fruit and an avocado the size of my head.  The farmers markets are big, hot, crowded, and a tropical dream.

There are (obviously) tons of fruits and exotic items you’d never get on the mainland, but there are also giant bouquets of flowers, clothing, arts and crafts, and ready made food.  One thing to note is that the fruit is definitely larger than it is at home, which means be prepared for a massive pineapple and a banana the size of….well….you know.

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Rambutan, two mangoes, the giant avocado, and the other thing…..

There’s a heavy Korean influence (at least in my humble opinion) and so another meal got me some short ribs, with egg and potato/macaroni salad. Things tended to be either grilled or fried (nothing in between), so pace yourself accordingly.

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In a moment of weakness, I did hit a Costco in Kona.  They have tremendous poke, slabs of sashimi, and tasty nigiri for pretty cheap, and it was all super fresh.  It was a nice surprise, and now I want that poke in my Costco at home.  Because who doesn’t need an industrial sized package of fatty tuna for their next party?

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Hawaiian food is something of an anomaly.  While I couldn’t identify anything distinctly “Polynesian” or “native island,” what I did see was a melting pot of East and Southeast Asian, VERY American (hello again, Spam), with a splash of local delicacy (fish and fruit).  It’s an interesting thing to get used to, but if someone told me I had to live in Hawaii, at least I know I’d love the cuisine.

Third Time’s the Charm

As some of you may know, Lt. Dan and I attempted this hike in 2017.  Here, let me refresh your memory.  If you’re lazy, the TL;DR is that we didn’t make it, we blamed it on a time crunch, and it was hard.  Really hard.

But it’s two years later now, and I felt ready to try and tackle this mysterious mountain.  I asked Louboutini and my friend Same-O to join, and off we went.  Protip #1:  Get an EARLY start.

We arrived at the trailhead around 12:30, which was roughly 2 hours later than I had intended, but what are you going to do?  That’s right.  Nothing.  Off we went, and just as I remembered, it was pretty tough right off the bat.  A mile of elevation gain in a 4.5 mile hike is not for the faint of heart, and you do need to take it slowly.  It’s so steep that our pace was closer to 1mph, rather than our normal 3-ish.

 

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The real challenge, however, was not what you’d expect.  The switchbacks are so intense, and so…UPWARDS that you might miss where the trail goes.  And given that the trail is (at its widest) only 2 feet across, you might just keep going straight.  Obviously I had a brain fart on the key lesson of autocross (and life):  LOOK AHEAD, WHICH IS SOMETIMES BEHIND YOU.   So the three of us trekked on what (arguably, and in our defense) looked like a trail, until it didn’t.

Using Google Maps, we sent Louboutini and his long legs to scout out where the trail might be.  He managed to figure out that we’d been traversing parallel to it for some time, and realized the trail was up the hill.  The hill of fallen trees, bramble, and just a hair away from a landslide.  So up we went.  Vertically.  Same-O isn’t tall, but he’s certainly taller than I am, so this wasn’t as difficult for him as it was for me.  I have the cuts on my legs to prove it.

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The “way to the trail.”  I don’t see a trail there, do you?

Sigh.  At least we were on the trail, but alas, the treacherous journey was just beginning.  Fall #1 occurred when I was trying to give some GenZ “hikers” space to pass, and my legs had just about had it.  While I ended up more embarrassed than hurt, we were all pretty relived I stopped falling when I did, or else it would have been a long, LONG way down.  Pro tip #2: Make sure your friends are ok before you laugh.

And the trail was steep.  Really steep.  Like, if I were in the first Indiana Jones movie, there’d be no way to outrun the big rolling ball steep.  Every time you thought it might flatten out for a bit, you were wrong.  You’d be so wrong, it’s laughable.  I’m imagining you thinking you’ll have a bit of a breather, and I’m laughing at you.  But really I’m crying, because this was leg day on steroids.  The illegal ones.

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While I could complain for hours about how HARD this hike was, and how TIRED we all were, and how much OUR LEGS HURT, and blah blah blah (no really, I totally can complain for hours about anything, so this would be no problem), we were definitely treated to some astounding views along the way.  Had we not had the snow-capped mountains, green water, and the majestic trees to soothe our souls, I don’t know that we’d have made it as far as we did.

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After what felt like MILES (okay, it was like 2), we came to a creek crossing.  It was nice to sit and relax, and run my swelling hands in the cold water.  Some hikers were returning, and they said there was about “another mile to the look out, but it feels like a mile and a half.”  Well, that settled it for me.  We were turning back, and we were going to have to get a move on.  I was cranky, bleeding, and tired, and there was beer to be held on the way home.

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I think I’m smiling because if I didn’t, I’d probably cry.  I was SORE.

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Given that the hike was six hours long (and I failed to reach the top yet again), obviously I’d have to pee at some point.  Fall #2 happened while trying to get far enough down the very steep trail to be out of eyesight.  Protip #3: DO NOT LEAVE THE TRAIL IF YOU DO NOT HAVE TO.  At least when I screamed, the guys asked if I was ok, but didn’t run down and therefore didn’t see me – because no one wants to see my bare ass covered in dirt.

After two falls, I was pretty frustrated. My knees had taken a beating, I was muddy (GROSS), dusty, sweaty, and tired.  Sure, I was defeated, but at least I was alive.  We made it back to the car, changed shoes, and toweled off.  Protip #4:  Carry cleansing towelettes with you (mine are from Costco <3).  They’re great for wiping off dirt, sweat, bug spray, sunscreen, and blood.  Or in case a bear needs to you-know-what in the woods. 

Once we were feeling a little more refreshed, we sadly left the trailhead parking lot.   Ok, maybe not sadly.  Maybe I was SO happy it was over and was THRILLED to be going to get a beer.   I was disappointed that we didn’t make it to the top, and had we started earlier/not gotten lost, we likely would have, but c’est la vie.  Same-O mentioned there were a few times he though he was going to pass out, but refused to be the reason we turned back.  Gee, thanks – now I’m the bad guy >.<  I don’t even care.  The beer was delicious and hard-earned, and my legs have never been so sore.  Eat your heart out, Stairmaster. 

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Me, limping down the bridge.  You can’t tell, but I can barely pick up my feet at this point.

So yes, another epic fail trying to conquer Sourdough Mountain.  This is the hardest hike I’ve ever done.  Harder than Heliotrope.  Harder than the ones in Arches National Park.  Two tries, and I still haven’t completed it.  Doesn’t mean I’m not going to try again, though.  This is my white whale, and I am Ahab sailing along (or limping, same thing) till I catch him.  Third time’s the charm, they say.  Someday, I tell you. Someday, I will get to the top.

And then I will have someone carry me back down.

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B.E.A.C.H.: Best Escape Anyone Can Have

I’m from New England, so I am quite familiar with beaches.  The movies always talk about the white sands of [insert tropical paradise here], so when my research led me to discover the black and green sand beaches of Big Island, I just had to see them.

Green: This beach is incredible to see, and while locals say it isn’t as green as it used to be, it’s still greener than any other sand I’ve ever seen.  It was a pretty hard hike (marred by locals trashing the desert and wanting to make a quick buck, and lazy tourists taking rentals out), but IMHO, was totally worth it and gives more of an appreciation for the natural beauty.

The hike was 2.6 miles each way through flour-like orange sand, in direct sunlight with gusts of wind.  You could step on what you thought was solid ground and sink in half a foot, something like walking in powdery snow, or you could be walking on hardened sand that felt like rocks.  It took the better part of 60 minutes, which is a glacial pace, but every grueling minute being sun and windburned was worth the view.

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Black: There is one black sand beach near where I stayed, and it was a short drive from Volcano National Park.  The sand is more like large grains of salt than tiny grains of sand, and it shines when you look up close.  It feels like heaven on your feet, and is simply beautiful to look at.

There are sea urchins all over the bottom of the shallow water, and there was a local diver harvesting them with a special tool.  I had the opportunity to look and touch one (“um, if you really want to,” he told me), and yes, they hurt.  A turtle was also hanging out, and unfortunately some Chinese tourists scared him and he floated back out to sea, but it was nice to see natural marine life.

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Volcano National Park

For the last few years, my travel mantra has been, “if there’s a national park, forest, or monument near my destination, I’m going to go there.”  So when I booked the trip to Big Island, a day at Volcano National Park was high on my list.

It’s not for the faint of heart; it’s unshaded, there are uneven and sometimes sharp surfaces, and it’s not a typical national park.  That being said, it’s got its own sort of majesty and beauty, not to mention the crazy and awe-inspiring views of new earth being formed.

The hike out to the lava flow is a long and treacherous one that starts of in the blistering sun and ends in the shivering cold of cloudless nights.  They do rent bikes, but I am a firm believer in walking, as you get to take in the sights slower, and therefore more thoroughly.

One of the most inspiring things is that you can see new growth all along the walk.  This proves that life will persevere, even in the most desolate of times.

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There was a travel group searching for the more dangerous flows, but I chose to wander over decades-old (and sometimes only years-old) lava to a steam vent, which proved only slightly better than utterly disappointing.  By now, my feet were killing me, I was definitely overheating, and I really wanted to see the main event.

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The main event, the real treat, was waiting on a lava cliff as the sun was setting to watch lava flow down from the volcanoes and into the sea.  I got as close as I could, but there were lots of ropes and signs telling us to keep off, due to suddenly falling earth into the sea.

By the time I realized I wasn’t going to get any closer than about a mile away, it was pretty late.  My feet didn’t feel much better, but sitting was a gem.  And  I will say, the sights were pretty spectacular.  I’m pretty sure I’ve exhausted all the words I can muster on the magnificence, danger, and its sheer enormity, so I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Helio-tripping

In an unscheduled break from the Hawaii chronicles….

As the Fourth of July weekend is typically a long one, or people tend to make it a long one, I needed to do more than just eat and drink and be merry.  After hosting a party for 10 on the 4th, where neighbors set off fireworks AROUND THE CORNER FROM MY HOUSE, I figured I needed to burn off all the Americana I’d consumed:  Burgers, beers, and brats.  

Three friends joined me in my quest to explore and expend calories:  Louboutini, Robot Chicken (RC), and RedvsBlue (RB).  RC and RB are pretty active and it was their idea to go for a hike.  After some deliberation, we chose Heliotrope Ridge.  I was a little apprehensive since it was rated as Hard, which on AllTrails, actually means HARD.  But who knows, it might not be so bad….so off we went.  

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It was about a 90 minute drive to the trailhead, and the last 8 miles was dirt, potholes, and a single lane.  We passed what looked like the remnants of a landslide, and decided not to linger to look at it, lest the mud giveway again and sweep us off the cliff. 

At last, we made it to the parking lot, and after suiting up (because it was COLD), we set off.  It was pretty steadily up, and I felt it in my quads immediately, but overall it wasn’t too difficult….yet.  In fact, I got this!  We’re all good!  We were talking, laughing, joking, and kept going….and we did ok for the first 2/3 of the uphill hike.  

I didn’t know Heliotrope was actually a flower.  We saw these lovely purple flowers all over the mountain, and realized they are wild all about town – we’d just never noticed.  While it will probably be a few weeks before all the wildflowers are blooming in full on the mountain, the various types of flowers we saw added splashes of color to an otherwise verdant-heavy hike.  (The spikey ones were my favorites, but yes, they hurt.)

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About 2 miles in, we were greeted with a sign.  I’ve never seen one on any hike I’ve ever done in my life.  But it was pretty awesome, and thoughtful of the trails association. IMG-20190706-WA0029

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Believe me.  You haven’t lived till you’ve pooped in a mountain toilet. 

While the hike said “hard” and the idea of hiking up far enough to see a glacier was daunting, we pressed on.  But it really wasn’t too bad, all things considered.  Sure, there were stream crossings (5!), and yes, there were “steps” that required me to lift my foot above the level of my hip.  But they were the obstacles that, looking back, you scoff and shrug it off.

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Nope.  Not a bad hike at all.  That was until RB said, “I have some bad news.”

We’d only climbed 850 feet, and were only about a mile from the end.  “But isn’t this about 2000′ of elevation gain?”  Well, yes, yes it is, and going about 1000′ in a mile is HARD.  Really hard.  While I had led the initial parts of the hike, I now fell back to 4th, because….well, I have little legs and it was hard.  Did I mention how difficult the last mile was?  Sure Miley Cyrus, it’s about the climb, until you have to climb THAT FAR.  I went slower, slower, and even slower still, but I was suddenly inspired, and the hike gave rise to a song:

Slow and steady wins the race
As long as you don’t fall on your face

I can’t say I followed the song to the T.  There were several times I nearly faceplanted into some Game-of-Thrones-esque slate.  And yes, I was tired, sweaty, stinky, and wanted to quit.  But I didn’t, and damn.  Was it worth it.

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After an extra 0.75 of a mile of climbing and scrambling beyond the trail end, up to another ridge, we stopped to take in the beauty.  Flowers plus blue-white ice, plus all-colored, all-material rocks.   Eat your heart out, Night King.  I’m the king of the world. 

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I would be remiss if I left out the critters we saw on the way back down.  There are marmots all over the mountain, and it was warm enough for some of them to come out and entertain us.  They are these big fuzzy things you want to hug, but then they let out a cry and while at first I thought it was some sorry hiker that fell in the crevasse, now every time I see the attached YouTube video, I laugh like a hyena.

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I would also be remiss if I were to leave out the part where I fell in the stream (pictured above) on the way back.  Yes, I fell in, yes, it was cold, no, I wasn’t thrilled.  It did, however, allow me to say “screw it” to trying to navigate the other streams though, so I happily splashed across since I was already wet. 

I have to say, of the hikes I’ve done since I’ve lived here, this ranks close to the top.  Another trip to Olympic National Park awaits later this month, but for now, it will be hard to usurp Heliotrope.  After all, this is America at its finest, on its best weekend. 

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Panda in Paradise:  Big Island’s Biggest and Best, Part 3

Disclaimer:  This post is short and has no photos.  While I was definitely in paradise, there were some things that made the trip difficult at times.

The biggest….less positive things.

Biggest Inconvenience – No bathrooms

Granted, Big Island is not all that touristy.  I’ve heard an argument that Kauai is the least developed, but I suppose that’s got to be taken with a grain of salt, since it’s a lot less populated and is quite tiny compared to the Big Island, but they have roughly the same number of yearly visitors.

In public places, like strip malls and parks, there are NO PUBLIC BATHROOMS.  In restaurants, a very busy Starbucks, and a large National Park, there was one unisex bathroom, and most were locked with a code.  Even in the brand new local McDonald’s, there was a single stall for each gender.  This does not bode well when coupled with the Biggest Annoyance, and when you have to pee like a racehorse.

Biggest Annoyance – Island Time: It’s anywhere from 20 minutes  to two hours from when you think or when it says. If you value punctuality, you will probably not enjoy yourself on the Hilo side.  That isn’t to say it’s all bad, as it forces you to stop and enjoy, but if you have a flight to catch, you might want to rethink your timing.

Biggest Disappointment – The Local Mindsets: I was saddened by this, as I have always thought of Hawaii as a place where nature is truly untouched and those that live there have a greater respect for the island and the environment.  What I found, however, was that they would sell the island out from under themselves for a quick buck, ignoring environmental and legal rules to maintain the sanctity of an area.  I saw barriers sawed, dragged, and knocked down in order for transportation to secluded spots.  I saw them litter, and I saw them basically desecrate the environment to make a few dollars.  Given the poverty I saw, I can’t say I blame them, because in the name of capitalism you are going to exploit the resources that you have in order to provide for your family.  But it still made me sad.