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.  


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.)




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


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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. 





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.

Panda in Paradise:  Big Island’s Biggest and Best, Part 2

Now, the biggest – the good stuff:

Biggest Hike:  To see the lava flows from Mauna Loa into the sea.  It’s literally the creation of new earth, and isn’t the easiest to get to.  I took the easy side, which was an 8-mile round trip hike on mostly gravel (and then some 10-year-old lava), in the blistering sun, with no protection from winds, swirling sand, and no facilities.

Not hardcore enough?  You can then walk over another 1.5 miles of lava to the steam vents of the lava tubes where liquid hot magma is flowing to the sea.  Walking on lava is not easy.  It crumbles and breaks without warning, can be sharp, and is wholly uneven.  There might be some scrambling, some leaps of faith, and while the lava isn’t hot from below, it’s definitely hot from the sun.


Yep, that’s me, frolicking across the lava.

If you are even more ambitious, and want to stick your nose in the lava, you can hike inwards over newer lava (just a few months old, sometimes), to see it flowing down from Mauna Loa.  I didn’t get to that part, as my poor knees and feet were so fatigued I could barely walk to the original viewing area, but had I gotten there earlier, and had better shoes and enough time, I might have tried it.

Biggest Living Surprise – The real Hawaii: When people think of Hawaii, and how much they loved their time there, it’s usually a trip to Maui, Kauai, and/or Oahu, and it’s typically on a honeymoon or romantic vacation.  Even when they say the Big Island is magnificent, they’re talking about Kona.

When I booked the AirBNB, the apartment looked adorable and had great reviews, but I did not research enough about the differences between the sides of the island.  The east side has a more angry and violent seashore, with few sandy beaches (most are lava rock), and they all have strong currents and dangerous riptides.  The east side is the real Hawaii, where people work and live and go to school.  There are no hotels, no white-sand beaches, and there are bugs EVERYWHERE – no fumigation here.


The apartment I stayed in was absolutely adorable, and the host was wonderful.  But it was located in an old, run-down former plantation town with one coffee shop, one other restaurant, and an odd glass shop that didn’t seem like it had ever had a patron.

Biggest Moment – Creation of New Earth

There was a lot of amazing stuff in Volcano National Park, but the most incredible thing was to witness the liquid hot magma flowing over a cliff, and into the sea.  This is literally the creation of new earth, of new land.  It was gorgeous, scary, and truly awesome.  It was a long hike and kind of a long wait to get in there, but as we all watched the waterfall of lava, it was a magical moment on the vacation.


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



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.


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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


I ate like a king.  My waistline concurs.

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.



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.