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

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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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American AirBNB Horror Story

Because the Ginger and CDB were taking advantage of transportation, the Ginger decided to book us all an AirBNB in Sequim, so that we could have two days of exploring the park.  He found a place that was moderately priced, owned by “William,” and we all figured it would be fine.

It was a cute house from the 1930s, easily located, and in a quiet area of town.

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When we looked up the address, however, we found out that it was not a house, per se, but a business.  A hypnotherapy business, owned by “Brian.” It was called Life 391 (which now redirects to a company called The Memory Detectives).  There was a photo of Brian:

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We were spooked.  There was a bedroom with quite possibly the most uncomfortable bed on the planet, a waiting room with a futon, and an attic with a mattress.  There were several locked doors, the basement and attic had bars on the windows, and we were pretty sure we were going to be dissected in our sleep. We were on the lookout for weird hypnosis things – experiments, sleep talk, anything.  You never know.

You know what I do know?  They always kill the small one first.  AKA ME!

We spent fewer than 12 hours in the house – we would have spent more time, but a) we were scared and b) we did want to hike a good deal of the park.  When you have a face like that, and can scare four 30-somethings, perhaps you might want to rethink your rental.

Next time I’m booking the accommodations….

What a Hoh

When I moved from Texas, everyone said they’d come visit.  However, the only one I believed was the Ginger; he said he would come visit to go hiking.  The Ginger is from the Dirty Jerz, and has lived all over the country, so it’s not surprising he is less inclined to enjoy the rolling flatness of Texas, and he’d take the opportunity to escape the oppressive southern summer.

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We planned to meet at Olympic National Park, which would be my first trip there.  After picking him up around the University of Washington campus, we had a three-hour drive to figure out where to start.  After some deliberation between the Ginger, Louboutini, and the Ginger’s travel friend, Cheap Douchebag (CDB), we decided on the Hoh Rainforest (insert “hoe” jokes here).

CDB is not athletic, he is cheap (thus the C), he’s a haughty elitist (“Iiiii went to Harvard Laaaaaaw”) and he does not appreciate nature.  Nor does he appreciate people going out of their way to make it easier for him.  Needless to say, he was a very large damper on the whole thing – complaining, whining, going slow on purpose, not chipping in for anything, and repeatedly mentioning how he liked being in Seattle proper a lot better, with the restaurants, girls, and booze.  Despite his best efforts, however, he still couldn’t ruin the incredible experience we were about to have.

We chose what amounted to a seven-mile hike, that started in the Hall of Mosses.  It wasn’t difficult, but damn, was it beautiful.  Not everything that is gorgeous needs to be hard.

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The main hike would be through the rainforest, and be an out and back.  The trees are so much taller and wider than I’ve ever seen – this is what ants must feel like when they come across a twig.

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Yes, I realize how phallic this all seems…

Summer 2017 had been awfully dry in the PacNW, so the “rain” part of the rainforest was lacking a bit.  Only about 100 inches of rain so far, in an area that usually gets 200 inches a year.  I’m glad we didn’t get rained on, but I cannot imagine the area being even MORE green.  I felt like I was stuck in Kermit the Frog – not that it was a bad thing.

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Vancouver – Stanley Park

When you’re so close to Canada, you can’t resist the temptation to go, just so you can put “I am out of the country, and therefore have no access to email or phone” on your out of office message. Or, fine, that’s just me.

My parents hadn’t been to Vancouver, and I had never been to Canada in general, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to hang out, get some real Korean food in the Asian district, and visit a thriving city.

Once we got through the border crossing, the traffic, and managed to find a parking space, we walked around the northwest part, settling on a Korean restaurant with a prix fixe menu.  It was fantastic. I haven’t had Korean food that good since I went to Hong Kong.

We also went to Stanley Park, which has totem poles, a lovely sea walk, and a lighthouse at the end.  We caught a gorgeous day (albeit at low tide), and we took full advantage of the sunshine.

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A Cape of Coral

I know in my last entry, I said that I was beginning to appreciate my new home, but as someone who chooses sunshine as a drug, it took a lot of patience to get used to the dreary weather, and by April, my patience had worn out.

My parents had recently relocated to Florida (they affectionately call it “God’s Waiting Room,”), and I hadn’t seen them since Christmas. They moved to a neighborhood where a good chunk of my extended family (two sets of aunts and uncles, four cousins, my grandmother, and the friends they’ve made down there) also live, so it was going to be a mini family reunion.

A very good friend of mine was also experiencing a D-deficiency, and a stress overload, and we both needed to escape real life for a bit. A little coordination and we were set, so off we went to Cape Coral for a long weekend.

I was going to head out a bit early, because I work from home, and when I got there, I did have to do a few days’ work.  But with an office like this, can you blame me?

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One of my favorite things about this Gem of a friend is that she’s adventurous and active, but also very much into relaxing on the beach with a cocktail, so we had paddle board reservations, a 90-minute massage, and trips to the beach planned. The other favorite thing about Gem is that she is an eater, much like yours truly. With few exceptions, she’ll eat anything, and isn’t shy about eating till she’s full. I knew we’d be in for a fun-and-food-filled weekend.

The long weekend with my parents, seeing their new home, and hanging out by the salt-water pool with my extended family, spending a girls’ weekend with Gem, and relaxation was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Heading for a Wedding

Back in September, friends in Jackson, WY decided to throw wedding reception for their one year anniversary.  You may remember that I’d been here once before, on last year’s epic road trip, so I was pretty excited to head back there.

The weekend promised some pre-wedding shenanigans, a wedding, camping, and then hiking.   Unfortunately, I ended up missing all the fun before the wedding because American Airlines messed up majorly.  The flight was delayed 18 times, the planes were switched and then had mechanical difficulties…you know when the flight attendants roll out free First Class food, we’re in for a looooong wait.

I didn’t get to Jackson until six hours after my estimated arrival time.  Needless to say, I was not too pleased, and I was exhausted.  But the next day brought some really gorgeous weather, and a super cute chapel in the mountains.

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Despite it being freezing (for me) I put on a pretty party dress and a brave face, and was thankful for my pashmina.  It was quite warm in the sun, but pretty windy, and I kept accidentally pulling a Marilyn Monroe.  Note to self, don’t wear a short dress up in the mountains.

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The outdoor reception at 6pm meant we got some time to nap (yes, nap – I’m old!) and get ready for the party.  It was a Santa Maria style barbecue with endless food and booze, and a roaring campfire.  And they could not have planned the sky to be more perfect.  I’m always in awe of the stuff out West.  The colors are so vibrant and the skies are so clear at night.img_3764

Overnight, we camped out, and were pelted with insane wind.  We did not get tons of sleep, but we still wanted to go crazy and hike a long trail the next day.  Five of the BEST bacon, egg, and cheese on a bagel sammiches later, we set off, and saw some crazy things along the way:

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Apparently this guy had been there for a few years, since my friend told me he’d seen the skeleton in the same place last year, when he was out hiking this trail.

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I love tree roots like this – I blame my Grandma.  But, unlike her, I did not try to take it with me.

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These shells are technically fossils, and are tens of thousands of years old, from when the Tetons used to be a glacier.  They’re all over the place, if you look closely.

Unfortunately, it was my fault the hike was cut short.  In trying to cross a stream, my muddy boots slipped on the log, and I fell in.  I was soaked from head to toe on my right side, and felt like Harvey Two-Face.  As if I wasn’t cold enough before!  Additionally, this was a mile or so into our 10 mile round trip hike, which wasn’t ideal.  I was informed there was a cabin around mile 3 or 4  where we could rest, which was good because I was freezing.  And then, it started to rain.

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Photographic evidence I’m a gigantic klutz.

We found the cabin, which is community-run, and the guys built a fire in the wood stove so I could dry off and warm up.  When I stripped my jeans off, I realized I had a huge eggplant on my shin, mud in my shoes, and a hole in my shirt, but my trusty cell phone was unscathed.  It’s the little things in life, I tell you.

We hung out at the cabin for a few hours playing Bullshit, eating Cupboard Surprise,  and drinking a leftover bottle of Bulleit.  I pretty much ruined the hike (and hunting) for everyone, but they were very accommodating and kind enough to stay with me instead of hiking without me.  I have very good friends.

Eventually, we had to start heading back, so we did, and I was very, very careful to not fall into any more streams.  I made it with some help, and while the eggplant on my leg was swelling even more (it would eventually develop into a huge hematoma that would take six weeks to go away), we all managed to make it back dry and unscathed.

The overcast skies had cleared up, and as we drove down the mountain, we saw a rainbow.  It was a pretty great end to a wonderful wedding weekend.  So much happened in so little time.  There was anger, exhaustion, love, happiness, adventure, and accidents, but it ended with a smile.

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