While Ted's mom Margie and Ted's sister Matty were in town (see the April 3rd entry), they graciously agreed to take care of Anders for a few days while we went to Hawaii for a short business/pleasure vacation, March 25 through 29. Our diary and pictures are below. Enjoy!
Unfortunately for me, I started feeling cold symptoms about 2 days before our trip. Absolutely perfect timing. The day of our travel, I was feeling pretty crummy. Not terrible, but bad enough to make a day of travel and airplane transfers even less appealing. We arrived at Portland a bit later than we planned, but our flight from Portland to San Francisco was late, so no big deal. We had a large layover in San Francisco, so we were in no rush. That flight went fine, and we soon landed in SF. The SF airport is one of the worst I have ever been in. We couldn't find any information anywhere about our next gate, so we had to leave the security area to go back to ticketing. There we found our new gate, but we had to go through security again. The line wasn't long. The security area had a maze of stanchions, which we navigated to our security line, but along the way passed a large, awkward fellow who had managed to walk himself into a dead end in the maze. He just stood there. As we approached him in our separate line, it became apparent he was not quite right. He swayed and blinked slowly. I was furiously gulping down the remnants of a water bottle before we got to the x-ray machine. He turned his lazy eyes to me and slurred, and I mean slurred, out something about whiskey. He was dead drunk. Almost literally. He was about as drunk as a person can be and still maintain verticality. I avoided eye contact and pretended not to hear his comment, while watching him carefully out of the corner of my eye. As we moved toward the x-ray machine in our line, a TSA official yelled out to him to come around and get in the line, apparently not yet noticing his state of inebriation. As we put our belt and shoes back on, he just got to the x-ray machine and tried to go through with a cup of coffee. At least, it was a cup that typically holds coffee. For this guy, who knows? They sat him down and talked with him, and I didn't think much more of it.
We continued on to the gate area and grabbed a sandwich and a smoothie, and settled in for our 2.5 hour wait for our flight. At the gate nearest us, a flight for Minneapolis was boarding and who should appear but the drunkard. Apparently, unbelievably, security let him through. He tried to give the gate agent his boarding pass but they took it from him and sat him down. There he sat for about 5 minutes, then he got up and wandered around, eventually staggering down an adjacent, unused jetway. A few seconds later, an alarm goes off. He staggers out, and heads off to another area, completely oblivious to his own existence and still completely unheeded by anyone official. The alarm continues to sound for another 15 minutes or so before someone shows up to turn it off. About 15 minutes after that, a cop on a bicycle shows up, rides around for a second, then turns around and heads back. Real impressive San Francisco airport - a tight ship you run there.
Anyway, our flight from SF to Honolulu was then late too, by about an hour. This one we did care about because we had to connect with our flight from Honolulu to Hilo that evening, and they weren't on the same itinerary. Meaning, if we missed the Hilo flight, we would have no choice but to pay the exorbitant ticket change fee or buy new tickets. Even worse, the Hilo flight we planned for was the last of the evening, so if we missed it, we would have to spend the night in Honolulu, then go to Hilo the next morning, potentially paying for two hotels for one night, while also missing part of the workshop the next day. Sure enough, we missed that Hilo flight. Damn Northwest. Tired and pissed, we called a nearby hotel and got a room for the night. It was extremely spartan. A double bed in a small room just large enough to contain it, with no artwork, a single dresser, and an old TV. But it was clean and we were so tired we didn't care much. We went straight to sleep and got up extremely early the next morning to catch our flight.
The hotel in Hilo had been nice enough to cancel our reservation for the evening the day before on short notice, so we didn't end up paying that night's cost. We headed straight to the hotel and got our room, then I went straight to the workshop. Christy spent all day in downtown Hilo.
The workshop focused very specifically on the NSF (National Science Foundation) CAREER award. The CAREER award is a prestigious award that almost all new faculty, across many different disciplines, go for. Success rates are somewhere around 10%. The award is supposed to help launch the careers of promising new faculty. Because it is a prestigious award, it goes a long way toward tenure. You get three tries at it. It's not disastrous if you don't get it, but if you do it relieves a lot of pressure. The workshop was useful, I learned some good tips that will help me in my own proposal, I think. When I finished up at 4:00 or so, we went out to get some food that had been recommended to Christy by some locals.
This place was a dump. Still, we browsed the menu and gave our order, to go, to a large, stern looking woman that walked over and handed it to an older Korean woman who was sitting at a booth. The Korean woman looked at the ticket, gave a loud sigh of irritation, slowly pulled herself up, and shuffled off into the kitchen, holding her lower back.
We get the food and head back to toward the hotel to have a picnic outside in a beautiful Japanese style garden adjacent to the hotel. We found the food to be disappointing. I don't think it was the Hawaiian-ness, I just don't think it was very good food, which, based on my description of the staff in the previous paragraph, is hard to believe, I know. We picked at the food for a while, at the few good things, and tossed the rest.
We got the 5:25 a.m. flight to Hilo, so we were in town by 7:00 a.m., pretty early by local standards apparently. We found the coffeeshop that was recommended in the travel guide, and loved the local feel. It was just like walking into Mayday Cafe or Seward Cafe in Minneapolis--all grungy and hippie, with local art on the wall and the local crazies congregated outside. I had half a papaya with lime, very tropical and delicious. Nice way to start the morning.
Ted spent the whole first day in Hilo at his workshop, so I had the day to myself. After settling in the hotel room, I took off for downtown in the rental car. I'm happy to say that Hilo has it's own local personality, it's not just a tourist town as I feared. Of course, there were souvenir shops along the main bayfront strip, and I gathered that cruise ships stopped in town so that people could get their aloha shirts and be on their way. But besides those few touristy places, I found Hilo to be a very real place (unfortunately, I didn't bring the camera, but I didn't want to feel too much like a tourist either.) There were many different kinds of shops, from the yoga place with high-end yoga clothes, to a surplus store with cardboard boxes crammed with secondhand clothes. Lots of hole-in-the-wall restaurants in otherwise falling-down buildings that weren't open on Monday. I found a tiny Thai place that had 3 choices for their lunch menu, which was yummy.
My first order of business was to find a place to get a good haircut. I had all day, I might was well pamper myself a bit. I asked for recommendations at a few places, and the girl at a cool clothes store recommended a salon down the street. Their sign said that they were closed, but there was a Hawaiian guy standing in the window on a cell phone who would not acknowledge my presence. I walked on, and came back a little later. Then he was standing outside, and I asked if they were open. He said no, but that he was waiting for a late client. I explained that I wanted a haircut that day, even that moment, so he decided to cut my hair rather than wait around any longer. I said that his late appointment "has a relaxed attitude about time," and he said, "there's relaxed, and then there's late." What luck! Manuel knew what he was doing, and I used the opportunity to get some local opinion about where to eat--he recommended the church lunch truck where we would get some Hawaiian food the next day. His appointment did show up eventually, so I got to listen to them talk about breeding tropical birds, her kids, and whatever else. It was fun, and I got a good haircut and foil at a good price. I told him that I hadn't found anyone to cut my hair in Corvallis, and someone told me that there isn't a good place in Corvallis. In his opinion, a male stylist is more likely to be good, not that he discriminates against women, but he thought I should try out the male stylists first. There's your hair tip for the day.
I spent the rest of the day around town, mostly looking for a dress for myself and gifts for people back home. I didn't find much for myself, after a heroic effort (most of you know I'm not a shopper, so all day shopping was a bit of a stretch, but pretty fun actually). My best buy was at the farmer's market, where a few people had set up their stalls. I guess Monday isn't the best market day. One guy was selling necklaces made of beautiful local things--shells, pretty nuts and seeds, bamboo that he had carved, salvaged wood that he had carved, and glass pieces that he made at his kitchen table. I pretty much bought one of everything, they were very cool and local. So much better than the "made in China" stuff at the tourist shops. I got the kids Hawaiian outfits that were made in Hawaii too. The shop was run by a lady who had about 5 little kids running around, and one laughed just like Anders when he laughs hard. I told her that he sounded just like my son, and she said that some were hers and some she was watching for the people in the neighboring shop. How fun.
Our Hawaiian food experience from Jimmy's was disappointing, but it was worth a try. The same girl that recommended the salon also recommended Jimmy's. When I asked her where to get Hawaiian food, she got all excited about Jimmy's, that her and her "girl-guys" go there and usually she has a Korean dish, but her cousin gets the Hawaiian plate. I was warned that it was a dump, but better to try something authentic than something sanitized for the tourist market. It was an experience.
This was the first of our two full days without any other obligations. We got up at a leisurely pace and headed downtown to rent snorkeling gear. The gear was surprisingly cheap. Less than $15 for goggles and flippers for the day. We also stopped for a quick bite at a lunch truck run by a small church. This had also been recommended to Christy and I'm happy to say this food was much better. We got it to go and headed out on the highway to the southern end of the island.
We followed the highway south for about an hour or so, passing through many small towns on the way. Eventually we came to the end of the highway, terminated where a lava flow had claimed the road some years ago. At the abrupt end of the road, an old car sat, smashed up and rusted out. Why it had not been removed, I don't know. We walked up onto the lava rock for a bit, took a picture, then went back to the car. It felt a bit apocalyptic.
We headed back up North by a different highway along the coast. We passed many ocean front vacation and summer homes, but none of them felt obnoxious. Here and there the highway would pass a beach just a few yards from the ocean. We'd just pull the car over and walk over to the water. These beaches were not white sand beaches though, they were volcanic rock. Slippery, jagged, and sharp. Beautiful, but only navigable by those careful and familiar with the terrain. I think this had a lot to do with the lack of development in this area. Had these been big white sand beaches, surely they would be lined with resorts and hotels, effectively closed from the public. As it was, it was extremely open to anyone that might pass along. We saw small tents erected in the trees just yards from ocean, housing some vagabond, and we also at one point passed a traveling (hippie) family hitch-hiking with a guitar and two small kids running around and playing nearby.
We continued north, stopping briefly to watch some surfers, and came to some tidepools in which we intended to snorkel. We parked and observed signs stating the usual about respecting the environment and such, and also a sign stating that we should be careful about infection, and advised us not to go in the water with any open cuts. We got all sunscreened up, grabbed our snorkeling gear and headed out toward the tide pools. The path to the main tide pool required you to wade through water several feet deep covering uneven volcanic rock. I hadn't been in the water for 2 minutes when my flip-flop fell off, and in my attempt to put it back on, slipped with my bare foot on the jagged wet rock and slashed my toe open. Just moments ago I read all about how I was going to die of a protracted, horrible tropical infection if I went in the water with so much as a paper cut, and here I was bleeding all over the place. I'm sure I had the attention of probably every shark in the Pacific. It didn't hurt so much really, it more just ticked me off. We hobbled back to the car and drove 30 minutes to the nearest supermarket and got some disinfectant and band-aids. Once I had everything all taped up, we headed back to the tidepool. Snorkeling was a neat experience. I tried scuba diving once in Mexico, and this was my first time snorkeling. The tide pools ranged from probably 3 to 8 feet deep, and there were a nice selection of fish to see. We tooled around for an hour and two and then took off. I look forward to snorkeling again.
On the way back up, we stopped at the Lava Tree State Monument. This was a small area where 200 years ago lava flowed through a forest. The lava cooled around tree trunks. The tree eventually burned away, but left a sort of cooled lava casting. This area in particular reminded me of Cheju island in Korea.
We headed back to Pahoa, the nearest small town, and enjoyed a nice Thai meal. Pahoa was, as was much of the area, hippie dense. Signs of the counter-culture were everywhere, from a bulletin board offering service exchanges to the people themselves. There were a few small clothing shops and restaurants. There was a very strong laid-back atmosphere, in Pahoa and in Hilo as well. People didn't seem in any hurry, they were very friendly and relaxed. After our meal, we headed back to Hilo.
There was one last item of note that evening. The Hilo airport is situated such that the planes come in right over the southern part of the city, very low. As we came in to town, I was watching a plane come in just overhead. I was looking to see what carrier it was and I didn't recognize it as Hawaiian or Aloha, the two Hawaiian airlines. It was blue and white and as it turned a bit more, I could read "United States of America" across the fuselage. It was Air Force 1! Whether it was carrying Shrub or one of his cronies I don't know. Still, it was kind of neat - like seeing a contemptible but famous celebrity from a distance. We saw it fly off just 15 minutes or so later, enough to land, deplane, and take off again. Interesting.
One great thing about the "Big Island" is just how small it is. We had originally planned to drive the coast from north to south, but we apparently missed out turn to the coast because in about 20 minutes we were suddenly at the "end of the road," quite literally. It was actually a better way to hit the end of the road, because it should be a bit of a surprise. A lava flow had covered the road many years ago, and recently the local government had started to clear and re-pave. But nature had her way, and a new lava flow covered it again. You could walk over the path that had been made by the local traffic driving over the lava, but tourists aren't suppose to drive over it, especially with tiny rental cars.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised at the local character of the coastal community. There were oceanside houses and developments, but they seemed to be a couple of decades old, and not gigantic ostentation houses. They were just tucked away in the forest, a few minutes walk to the lava beaches. Hammocks and laundry hung out to dry. Some were obviously people's homes, some may have been vacation houses. I imagine that if you have a vacation house on the Big Island, you eventually decide to make it your permanent home anyway. Who wouldn't want to live there if they could? I overheard someone say that during some times of the year, people have more mango and avocado in their yards or gardens than they know what to do with. Boo-hoo, try having too much zuchinni. I'll take avocados or mangos anyday.
Pahoa was our way-station for the coastal Puna area. When Ted cut his foot on the rocks on our first attempt to go snorkeling, we went back to Pahoa for supplies, about a 20 minute drive on narrow winding forested roads. It was a sugar town in the days when sugar plantations were the main industry, but that's all gone now. It had 1 main street that was like something from the wild west, with wooden boardwalks and storefronts. But the tourist industry seems to have kept Pahoa moving. Those storefronts now contained Thai, sushi, international, Filipino, Mexican, and pizza restaurants. There was also a hippie cafe/coffeshop and a few clothing stores. It was clear that this town couldn't support all of these places on its own, but they seemed to be doing ok with tourist traffic. The nice thing was that there were no chains to speak of, no neon signs, the buildings barely kept up (the bathroom in the Thai place was a utility room too, complete with weed whacker and a gas can). It seemed that these were local businesses, run by families and local people, and it was very friendly.
Snorkeling was a lot of fun. I wasn't sure I'd be able to do it or really enjoy it. I had to spend some time practicing just putting my face in the water and breathing through the tube. I was surprised at how hard it was to do, because every instinct in my body told me to pull my head out and definitely NOT to breathe in when I felt my face submerged in water. I'd just sit and stick my head in, concentrate on controlling my breathing and relaxing. I swam out, but had to come back right away the first few times. Finally, after Ted's advice to "breathe and float," I got comfortable. I was shocked at how buoyant I felt in the water--I didn't even have to try to float or swim, the salt water just holds you up. Seeing the fish and everything under the water was fun, and just a bit unnerving. Sometimes you don't want to know what's under there, but in the tide pools there were just colorful fish and coral. I look forward to doing it again sometime.
The lava rocks were cruel, paired with the warning not to go in with open wounds. I was so concerned about keeping my knees safe as I climbed out onto the rocks that I scraped up my hand. Both of us cleaned our wounds again, but Ted was sure we would get some tropical infection, which he dubbed "Hilo Toe" or "Hawaii Thigh." Luckily, nothing of the sort happened, and our wounds are now healed.
The thermal springs we visited were nice, but we didn't stay too long. It was clearly a local hot spot for families. Local cars seemed to outnumber rental cars by a wide margin. It was a pool separated from the ocean by some human-made walls, where the water could flow in but without the wave action. It was heated by a natural geothermal source, so it was like bath water. Relaxing. We had a busy, fun day. I suspect that there would have been a lot more laying around had there been sand beaches, but we tend to like to see and do a lot, even on vacation, so this was a nice place for us (the other side of the island has more black sand beaches, where the wave action has turned the lava rock into sand, but it will take a thousand more years before there are black sand beaches on the Puna coast.)
Today was our hiking day. We headed out to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We drove up to about 3500 feet to enter the park. The park has a main loop drive that circles Kilauea Caldera, which itself has several sub craters. After a brief stop at the visitors center, where a guide told us our planned hike was "one of the world's great hikes," we headed off on a short drive to our trail head. The trail starts at a scenic overlook, so you immediately get a dramatic view of the Kilauea Iki crater. It was a steep walled crater, about 0.5 miles in diameter. The floor of it was a sheet of crusty, volcanic rock, with fissures leaking steam. The steam comes from rainwater that leaks down to the lava some 200 feet down. This crater is no longer active, so the hike takes you right across the surface, right past the steam vents. Just 30 years ago, this whole crater was very active, spewing molten lava 1000 feet in the air. What was now a solid floor would have been a seething, roiling mass of lava.
The first part of our hike took us down the crater wall in a series of switchbacks, lined with heavy tropical foliage. At the bottom the trees opened up to the desolation of the crater floor. It was very much like asphalt. Like a huge road that had buckled and cracked under heat and neglect. The path across the crater floor was visible as a slightly lighter gray track that had been worn in by the thousands of feet that traversed the crater every day. Some of the steam vents were quite hot. Not so much as to be dangerous, but some of them could potentially burn you if you were to hold your hand right over it for any length of time. We walked across the crater and up the other side, looping back to where we started. I think "one of the world's great hikes" is overstating it a bit, but it was enjoyable and it was a unique environment.
After that hike, we continued our drive around the rim, stopping to see other craters and also checked out a short lava tube. We stopped at another larger crater, Halema'uma'u, and walked around. By this time, the gray sky made good on its promise and some rain started. Some areas around this crater smelled strongly of sulfur. It was so strong it left a metallic taste in my mouth that gave me a perpetual urge to spit. Much of this area reminded me of the footage of Mordor from Lord of the Rings. It was desolate, dark, minimal plant life, harsh and unforgiving. The gray sky and low clouds only strengthened the effect.
We continued our drive around the rim, and stopped on a short trail that promised more of a tropical forest environment. It was neat to listen to the birds. We didn't see much wildlife, apart from seeing a couple of wild pheasants from a distance.
After finishing our time in the volcano park, we headed back to Hilo for one more nice Thai meal. Then off to the airport to start our overnight flights back to Portland. The flights went well with no trouble, and I actually slept better than normal on the plane.
Overall, it was a very nice trip. I was taken aback a bit by the ease of Hilo and the island of Hawaii. It was not touristy in the slightest. Laid-back and relaxed, it was very easy to travel, and cheap too. I wonder if the rest of the non-Maui islands of Hawaii are similar. It really feels like somewhere between the US and a foreign country. It has a bit of both, and that is a nice mix. It was also very nice to have some time for just Christy and I again. It would not have been possible without the help of my sister Matty and my mom Margie. They did an amazing job of watching Anders, Lyndon, and Jocelyn while we were away. Outnumbered! A thousand thanks to them.
Volcano National Park is quite a sight, and we are lucky that our national park system makes this environment so accessible to people. Actually, almost too accessible. The visitor's center was literally packed with people, this a Wednesday in March. From the travel books, we had the impression that the crater hikes were somewhat remote and dangerous. We carried gear and supplies in our backpack, just in case. Actually, the trails were packed with people who looked like they had no businesses on a multi-hour, multi-mile hike that descended and ascended 400 ft. But, good for them, I'm glad to see people out enjoying nature. The only drawback of the Kilaeu Iki hike was that it was very popular, (remember, one of the world's great hikes!) but I'm glad we didn't do the longer Halema'uma'u crater hike. I only need to hike over so much lava in one day, and there was a lot to see in the park. Notice the picture that says "Thin crust--stay on path," which is slightly unnerving. Good thing we practiced avoiding "hot lava" so much as kids (do all kids do that?). The park is quite safe, or else I'm sure they wouldn't let so many people out there. There were families with little kids, and I was both glad that we didn't have Anders with us for ease of travel, and looked forward to a time when he is old enough to join us and enjoy it.
I was most impressed by the life growing out of the bare lava. Little ferns and shrubs surviving on nothing, or so it seemed. Life is amazing and relentless.
I too am thankful for Margie and Matty for taking care of Anders while we were gone. It was important for us to take some time away, to be travelers together again. And I know that Anders had a great time with his grandma, aunt and cousins. He still talks about them. He has a library book about Thanksgiving that asks who in your family you are thankful for, and he always mentions grandma Gee-gee right away. The Big Island was also a great place to go--easy traveling but plenty of adventure. The people there were also wonderful--so open and hospitable. I would think that seeing so many tourists all the time would make us seem like just another person passing through, but everyone was so warm and welcoming. It was a pleasure to be there.