Hawaii: The End of the Road

I can’t believe I’m only just now writing my last post about a vacation that ended in early May of this year, but Hawaii is amazing and fascinating and intriguing, and there was much to tell. I think, more than any other trip, these islands have transformed me. It’s hard to let go. Saying goodbye is bittersweet. It’s like dropping someone off at the airport whom you love very much, and not knowing when, if ever, you’ll see them again.

Okay, keep it together, Barb. Sniffle.

I’ve mentioned before that Hawaii itself almost feels like a living organism to me. It breathes fire, it grows, it shrinks, it’s alive with creatures that are not found anywhere else. I’ve never felt like that about any other place. I firmly believe that these islands would thrive if only we humans would get out of their way. And yet we can’t resist them.

A recurring theme for us on this trip was arrivals and departures, and beginnings and endings. That experience, too, is unlike any other I’ve had. It was almost as if the islands were trying to speak to me.

One of the things I’ve yet to blog about was the first day of our vacation. That’s because it was not the note I wanted to begin on. It was too surreal and upsetting. I needed time to digest it.

I had been wanting to go to Hawaii my whole life long, so I was really excited about the day we were to fly there. It was a dream come true. I had been anticipating this flight for many months. When I woke up that morning, it felt as though a million Hawaiian butterflies were fluttering inside a me.

We were, of course, late leaving the house. (That, too, is a theme.) But we weren’t so late that it was giving me cause for concern. We live very close to the airport.

We got there and checked our carry on luggage without incident. But the line for TSA screening was obscenely long. We were told to go to the other security gate for faster service, but when we got there, if anything, that line was longer and the staff there were redirecting people to the security gate we had just left. Now I was getting nervous.

At one point, Dear Husband and I clearly heard the customer service agent tell us that we’d be departing from gate 15. DH knows this airport well, so I kind of checked out due to my anxiety, and let him take the lead. This is the first time in my entire life when traveling by plane that I didn’t confirm the gate several times on the flight information screen or at least check out the airport map.

Knowing how late we were, we kind of speed walked to gate A15. I’m sure DH could have moved a lot faster without me in tow. No one has ever accused me of being a cheetah.  Of course, it was to be the furthest gate away on Concourse A. Naturally.

By the time we got to the tail end of that concourse, I was drenched in sweat and could not catch my breath. It felt like my heart was going to explode. And that feeling only got worse when we discovered that there is no gate A15. The last gate is A14.

Another customer service agent looked things up and told us that we were flying out of gate N15, and that they were just about to board. Now, let me explain the full ramifications of this. We were standing at the southernmost gate of the SEATAC airport, and we were told that we needed to be at the northernmost gate of the SEATAC airport. Like… 15 minutes ago. According to Google maps, it was 1.8 miles away. And toward the end, you have to wait for an automated train, because the N terminal isn’t even in the same building.

I tried to run. I really did. I wanted to go to Hawaii so badly. But I was already out of breath.

At this point I pretty much abandoned all hope. And then Cris, who to his credit is never out of breath, had a brilliant idea. He grabbed an abandoned luggage cart, piled all our carry on stuff on it, then said, “Hop on.”

And then he ran like the wind. We were flying through that airport. I was really proud of him. At first I was standing on the cart, but I was blocking his view, so instead I sat down as if I were another piece of luggage. We got several dirty looks from airport staff, but we were moving too fast, and I think they just couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it.  On the other hand, fellow travelers where cheering and laughing and waving and taking pictures. I felt like I was Santa Claus in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This was the first adventure on a vacation full of adventures, and every time I think of it, it makes me smile.

But despite all our (his) efforts, we got to the gate 2 minutes late, and watched our plane (and our checked baggage) fly off without us. It’s funny now, but at the time I sat there at gate N15 and had a good cry while DH rebooked our flight for the next day. I’ve had flights delayed, and I’ve missed a connection or two, but this was the first time in my life that I had missed a nonstop flight. I don’t recommend it.

The dogs were sure confused to see us back home. They know what suitcases usually mean, and the dogsitter, a dear friend of ours, was already there. And yet here we were.

So, yeah, late the next day we arrived, both triumphant and chastened, in Hawaii. We checked into our hotel and had a look around and got all settled in. We were headed out to explore Kauai when we met Tony.

Tony was a bit worried, because he had tried to get a taxi to the airport for his flight home to Toronto, and there seemed to be no taxis to be had. After what we’d gone through the day before, we wanted to help. But we’re not the type of people who are prone to giving total strangers a ride.

What we did was go back to the concierge desk and verify that all of us where guests at this establishment. And then the concierge took photos of all our drivers licenses, and we checked back in with her when we got back to the hotel so that she knew that everything had gone smoothly.

We had a pleasant chat with Tony on the drive to the airport about our various travels, and about Toronto and Seattle. He gave us some tips on what to do in Kauai, and we heard about his enviable extended stay in Hawaii. He called his mother from the road and reassured her that he wasn’t going to miss his flight after all.

Just like that, we made our first friend in Hawaii, even though we didn’t get his last name or contact info. We asked if we could take his picture as we waved goodbye. He said that was fine. So Tony, wherever you are, I hope you made it home safe.

My experience on isolated islands had been rather limited up to this point, but I soon discovered that it’s quite easy to run out of island. In fact, on this trip we arrived at the end of the road on multiple occasions. It alters your mindset.

I wanted to see every inch of Kauai. You can circumnavigate much of the island on highway roads, with the glaring exception of the Napali Coast that stretches about 16 miles along its Northwest edge. There, what you encounter are impassible, yet stunningly beautiful jagged blue and emerald cliffs that defiantly face off with the sea.

On day 4, we reached the end of the road on the western shore of Kauai. We stopped next to the charmingly named Barking Sands Airport and saw our first Nenes, which are beautiful Hawaiian geese. They didn’t seem to care that they had reached a dead end. They just went about their goosey business. That was also the day we went to the end of the island’s other major highway, which wends its way through Waimea Canyon.

Day 6 found us on the opposite end of the semicircular road.  On the North shore we visited Maniniholo Dry Cave, had a picnic lunch on the beach, and then drove as far as we could, taking turns with the cars heading the opposite direction, in order to cross the charming one lane bridges. This is a more laid back, isolated part of the island, and it’s where I’d want to live if I could put my home on high enough stilts to cope with the frequent flooding. I weep at the thought that climate change will wipe this area off the map one day.

On the Big Island, we went to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and drove to the end of the road twice on our first full day there, from the Hōlei Sea Arch on the Chain of Craters Road to the end of Crater Rim Drive with its stunning views of Kīlauea’s  Caldera. 

Five days later we went to the Southern tip of the United States, to Ka Lae, or South Point, Hawaii, and gazed out at the vast Pacific Ocean. I find it interesting that we took no pictures from the clifftops that were aimed directly south toward that blue expanse. We took photos of the cliff line, as if we needed a reference point. I think that never-ending blue reminded us how far away we were from any other part of civilization, and how life clings precariously to every possible foothold as this fragile planet spirals through the vacuum of space, chasing the sun. Who could bear to photograph that flimsy feeling?

We woke up the next day knowing we had to head to the airport to catch the plane that would take us home. (Why couldn’t we have missed that one?)  I felt as though I was beginning a mourning process, as I always do at the end of a trip. Perhaps the challenges we faced in getting to this place added to our appreciation of it. I felt as though I were saying goodbye to a loved one.

Then I saw a hand painted sign nailed high up on a tree. We didn’t have time to stop and take a picture, but it will remain forever in my mind. It said, “Lord Jesus, what a rush!” 

If things have to end, as all things do, then that is the way I want to look back on them. Life is full of beginnings and endings, but it’s the middle part that makes all the difference.

I leave you (and Hawaii) now, with the bittersweet yet iconic song, Aloha ‘Oe. It was written by Liliʻuokalani, the last sovereign monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom. She wrote many songs in her time, but this one is particularly haunting. It was originally written about a lover’s goodbye.

Twenty years later, she transcribed this song while she was under house arrest. America was in the process of stealing these islands from the Hawaiian people, simply because we had superior firepower. Originally, we sentenced this dignified woman to five years of hard labor for her defiance, but we at least had the good grace to commute that sentence, and later set her free to live another 21 years, fighting our indifferent government in court for lands that they never had any intention of returning.

When you think of Aloha ‘Oe as a lament for the loss of Liliʻuokalani’s beloved country, it takes on a bittersweet flavor, indeed. Flying away from Hawaii forces the traveler to internalize just a tiny shard of her broken heart. Aloha, Hawai’i. Until we meet again.

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Bits and Bobs about Hawaii

Interesting things that didn’t fit into my other Hawaiian posts.

There’s so much that intrigued me about Hawaii that I had to take copious notes during my visit. Not that I’m complaining. These notes will enrich my memories. But some of the tidbits of information didn’t fit naturally into my other posts about the Aloha State, so today I’m going to just throw a bunch of thought noodles at you and see which ones actually stick. There won’t be any particular order or story arc. This will sort of look like Hawaii after it has been in a blender. Here’s hoping it’s still pretty. Thank you for your indulgence.

My first impression of the island of Kauai is… chickens. Chickens everywhere. Here a chicken, there a chicken… Based on some lazy research and even lazier math, I estimate that there are about 6 chickens per capita on this island. That’s a lot of poultry. Most of them looked really healthy, and many of the roosters are absolutely gorgeous, so more power to them, I say. I just wish they had a stricter concept of when dawn is. You could hear them crow at 2 in the morning. Even so, I found it pleasant to share the island with them for a time.

A tour guide demonstrated something to me that I had never contemplated. Most of us know that chickens bob their heads when they walk. But I never noticed that hey don’t bob their heads when they run. It was fun watching the guide chase a chicken across a field to prove his point. I’ll always remember that.

Chickens notwithstanding, I believe that the most destructive invasive species in all of Hawaii are the feral pigs. They cause major damage to property and property values, agriculture, and ecosystems. There are so many pigs on the islands that you won’t find an estimate of how many pigs there are anywhere on the internet. (Believe me, I tried.) In fairness, it would be hard to keep track. A pair of pigs and their offspring can produce 15,000 more pigs over the course of 5 years. Imagine that level of expansion when you’re on an island. (I did find an estimate of the number of feral pigs in the entire US, and it’s over 6 million, and growing. At this rate we won’t be around long enough to see the full impact of global warming.)

In Hawaiian, the word for fire is ahi. So Ahi tuna got its name because of its bright red meat. That means that the fish did not get a name until some Hawaiian first sliced it open. (I’m glad I didn’t get my name that way.) But I’m a little surprised that they didn’t come up with something that describes the creature itself, because it’s beautiful to behold. That says a lot about priorities.

I find waves so hypnotic that I actually slept soundly in Hawaii, which is something that eludes me in most other places. And the unrelenting wind means there’s no need for AC while you sleep, and somehow that makes me happy. There’s nothing quite like fresh air and ocean waves.

There are no lions or tigers or bears in Hawaii, and you could go your whole life without encountering a poisonous snake. You’d think that would mean that hiking in this state is relatively carefree, but no. The island still has plenty of surprises for you.

It’s not a good idea to stray from the established path. For instance, that field of soft, welcoming ferns covering the ground to your left may actually be a dense mat that is more than 20 feet deep. You step into that, you may very well plunge to your death. These mats can also conceal lava tubes and jagged lava rock, so your death won’t be a pretty one.

But falling off hiking trails is fairly common in Hawaii. The terrain is steep, and gets slippery and muddy, and yet the things you would land on if you slip can be as sharp as glass. Never hike alone in Hawaii. Unless you’re really experienced, you might want to avoid hiking on all but the simplest trails.

Another danger that you might not expect is the Guinea Grass. It was first brought to Hawaii to feed the cows, which had also been brought in. Guinea Grass makes great feed as long as it’s kept relatively short as it apparently is in Africa. But, unchecked, this grass can get up to 15 feet high, and when it gets that tall, the cows won’t touch it. The taller it gets, the more tiny razor-like spikes it gets on the edges of its blades, and this can cause a cow’s tongue to bleed. So the Guinea Grass has pretty much taken over, with very little to stop it. And if you walk into this stuff, you’ll leave it feeling as though you’ve rolled naked in fiberglass. That, and it’s a fantastic contributor to wildfires. When not burning, it chokes out native plants.

We went to black sand beaches and “normal” beaches during our trip. But Hawaii also has one of only four green sand beaches in the world. Sadly the hike to get there is 4 miles, round trip and is often strenuous. My hikes are getting shorter and easier these days. You can’t do everything.

There are very few little free libraries found in Hawaii. (Believe me, I looked. And the map of registered ones at littlefreelibrary.org bears me out.) I did try to track down a registered one on a busy tourist street in Hanalei, but it wasn’t where it was said to be, and when we asked around, people looked at us as if we had two heads. I have no idea why, but these wonderful community resources just haven’t seemed to take off in this state yet. I hope they do eventually, because I can think of nothing more delightful and relaxing than reading a good book on a Hawaiian beach. But then, the locals are probably working three jobs just to be able to afford to live there, so they may not have time for reading.

Here are some pictures of a couple of the little libraries we did see. There is a nice big one in front of the Kapa’a Public Library. (Isn’t a little free library in front of a library kind of like gilding the lily?)

I tried something new on this trip. I call it “planned spontaneity.” It worked really well. Yes, we made reservations for the things we really wanted to do if they were required. But we also left some time in there to follow the suggestions we got along the way, check out the things we stumbled upon, and also to just chill out. Many of those times, to be honest, were the best ones for me. I used to plan every trip within an inch of its life, and then I married Dear Husband and saw how much he liked to do that stuff, so I took a back seat for a while. But that’s not really fair. I know I hated it when I had to do all the trip planning and reservations alone. So now I’m trying to make it so we both take part, but that we also leave some things up to fate and happenstance. It’s a delicate dance, but it’s worth it.

It’s “shave” ice, not “shaved”. And it is wonderful. Many places will put shaved ice over a scoop of ice cream for you. We tried that first, and I thought I’d be sick from the sugar. I don’t eat much sugar anymore, so this was quite the shock to the system. But shave ice is nice on a hot day.

If you want to make your kids giggle and your waitress roll her eyes for about the thousandth time this year, order a “pipi pupu”. That’s a beef appetizer in Hawaiian. But please give your waitress a generous tip for forcing her to hear the joke yet again.

In Kauai, two nice little side stops are Kilauea Lighthouse and Christ Memorial Episcopal Church. Both are beautiful in different ways. I highly recommend them.

Flying from one island to another is extremely convenient. We flew from Kauai to the Honolulu Airport, changed planes, and then flew over beautiful Molokai to land in Kona, Hawaii. But on our approach to Honolulu we took a sharp left turn to head landward, and we were hit with the worst turbulence I’ve ever felt my life. It seemed like we dropped 60 feet in less than a second. It’s the first time I’ve ever thought was going to die in an airplane. I even remember thinking, “This is it.” Getting to our destination was worth it, I suppose, but I think I might have a cocktail next time.

The Honolulu Airport is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s wide open to the elements. It feels like a Disney attraction, but with planes. And it is predicted that the Kona Airport will be covered in lava sometime in the next 100 years. They actually had to carve the runways out of lava beds there. Hawaii caused me to view real estate as something that is highly transient for the first time in my life. If Kauai is chickens, then the Big Island is lava. Lots and lots of lava.   

We also stopped at a farmer’s market in Hilo, and saw produce that looked like it came from another planet. We bought an avocado the size of my head. But it wasn’t a Hass, so it actually tasted like nothing. That was a bit disappointing. We also bought white pineapple, which is something I’d never heard of. It was extremely expensive, because they don’t produce many, and that’s probably why I’d never heard of it. There  aren’t really enough to send to the mainland. Think pineapple without the acid. Sweet as spun sugar. Everyone should try it! We also tried an organic mountain apple, which was kind of thick skinned and slightly mushy and therefore meh. And nothing in this farmer’s market had an actual price on it. I’m sure they see the tourists coming a mile away.

We ate at a restaurant called Harbor House in Kona. It had no walls. That gave us a great view of the marina. And it was fun to have the birds flying all around us. Until they pooped. Everywhere. But poop notwithstanding, the food is pretty good (and poop-less), and hey, it’s an experience!

The older I get, the more I look at experiences in terms of the memories they create. Hawaii added so many wonderful memories to my collection. The older you get, the more you accumulate. I’m sitting on a dragonpile (I should copyright that word) of precious memories, brought to me by travel. And I’m not alone in this.

By rights, the well-traveled elderly should be considered the most fascinating people in the world. You just have to ask the right questions and take the time to experience the answers. If you listen closely, you might hear the waves crashing in their words, and maybe the sound of Don Ho singing Tiny Bubbles will drift gently toward you as if on an island breeze.

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The Fauna of Hawaii

There are 26,608 known species on land and sea in the Aloha State.

Animals fascinate me, especially ones I’ve never encountered before. That happened many times during our trip to Hawaii. That’s to be expected. According to this article, 90 percent of all the species that live on land in Hawaii can only be found in Hawaii. (And when you consider the fact that there are 26,608 known species on land and sea combined in Hawaii, that’s even more impressive.) In fact, the Hawaiian Islands have more endemic species than the Galapagos islands do. I was really looking forward to reveling in this diversity of life.

I’ve already written about Our Most Excellent Manta Ray Adventure, and also about The Flowers and Birds of Hawaii, as well as Snorkeling in Hawaii, so I won’t dwell on the amazing creatures we came across that I’ve already discussed. But believe it or not, there is still much to tell.

I think one of our most unique experiences was watching sea turtles come up on Poipu Beach in Kauai. They are fascinating in and of themselves, but to our surprise, they were escorted to shore by a monk seal. That’s two endangered species in one sighting. Check, check!

I was mesmerized. Fortunately, Dear Husband had the presence of mind to take a video of this moment before the monk seal took his leave. Here it is.

And just for fun, DH also did a time lapse video of the turtles coming up on the beach, because, let’s face it: it’s not as if they’re going to break any land speed records. So here’s the turtle equivalent of an action sequence:

As I watched the sun go down on the sea turtles of Poipu Beach, as cliché as this is going sound, I knew without a doubt that this place is paradise. I couldn’t believe my luck, to actually be standing there bearing witness to these miracles of nature. Sometimes I think I’m the luckiest person on earth.

I really hoped that we’d see some turtles in action while we were snorkeling, but no such luck. We would have kept a respectful distance, of course. Hawaii takes its turtles seriously, as well it should.

We also got to see some more sea turtles at the black sand beach of Punalu’u on the Big Island. That beach also had a beautiful plaque that told the story of Kauila and the Sea Turtles of Punalu’u. The artwork was gorgeous, but I knew you’d be interested in the story as well, so I made certain to take a picture of that. (Just for you, Dear Reader. See there? You are never far from my thoughts.)

Although obviously neither wild nor native to Hawaii, it seemed that every resort had some koi, and they were often quite large. I was surprised that they weren’t bothered by birds of prey or racoons or otters or something, as they would be in Florida. It turns out that there aren’t any racoons or otters on these islands, and there are only two birds of prey in the entire state, and ironically, neither of them eat fish.

If we saw a Hawaiian hawk, it was only at a distance. The other bird of prey is the Pueo, a ground nesting owl. One flew right across the highway in front of our car one night. I got a good look at it, but DH was driving so he didn’t see it. And of course, she was long gone before I could raise my camera. What a beautiful bird!

To listen to the different types of calls that Pueo make (and indeed learn more about all things Pueo), check out this page. Sadly, Pueo populations are in great decline because their nests are on the ground, which makes them quite vulnerable to invasive species. That’s particularly true on the Big Island, which has mongoose. I saw three mongoose during our visit, but those suckers are just too fast to photograph.

Mongoose were intentionally introduced to the Big Island in hopes of getting rid of another invasive species, the rats that arrived on the island via the first visiting European ships. (One of their descendants ran across my foot while we were walking through the Thurston Lava Tube, causing me to jump out of my skin.) But it turns out that mongoose are active during the day, whereas rats are nocturnal, so that rat eradication didn’t go to plan. However, a mongoose can wipe out a flock of chickens in the blink of an eye, and that may be one of the reasons that the Big Island isn’t up to its eyeballs in chickens like Kauai is. Sadly, they also have a taste for Pueo.

Hawaii wants tourists to think they have no snakes, and some people mistakenly believe that there once were snakes, but the mongoose took care of them. In fact, there are several invasive species, mainly concentrated in Oahu, but they have never been an issue to human beings. They haven’t been as kind to wildlife. Therefore, it’s actually illegal to have a pet snake in Hawaii.

The state does have one native snake species, the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake. It is venomous, but it’s also rare. There is no record of a human being killed by this sea snake. All snake sightings in Hawaii are so rare that it’s not unusual for a Hawaiian to go his or her whole life without seeing one.

One of the tour guides we met told us that on Kauai, it was proposed that snakes be introduced to get rid of the irritating chicken situation, but people decided they’d much rather have chickens than snakes, even if they do wake you up at 4 a.m. with their crowing.

There are wild boar/feral pigs in Hawaii, and I got a glimpse of some of those. I’m glad I was inside the car. They looked scary. (Check out this article about a freak encounter that a surfer had with one of them.) They are one of the most destructive invasive species in the islands, along with the wild goats.

Another story our guide told us was that the Hawaiian word for goat is “kau,” and that’s pronounced “cow”. The guide said that one of the Hawaiian monarchs of the 1700’s wanted cows because he had heard about the many benefits of having them. Captain Cook (or one of his contemporaries) had no cows with him, but he had brought goats, and in an effort to impress the king, he gifted a few and said they were cows.

That sounds plausible, and it’s certainly amusing, but I looked all over the internet for confirmation of this story, and could not find it. One thing can’t be denied, though. Now those pesky goats are everywhere.

In fact, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture doesn’t regulate the hunting of goats, but you may want to check with your local game warden before opening fire. Another attempt to reduce the kau population was when the state gave away wild goats on the lottery system. You can practically hear them begging you to take one off their hands, can’t you?

There are also feral sheep, horses and cows, but I’m pretty sure that all the ones we saw were domesticated. (I was really surprised by the amount of farmland on the islands, in a state where land is so expensive that it’s now out of reach of many of the natives.)

I saw several bats fly past us at dusk on both islands, and at one condo where we stayed, an anole visited our patio on multiple occasions, making me homesick for the anoles of Florida. And one day a crab crossed our path on the beach.

Coqui frogs have hitched rides to Hawaii on houseplants shipped from Puerto Rico, and have all but taken over several of the islands. In the interest of full disclosure, I happen to love these frogs, and delighted in being able to record their calls on the Big Island. That’s a sound I hadn’t heard since visiting Puerto Rico, and it brought back wonderful memories. Here’s my recording.

Despite my nostalgia, these frogs have been a disaster for Hawaii. They have no natural predators there, and because of that, in some areas, there are 55,000 coqui per hectare, whereas they max out at 24,000 per hectare in their native habitat.

I may love their vocalizations, but many people find them loud, persistent, and annoying, as they go on from dusk to dawn. These frogs also decimate many bugs, including pollinators, and they’ve impacted tourism and property values.

During our trip, I expected to see lots of spiders, and I wasn’t looking forward to that, but to my relief I saw very few. I was constantly scanning the ocean in the hopes of seeing whales and dolphins. No such luck. I also hoped to see octopus and tiny sharks while snorkeling. Again, nope. But all these creatures were quite prevalent in the many delightful murals throughout the islands, which I wrote about here.

So yes, we saw a lot of fauna during our trip. Many, but not all, are invasive. If you learn only one thing when visiting the Aloha State, let it be this: Humans should never tamper with nature.

Never before have I visited a place that gave me the impression that the land itself was a living entity. Like an animal, it breathes and changes and adapts and grows. It is critically important that we treat it, and its many fragile ecosystems, with respect. Because there’s no place on earth like Hawaii.

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Waimea Canyon in Kauai

The most beautiful place in the state.

I’ve only been to two of the Hawaiian Islands (The Big Island and Kauai), but I’d be rendered speechless if there was any place in this entire state that was more beautiful than Waimea Canyon, especially at its northern end, where you can gaze at the all-but-inaccessible Napali Coast. If you go to Kauai and don’t spend at least half a day here, you are a failure as a traveler as far as I’m concerned.

Seriously. Shame on you. Go to your room and think about what you’ve done.

This canyon is a mile wide, 10 miles long, and somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 feet deep, depending on what source you believe. It looks like the Grand Canyon’s little sister. It’s smaller, yes, but it’s lush and green and vibrant with life. I think I’d have a much easier time surviving in Waimea than in that harsh and rugged valley in Arizona, no matter how iconic it may be. Like the rest of Kauai, there are no snakes and there’s plenty of shade and vegetation.

Moot point, though. While there are plenty of hiking opportunities in this area, you might want to remember that if you hike 2000 feet down to see a waterfall, you’ll have to hike 2000 feet back up. Those days, for me, are decades in the past.

Fortunately, the canyon rim is accessible by car, and there are plenty of overlooks that allow you to revel in the beauty without breaking a sweat. We stopped at five of them, and also visited the museum, where you pay the park’s admission fee. (It would probably be easy to sneak past this fee, but we wanted to pay it if it means the canyon will be well taken care of. A ten-dollar contribution to protect something so priceless is a sound investment as far as I’m concerned.)

Below, you’ll see photos that we took on our visit, and after that are some links that you can check out if you want to learn more about Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast. Many of the pictures on those web pages are spectacular. Enjoy!





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Art Encounters in Hawaii and Kauai

When travel and art collide, my cup runneth over.

Two of my all-time favorite pursuits are travel and art. When those two interests collide, as they so often do, my cup runneth over. Standing in a town square in an exotic country, while gazing at a sculpture that I’ve never seen before, is heaven on earth to me. Bliss. Nirvana. Everything, all at once.

I’ve already written about the gorgeous murals I was lucky enough to see on the islands of Kauai and Hawaii. And I all but raved about the work on display at the Volcano Art Center. So, without further ado, here are some photos of the many forms of art that we encountered on our Hawaiian sojourn that I have yet to share with you. (I always use the term encounter when looking at art because it is so often unexpected, and I usually walk away feeling changed by the experience.) Enjoy!

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Mountain Tubing in Kauai

I was thinking about what this place had been like when the sugarcane plantation was still there.

The first big adventure we had in Hawaii was mountain tubing through an old sugarcane plantation. There’s much to tell! The only reason I’ve been putting off this post is that I knew it was going to require a lot of research. I wasn’t looking forward to it. Read on to find out why.

First of all, the adventure itself was through Kauai Backcountry Adventures, the same company that we’d go ziplining with two days later. (Read more about that here.) I highly recommend this company if you have the good fortune to visit Kauai. Their guides are wonderful, and their website says that they have exclusive access to do excursions in Grove Farm, a 30,000 acre plantation that is currently owned by Steve Case, the former CEO of AOL.

We would be tubing through canals and irrigation ditches that were hand built back in 1870, originally to bring water down from the mountains to irrigate the sugarcane plantation in the flat lands below. It was a very innovative idea, and soon many other farms followed suit.

The ditches were very deep and often lined with stone. It was kind of like floating down a lazy river most of the time. It was mountain water, though, so it was brisk, to say the least. But we soon acclimated to the temperature, and it was quite nice.

We bounced down a short water slide at one point. There were a few stretches of rapids, but nothing that made you feel unsafe. We also shot through several large irrigation tunnels, so it was good that they had provided us with hard hats and lights. We went through there like bumper cars, spinning and colliding with the walls and with each other. They had us cross our ankles to avoid injury. It was very quickly evident why that was a good idea.

We also came upon this wall of rich Hawaiian clay, and the guide said it was kind of a tradition to paint your face with it, so I did… and nobody else did. I thought it made the experience more fun. But it also made me feel very self-conscious.

Here are a few of our videos. Some of our photos are below.

Afterwards they took us to a picnic area and provided us with a make-your-own-sandwich lunch. The entire farm is absolutely gorgeous, and we would have never had the opportunity to see it had it not been for these tours. The tour buses took us through locked gates, and we drove at least 30 minutes down bumpy roads on the farm to reach our destination.

The guides told us that it took a 20-foot stalk of sugarcane to make a teaspoon of sugar, and an entire acre to make a 5 pound bag. That didn’t sound like a very smart business model to me. Surely other crops would be more cost effective. This was where my research began.

The only thing I can find on the internet is that it takes 3 feet of sugarcane to make a teaspoon of sugar. That’s still not ideal, but since they do grow up to 20 feet tall, it’s a little more sustainable, at least. But given that there are approximately 412 teaspoons of sugar in a 5 pound bag, and we’re saying conservatively that you get 6 teaspoons per stalk, it would take about 69 stalks to make a 5 pound bag. I then discovered that you can plant around 15,000 stalks per acre, so it takes waaaaaay less than an acre to make that bag. I’m oddly relieved.

If you’re as nerdy as I am, and want to know Sugar’s Journey from Field to Table, the linked article explains it handily. But as I was floating along on my inner tube that day, I was thinking about what this place must have been like back when the sugarcane plantation was still up and running.

It was hard work in humid weather, working at one of these places. And I assumed, as I floated, that Hawaiian colonialism was the same as colonialism the world over. In other words, I was picturing the indigenous people being worked like slaves in miserable conditions. That made me sad.

I don’t know if this is good news or not, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, when sugarcane became Hawaii’s biggest money maker in the 1830’s, it seems that the bulk of the native population had already been wiped out by European diseases. Only 16 percent of the population survived, as compared to the numbers they had in 1775, and none of that reduced population was in the least bit interested in working on a sugarcane plantation, because they knew how to sustain themselves by farming and fishing.

It turns out that, instead, these plantations had to mistreat imported workers from Japan, China, the Philippines, Portugal and Puerto Rico. They were often indentured servants and were essentially slaves. The last sugarcane plantation, which had been attempting to use their product to make biofuel without much success, shut down in 2016, but really, sugarcane’s heyday ended with statehood in 1959, when tourism became the big “cash crop” of Hawaii. If you want to know more about the history of sugarcane in Hawaii, check out this article.

Now, let’s talk about Grove Farm in particular. In 1850, these royal Hawaiian lands were “purchased” by a European guy who I won’t even name, and it went from European to European until it was owned by the Wilcox family, also European, in 1864. It stayed in his family until 2000, when Steve Case bought it under rather sketchy circumstances.

It seems that by then there were so many Wilcox heirs that the place was managed by a governing board, and according to this piece in the Star Bulletin, that board told the heirs that the place was on the verge of bankruptcy, and they should sell it immediately. To the chairman’s son-in-law. The board claimed that the place was only worth 74.50 per share. The son-in-law was offering $125 per share, so it would have been a good deal if the numbers were accurate.

In fact, there had been no appraisals or business valuations conducted. A large enough percentage of the heirs voted against that sale to prevent it from going through. It was obvious that an official value of the property was needed. So the board came up with a list of potential valuation consultants, most of which were highly reputable. But in the end, they settled on a guy who, at the time, was in a work furlough program at a jail in Oahu. He was in there for theft.

Naturally, the guy screwed up the valuation, but said it was worth between $86 and $98 per share, which was more than the original estimate, at least. But Bank of Hawaii executives later said it was worth $138 to $150 per share. In the end, Steve Case paid $152 per share, so it was a good deal, more or less. But his father’s law firm had represented Grove Farm for decades, and the board had allowed him to represent both the farm and Steve Case during negotiations. Can you say conflict of interest?

But according to this article, in 2008 the court struck down the lawsuit that was brought by the shareholders. And so Steve Case is now the third largest landholder in Kauai. The vast majority of Hawaii is not owned by native Hawaiians. It’s heartbreaking to contemplate. It also makes me have limited sympathy for the Wilcox heirs, because every square inch of this land should be returned to the heirs of the native Hawaiians whom we tricked out of the land in the first place.

In light of that, it makes me sad that the tour guides on both our excursions, all young Hawaiian natives, said, proudly, that Steve Case has protected this land from development for the next 75 years. I had to do a lot of digging on that. I can’t find anything that confirms it. I’m sure the tour boss, the one whose business is allowed exclusive access to Grove Farm, wrote their script.

What I did find is that, of the 30,000 or so acres of the farm, Case applied to the Hawaii Land Use Commission to designate 11,048 acres of it as important agricultural lands. The reason is that he will be growing biofuels there. That was in 2013. Note that the last sugarcane plantation shut down in 2016 after attempting to do the very same thing, so that’s another odd situation.

One way or another, it’s safe to assume that Steve Case is still making a profit. And according to the Department of Agriculture, he’s going to get a huge tax break as well. So yes, this beautiful tract of land will remain agricultural, and that’s good. But I doubt this rich man’s motivations were entirely altruistic.

So there you have it. Nothing is quite as it seems. And that’s true especially on colonial islands. Mountain Tubing was indeed a blast, but I can’t seem to get the bitter taste out of my mouth that formed due to what I learned afterward.

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Ziplining in Kauai

What an overwhelming sense of freedom!

I have come to realize that my fear of heights is not really about the heights as much as it is about my utter lack of confidence that I won’t do something clumsy that causes me to plunge to my death. So, for example, if I have to stand on a precipice, my anxiety level goes through the roof. You couldn’t pay me enough to walk on a rope course at treetop level. I’m not at all comfortable on ladders. I know me. I am the poster child for physical ineptitude. The force (of gravity) is strong with this one.

On the other hand, if there are systems in place to prevent my stumbling off this mortal coil, preferably systems put in place by others, I’m just fine. When I was younger I loved to rock climb. I still love to rappel. I’d still be indoor skydiving if it weren’t for my back. I’m fine with flying, and with tall buildings. I hope to go up in a hot air balloon one of these days. And I absolutely love ziplining.

My first ziplining experience was in Alaska, and I blogged about it here. I learned a lot from that experience. If your fear of heights is related more to your personal potential for disaster, then it’s best to research how one gets to the zipline in question. In that case, I was forced, seven times, to walk across a wobbly rope bridge with slats that seemed like they were a mile apart. Crossing those bridges was a panic-inducing nightmare. After that, the zip lines were a piece of cake.

My second experience was in Vegas. I blogged about it here. Slotzilla is a zipline that gives you the option of either a standard zip or going headfirst while lying face down. It makes you feel like superman. It was really cool. But I’d have never agreed to do it without having first done my homework, which reassured me that the way you get to the zipline is via a nice sturdy elevator. Sign me up!

Another important thing to know, especially in countries where safety standards are a little lax, is what the set up is like in general. How often is their equipment inspected and maintained? And even more critical is knowing how you’ll be stopping once you’re on the zipline. I’ve heard horror stories about ziplining in certain countries where the harnesses were old and frayed, and where the stopping mechanism was a glove that they gave you so that you could grab the line itself while uttering a fervent prayer that you had the upper body strength to prevent yourself from plowing into a tree. No thank you. Definitely read the reviews and visit the website and ask questions if the FAQs don’t satisfy you.

That brings me to my favorite ziplining adventure of all. It was run by Kauai Backcountry Adventures, and they have stellar reviews and an excellent reputation. They drive you to the location, which is a valley in the midst of a 17,000 acre tract of land that included a former sugarcane plantation, and you take 7 ziplines (for a total of a little over a mile) back and forth across the valley, with a rainforest and a winding river below you. The highest line was 250 feet up. You walk on nice wide paths to sturdy wooden platforms that only require a few well built wooden steps up, and there you were, ready to fly.

There were almost as many guides on the trip as there were tourists, and I think I’d have crushed out on several of them if I had been single and 40 years younger. They told some really amazing stories on the way.  Our main guide was a young man named Damien, and we were so impressed by his ambition, confidence, intelligence, and potential. When I heard he hadn’t been to college, I recommended Warren Wilson College to him, because I think he would fit in there perfectly. I hope he looked into it. I’ve been trying for decades to get people into that school because it was the high point of my youth. No luck so far.

Backcountry’s equipment was in great shape, and based on the briefing they gave us, it was obvious that they take safety very seriously. There was even the zipline equivalent of a bunny slope. It was a short zipline that wasn’t very high off the ground. There were guides on both ends, and they were able to gauge how well you handled that line before going on to the other six. Still, I think they were a little surprised when I volunteered to go first.

I get emotional just thinking about the experience. I was flying above the most beautiful place I think I’ve ever been, and I had an overwhelming sense of freedom, and a feeling that everything was as it should be. I haven’t felt like that in a very long time. At one point we were even zipping in the warm Hawaiian rain. It was exhilarating.

At the end of the adventure, the guides took us to a gorgeous swimming hole complete with picnic shelters, and they provided us with a sort of “make your own sandwich” picnic. Some people went swimming, but we just enjoyed sitting at the table, talking to the guides, and watching the ubiquitous chickens wandering around looking for dropped food.

If you ever are lucky enough to go to Kauai, I highly recommend Kauai Backcountry Adventures. Here are some pictures and videos we took during our trip. Enjoy!

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Snorkeling in Hawaii: Tips from My Experience

When I need to go to a happy place, I think of this experience.

Today is World Ocean Day, so I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you about snorkeling in Hawaii. It is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done in my life, in or out of the ocean. But before I tell you about my adventures, here are some tips that we learned about snorkeling, in no particular order.

  1. Bring your own equipment. Yes, you can most likely rent equipment in Hawaii, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a proper fit, and you won’t be sure what shape it’s in, or if it has been properly sanitized, or what outrageous amount of money you will be charged. Before our trip, we got some really nice, full-face snorkels. They cost about 90 bucks, but they had no leakage to speak of, and were quite comfortable. The same usually cannot be said of 30 dollar snorkels. We managed to find fins that were adjustable, and were right in that part of the rigid/flexible spectrum that made us feel content and confident as we swam. We also got some beach shoes with sturdy soles, because we knew we’d be walking over sharp rocks before and after the snorkeling.
  2. If possible, practice in a pool if you’ve never snorkeled before. Since we’re both relatively inexperienced, we had been preparing for our snorkeling adventures in Hawaii for months by using our equipment in our local YMCA pool. It’s a good thing, too, because using fins is really hard on your thighs, so I was grateful to have exercised those muscles prior to the trip. Swimming in an ocean full of waves while trying to avoid getting scraped up by coral is another level of endurance entirely. Being in shape for it is oh, so worth it!
  3. Use reef safe sunscreen. Regular suntan lotion washes off of you, leaves an oily, heat-producing sheen on the water’s surface, and causes toxic chemicals to permeate the reef. We assumed such lotions would be easy to find in Hawaii. In fact, we were shocked that any other types of sunscreen would be for sale in this state. But it turns out that reef safe lotion is hard to come by. My advice to you is to read this article, and order lotion in advance from its recommended products list, because the term “reef safe” isn’t regulated. Any lotion can use it. Read the ingredients. There are a lot of lotions that must be avoided if we want to maintain a living reef system worldwide. Yes, they may be more expensive, but it’s well worth it if it means you can enjoy your snorkel without worrying that you are helping to destroy the very thing you are marveling at.
  4. Use sunscreen, full stop. While snorkeling, your back is facing the sun, and since you’re in the water you don’t feel hot. I can’t tell you how many people I saw in Hawaii that were looking miserably lobster-red because they were hoping to get a nice tan while checking out the marine life. Being covered in blisters or sick as a dog from sun poisoning is a great way to ruin the rest of your vacation. (Been there. Done that, decades ago. I definitely don’t recommend it.)
  5. Never snorkel alone. You never know what might happen in a wild environment, so it’s prudent to have a snorkel buddy, and in fact, choose a beach where there are lifeguards. Some people who have ignored this tip are no longer around to tell the tale. At one point, I got so mesmerized while following a colorful school of fish that after they took off, I popped my head out of the water and saw… no one. It was one of those moments in life when I felt completely and utterly alone. I wasn’t in trouble, and I made it safely back to shore, but it really did wake me up to the potential risks.
  6. Don’t stand on coral. Much of it looks like rock, but it’s not, and any damage you do to it could take years to repair. You are entering a habitat. You wouldn’t walk into someone’s home and stand on their glass tabletop, would you? If you absolutely, positively have to stand, find a sandy spot. But even then, you might disturb something that is hiding under the sand, so proceed with caution.
  7. Even if there are trash cans on the beach, port out your garbage. Those cans can never be emptied often enough, and will overflow. No littering. Please. The world is not your dumpster. And garbage can be deadly to wildlife.
  8. If you’re going to use an underwater camera, practice with it in advance. I had high hopes of having a lot of gorgeous video to show you, dear reader, but we hadn’t thought to practice with the controls on our new Go Pro, and while we thought we were taking plenty of footage, in fact, we only got a minute or two. So now I just have to remember what it was like as I snorkel in my local pool, and I regret that no words can adequately convey to you the beauty I saw while snorkeling in Hawaii. I will post the “best of” our video below. But it’s kind of meh.(Fortunately we figured the go pro out prior to swimming with the manta rays. Read about that adventure here.)
  9. Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t try to feed the marine life. Don’t touch or harass any living creature. For their safety and yours, maintain a reasonable distance from wild animals who are just trying to go about their daily routine. Be pono. (Have respect.)
  10. Be aware of your surroundings. Snorkel in clear water, close to shore and within sight of a lifeguard. Yes, there are sharks. According to this hair-raising list of shark incidents that is maintained by the State of Hawaii, there have only been 6 human fatalities since 1995, which is practically nothing when you consider how many people go into the ocean in Hawaii on any given day, but if I counted correctly, there have been 127 other non-fatal incidents during that time-frame, and even a love nibble isn’t something that you want to experience from a shark. If you sort the list by activity type, you’ll find that the vast majority of snorkeling incidents were in deep, turgid waters. And by the way, there are other things that can hurt you, too, so use common sense, and enjoy the experience as safely as you can.
  11. Plan to snorkel toward the beginning of your trip. It is very important to be mindful of the weather, because it can change rapidly in Hawaii. If dark clouds are rushing toward you, or you hear thunder, or if the water looks like a washing machine, it’s not a good time to become one with nature. Even just windy days can cut down reef visibility quite a bit. We missed out on one of Hawaii’s most beautiful snorkeling sites, Pu-uhonua o Hanaunau (thank goodness it’s also called Two-Step) on the west coast of the big island, because the sky was turning black and we heard thunder. It will be one of the biggest travel regrets of my life that we had no time to reschedule. It is one of the best snorkel spots to encounter green turtles, dolphins and seals, and the thought that I missed that chance still brings tears to my eyes.

As I said, today is World Ocean Day, so let me tell you about my recent love affair with the Pacific Ocean, also known as our snorkeling adventures during a recent visit to Hawaii.

We had three amazing snorkeling experiences. The first two were on the island of Kauai. One was at Poipu Beach, on the south shore. A tour guide on another excursion told us that it was his favorite place to snorkel, so we had to check it out. The other was at Lydgate Park, on the east side of the island. On the big island, we went to Kahalu’u Beach on the Kona Coast.

Again, my apologies for not bringing back all the amazing footage I had hoped for. I’m sure you can google snorkeling at any one of these locations and find dozens of videos. It will be worth the effort.

But what was it like? I can only say that I have never been presented with so much dazzling color in my life. The fish, the sea urchins, the crabs, even the sea cucumbers were colorful. Under the water, it was very quiet. I felt like a peeping tom in a sacred place. And I also felt so very privileged. This was a gift. Mostly I floated along and watched the miracles unfold. At one point, I was surrounded by a school of Yellowfin Surgeonfish. It actually made me kind of emotional to be allowed among them. Here’s the footage.

Much of the coral close in was a surprising monochrome tan, but it was still full of vivid life. At one point I went into a hidden coral cove, and right in the center of it was a dome-shaped coral structure, about the size of a Volkswagen beetle, and it was a bright lime green on the sides and a rich lilac color on top. It made me gasp. I just floated there for about 10 minutes, burning this image on my retinas, while (unsuccessfully) recording it on my go pro. When I need to go to a happy place, I think of that moment, just me and this gigantic, gorgeous coral. It felt right. It felt good. I felt connected to the world in a way that I never have before.

Because we fell down on the job when it comes to capturing the images for this post, what you see below are pictures, pulled from the internet, of many of the types of fish I saw in Hawaii. I still can’t believe my luck. Get out there if you can, Dear Reader. There is still a bit of the planet left to enjoy. Don’t miss it.

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Twice the Vacation

We each see things that the other person may have overlooked.

Upon returning home from our recent trip to Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii, I knew I had a big job ahead of me. I would have thousands of photos to go through in order to create my posts. (Thank heavens for digital photography! In decades past I would have had to develop all of these rolls of film, and it would have cost nearly as much as the trip!).

Looking at the pictures taken on my phone vs. the ones taken on that of Dear Husband, I noticed some interesting differences. It almost looks as though we were on different trips. Different things drew our focus.

This, of course, is a sweeping generalization, but DH is about the big picture, while I’m more into the minute details. His photos are often wide, gorgeous panoramas that reveal the surroundings more beautifully than I ever could. They’re larger than life, just like he is. He also likes to take selfies of the two of us. (I can’t complain there!)

While he is doing his panoramas, I seem to be zooming in on flowers or interesting textures. I’m analyzing, thinking, soaking things in little by little, while he is celebrating, reveling in the vastness. First and foremost, I’m drawn to art in its many forms. Easily 98 percent of the photos of Hawaiian art that we came home with were taken by me. DH’s photos are more about the beauty of nature. He wants to go to see what’s beyond the horizon, whereas I want to linger and examine… and then go see what’s beyond the horizon.

I’m content to move on only after I’ve pieced together the puzzle that is my current location. Yes, we did the vast majority of our trip practically joined at the hip, even if our photos don’t always reflect that. And the truth is, I’m glad about our different perspectives. We each see things that the other may have otherwise overlooked, and that means we both gain insight. We spent a lot of time exclaiming, “Wow! Look at that!”

On second thought, we weren’t on different trips. We were on one wonderful trip that was twice as amazing for having been shared with one another. How lucky am I? Below are some photos that were taken by each of us. It shouldn’t be hard for you to guess which half were taken by me. (I wish I could have included some of DH’s panoramas, but apparently WordPress doesn’t allow that format.)

Anyway, enjoy! And tell me what you tend to focus on when you travel in the comments below!

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Hawaiian Murals

A love of nature is a big part of Hawaiian culture.

Since I adore public art in all it’s many forms, I was really looking forward to our recent trip to Hawaii. It would be a chance to see new places and look at new things. And the Aloha State did not disappoint.

The murals I saw during my visit tended to take on a natural theme, and that makes perfect sense. There is a lot of natural beauty to draw on for inspiration in that state. Having said that, I’m impressed that those talented artists manage to live there. Everything is outrageously expensive, and artists are notoriously underpaid. So each time I looked at their work, I felt proud of the person who created it, for the very fact of their perseverance.

Another reason for this recurring natural theme is that a love of nature is a big part of Hawaiian culture. It’s called aina. This article explains it well:

“Aina means land. Life in Hawaii is lived outdoors — malls, homes, offices, and even the airport are built with open-air walkways, large windows, or lanais (balconies or patios) so you’re never fully indoors. Native Hawaiians see their identities and wellbeing entwined with the land, and so respecting it and living in it are of the utmost importance.  Simply having lunch outside or taking a stroll through a park can help reconnect you to the aina.”

What follows are photos I took, or got from my Pokemon Go app, of the murals I saw in Hawaii. Think of this as a tribute to aina and a tribute to all artists who possess a strong survival instinct. Enjoy!

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