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Since both of our condos faced west–and because, as a group, we never managed to get up early enough to go out where we could see a sunrise–we are top heavy with sunset pictures. Now that we’re back home, I’m kind of kicking myself for not making the effort to capture a sunrise, but there’s not much I can do about it now, I suppose. I’m not complaining…really…and I’m guessing that after you see our pictures, you won’t be either. Enjoy.

Sunset from our lanai in Kona - Big Island

We didn’t realize it at the time, but the haze you commonly see in Hawaii is caused by the volcanic ash in the atmosphere from Kilauea. The locals call it “vog.” Clever, no? Not to be confused with the haze we saw in Los Angeles which is neither volcanic ash, nor fog. It’s just nasty.

Sunset over the lava flow - Big Island

Sunset over the lava flow - Big Island

Sunset over the harbor in downtown Kona - Big Island

Sunset over Waikiki through the "vog" - Oahu

The trade winds shifted the third day we were on Oahu and blew the vog away from us, so the sunset pictures from here on out are much clearer.

While shopping in the little town of Haleiwa on the North Shore, a shop owner suggested we join the locals to watch the sunset in a nearby park. I will always be grateful to that guy. We took more than 50 pictures of the sunset over Waialua Bay. I’ll be judicious and only post three.

Sunset over Waialua Bay - Oahu

Sunset over Waialua Bay - Oahu

Sunset over Waialua Bay - Oahu

The next night, we were treated to a fabulous sunset at the luau we attended at Paradise Cove. I can’t honestly recommend the luau, but the sunset was spectacular!

Sunset over Paradise Cove - Oahu

On our final evening in Hawaii, Mother Nature provided a breathtaking sunset over Waikiki to photograph and enjoy. We were grateful.

Sunset over Waikiki - Oahu

The building in Waikiki aglow from the sunset - Oahu

Sunset over Waikiki - Our last sunset in Hawaii

And with that, I bring my posts about our Hawaiian adventures to a close; however, because it was such an amazing trip, I’m sure the stories and pictures will continue to pop up in my blog for a long time to come. Come back and visit anytime.

Aloha!

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Because we enjoyed the North Shore of Oahu so much, we made two separate treks to that part of the island. On one trip, we stopped along the way to see the Kaneohe military base where Harry (my father-in-law) was stationed right after World War II. Today, Kaneohe is a Marine air base, but in Harry’s day it was a naval base. In either case, the military is setting on one gorgeous piece of real estate. We rolled onto the base with cameras snapping and the video camera rolling (you’re shocked, I know)…that is until we stopped at the security gate and were asked not to photograph the entrance. Whoops! The young marine at the guard house was very sweet..and patient (I’m guessing he has lots of sisters and/or aunts at home)…and with a slight eyeroll, he allowed us to pull into a parking lot just inside the entrance to take a few shots of two World War II-era airplanes displayed near the gate.

Kaneohe Marine Corp Base Hawaii

As we headed north out of Kaneohe on Highway 83, we saw gorgeous ocean views on our right and verdant mountain peaks on our left. We didn’t know which way to turn.

Mountains along the highway to the North Shore

The farther north we went, the cloudier it got. Eventually, the low-hanging clouds obscured the mountain peaks. The mix of mountains and clouds was so beautiful, we hardly missed the sunshine.

Mountains along Pali Highway

By the time we reached the string of shrimp shacks littered along the North Shore, the sun was back out and the crowds had gathered. We were not deterred. We pulled into Giovanni’s on the recommendation of my niece, Alison, and my good friend, Sally, and elbowed our way onto an already crowded picnic table.

Giovanni's Shrimp Shack

If Alison and Sally hadn’t told us about the shrimp shacks–and if I didn’t trust both of them implicitly–I would have never thought to stop at this beat-up old RV for any reason–much less to pay good money for something that I was going to ingest, but, boy, am I glad we did.

Giovanni's Shrimp Shack

Carey wasted no time bellying up to the order window while Ruth, Janie, Carole, and I staked out our place at a table and chatted up the other tourists who were already elbow deep in garlic, butter, and shrimp shells.

Carey placing our order

While I never saw any signs stating as much, I came to believe that it’s illegal to serve anything in Hawaii without a side of rice. And yes, that is roasted garlic perched on top of the rice. Lots of roasted garlic. The shrimp is…well, the shrimp is indescribably delish. And I don’t even really like shrimp!

Shrimp Scampi a la Giovanni's...YUM!

With full bellies, greasy fingers, and breath that could knock over a buffalo 50 paces away, we got back into the car and headed to the infamous North Shore beaches to see the giant waves that that part of Hawaii is famous for. We weren’t disappointed, and we didn’t even get to see the really big ones. The waves we did see were big enough though. As we learned from the local news the next morning, the waves we were oohing and aahing over that afternoon were big enough to cause serious injuries to two surfers. I believe it.

Waves off the North Shore

Besides being enormous, the waves are also deafening–definitive evidence that Mother Nature is not to be trifled with…unless, that is, you have dog doodie for brains.

Another shot of the North Shore waves

The pull of the water on our ankles; the incredible colors of the sea, sand, and sky; the roaring waves hitting the lava formations along the shore; and the smell and taste of the salty sea air certainly gave us pause.

Janie wading in

Of course, the hunky surfers weren’t hard to contemplate, either.

More North Shore waves

The folks who purposely walk into that water carrying a big board that appears intent on knocking someone’s teeth out are certainly made of different stuff than I am.

North Shore waves at Waialua Bay

Giant waves at Waialua Bay

And please note, being young in this part of the world does not excuse you from paying homage to the surf gods.

Passing a love of surfing on to the next generation

As for us, we were perfectly happy holding down the beach towels. Hey, someone has to watch the crazies..and the sunsets. Just wait until you see our sunset photos! I’ll post them next.

Holding down the beach towels

Well, you had to know this was coming. What’s a trip to Hawaii without beaches? Not much, I’m here to tell you. Here are a few of our favorites on the island of Oahu.

Some of the most gorgeous shorelines you’ll find anywhere are along the southeastern coast of Oahu just passed Hanauma Bay heading northeast. The colors on this part of the island are blinding. We stopped at several pullouts along Kalanianaole Highway to snap pictures and enjoy the sunshine.

The shoreline along Kalanianaole Highway

The shoreline along the Kalanianaole Highway

While stopped at this pullout, we got to see the beach where the famous love scene in From Here to Eternity was filmed. You would really have to want to get to that beach to climb down the lava cliff it takes to get there. But gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

The beach from Here to Eternity

A few miles further on, we stopped to see (and, of course, take pictures of) the Halona Blowhole.

The Halona Blowhole

Thar she blows!

The Halona Blowhole

No, Ruth. We’re not in Kansas anymore…we’re not in Missouri, either.

Shoreline along the Kalanianaole Highway

At the beach in the picture below, signs warn people to stay out of the water unless they are expert swimmers and/or surfers. The waves here looked enormous–at least, they did until we got to the North Shore–even so, I wouldn’t ignore the signs!

Wawamalu Beach - also called Sandy Beach

Further up the shoreline, we stopped to take pictures of Kaohikaipu Island (also called Rabbit Island–don’t ask me why–they told us when I was there last winter, but I don’t remember the details) and the Makapuu Point Lighthouse.

Kaohikaipu Island is also called Rabbit Island

Makapuu Point Lighthouse

Unfortunately, our stops at all these gorgeous beaches were for photo ops only, no swimming. That changed a few days later when Janie, Carey, and I spent the morning snorkeling and swimming at Hanauma Bay…even though there were jellyfish warnings posted.

Danger, Will Robinson! Run away! Run away!

Really. Jellyfish warning signs. Apparently, when park personnel arrived that morning to open the bay to the public, they found close to 200 Portuguese Man o’ War jellyfish washed up onto the beach. Oooooo. Good thing we left Carole in Honolulu. But Hanauma Bay is absolute Paradise. How could we possibly NOT get in? So we did, and we didn’t see a single jellyfish…except on the signs.

Hanauma Bay in all its glory

Hanauma Bay is essentially an enormous natural aquarium, a protected ecosystem where sea lions, turtles, and spinner dolphins frolic year round. In the winter, particularly in February, Hanauma Bay becomes a prime spot for whale watching.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay

Although Janie, Carey, and I failed to spot sea lions, turtles, or dolphins, we did see hundreds of brightly colored fish that swam around within inches of us as we skimmed over the reefs where they live. We also saw Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukaupua’a. Seriously. The humuhumunukunukaupua’a. You can find t-shirts everywhere with its name printed across the front…around the side…across the back…around the other side…

The beach at Hanauma Bay

We also enjoyed the sand, the sunshine, a snooze, the sound of the waves, the incredibly blue sky…another snooze.

The view from Janie's beach blanket

Heaven. Pure heaven.

From the beginning, Pearl Harbor was at the top of Ruth’s list of sites to visit in Hawaii. For good reason. She knew three of the young men who died on the USS Arizona the morning of December 7, 1941. Nothing–including her fear of water–was going to deter her from visiting the memorial and paying her respects. The somber atmosphere is palpable from the moment you pull into the parking lot.

Entering the Memorial Visitor Center

The launch over to the Memorial

The Memorial out in the harbor

The Memorial perched over the sunken Arizona

The entrance to the Memorial

The ambiance surrounding the Memorial is one of silent respect.

Inside the Memorial

Thanks to the leis that Janie and Darrell treated us to upon our arrival in Honolulu, we had gorgeous flowers with which to honor the three brave Kansas farm boys who perished along with more than 1,100 other servicemen and civilians.

De-stringing our leis

Remembering

Petals floating above the submerged ship

The list of men killed that morning covers one end of the memorial. You cannot helped but be overwhelmed by the loss the wall represents. As the mother of a much-adored young adult son, the mother-in-law of the perfect son-in-law, and the aunt of six lovable young adult nephews–one of whom is a navy veteran–I could hardly breathe.

The wall of names

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since my last post. Which reminds me, if any of you are within the sound of my voice the next time I idiotically tell my traveling companions, “Oh, I’ll organize all our pictures,” you must promise me to grab the nearest newspaper, roll it up as tightly as you can, and give me a good, solid smack. Turns out, between the five of us, we took nearly 1,400 picture, and that doesn’t count the five full DVDs worth of video that Carole shot. Thankfully, making something of Carole’s footage is a project for another day. As it was, compiling the photos, organizing them chronologically, labeling them, and getting them burned onto DVDs for everyone took forever. It didn’t help that my nearly six-year-old computer was waaaay too low on memory and was making threatening-to-explode noises the whole time. I got a wicked new computer out of the deal, but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, the good news is the pictures are done. Finally. And I’m anxious to share the last half of our Hawaiian adventures with you.

The last time I wrote, I believe we’d just arrived in Honolulu. While not all of the pictures I’m sharing in this post were taken on the same day, together they give you a good overview of where we stayed in Waikiki. In subsequent postings, I’ll take you to Pearl Harbor, some of Oahu’s beaches, and then to the North Shore. In my final post on Hawaii, I’ll share some of the photos we took of the glorious sunsets we were lucky enough to enjoy…then, I’m going to tackle the videos. Sigh.

The first picture is the entrance to our condo, a 50-yard long arbor draped with orchids. Ahhhhh.

The entrance to our condo in Waikiki

Our view off the lanai was both beautiful and entertaining. For example, the morning after Halloween, the beach was littered with revelers who’d chosen to just lie where they’d fallen the night before. Most days, we enjoyed watching the surfers, the paddle-boarders, and the variety of ships and small watercraft that were ever present. Unfortunately, we couldn’t hear the surf over the other noises of the city.

Waikiki Beach down below our balcony

The pinkish-color building in this photo is The Royal Hawaiian which was one of the first two hotels to open on Waikiki Beach in the late 1920s. Besides its iconic appearance, The Royal Hawaiian is famous for being the home of the world’s first mai tai and Shirley Temple cocktails. I have nothing to report concerning the latter, but I can tell you without hesitation that a Royal Hawaiian mai tai takes no prisoners. And that’s all I saying about that.

The Royal Hawaiian, home of the world's first mai tai

At one point, we tied a brightly colored shirt on the railing of our lanai so we could tell which lanai was ours. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a picture of it and counting up that high makes me dizzy. You can just guess where we were.

The Waikiki Beach Tower, our condo, from the street below

Our view of Waikiki Beach at street level was just as entertaining as from high above. You see all kinds and people from all over the world. Thankfully, we saw very few thongs or Speedos.

Activity at Waikiki Beach in front of our condo

This guy is Duke Kahanamoku, the most famous surfer and swimmer in Hawaii…ever. He was also an eel wrestler. According to the January 29, 1913, issue of the Long Beach Press, Duke wrestled a ten-foot eel “to the death,” losing the index finger on his right hand in the process. Clearly a stud muffin of the highest order. Today, he stands watch over Waikiki, holding leis and taking pictures of tourists from a video camera posted high on a pole in front of him.

The Duke on the beach at Waikiki

Walking along Kalakaua Avenue, the street that runs parallel to the beach, is a study in juxtaposition. Sunbathers in flip flops (or slippas, as the natives call them) stroll beach tote-to-Prada bag with shoppers in three-inch stilettos. Name any high-end retailer in the Western world. It’s on Kalakaua Avenue, right next to a McDonald’s, Burger King, or ABC convenience store. Hmmmmm.

Walking along Kalakaua Avenue, the street that runs parallel to Waikiki Beach

One of our last mornings in Waikiki, Mother Nature treated us to a rainbow that started downtown and arced right out into the water. Stunning!

A Waikiki rainbow

A Waikiki rainbow

Next, our trip to Pearl Harbor. Aloha!

Hard to believe, but I’m actually happy to be home from Paradise. Oh, we had a fantastic time for sure, but after twelve days on the road…getting in and out of the minivan dozens of times every day…schelpping luggage and tote bags around…and sleeping in strange beds every night, I was most happy to come home and see my boys, my own bathroom, and my bed. And, as has been the case any time I’ve traveled off on my own during the nearly 29 years of our marriage, I came home to a spotless house, an empty laundry basket, a shiny, clean car with a full gas tank, and a bouquet of flowers. Sorry, girls. Tom’s taken. Permanently.

I have so much to tell you–and I will over the next week or two–stuff I just never had the time to sit down and write while we were there mostly because we crammed every day full. By the time we got back to the condo in the evening, we were exhausted. Plus, I encountered technical difficulties at our condo in Waikiki. The one time I attempted to post while we were there, downloading a picture took forever. Since I have lots of pictures to post, I quickly decided I just wasn’t going to use my time in Hawaii watching a stupid progress indicator crawl slowly up to 100% over and over again…especially when there were mai tais to drink, beaches to be walked along, and sunsets to watch.

However, I can report–smugly–that we came home with every item checked off of Ruth’s list of things to see and do. A list that included seeing a volcano, watching a lava flow up close at night, shopping, visiting Pearl Harbor, exploring a coffee plantation and a pineapple plantation, shopping, learning about Hawaii’s history at the Iolani Palace in Honolulu, attending a luau, seeing the BIG waves off the North Shore of Oahu, shopping, and dipping her toes in the surf. We did it ALL! Plus a bit more. And we have the pictures to prove it–more than 1,000 pictures plus hours of video shot and narrated by Carole. Hours. Seriously. She missed nothing.

I’ve given you of brief synopsis of what we did on the Big Island in a previous post, but over the next week or so, I’ll share more details and pictures of our adventures on both islands. Meantime, I’m sorting through all our photos, my notes, the literature we picked up, and my memories while scrambling to get back into the routine of my everyday life. I thank you in advance for your patience while I get it all done. How about if I tempt you to come back with pictures of our view from the lanai at our condo in Waikiki?

Mahalo and aloha!

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The view from our lanai in Waikiki looking north

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The view from our lanai looking south toward Diamond Head - see it peeking over the top of the buildings?

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Moonlight over Waikiki - the morning we left for the airport

Okay, okay. I know I promised that I would keep you all updated on our travels, but that was before I found out we would be going non-stop, all day, every day for the last four days. Any time we’ve been here at the condo since early Friday morning, it’s been to shower, sleep, and get organized for the next outing. This evening, after four full days of exploring the Big Island, we’ve come back early to re-group and get ready to fly to Oahu tomorrow afternoon. Finally, I have a bit of time to write and get you all caught up. I don’t have time to go into great detail, but I will give you an overview of what we’ve been doing.

Friday was our only truly leisurely morning on the lanai. Oh sure, we’ve eaten breakfast out there every morning because what kind of idiots would we be if we didn’t, but our morning meal has become more of a planning session than a relaxing repast. With maps, tourist magazines, and Fodor’s spread out before us, we plan our daily forays with a level of precision that would put most military strategists to shame. Our efforts have paid off. In four days, we’ve covered nearly every corner of this island. That’s not to say that we’ve seen everything. Far from it; however, we have gotten our money’s worth. That’s all I’m saying.

Because our door-to-door travel time getting from KC to Kailua-Kona on Thursday promised to be a nearly 24-hour affair, we agreed weeks ago that Friday would be a day of rest and relaxation. Ha! Excitement and adrenaline got the better of us, and we were out the door before lunchtime, headed into town.

Our first stop was a locally owned restaurant in the shopping district along the waterfront. While our noon meal was nothing to blog about, the quaint little oceanside city of Kailua-Kona is. Shops, galleries, and open-air restaurants line the narrow winding road that runs along the coast. Since few sidewalks exist, visitors and locals alike walk single file along the edge of the pavement as they go about their business while locals sit along the seawall watching the tourists parade by in their goofy hats and loud Hawaiian shirts. A few of the more industrious locals weave hats out of reeds or strum guitars as they watch the world go by, but most just sit and enjoy the show.

Downtown Kailua-Kona

After lunch we did a bit of wandering ourselves, stopping first in an art gallery, then the grounds of St. Michael’s Catholic Church, and finally at the flea market where we loaded up on some exotic local fruits, including dragon fruit, rambutans, and papayas. After a quick run back to the condo, we returned to a well-reviewed restaurant (thanks to the restaurant-finding application on Carey’s iPod) in Kailua-Kona to enjoy dinner on their open-air patio perched on piers above the water. The drinking of fruity alcoholic beverages with little umbrellas ensued.

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Rambutans

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Dragon fruit

Our Saturday morning started early because we were heading across the island to see the volcano. To get there, we traveled south along the Kona Coast, stopping as we went to see Kealakekua Bay and St. Benedict’s Painted Church.

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Kealakekua Bay

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St. Benedict's Painted Church

As we rounded the southern tip of the island, we got off the main highway and headed even further south down a bumpy mostly one-lane road (Hertz is going to love us) to South Point (Ka Lae) the southern-most tip of the island which is also the southern-most tip of the United States. Talk about windswept and desolate. You feel like you’re literally clinging to the edge of the world, but, oh my word, is it beautiful.

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The road to Ka Lae (South Point)

At some point in the last twenty or so years, some enterprising soul thought to erect a wind farm to capture the gales roaring across the peninsula, but today most of the tall, ghostly white turbines are abandoned and rusting. Only one row of newer looking windmills still spin in the wind. We don’t know why, but there you are.

The rutted narrow road leading to South Point ends at a parking area more than a quarter of a mile up a rather steep incline from the water, so we all piled out and started hiking. I’m so glad we did. The sea was at low tide, so as we clamored over the hardened lava flow lining the beach, we found numerous tide pools full of small fish and tiny crabs.

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Ka Lae (South Point)

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Exploring the tide pools on Ka Lae

Our next stop was at a black sand beach on the east side of the island called Punalu’u Beach Park where we saw a big ol’ sea turtle sunning himself, doing his best to ignore all the tourists who were flapping around him, snapping pictures.

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Sunbathing sea turtle

After another hour or so of driving, we could see the plume of smoke rising from Kilauea and could smell the sulphur. Only a few minutes later we arrived at what the GPS was telling us was the entrance to the park. It was closed! In a bit of a panic, we tuned the car radio to the park’s information station and learned that the volcano’s sulphur emissions are currently two to four times levels considered safe, so the National Park Service had closed the downwind half of the road that runs around the rim of the volcano. Luckily for us and everyone else atop Kilauea that day, the upwind portion of the park was still open. Hazzah! We hurried to that entrance and to the visitor’s center. At this point, I could write forever about what we saw and experience at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park—I think all five of us would hardily agree that we enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience—but I could never do it all justice in the short time I have to write this post, but I will give you a short synopsis and then post pictures.

In a nutshell: we stood at the rim of the caldera where the plume we saw as we approached the park was rising hundreds of feet into the sky; we saw steam pouring from vents all around us and even got to stand right over a couple of the vents and feel the heat rising from the earth’s interior; we walked through the Thurston Lava Tube, “a lighted prehistoric cavelike tube”  where “several hundred years ago a river of red hot lava rushed through” on its way to the sea; and we walked nearly a mile across a hardened lava field in the pitch dark (aided only by dinky little flashlights) to see fiery lava flowing down the side of the volcano, through the vegetation where trees exploded in its path, and finally into the ocean where massive towers of glowing red and orange smoke rose into the night sky. It was spectacular. It was breath-taking. It was unbelievable. And, please note, when I say “we,” I mean all five of us. Ruth did it all. She’s a ROCK STAR!

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The Kilauea caldera

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A steam vent

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Thurston Lava Tube

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Lava flowing down the mountain

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Trees bursting into flames

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Lava spilling into the sea

It was nearly midnight by the time we got back over the mountains (volcanoes) and into bed, but we were up early on Sunday because Ruth, Janie, and Carole wanted to go to mass before we headed out to explore the Hilo side of Hawaii. While the three of them went into Kailua-Kona to attend mass at St. Michael’s, the nearly 160-year-old church we’d seen on Friday, a church where half the mass is done in Hawaiian, Carey and I did some research and mapped our route for the day.

They were back by 10:30 and we were headed to Hilo. This time, instead of going around the bottom of the island, we headed toward the top and crossed over on the north side of Mauna Kea, the tallest volcano on the island. Although it has not erupted in nearly 4,500 years, it is still considered an active volcano.

The Hilo side of the island is wetter than the Kona side, so it’s more tropical and lush. Hundreds of waterfalls flow from the mountaintops on that side of the island, many of which can be seen just driving down the highway. But we wanted to see a waterfall up close, so we stopped in Akaka Falls State Park to see one of the most dazzling and accessible falls (many require a strenuous hike or a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to) on that part of the island. Spilling more than 400 feet to the floor of a steamy tropical rainforest filled with banyan trees, banana trees, two- and three-story tall bamboo shoots as thick as a weightlifter’s thigh, and hundreds of tropical plants and orchids of every shape and color, Akaka Falls is…is…well, shoot, I’m running out of adjectives. Some things you just have to see for yourself.

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Akaka Falls

After our stroll through the rainforest, we headed into Hilo with the intent of going to a botanical garden, but the garden was closed. We have no idea why, but this is Hawaii. Islanders seem to close things when it suits them. Guide books be damned. Probably a good day for surfing or fishing. Who knows. We weren’t too upset though. Short of having labels to tell us what we’d been looking at back at the Falls, we’d already walked through a spectacular botanical garden…even though—until a German tourist set us straight—we thought the blooms on the banana tree we were ogling and taking pictures of were some kind of an orchid. Somehow we missed the big bunches of bananas hanging nearby. Hey, give us a break. How many banana trees have you seen growing in Kansas!?

We noodled around with the idea of stopping to do some shopping in Hilo, but after the extremely late night the previous evening, we decided to make our way back to the other side of the island and eat dinner closer to the condo. Once again, Carey and some gee-whiz application on her iPod found us a great place to eat.

Monday, Ruth got a quick hit of Walmart and Target as we went screaming through both in search of aqua socks and sun hats. I don’t think she was very pleased about being rushed through her favorite haunts so quickly, but we were on a mission. We were heading to a local coffee plantation and then to the beach.

Compared to the other islands in the chain, there aren’t many sand beaches on the Big Island, but the ones that are here are gorgeous. For example, the Big Island has the only green sand beach in the world. Unfortunately, we were unable to go because it can only be accessed via an hour-and-a-half-long hike. Please note, if you plan on visiting the Big Island, rent a four-wheel drive and bring your hiking shoes. Many of the most raved about sites are hard to get to.

Anyway, for our outing on Monday, we chose a beach with easy access on the northwest shore called Hapuna Beach. It was glorious: white sand, rolling surf, and palm trees lining the beach. Because of the other activities we had planned for the day, we didn’t bring our suits, but we waded in as far as our capris, shorts, or skirts would allow. Not surprisingly, we walked out of the surf dripping wet from thighs down, smiling like idiots, sand between our toes. Even Ruth got in. Really. I have pictures. Look!

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Ruth ventures in...slowly

From the beach, we headed up to Kawaihae Harbor for a late lunch and a bit of shopping and then back to the condo to get ready to leave tomorrow…which is where we are now. If all goes as planned, Ruth, Janie, and Carole will be up and out the door early to cram in as much shopping as they can manage before we have to head to the airport. Carey and I will be holding down lounge chairs at the pool overlooking the ocean. Hey, someone’s got to do it.

Aloha!

My mother-in-law, Ruth, sisters-in-law, Janie and Carole, my daughter, Carey, and I departed for Hawaii from Kansas City on time Thursday morning with minimal flap. Oh, there was the requisite jostling of crap in and out of tote bags, digging in purses for IDs, and fumbling for Ziploc bags full of toiletries, but for this group of travelers, that can safely be called minimal flap. The flight itself was smooth and uneventful—that is, if you don’t count the coffee Ruth spilled on Janie—and we were even treated to a view of the Grand Canyon at no extra charge. Janie, Ruth, and Carole had a good view of the canyon from their side of the plane. Carey and I crossed the aisle for a peek. We touched down in LA 15 or 20 minutes early.

Thankfully, our layover in LA went very smoothly. I’ll admit, I jumped the gun on the airport shuttle, taking the shuttle that was headed to the parking lots instead of to the departure gates—Hey! the driver lied and told me he’d take us there—but we got where we needed to go with only minimal fuss, so no foul.

Once our checked luggage was safely on its way to whatever vortex checked luggage disappears into, we found a spot to sit and relax while we waited for Encounter, the restaurant atop the funky spaceship-looking building in the center of the airport complex, to open at 11 a.m. We had plenty to occupy us as we waited. LA is a fun place to people watch. I’m fairly the certain the per capita number of folks in sunglasses is at its highest in LA. Plus, Carey thinks she saw the guy who wrote and starred in Super Size Me, but we couldn’t be certain. I’m sorry to say, no other celebrity sightings occurred.

The spaceship building at LAX is under renovation, so we had to skirt scaffolding and union protesters as we walked around the perimeter hunting for the entrance to Encounter. The scaffolding was up when I went through LA in March, and it doesn’t look like they’ve made any progress to speak of since. Anyway, after much marching about and asking for directions from kind (and bemused) strangers, our little parade of five, toting sundry Hawaiian rolling bags, backpacks, and purses, finally found the entrance and made our way to the elevators.

The Entourage

The Entourage

An Elevator Encounter

An elevator Encounter

The elevators going up to Encounter are an experience all on their own. The small, capsule-like enclosures with wild-colored amoeba shapes climbing up the walls have psychedelic piped-in music that starts as soon as the doors close and that stops as soon as the doors open. Groovy, man. The doors open onto a bar area and a mostly unobstructed 360° view of LAX…and the LA smog. Cough. Cough.

The manager of the restaurant greeted us like we were long-lost relatives and, with a grand flourish, showed us to a great table with a view, indicating a spot along a nearby wall where we could deposit our plunder. We had a lot of time to kill before our flight to Honolulu, so the meal was a leisurely affair. We took the edge off our hunger with a plate of edemame before enjoying our salads and sandwiches. And, of course, we took pictures. Pictures of the food, pictures of the view, pictures of us, pictures of us with Duane (our waiter), pictures of the funky bathroom, and pictures of the elevator. Our time at Encounter was well documented.

Janie, Ruth, Carole, Mary, Carey, and Duane at Encounter

Janie, Ruth, Carole, Mary, Carey, and Duane at Encounter

Then it was back to the terminal and through security. More fumbling.

Our flight to Honolulu was delayed while mechanics worked to replace the pilot’s oxygen canister. Apparently, testing showed it was threatening to malfunction. I suppose if anyone on the plane needs an oxygen mask in an emergency, it would be the pilot, so we waited…and waited…and waited. Just over an hour after our scheduled departure time, we pushed back from the gate and were on our way.

We were on a 767, a plane with two seats on the outside of the aisles and three seats between them. When I booked the flight, I struggled with our seat selection because I knew that Janie, Carole, and Carey would enjoy having a window seat and that Ruth would want a seat where she COULDN’T see the water. I settled on the outside aisle seats in three consecutive rows, seated two, two, and one. On that flight, I was the one. My seatmate, Mike, was a very nice man whom I would guess to be in his mid- to late-50s, a nice man who was easily 6’5” and close to 300 pounds. He sat in the aisle seat and, after lifting the armrest, part of mine. I’m not complaining, really. Mike was as pleasant and as considerate as he could have possibly been under the circumstances, but I was still smashed against the window. And then, as is so often the case when I find myself of long distance flights, I was sitting behind a total tool who threw his seat back into my lap. Whop!

The tool was the same numb nuts who got on the plane with a “carry-on” that was just barely smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle and who spent more than 20 minutes trying to cram the aforementioned monstrosity into an overhead bin where it clearly was NEVER going to fit. Finally, in frustration, he began asking other passengers if he could move their bags to bins further back in the plane so he could get his stowed. He then had the gall to act indignant when they told him, “No!” I repeat. He was a numb nuts, a total jerk who sat down RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! Within 20 minutes his Mohawk—yes, he had a Mohawk, not a faux-hawk, but a Mohawk and he was easily my age—was lying in my lap sound asleep.

Meanwhile, a few rows back, Janie and Carole were having their own adventures. Early in the flight, Carole tried to get her headphones plugged in. As she fumbled around trying to insert the plug into any hole she could find within arm’s reach, she unknowingly pushed the call button. Both she and Janie were surprised when a cheerful flight attendant appeared asking what they needed. After assessing the situation and their blank faces, he smiled knowingly, gallantly plugged in Carole’s headset, and headed off to assist other hapless passengers. Sometime later, he re-appeared—this time, not so cheerily—and reached over their heads to turn off the call light that once again had mysteriously come on. Then, without saying a word, he reached over Janie and punched Carole’s call button (probably to disable it) and left. Carole was mortified, Janie was amused, and the flight attendant was…well, I’m guessing he’s seen it all before.

Thanks to Janie’s forethought and Darrell and Janie’s generosity, we were greeted at Honolulu International Airport with orchid leis. Much picture taking ensued. Daisy, the lei lady—I kid you not, her name was really Daisy; how’s that for irony—was absolutely wonderful. Thanks to her kind and patient guidance, our plane change in Honolulu went off without a hitch. As an added bonus, the intoxicating smell of the leis totally masked the full day of travel stink we’d accumulated since our departure from Kansas City nearly 21 hours earlier.

aDaisy Greets Ruth at the Airport
Daisy greets Ruth at the airport
Of course we're smiling. We just got lei'd!

Aloha! Hawaii

After a pleasant and very short flight, we were at the car rental place in Kona by 9:00 p.m. While Ruth guarded the luggage and Carole squirreled around with the GPS that her husband, Paul, had so thoughtfully pre-programmed with many of our destinations, the rest of us stood in line to get our car. Well, actually, it’s a minivan, but let’s not split hairs.

After loading the minivan with our luggage, we took off for a Safeway to get a few breakfast supplies before heading to the condo. We wanted to be sure that we wouldn’t have to get out this morning if we didn’t want to. We didn’t want to. It was pitch dark when we got here last night, so we couldn’t see the view off our lanai, but we could hear it. This morning, the view took our breath away. We’ve been sitting out here pretty much non-stop ever since. As Carey so insightfully and eloquently pointed out at one point during our reverie, “This does not suck.”

I’ll post a running narrative of our Hawaiian adventures here on this blog (including more details about the condo), and I’ll post information about specific places we visit on P.S. Wish You Were Here. We hope you’ll tag along!

Aloha!

The view off our lanai looking north

The view off our lanai looking north

The view looking north

The view looking south

The shore 25 feet off our lanai

The shore 25 feet off our lanai

Last Friday, the final day of our stay in Colorado, Tom and I decided to do a bit more sightseeing up in the mountains. Specifically, we wanted to go back into Rocky Mountain National Park and hike around the Alluvial Fan. Just briefly, for those who might not be familiar with it, the Alluvial Fan was formed in the early 80s when the dam of a lake sitting high up in the mountains failed. The rupture sent more than 29 million gallons of water, slit, rocks, trees, and SUV-size boulders cascading down the mountainside and onto the floor of the valley below. The devastation to the surrounding landscape was mind-boggling. Even worse, three people in its path were killed. Tom, the kids, and I visited the site a few years after the disaster when the area still looked raw and broken. It was a sobering experience.

Now, nearly 30 years later, neither the mountainside nor the valley floor looks like a war zone. The entire area is covered with trees, bushes, and other vegetation, and little ground squirrels scamper everywhere. If the gigantic boulders weren’t scattered around like old cars in a junkyard, you might not even give that section of the park special notice. We were amazed–and heartened–by Mother Nature’s power to reclaim her own.

Looking back up the mountains where the water came down through
Looking back up the mountains where the water came down
Looking out across the scattered boulders toward the valley floor

Looking out across the scattered boulders toward the valley floor

We had also decided that day that it would be fun to stop at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park for breakfast before going up to hike the Fan. This created a conundrum. Should we dress in appropriate hiking attire–a.k.a. t-shirts, jeans, and tennis shoes–or should we kick it up a notch to avoid looking like a couple of rubes schlepping through The Stanley? What a silly question. We were on vacation. We schlepped.

The Stanley Hotel - Boulder, CO

The Stanley Hotel - Boulder, CO

The Stanley Hotel is really quite lovely, sitting on the mountainside overlooking Estes Park. The entryway leading to the main building makes a sweeping arc around the expansive lawn, leads you past a field of grazing elk, and deposits you next to a little white guard house from which Barney Fife pops out to extract a parking fee from you. The interesting thing–in hindsight–about Barney and the parking fee was we realized there were no signs posted mentioning anything about parking fees. Sharp tack that he was, ol’ Barney saw us coming. Heck fire, we were from out of state. We were driving a late model car. Surely we were good for a little extra pocket change…which is exactly where he put the money I idiotically gave him…into his pocket. No receipt to display in our window. No cash register in his little guard house in which to deposit the bills. No “Thank ya, ma’am.” No “Kiss my arse.” The money went straight into his pocket with a smile. Forehead smack. I bet he got that cheap-ass badge he was wearing off the internet!

Once we got parked and had finished debating the legitimacy of Barney and his fee collection, we headed into the hotel. Whereas I had earlier dismissed our casual clothing with the excuse that we were on vacation, my tune did a 180 when we entered the lobby…which was elegant…and full of business professionals at some sort of a business conference…in business attire. Groan. We wandered around–as inconspicuously as possible–for several minutes, looking for the restaurant without luck before I finally resorted to asking for help at the front desk. It was a beautiful day, and the hotel staff had all the doors and windows wide open to let the fabulous mountain breeze to blow through. As I stood speaking to the desk clerk, I could feel the breeze, but I could also feel something else. Something strange. Something that felt like a sail waving back and forth on the top of my head. I patted the top of my head and continued speaking with the clerk until I had the information I needed, and then I turned to Tom and bleated, “Do I have a sticky-out pointy-thing on my head?”

“Well, yes,” he said hesitantly. “Your hair is kinda sticking up.”

Here, I must backtrack. When we got ready that morning, the only water coming out of the showerhead in our cottage was scalding hot, so grooming had been a bit dicey. I’ve got my own hormonal heat source going full blast right now, so the hot shower gave me no alternative but to retreat from the steamy bathroom as quickly as possible. Before leaving, however, I did attempt (admittedly a half-hearted attempt) to blow dry my hair. I didn’t even consider putting on makeup. I figured I’d sit in the other room to read and cool off while Tom showered, and then I’d go back in and do my makeup. Brilliant. Well…fast-forward back to the hotel.

“What do you mean my hair is ‘kinda sticking up’?” I hissed, and then I noticed Tom’s hair. He’d taken his ball cap off and his bangs (do men have bangs?) were standing straight up like…well, like…you remember in Something About Mary when Cameron Diaz uses “gel” to fix her bangs? Yeah, his bangs looked like that, so off we went to the bathrooms.

My attempts to get my hair under control were futile, and, in the process, I saw that I have forgotten to return to the bathroom at the cottage to apply makeup. I was a pointy-haired, mottled-skinned, lip-less, eye-less, brow-less freak. Tom came out of the bathroom with his hair all slicked down looking like a grease monkey.

“Shall we?”

“Yes, let’s.” And we headed upstairs to the restaurant.

When we arrived at the entrance to the restaurant, we discovered that we were 20 minutes too late for breakfast and 10 minutes too early for lunch, as were several other guests who had congregated around the door. Not wanting to waste any more time looking for another restaurant, we decided to see the thing through and stood trying to blend into our surroundings. As we waited, Tom began fumbling around with his hat which sent his sunglasses clattering to the hardwood floor. He stepped back in an attempt to avoid stepping on them, but instead…CRACK…and a lense went skittering across the floor. “Man,” he muttered. “That was close.”

I stared at him in disbelief. “No,” I thought. “You got those sons-o’-bitches dead on” and then burst into laughter…uncontrollable laughter…laughter that sent me staggering around where I stood. I’m guessing at that point we were no longer inconspicuous.

I was still snickering 10 minutes later when the hostess seated us and even later still when our waiter, “Guido,” finally came over to look down his nose, give us the squonk eye, and take our order. Fair enough.

But just so you, my faithful readers, know…the food at The Stanley is NOT worth the effort…or the parking fee.

At the moment, Tom and I are sitting at the sidewalk tables in front of the BookEnd Café in Boulder, Colorado, soaking up the atmosphere and a large glass of iced black tea. Okay, okay. I also nibbled on a cookie, but I’m on vacation, so it doesn’t count. Anyway, it’s a beautiful day here in Boulder, and it was a beautiful morning at our cottage up in St. Vrain Canyon just outside of Lyons, Colorado.

We arrived at the cottage early yesterday afternoon after spending Sunday night with some good friends in Denver. We had a wonderful time in Denver, and hope—with any luck—to spend another evening with our friends before heading back home, maybe a dinner here in Boulder with them. I’ll let you know.

Meantime, we’re doing as much NOTHING as possible. This morning, doing nothing meant hanging out in the cottage. Yes, the cottage of Shelly’s Cottages fame, the same cottage I wrote about earlier. If you read my post on P.S., it will not surprise you at all that being a guest at Shelly’s involves RULES. Even more rules than we were given when we first made the reservation, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We headed up to the cottage from Denver mid-morning yesterday. According to the official-looking letter we received from Shelly’s prior to our departure from home, check-in time at the cottages is 3 p.m. Considering the no-nonsense tone of the phone conversation with Kim, the owner, when I initially made the reservation and the equally strident tone of the letter, we were a bit nervous about arriving any earlier than we were “allowed,” so we pit-stopped in Boulder to eat a late breakfast and to kill some time. There aren’t many places on the planet more entertaining to hang out and watch the world go by than the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder—which partially explains why we came back this afternoon—but after leisurely morning meal and a slow stroll up and down the mall yesterday, we were tired and ready to get unpacked and settled. We took a deep breath and called Kim to inquire about an early check-in.

Kim was perfectly pleasant. Our cottage wasn’t ready just yet, but if we could wait an hour, she’d finish cleaning it and have it waiting for us. Sweet! An hour was just enough time to grab a few groceries and drive the 20-or-so miles up there. We headed back to the car, found a Whole Foods a few blocks away (imagine finding a Whole Foods in Boulder), and grabbed a grocery cart. The cottage has a full kitchen, so we figured it would be a good idea to bring in breakfast- and lunch-type goodies, making it easier to sloth around until such time we feel compelled to tidy up and leave the cottage this week. As an aside–and in our defense–our lives have been pretty nutty lately, so—at this point—our idea of the perfect vacation is one that involves no dress clothes, no early mornings, and no schedule of any kind. Sweats and flannel pants are required.

Anyway, Whole Foods was packed, so shopping took longer than we expected. Since we were ready to crash for the day, we decided to grab salads at the salad bar at the grocery store to eliminate the need for another stop on our way to the cottage or the need to go scavenging for lunch after getting settled. Elbows out, we navigated our way down each side of the salad bar, filling our re-cycled, totally organic, flimsy-ass paper salad containers, and headed to the front of the store to check out. Thank goodness, I’d had the presence of mind to grab my re-usable grocery bags from the car before entering the store. I would not want to be the lone schmuck standing in line at the Whole Foods in Boulder, CO, the birthplace of all things green and the home of the largest contingent of Green Peace volunteers I’ve ever been accosted by, having to ask to have my groceries sacked in paper or plastic.

After a long wait at the checkout, the two of us and our re-usable grocery bags full of healthy, over-priced chow were headed for the car. Because we hadn’t been to the cottages yet, the trunk was still full of luggage, so we loaded the groceries in the backseat of my car and took off for Lyons (In the wrong direction, but that’s another post. Stupid googlemaps.). Within minutes of leaving the grocery store, I could smell the balsamic vinaigrette on Tom’s salad. “That’s strange,” I thought to myself, but because I was driving, I had to concentrate on going the wrong way out of Boulder. We’d have to deal with the smell later.

Once we were out of the circus that is Boulder traffic, I said aloud, “Man, I can really smell the dressing on your salad.” Apparently, Tom had been thinking the same thing. Without a word, he whirled around in his seat and lifted the offending bag. “Shit,” he mumbled.

Salad dressing was everywhere, including on the leather seat of the car, so we pulled over in a little town outside of Boulder (Niwot for those of you who know the area) to assess the damage and attempt a clean-up with the only thing I had in the glovebox: Windex wipes. Dried-out, nappy Windex wipes. Ugh. Needless to say, it was a feeble clean-up attempt.

So, still going the wrong way (actually, it wasn’t necessarily the wrong way, it was just the loooooong way—I repeat, stupid googlemaps), we got back out on the road, more desperate than ever to reach our destination. As we drove, Tom clung to the dripping salad container (around which the helpful checkout clerk had placed a large, worthless rubber band), grumbling and cursing, periodically threatening to throw the whole mess out the window. After 5 miles or so, we couldn’t take the smell any longer and rolled the windows down. It was about then I got the giggles, then the guffaws. Then we hit road construction.

Thirty long minutes later, we pulled into the driveway of Shelly’s Cottages and leapt from the car, gasping for fresh air. Before we could do anything meaningful about the salad dressing mess, we had to get checked in, so we headed to the office where we were met by a smiling, cheerful Kim who robotically ran through all of the additional rules for staying at Shelly’s that had not already been posted for our viewing pleasure on the website. She concluded her spiel by saying, “ Also, you need to know there are black bears in the area.  In fact, there are often black bears on the property, so NEVER leave any food outside and be sure to place all your trash in the receptacles behind the cottage. Oh! And don’t leave any food in your car.”

“Are you kidding,” I shrieked in my head. “My leather seats are currently marinating in balsamic vinaigrette. My car’s an Italian-panini-sandwich-lover’s dream! Total bear food!” Groan.

Luckily, I was exhausted when we went to bed last night, so I didn’t lie there worrying about a bear eating my car, but I sure as heck checked on it when I finally crawled out of bed about 9:30 this morning.

We drove to Boulder with the car windows down this afternoon, so, with any luck, my car won’t smell like an Italian deli when we get back in it.

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