Weeks in Paradise
(plus a whole lotta hours g at the airport!)
June 24 July 7, 2007
Sometimes we take a journey that does not necessarily put us on a trail for 10 hours a day or have us scrambling to some lofty peak. But it does provide us with plenty of exercise and a chance to participate in some outdoor activities that can not be done anywhere else. We just returned from spending two weeks on the Hawaiian Islands and that, in itself, should have been enough of an adventure. However, this trip was a series of adventures, and several misadventures, that, strung together made for a moment in time that we will not soon forget.
First, much to my disappointment, but not to my surprise, we did not see any moose on this adventure either. Well, maybe one of these days.
The first leg of this adventure began at Dulles Airport, in DC, when our United Airlines flight to Los Angeles was delayed 3 hours due to "mechanical problems". We stood in a customer service line for 1.5 hours to rebook a connecting flight from LA to Honolulu because we would be missing our planned connection. As soon as we touched down in LA, our "new" connecting flight was cancelled so we stood in yet another "customer disservice" line for 4 hours, with 150 other people, trying to get another flight to Honolulu. If you want to experience customer service at its ultimate worst, try dealing with United Airlines Customer Service. These folks make the personnel at the local MVA office look like saints and I firmly believe that it is a UA company policy that the number of customer service representatives at the counter must always be inversely proportional to the number of passengers in line needing help. As frustrating as the whole experience was, we were still better off than several other folks in line. One had his sister's wedding dress in his luggage and everyone was waiting for him in Honolulu for the wedding to start. As it turned out, the wedding would end up being a day late or she would get married in her bathing suit. There was also a couple who was headed to Hawaii for their honeymoon and would be spending the first two days of it in Los Angeles. We finally booked a flight for the following afternoon which meant that "Mom" would miss the first day of the conference that she was attending the first week of our trip. We would also miss a luau that we already paid for which bummed me out; not so much about the money but I was looking forward to dining on some pit-roasted pork, pineapple and other native delicacies. UA, feeling so bad about our predicament, provided us with four meal vouchers totaling $30.00 and a voucher for a free room at the elegant Motel 6 down the street. Talk about adding insult to injury! We insisted on a voucher for a hotel of our choice and spent the night at a Marriott near the airport.
We arrived in Hawaii on Monday night, a day late and one suitcase short. Seems with all the flight delays and cancellations, one of my suitcases ended up at the airport in Kona but eventually arrived at our room at 12:30 a.m. (three days later) Well, at least I was able to do some clothes shopping. We never had this much trouble getting where we needed to go when we were on the AT.
There was one highlight of our flight from LA to Honolulu though. "Mom" came in as "runner-up" in the United Airlines "Halfway Contest" where, based on information provided by the pilot, such as air speed, headwind speed, miles to Honolulu from Los Angeles, departure time and other data, she had to calculate at what time would we be halfway to Hawaii. She missed the right answer by a mere 13 seconds. For her efforts, she received a gift coupon for a box of chocolates at "Hilo Hattie's" ( "Hawaii's Store")
"Mom" was attending an engineering education conference for her employer so I was able to get in a bit more vacationing than she. One of my goals on this trip was to visit the place where they film the TV show, "Lost". So, on Tuesday I road an ATV on a tour through the location where "Lost" is shot as well as several other well-known movies such as "Jurassic Park", "Mighty Joe Young", "Windtalkers" (how appropriate for me), as well scenes from "You, Me and Dupree", "30 First Dates", "Pearl Harbor" and many others. There was actually a film crew on the site filming a movie for the Sci-Fi Channel when we rode through.
Wednesday "Mom" was again off to her conference and I was off to the USS Arizona Memorial. What a moving and emotional experience this was. The museum, which everyone visits prior to the boat ride out to the memorial, is packed with information, anecdotes, scale models and blow-by-blow accounts of the attack that pulled us into WW II. The museum is built on a landfill area and, since its opening day, the building has settled 30". The building is sitting on jacks and each year they pump the jacks up to keep the building level. Right now they can pump the jacks up no more so, next year, the museum will be leveled and a new one built in its place. There are areas of the building that are roped off to keep people out so they do not get hit by falling concrete as the building moves.
I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Bill Cope, a WW-II, B-52 bomber pilot and one of only a handful of Pearl Harbor attack survivors still living. His telling of the story that made him famous was quite comical considering the circumstances. Seems he was flying his bomber over a Japanese harbor and was taking heavy ground fire. His bombardier was manning a machine gun and did not hear the entire command from Bill "prepare to drop your bombs". Hearing only "drop your bombs" and thinking that they had taken a hit and needed to bale out, the bombardier immediately dropped all his bombs at once and sank a Japanese destroyer; evidently not the planned target. Bill Cope received a medal and notoriety for sinking the ship.
The numerous other stories of bravery and sacrifice on that day were incredibly moving. The way that the country united and sacrificed as a nation made me a bit ashamed of how weak we now are as a nation unwilling or simply incapable of displaying that same type of unity of purpose in the battle against terrorism. For us, being at war is an inconvenience and amounts to nothing more than a continuing news story that we hear about each evening thrown in with all the other stories. Imagine, we have men dieing for ours' and Iraq's freedom and someone like Paris Hilton, who has contributed nothing of value to society and has never sacrificed a day in her life, gets more attention by the news media than the very people who are fighting to give her the liberty to be a spoiled and useless individual. Sorry, I digress. I just thought CNN and Larry King were more professional than all those other talking heads when it came to addressing what, and who, is important in the news.
The blazing white, USS Arizona Memorial, rises from the harbor, directly over, and perpendicular to, the sunken ship it honors. The ship can be seen right below the surface and each day a quart of oil rises to the surface and is carried away by the tide. Inside the memorial, on a large white wall, is engraved the names of the 1,177 crewmen that lost their lives when the ship was struck by a 1,760 lb armor-piercing bomb that ignited its forward ammunition magazine. The ship sank in only nine minutes. The sight of all those names, fathers, sons and brothers, brought a hush over the entire group in the room. There were 37 sets of brothers on that ship and 23 sets of them perished along with a father and his sons. We were told that as the remaining survivors of the USS Arizona pass away, many of them have their remains placed in the ship's Gun Turret #4, so they can be with the rest of their fallen comrades. It was impossible to walk away from this monument to courage without feeling emotionally drained.
As if this were not enough military history for the day, I also visited the Army Museum near our hotel. Again, this was a moving testimonial to the men and women who, over decades, have made America what is today. This museum also has a marvelous gallery of original artwork depicting scenes from the lives of the military in Iraq. It was amazingly touching stuff.
With the conference over, and the two days of assessing the metrology lab at the Hawaii Department of Weights and Measures completed, "Mom" treated herself to a massage at the spa at our hotel while I went down to the pool for a drink, to watch the evening Polynesian show and to take a few sunset photos.
Our historic streak of running into people we know wherever we go is still in tact; even in Hawaii. On Thursday night we met up with Tom and Sharon Hutteman, professional associates of "Mom's", for a great sushi dinner, drinks and wonderful conversation.
On Saturday, with "Mom's" work on Oahu finally completed, we were off to the island of Kauai and three days of just wandering around. One of the things that "Mom" wanted to really do while on Kauai, was to take a helicopter ride over the island. It sounded like an awesome experience but with my claustrophobia, I wondered if I could pull it off. Well, I sucked it up, cranked up my headphones and we both enjoyed a spectacular and informative 1.5 hour flight that covered all the historic sites and geological landmarks of the island. If you ever go to Hawaii, do not miss the opportunity to take a helicopter ride it will be one of, if not the highlight, of your trip.
Equally exciting, this first day on Kauai, was the lodging we booked for our time there. Being veteran backpackers, with 6-months experience dealing with the minimalist and communal living arrangements of a hostel, we had booked three nights at the Kappa'a House in the tiny village of, you guessed it, Kapa'a. Having experienced so much beauty and grandeur on the islands, we were quite taken back, and equally fearful, of staying there. This facility is one for Ty Pennington and his design crew a new episode called "Extreme Makeover, Hostel Edition". We quickly, and much to our relief, found a hotel near by and were able to get a room. The rest of the day was spent exploring the area, sipping drinks by the pool or eating dinner outside while we watched hula dancers putting on a show.
As we were driving around the island, we could not help but notice that everywhere we looked we saw chickens and roosters. I mean everywhere; alongside the roads, in people's front yards, and even on town streets and in town parks. Seems that years ago, a hurricane hit the island, destroying the chicken farms which released all the chickens and roosters and distributed them all over the island. Since they have no natural predators (not even man, armed with his barbeque grille), they have flourished. It is so funny to wake up in your hotel room to the sound of a crowing rooster.
Early the next morning we drove the coastal highway to Waimea Canyon which is called the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific". It is 10 miles long, 1 mile wide, and more than 3,500-feet deep and we got our first glimpse of its immense beauty the day before during our helicopter ride. The long and winding road to the top, to Puu O Kilo lookout (4,280') provided amazing views and plenty of places to stop for "Mom" to capture the sites on film (well, it is really memory card, these days). At the lookout, we donned our day packs and rain gear, and, in a light drizzle, headed onto the Pihea Trail for a 2.2-mile round trip hike to Pihea Peak (4,284'). The meager 4 elevation change between these two points is deceptive because there is a long descent that results in a much longer final ascent than one would anticipate. This area is also the rainiest place on earth with upwards of 431" of rain per year so we spent a good deal of our time hiking in rain and drizzle. There were also several muddy, steep climbs that required us to grab hold of roots and branches to be able to make any headway. We were quite amazed at how slippery worn, volcanic rock becomes when it gets wet. We also marched across numerous "puncheons" and found the terrain to be very similar to that in Maine (though quite a bit warmer). We finally reached the lookout at Pihea Peak where we took a break and viewed the Na Pali coast and the surrounding valleys each time the clouds blew out to sea. On our way back down from the Puu O Kila Lookout, we stopped at Kokee State Park for lunch.
Then it was on to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and lighthouse at Kilauea Point. We arrived about 30 minutes before closing but still had time to view the hundreds of Albatrosses, Red-Footed Boobies, Tropicbirds, Loons, Fulmers and Petrels, that call the trees and cliffs here their home. We were even able to view a male and female Monk Seal sunning themselves on a distant rock. Their nap was abruptly interrupted by a second male who challenged the first male to a fight and chased him off into the pounding surf. The Monk Seal is an endangered specie and there are currently only 1,000 left in the world; most of them near this refuge.
With the day quickly drawing to a close, we headed toward the town of Hanalei where we would find the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail and, hopefully a place to take some dramatic sunset photos. Our original plan was to do as much hiking and camping as possible and "Mom", above all else, wanted to hike the 11-mile Kalalau Trail, along the Na Pali Coast, and camp along the way. This would be a picturesque 2-3 day hike. Unfortunately, we were not able to hike as much as we wanted to due to time constraints and the constant warnings everywhere pertaining to the vandalism of tourist automobiles and the theft of their belongings at trailheads. These continual and insistent warnings, sort of took the joy out of wandering through paradise. Add to this the difficulty of acquiring permits to camp in the State and National Parks on the islands, and our desire to backpack Kauai took a back seat to staying alive and hanging onto our belongings. For obvious reasons, this type of information does not appear in the Hawaii tourism brochures. We arrived at the trailhead parking lot just before 6:00 p.m. in order to scope out things for a possible 8-mile jaunt on the trail to a spectacular waterfall the next day. However, we thought better of it when we saw how crowded the parking lot was and how unsafe it appeared to be. Add to that, the fact that we parked next to a pickup truck where a somewhat disheveled and, apparently inebriated group of locals, were tying a wild boar they had captured with the help of their dogs, to a rack on the truck's bed and our hiking plans dramatically changed.
A bit discouraged, we drove back into Hanalei, found a local park that fronted Hanalei Bay and walked the beach until the sunset began. Needless to say, "Mom" got some gorgeous sunset pictures before the day finally came to an end.
Monday would be our last day on Kauai so we decided to do something we had not done in awhile; kayaking. And there is good reason we had not done more of this activity over the years; we suck at it! There is also a reason why they call two-person kayaks, "Divorce Makers". In fact, our last outing in a two-person kayak was such a stressful event, that "Mom" went a step further with the nicknaming and dubbed them a "Widow Maker".
Undaunted, and willing to give it another try after 6 months of working together as a well-oiled hiking machine on the AT and feeling that we had honed our abilities to function as a team to razor-sharp status, we headed out with a tour group to the mouth of the Wailua River. This trip was a combination of four miles of kayaking, two miles of hiking and a stop for lunch at a pristine pool at the base of the 125' high Secret Falls. Our efforts in the kayak were a bit better, mainly due to the fact that the kayak had a rudder which helped with the steering. However, one of the pedals for operating the rudder was in need of repair and turning left was a real challenge. I though we did pretty well, this time out, but "Mom", in no uncertain terms, let me know that we had better consider single kayaks the next time out. We had a nice hike, though the trail was very crowded, and Secret Falls, where we had lunch, is anything but secret. There were probably 150 people at the falls (and an equal number of chickens and roosters) by the time we headed back to our kayaks. It was nice, though, swimming across the ice-cold pool to stand underneath the waterfall.
Now it was back to the hotel to swim, sit in the hot tub, and drink red wine and Mai Tai's before we had our last romantic dinner on Kauai. Tomorrow we were off to Maui for two days and then a final day on Oahu and we still had a long list of things we wanted to do before going home. 1) Go to the top of the Haleakala Crater (10,000'), 2) Hike up to the top of Diamondhead, 3) Snorkeling, 4) Sunset dinner cruise on the 4th of July, 5) Drive the infamous road to Hanna, 6) Go to a luau.
The flight from Kauai to Maui on GO Airlines was uneventful and quick and before we knew it we were in a rented Mustang convertible on the famous Hanna Highway; 32 miles of narrow, white-knuckle, edge-of-the-cliff driving with its 617 curves, gorgeous coastal views, numerous waterfalls, bamboo tunnels, Banyan and Eucalyptus trees and rainbows. It took over four hours to complete the trip to Hanna and back and finally getting on a multi-lane highway, where 55 mph felt like flying, was a welcome relief.
view of the highway, in fact in view from almost anywhere on the island, was the
Haleakala Crater rising 10,000 feet above the coastline. To drive to the top of
this monster, to view a spectacular sunrise, and then back down, would take
around 6 hours, we were told. Or, we could take a tour bus ride to the top and
ride a bike down. Either way, it looked like we would simply not have enough
time to fit this adventure in before having to leave for Oahu.
Having completed our journey to Hanna, we were off to Wailuku to locate our lodging for the next two evenings; the "Banana Bungalow" which was a hostel recommended to us by fellow 2006 AT thru-hiker, "Jersey", who had spent 6 weeks on the islands not long ago. This place was definitely a step up from our last hostel experience but, being the oldest clientele on the premises, convinced us that this would be a good place to shower and sleep but little else. After a quick run to the local mall to get a bite to eat we arrived back at the hostel and called it a day. We had big plans for the next day, the 4th of July, and wanted to be well rested.
"Mom", especially, had been looking forward to this day the entire trip and could not wait to take our romantic sunset cruise on the waters off Lahaina and watch the fireworks display from the deck of the boat..
We really wanted to go snorkeling but could not schedule it so as to be back in time for the cruise. So, we wandered around the historic city of Lahaina, which at one time was the capital of Hawaii. We visited the many shops and art galleries and had a wonderful day. One of the galleries contained magnificent landscape and seascape photographs, by Australian photographer, Peter Lik and "Mom" was simply enthralled by the beauty of his work. I, on the other hand, became captivated by several landscapes by painter, Alexander Volko. As I read through a nearby book on this painter, I discovered that he came to the US years ago, married a woman from Flemington, NJ, where I went to high school, and currently lives in Hunterdon County, NJ where I lived until I was 27.
We heard from a tour sales rep, at one of the sidewalk kiosks, that our dinner cruise ship had run aground the day before and was out of service. He even showed us a newspaper article about it to verify that he was speaking the truth. So, I guess we should not have been surprised when we arrived at our boat slip, one hour before our scheduled boarding time, and were told by the crew members of another ship that our cruise had, indeed, been cancelled. The company that we booked the cruise with had never contacted us, or another couple who arrived at the boat the same time as we did, that our dinner cruise was cancelled.
"Mom" was ready to hang it up but, knowing that this was THE ONE THING that she absolutely had her heart set on doing while on the islands, I approached other cruise ships to try to get us a reservation. Since it was the 4th of July, I was not surprised to find that they were all booked up. One, however, was willing to put us on a waiting list should someone not show for their 7:00 cruise. We hung around and, sure enough, just before 7:00 p.m., two people changed to a later cruise and we were able to get on. Thanks to Kevin, of the Pacific Whale Foundation and his "can do" customer service, we were on a wonderful dinner cruise, at sunset, and got to watch the 4th of July fireworks from the deck of the ship right out in the harbor where the fireworks were shot from a barge.
The next morning, we were up early to catch our flight back to Oahu for the last day of our trip. We got our rental car, which, as it had been in Maui, was a total fiasco because the company that we made our reservations through, evidently, never confirmed them with Alamo. We traveled down the street to our hotel, dropped our packs and were then off to the State of Hawaii Weight & Measures Laboratory, to pick up the luggage that we had left with them while we visited the other islands. Before we knew it we were driving past Diamondhead and up the beautiful coast of Oahu. We made numerous stops to take photos of the waves crashing against the soaring cliffs that rose from the ocean like mighty fortresses. This was the Hawaii that we had always seen portrayed in the travel brochures. It was spectacular! In a shopping center near Hanauma Bay, we found a place to rent masks, snorkels and fins and we were then off to spend the afternoon in the crystal blue waters and coral reefs of Hanauma Bay.
We were not disappointed and, for over two hours, we swam through acres of coral and watched myriads of fish, of every shape and color, swim by glistening in the afternoon sun. The highlight of the day was to see two sea turtles and to swim right over top of them. Now, being that close to them was not our original intention. But, every time we got close to one, and wanted to just float in one spot and observed their behavior, a current would come in and wash us right over the top of them. We were lucky they did not see us and decide to rise from the reef they would have run right into us. We told one of the staff at the information booth what we had experienced, with the turtles, and she said she had worked and been snorkeling there for years and had never seen even one sea turtle. So for us to have seen two, in one day, was quite a fortunate experience.
It was hard to believe that the following morning, our trip to Hawaii would be over. There were so many things that we had not had time to do so we vowed that we would be back soon and do all those things we missed this time around.
In a very uncustomary turn of events, we arrived at the airport late and had to run to our gate so as to not miss our flight. Much to our amazement, we not only made it in time, but as soon as we arrived at the gate, we were informed that we had been upgraded to "first class". How cool was that? I had never flown first class before and, I have to admit, it is the only way to fly. The fact that we were able to fly first class to Los Angeles, sort of tempered our aggravation with having our connecting flight from LA to Washington, delayed 1.5 hours while they repaired the air conditioning. We finally arrived in DC at 2:30 a.m., as did ALL of our luggage, this time, and it was home for a welcome night's rest.
All in all, it was a fantastic adventure, and even the weird and aggravating stuff that happened contributed to it being a memorable trip. Well, till next time:
Mahalo ("Thank You", in Hawaiian)