Archive for the 'travel' Category

Big Island: Friday, December 11, 2009

After another evening sleeping with the slider doors open to the soft island breezes and sounds of the ocean waves, we awoke and made our way down to the hotel’s lagoon area. We spent all day there and it felt GREAT! We enjoyed a shady cabana, cool tropical drinks and even went out for a little kayak ride. Terry got some snorkel gear and was able to see some really cool and colorful tropical fish. We read, listed to our iPods and just generally lazed around. Seriously, my butt was even sore from just being sat on all day. And I don’t feel guilty, nope not one bit!

We enjoyed a fabulous romantic dinner at the hotel’s restaurant Brown’s Beach House. What a delicious meal and beautiful atmosphere! Once again we left stuffed and turned in for the night. Lazy day, but that’s what vacations are for, right?

Maui to the Big Island: Thursday, December 10, 2009

Our last few hours in Maui were spent on the beach for a quick dip then after checking out we drove to Lahaina Town for one more Maui meal. We ended up at Cheeseburger in Paradise and enjoyed a couple of Kobe Beef Burgers and fries. Terry also had some of the local beer (Longboard from Kona Brewing Company) and I had a fresh pineapple smoothie with rum. When we left we were stuffed!

We made it to the airport with a little time to spare. We finally got to return our god-forsaken rental car. Yay! A short airport transfer from Maui to the Big Island and upon our arrival we picked out a nice red Mustang convertible for the rest of our stay here. On top of my sister’s generous employee discount at Enterprise, the convertible ended up being the same price as a mid-size, so why not?

We hopped in the sporty little coupe (top down of course!) and sped to our hotel, the Fairmont Orchid. On the way, Terry remarked about how the lava rocks along the land looked like big piles of poop. The jagged brown boulders lined the highway for as far as we could see – well, at least up until where we were able to see the volcano mountains in the distance. I pointed out to Terry how people like to take white rocks and arrange them to make messages along the roadside.

It was only about a half hour drive to the hotel, and even though the rental car shuttle driver got the directions wrong, I remembered enough about it to get us there OK. We were greeted with kukui nut leis and shown to our room. I know a few people at the hotel, and they upgraded us to a beautiful suite on the Gold Level. After a quick unpacking, we gobbled up some pupus in the Gold lounge, went down to the pool and had a little dip in the “hidden” Jacuzzi under the stars. The evening ended beautifully with a glass of Pinot Noir on the lanai.

The view from our room at the Fairmont Orchid.

Maui: Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Our last full day on Maui was spent lazily sleeping in, a long walk on Ka’anapali Beach, then laying about by the hotel pool. Terry occasionally dunked himself in the ocean and I read my book. I mixed up a bottle of Tropical Storms which we enjoyed poolside with Maui Onion chips. We had a light lunch of some delicious pork sliders (undoubtedly leftover roast pig from the previous night’s luau at the hotel) and chatted with a man who owns an upscale poker table manufacturing company.

After pretty much just lazing around, we decided to go into Lahaina Town for dinner and chose the Mai Tai Lounge on the concierge’s recommendation. I don’t want to go into details but the experience was not at all worth recommending – the atmosphere wasn’t great, the food was just OK and the prices were outrageous. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. One thing we could definitely thank the concierge for was showing us the free parking area which we didn’t know even existed.

On the way back to the car, we spent some time browsing art galleries and saw some pretty interesting works. One of them was filled with art (both originals and reproductions) from rock legends such as John Lennon, Mick Fleetwood, Ron Wood, Jimi Hendrix, Steven Tyler and many, many more. It was fascinating and reminded us that although these musicians were surely artists, we sometimes forget they often use other outlets for their creativity as well.

Maui: Tuesday, December 8, 2009

We’ve done so much in such a short time period, today we decided to take it easy. We drove about 40 minutes south to Wailea Beach, where we just spent the whole day doing nothing but laying in the sun, enjoying a few cold beers, and hopping into the water every so often.

The water in Wailea was much calmer than the beaches by our hotel. Still rough at times, it was at least swimmable. Terry rented a boogie board and had a lot of fun with that while I read my book and occasionally jumped in myself. Literally all we did all afternoon was lay around on the beach, and it was awesome!

About the time I figured we should be going soon, I decided to go in one last time. The water temperature was just so nice, and I needed a cooling off. I was just enjoying the water, minding my own business when I looked behind me and HOLY SHIT saw the biggest wave all day making its way to me. And no, it didn’t look like I would be able to bob up with it like and avoid the crest like many of the other waves. Nope, it was going to crest right on top of me. Unfortunately I was right.

Yeah, OK, it was fun. Fun to be doused with an ocean wave, providing it doesn’t slam you against the beach (it didn’t) or carry you off to sea (obviously it didn’t). Yep, the water went up my nose and seemingly came out my ears. I can still remember the flash of whitewater in front of my eyes as I was engulfed. I emerged from the water, laughing at how stupid I must look, and glanced over at Terry who was just checking his email on his Blackberry.

But wait – what’s different? Everything looks different. Hey! My sunglasses! My super-expensive pair of Maui Jim sunglasses are NOT on my face anymore! Honestly I had totally forgotten I had them on and truthfully had never planned on getting wet above the waist anyway. I actually put my hands up on my face, my head, my neck, in disbelief. Damn it! Why did I have to wear those sunglasses today? I could have on my cheap ones, but no, left those back at the hotel. Crap.

Well, they’re gone for good. Swallowed up by the Pacific Ocean. Se la vie. At least I emerged with both contacts still in my eyes – that would have been a much worse problem.

I gave up looking for the sunglasses and we took to the road, soaked and sandy, back to the hotel. Showered the sand out of all the crevices in our bodies, enjoyed a few Tropical Storms and then headed out to the Hyatt Maui for a Luau.

The food was good, and the mai tais were fabulous (though as the night went on seemed to get weaker). The show itself was fantastic. The girls dancing the hula were so lovely, and the Hawaiian folklore they told for each dance was interesting too. I did enjoy the male warrior dancers, the beat of the drum and watching the women sway their hips in fast motion. The best part for both of us though was at the end, when the fire dancer came out. It’s amazing what this guy could do!

After the show, we decided to stop at the Westin again for a few cocktails before heading back to the hotel. We met a guy at the bar who seemed nice at first, but then once we knew him for about 2 minutes he started telling us how much he loves going to Maui’s nude beach. He told us exactly where it was too, I’m guessing he was hoping to see us there the next day. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing, OK, more power to you. I don’t have anything against it. But if I just met you, that’s something you need to really keep to yourself. K?

Maui: Monday, December 7, 2009

Today we woke at the crack of dawn – well, 6:30 isn’t so hard I guess when you’re still used to Phoenix time. Being Pearl Harbor Day (and the 2nd consecutive year I’ve spent this official holiday on the Hawaiian Islands) it would be fitting to go visit the Arizona Memorial. However we weren’t staying on Oahu and an expensive day trip there just didn’t seem worth it, so we’ll have to do that on our next visit instead. :)

We jumped in the car and drove up to Haleakala Crater. If you’ve ever made that drive, then you know that it’s lovely. With a lovely drive often comes a nail-biting, cliff-edge-with-no-guardrail experience, and this was no exception. Additionally, the drive was a lengthy 2 hours, though only about 45 minutes of it was so harrowing.

Once we finally arrived at the trail head on top of the volcano (elevation 10,000 feet) we met our guide Ra, who helped us and three others in our group mount our horses. Mine was an appaloosa named Lucy Liu. Terry rode a beautiful and stocky Belgian draft horse named Chuck. We learned from Ra that Chuck is a big fan of beer, which seemed fitting.

Ra, on Flash, led us on the 2-hour ride down the crater wall to the very bottom. At times even our horses didn’t want to step down the rocky ledges and admittedly sometimes I had to close my eyes. Even the smoothest paths were lined on one side by a steep, rocky hill and on the other by a steeper, ashy descent to the crater floor.  Just one slip of a horse’s hoof and both horse and rider would easily plummet down the crater wall with nothing to stop them until they get to the very bottom.

Some of the path was smooth, rocky steps that the horses had to use as a staircase to the next portion of the trail. I could always tell when we were coming to a scary step because Lucy just stopped on the path and made me wonder if she might be part stubborn donkey. Many kicks and sometimes a crack of the reins got her going but it seemed strange to me that I had to coax my horse down a path I myself really didn’t want to go. At one point she even kept looking back at me as if to say, “are you serious?”

Terry was much more fortunate – Chuck was a good horse and seemed to be predisposed to the Hawaiian laid back, take it as it comes philosophy. Didn’t have any qualms about going where he was supposed to, didn’t try to eat any bushes or wander off the trail. The only time he gave Terry any trouble was when Terry forgot the guide’s implicit instructions not to remove his hat. Horses have a 360 degree line of vision and when they can’t immediately identify an object they are “hard wired” as Ra says, to assume it’s a predator. Well Chuck did freak out, causing quite a ruckus, enough for Terry to meet some fortunately soft volcano ash on the crater floor. Lucky Terry, it happened on the softest and widest part of the trail – no sharp lava rocks (which resemble ocean coral) and no endless slope to slide into oblivion as in most of the rest of the trail. Terry was up, unscathed and back on Chuck within minutes with nothing hurt other than maybe his pride.

The scenery from the crater was very strange. Lava rocks were the overall appearance of the moon, but the colors (blacks and deep reds due to iron) were more like what you’d expect on Mars. The mountains were smooth and soft, and puffy white clouds gathered among them in the distance.

Finally, 2500 feet below our starting point, we reached the volcano’s floor and enjoyed a picnic lunch of sandwiches, chips and fresh pineapple. It doesn’t sound like much but we were ravenous and that combined with the atmosphere just made it a lovely experience. We did have to fight off some pesky nene (birds) who greeted us immediately upon our arrival. I had a feeling they knew it was chow time and any time one of us turned our backs on our food there were upon it, ready to feast on whatever they could.

Aside from the birds’ coos and our own chatting the crater floor was nothing but silence until we were just packing up and heard some hikers coming down in the distance. The acoustics were incredible – the shape of the slopes, along with the lack of wind and other noises allowed us to hear them when they were in the far distance.

We packed up our stuff, visited the mens’ and ladies’ bushes and headed back up the long trail for another 2 hour ride. Although it was easier for us going up than down, I think it was harder on some of our horses, especially Lucy who was sluggish and even more stubborn than before. Poor girl. As we neared the top of the trail our guide told us we only had about a mile left to go. It was about then that I started feeling ill, as if I was going to throw up and something else I can’t describe other than I just didn’t feel “right”. That on top of the extreme pain in my ankles, knees, calves and thighs made me very glad that end was near, but that last part of the ride was definitely the longest. At one point I thought I might have to jump off the horse and puke onto the side of the trail, which was really gross because there weren’t any bushes or anything to hide behind.

Finally we made it back to the top but both Lucy and I were more than ready for it to end. I had a hard time dismounting and then immediately felt the need to sit down. I noticed my hands were shaking and had that sick feeling worse than ever. Ra recognized it as elevation sickness, something I never experienced before, but then never had the occasion to. He recommended we leave and get down to some thicker air before it got worse, so we said farewell to Ra and the horses and made our way down the curvy road.

As we descended the volcano mountain, I started feeling better. The view was lovely – we were high above the cloud line and at one point I even saw a jet plane flying lower than us. It was a long drive back to the hotel but we made it, very tired and very sore. We decided there was no way we wanted to get back in the car so we just had dinner at the overpriced hotel restaurant and called it a night.

Maui: Sunday, December 6, 2009

As I predicted, we were up early. I don’t know whether we’ll ever adjust to the time and since we’re on vacation I’m not sure I really want to. There’s not a whole lot to do here at night and getting up early to enjoy the beautiful mornings is so worth it.

This morning we didn’t spend a lot of time in the room, we jumped in the car and drove to Safeway to pick up some breakfast items. We got cereal, milk, yogurt, chips, cheese, crackers and what would soon become our cocktail of choice, POG (passion fruit – orange – guava juice) and Malibu coconut rum. We packed the fridge back at the hotel, enjoyed a quick, light breakfast and got a little more beach time in.

After a while we decided to drive North a bit, to see what was there. I remember from last year that the Ritz Carlton Kapalua was up that way, but I didn’t have a car at that time and really didn’t get off property much due to a very packed meeting agenda. We drove past it a little way, then soon found ourselves among twisty, turny, tropical roads where when they say “15 miles per hour” they mean “15 miles per hour”. I had looked in my guide book and knew that there were some interesting stops along this road, so we did a couple pull-offs to admire some really pretty views.

The waves were really big and actually quite dangerous. We had overheard some hotel workers talking about how a woman and her daughter were caught up in them the previous day, and once someone finally realized they were calling for help, it was too late. They were in the hospital, but “unresponsive”. I guess looks can be deceiving – the waves don’t look too ominous, but with the beach being so steep and the water surging a certain way, people easily get thrown around and banged up against the beach or even carried out seaward from the undertow. Sad as this phenomenon is, it makes for very exciting surfing. We did see quite a few surfers in some spots, obviously enjoying themselves.

Some other interesting sights we got to experience were not so pleasant. We drove by a pull-off area where someone had taken a skinned boar and draped it over a large rock. It had quite the collection of flies and honestly reminded me of Lord of the Flies which I was forced to read by my junior high English teacher. Gross.

Another pull-off point we encountered seemed to have a lot happening there, as there were quite a few cars. We parked, got out and noticed quite a few signs reading “KEEP OUT” and “PRIVATE PROPERTY”. But heck, why should we listen? Look how many other people are here? Besides, we could always just play the “stupid tourist” card. One other sign which we’re still not sure about, read “COLD COCONUT.” I wonder now if that was some sort of code?

Anyway we walked along a very extremely rocky “beach” area which ended up being more like a cove. There were seacliffs on both sides and a few surfers enjoying the waves. We enjoyed the scenery but also felt some eyes on us as though we didn’t belong there. So we didn’t really dawdle, got back in the car and continued up the road.

Just a little further there was an area where again there were many cars so I pulled off, figuring there must be something here that was interesting enough. We got out and noticed some people hiking toward the sea. Why not? Let’s see what they’re looking at? A few steps later Terry exclaimed, “Cool! Look at that!” It was a huge blowhole, resembling a geyser, set in a rocky area near the coastline. It was the Nakalele blowhole, the very thing I was looking for to surprise him (thank you to my guide book Maui Revealed for the tip). We were instantly excited and really wanted to get closer and experience it. The only caveat – several hundred feet of sharp lava rock lining a deep descent.

Definitely not an easy hike. Definitely not a fun one. Definitely not something I would recommend while wearing flip flops as we were. Especially not my $2.50 Old Navy flip flops. Honestly getting down was not too difficult once I learned to take my time and choose my path carefully. Only one time did I nearly slip due to sandy conditions, which probably would have happened even with sneakers or hiking boots. I’m guessing it took us a good 20+ minutes to hike down to the bottom but once we finally made it, we realized how worth it that climb down was.

There were only two other people at the hole, a very nice couple from Vancouver named Jen and Larry. Can you believe that? The four of us took turns taking photos and videos of each other getting doused by the blowhole and finally when we thought we had enough photographic evidence, we put the cameras aside and just enjoyed the experience together. Honestly this was the most fun I have had in a long time.

I didn’t want to get my camera too close for fear of getting it wet and rendering it useless forever, so I’ll have to describe the blow hole. It is a natural 3-foot-wide hole in a very large, flat rock. It is pink inside, and quite smooth, with some very interesting round starfish which looked almost like  one-inch, black buttons. Underneath is obviously a pocket where water fills up. When the sea is as rough as it has been, the waves crash into the pocket, causing the air and water pressure to spit water straight out into the air (I’m guessing as high as 50 feet or more). At some points it instead heaved out large, heavy swells of white seafoam and water, completely drenching whomever is standing next to the hole.

This photo was taken from quite a distance away – at this point, the blowhole is shooting water up about 100 feet into the air, to give you some perspective.

When we finally had enough of the blowhole, we started our climb back up the rocky hill. Cheap flip flops are not made for hiking over steep, sharp lava rocks, but cheap WET and MUDDY flip flops are certainly not made for it either. At one point I was so focused on getting my footing that I took a wrong turn and ended up on a cliff’s edge. It was a happy accident though, because I discovered a rock with a hole, perfectly shaped into a heart. Very cool.

Back on track, and making my way up the hill I slipped too many times. Finally I discovered that a flat, sandy area, a flat, muddy area or a flat rock was best taken barefoot. That helped a bit, and after a long, truly exhausting climb, we made it back to the car, sore and tired, and more than ready to go back to the hotel.

Full of dirt, ash, dried sweat and sea salt, we both took some much-needed showers and I mixed up some pre-dinner cocktails. We discovered the most delicious beverage ever and named it the “Tropical Storm”. All it is, is POG mixed with Malibu rum. BEST. DRINK. EVER! I have to say, this cocktail is the equivalent of our love affair with gelato when we were in Rome.

After enjoying cocktails, we headed off to Lahaina Town for dinner. We walked along the streets and poked into a few shops. One art gallery had some wonderful prints of retro advertising, something Terry and I are both very fond of. We stepped in to a gift shop where Terry found a cowboy-style hat that looks great on him, and we picked up some T-shirts for the kids. We opted to eat at Kimo’s, a rooftop restaurant overlooking Lahaina Beach . Another sunset dinner and more mai tais – life was good! I enjoyed my filet mignon immensely but saved room for their famous dessert, Hula Pie: Oreo crust with macadamia nut ice cream.

Completely full, we walked back towards the car, but were sidetracked by Cheeseburger in Paradise. We went upstairs to the bar which was loaded with kitschy Hawaiian tiki décor, license plates and plastic cheeseburgers. Terry enjoyed a local beer called Longboard and I had a Pina Colada, while we engaged in conversation with the bartender, a really friendly and nice guy.

Drinks at Cheeseburger in Paradise.

Exhausted (again) and thoroughly stuffed (again), we made our way back to the car and drove back to the hotel to crash for the night. Having fun is hard work!

Maui – Saturday, December 5, 2009

Early flight out, Phoenix to Honolulu. Our seats on the plane were not the best, but not the worst either. The 6-1/2 hour flight was long and uneventful, and well worth it once we landed in Honolulu. We had time to grab a quick lunch and enjoy a fruity cocktail before our transfer to Kahului airport in Maui. Spent entirely too much time at the rental car desk, but once that was sorted out we had chosen a zippy-looking red Mitsubishi Eclipse 2-door coupe. You surely can’t judge a book by its cover – the car was sporty and sleek on the outside but it wasn’t long before we realized it was not really a great choice. It’s not easy to get in and out of, and it has many, many blind spots. One thing it does have is good acceleration which barely makes up for its complete lack of turning radius. But enough about the car… we’re in Hawaii!

We checked in to our hotel room, with a nicely appointed king bed, LCD TV and a balcony overlooking a parking lot, rooftops and to the side, Ka’anapali Beach. Not the best view, but not too bad. We can see Molokai and quite a bit of water. I’ve certainly stayed in worse rooms than this. It is nice and clean, and the bed is surprisingly comfortable too. One of the best things which I find in so few hotels, is that the lamps on the bedside tables have outlets built in, so we are able to charge our phones as we sleep without moving the mattress to look for the outlet. It’s amazing more hotels do not have this feature.

We honestly didn’t spend much time in the room, as it was mid-afternoon and we wanted to get some beach time in before the sun set. And we surely did. We changed into our swimsuits, grabbed a few towels, and headed down to the beach which was directly in front of our hotel. The water was a bit cool at first, but easy to get used to and just wonderful. Having never been to this particular beach before, I did notice the sand was a bit different than my other Hawaiian experiences – it was a bit more coarse than DT Fleming or Wailea. Still, the water was clean and warm and what more do you want in a beach?

After some time there, we walked up to the pool area and enjoyed a few cocktails while watching the sun set over Lana’i. Very pretty. With the 3-hour time difference our internal clocks were quite off. It was about 9:00PM at home, and we were famished. A quick shower, change and we hopped in the car for a 2-minute drive to nearby Whaler’s Village where we walked past some local and chain shops toward the beach. Though we had a few choices, we opted for the Barefoot Bar at the Hula Grill, despite a 30-minute wait. We decided to bide our time at the bar of the nearby Westin where we tried a local beer which I wasn’t too much a fan of honestly, it was a little too hoppy for my taste.

Finally when our table was ready we were led onto the beach area, where we sat and enjoyed the atmosphere of ocean waves, tiki torches and a beautiful Hawaiian breeze while eating our dinner. My burger (a patty topped with bacon and Maytag bleu cheese) was so good I can’t even remember what Terry had! Back to the hotel, exhausted, sound asleep by 9pm.