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Hawaiian Big Island Adventures, Part I

Volume 75: Sat April 14, 2007

Amanda and Ryan fly to Hawaii with stories of cannibalism and Captain Cook in their heads.

March 13

Nothing says Hawaii like palm trees! =)

Aloha! Some of you might remember problems that Amanda and I had getting out of England last year. To insure our timely arrive and departure from Hawaii, Amanda found tickets for us on Northwest Airlines. The power of a full price ticket. We could dress in T-shirts and with holes in our clothes. We could be relatively certain that we wouldn't be bumped—but if we did get bumped, we'd actually be compensated for it. So it was, that afternoon, we drove out to SeaTac, acquired boarding tickets, and flew out direct to Hawaii. We even enjoyed the luxury of the exit row seats since one of the ticket agents Amanda knows pulled some strings for her.

Hawaii, as most of you know, is a series of very small islands way out in the middle of friggin' nowhere. It is one of the most isolated locations on the planet, about 2,500 miles from any major landmass. This gives Hawaii a unique place in the world. A land without any snakes at all. A land that, until the 1800s, never knew of the evil mosquito. The downside, of course, is that there are no trains to Hawaii, and driving there is a challenge under even the best circumstances. It's also a very long flight, and we were quite happy with our exit row seats.

Shortly before landing, the flight attendants handed out forms for us to fill out about fruits and animals we might try smuggling into Hawaii. This is not unusual for international flights—in fact, I've always been required to do so for customs—but it seemed odd to fly on a domestic flight and go through the process. After a mosquito got loose on the island and multipled about ten quadrillion times, they decided to crack down on those imported species. Native plants and animals come first. Which is kind of odd when you think about it since technically speaking, there are no native species on Hawaii. The islands didn't form all that long ago and the so-called native species of Hawaii had to originate somewhere else. One of our guidebooks said a new species managed to cross those thousands of miles and take root on Hawaii every 30,000 years or so. Since Captain Cook 'discovered' the islands, this rate has picked up substantially.

This guidebook was wonderful, and we depended on it heavily for our travels around the Big Island. Highly recommended if you go yourself!

So anyhow, our plane landed—as most planes eventually do—in Maui. We were scheduled to continue the flight to the island of Hawaii, known as the Big Island since it's the biggest island that makes up the state of Hawaii and it's so confusing to name the actual island the same name as the state. But they made us get off the plane for a half hour or so so the crews could change and they could clean up after the long flight. In the airport, we walked outside to get some fresh air and for me to get my first good view of Hawaii. (The state, not the island, which we still couldn't see. See how confusing it gets?!)

It was nice. Dramatic mountains pierced the sky, dramatic clouds looked like they were ready to unleash a dramatic storm, and the no smoking signs were in English and Japanese. "It's like a foreign country," I told Amanda. "Even the signs aren't in Spanish anymore." It was near sunset but the air felt warm and comfortable. "I like it."

Our hotel room was on the top floor, at that corner farthest from the camera

But it was time to board our plane again, once again taking our exit row seats. Different exit row seats, but exit row seats nonetheless. While waiting for other passengers to board, a small girl with a stuffed penguin got on the plane, and I teased her about having a penguin on Hawaii. (In her defense, the first landmass south of Hawaii IS Antarctica.)

The next flight was short, just a short island hop to the island of Hawaii. I don't even think it lasted a full 30 minutes before we landed, but by now the sun was set and the landscape dark. My first good view of Hawaii (the island—I saw the state of Hawaii already) would have to wait until morning.

We left the plane down the stairs—no jetway at this little airport—picked up our checked luggage and went out to a waiting shuttle bus to the rental car agencies. According to Amanda's sources, there are NO public buses that go to the airport. Can you believe that? What kind of third-world country did Amanda bring me to this time? =) Fortunately, at least the rental car agencies had shuttle buses.

Amanda surveys the view from the balcony of our hotel room

I still felt a bit confused about where I was. We landed at the Kona International Airport, but our hotel was in Kailua, but the map I had labeled the whole area as Kailua-Kona. Which was it? Kona? Kailua? Or Kailua-Kona? I had no idea how to pronounce Kailua and decided just to call the area Kona. Names of places continued to plague Amanda and myself during this whole trip. One of our guidebooks, on the inside front cover, had a "quick map reference". A quick glance through it throws out names like Kohala, Kailua, Kealakekua, Honaunau, Alii, Puako, Kekeha Kai, Ke-awa-iki, Kiholo Bay, Kilauea Iki, Pu'u 'O'o, Pololu Valley, Waimea, Mauna Kea, Old Mamalahoa Highway, Kilauea, and—I'm happy to report—South Point. I may have spelled some of those names wrong—my spell checker choked on all of them except South Point. I love South Point because I knew how to pronounce that name. I made sure Amanda and I spend a day there just so I could describe a place that I knew how to pronounce and spell. With all those names starting with K and P, though, I had a serious problem trying to distinguish them from each other.

Our hotel, the Seaside Kona, was about ten miles away. We got onto the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, but thank goodness they gave it a number (19) which Amanda and I used instead to identify it. "But it changes to 11 at some point," Amanda warned me.

"Why the hell did they do that? This island only HAS one major highway on it?!" I had an easier time reading maps in Honduras than this place.

We finally found our hotel, with Amanda spelling out the names of the streets we needed to turn on since neither of us knew how to pronounce them. Questions like "Was that a street starting with P-U or a P-O we were looking for?" became rather common. "There's a street that starts with P-A! Is that the one we need?"

We got ourselves a nice room, on the top floor of one of the highest buildings in Kona. What a view! But it was late, especially since we were still on Pacific Time and the three hour time change had not kicked in yet. We went promptly to sleep.

March 14

Ahuena heiau is one of Hawaii's most important historic sites

We slept in late the next morning, planning to take an easy day exploring the area in and around Kona. Amanda found a driving guide online that she printed out to explore the region, and following it around was our goal for the afternoon. That evening, we were scheduled for a luau. Our day was packed, but we figured we'd cut our driving tour short if we started running low on time.

The first few stops were all right in Kona and could be reached on foot. We crossed the street and headed towards Ahuena Heiau, one of Hawaii's most important historic sites if our driving guide is to be believed. "King Kamehameha the Great's personal heiau, a temple dedicated to Lono who was the Hawaiian God of peace, agriculture and prosperity. He spent his later years here until his death in 1819." We took photos and nodded in appreciation, but the thing that really grabbed our attention was a giant pig, ripe for roasting.

We planned to eat this pig for dinner tonight. Yum! Yum! =)

It was here were the luau was to be held that evening, and we were scheduled to eat that pig. We took lots of pictures as two men manhandled the pig, put it into a pit, and covered it with leaves. The pig is cooked underground with hot rocks, and the leaves protect it from burning and keep the flesh moist. I guess it's an unusual method of cooking a pig, but I've never cooked a pig myself except bacon in a microwave, so I'll take their word for it.

We then continued on with our driving tour, following the street along a seawall to a two-story Victorian palace built in 1838 by the governor. It wasn't much to look at from the outside, which is all we saw since we did not want to pay the entry charge. Amanda went to the gift shop, however, which was free for wandering, but we purchased nothing.

Then we crossed a street to the Mokuaikaua Church, the "oldest house of Christian worship in Hawaii" It was built in 1836 and is the tallest building in town reaching 112 feet in height. Amanda seemed content to admire a few graves just outside of the church, but I wanted to go in since it was free.

We saw one man near the entrance when we entered, looking homeless and seemingly in prayer, and he turned towards us.

Not the usual warning signs you see on the mainland. We found this one just outside of the palace.

"Have you ever seen a guy tell God to fuck off before?" he asked us. "You have now. Fuck off, God."

Okay.... mental case here. I nodded to him but otherwise didn't acknowledge him and we headed towards the back of the church where a model of the ship that brought the first missionaries to Hawaii was located. An older woman passed us and asked us how we were doing and we nodded agreeably before she continued on into the church.

"How are you doing?" the sweet old lady asked the guy in the church.

I shook my head. "She really shouldn't have asked that," I whispered to Amanda, but I eavesdropped in curiosity, wondering what would happen next. Back away from him, I thought. Back away right now....

We took a tour of Greenwell Farms, where they grow official Kona coffee for distribution throughout the world

"Not well," the man answered.

"What's wrong?" the lady asked, concern in her voice.

"I hate God."

I heard the lady gasp, shocked by the words. I imagined her hands coming up to her mouth in horror, but we were not able to see her since a partition separated the ship model (and us) from the rest of the church.

Amanda nudged me out the door in the back, and I dropped by backpack to pull out a pen and paper. "I need to write this down, the exact words he used. Nobody's ever going to believe it!" That poor woman.

That was the end of the walking part of our tour. We stopped at a small ABC store where we picked up milk (we had a frig in our room), a few snacks, postcards, and souvenirs.

We went back to the hotel to drop off our milk before driving the car to Greenwell Farms, about ten miles south of Kona.

Neither Amanda nor I are coffee drinkers, but we love learning how things are made and they give free tours of their place at Greenwell. Of course, it's free because they think they'll suck us into buying their coffee which, I'm told, Kona coffee is considered some of the best in the world and not very cheap as a result. It has to be grown within a certain distance of Kona to be called Kona coffee, and our tour guide made it very clear that the 10% Kona coffee you often see sold in stores is not anywhere near the same quality as 100% Kona coffee. Apparently it'll become a moot point soon, however, since they're passing some sort of law that requires anything sold as Kona coffee must be at least 50% genuine Kona coffee.

Recently picked Kona coffee sits in the sun to dry

Amanda barters for essentials goods and services from the 'old days'

My opinion, coffee and politics just do not mix. *shaking head* Fascinating stuff, though. Did you know coffee grows on trees? In the form of beans? Okay, I knew that too—even a coffee-hater such as myself knows that much. =) The tour was fascinating, and they gave free samples of their various coffees to try. I passed on the chance after sniffing some of it. It might be some of the best coffee in the world, but it still smelled terrible. Amanda was more brave than me, however, and tried some. She spit it out faster than I thought possible, though. I guess she was less than impressed with the samples. Then she pulled out snacks from her bag to eat. "I have to get this taste out of my mouth," she explained, then swished some water in her mouth. "This stuff is disgusting."

Then it was off to the Kona Historical Society, a few hundred feet up the road from the coffee farm, where Amanda and I bartered for saddles, rope, and all sorts of other items. It's kind of hokey, but interesting nonetheless. The driving tour took us by Kealakekua Bay where Captain Cook met his demise over a stolen rowboat. The actual Captain Cook monument was across the bay, only accessible by boat, a long swim, or a down strenuous hike, so we admired it from a distance for now. Perhaps we'd come back later and get out to the monument.

While I'm on the topic of Captain Cook, though, I'd like to recommend an absolutely fascinating book about his life that make my silly adventures seem pretty tame by comparison. Blue Latitudes is riveting. I read it long before Amanda and I decided to come visit Hawaii and thoroughly enjoyed it. True life stories of harrowing adventures. The stories are amazing. I want to reread the portions about Hawaii at some point—especially about his death now that I've been to the scene of the crime, as it were.

The actual spot where Cook was murdered is marked by a rarely visited plaque to the left of the monument, according to our trusty guidebook, and the land is British soil after the small plot was deeded to the United Kingdom.

Then it was off to Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park, also called the Place of Refuge because it's where vanquished Hawaiian warrior, noncombatants, and kapu (taboo) breakers could escape death by reaching this sacred ground. Their idea of a reality show before television came along, I suppose. We picked up a small pamphlet with a walking tour of the place detailing all of the interesting things that were not to be missed. A huge stone wall created from rocks carefully fit together without any chiselling to shape them nor mortar to hold them together. A small section was roped off, however, and a worker was repairing damage done to it from the recent earthquake in Hawaii.

We skipped the last item on our driving tour and headed back to town. We stopped at Wal-Mart where we picked up food for meals throughout the rest of the week. We also stopped by the nearby Costco because our guidebook assured us they had the cheapest gas on the island. (We kept our eyes open for cheaper places the whole time we were there and never did find anywhere that beat Costco prices. During one trip to fill up with gas, a tanker truck pulled up and Amanda exclaimed, "Look! Even the other gas stations get their gas from here!")

Amanda poses in front of Kealakekua Bay, where Captain Cook met his demise. You can't really see it in this picture, but the Captain Cook monument is a small dot on the opposite shore. Our guidebook says cows sometimes wander off that cliff you see in the background giving the fish below a nice change from their usual seafood diet. We didn't see any such cows while we were there.

Sea turtles often come out to the Place of Refuge seeking, what else?, refuge.

Amanda has never met a palm tree she didn't like.

They're watching you....

I sit back and relax at the luau. Notice the shell necklace I'm wearing? They gave one to everyone who attended the luau.

After changing into some nicer looking clothes—something I felt was completely unnecessary but Amanda insisted on—we wandered down to the luau. It started with demonstrations on how to open coconuts, folding long blades from some sort of plant on the island into angel fish, and an open bar that Amanda made good use of.

Then they made a big production of explaining how the pig was cooked and taking it out from the underground oven before serving dinner, inviting one table at a time for the buffet line to keep things orderly.

One of our table neighbors, a couple from California, skipped out just as the food was starting to be served. This puzzled us greatly since the luau wasn't particularly cheap to begin with and not only did they miss out on the main course (the guy said he could only eat Lean Pockets and or something strange like that), but they also missed out on the main performance that comes after dinner was over. We're not sure why they bothered even coming in the first place.

The 'king' arrives in style as hula girls welcome his arrival. Very hokey, really, but we expected nothing less. =)

For our parts, Amanda and I—pardon the pun—pigged out. =) I couldn't recognize most of the food that was served (strange Hawaiian concoctions) which was probably just was well, but I stayed clear of anything that had recognizable pieces of coconut and pineapple, neither of which I'm fond of. Actually, I did have a piece of cake with coconut flakes on it, but scraped most of the flakes off. *nodding*

The entertainment after dinner was lively with surprisingly heavy women dancing on stage. Not that that's a bad thing, but it's not often I see scantily-clad women gyrating seductively who are over their ideal body weight. Same thing for the men, I might add, but the men who were dancing seemed large in the sense that they were big people rather than overweight ones. But it's kind of cool the people who hired them didn't feel it was necessary to get a bunch of stick-thin women on stage.

The show ended with a guy swirling fire sticks, set to music and singing, throwing them in the air, through his legs, and so forth. It was dark now making the fire the guy juggled around the main source of light during the performance.

But all things come to an end and the luau was no different. We headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

March 15

The view north from the southernmost parking lot in the United States of America

I'm not going to get into a minute-by-minute play of every single stop Amanda and I did today, mostly because most of the stops aren't terribly interesting to talk about. A quick stop somewhere, jump out to take some pictures, jump back in the car. We picked up a few letterboxes, but that's nothing new. So for the rest of the trip, I intend to share our story more with photos and less with text.

The main highlight of this particular day was South Point. It's an aptly named location since it is the southernmost point in the entire United States of America. Not very creative of a name, I'll give you that, but at least it's accurate.

A small road passes by a wind farm to this southernmost location, and dumped us out at a small, dirt parking lot where several other cars were already parked. The main purpose of our particular visit was for bragging rights. There's also a letterbox nearby which we searched for and found, and we left behind our own little token in the form of a box.

The view is spectacular, and I'll let the photos we took—LOTS of photos we took!—tell that story. For my part, though, I needed to reach out to that very last bit towards the south. I saw no obvious marker proclaiming which specific location was the southernmost point in the United States of America. In Florida, there's a gaudy bouy marking the southernmost point in the continental United States and I would have imagined a similar gaudy tourist attraction marked the real southernmost point, but I saw nothing. I needed a photo of the southernmost point to show you.

So I pulled out my trusty compass, and the red end of the needle pointed northward. Which was precisely the wrong direction I wanted, so I followed the white end of the needle over some rocks, scrambled across tide pools for about ten minutes before I could walk no more. Later, Amanda would read from our guidebook that most tourists think the dirt parking lot we stopped at was the 'actual' southernmost point in the United States, but it's not. It seems strange that people would automatically make such an assumption—I never for a minute thought I "knew" what direction was south except in vague concepts. I expected a marker to mark the point, but there was none, so I followed my compass. The actual southernmost point—and to be entirely technical, it is possible I was off by a dozen feet since the compass 'technically' led me to the magnetic southernmost point in the United States of America. The magnetic declination for Hawaii is about 10°, however, so it wouldn't have been off by much and I adjusted for the fact.

I stood out there at that southern most point, alone. Amanda was dallying behind me taking pictures of everything, but it's a magical place that anyone who goes to the Big Island should visit. There was nobody, absolutely nobody around. The tourists stayed near the parking lot, and I looked south. The next landmass, over 7,000 miles away, was Antarctica, with a slightly different climate than I currently stood in. The part that drew me in, though, were the waves. Enormous waves crashed against the rocks, some of the largest I've ever seen. The largest ones probably topped 20 feet, and the wind (gusty, to be sure) seemed to rip the tops off of them. The waves that crashed into the rocks splashed remarkably high, but the wind coming from behind me kept the spray from getting me wet and I was able to inch out to within a dozen feet of these beautiful crashing waves. Heaven forbid if I slipped and fell into the water, I'd certainly die, dashed to pieces against the rocks.

For this next series of pictures, you need to look at them one at a time. =) These are actually different waves—my camera can't take photos fast enough to capture the 'motion' of a single wave coming in, but I took them from the same point facing the same direction.

The wave builds....

The wave breaks....

The wave crashes....

...and what a splash!

That's what I got to watch from the southernmost point in the United States. Pretty cool, huh? It's incredible I didn't get so much as a drop of water on me when I took that last photo, but I did have one scare when I almost fell back in fear of a giant wave getting me, but it was a false alarm!

Amanda eventually caught up to me and we admired the crashing waves and whipping wind, such a remote and beautiful place. We took our photos and eventually walked back to the car to continue our adventures.

We stopped for lunch in the southernmost town in the United States of America, at the Shaka Restaurant. A large sign over it also told us it was the southernmost bar in the United States. Afterwards, Amanda went to Hana Hou after mistaking it for the southernmost bakery in the United States. Turns out it was only the southernmost restaurant in the United States. The southernmost bakery was just north of it.

It seems the locals here have a complex about being the southernmost since just about every building in town claimed to be the southernmost something in the United States, carefully qualified to make sure it doesn't conflict with another person's southernmost claims.

Proof! I have conquered the southernmost point in the United States of America!

A closeup of water cascading off a shelf after a wave crashed into it

I was strangely fascinated by this barbed-wire fence

Amanda takes a photo of me while I'm taking the photo above proving I'm at the most southern point in the United States.

Amanda sneaks up on my admiring the waves of South Point as a huge wave comes crashing over me. =)

I called this strange-looking rock Buzzard Rock. Notice the wind turbines in the background

Even the weeds at South Point are pretty!

See that wind just ripping the top of this wave?

Wild horses couldn't drag us away!

A lot of these wind turbines didn't look like they were in use anymore, rusted, busted pieces of junk. But they're still kind of majestic in an eco-friendly way. =)

We stopped for lunch here, at the southernmost bar in the United States.

Using light rocks on the dark lava seems to be a common form of 'graffiti' on Hawaii.

We ate lunch out on the patio, but we found this little fellow inside looking out the window at us.

I don't know if it's the most southern sea turtle in the United States, but it's got to rank as one of the largest!

Amanda acquires some souvenirs at a rest stop on the drive back to the hotel.

Amanda shows off at an abandoned dock.

In case you have trouble reading the small print, the sign on the palm tree reads: Caution—beware of falling coconuts and fronds. Yes, I am a goofball!

Not sure what these flowers were about, but it seemed worthy of a photo.

The shadows at Whittington Park are fun to watch.

A sea turtle at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach—interestingly enough, black sand beaches are so rare, it's illegal to take any sand home with you. Sea turtles are endangered, so it's a felony to harass them as well.

That's enough for now. There's still more to write about Hawaii, but I'll save that for next week. Stay tuned, however, because the next adventure will have me out looking for molten lava, swimming with dolphins, and generally endangering my life so I have stories to tell!

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