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WARNING:  The following article has NOTHING to do
with the Great Northern Railway. It's just a fun trip
Baolu and your intrepid webmaster Lindsay took to the
Aloha State.

The Great Northern in Hawaii

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Today's topic:  First Class

The fun actually started Friday night when we checked in online. Up popped, "Would you like to upgrade to First Class for $xxx? Hmmmm.... Baolu and I looked at each other and said, Oh what the HELL, why not! We finished checkout and were greeted with...."Please see your airline representative at the airport". We had no seat selection. Uh oh...

Saturday morning, feeling opulent, we trotted up to the Hawaiian Airlines First Class Passengers aisle. We were greeted with a smile and given seats 3A & 3B. We checked our bags, then headed out to the gate. As we were waiting to board, we each took turns walking the corridor, getting coffee, etc., whilst the other watched our luggage. Hawaiian has TWO morning flights out of Seattle and we were taking the second flight. I noticed the first flight which was just about finished boarding.

As I came back to our seat, I casually mentioned to Baolu that the earlier flight was just about ready to go. You couldn't see it, because it was just around a bend in the jet way. Suddenly, some guy sitting next to us overheard me, stood up, frantically announced "they were at the wrong gate", gathered together his six family members and RAN for the other plane. Whoa!

Soon afterward, they began boarding our plane. First were "those needing assistance, or with small rug rats, etc." Next it was our turn. The seating was 2 x 2 x 2 with our 3A&B on the pilot's side of the plane. Once we stowed luggage and sat down we were IMMEDIATELY offered champagne in a real glass. Oh, I'm going to like this. Huge seat to park my fat butt in and an almost unlimited amount of leg room, Wow! They were showing fetching hula girls on the big screen as we settled in. THEN they boarded the coach passengers. As a regular patron of most airlines' steerage, I always wondered what took so long between boarding first and coach. It's champagne being poured.

Um....Can I have a spicy Bloody Mary? Certainly. He brings TWO MORE without my even asking along with some yummy raison/nut mix. Baolu goes for a series of Guava Mimosas. Now a hot towel to wipe off hands and face. I can't stop grinning like a madman. Wow. Just wow. Our own bathroom that the attendant CLEANS after anyone uses it! First class was FULL -- I guess a lot of people got the upgrade pop-up. 18 seats served by two attendants.

Now for brunch, well, here's a jpeg of the menu. I thought we were supposed to pick one item. We got ALL THREE. Did I mention they happily brought me 3 spicy Bloody Mary's? The meal was AWESOME. They brought us water to wash it down, then presented each of us with a small water bottle upon landing. One more goody. Each first class passenger received their own DVD entertainment center! B and I both watched "Alvin and the Chipmunks" It also had music, TV, and, of course, Hawaii travelogues.

It was still a long flight. It takes 6 hours south-westbound (against the jet stream) and after 4 hours you get a little antsy even with all the fun toys.

Our approach to Honolulu airport took us right over Pearl Harbor -- I could see the U.S.S. Arizona BB-39 Memorial and USS Missouri BB-63 on display. We step off the plane and WHOOSH -- get hit by the humidity. All overseas airport corridors are outdoors until you get inside to baggage claim. Sadly, you could see rows of Aloha Airlines jets parked -- that airline had shut down April 1st.

Our bags came out in a timely manner -- we later found "Priority - First Class" sticker on the handle. I'll have to save that...

Step outside to the Rental Car shuttle line. How come you always see TWO of every other rental car place before your own? Finally, here comes the Hertz bus...we're the only ones on it! Nice change from Chicago where we were packed in like sardines. Hertz has this TINY counter off site and -- whoops they have a Mustang convertible but WITHOUT the NeverLost Navigation system. That just won't do. A quick call to our hotel by the agent and we agree to swap with a Mustang at the Marriot Waikiki that has the nav system.

So off we go down H1. Oops, locked the map in the trunk. I've been studying maps of Honolulu and Waikiki for months, so I sort of feel my way there. We find it in good shape. We part it in a slot and head for the Hertz counter at the Marriott. After a long wait behind someone who kept asking painfully-detailed questions, we make the swap. Over to hotel registration. Long line. Lots of lines, so far. On a positive note, our room is ready early.

Up to the 16th floor. Oh, my weary bones! Just a quick lie down, stretch and drink some water.

OK, get up, buster! Time to get out and about. We stop at the ABC store just outside our hotel right on Waikiki Beach to pick up a huge jug of water. There is an ABC store on practically every block in Waikiki which has VERY useful stuff like snacks, suntan lotion, water and booze. I picked out an aloha dress for Baolu -- a very nice black with bright green and blue flowers. Down to the Moana Terrace for drinks. A Mai Tai for me and Lychee Martini for B. Lychee? What's Lychee? Apparently it is a rather sweet, rice vodka. Baolu was so fond of it, we later picked up a bottle of the stuff at the ABC to take home.

I wasn't too fond of my Mai Tai (I just don't dig rum), so switched to Corona. Hot wings were good. Walk around on Waikiki which is just across the street. Baolu goes wading! And Lindsay poses with Diamond Head in the background.  Saw a naked girlie running towards the beach, but couldn't whip out the camera in time! Another Kodak moment, lost. ;p  That's Baolu under the Banyan Tree.

Had dinner at Sansei Seafood & Sushi Bar. Went for the 3 course, all-inclusive dinner. Very good and a little bit spicy. Mostly raw fish, so you Midwesterners probably wouldn't dig it. The waitress warned us off ordering the white rice that came with it -- she was right -- we could barely finish it all (I'll just force it down). Charged it to the room.

We were going to go out again, but crashed from the jet lag. To bed at 9pm local time.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Today's topic: Home of the Free, Thanks to the Brave.

Had breakfast at Kuhio Beach grill - basic buffet had a hand made omelet and tea -- sausage and fresh fruit was good.

Now to try out the convertible top. Couldn't figure it out past opening the two latches. Rooted through car manual AH! Button on ceiling. There it goes. Cool! Wore my "Harrison Ford" hat when we left as it was getting warm which did a good job providing shade.

Used the nav system which took us right to the site (listed under Yellow Pages/Local Attractions). Driving up, we noticed the Battleship Missouri (where the Japanese surrendered) is pointed DIRECTLY at the Arizona memorial. I'm sure that wasn't by accident. Very poetic, actually.

U.S.S. Arizona memorial. Guide book says to get there early -- so everyone did! Line around the block -- lots of tour buses, including one with a Japanese group (of course). When we left at 9:30...there was NO line at all. Guidebook said parking lot is a high theft area - yet they had hired bike cop security which was great because we had a convertible. Proof that guidebooks are obsolete once they are printed.

Woman (Beulah from Iowa) announces loudly to the entire line that, "They won't even let me take in my purse!!!!" Everyone in line snickers. Ah, tourists. (It's clearly stated on their website, guidebooks and signs near the line that no purses or fanny packs are allowed.)

We each rented a very handy audio guide for $5 narrated by LCDR Quinton McHale (McHale's Navy) a.k.a. Ernest Borgnine. We walked the grounds, then at 8:30 saw a 25 minute presentation -- excellent - with old footage and which spelled out the facts and events as they happened. The site is actually run by the National Park Service, but the Navy shuttles you out there in a launch, since it is on their base. The memorial is considered a gravesite as there are still over 900+ Marines and Sailors entombed below. It was very quiet and solemn on board the Memorial. You could still see the outline of the ship, fairly clearly. Approximately 2 quarts of oil a day still leak from the ship to the surface which are referred to as "tears from the dead".

We finished earlier than I expected, so we decided to drive up Highway 93 on the West Shore of Oahu. We found a little plate lunch place in Waianae which was much more interesting than the McDonald's alongside. Huge, nearly deserted dining room with just a few locals chatting. It seemed to be more of a take-out place. Soon the locals leave and just Baolu and I are munching our beef, pork, chicken, macaroni salad and rice. Another tourist couple saunter in, order something, and sit down squeezing in RIGHT NEXT to us. In a completely empty dining room. We are practically elbow to elbow. Well THIS is uncomfortable....

As we continued up Highway 93, nothing in the guide book prepared us for what we saw. Miles and miles of beach had been taken over by squatters living in tents and abandoned cars with trash everywhere. Many of them were in State Parks where they had simply taken over. I'd estimate 500 to 1,000 people. In fact the only beach we saw being used by the locals and/or non-squatters was at the end of the road at Kaena Point State Park (well past the bus service to Honolulu). Bums could actually pull off living pretty well here -- it's on the lee side of the island which is quite dry and less stormy.

Tent city! As we drive back to the hotel, the crowning moment is spotting a bum peeing into a bush on the side of the road. That got a big, "EEEEWWWWWWW!!!" from Baolu as I, of course, pointed it out. Happily, he was facing away from us.

Came back about 3pm. I took a nap whilst B sat on deck. This is our "partial ocean view".

At my insistence, we went down to the hotel jewelry store and bought Baolu a Tahitian (black/iridescent) pearl necklace she had been eyeing. It comes with a Hawaiian flower and tiny diamond -- very nice.  Present from me.  Then waded into the water in our slippers (flip flops) hoping to take a picture of the sunset, but clouds rolled in. Here's how it looked:

Back to the bar! Waitress remembered us (we tip well) and remembered our entire order from yesterday. Now THAT'S a good waitress.

Time for drinks (2 more Lychee Martini for B and 1 Strawberry Margarita for me). Dinner was 2 fish tacos for me and a french dip for B. It was about now that the "weirdos" started closing in. I seem to attract odd people sometimes. This time it was TWO different sets of people who decided it would be great fun to stand directly behind my chair and watch the floor show. I mean...practically looking over my shoulder watching me eat my dinner. Creepy. Then on our walk down Kalakaua Street, the bums started closing in. "Sir? Sir? Sir? You got a dollar???" and "You look lost, sir. Come this way...(walks toward dark alley)".

I found if I stood still there would be someone on me within a few minutes. I tried to keep moving as Baolu went from gift shop to gift shop. Through all this, she managed to pick out a beautiful fire-engine red Aloha shirt from Royal Creations in size XXXXL which translates to XXL fitting me just right. We managed to get lost at the International Market Place which features blocks and blocks of trinkets and baubles. Cleverly, they had painted these yellow stripes on the floor with arrows to lead you in. However, when you back track, it turns out there are TWO sets of these arrows which led us out into - and dumped us in an alley. We walked a few blocks in the wrong direction (no familiar landmarks as it's dark). Yours truly actually asked directions and armed with those, we walked back on parallel streets to the hotel.

That cloud had a silver lining. On our way back in the dark, we stumbled across a mom and pop shop which we would put to use later on in the trip.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Today's topic: "I'm Weary" (from the WB cartoon, The Ducksters).  or if you wanna watch it:

We are up at 6am and Baolu goes for a run on the beach walk. She reports LOTS of bums here too, harassing the early morning tourists. She said the park down by Diamond Head SMELLS. There are cops right there, but they don't do anything. I guess the bums are like pigeons -- shoo them away and they come right back. The UNSEEMLY side of Waikiki! Now I'm all curious and have to go check it out later! ;p

Anyway, today's junket is an around-the-island drive. I must have Baolu back for her "Spa Treatment" by 4pm. First we use the "Never Lost" on the Mustang and select the destination of Banzai Pipeline. Now, for some reason, it's taking us on this back road Highway 750 instead of the H2 Freeway. It's a nice drive at well above the posted speed through sweet-smelling fields of sugar cane.

I've noticed Hawaiians are a lot like Californians. Very nice people face to face, but put them in a car and they drive like crazy -- or very slow! Also, some of the speed limits seem ridiculously low, so everyone just ignores them. 10 to 15 mph over the posted speed is customary. Also, the police cars are very hard to spot. Honolulu Police have white Crown Vics with the standard light package (they drive with non-flashing blue lights when not on a call).

Every other cop appears to have purchased their own car and temporarily attached a small blue "cherry" on the roof. There is absolutely no insignia on the car to indicate they are police. I guess you just have to take their word for it. I saw unmarked Mustang GT's, Dodge Chargers, Nissan Maximas, Pathfinders, etc., usually in very dark colors with full tinted glass.

First stop is Haleiwa for breakfast. I have the Huervos Rancheros which is good and B has eggs/sausage and pancakes - which she DIDN"T like. (She was hoping for Spam, a local delicacy. We'll have to see about that tomorrow.

There are rain showers in Hawaii, but 99% of the time, you don't even bother putting the top up. The rain simply evaporates on contact.

We drive on to the Banzai Pipeline near Waimea which IS impressive. We stand in the sunshine up to our ham hocks in coarse, golden sand, and admire the surfers tackling the big waves. I understand in "winter" (January - February) the waves get really REALLY big. Still a great show, and the water is so many shades of blue, it is hard to believe. Pictures really don't do it justice.

We round the north point of Oahu and pass the Hawaii branch of BYU and the Polynesian Cultural Center, eventually winding up at Kaneohe. We stop for some gasoline, then press on for Waimanalo. We round the easternmost point of Oahu, stopping to take some spectacular pictures of the surf crashing against the rocky coast. (Manana Island)

Soon, we are cruising on H-1 again and back to Waikiki. Baolu has her spa treatment at 4pm, so I have a little nap. When she returns, we head off to dinner at "Ciao Mein".

Ugh. Sometimes "Fusion" cooking just doesn't work. Ciao Mein is such a place.
When we showed up at 5:30pm, we were promptly seated in a dingy back room, next to the kitchen, even though the dining room was mostly empty. Should have grabbed a clue right there. It was supposed to be a union of Italian and Chinese cooking. As we found out to our horror, they didn't do either one very well.

The waiter was nice enough, but the food was, frankly, blah. It was the first time I did NOT enjoy eating fried rice - dry and tasteless. My problem is Baolu has spoiled me as we usually eat at excellent Chinese places back home -- and excellent Italian places for that matter. So anyway, if you're ever in Waikiki, avoid this place like the plague. It's located in the Hyatt Waikiki.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Today's topic:  Culinary Redemption

Today's activities are kind of a mixed bag. First we have to erase yesterdays' haute cuisine disasters. Before that can begin, we are up before dawn to climb Diamond Head! The park opens at 6am, and we are there at 6:25. $5 gets us into the parking lot and we set off for the top. The pavement ends shortly and we're on rough, lava rock. I'm told it takes between 60 to 90 minutes to go up and back. As we reach the top, there are switchbacks and it gets quite steep. There are actually two tunnels bored out of the rock to walk through and two sets of 100 steps to climb! The view at the top is sensational.

After taking lotsa pictures, we head back down -- boy this is much easier! We reach the car took us exactly 90 minutes to do it! Now it's time for culinary redemption. After a much-needed shower, we hustle off to the other night's back street mom and pop shop for some eggs, rice and SPAM! Yep, we found this little dive which serves dandy plate lunches just a few blocks away. Yum Yum -- Spam, a much-maligned delicacy.

Back to the hotel for the car. Today, we're doing one more thing to humor Lindsay. For years, I've studied highway maps of Oahu and have always been fascinated by the three highways that cross the island from south to north. They are, from east to west, Hwy 61, Hwy 63 and H-3, with tunnels piercing the mountain crest. We're going to drive all three of them. By far, the "Interstate" H-3 is the most spectacular. It is basically built on bridges the entire way with a beautiful, six lane tunnel. It must have cost them a FORTUNE to build.  It sounds like there was a lot of controversy over its construction, too.

Now it's a quick drive through Chinatown, then back to the hotel. Time to park the car and go for some SHAVED ICE!!! Yep, found this place the other night also -- it was right next to the Spam place. Ironically, we asked for a shaved ice place at the front desk and the gal said, "Do you have a car?" For lunch, we each have a huge shaved ice (strawberry, vanilla and banana for me and passion fruit, mango, Lychee for Baolu). Oh what heaven. This is lunch. It is about 85 degrees and very muggy and this is just perfect. I had mine with ice cream in the middle. As I'm sitting there spooning out the ice, a bum walks up to about 1 foot from my ear and asks for "just a few pennies". A resounding NO!!! Sends him off. Leeme 'lone....

We take a long walk along Kalakaua Street, ducking into stores to get a blast of air conditioning -- it is muggier than usual. The trade winds aren't blowing. Out near yet another mall, I come across a "Local Motion" store. They were immensely popular in the late 80's and early 90's. I didn't know they were still in business! I immediately go in and pick up a couple stickers for Carl and myself. Carl? Yep, Carl Swanson.  Not the famous rock star, THIS guy:

Carl is Editor of this nifty little magazine.  When it was all the rage "back in the day", I sent him a Local Motion sticker for his Ford Escort. Now I get to mail him one for his Civic. Kick!

Dinner (early) was at a Mexican place featuring pulled meat in all their dishes. So good. Pulled Kailua Pork for B and enchilada & taco for me washed down with Coronas. This was also the FASTEST service we've ever gotten in Hawaii to date. I was expecting the usual 30 minute wait for food, and it came in 10 minutes. It was about 1/2 the price of last night's dinner and twice as good. Sometimes, you pick a good one.

Hey, look!  Surf's up on Waikiki!

Now it is early evening and we are sitting in the lobby -- me typing up my notes and Baolu reading her trashy novel. A little later on (after dark), we're going to saunter over and get some more of that shaved ice.

Tomorrow, we're flying over to the Big Island.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Today's topic: "Please. Pass the Poi."

Today's flight was supposed to be on Aloha Airlines.  Imagine my horror when two weeks before we leave, the 60 year old carrier goes out of business, leaving us with two worthless tickets!  Quickly, I rebooked on Hawaiian. We got up extremely early as the flight leaves at 8:20 am.

Baolu packed us up the previous night including her Lychee vodka and Aloha Tigger doll!

There is a long line at the Hawaiian counter probably due to them handling all the cancelled Aloha Airlines flights. Our flight would be completely full. Breakfast at Starbucks and Burger King. Sat down at seat right next to gate. Immediately a woman sits down next to us with some of that "old lady overpowering perfume". Phew! We get on this brand new Boeing 717 and stinky lady sits right in front of us! But it's not too bad. Wow, even in coach for this short hop, there is lots of leg room in this plane. This bodes well for our return trip home.

We fly over to Kailua - Kona and the KOA airport is laid out like a Polynesian village with lots of little open air huts. Very cool! There are no walls or fences unlike than the typical enclosed airport. The TSA must have fits with this one. Welcome to Paradise!

We pick up the rental car (another Mustang convertible with GPS system, but leave the top up for the short drive into Kona. It is very muggy today. There is a huge cloud bank which, we are told, is "VOG" (Volcanic Smoke and Fog). The Kilauea Crater on the Big Island has been erupting lately causing numerous evacuations because of the stinky sulfur dioxide over near Hilo.

Anyway, on into Kona. We park the car in a pay lot and walk around. There is a huge cruise ship out in the harbor with launches ferrying the passengers back and forth. Kona is a very quaint, touristy little town featuring Hawaii's oldest church. Today's activity is a submarine ride! We saunter down to Atlantis submarines and make a reservation for the 1 pm ride.

Next on the agenda is lunch! Baolu finds a place that serves Kailua pork (she's been on a Kailua pork kick, lately) so we go in for victuals. I order the Loco Moco, a local favorite which consists of two eggs on top of hamburger patty on top of rice covered with brown gravy with macaroni salad on the side. It is delicious! In fact, it is SO delicious, I begin snarfing it down much too quickly. A piece of burger wedges in my throat and quickly I am gasping and wheezing for air! Finally, after quite a bronchial demonstration worthy of a Hollywood movie, I unseat the offending morsel and finally get to enjoy my meal.

After lunch, we wander around the town. Lots of trinkets and baubles! Baolu finds the SAME shop (Maui Divers) that she bought her black pearl necklace from in Oahu. She then finds a nifty "slipper" pendant that will fit right on her existing chain. As a bonus, the store asks us to pick out an unopened oyster "guaranteed" to have a pearl inside. Baolu can't decide, so I pick one out. It is a beautiful pink pearl. The store offers to drill a hole in it (for mounting) while it is still soft, but Baolu elects to preserve it as a keepsake.

Minutes later, we have picked up our boarding passes and hustle out to the Kailua-Kona Pier. We board a launch which takes us from the shallow water out to where the submarine is waiting.  (Atlantis). It is very choppy! We are going up and down just like a roller coaster ride.

We board the submarine (every seat is a window seat) and descend into the reef below. The tour guides are telling us one tall tale after another, so after a while you just sort of tune them out. The reef is fascinating to look at, but all my pictures come out "hazy blue". They say this is because visibility is down today from the rough seas stirring up the bottom sand. Anyway, see for yourself:

We go down over 100 feet. The sub has a very good air-conditioning system. It's actually the coolest spot all day. Once we surface and re-board the launch, we are presented with a framed picture of ourselves (taken at the dock previously) with a CD containing movies of our journey...for a nominal fee. A very nice souvie!

Back on shore, we head straight for the Sheraton Keauhou resort. The parking lot is a LONG hike to the lobby, but we manage to find a back way in, past the convention center, which has a hidden elevator to avoid all those stairs. Our "partial ocean view" room is quite nice, with a decent view of the coast. The entire resort is built on top of a lava flow.

After a very short rest, we are off again for the 6pm Luau at Kona Village. This famous resort (owned by Michael Dell of computer fame) is reputed to have the best Luau on the Big Island, although their online website is atrocious. We had originally tried to book here online simply didn't work, despite several phone calls. Very odd. Then we tried a couple hotels right in Kona and THEIR websites didn't work either. That's how we wound up at the Sheraton, part of a big, national chain. THEIR website works.

Anyway, we roll up to the main gate and upon giving our names, we are waved through (have to keep the riff-raff out, I guess...). We follow the signs down to the "Cashier" and warm up the plastic a little. They then say to just "go back round there" pointing behind us. Huh? We wander around on the service roads but appear to be heading further away from the luau. Finally, I spot some people on a little-used path and we follow them. Here's the entrance! No sign, of course. Just follow the crowd.

We are seated next to the fourth person we've met from Washington State. The husband is a nice guy, but a bit of a talker. On my right is an elderly woman who, unfortunately, is left-handed so I spend the meal getting her elbow in my gut. They pack us into these tables mighty close together. Each of us receives a complementary Mai is good (for someone who doesn't like Mai Tai's, that is...).

They take us over to watch the opening of the pit oven where the pig and even a turkey have been baking in hot lava rocks and palm leaves since 9am. The guys are so macho, they don't even use gloves to remove the steaming hot rocks. Ouch! Guys...there's a Wal-Mart back in Kona that sells gloves... That looks painful.

Back to the luau. They take us up, table by table to the food. A VERY nice spread. Sashimi and salad with a wonderful guava poppy seed dressing, teriyaki beef, rice, I could go on, but I'll just make myself hungry. And, of course, the roast hog, smoked until it's falling apart. Mmmmm....

We are entertained by a three piece band, the lead singer justifiably proud of his vintage Fender. There's even the de rigueur "Margaritaville" although the songs tend to more traditional Hawaiian pieces.

"Look Ma!  No Pants!"

It is getting dark, so they hustle all the kids that want to out to the stage for a quick hula lesson. The house lights dim and the children follow along with their teacher to the tune of a hula who's name escapes me for the moment. No pictures of the wee ones turned out. I discovered my camera doesn't like taking distant pictures with ambient light. I DID find, that taking movies works quite well in this light. Now if I can figure out how to save off screen shots, I will below...

No dice.  I'll mess around with it.  If it works, I'll post luau pix here.  Maybe.

It was a VERY good show. It lived up to its hype. The fire dance, of course, was the highlight. They have a guy who is a "specialist" and I can see why. They explained that not only was he twirling fire, but the stick that is afire, actually is a war club with a saw-toothed edge and sharp hook! Catch that puppy the wrong way and you lose a finger. Or worse. Anyway, I have to say the Kona Village Hula Show was great -- highly recommended.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Today's topic: "Land, Ho!"

Up at a much more leisurely 7 am. We fill up the Mustang and head for the Kona McDonald's (this GPS system has EVERYTHING). We saunter in and Baolu notices they sell SPAM for breakfast! SOLD! We both have the eggs, spam and scoop of rice. It is delicious. (No, really. You guys don't know what you're missing.)

Off to Hilo Town we go. As we climb the hill out of Kona on Highway 190 and start to cross yet another lava field, we encounter quite a few one lane road construction projects. This makes our trip to Hilo last about 2 3/4 hours. Once in Hilo, we check out "Banyan Drive" which features Banyon trees planted by such luminaries as Cecil B. DeMille, Amelia Earhart and SENATOR Richard Nixon. These trees are now all fully grown and are huge, shade trees lining the street with their telltale vines and roots hanging down.

Now comes the whole purpose of this journey, indeed of the entire trip: To drive out and see the notorious "property" I have inherited from my Aunt Louise (may she rest in peace). The turn off to the Black Sand Beach Subdivision is around 30 miles south of Hilo off Highway 130. As I drive up the paved road, we pass little more than shacks with several abandoned cars lying askew next to the street and in their "yards". Nice.

Down the hill, the neighborhood gets a little better. The houses are more sturdy and I note the power line running across the street from my plot on Oceanview Road. According to the plat map, it is about one third of the way along Oceanview Road from Diamond Head Drive. I park the rental car, get out, and take some pictures for posterity.

As you can see, it is lush vegetation with not a sign of having been developed. Clearing it will be quite a task. Hmpf. I'll probably just sell it. And yes, "Oceanview Road" and "Black Sand Beach" is a developer's fantasy as neither are anywhere NEAR the property. Although I DID enjoy the "Slow Children Playing, 15 MPH" sign. Didn't see any slow children, though...

The "notorious" part comes from the hopelessly confusing State of Hawaii land title transfer bureaucracy which required numerous long-distance calls and pages and pages of notarized documents sent back and forth. At least 5 times. And we're NOT done yet!

So, bidding a fond farewell, we continue down to the end of Highway 130. As we near the last stretch of road on a long tangent, we come upon an AIRPLANE which, apparently had engine trouble and crash landed on the road. It is pulled off to the side with pieces of the engine covers off and the doors open. It looks like everyone got out OK, as there's nothing structurally wrong that I can see. Hmmm...don't fly THAT tourist airline...

That was exciting. Down to the end of 130 which neatly ends in a "T" at a giant lava field. It looks fresh. My map says this is Hakuma Point. We pick up and bring home some neat black rocks and I find a spot that looks like the imprint of a palm tree in the lava -- with no evidence of a tree nearby. Very oochie.

More of that tomorrow when we visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Soon, it's time to leave and head on to Hilo. Baolu has been plotting her visit to Big Island Candies for quite some time. She is addicted to their hand-dipped shortbread cookies.

They really do hand dip them. We purchase enough to last for several years and head back, air-conditioning on full. These puppies mustn't melt! They gave us two huge boxes so we can carry them on the airplane home. To ship it would mean cookie dust.

Back to the hotel. The drive back to Kona goes much faster as the road construction crews have all gone home. We drop off the cookies in the room's a/c glory, then head down to "Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company" for dinner. Eh, drinks are OK (some sort of vodka/fruit juice concoction) and the "Hush Pups" are good, but the shrimp is just so-so. Shoulda had the New Orleans style instead of the deep fried. My disposition isn't helped by the randomly-shrieking child seated next to us.  Oh well.  We walk around Kona town whilst Baolu does some shopping for the "folks back home". Once again, I am accosted by a bum for money. He picks me out of a group of six walking along. I really must have "SUCKER" in green neon on my forehead. Tomorrow....Volcanoes!

Friday, April 17, 2008

Today's topic:  "Did you just fart?" or "Is that you, or the volcano?"

Up early and back to the trusty McDonald's in Kona. This time we both have the DELUXE local breakfast -- Spam, Portuguese sausage, eggs and rice. This really is good stuff -- too bad we can't get it in Washington State.

Soon afterward, we are plowing south on Highway 19 through morning rush hour traffic. All the roads are single lane here so it tends to bottle things up. Once clear of the traffic, Highway 19 gets very curvy for about 20 miles as we zig and zag along the Kona coast. Once we break out onto the straight-aways, it is fast going and soon we are passing South Point, the southernmost point in the United States. There is a rare GREEN sand beach at the end of this road, but we're not visiting there today.

On we go through Naalehu and finally reach the famous Punaluu Black Sand Beach on the east shore of Hawaii. It is a very small beach, no more than 1/2 a mile long, but the black, coarse sand is really interesting -- looks like a pile of microscopic lava rocks in my hand. There are warning signs saying DON'T YOU DARE bother the Monk Seals which are so incredibly endangered, they don't even mate anymore (thus their problem, but I digress).

Anyway, about all we see of the critters are an occasional snout or flipper poking above the water surface. Hmpf. The bison came right up to our TRUCK in Yellowstone. No wonder these flabby sea urchins are going extinct. Good luck to them, then.

In the parking lot, getting ready to leave, I discover a handful of black sand in my shoe! It is clearly posted that removing the sand is illegal, punishable by severe Hawaiian bureaucracy but hey, the stuff just happened to get into my shoe, so pouring it out into a paper cup can't hurt, right? Right?? (Justification and Denial) OK, off to the volcanoes.

From the Black Sand Beach, (the real one, not the fake one near my property) the highway is straight-as-an-arrow up the east coast of the Island. We are going 70 plus in the Mustang (top down) and soon reach the Volcanoes National Park. We go past the entrance first to Volcano Village to buy some water at the store there. Then back into the park.

Ten bucks later, we are past the gate and heading to the Visitor's Center. There is a Crater Loop Road, half of which is closed because of the recent eruptions and stinky sulfur dioxide emissions (which they POLITELY describe as a newly-lit match). We drive down to the Jaggar Museum for a good look at the Kilauea Crater.

Next we loop back for a different angle on the Kilauea Crater. We can see people walking below on the crater floor dwarfed by the immense size of the area. Baolu spots a hawk hunting for lunch, but I don't see it in time to grab a picture.

Last stop is the famous Thurston Lava Tube. This is a short .8 mile hike through an underground lava stream which formed almost a perfect circle underground. This is a really neat hike and you can go 1,000 feet further if you have a flashlight and sturdy hiking shoes.

Partway through the lava tubes, Baolu piped up, "Did you just fart?" "Oh no, dear", I said. "That was just volcanic sulfuric gas, er, a Monk Seal, I mean, Gosh, would you look at those ROCKS over there?"

On the hike back, I'm noticing these huge fern plants which look just like what we have in Washington State, only 10 times larger. The jungle around here is really impressive to look at.

It's getting on towards lunch time so we head back to Volcano Village. In addition to the well-equipped store, they have a VERY nice restaurant with fast service and good food. I have the turkey sandwich with salad and Baolu has a Pork sandwich. Both are yum-yum. After a quick pass through the store to pick up more snacks, we are off back to Kona.

First stop on the way home is at the "Southernmost Bar In The United States" in Naalehu. The parking lot is full and the poor waitress is completely overwhelmed. What was interesting is one of the regulars (a local) came over and set us up with two beers! The waitress came back when things quieted down and we paid her then. Very nice place. Had some good rich Kona beer with the bottles for a souvenir.

Next stop was the Bong Brothers store in Hoopuola.  Hmmm... Hoopuola.  That sounds like what happens if you spend too much time at the "Southernmost Bar".  Unfortunately, they didn't have a shirt in my size, but Baolu picked up some Mango soap. Darn it. Wanted an XXL BONG brothers T-shirt... :<

Back to the hotel at 4pm, we arrived just as the "Business Center" was closing. Fortunately, the gal was on the phone the whole time gossiping as we printed our Hawaiian Air boarding passes for tomorrow -- then didn't charge us afterwards! (I think she was closing and didn't want to ring it up.)

For dinner, Baolu hit upon the grand idea of having appetizers/drinks and watching the sun set at "Crystal Blue", the hotel's open air lounge overlooking the water. Very nice -- good munchies and I could get smashed on wine and not have to drive anywhere. The sunset was pretty spiffy too:

After dinner, we sauntered over to the viewing area and watched the Manta Rays frolicking in the surf. They've got these big spotlights rigged up and when the manta rays flip over, their white underside GLOWS a phosphorescent white in the lights. It's pretty awesome to see. I'm gassed. Bed time!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Today's topic:  Back to Steerage

The plane doesn't leave until 9:47am, so we don't have to get up until 7am. When we checked in at Hawaiian Air, the internet method did NOT offer to upgrade us to First Class. We'll see about that in the airport -- maybe get the Honolulu to Seattle leg upgraded if it's not too expensive.

Time to drop off the rental car. Baolu is not hungry, so we skip a third Spamfest at Mickey D's. The Hertz shuttle bus driver, of course, has several relatives in Woodinville (town next to Redmond) and happily talked about how much he enjoys visiting them and hitting all the wineries in town (we like it too, fella).

Checking in at the airport, no one at the counter seems interested or able to check to see if anything's available in First Class. (OK, you've spent your tourist dollars, now GET LOST, Haole!) Maybe we can check in Honolulu. The short hop back to Oahu also has every seat taken.

Once back in Honolulu, we must somehow get from the "Inter-Island" terminal to the separate "Overseas and Mainland U.S." terminal. These are connected by a very hokey sort of bus-thing called the "Wiki-Wiki Express" which has no signage and turns out to go different places. All there is for direction is one poor woman shouting instructions at the top of her lungs. It is utter chaos.

After a good 20 minute wait, we finally get crammed onto this un-air-conditioned, rolling death trap which takes us all of about 500 feet to the approximate vicinity of our gate. Why in heaven's name they don't simply install a walkway is apparent when we arrive near our gate. Check this link. Apparently I'm not the only one that thinks it is retarded:

The Honolulu Airport is a series of disconnected pods with only a few gates at each pod. To get from one to another instead of walking, you have to take the frikken Wiki-Wiki Bus. To make matters worse, there are NO RESTAURANTS anywhere near our gate. Instead we are greeted by a sign happily announcing the FUTURE construction of a restaurant. Lovely.

In desperation, we buy horribly overpriced sandwiches and water from a cart. Lunch, it is soived!  I head to the airline counter and get the bad news that First Class is indeed sold out. Oh well... That explains why we didn't get the "upgrade popup". Back to steerage for us.

This crew is really on Hawaiian time. They don't start loading the big plane until about 15 minutes before our departure time. They spend a good 10-15 minutes repeatedly "inviting those with small children and needing assistance" aboard. We are way back just behind the wing so we're some of the first to board in coach. I cram the 75 pound cookie suitcase carryon into the overhead and take my seat. The captain pushes back about 10 feet and stops.

There is a little girl sitting behind us who knows three words, "Mama", "Dada" and "NOOOOO!!!!" and uses them incessantly. She is whining and howling and kicking our seats. By contrast, there is a little girl sitting directly across the aisle from me who is better behaved than most adults, including myself. It's all in the parents.

Finally, with great reluctance, Captain Mellow lumbers off down the taxiway. It's interesting how the runways at HNL are a good mile from the terminal building, out by the water. We are putting real mileage on the tires before we even reach the runway. When we are cleared to go, the captain uses every inch of the runway, just barely clearing the lights at the far end and eaaaaasing into the sky.

Surprisingly, it is a fast, 5 hour flight home. The winds must have been with us. I have to say, the stewardesses treated us very well. They even fed us a little hot meal which was fairly good! And they kept us hydrated with water and juice although we brought our own H2O along. The movie choice both ways was ATROCIOUS...both very depressing-looking films. No one watched them, I noticed. On this leg, I opted for viewing "Perry Mason" and "Cars" on my own laptop. It really made the ride home faster.

But they weren't done with us. We arrived half an hour late and the display said our bags would be at Carousel 3...but the Stewardess had said Carousel 1! We reached the baggage claim and waited. And waited. And waited. Almost the entire plane had checked bags. ONE HOUR after we landed, the bags slowly began to trickle off the belt. Ours were some of the last to come off the plane. The stew was right. Carousel 1.

We grabbed a taxi and were home just before midnight. YAWN!

Had a GREAT trip! Let's do it again, Baolu!


Some Notes On Hawaii:

You always feel "sticky", no matter how often you shower or how motionless you remain. 

We went through a gallon of drinking water a day.

After a while, I don't care if my shorts match my aloha shirt. Nor do I care if people see me as a tourist. It's fun seeing new places!

People are "very sweet" here, according to Baolu. I'd have to agree. If you're polite and patient, the Hawaiians are quite congenial.

Back home, it takes about 15 minutes to get your food. Here, it takes 30 minutes. Once you understand and plan for that, you'll be fine. We always looked for eating places when we WEREN'T hungry, knowing we WOULD be once the food showed up.

Baolu has rediscovered mango, guava and passion fruit juice. She used to get it back in China and here in the islands it is as common as orange juice is in the lower 48.

Wearing a straw "Harrison Ford" hat has been a life saver. Usually, I burn to a nice red in the sun and the chapeau kept my face completely in shade. An essential for a convertible.

EVERYONE in Hawaii seems to know someone, or have a relative in Washington State. It is truly amazing. Our little state, way over in the upper left hand corner of the lower 48? Yep.

Did you know a Hertz Mustang convertible can get up to 100 mph (while passing someone) and you hardly even notice?