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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.

Great Northern on the Big Island of Hawaii

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Baolu and I are off for yet another adventure to our 50th State. It's First Class all the way on Hawaiian Airlines flight 21 to Honolulu. Whilst waiting to board, I spot Rocky, the Great Northern Goat, adorning the tail of a Frontier Airlines jet and snap a couple pictures for posterity.

Soon, they are boarding First Class so we step aboard. As we settle into our seats, I am tickled by the funny sign in front of us on the bulkhead which admonishes us (Hawaiian-style) to NOT put up our bare feet. I like this sign so much, it now adorns our downstairs bathroom as well.

It's a six hour flight to the islands, but Hawaiian Air keeps us in high spirits (hic!) with their usual, good service, personal DVD players and a string of simply
marvelous Bloody Marys. It appears this is a training flight as there are twice as many flight attendants as usual.

Before we know it, we land at HNL and walk the long, open-air corridors to our connecting flight. We have 2 1/2 hours to kill, so we plop ourselves down at a cafe and have a sandwich.

On to Hawaii. It is only a 40 minute flight to Kona airport in our 717. We collect our baggage and trundle over to the Hertz shuttle. At the counter, the gal informs us that our car is still being put together and would we like to upgrade to a convertible? Uh-uh. We'll wait. Already did the convertible thing last two times. As we
stand off to one side, I notice the one guy in the place wearing a Hertz Aloha shirt. My brother, Mark, owns a Hertz Shelby Mustang GT+H and has been trying
unsuccessfully for years to get his hands on one of those shirts.

As the last customer takes off with their car, I strike up a conversation with the guy, explaining the whole story, how I would gladly pay him or Hertz $60 cash for one of those shirts, any condition. I leave him my card with info about the shirt on it and say we'll be back in a week, can he do something for us? The guy thinks about it and disappears into the back room. Our car is ready, so we roll the suitcases out and start to load up.

I'm putting the bags in the trunk and I hear, "Mr. Korst, Mr. Korst!" and this guy is hustling towards us. To my total shock, he hands me a small Wal-Mart bag with a genuine Hertz Aloha Shirt! I thank him profusely and fumble for my wallet. As I am pulling three twenties out, he smiles and says, "No - no, we had an extra one". He won't take any money! Apparently Hertz provides the shirts gratis to their employees and this was a used reject. When I got home, I discovered it had a button missing on the front. I just moved an unused button and sewed it on myself. Mark will never know or notice, will you Mark? ;p

It is a short, 15 minute drive from KOA to our hotel, the grandly-named, "King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel (Courtyard by Marriott)".

At check in, there is this tremendously-obese, 50-year old Alaska Airlines stewardess in full uniform standing at the counter screeching, "Where's John?????". Our check in gal quietly tells her John doesn't work there anymore. "Well, Where Is He Now?", she rasps. Again, she's told they don't know. "Wull... CAN YOU GIVE ME HIS PHONE NUMBER????" The old sow keeps peppering our gal with slurred, impertinent questions with a voice that could shatter glass. I couldn't tell if she was drunk or simply off her meds. I do know I would NEVER fly Alaska to Hawaii because of her. Can you imagine listening to that foghorn voice for six hours? Ai-YO!

The room with a view makes up for a rather unsettling experience at reception. Our ocean-front room has a sweeping view of the "beach" and the vista along Ali'i drive to the south. The "beach" is a man-made cove with white sand trucked in from FLORIDA. Normally, the Kona Coast is black lava rocks.

It's Saturday night, so we head down to the poolside bar and watch the local kids splash around (easy access from the "beach"). As is befitting for a Saturday night, there is a nearby table of rowdies drunkenly singing bad songs from the 70's at the top of their lungs. We sit at the bar and sample a few libations and appetizers to cap off a startling and exciting day.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Spam at McDonalds! Yum...why can't we get this in Washington State? We drive our Nissan Altima to Mickey D's and feast on Hormel's pride and joy (along with eggs and rice and Portuguese sausages). So good. Today is just a leisurely drive up the west coast of the island to the north shore. Lots of hysterical stuff up there as that's where (we'll just call him King K from now on) King K had his headquarters when he united all the Hawaiian Islands.

The west coast of the Big Island is very dry and there are these huge fields of black lava rock we're driving across. A local hobby seems to be taking smaller white-painted rocks and arranging them to spell out people's names amongst the black lava. People are pulled over at the side of the road doing this as we head north.

Approaching the northern tip, we literally go around a curve and the surroundings are suddenly lush and green -- indeed, there are clouds and little showers to keep things growing. We pass through the little town of Kohala where there is this magnificent statue of King K.

We drive up and down the road out to where it dead ends. Along the way, we come across the most impressive monument of all -- at least as grand as Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts -- drum roll please -- King K's rock....

I am not making this up. That's his rock. They erected an official sign and everything.

OK, back to Kailua we go. After parking the car, we discover they have closed off Ali'i drive to all traffic and there is a festival going on. We stroll up and back,
finally stopping at the local Scandinavian Shave Ice place for a big, ice-cream-filled, fruit-flavored ice ball. Yum-Yum. This only "works" in humid climes like Hawaii. Shaved ice in drizzly, old Seattle, just wouldn't sell.

It is getting close to 4:30pm and Baolu and I have signed up for another luau (we attended one in 2008 at another hotel), this time conveniently located at our hotel. It starts out rather uncomfortably as we stand in a long line BAKING in the setting sun whilst one of the performers up front milks applause from the crowd.

This goes on for 30 minutes. On top of that, we are getting hungry. I am sheltering beneath my straw hat as best I can in the low sun. Finally, at 5:07 sharp, they let us in.  Slowly.  When our turn comes, lei's for the ladies are $10 a pop. Baolu doesn't want one, so we settle for the little shell ones they hand out. The lei dude
taunts me for being so cheap (or words to that effect). We are directed to a table...that is sitting directly facing the setting sun. Mercifully, this place has an open
bar, so we hustle over there for a couple cold ones and to stand in some shade.

Next we wander around and take a few snaps. We never did see what they used that little shack behind Baolu for. Me? I like going where I'm not supposed to go...

OK, now they announce (over the historical P.A. system) that the pig is ready to be extracted from the pit where it has been smoking away since morning. They mention, "our kitchen staff" will lift out the pig and we can all watch. Kitchen staff? And these guys are wearing Rubbermaid gloves. How dainty! What is this, a
Madge/Palmolive dish soap commercial? Last time, the big Hawaiians used their bare hands. Still, it's a fine-looking piece of pork. I call dibs on the snout!

OK, back to the table. Now they start letting folks up to the chow line by tables. Unfortunately, we are on the other side of the stage from where they're selecting the tables. We wait. We are REALLY starting to get hungry. A guy stands up on stage to show us haoles how to open a coconut with his machete. From the tepid response from the hungry audience, he milks us again and again for applause to his corny jokes. This is getting tiresome. The staff comes around to our table and asks us, "Hey, why aren't you guys smiling, you're supposed to be happy at a luau????" Before I can say anything, they guy next to me pipes up loudly, "BECAUSE WE'RE ALL HUNGRY...WHEN DO WE GET SOME FOOD???"

No pork for you. First, the floor show starts and a guy wearing a comical hat takes the stage to announce the arrival of a reasonable facsimile of King K himself. That chapeau he's got on looks like one of those suction cup contraptions you throw against a wall to see it stick there.

Hat dude blows his conch shell, then they make everybody stand for the grand entrance of King K and his entourage.

Still no food. The feeding process is going painfully slow. Only 1 table of the 8 or so has food. They are calling up table 2. Finally, we get to sit back down and
they start the hula-dancing show. As you can see in the background, not a whole lot of chow on any of the tables.

That blasted sun finally goes down. At approximately 7:15pm, we are finally allowed up to the chow line. We fill our plates and snarf it down. Not bad for restaurant food, although kalua pork aficionado Baolu is not too impressed with the pulled pork. Appetites finally sated, we stroll out to the bar and have one final drink before....skipping the rest of the luau and heading back to our room. Luau rating is 2 stars out of 4. Luau we saw at Kona Village in 2008 was far better. Lesson learned.  If you've seen one, really good luau in your lifetime, don't bother seeing another.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A lazy day today. A light breakfast at Starbucks, then up the hill to take a Thunder Mountain Kona coffee tour! Lindsay is all worried we are "late" for our 10am free coffee tour but it doesn't actually start until about 10:45 (I should have known better--- we're in Hawaii after all). There's plenty of entertainment while we wait.

The tour gal (the owner's wife, it turns out) leads us around the place and does an admirable job showing us what coffee looks like on the tree, when to pick, the sorting and roasting process, etc. A good tour, once it got started. They have a very nice assortment of goodies in the 20' shipping container/gift shop and we avail ourselves including a bag of the "good stuff" for Baolu to try out back home.

We ask the gal what is a good plate lunch place she would recommend and she sends us to the Kanaka Kava bar in Kona. It turns out, she used to work there.

On our way down the mountainside, Baolu started reading the reviews on Yelp. The reviews all boiled down to, "good food, but for God's sake, don't drink the Kava...tastes like old dishwater, etc., etc....")

We get there and order what appear to be two, separate entrees from the posted menu. The white boy behind the counter starts lecturing us about how we'll NEVER finish all that and he REALLY hates it when people waste food, etc. etc. Uh-oh. Shades of Fawlty Towers. OK, then, Mr. Smarty-Pants, what are we ALLOWED to order then? White boy says this particular combo is the house special with pork, poke, fish, etc. So we order that.

Satisfied we have ordered the correct amount of food for our party, white boy then asks us if we want to try some kava. It is $5 a pop, served into a coconut "glass" and sits in a huge punch bowl on the counter which he constantly stirs. There are flies buzzing around it.

"No Thank You", I reply. "We'll just have water". This was not the correct response. "Didn't coffee-owner's wife tell you about the kava?" "Um no, we just asked her to recommend a place to eat lunch". This stops white boy for a second. More to himself, he says, "I can't believe she didn't mention the kava!". This really bothers him, so he goes in back to, hopefully, start working on our lunch.

White girl replaces him at the counter. Kanaka Kava is definitely a local joint -- well set back from the road. In fact, a fairly steady stream of scruffy looking types
shuffle through. White girl chats up each one of them. None of the locals order anything.

Finally, our fish platter comes out. No rice. No rice? Poke and kalua pork tends to be rather salty and rice usually provides a nice balance for tucking it away.
Still, the fish and poke seem fresh and good, the pork is OK, so we have a decent, if salty supper. In fact we cleaned our plate (which white boy gave us kudos for as he cleared the dishes).

White girl then piped up from behind the counter. "So coffee owner's wife recommended this place, eh? I STILL can't believe she didn't say anything about the kava! Especially since she used to work here!" I almost said something about why don't they mark their menu with "Serves Two" on the platters, but that would have taken all the fun out of it for them. I didn't DARE mention the lack of rice.

I headed back to the hotel and Baolu did a little shopping. We just relaxed and took it easy. Since lunch wasn't very substantial, we felt like burgers for dinner.
Where better to get a burger than a brew pub? It turns out the Kona Brewing Company was just a couple blocks away, so we walked over there for an early dinner.

After a short wait, we were seated inside (nice a/c in here!). I'm looking through the menu....and there are no burgers! Not a one. They have 12 different types of
pizza and every conceivable type of sandwich available. But no burgers! We start off with some brew on tap. My Hefeweizen is thin and kind of weak. Did this really come out of a tap? We finally settle on a "hamburger pizza" figuring it will somehow make up for the lack of a real one. Pizza is OK...just OK. Lots of lettuce, that's for sure. In fact, the "hamburger" is buried way down in the pizza and is more like "essence of cow" -- sort of a hint of meat. Not impressed. Kona Brewing Co gets two thumbs down.

We saunter back to the hotel. Another interesting day, that's for sure!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

We have a mission today. We have purpose. Today, we're attempting to sell my Hawaiian plot of land and have an appointment with a realtor in Hilo. But first, we have to stop in Laupahoehoe and visit the train museum there.

Yes, believe it or not, there was a standard gauge steam railroad on the Big Island of Hawaii with impressive bridges from Hilo out along the north coast. Most of it was literally washed away by the terrible tsunami of 1946 that devastated Hilo and the north shore of the island.

After looking over the caboose and museum, we head for Hilo and meet up with my realtor. I find out due to the bad economy, land is not selling too well at the moment. Still my realtor agrees to list it on the market and put up a sign. He shows me how to measure off and find out where my property actually is (three lots per telephone pole, mine is the 7th lot along). My realtor also explains that Kona is the REGION on the west coast where the airport is and Kailua is the actual city we're staying in (thus, Kailua-Kona to distinguish it from other towns named Kailua around the Hawaiian Islands). Another good sign is my realtor sold the last piece of land (this year) in this complex which took about 4 months.. We'll give it 6 months to a year to see if it sells.

After visiting the realtor, we head down towards my land south of Pahoa. We stop into the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory (250,000 "mac" trees on their
plantation....wwwwwwwwWOW!!). I pick up some snacks for home and also some boxes of chocolate-covered mac nuts for my co-workers.

Next, we visit the property-I'm-trying-to-sell and take an educated guess as to which section of land (right by the car) it actually is:

Of course, no visit to the Hilo area is complete without spending a great deal of money at the Big Island Candies store.  They make the most heavenly chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies which are not to be missed.  We carried on a large suitcase of this stuff during the flight home.

On the way back towards Kailua, we take a shortcut on the "Saddle Road", Hawaii Hwy 200. There are one lane bridges in places on the western side, but the eastern slope is all beautiful recently-built 60 mph highway. We are back in Kailua after a fast, two-hour drive.

Not nearly enough drama today. Dinnertime will take care of that. We decide to hit the "Happy Hour" at The Fish Hopper for supper. I try a fancy-pants Bloody Mary loaded with 3 huge prawns and various condiments. The B.M. is fantastic. I complement the barkeep on the drink and he said he made the mix himself from scratch! He also points out that their poke (raw fish) is fresh, having just been caught this morning.

Baolu confirms (as a poke hound) that the poke is top drawer whilst I nibble on some other appetizers. Our contentment and tranquility was about to end. A mom, dad and junior (about age 2 or 3) was, for some reason, seated near us in the bar in a corner. This had the effect of amplifying Junior's upcoming performance. He had a complete melt down. His raspy little cries built steadily to a shrieking crescendo. Of course mom and dad didn't take him outside (it was warm in the restaurant), but ineffectively patted him and tried to feed him his bottle. This just made him mad.

AUUUKKKK!!!! AUUUKKKKKK!!! SCCRRREEEEEEECH!!!! was the gist of what he was trying to tell his folks. BRRRRAAAAAAAKKKKK! BRAAAAAAAKKKK! he continued until conversation in the restaurant came to a standstill. I finally took a picture of the little critter (and his bemused parents).

The bartender was trying to hustle them out of the place by clearing their table quickly and getting them their bill fast, but they weren't in any hurry. I'd like to say a round of applause greeted them as they finally left, but I'd be exaggerating. Still, it put a real exclamation point on dinner. We'll have to try this place again, hopefully without the screaming brat.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Didn't do nuthin, today! Nope, didn't even take camera out of my pocket. Not much planned today, anyway. We did, however, have a leisurely breakfast at the Yelp-and-locals-recommended Big Island Grill. So glad we did and well worth the wait. It is a family owned-and-run joint that serves, absolutely, the finest "Loco-Moco" I have ever tasted. Mine came with 3 toppings -- I had Chicken Katsu, home-made corned beef hash and home-made hamburger patties as my toppings with rich, brown gravy over rice and topped with two eggs over easy. Baolu had two eggs, two slices of Spam and two pancakes. Best breakfast we had on the trip.

For entertainment today, we drove Saddle Road up to the observatory/visitor center about 8,600 feet up the side of Mauna Kea peak. I had hoped we would drive out of the drizzle and clouds, but we didn't. Nothing to see, but a cold, wet parking lot and a quick visitor center tour, then back down to balmy, hazy Kailua.

Early dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company which was pretty good! We'll have to come back HERE again, too! ;p

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Volcano Day today! As we walk out to the car, I see these pretty little birdies feeding in the hotel's lawn:

We are driving around the southern end of Hawaii this time. Soon, we stop at a view point for a look at the Pacific and the east coast of the island:

Next is a stop at their fabled Black Sand Beach. The place is pretty much deserted. Holy Moley, Baolu has spotted some turtles!

There are signs everywhere to keep at least 15 feet away, so we give the big critters some space. Baolu actually meets Fillmore from Sherman's Lagoon!:

As we're walking back to the car, a busload of tourists unloads onto the beach. Uh-oh. Sure enough, Beulah from Iowa marches right up to one of the turtles and starts tapping on its shell. I yell at her to leave him alone, but she's too busy chasing after it into the ocean. Hopefully the riptide gets her. Stupid woman. There are signs EVERYWHERE on the beach saying not to touch them.

Soon we are hustling north along the Hawaii Belt Road to Volcanoes National Park at 60 per.

First stop at a cafe outside the park for a pastrami sandwich and salad (same place we visited in 2008). Can't look at lava on an empty stomach. After lunch, we stop at the visitor's center for a lava update. Hmmmm....Mrs. Ranger says it is a six mile walk (round trip) out to the lava and they don't let you get anywhere NEAR it anyway, so what's the point. I guess helicopter is the way to really see it, but I'm feeling cheap today. Anyway, here's Baolu posing next to their crater from a viewpoint:

Next we head down the "Chain of Craters" road towards the ocean. We skip the Thurston Lava Tubes ("Lovey, my Dear, be careful, remember that you're a HOWELL....") as we did this in 2008. Holy crap, that looks like a nene!

It was indeed a nene, two of them -- some sort of wild duck (thus the holy crap reference to these little poop machines), who's habitat includes National Park roadside pullouts. We continue on. The road down to the ocean is pretty neat -- you switchback down crossing these gigantic lava fields. It's like a 4,000 foot drop in elevation. We stop so Baolu can inspect the hardware:

Finally we come down to the end of the road. You can see where it continues on, but was wiped out by a lava flow. There is a really cool arch along the shore nearby:


On the way back, we see a rare, Hawaiian-native and oh, so sacred black-horned caterpillar:

Also these really colorful, I don't know, THISTLE things. Has anyone see Eeyore? He might want to eat one of these (Ohi'a lehua is their Hawaiian moniker).

Isn't this fun? OK, back towards Kailua we go. Only one stop homeward bound, to see Mark Twain's Monkey Pod tree at Waiohinu:

Boy, Samuel Clemens sure got around didn't he? It's another great dinner at The Fish Hopper tonight, sans screaming urchin. Mahalo.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Just doing a lot of "little things" today -- stuff we never got around to before. First stop is the famous "Painted Church" near Captain Cook, HI. Yes, there really is a town by that name. Famous limey explorer who "discovered" the Hawaiian Islands and during his 3rd visit there, was dispatched by the natives with a good bop on the noggin. Honest. There's a painting in the lobby of our hotel showing an angry Hawaiian about to brain him with a club. I guess he complained about the kava.

Anyway. Painted Church. Here we are checking it out. The missionaries knew the early Hawaiians had no written language, so they painted pictures on the wall of the church so the locals could see what their version of religion was about. It worked and the paintings are still in pretty good shape. I dropped a ten spot in their
collection box in exchange for a post card which is a far better view of the building than I could take:

Next stop up the road is Kona Joe coffee plantation which grows their coffee exclusively on trellises. Nice location with a beautiful view of the ocean. They've got some coffee trellises set up as you walk in, so you can see the coffee beans growing.

Once in the gift shop, Baolu is set upon by an over-eager employee (there is no one else there) intent on showing her everything in stock until she finally buys a bag of
coffee to shut him up and escape. It's getting towards lunch time, so we hit "Da Poke Shack" so Baolu can gobble down the fish tidbits. THESE guys do it right, serving
the poke with a side dish AND rice. And no lecture. They have like 10 varieties (flavors) of poke. We both take the house special and it is very good. I'm not a fish
guy by any means, but this is excellent. Imagine a cut of fish so fresh, it doesn't tastle like fish -- melts in your mouth.

How about a local Target store with a huge SPAM display?  That's a very good price, BTW.  Hawaiians, by far, eat more of the stuff than pretty much the other 49 states combined.

Every time we walked by it, the place was closed. Worse than "banker's hours", it was only open like from 10am to 2pm M-W-F. It was the "palace" used by King K and Baolu wanted in.

We parked car at hotel and walked up to it. Open! Tour group just started! Just like at home, you have to take off your shoes to enter (there were piles of shoes at the door). We listened to the guide talk about how it was a favored retreat of Hawaiian royalty. Nice location, too. Right on the water across from the famous stone church in the middle of Kailua. We walked around the place -- very nice lanai's (porches) facing the water. I can see why the royal's dug it.

We are NOT in a hurry to get back to the hotel. They posted a letter in the elevators saying they would be working on the air conditioning system and it wouldn't be finished until 3pm or maybe not even until 8pm. Not good.

Dinner tonight was at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (again). We both just had drinks and appetizers for the Happy Hour, then finished with another round of ice cream and shaved ice at Scandinavian Shave. Finally, reluctantly, we headed back to our room.

No A/C. We sat out on the deck mostly as we could at least catch a little breeze. We were entertained by the local mentally-ill hermit spewing obscenities at anyone who dared approach him.

At one point, 3 members of the hotel's security staff came out to talk to him, but it did no good. He waved his arms, yelled some more, and effectively cleared the beach of any families with small children. One final picture of Baolu and Lindsay on the deck on our last night in paradise.

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

The flight doesn't leave until 10am, so we take this opportunity to have another meal at Big Island Grill. Oh, so good. I'm having the "everything" omelet and B's having the 2 x 2 x 2 with their home-made corned beef hash. Baolu's STILL talking about that Who Hash -- not canned, mind you.

It is a routine flight back to Seattle. We both refuse the DVD player and read our books going home. Plenty drinks, good dinner flight. First Class on Hawaiian
Airlines, yeah baby, that's the way to go.

A long taxi ride and we are home by 11pm. We had a GREAT time in Hawaii. Baolu has decided we've got Hawaii KNOCKED and next trips will be to THE SOUTH (South Carolina and/or Louisiana next year). A-L-O-H-A ! ! ! ! ! ! !