A few months before we went to Hawaii, I mentioned to my husband that it might be a great opportunity to have some family portraits taken. So, I did some research to find us a photographer. The one I tried to book was already spoken for, so she pointed us towards another woman and we booked a thirty minute photo session with her. We ended up taking the photos right at the house where we were staying, which was perfect. At any rate, the photographer took all sorts of different poses with different groups of us. And when we received the photos today, we were happy to discover that we did all actually clean up well and take some lovely photos.
We took some more traditional, look-at-the-camera-and-smile photos, and then she said she wanted to take some candids. She asked us to look at each other and pretend like we were having funny conversations. So, we did. And this is when I discovered my true calling.
I could be a fake model. I am really good at tossing my head back and laughing as if someone just said something really funny. Now that I’ve told you about my skill, though, try to forget it when you tell me a joke.
We got home yesterday afternoon and, being the Type A person I am, I immediately dove into the process of unpacking, doing laundry, and getting settled at home again. This was an even bigger task than usual because we had celebrated Christmas by unwrapping gifts the night before we left for Hawaii, which meant there was an even bigger mess left behind than usual. Sigh. I don’t like chaos in my house. I find it counterproductive to my intention to live a more peaceful, mindful life. It’s difficult for me to feel at peace when I look around a cluttered, dirty house.
While we were in Hawaii, I would wander along the lava rocks on the beach outside our rental home and look for shells that had been beached and discarded. I would collect nice looking shells of that variety, ones on dry land rather than in the tidal pools because I know the tidal pools are teaming with sea snails and hermit crabs, and sometimes live cowries too. To be careful, though, when I would collect the shells, I made a habit of drying them on the lava rock wall by the pool or on the counter in the bathroom. The shells needed to be dried before packing, and I figured this would allow time for any sea life living in the shells that had somehow managed to escape my notice to make a break for it. And it did happen. One day I brought the few shells I had found to our bathroom, removed them from my pocket, walked into the other room, and a little while later heard something make a sound in the bathroom. I returned to find a hermit crab in the sink. Apparently that shell’s owner objected to being collected. I took him back to the beach and set him into a tide pool. He was free.
At any rate, as I was unpacking my suitcase yesterday, I found the shells I brought home in a Ziploc bag and set them out on my bathroom counter. I had plans to sterilize and polish them, but that process could not begin until I had the house settled again. While I was busy unpacking my toiletries and putting some towels away, out of the corner of my eye I saw one shell moving across the counter. Dammit. I had a stowaway. Despite my best efforts to ensure I didn’t transport any live creatures from the Hawaiian tropical climate to cold, semi-arid, high altitude Colorado, one of the shells held a tiny hermit crab who had refused to let his presence be known on the bathroom counter in Hawaii.
The little guy had lived through a day on the counter and another twelve hours in a plastic bag inside a suitcase, only to arrive 3300 miles away from its origins and 1030 miles from the nearest ocean. I momentarily considered setting up an aquarium setting for him before coming to my senses. Colorado is no place for a tiny, salty hermit crab. I had to dispatch him. I hated to do it (and I will not disclose the methodology of such actions here because I am still wracked with guilt), but it had to be done. And, no, I don’t really want to talk about it.
I’ve spent a bit of time since then beating myself up for being a murderer. Finally, though, I decided I had to forgive myself. I did not mean to bring him here. I didn’t set out to harm anything. I tried to leave my shells time enough to walk away if they were inhabited. I also realize I am likely not the first human to err in this fashion. And on multiple occasions while looking for shells on dry land in Hawaii, I found hermit crabs who were stranded away from the ocean (seemingly miles away if you consider how small they are and how far the tide had carried them from their point of origin) and picked them up and returned them to tidal pools, thereby saving their lives. Sometimes, life is messy. I am a person who has rescued snakes, voles, mice, rabbits, and even salamanders from window wells. I need to cut myself some slack on this one life. I try to be a good steward on this planet, but being good does not mean being perfect.
Next time I go to Hawaii and collect shells, though, I am going to stop the collection process two days prior to my departure to give any accidental sea life ample time to escape my evil clutches.
After a week of mostly cloudy skies with periods of sunshine, this day began with a clear, bright, perfect blue sky. Being an internal optimist (like a Sour Patch Kid, I am sweet on the inside and sour on the outside), I believe that this blue sky day on the first day of 2022 portends good things for this new year. Hope I didn’t just jinx it. See? Sweet and sour at the same time.
My sister-in-law, Karen, booked us an outrigger trip for an hour this morning. We lucked out with the flawless weather and applied copious amounts of zinc oxide sunscreen. We started our trip off the sandy shore at the Marriott’s King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. We met our guide, Jeff, and began the experience by pulling the outrigger to the water. I lucked out because I got to be the official photographer for this. That wooden boat is heavy, even on wheels!!
The sea had a moderate swell, but outriggers are made for this so it was no issue with seven of us paddling. The ride was smoother and easier than I imagined, and the views of the island from the water made the effort worth it. We paused a few times, just drifting on the ocean, so Jeff could tell us a bit of the history of this area. We learned that Hualalai, the dormant volcano visible from Kona’s shores, means “head in the clouds,” which has been true for the majority of our time here. I told the boys that from now on when one of us is in another place mentally I shall say we are “hualalai.”
While we were taking a paddle break at one point, we heard a mammal surface nearby. Looking around, we saw a couple dolphins and were lucky enough to see them curiously check us out by swimming underneath the boat. How cool is that?
After our outrigger trip, we returned to the house for some steak and eggs before heading out to do a little souvenir shopping in Kona town. Luke was craving shave ice. I hadn’t had any yet on this trip, so it seemed like a good idea. I got lilikoi (passion fruit) flavor because that is my absolute favorite and something I don’t often get to enjoy in Colorado. Somehow I convinced the boys to play along for this little photo op. I think Joe was representing a brain freeze with his expression here.
Trinkets obtained, we headed back to the house to order some takeout Thai food and enjoy our most colorful sunset here yet. It’s like the universe aligned everything just for us on this New Year’s Day. With our trip coming to a rapid conclusion, the reality of our imminent departure hit Joe and I like a wave hitting the lava rock shoreline. He and I are the most committed to this state, the ones who would be most likely to have to be dragged kicking and screaming onto a flight back to cold, snowy Colorado later. I am trying to be zen about our exodus, but I am struggling. Time to engage my mindfulness skills, stay in the moment, and mourn the exit when I board the plane in 12 hours.
When we planned our ten-day trip here, we knew this vacation was to be more about sticking near our rental and relaxing than our usual whirlwind of non-stop sightseeing activity. It was one of the reasons that we reserved a home right on the ocean near a small, snorkeling beach. The goal this time around was to unplug and simply be human beings rather than humans doing.
The one activity I found early on, however, that I knew immediately I wanted to experience was a nighttime opportunity to be in the water with the harmless and huge manta rays that call this area home. After some time spent coaxing and cajoling my reluctant family members into giving this activity a try (I understood their apprehension about getting into the ocean in the dark but was willing to overlook that fear myself), I found a family-run excursion outfit that runs small-group tours to spend time with these gentle, filter feeders. I booked the four of us with Hawaii Island and Ocean Tours in a 10:20 pm time slot, and on December 30th, we drove down the Kona coast to Keauhou Bay to meet our group.
The way it works is you are given a shortie wet suit and snorkel gear and a boat takes you on a short (on this night, 1 minute) boat ride to a shallow spot on the bay (we were in about 40 feet of water) where you meet your guide. The guide, in a full wet suit and fins, is holding on to what is essentially a surfboard with handles. Underneath the surfboard is a panel of lights. The lights draw the plankton in the water, and the plankton, in turn, draw these gentle creatures to come feed on an easy meal right by you. When I say “right by you,” I mean they occasionally brush you as they feed. The guide told us they normally have between one to three manta rays feeding underneath the board. We lucked out, though, as we were told there were ten of them feeding in the area.
Manta rays are usually solitary creatures, but the lure of a plentiful and easy meal brings them together. We hopped off the rubber sides of the boat into the water, swam over to the board and grabbed onto the handles on the side, stuck our faces in the water, and immediately saw mantas swimming up to feed. They feed in giant upward circles under the board. Starting at the sea floor, they swim up, skim their filter-feeding mouths along the bottom side of the lit board, and head back down to repeat the cycle. It was nuts. These rays, out in the open ocean, can grow to 29 feet across. These were about 12 feet across, which was plenty big enough for us. The most important rule of these excursions is you are not allowed to reach out and touch the mantas. Period. They try to avoid touching you, but I was bumped and rubbed against by them a couple times just the same. Manta rays feed for approximately 20 hours a day to consume the calories they need to thrive. It’s fascinating.
We remained in the water for approximately 30 minutes, watching the rays feed non-stop. We had rented a GoPro from the company, so Steve was able to catch some footage of the experience. The video below will shed some light (pun intended) on this experience. The video looks a little surreal because of the type of lights used to draw the plankton, but you will see how close they come and what their feeding process looks like in this environment. The light spots on the video are the plankton.
If you ever find yourself on the Big Island, don’t miss this if you have any experience with swimming and snorkeling. Most of us were a little nervous about getting into the sea after dark, but we needn’t have been. It was amazing and something I would definitely like to experience again.
Life is short, my friends. Don’t miss an opportunity to go out of your comfort zone and learn more about what happens on this amazing rock in space.
For this last day of 2021, I vowed to be more present. It’s something I have been working on this year, through mindfulness and meditation, because I want to be more checked in than checked out and because I want to learn to manage my monkey brain and respond more carefully to people and to life’s choices. So I spent less time today on my phone and more time simply paying attention to my surroundings rather than trying to photograph them.
The first thing we did this morning was head out to do some snorkeling at a beach known for clear waters and loads of reef fish. Kahalu’u Beach Park did not disappoint. Although we did not bring an underwater camera, I saw oodles of fish, many of which I had not ever seen before. While I was unsure how I would like the Big Island and her scarcity of sand beaches, it turns out that the lack of sand means clearer water for viewing fish. This has made the paucity of sandy beaches a total non-issue because I would rather snorkel than sit in the sand and carry it home with me anyway. At this snorkel spot, I saw myriad yellow tang and bullethead parrotfish, several different varieties of trigger fish, Moorish idols, huge corals, and a porcupine fish. We were out for about an hour and it was worth every second.
The wind picked up substantially in the afternoon and the surf got a little crazy for a few hours, so I spent some time along the lava rocks behind the house searching for shells. I’ve found a couple full cowries, which made me happy.
In the late afternoon, I spent some time staring at the tumultuous seas. I would move here in a heartbeat. If I won the lottery, a place like this one, right on the ocean, would be my first purchase. Since we are down to our last two days here, though, I decided to soak this hammock thing up because I don’t know when or if I will have this opportunity again. And I have officially decided that Hawaii agrees with me, so it is only natural that I end up here somehow, someway, someday.
We opted to cook in tonight. Steve grilled tenderloin and we sautéed some shrimp in garlic butter and topped it with chopped parsley. It was perfection. The sun set behind a huge bank of clouds as fireworks began to pop off on the hill on the other side of the bay from our rental. Overall, it was a perfect end to a long, tiring 2021. Here’s hoping that 2022 finds our situation, on the whole, improved from the last two years. Happy New Year from this beautiful place!
Today was the most mellow day we have had yet on this vacation. Honestly, aside from taking some time to swim and snorkel in the keiki pond near our rental, photograph flowers, hunt for shells, and watch the sea for dolphins and whales, the most energetic thing we did happened at 10:20 pm when we got in the ocean to watch manta rays feed. That will require a separate post, which I will get to as soon as we manage to downloaded the photos from the GoPro we rented for the experience. Still, it was an amazing day for wildlife and nature viewing and photography.
It has been overcast here for days, but luckily we have managed to escape most of the rain we feared would literally dampen our trip. While we may not come back tan, we are definitely warm, rested, and unwound, which makes this entire trip worth every second of missed clear, sunny skies.
Steve and I took our first ever helicopter trip over Kauai in 2013. In 2016, we brought the boys along as we overflew Maui. Today we took the boys along again for a scenic flight over a fair portion of the Big Island. We started at the Kona Airport and then flew over the coffee-planted slopes of the Hualalai volcano, then between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa towards Kilauea to the crater, where we were able to glimpse some of the recently restarted lava flow. We then continued towards the windward side of the island and viewied the ocean and the steep valleys on the northwest side of the island. Then we headed back over the expansive cattle ranches towards the western side of the island with its lava beaches and resort-dotted coastline. Today’s trip included our first ever mid-flight landing on the top of a deep valley. If flying and motion sickness aren’t an issue for you and you ever have the opportunity to fly via helicopter, you should, especially if you find yourself in Hawaii. There are many parts of these islands that are only visible via helicopter, and you miss so much of the islands if you don’t fly over them. They are a spectacle from the air. A Hawaiian helicopter flight is a great item to tack onto your bucket list. It’s spendy, but worth saving for. If you come all the way out into the Pacific, don’t leave anything on the table.
Here is my photo dump from our helicopter trip, courtesy of my trusty old iPhone 11 Pro. Not the best photos, but you get the idea.
In 2018, there was a huge change to Kilauea. A new eruption of the volcano changed the island. The summit area of the park was altered by tens of thousands of earthquakes, one of which dropped a portion of the ring road, which you can see in this photo. The caldera collapsed and the crater grew from 280 feet deep to about 1,600 feet deep and the diameter more than doubled. Kilauea remains one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
Our pilot told us that if the lava stops moving for 5 seconds, it hardens into rock. Kind of fascinating to realize the cooling can can happen that quickly.
It was an overcast day, so I can’t even imagine how the contrasts in the greens and blues might have appeared with more sunshine.
We spent the rest of our day relaxing at home before having some family portraits taken and enjoying some wonderful Thai Beef at home for dinner. So sad there are only four days left for us to enjoy this warm, peaceful life. We haven’t even left and I am already anxious to return.
Today was a day of the unexpected from start to finish. It began with my waking up early and deciding once again to go see if I could catch a pretty sunrise. I had my doubts because the forecast was for an overcast day with heavy clouds. Steve and I were the only ones out at 6:40 a.m., though, and were treated to this stunning Hawaiian greeting.
We had a ten a.m. departure time for a drive to the Hilo side of the island, so I decided to shower and grab a quick breakfast. While I was sitting at the outdoor table eating, our oldest announced there was a surprise visitor in the saltwater pool. A crab had found its way up the beach and decided that this pool might be a better option for him. Joe went on a mission to remove the visitor and eventually manage to coax it from the water in the pool onto the skimmer net. Once he acquired his target, Joe walked him down the rocks to a safe spot near the water where the crab was allowed to crawl back to whence he came.
With that excitement behind us, we departed for the windward side of the island, seven of us in a Dodge Grand Caravan. The drive was fascinating. This island is huge by comparison to the others. We learned the other day that this island is large enough to hold all the other islands and still have Big Island left over. Being accustomed to Kauai and Maui, driving around this island can feel daunting. There are 8 climate zones on this island, so a drive will take you through a lot of varied sights. We started with our tour guide, Joe, telling us about the different types of lava rock here, pahoehoe and aa (pronounced: paw-hoey-hoey and ah-ah, respectively). The first type has a smooth, billowy appearance, like a black cloud, and the second is very rough and rubbly. As we headed mauka (towards the mountain), the landscape changed. More greenery appeared before we hit an area of grasslands before we later hit a section with trees and flowers before we hit more of a forested area before we then began heading down again into more bushes and flowers. The Big Island is a good place to get a feel for all that Hawaii has to offer on her many islands.
I knew the house where we would find our relatives was remote, but honestly I was not prepared for the last stretch of road, which was single lane, slippery mud, with a river crossing. Yes. All of this in a front wheel drive Dodge Caravan. There was one point when we were pointed downhill towards a rocky river crossing and a couple expletives entered my head. Somehow, though, the Dodge managed it (just barely) and we arrived at our destination. We were not prepared for what we saw.
The rain on this side of the island means everything grows here. I mean everything. They had papayas, coconuts, bananas, pineapples, oranges, meyer lemons, and collard greens (among other things) growing. The flowers were stunning. The grass was lush. This girl from a semi-arid state was in awe. We got to sample organic bananas cut straight from the branch. I’m not a big fan of bananas, but if I could eat these every day I would.
The cousins live in a self-sustaining home, with solar power, rainwater collection, and propane taking care of most of their needs. They have chickens and are preparing to get some goats for milk and cheese. Their neighbors own cattle. They talked about how they barter for items they need, trading their produce and eggs for items other neighbors have. This world could not be any more different than my life in affluent suburban Colorado, where our organic produce comes from Whole Foods (and they may get some of it from here). For lunch, they laid out for us a table filled with locally sourced and homemade foods. There was gluten free banana bread made with coconut flour, some homemade rustic bread with homemade jam, fresh papaya and rambutan, and some assorted cheeses and sausage. They had also prepared freshly squeezed lemonade. I could almost get the appeal of this type of living, but then decided I don’t want to have to wait for a rushing river to recede after a rain to access my home after a 4-wheel drive trip into town. The kind of prefer a river-free, easy trip to the store and the post office.
After enjoying our meal and catching up for a bit, we returned to Kona, passing more climate zones on the way back. This island is something else entirely. Not gonna lie…it’s kind of hard not to like it.
We ended the day at our lovely rental home with some take out food from a popular restaurant and a relaxing, still evening on the lanai. At this point, I’m finding myself torn between here and Maui as a place to land permanently someday. There is something about Hawaii that feels like home to me. I’m not sure how a Colorado girl finds this as her alternate place, but here I am. If not the mountains, then the laid back, healthy-minded, nature-oriented, sea-based life of Hawaii is my dream.
Even in paradise on vacation, there are days when you have to face reality and do the things. This was that sort of day.
I started the day with a leisurely morning jaunt outside to relish the sunrise and the uninhabited beach. Most people will tell you they prefer sunset. I’m a sunrise gal, myself. Maybe it’s the quiet morning. Maybe it’s the effort it takes to be present for a sunrise. Maybe it’s the promise that lies ahead in a fresh day. Or maybe it’s just that I like to be contrary to popular opinion. Anyway, it’s the sunrise that captures my attention.
After sunrise, it was time to attend to chores. I washed and folded clothes and towels, cleaned up the kitchen, made our bed, and fed the feral kitties that have chosen this as their home.
After that, Steve and I had shopping to do since it was our turn to prepare dinner. We picked up some opah (moonfish) at the seafood market, and then hit the store for groceries before making our way home. I thought I would sit in the sun for a bit and as I was about to make my way to the beach, I was slapped in the face with a harsh reminder that there really is no escaping reality, not even in paradise. I’m not sure what makes people visiting a beach decide they need to bring the American flag and a f*** Joe Biden message along to make a statement, but I could have done without it. Not because I begrudge anyone their First Amendment right to express themselves freely, but because I was hoping that I could escape partisan political bullshit while on vacation. Luckily, there is a reminder off the front lanai to find inner peace. So I decided to go there instead.
A little while later we were treated to an entire pod of dolphins swimming ahead of a boat. I didn’t have my phone on me, so I missed the photo moment. But a little while later they headed back and I was able to capture (from a considerable distance) this tiny bit of dolphin proof.
For dinner, we prepared fish tacos. I made a fresh pineapple salsa while Steve grilled the fish. We served the tacos alongside some white rice, black beans, and a green salad with sundried tomato dressing. After dinner, I sat in the spa while Steve and the boys alternated between swimming in the pool and warming up in the spa. Their antics made my heart happy.
It was a chill day at the house, but one we needed to get caught up and ready for the last days of our visit. Our next days will be more active with trips to other parts of the island, a helicopter tour, some long overdue professional family photos, and a swim with the manta rays. Stay tuned.
Mornings here are getting into a rhythm. Steve and I wake early, take some photos when the area behind the house on the makai (towards the sea) side is calm and mostly people free. I like to wander down to the tidal ponds to see any fish that might be stirring. This morning, as I meandered towards the water, I noticed this flower that someone in our family had placed along the lava rock wall surrounding the pool. There aren’t as many flowers blooming here now as there would be at other times of the year, but that makes the ones I am seeing more of a treasure.
The big excitement of the morning came when Luke was the first of us to spot humpback whales in the ocean behind the house. We’d been wondering if we would see some. We know they usually visit between December and April, but we’d been told it might be a little too early to see many of them. In fact, while verifying the time of year when they travel through these waters, I found that other Google searchers had similar questions. The funniest question I saw in my search was, “What time of day is the best for spotting whales?” I laughed. We Americans are so used to having the world at our fingertips that there are those among us who think the whales actually have a schedule they follow to make it easier for us to see them. The pure, simple, and beautiful answer about when you see whales is whenever they need to come up for air. They aren’t an attraction at Disneyworld that runs on a tight schedule. They are actual creatures living their lives. We just happen to be fortunate enough to bear witness to that on occasion. Throughout the rest of the day, though, the whales decided to inhale in front of me four additional times when my eyes just happened to be trained on the sea. Here’s hoping that the trend continues.
The rest of our day was spent snorkeling and hanging at the pool. I love snorkeling. While I am not well practiced given my status as a landlocked, mountain girl, I do revel in the view underwater. I saw a banded coral shrimp, which I had never seen before. The boys (aged 20 and 18) acted like boys (aged 6 and 4) in the pool, beating each other with foam noodles and using snorkel masks to dive. While they were doing that, I made another little green friend on the lanai where I was busy composing yesterday’s blog post.
The highlight of the day was a dinner cruise down to Kealakekua Bay, the site where Captain James Cook was killed. This cruise, conducted by Body Glove Ocean Adventures, was surprisingly informative, well run, and fun. I typically view these trips as tourist traps. I still book them, but I am prepared for them to be hokey and subpar, worth only the opportunity to get out on the sea. The cruise was recommended to us by the concierge service at the property management company that oversees the rental home we’re occupying, so I am grateful to them for that. The dinner was delicious: a locally grown green salad, Hawaiian-style barbecue ribs, a coconut milk, green curry vegetable side with white rice, and a coconut roll. I was impressed they were able to pull this off so well given that the boat we took unloaded passengers just 10 minutes before we were able to board. During the trip, we were gifted with whale sightings and the opportunity to see both spinner and bottlenose dolphins. By the end of the cruise, with copious tropical drinks on board, most of the passengers were singing and dancing along to YMCA by the Village People. I am usually a cynic and find this type of behavior beneath me, but I may be growing because I found the entire spectacle charming and actually participated. There was a lovely Indian family (about 15 of them) who were celebrating some family milestones, and they formed a large circle near the singer/dj and led the crowd in the revelry. After so long being sequestered and not being in the company of strangers, it was heavenly, even for this introvert.
When I can get myself to back off my cynicism and check my opinionated mind at the door, I rediscover the simple pleasure of witnessing connections between people and remembering that these moments give this ephemeral life its breath.