Thursday, December 31, 2009

For once, the pictures first

And all the wordiness will come later. It's nearly 11:15, we had a great day on the twilight volcano tour, but I wanted to get this video up. It's of the new flow at Kilauea Volcano, where the flow meets the sea. Keep watching, and you will see the new lava as it is hitting the sea water. So cool to watch new land being created!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Of Housekeepers and Human Sacrifice

 We begin, today, with a random assortment of photos.  A triggerfish, sunset  at Hapuna beach, A Beach in the daylight, a fuzzy picture of a turtle, and Mokini Heiau.

So, I’ve been trying to find a way to create a unified piece that includes our car, our condo and our trip to Mokini Heiau. I think may have a finally come up with a theme that weaves them all together.

To begin: our 2010 Dodge Journey had 500 miles on it when we picked it up at the rental agency. Not a bad automobile as American made SUV’s go . The day after we got here, warning lights started going off. The ABS, stability and AWD systems lights go on and off with, what has now become, soothing regularity. Rob called the rental car company and they pretty much took the Greek approach: no problem. Meaning, it’s no problem for them. So far, it hasn’t conked out on us, so we shall continue to drive with fingers crossed and prayers to the car kahunas. Every once in a while it does remind us that we are at its’ mercy by giving a fairly hard lurch as Rob makes a turn or accelerates.

The Aston Shores at Waikoloa is our home away from home. When we checked in, on the 20th, we were all assigned to the same building, which has never happened before. Ok. The Wolotira branch went to check out the new digs and found…a king sized bed and a double. No hide-a-bed, just that sorry little double for Alena and Adam to SHARE. I went back and complained and the cheerfully apologetic girl told me that A) there were no rollaway beds and if there were, they would be $35/night. Yeah, that’s right. $35/night. B) they could easily reassign us. So, off we went to the next condo. It was fine, and as we began unloading for the second time, Ms. Cheerful called us to say that they had a better place for us, in another building. Newly renovated, and since we were going to be here for “13 nights, so we want you to be comfortable.” Not sure what the comfort level of someone staying , say, 12 or even 11 nights would be, but we appreciated the sentiment.  The renovations seem to amount to new countertops and appliances.  The bathroom (only one. The kids have a powder room to share.) that we all bathe in hasn't been done since the '80's and tiles are beginning to come loose and the corners of the tub are, well, not the same shade of beige that the tub is supposed to be.

The new room looked fine upon first inspection. As the days and nights have rolled by the condo has slowly been revealing her myriad flaws. Our king bed has a decided divot on my side and the springs in the box spring rub together every time you move, so that your motions can be heard by everyone. The kids beds are, purportedly, singles. We suspect they used Smurfs for sizing purposes because both kids hang off the beds. They, too, squeek, and the room is an oven by 8AM. One of the kitchen cabinets is unusable because it smells like a Zombie’s mouth. Window shades come apart with startling regularity, and the kids toilet has been leaking. The screen door on the kids slider fell off the very first time Alena opened it. Oh, and dead cockroaches magically appear!

We keep reminding ourselves that we are in Hawaii, so little things won’t bug us.

Except for the continuing war with the housekeepers that Tina and I are having. The deal is they come in and take out trash, make beds, and wave the vacuum at the carpet every day. Supposedly, every fourth day, the do a “full clean.” After 9 days, I was still waiting, so I asked our housekeeper when we were scheduled. She went all Philipino on me and suddenly lost her ability to speak English. “Full clean? Full clean? You ask supervisor.” Oddly, she spoke perfect English 20 seconds later when I asked her to get someone here to fix the toilet. Apparently, there’s some sort of TP and paper towel rationing, too because the kids went two days without until Alena had finally had enough and went to the office to get some. We did finally get a “decent” cleaning, which means that Ralph, the pet dead cockroach in the kids bathroom, was laid to rest. We’d been using him to gauge the type of cleaning we were getting.

One of the cooler things Rob and I have done is to go up to Mokini Heiau, which is a very large and very old Hawaiian temple. It sits on the northernmost tip of the island (if you think of the island as being shaped like a chiweinie’s head, the heiau is at the tip of Lola’s ear). It’s about as desolate a place as you can imagine—no people, few critters, and lots of wind. It is eerily quiet (except for the wind) and what gives it a 10 on the heebie jeebie scale is that this was a place used for centuries for human sacrifice. Thousands of people died there. We always think of the Hawaiians as being laid back and happy, but the ancient Hawaiians were seriously nasty people. They had a caste system that would make the Indians sit up and take notice: if you even stepped on the shadow of someone above you, you paid with your life. That’s nasty. One thing this site does have going for it is that it faces directly onto the south side of Maui, 30 miles away.

So, here’s my thought: perhaps we could resurrect the heiau, sacrifice a Dodge or two, threaten a housekeeper or two call it good?

Critter count:

Monk seals-2

Turtles-a dozen or so

Humpback whales-a dozen or so





Saffron finches-many

 Up next:  Into Madame Pele's Maw

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Boxing Day!

As you might expect, it has been a very busy couple of days. The swells have been very high, so there's been no snorkeling, but that hasn't kept us off the beach. In fact, on Christmas Eve, everyone but Mom (more on that in a second) trooped out to Hapuna Beach, apparently rated as one of the top 10 beaches in America. ( Editor's Note: how do I get a job rating beaches? It sounds like a rough job, but I'm pretty sure I can handle it.) Hapuna Beach is beautiful and roughly 10,000 other people agreed with us on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. The surf was really high, so being the geniuses that they are, Adam and Karen decided to give their guardian angels a workout. Normally body surfing in high surf is dangerous on par with, say, jumping out of an airplane, but when you add a large rock formation in the middle of the surf, that upgrades the danger factor. I'd put it in the neighborhood of say, cliff-diving in shark-infested waters to swim with seals. Our rocket scientists got sucked nearly into the rocks by a very wicked cross current and just as it was beginning to look really dire for them, the lifeguard reached them and told them how to get out of their pickle. Whew. They survived another brush with death.

About Mom: she'd been complaining since our arrival about having a urinary tract infection. Would she see a doctor? Not until she was up all night and running a fever. Julie took her in to a clinic in Kona on Christmas Eve morning and she even has the extra special bonus kidney infection too! Merry Christmas to you, Mom!
While Julie was being a good Samaritan, Rob and Adam were golfing, which left Alena and me to our own devices. And, what do we do when left to our own devices? We go shopping, of course. I wanted to make a Hilo Hatties run, so off we went on a trinket acquisition mission. Trinkets acquired, we considered mission a success, and set off in search of sustenance. Being the inveterate explorers we are, we decided to go native and eat at the L and L Hawaiian Barbecue. The place was packed with locals, so we figured we were safe. Somewhere out there are about 20 locals laughing their asses off at fooling the tourists. The food was vile, foul, loathsome, disgusting and just plain awful. Alena ordered shrimp curry and when it came, it was 4 deep-fried shrimp floating forlornly in a puddle of thick, vaguely curry colored goo. Included with the shrimp were a half of a potato and a carrot slice. I had ordered the mixed barbecue. When I opened my Styrofoam take-away box, I found a glop of macaroni salad, a scoop of rice, and meat. On top, was a rancid fat-encrusted flanken, pretending to be Korean kalbi beef. The next layer was a fatty ¼" thin slice of beef (?), and at the bottom of this sad pile was something that could have been chicken but I could not identify what part it might have once been. Topping all this was a brown sauce. No clue what it was supposed to be.

Fortunately, dinner was a big improvement. Julie and Karen did marinated pork chops on the grille. Everything is grilled because none of the four condos really has a kitchen up to the task of cooking for 10.
Christmas morning dawned windy and sunny. The Wolotira chidren have a Christmas morning ritual that they have been practicing since Adam was old enough to understand what Christmas is. He gets up and tries to sneak a peek at the loot, is shooed back into the bedroom and told he can't come out until Alena gets up, which results in him bouncing on her bed and yelling, "Alena, it's time to get up. Santa is here." She then tells him to go away (this part has become more mature in content as she has grown older). This year was no exception to the ritual, and eventually everyone was up and examining loot. Christmas breakfast was at Mom's place, a committee effort. Another ritual is the Christmas Day Beach Frolic (when in an area where that activity is feasible) and that ritual was also observed, then it was time for the last, and best, ritual of all: the Ritual of the Roasting of the Prime Rib. That, the family has decided by acclamation, can only be performed by the High Priest of the Barbecue, Rob, Optimus Prime Rib.

We decided to look at waterfalls today, so Julie, Karen and Mom took off at some early hour to head to the east side of the island. Because of the way the trade winds blow, the eastern side of the island is very moist, lush and tropical, while the side we are staying on is very dry and not very verdant. We met Max, Tina and Briggs at Akaka Falls, a truly spectacular falls that can only be reached through one of the most gorgeous short walks you can imagine. Beautiful tropical vegetation surrounds you: flowers, . palms, banana trees, name it.
The guide book that seems to be the book that every visitor has, The Big Island Revealed, recommended "What's Shakin" for fruit smoothies and lunch. Rob and I had delicious chicken tamales and the kids had fish wraps. We are still talking about that lunch and it's been two hours. How we can go from the culinary felony of the L and L to the sublime deliciousness of What's Shakin' I don't know, but there it is. After lunch, we spent a little more than an hour walking around the Hawaii Botanical Garden—more tropical paradise-ness. Wonderful.
A few words about Big Island radio. There is a station out of Hilo that has a repeater on the Kona side, so we have been listening to it. It's a great rock and roll hits station and we have enjoyed listening to it. Once we got to the Hilo side, we couldn't pick it up, but we could pick up some weird station playing old show tunes, and other random songs. Ever heard Julius Ceasar sung as a comic opera? Yeah, neither had we. Our other aural choice was an all-Hawaiian station playing a lot of ukulele music. Not sure why the folks on that side haven't resorted to the old religion and sacrificed a few folks to the music gods to change things, but they might consider it.
We're now headed back to the condo to find out what everyone else did, take in some pool time, and maybe I will get all the parts together and upload pictures.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

LHAO or We Are The Children of Buck

Yesterday, our first full day, was a full day. We all slept late, recovering from the long travel day that was Sunday. We made a quick trip to the beach closest to the condos (pictures will follow once I find a card reader for my camera). Then, Rob, Alena and I headed for Kona and Snorkel Bob’s to rent equipment. Every year, Rob goes into sticker shock when it’s time to pay for the rental of fins, masks and a boogie board for Board Boy. Every year, he mutters under his breath about this being such a racket (and it is!). Every year, we go back.

Our next stop was Costco. For the second time in 2 days. The Costcos in Hawaii are like no other Costcos on Earth. It’s guerilla warfare in the parking lot, for starters. It’s Alderwood Mall on Black Friday times ten. First you have the locals, just trying to get their regular shopping done while resenting the hell out of all of the rest of us for invading their island and their Costco. Then, you have the rest of us: pasty-skinned, just off the airplane, and trying to stock up on necessities for their condos. Once you have succeeded in beating out a seething local for a parking spot, you make a mad dash for the door and a cart. Cart scored, you then enter 500,000 sq. ft. of shopping mayhem. In the mainland Costcos, there is generally a discernable flow to the traffic. Not on the Islands. I like to think of it as what the inside of a supercollider would look like from a particle-eye’s view. Everyone rushing around without any real idea of where they are going, hurling themselves at shelves, doors, and other shoppers changing course on a whim, sometimes completely reversing their direction in the space of inches. I wish my Acura had the turning radius of a Costco cart! And I wish said carts came with bac-alarms!

Supplies acquired, it was time to head back to the hacienda and start dinner for everyone. Dinner time arrived a tad too late for some, but generally, all went well. We agreed that the Adventure Branch of the family (Rob, Julie, Karen, Briggs, Adam and me) would meet in the parking lot at 7:30 this morning to try out a snorkeling beach Karen had tried out. They name a lot of beaches on the Big Island by the telephone pole number closest to the beach entrance, and this one was Beach 69. It’s a beautiful beach, when we got there at just slightly after sunrise, the only other people on it were some folks from one of the small cottages that were along the beach. They mentioned that they’d seen turtles and monk seals in the bay, so we set off in search of things marine.

Before we departed the three Children of Buck realized that Dad must be in heaven laughing his ass off at us. Here we were, the sun barely up, getting ready to go find fish. Briggs thought it could only be a true “Code of the West” moment (must be out of bed at 0’dark thirty and looking for fish ASAP) if we didn’t find any fish. Julie thought it required an element of bone-crushing misery. We all agreed to be miserable in spirit.

Every year, on the first snorkeling trip, it takes me about 20 minutes to work out the heebie-jeebies. That whole being immersed and breathing through a tube while Jaws stalks me thing just takes a few minutes to work itself out. The rest of the swim was pretty uneventful as the water was pretty murky but at one point Rob did have to use his daddy voice and his marine biology brain to convince Karen that it was not a good idea to follow the black-tipped reef shark around. We actually saw better things onshore: a pair of monk seal pups playing around the rocks just off the beach. After we were all out of the water, Karen, Julie, Rob and I decided to check out some other beaches and that’s when we started seeing the turtles. We probably saw a dozen of them, swimming in and around rocks, feeding on algae. How cool.

The afternoon was devoted to a raid on Kona. We wanted to get Mom out to do something and we thought the Kona International Market would be a good place to start. It’s a whole bunch of vendors of tourist tchotchkes in an open-air market. We were there for a little while and then we split up: Julie, Karen and Mom to Safeway and Target, the rest of us to the tourist area in Kona. That’s where we encountered the world’s largest shaved ice (sno-cones to us old fogies). Adam acquired a snappy new hat and I had to buy some Donkey Balls (choco-dipped macadamias). Yum.

The plan for tomorrow is more snorkeling but the weather is pretty windy, so who knows?

364 Days Late

As difficult as it may be to believe, I am writing this whilst shoehorned into a middle seat of…Hawai’ian Air flight 27. That’s right. The flight 27 that we were scheduled to depart on a mere 364 days ago. I won’t believe our year-long flight delay is actually over until we are wheels down in Kona but we are a lot closer than we were!!

Both kids made it home without incident although I will confess to some parental angst when Adam texted me last week and wanted to know if I could give them a weather report for the Siskiyous. The weather wasn’t bad, but I’m a mom and it is my job to worry! I also suffered some more angst a couple of days later when Alena was coming home because the weather in Eastern Washington was crappy, but she made it. I keep telling them that they wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t worried them home, a belief they both just roll their eyes at.

Nearly all the shopping has now been done, save for the Costco and Hilo Hattie’s runs that will need to be made once we make it into Kona. I have tried my best to be a personal economic stimulus in North Seattle, so now it is time to do my patriotic duty in Hawai’i. We all spent most of yesterday running around packing, with the invaluable aid of the Three Amigos, our canine personal assistants. William Wallace was convinced that he needed to personally inspect every item that went into my suitcase and any time the top of the suitcase was down, he would poke at it with his nose. He would then look at me as if to say, “Kibble Lady, how the hell am I supposed to supervise your packing if you can’t keep the suitcase open?” Alena had much assistance from Fernando and Lolita, but even those two couldn’t seem to keep one of our pesky dining room chairs from trying to stow away. The dogs certainly knew something was up and they were pretty sure it wasn’t going to end in a dog party.

Our arrival at the airport was reasonably uneventful. Olga, the shuttle driver, was late because she couldn’t find the house. Rob tried to give her directions but she was somewhat reluctant to go past the “Dead End” sign that marks the entrance to our driveway. “Damn Russians, you can’t tell them anything,” he muttered not so under his breath. Check in was fine, TSA no big deal, the dash for the gate the usual scramble. Thanks to the advent of texting, Julie was able to ask me to get coffee for them while they were shepherding Judy through the check in and security lines.

Ah. What would a Sea-Tac Christmas be without the entertainment? Once past TSA, we were overjoyed to be entertained by a wandering steel-drum player playing “Let It Snow.” Whoohoo! Just what I needed was a steel-drum ear worm, but even that couldn’t be beaten by…the Victorian-costumed vocal quartet from last year. Yup. They were back, and they still haven’t learned A) to harmonize, or B) another song besides “Angels We Have Heard On High.” Gloria In Excelcis Mahalo.

So, here we sit, in a cramped tube hurtling across the Pacific. Mom just observed that she can see water out the window. It had better be water, or we are going to have to have a geography lesson with the pilot. It is my hope that “We’ll get you as close to Honolulu as possible” is still the idea.