Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Home, we are, safe and sound...

Home, we are, safe and sound...  But not without a bit of drama!  Just before we boarded our plane in Kona, we heard an announcement.  Our plane was not going to San Francisco as scheduled, but was instead going to Honolulu!  It seems our aircraft had a broken HF (high frequency) radio, and without the radio it couldn't make the long flight to the mainland.  It could, however, fly the short distance to Honolulu, where they had the parts to fix our plane.  So off we went, away from home.

In Honolulu they told us we couldn't be on the plane while they tested the repaired radio, so off we all trudged.  A half hour later we were told that we were getting a whole new airplane – so they unloaded all our luggage from the broken plane, threw it all into our new plane, and then we all trudged aboard.  Finally we took off, headed for San Francisco.

We'd be arriving in San Francisco about four hours later than originally scheduled, so naturally we missed our flight from San Francisco to Salt Lake City.  While we were in the air, United rebooked us onto a later flight, but not with the upgraded seats (more legroom) we'd paid for.  I had to be rather insistent before the customer service agent would set that right, but finally I did.  United has a ways to go if they want to be known as the friendly skies!

A friend was driving down from Paradise to pick us up, and fortunately we were able to catch her before she drove down for our original arrival time.  She picked us up without incident, and we had a nice drive back – got all the local news, heard about our naughty animals, and shared a nice meal at the Red Iguana.

The animal reunion was exactly as expected (especially the overjoyed canines!), except that Jahar (our Savanna cat) is still upset, and is yowling.  I expect he'll settle down after we've gone to bed...

Monday, February 27, 2017

A really great last day...

A really great last day...  I'm writing this from the gate area of Kona Airport in Hawai'i, where Debbie and I are bored to tears waiting for our flight.  My bandwidth here is very limited, so I'm writing this post now, but will put photos up after we get home and have enough bandwidth to make that process endurable. 

Amazingly enough, today worked out pretty much as planned.  We started by packing up and saying goodbye to Hale Ohia, our home-away-from-home in Hawai'i.  Then we headed down to Hilo to have our last breakfast at Cafe 100.  We both had locos – Portuguese sausage loco with a side of Portuguese sausage for Debbie (could you guess that she likes Portuguese sausage?), bacon loco with a side of ham for me.

By the time we finished our breakfast, it was about 8 am.  Just after 9 am we were on the dirt road up Mauna Kea.  We drove one of our favorite roads, looking at the beautiful scenery and looking for pueos.  We saw no pueos.  After about four hours we got to our destination: the Dr. David Douglas memorial, and a memory I cherish – taking my mom and dad here, and hiking the quarter mile or so to the monument with my dad.  I got down to the monument this morning and leaned up against a koa tree, memories flooding in.  Just a minute or so after I stood against that tree, a little elepaio landed on a branch less than two feet from my face.  He perched there for 30 seconds or so, head tilting first one way and then the other, watching me and chirping as if to ask me how I was doing.  Then he flitted off to investigate something else interesting in his little empire.  I hiked back up to Debbie and our truck with a big smile on my face.  Those elepaio are one of our favorite birds here, and also one of the most elusive.  We'd only seen them three or four times on the rest of our trip, and never such a close view. 

Then we headed back down toward Waimea, going about 15 miles on this dirt four-wheel road.  We were still hoping to see pueos, but weren't too hopeful based on the complete failure on the way up in the morning.  Boy were we wrong!  We ended up seeing ten individual pueos, including two pairs courting (which involves some spectacular flying).  One of the pueos we saw was perched, but the rest were flying – and they spent at least some of their time quite close to us.  That meant that with our binoculars we had simply wonderful views of their swooping, hovering, low-altitude aerobatics – by far the best that we've had on any trip we've made to Hawai'i.  We also saw an io landing in a tree and flying away, close enough for a very nice viewing by binoculars.

Despite all this, I think the highlight for Debbie was the chance she had to feed granola bars to a very eager horse.  This fellow happened to be standing near a fence we could access, and then Debbie went to work on him.  Within a couple of minutes he was (literally!) eating out of her hand.  Many smiles were upon Debbie's face. :)

After all that, still glowing from our birding and horsing experiences, we visited The Gallery of Great Things again.  We had a bit more shopping to do there.  Then we went to The Fish and the Hog for dinner: ahi poke appetizer that we split, fish and chips for Debbie, and fish tacos for me.  All were delicious, and a fitting “last meal in Hawai'i” for us.  Then it was time for us to drive down to Kona, turn in the rental truck, and start the air journey home.

As I write, we've checked in, gotten our boarding passes, gone through security, and now we're just waiting.  We still have another hour before boarding.  :(  Then it's a five hour flight to San Francisco, an hour layover, and a two hour flight to Salt Lake City.  There a friend will pick us up and ferry we two sleepy, cranky folks back home for a reunion with our furry friends.  That should be great! :)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A day around Pahala and Na'alehu...

A day around Pahala and Na'alehu...  Today was partly a repeat of past favorite drives on this trip, and part exploring new territory.  Our complete track for the day is here if you want to follow our precise path.

The first thing we did this morning, at 5 am, was to head for Jaggar Center to see the eruption in Halemaumau Crater one last time.  Unfortunately the eruption was much less active this morning, so we just briefly watched a few little lava splashes.  While we were watching, someone else there started playing a flute, badly.  We have no idea why that person would choose to interrupt the silence that everyone else was enjoying, but he did.  That prompted us to leave, and let flute-boy play without us in the involuntary audience.

The new piece for the day was in the area north-northeast of Pahala.  There's a paved road that goes for miles back up the eastern slopes of Mauna Loa.  Despite our many visits to the Big Island over the years, we'd never known that area was there.  Most of the road traversed old sugar cane fields, much like on the Hamakua Coast.  Partway along that road is the Ka'u Coffee Mill visitor center, where we were the first people there this morning, and enjoyed a nice cup of coffee.  The drive in that area was both beautiful and full of birds, just as many (and of the same species) as we'd been seeing in the areas west of Pahala.

After that, we headed back to some drives we'd especially enjoyed in the areas west of Pahala and north of Na'alehu.  One thing we did in particular, though accidentally, was to drive across the rugged ford mentioned in an earlier post – but for which I forgot to take photos.  That issue is now rectified with the photos below and the short video at right, in which you can hear the crunch as I bottomed the truck on a protruding piece of lava.  Oops! :)

We saw a few new things this time, even though it's only been a few days since we were last here.  The “balloon plant” (my name) in the first photo was much in evidence this time, with those big (potato-sized) fruits that are basically a skin inflated with air, and a few small seeds in the middle.  Weird, they are!  The second photo is an orange wildflower that was common today.  We don't know whether it's an escaped horticultural, an introduced weed, or a native.  Whatever it is, it was darned pretty!  The butterfly in the third photo is, we think, a monarch butterfly.  These were somehow introduced to the Hawai'ian Islands, from which they can't possibly do their normal migration to Mexico.   The fourth photo shows something that looks a lot like the Indian Paintbrush we know from the mainland, but the leaves are all wrong.  No idea what it actually is.  Finally, the last photo is something that looks sort of like an orchid (from the flower), but the leaves don't look right.  We only saw one plant in all of our journeys this trip, so I suspect it's an escaped horticultural (though at that point on our drive we were several miles from the nearest house). 

Last but certainly not least, in the afternoon we stopped at Hana Hou for the third time.  Once again we had a really good meal.  My starter – homemade corn and vegetable chowder – is in the first photo.  It was great: not too salty (my normal complaint with soup), full of nice sized chunks of local vegetables plus some new potatoes, and a luscious, thick broth that didn't taste of corn starch.  I believe they thickened it with a roux, and let the vegetable flavors shine.  The second photo was Debbie's entree, mere seconds before she started shoving it into her face and making yummy noises.  It's a crabcake sandwich, with local lettuce, tomato, and onion and homemade bread from their bakery.  Debbie had that thing entirely eaten before I was even halfway done with my meal. :)  The last photo is my entree: the “Hogzilla” (their name!).  This is a big tortilla stuffed with their wonderful roast pork, with a little cheese and jasmine rice in addition.  If you like roast pork, my recommendation is to order the Hogzilla – it's the same roast pork you'll find in their other pork entrees, but a larger (tending toward giant) portion.  No matter how hungry you are, you'll have trouble getting this whole thing into your belly!

Finally, we went back to Ka Lae Coffee, another favorite place, and got ourselves some coffee.  Even though it was late afternoon, after my giant meal at Hana Hou I felt the need for some caffeine to stay alert on our drive home.

It was a nice, easy, peaceful day for us.  No traffic to fight, nearly our whole day in the boonies, and a fine meal.  What more could we ask?  Tomorrow is our last day here (sniff, sniff...), and for that day we're combining a bunch of favorite things: breakfast at Cafe 100, four-wheeling on the northern and eastern slopes of Mauna Kea, a short hike to the Douglas Memorial, a visit to The Gallery of Great Things (where we bought a small koa statue of a cat last week), and a meal at The Fish and the Hog in Waimea.  After that we head to the airport at Kona for our redeye home – it leaves at 10:25 pm.  We're going to be two tired and cranky puppies by the time we get home to Utah on Tuesday morning.  Luckily for us, a good friend who is very forgiving is picking us up at the airport in Salt Lake City. :)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A botanical garden repeat...

A botanical garden repeat...  Today we repeated a day we had last week, at the Hawai'i Tropical Botanical Gardens.  It wasn't completely a repeat, however, because many different things were in bloom this week.  The day could hardly have been more perfect for a walk like this: in the 70s, overcast (which makes good lighting for both viewing and photography), and uncrowded (mainly because we were the first people there, right as they opened).  Debbie was stoked because she did so much better on this walk than on the previous walk last week – she has gained a lot of strength during our vacation simply because she's been walking a lot more.

Before going to the gardens, we stopped at Cafe 100, as planned, for breakfast.  I had a “breakfast plate” with grilled ham, rice, and two eggs over easy.  Debbie had a “Portuguese sausage loco” – rice, brown gravy, Portuguese sausages, and an egg over easy.  Both were excellent.  After our trip to the gardens, we went to Suisan for poke, also as planned.  We were a bit surprised upon entering the store, though, because most of the poke trays were completely empty!  Fortunately we found some kinds that we liked still remaining, and we ended up having our last delicious poke meal in Richardson's park.  We didn't see any whales breaching today, though I did see an enormous Samoan guy surfing – and when he fell at the end of his run, it was close enough to a whale breaching!  After we finished our poke, we still had a couple hours of daylight left, so we drove around a bit on the Hamakua coast.  This is a bit of an odd experience for us, because we still remember well the days when this was all sugar cane country, with beautiful rolling fields of sugar cane set against a background of blue ocean and sky.  We were driving need Pepeekeo, a town that used to be centered around a sugar cane processing plant whose ruins are still there.  We remembered a field here with a beautiful old banyan tree in it, and a road so that the locals could use it as a picnic spot.  We took my mom and dad there to see that tree, some 25 years ago.  We found a road named “Banyan Tree Road” in the right spot, but not a trace of that grand old tree or the sugar cane fields that surrounded it.  On the other hand, the development of the area in the past 25 years is much less homogeneous than it used to be – we passed housing developments, pulp trees, sorghum (why?), papaya orchards, macadamia orchards, vegetable fields – all kinds of things, many quite beautiful in their own right.  But our memories still fight for our affections.  We also spotted a new bird for us: the nutmeg manikin.

The first photo below is from a plant right at the garden's entrance.  It has the strangest-colored blossoms we have ever seen (and last week it wasn't in bloom at all!).  The rest of the photos are from within the garden...