O'ahu/Maui, Hawaii 2021

what says Hawaii more than getting ready to snorkel in the ocean?

Well, thanks a lot COVID. Thinking much of the last year about where we would travel as soon as we were on the other side of the pandemic, our thoughts of visiting Uruguay were put on hold as it appeared that some countries fared better than others in terms of reopening once things were “under control.” Not wanting to continue to wait to plan our next trip, we made the decision to bump Hawaii to the top of the destination list as we assumed it would be much easier to visit any US state than a foreign country. So, in May we booked our vacation to Honolulu and Maui. All became a little more complicated as we started to learn about the Hawaii Safe Travels program. This is a State of Hawaii mandated COVID mitigation program that requires all travelers to the state to provide proof of vaccination, negative COVID tests and submit health questionnaires through a website. The more we read about what was required, the more complicated it became. Additionally, we were reading accounts of other travelers who were having equally challenging experiences navigating the site and providing the required documentation. It also became less clear when exactly they would assess your documents. If something was amiss, would we be rejected from boarding the plane on the mainland, or would we find out once we landed in Honolulu that we would be forced into a mandatory quarantine that would last longer than our entire vacation? Over the course of the process we were just as confused as others. We know now that we are in the air to Honolulu, that they have not yet checked any documentation. Our fingers are crossed that we will be able to provide all that was required of us when we get there.

Frustratingly, just over a month ago, the US as a whole has been confronted squarely by what is known as the “delta variant” of COVID. It seems to be much more serious than other variants and much more contagious, especially for the unvaccinated. This is causing many parts of the country to experience tremendous surges in hospitalizations and death rates among those affected. That said, several states, including Hawaii are begging tourists to stay away in an effort to curb the spread and lighten the burden on the healthcare system- especially since the island only has so many hospital rooms- they kind of want those rooms for residents and not tourists that contract the virus on vacation. What were we to do? By now we had already booked, reserved and otherwise committed for our entire stay. We decided to press on and as reports surfaced of less and less tourists in Hawaii due to the pleas of the governor, we expect this is either going to be a great vacation without the glut of tourists, or we may be confronted with places closed for lack of patrons. It remains to be seen.

then again...maybe it's the locals that don't want us here

Friday September 17 (Albany to Tampa)

What seemed like an easy one-two flight from Albany to Tampa via Washington, DC became a little more of a nail-biter when our initial flight out of Albany was delayed by 3 hours. This meant that our 3 hour buffer of a layover turned into a 3 hour delay in Albany and a rush to meet our connection in DC. Thankfully it all worked out and we arrived in Tampa a little ahead of schedule. Sadly, any ground that was made up in the air was pissed away by the inefficiency of picking up our rental car at Advantage. For it to take more than 1 hour to pick up a rental car that we had a reservation for was just lame. Nonetheless, we were able to text with (aunt) Janice and (cousin) Marie to get a meeting plan for dinner and were able to meet them at the restaurant. A place called Carmine’s in Ybor City. It was a nice get together with (uncle) Bob, (aunt) Joy, (cousin) Tim, (his wife) Lindsey, Damon, Marie, (her husband) Michael, and Janice. After dinner, we headed off to find another bar- one I expected would allow us to have a quiet meetup between the family who don’t get together nearly as much as any of us would like. Instead, we wound up standing at a bar with an excruciatingly loud dance floor that prevents most meaningful conversation. We order a beer and once it becomes obvious we will be shouting over thumping club music, I decide to extract El and I from the situation and head to the hotel to get checked in and possibly go to the hotel bar for a drink before bed. This plan worked, for the most part. Even though we had no plan for Saturday (until the evening wedding) we were still pretty tired from the traveling and called it a night close to 11pm.

Saturday September 18 (Tampa)

El and I are on our own. We look to find a ramen shop locally and Yelp comes through for us. Some others are going back to Ybor City for lunch, but we head out unaccompanied. First stop is Staples for El to get some computer part. Next, was planned to be our ramen stop, but I admit that I am not as hungry as I thought I would be. Instead of going to eat right away, we decide to hit a dive bar to sit with a beer for a little while and wait for the appetite to build. It worked! We found The Tiny Tap Tavern and after an hour or so, we were saying our goodbyes to the friendly staff and on our way to Otsuka Ramen. The soup hits the spot and afterwards we head back to the hotel to get ready for the wedding. My cousin Gwen is getting married and the ceremony is about 10 minutes from the hotel. I grab a half hour nap before I’ll need to get ready. The wedding started at 5:00 and was very quick. The reception was held on the same property and we were able to walk between the locations. The cocktail hour and reception gave us an opportunity to visit with our family. The reception ran until 10pm and an arrangement had been made to open the bar at the hotel for an additional 4 hours to keep the party going for anyone who wanted. We went down and chatted for a couple hours before calling it a night. Our flight out is at 8:30 tomorrow morning and we have to return the rental car.

Sunday September 19 (Tampa to Honolulu)

Damon is able to catch a ride with us to the airport and we are sitting at our gate at 6:00am. We are connecting through Charlotte and have no hitches at all. The flight from Charlotte to Honolulu is just over 10 hours and we arrive at 3:45pm local time. We land on time and make our way to the moment of truth. As we turn on our phones from airplane mode, we start receiving messages that were sent during our flight. One being the results of our COVID test. Of course we are both negative and this gives us one more bit of ammunition should we be asked to prove our COVID status while we are here. They have a room set up with stations where each family goes to show their documentation that they said they could provide regarding vaccinations and tests and questionnaires. The line moves faster than I expect and El and I have all of our documentation handy which makes it a much less painful experience than some of the other travelers we see who seem to be caught off guard as to what they are supposed to do. We didn't care what their problem was, we just wanted to breeze past them in the line. Once out of the terminal I look for ground transportation. Most airports have a desk for this where you can get all kinds of maps, info, and directions regarding getting around the city. Sadly, this airport does not have such a desk. Luckily, the hostel had given me the bus number to take from the airport if I chose that method, and since we had the time, the interest, and the budget (bus costs $2.75 each, where a taxi is about $30) we are good to bus through the city and familiarize ourselves with where we can get to on the ride. The trip takes about 30min, but we pass some key spots that we think we will want to see again (like Chinatown). We are able to follow the bus route with our phones and get off within a block of the hostel. Walking in we see the quiet street is a parking spot for food trucks- most closed now, but they will open later or tomorrow to sell their goods. We check in and drop our bags. I don’t expect to do much other than explore the area of the hostel tonight, grabbing some food, and hitting a bar or two in the area. Knowing our energy will not last much longer, we set out to explore the neighborhood. El says she would like to see Waikiki Beach first and we walk literally one block, cross the street and find ourselves standing and overlooking the surf of the world famous beach. She wants to stick her feet in the water...I do not. 

the feel of the pacific between her toes

I agree to stand on the promenade at the sand's end and await her return. Meanwhile, I look for food spots close by. She is not long and after a quick foot dry off, we are on our way. As we continue along the promenade I can't help but notice the high end names of many of the shops. There are still plenty of souvenir shops, they just happen to be juxtaposed with Louis Vuitton, Prada, or a Tiffany’s store. Moments later we spot a Maui Brewing Company location. I had heard about this place (albeit one on Maui), but I figured we could go in, get a beer, maybe get an appetizer to split, and Yelp our next stop. This is our first time with the vaccine card check. A new Hawaii law requires all restaurant patrons to provide proof of vaccine and photo ID upon entering. Since every place is required to get proof, there is not much customer vs. enforcer confrontation. Every place is the same- unless they are an outdoor establishment- and those that are, are certainly advertising that fact (“no vax card, no problem, come eat here”- kind of thing). There are a couple of additional questions related to contact tracing (if needed) and we are on our way. I ordered a Pau Hana Pilsner and we split an order of nachos. The nachos were positively awful, but the beer, very good and worth the stop. We don’t get a second round. Instead we head one block away from the beach to see if we run into a better dinner option. This area is looking more and more like a real tourist center and some of the restaurants have snaking lines even at 7pm on a Sunday night. We quickly realize that this is not going to be an area to get a quiet dinner, so as we walk we agree to see if we can grab something from the food trucks on our street and eat it at the hostel. It does not take us long to learn that one of the state COVID mandates is that every establishment must close at or before 10pm. Obviously, including bars and restaurants. The trucks are open now and offer empanadas, grilled meat, and Thai food. Our first stop is the empanada guy. This looks good. We are the only ones standing at the window. There is one table, but no one sits at it presently. The owner sees us and says that the only way to get his food is to text him. I look around to see if he is joking. We are the ONLY ones here and I am thinking he is about to turn down two paying customers because we didn’t text him in advance?? I causally point out that his empty table suggests to me he should take my order now, though he refuses, instead pointing out how good his food is and how we are missing out if we don’t buy some- he fails to see the irony here. We move on to the grilled meat truck. It is a Japanese truck and they offer bento boxes with grilled beef and veggies. I order a box that comes to $16.25. I hand the guy a $20 and he tells me that he does not have change. Tired and frustrated, I cancel the order and call it a night. I don't want Thai food offered by the third truck. El has some snacks in the room. We have to be up at 6:30 tomorrow morning, so we do some quick journaling and unpacking before going to sleep.

the calm before the dawn

Monday September 20 (Honolulu)

Unsurprisingly with the six hour time difference, we both find ourselves wide awake at 3am (feels like 9:00am). We can try to roll over and catch another hour or so of sleep, but I have a better idea. We are less than one block away and we walk down to Waikiki Beach. At this hour very few people are out so it is just us by the time we get to the sand. Turns out the beach is closed until 5am, but there don’t appear to be any police around to enforce it. We aren’t actually going onto the beach sand anyway- we just walk out on the pier and then along the promenade. The moon is incredibly bright in the sky and is reflecting in the surf. The scene is peaceful as the small waves crash into the breakers below us. El is able to do a little running while I check my phone to deal with my first aggravation of the day. I have received a text from Advantage Car Rental (the one in Florida) asking if I need to extend my rental? They even go so far as to attach a photo of my rental agreement where I agreed to return the car on Sunday. It has been more than 24 hours since we dropped the car at the airport in Tampa and left the keys in the drop box, considering the office was not open at that hour. The email I got yesterday on this, I assumed was sent in error. Maybe auto generated if the return is not processed when they thought it would be and since they were closed when I dropped it, maybe it would just be processed later. Well, today's text makes me think they really have still not found the car and maybe I need to call them for confirmation of what is going on. I call the Tampa office that I rented from and speak with a rep who confirms, they have NOT yet received the car! I explained that I dropped this car off yesterday at 5:30am and left the keys in the drop box as instructed. I described exactly where I parked. She agrees to call me back shortly and after 30 minutes she calls to confirm they found the car and I would be all set. I can’t imagine what has happened for the past day since I dropped it in the driving lane (where I was told to)- so for 24 hours people have needed to drive around the car to get past it. Anyway, happy I am not going to have to file a claim for a stolen rental car. We continue walking around the area as we start to see more and more activity- between shop workers, exercisers, and cleaning crews the area is waking up. El had read about a local coffee shop that we passed on our walk- though they don’t open for a little while longer. We head back to the hostel, get our bags ready for the day then go around the corner to the café- choosing to get our order to go in an effort to bypass the proof of vaccination requirements. They have a selection of coffees and pastries as well as some standard breakfast fare. I choose an egg and cheese on an English muffin from the refrigerated section as well as an almond croissant. We are going on our 8-10 hour circle tour today and they recommend eating a big breakfast before the tour as lunch will be several hours later. They heat my muffin and just give me my croissant to go and we get back to the room. One bite into the egg and cheese and I realize, even though I watched them “heat” it, the egg is still frozen- I don’t mean cold, I mean crunchy with ice crystals frozen. I have to keep chasing bites with a sip of hot coffee to get it down. The croissant is better, but not by all that much. We shower and get ready for the day. We have passed the pickup spot for the tour and know where to meet the bus at 7:20. We get there a few minutes early and see that several companies offer the same or similar tours and all have the same meeting spot. Some of the buses have the tour company name on the side, so when a new bus arrives some people will approach the bus to ask if it is the one they are waiting on, while others will wait for the driver to get off and yell out the last name of the party. Buses come and leave as others fill in from behind. 7:20 comes and goes. At 7:35 I text the tour company to make sure the driver is still on his way. I get a return message immediately that, yes, the driver is running a few minutes late, but he has been made aware that we are waiting on him. He will be there in a few minutes, they said. By 7:50 our driver is still not here and virtually all tour patrons and buses have gone. At 8:00 I text the company again asking if the driver broke down or what? Moments later I get a call to ask if I am still at the meeting point, setting off the second aggravation of the morning. I affirm and am told that the driver was already here and gone with everyone he was supposed to have on board. Obviously, that was not accurate, but instead of trying to figure out if he missed the stop or if someone else got on the bus in our place, I try to find out what our options, at this point, are. This is the only day we will be able to take this tour- so I hope there is either an option to have the driver return or we could somehow meet the tour in progress. As I sit on the curb speaking with the agent, a cab pulls up in front of me and a man gets out. He must hear me discussing the tour and he asks me what company I am waiting on. I try to explain that our bus already left and we are trying to figure out our options. The agent then tells me he will call the manager and call me right back. There is one last tour bus loading passengers now, though not our company. The guy from the taxi explains that he is a manager of a different company that offers the same tour and that he is pretty sure his bus is the last of the day. If we want to jump on, he will let us on for his cost if we can pay cash. I call my agent back and I say that a different company is willing to take us on and if he can arrange a full refund we will move on. The manager in front of me asks to speak with the agent on the phone and gets the go ahead to service their clients while a refund is processed. We pay our cash and jump on the bus. Our guide is a little too goofy for my liking- but at least we are on our way. I take in the sights as we drive to our first photo stop- Halona Blowhole lookout near Diamond Head. A blowhole is a lava tube with an opening below the surface and one above. Then, depending on the force of the wave, water is forced up through the tube resulting in a geyser-like spurt. So far the weather is beautiful. Our next stop is called the Chinaman’s Hat which is an island just off the coast that looks like...you guessed it...one of those wide, conical, sombrero type hats. There is not much to see, so the stop is not much more than a quick photo op. 

what else can you do at the chinaman's hat besides take a photo?

Next stop is a souvenir shop with bathrooms. I wait by the bus and chat with the guide. Turns out the driver is funnier than the guide and has everyone within earshot in stitches. Our next stop is Fumis, a roadside shrimp stand for lunch. There are 8 options and, smartly, our guide and driver take our orders and payments on the road, call in the order, and when we arrive the food is all ready for us and we can sit to eat immediately. Figuring that all tour buses do the same thing, I don't think much of it. Until we are sitting and enjoying our lunches when another bus arrives and the passengers disembark only to form a line where they will order one by one and the first off the bus will be done eating before the last off the bus has even ordered. I like my spicy garlic shrimp, served with rice, kernel corn, and a slice of pineapple. It hits the spot and will hold me until dinnertime. For dessert, we stop at Kuilima Farm for fresh fruit, though there is no way I would eat fresh fruit without being within a few feet of a wash sink. I opt for the banana bread with macadamia nuts. It is sold in mini loaves and tastes really great. El loves the fresh fruit, but I wouldn’t touch it. Our next stop is Waimea Bay. Obviously, many people want beach time and this company even offers free borrowing of snorkeling gear for anyone who wants. There are rocks for cliff diving, a relatively calm surf, and lots of beach sand. All of which I have zero interest in. I, instead, opt for finding a spot above the beach on the grassy easement at a picnic table in the shade so I can journal for an hour until we meet back at the bus. Jason, our guide, had mentioned that as visitors to this island we may have noticed that it rains a lot, but only for a few minutes at a time. I am not sure if that is universally true, but we have noticed several times where the blue skies will be interrupted by a passing rain cloud dumping enough rain to require windshield wipers, only to have the blue skies return minutes later. The thing is that some of the short rain bursts can be absolute soakers. As I sat and journaled, a passing rainstorm came and lasted just long and hard enough that I packed everything up and headed for a shelter from the storm. It doesn’t last long, but it is too close to our pack up time to make it worth setting everything back up. I sit with sand on my feet drying off from the rain. On the way out Jason comments about the fact that some of the group saw endangered green sea turtles while snorkeling at Waimea Bay, meaning that the surf calm allows the turtles to get very close to the beach. He adds a detour to the itinerary. It is called Laniakea (Turtle Beach) and we walk down to the water to, in fact, see several green turtles swimming around just feet from the water's edge. 

a green sea turtle frolicking in the shallow surf

We don’t spend too long here and within minutes we are on our way to the next cash grab...I mean gift shop- on a Macadamia farm. While I fully expected to at least see some nuts being grown, when I ask how big the farm actually is, I am informed that the farm is actually several miles away and that we are standing in the retail shop only. What a shock to only show us the stuff for sale and nothing about where the nuts come from. We do wind up with a couple of items from the shop, though it was mostly about the sampling of nuts and coffee. Before we know it we are on the road towards the Dole plantation. This too is a situation where despite all of the activities offered here in terms of guided tours, a trolley through the grounds, even the world's largest plant maze, we only have enough time to go into the gift shop and spend money- or use the bathroom. The sizable shop does have a window in the back where they sell the famous Dole Whip. Having never had a Dole Whip it sounds good- soft serve pineapple ice cream with several topping options. We get one to split and agree to add crushed pineapple and flaked coconut. $9 for a bowl of ice cream?!?! This had better be good. I can now report that my first Dole Whip experience was positively awful and I will never need another. The concoction was so sickeningly sweet that my teeth started to hurt after just a few bites. No other flavors of ice cream were offered, so I gave up quickly and passed the rest of my share to El to eat or toss as she wished. I wanted no more. Our next and last stop for the day was the Green World Coffee Farm. Again with the gift shop, though this place is all about the samples, knowing most people will wind up buying some coffee or other goods in the shop. We got a few samples but did not need to buy anything. We headed to the coffee garden to wait for the rest of the group to finish up. Once back on the bus we leave with no further stops- during the ride Jason is able to offer some suggestions for local foods to check out that include something called “loco moco” and “huli huli chicken”. They drop us off at the pick up point and we wave goodbye. I am glad it all worked out, but I don’t expect our originally booked tour would have offered anything different. It is close to 5pm. After her time at the beach today El wants to shower, as we head to the hostel to change and get ready to go out for dinner. I remember reading about some good options in Chinatown which is between Waikiki and the airport. It will take about 40min on the bus, but it is still light out and we have nothing better to do than explore. We find the bus stop around the corner from the hostel and when he pulls up I ask to confirm that he goes to Chinatown. He affirms and we get on- paying cash and take our seats on the nearly empty bus. A couple of stops into the trip the driver motions for me to approach his window. He proceeds to tell me that we are paying $2.75 to go to Chinatown and then $2.75 to get back- it would be cheaper to buy a Holo card at an ABC Store (convenience stores that are everywhere- next door to each other, across the street from each other- like a fungus- literally everywhere) and to keep that in mind for tomorrow (which was already my plan). I went back to sit down until he called me back up. I went up and he said, “why are you going to Chinatown at this hour?” "Unless you have a specific place you are going, do you realize that everything closes there around 5:00?" I told him we were looking for a dinner place and if he wanted to recommend one, we would take it. He said he would think about it, but did reiterate that Chinatown is not the most savory of neighborhoods, especially after dark. I go back to sit down and look through my research, consult Yelp, and Tripadvisor to find a spot in Chinatown that is open. We found a place called the Lucky Belly and made that our destination. It is located on North Hotel St. in Chinatown. The driver calls me up again, this time to tell me some of the places that he just thought of to recommend. I told him that we had already chosen the Lucky Belly and he thought that was a good choice, but gave us a back up suggestion if they were closed or something. We knew our bus stop and knew it would take a moment to get our bearings to find North Hotel Street. As we exited the bus the driver not only pointed us in the direction of the restaurant, but also to the street where we would catch the bus back to Waikiki once we were done. I have to say, he really went above and beyond what most other drivers would do for us! It was only a two block walk to find the sign that read Lucky Belly. We enter to find there is a 45 minute wait for a table. We don’t have any other options and decide to wait it out. It actually only took about 20 minutes to get the seats. I ordered an appetizer of smoked octopus with a fermented chili paste puree. My entrée is a bowl of ramen. After dinner we go to the bus stop across the street. The streets are really empty and we wait patiently. Bus does come eventually and we get off near the hostel. Stop at ABC Market to buy some beer and get our Holo bus pass for tomorrow. When we get to the hostel we head up to the rooftop to drink our beer and journal. However, after just a few minutes, we are both falling asleep and decide to call it a night. We will get up at 5:30 tomorrow and head to Diamond Head Crater for a hike and need to be well rested.

Tuesday September 21 (Honolulu)

We sleep all through the night and wake with our alarm at 5:30. I jump in the shower as El runs to the coffee shop around the corner for a cup to have with our breakfast. We have some leftover fresh fruit and banana bread we bought on the tour yesterday and eat that to lighten the load in our packs for the plane tomorrow. We are done quickly and on our way. The bus stop is around the corner from us, though we don’t know which direction to get on without asking. Of course the first bus to come along is in the wrong direction and we have to head across the street to get the one we need. There are two routes that go to the entrance to Diamond Head Crater, the #2 and #23. I believe the #23 takes you all the way up to the park gate, whereas the #2 that we take only takes you across the street from the road that leads you to the park entrance gate. It is not far, though we have no choice. We walk up to the entrance. It costs $5 per person to enter the park and more if you have a car. They remind you frequently with signage, that this is the last water and bathrooms you will have until you come down. We take a drink and refill our water bottles and start the hike up. The trail is considered a moderate level hike. I was able to do it without any issues and even took the more difficult fork for the last leg (there is a shorter, but steeper way vs. a longer, but less strenuous way). We got to the top and took our photos and rested a little before starting back down. 

el's panoramic photo of the entire diamond head crater

el getting creative on our way up the more challenging last leg of the diamond head hike 

honolulu as seen from atop diamond head crater

Sadly, the sun was not cooperating with us and instead of clear blue skies, we got sun-splashed clouds which made most of the views awash in light and grey looking, meaning the ordinarily spectacular views were just meh (as seen in the panoramic photo above). That said, we headed down which obviously took a lot less time than it took to get up. We caught the bus back to the hostel so we could change from hiking our gear. A friend of an acquaintance recommends a neighborhood called Kaka’oka. It is back near Chinatown where we were last night. El Yelps a brunch place there and we set off to find the Scratch Kitchen. The 45 minute wait allows El to do all of the work she has committed to do on this trip and she finishes as we are called to our table. I order the crispy Brussels sprouts and a pork adobo loco moco over gandule rice. Loco moco is a contemporary Hawaiian dish that traditionally features; one scoop of white rice, one hamburger patty, two eggs any style, and gravy though many places vary these ingredients to some degree. This one is an interesting, if not busy dish and a little more food than I was expecting, consisting of a bed of spanish style rice, and a generous pour-over of adobo in addition to the two eggs. The sprouts are tasty, but the crispiness comes from them being deep fried which sits with me the rest of the day. The loco moco would, no doubt, be a welcomed sight after a night of beer swilling, and also for the hangover that follows. Since I remained moderate last night and have yet to imbibe today, it feels like more of an overabundance of food with lots of flavors that tend to step over each other creating a literal culinary mish-mash whose novelty wears thin after a few bites. After lunch we walk up to a yarn shop for El. The staff are at lunch, so we take the time to map out other stops in the area. Just as we are about to abort the yarn shop plan and move on, she returns from lunch and El takes a few minutes to shop in the small store. We then press on to a top ten coffee shop called Island Vintage Coffee that gets a great write up. There are a few locations for this company and this closest spot happens to be in the mall. We make our orders and unsurprisingly, she makes my hot coffee order over ice. Offering to remake it, I accept it anyway. A table opens in the small store and we return to the counter to sign in and show our proof of vaccination to sit and figure out the bus route back to the hostel, get ready for dinner, and start packing to be ready for leaving tomorrow. We pick up some stamps at the ABC Market and catch the bus towards dinner. Unfortunately, we are a little more full from brunch than we had hoped, but it is nothing detrimental. We find Roy Yamaguchi’s with ease and settle in for the evening. We each get a signature pineapple martini (vanilla vodka, coconut rum infused with fresh pineapple). It is very decent, very Hawaiian, and goes down just a little too smoothly. The complimentary sesame coated edamame is a nice start. We both opt for the prix fixe menu, but tell the server to hold off bringing any food until we are done with the cocktails. When they do bring the appetizer course it is a crispy chicken spring roll and a Szechuan baby back rib. The spring roll is served with a tasty pineapple duck sauce, though the sauce on the single rib was a little on the salty side it didn’t stop me from cleaning the plate. Next up was the main course. A braised short rib and a macadamia crusted mahi-mahi filet. The beef atop steamed veggies and the fish resting on a bed of orzo mac and cheese. The fish is a little too fishy for my liking and the mac and cheese includes a cheese, I assume gorgonzola, that is quite unpleasant to my taste. The rib is done very well and tastes great- though the volume of food makes me concentrate on eating the very best of the plate as I know I am not going to be able to finish everything. Not the busiest night for this place, the waitstaff is super accommodating in letting us take our time by pacing ourselves. All in all the dinner was enjoyable, just poorly timed on my part. I probably would not have finished the fish or the mac and cheese on any other night either, but I would certainly not have left so much of my rib on the plate on most other nights. After our coffee, the dessert arrives. A yuza (Japanese citrus fruit) and lime cheesecake, which turns out to be the highlight of the meal for me. Really great. Wanting to get back to continue packing and wind down for an early morning tomorrow we make the casual walk back along the beach to the hostel. The bus leaves for the airport at 5:05am and we need to be ready. 

feeling full and happy on our way out of roy's

Wednesday September 22 (Honolulu to Maui)

We both wake a little before the alarm and get started with our plan. I shower while El finishes packing and getting breakfast ready. I say “breakfast” but it's really standing over a sink eating the last of the once-fresh fruit and banana bread. The hostel provides free coffee starting at 4am, so we get some. We have already confirmed our responsibilities for checking out and are all set. After some last minute packing and getting rid of our garbage, we check out and walk to the closest bus #20 stop. At this hour we are able to get the first bus of the day at 5:08am. The ride to the airport is about 1 hour and upon arrival the security line is not too long. We are through quickly and at the gate well before boarding. Our flight leaves at 7:22 and lasts 41 minutes. I am sleeping before we take off and wake just as we are landing. The thing is that it is now 8:00am. We won’t be able to check into our room until closer to 3:00pm. We know that we can get a shuttle from the airport to the resort for about $70 per person each way. But that will get us there at about 9:30. We know there is a limited bus system on the island which can get us from the airport to resort, but, although cheap, will take us about 3 hours. We discuss options and decide to take the bus...with some stops. About 6 miles from the airport is a town called Pa’ia. Problem is that the bus to Pa’ia only runs every 90 minutes. Luckily, we are within 30min of the next arrival. You pay $2 per ride upon boarding. The ride is uneventful. We head to a well reviewed coffee shop called Pa’ia Bay Coffee. It is about 2 minutes walk from the Pa’ia: Charley's bus stop. We each get a coffee and a bite. They are not too busy and they are accommodating when we tell them we need some time to finish our coffee while we figure out what to do in town. We know there is beach access at the end of the street, but lugging our baggage and then trekking through beach sand doesn't appeal. El has to make a phone call and steps outside while I stay at the table to look for a lunch plan. There is a place that we looked into last month called Mama’s Fish House. It is very difficult to get a reservation here as they fill up so far in advance. Thinking that some tourists have cancelled their plans due to COVID, I wonder if there are any openings for today. I go to their website and it turns out they have an opening for lunch at 11:00 today. I take it and start working on how to get to the restaurant from here. The restaurant is 1.4 miles away and the next bus is in 30 minutes and the drop off stop is 1 mile up the road. Since a half mile walk is still involved after the bus drops you- we decide to walk the whole way. True we are both carrying our luggage, but what else are we doing? On the way, we find where the bus stop is to head back towards the airport. We get to the restaurant a couple of minutes early and take some pictures of the ocean surf. 

our view for today's lunch

We are seated quickly and by now we have determined that the bus ride to the resort is around 3 hours and we do not want to miss the next bus since they only run once every 90min. The next one is at 12:20. This gives us an hour or so to eat and then walk back to the bus stop. We each order a cocktail and since we just had a (smallish) snack at the coffee place, we opt for three appetizers instead of any full entrée size dish. We get the macadamia crusted crab cakes with tomato coulis; a tomato and Maui onion salad; and a grilled octopus over shaved fennel and daikon radish with chili oil. All three were very good and the server understood when we told her we needed to get our check and get out of there to catch our bus. We get our bus back towards the airport and go a few extra stops to the end of the line since the resort is on the west side of the island. At some point on the trip some guy gets on and talks to the driver about buying a day pass. Since this would be cheaper for us, I ask about the same thing and the driver sells me two one-day tickets, crediting my current fare towards the pass. We are on a three hour bus ride that is going to cost us $4 each! ($6 each if we didn't get the day pass) By the time we get to Napili Kai Resort it is about 3:30pm. They are ready for us to check in and go through the daily programs offered to guests. Tonight’s program is free Mai Tais at the pool between 5:30 and 6:30. We drop our gear in the room and start discussing tonight’s plan. We have no beer and no plan for dinner. There is a bar and restaurant on site, but El figures out that there is a market about a mile away. Agreeing that we can walk to the little strip mall we set off to walk there and expect to be back for Mai Tais. On the way out of the room El grabs our bus passes just in case. By the time we are walking next to the bus stop, El has figured out that the next bus is in 10 minutes. I figure if it takes 20 minutes to walk, surely the bus is worth waiting for. We get to the mall around 4:00pm and head to the grocery store for beer and a couple of postcards. Next door is a place called Joey’s Kitchen and we could grab some food to go and take it back to the room. It is highly rated on Yelp and unbeknownst to us until we walked in, this place was featured on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. I was saying to El that as much of a tool as I think Guy Fieri is, so many of the places featured on his show that we have eaten at certainly offer above-the-bar food. I order chicken chow fun and El gets adobo fried rice. Turns out there is another bus in 20 minutes (which will still be faster than our 1 mile uphill walk back). We get back to the resort and head to the pool for a couple of Mai Tais. After a little while the rain moves in and everyone scurries under the covered area of the pool. We quietly head back to the room to eat. The food is fantastic! The rain has passed and we sit on the balcony and savor the moment overlooking the bay. The sun is starting to set and after the rains the clouds are starting to create some wonderful views. El grabs a camera and runs down to the beach to try to capture some of the moment. When she returns, we wind down on the balcony and call it a night.

just a couple of the many shots of the sun setting over the bay at the resort

Thursday September 23 (Maui)

Up at 6:00am, we will meet Jen from The Ocean Project this morning at 7:00. We eat some breakfast snacks and I go to the lobby to grab a couple of coffees- which are actually really good. Double check all we need to bring to the meeting and we are off. Basically, The Ocean Project is a company that gives you the opportunity to learn to snorkel, but you do it with a marine biologist. Today it is just El and I with our biologist, Jen. The first half hour we sit on a beach blanket while Jen shows us photos, drawings, and examples of the fish we are most likely going to see this morning. In addition to the fish, she talks about urchins, sea cucumbers, eels, and turtles. We get into our wetsuits and get fitted for snorkel, mask, and fins before heading to the water. Within minutes we are waist deep in the water and getting our first glimpses of marine life. Jen gives us a couple of tips...some people, especially strong swimmers, tend to want to go out far and show off their skills, whereas Jen brings a body board for us and tells us to hold onto the board with your face just below to surface and float. Well, she was right! When you first look at a coral formation, it looks like a peculiar rock, but if you hold still and watch it, you can start to see all sorts of movement. Camouflaged fish, animals that live inside that poke their heads out, creatures that eat the plants on it, and those that hide under it. The best things we saw were a green sea turtle getting cleaned by other fish, coming up for air, and then eventually swimming off. The spotted eel was neat to see how it slithered around a coral formation. We saw most of what Jen had told us about and a couple of things that she was able to dive down and bring up for us to hold (urchin and sea cucumber). All in all it was about 30-45 minutes of class and chit chat and about 2 hours in the water. She wanted us to stay close to shore because if you go too deep the creatures that like it there stay on the bottom and are hard to see. But, in the shallow areas, the sun lights up everything and you get the animals that are attracted to the warmer water. It was a great experience, though I doubt I am going to be running out to buy snorkel gear anytime soon.

at class, learning about what we will see

with an urchin jen brought up for us to handle

all snorkeling related pictures taken by jen as she owned the underwater camera

We come back to the room and shower and get ready for the rest of our day. El wants some beach time, I want some breakfast and then journal while I wait for my friends to arrive. I went to the restaurant on the property for a plate of loco moco. Today’s version is more traditional, with the scoop of white rice, a hamburger patty, two fried eggs, and a biscuit with some gravy. It was good enough, though I think I appreciate the creativity at the Scratch Kitchen a couple of days ago. I get back to the room and journal until Jesse and Jeunesse arrive. Jesse (my childhood best friend) and his sister Jeunesse both live on Maui as they have for more than 30 years. Once Jesse finished high school he left and until a brief meet up a couple of years ago I had not seen him or her since. We are connected on social media, so I was able to reach out during the planning stages for the trip and expected we would get to visit with him in some fashion during our stay. Not sure if we would go to his house, meet at our resort, or meet at a coffee shop in between- the where was secondary. Well, it turned out that them coming to me was the best option all around. And they are on the way now. I got a message when they were leaving home and they would update me along the way. Arriving at about 1:00, I had told them about our dinner reservations at 4pm allowing for three glorious hours to visit and reconnect. I meet them in the parking lot where Jeunesse presented me with a lei as a traditional Hawaiian welcome. The meeting is everything I wanted. Catching up and reminiscing about our youth. It was just the right amount of time as they had to start back just as we needed to get ready for dinner. 

a proper reunion, 30+ years in the making

El and I changed for dinner and walked next door to the restaurant called Merriman’s. They seated us immediately with an oceanfront view. They only offered a prix fixe menu- one appetizer, one entrée, and one dessert. We both shared our appetizer choices. A pork and shrimp chow fun with ginger, garlic, scallions, and yuzu as well as an octopus prepared like escargot- with a cognac and garlic butter sauce and served with toast points. I liked both, but the sauce on the octopus was a little bit unctuous to my palate. The chow fun was excellent. For entrée we both got the same option of harissa spiced diver scallops and wild shrimp served with wild rice. Roasted squash, sweet corn, jalapeno-Maui onion salsa, and a lemon butter sauce. It was very good and both were sufficiently full before the dessert was served. We ask to sit and enjoy our coffee before getting more food and they oblige. Eventually my pineapple almond financier arrives. It is served over a toasted coconut ice cream with salted caramel drizzle and it too is excellent, though the brief break did little to prepare me for more food. Luckily the portion wasn’t all that big and we walk back to our room full, just a shade under uncomfortable. At this point I am so tired that I can barely keep my eyes open. I intend to get a second wind and catch up on my journal. Well, the best laid plans disappear in the wind and I am fast asleep within minutes.

Friday September 24 (Maui)

We are getting picked up at 6:20 this morning, so we set the alarm for 5:30 to shower and grab some coffee. We are outside and the bus arrives on time and we are on our way. Today’s plan is the Road To Hana bus tour. Most tour companies seem to offer this tour, so I don’t expect one to be significantly different from another. Hana is a town on the eastern end of Maui and a day trip driving along the coastal road is a popular attraction in itself. Our first stop is a roadside stand for a quick continental breakfast. The driver does explain that the road is so curvy and treacherous that eating more than the offered fruit and muffin has been known to cause others to get car sick. I am good with the selection they give us. Once we really get on the actual road to Hana, it is apparent that this road is hardly car friendly, let alone bus friendly. Meaning that there seem to be so few parking areas, that we need to rely on the driver/guide (Deb) to point out items of interest and slow down as we drive by for us to see anything. A few of our stops have no bathrooms and are just opportunities for people to buy stuff, like snacks and souvenirs. I stay on the bus most times as the lines can get long and it’s not like there is other stuff to see or do here, so I usually stretch my legs and jump back in my seat. We do have one opportunity to get out and see some trees that we have never seen before. I think they were called painted trees and the bark features some pretty markings of different vibrant colors streaked down the length of the trunk and branches. Interesting, but I didn’t think enough to warrant this being the first pull over and exit-the-vehicle photo-op, but we are only out of the van for a few minutes and are soon on our way. This time to a snack stand. They offer the same banana bread we got earlier in the week. I wait in the van. Our next stop is a 15 minute overlook of a rough beach. It is not a beach with sand, but one where lava flowed into the sea eons ago and created massive boulders and natural breakers for the rather large waves to crash up on.

at the rough beach, one for viewing, not for swimming or surfing

waves doing their thing

After a while of passing several waterfalls and other similar sites, we find ourselves at a secluded beach. The sign says “Huli Huli chicken of Koni”, with a footnote written by hand in magic marker that read “as seen on Gordon Ramsay.” With Gordon’s stamp of approval, I’m in. I get in line to purchase while El takes some pics of the beach. I know the tour company is providing a box lunch for us today, but to try the local cuisine trumps the cold turkey sandwich that is planned. Our next stop is a place for lunch. The tour company has an arrangement with a local flower shop that has a setup that includes picnic tables and bathroom facilities where we can sit for an hour and eat our lunch leisurely. The chicken is decent, think roasted chicken with a marinade of pineapple juice, teriyaki, and ginger. Between the chicken and the sandwich they gave us, we have leftovers to take for dinner. After lunch we are off to Wai’anapanapa State Park which features a black sand beach. As we walk towards the beach we see that it also features some of the roughest surf we have seen on this trip. Strong enough to easily pull someone standing on the beach right into the water. I have no interest in getting too close to the water, so I wait in the park overlooking the beach and journal while the rest of the group goes down to the beach and takes pictures. 

the surf doesn't look too bad here, but believe me ,there's a reason no one is swimming!

Deb tells us that it is required to make reservations 14 days in advance just to get into the parking lot. Our bus has the reservation, but on our way out we see cars getting turned around for lack of one. Our next stop is Ohe'o Gulch, one of Maui’s highest waterfalls with a wading pool below. Again, I have no interest in going into the water, so I stay behind to watch bags and take pictures. El goes in the water and does remark how cool it is- further bolstering my decision to remain behind. Our next, and last stop of the day is one of our previous photo stops that also has a reasonably clean bathroom for people to change out of their bathing suits and also provides the last pee break we will have all day. It is another 2 hours back to the resort and the rest of the drive is quiet and smooth. On the road as we come into the town of Pa’ia, we pass Ho’okipa Beach which is not a swimming beach, but a wind/kite surfing destination that hosts world championships. There are no competitions today, but the wind is creating conditions where you can see how it would be a great place for it. At the end of our drive, I reflect that while I don’t regret taking this tour, it didn't seem to offer much more than a drive on an incredibly challenging-to-drive road that I am glad to not have had to do the actual driving on. There were a couple of pretty vistas along the way, but many did not have any parking area, preventing us from pulling over to get photos- so it was a literal drive-by of many of the spots. We arrived back at the resort around 6:30, so at 12 hours, we certainly got our money's worth of effort from our driver who did have a fun personality that created a good dynamic for the day. Once back at the room we ate our leftover lunch and enjoyed our last evening on the balcony overlooking the Pacific. We did not feel that we needed more food and just rested for the rest of the evening. Knowing we had to get up early to catch our bus we mapped out our trip to the airport and the stops along the way. We also get a majority of our packing done. Our last night of sleep in Hawaii was solid.

Saturday September 25 (Maui to Los Angeles)

Our plane leaves Maui at 2:45pm. As we leave, it has become painfully obvious that we are not resort people. Though the recommendation was made with the best of intentions, we expect those who made it took advantage of a lot of the programs offered that just did not appeal to us. Lei making classes, a luau, ukulele lessons followed by a group sing-a-long just wasn’t on our agenda. We did realize, however, that Maui specifically, is much more of a choice between different levels of resorts from the Four Seasons on down to more economical options, but regular hotels and hostels are not really viable options here, so we didn’t have much of a choice. This is not a knock on people that do like this kind of vacation- lord knows there are enough to keep all these resorts in business, but it is just not the kind of travel we particularly enjoy. So, we could reserve a shuttle to the airport, hang around here and eat breakfast at the resort’s restaurant, go to a pool or the beach and whittle our last couple hours away sitting in the sun and packing, or we could do what the obvious choices for us are. We pull out the bus schedules. We are checked out by 6:30am and catch the 6:36 bus. First stop, the town of Lahaina. Having been through the harbor town a couple times and read about some of the bars and restaurants there, it also happens to be the terminus of our first bus on the way to the airport. We arrive at 7:30 and the next bus to Queen Ka’ahumanu Center is at 8:30. This gives us an hour to eat breakfast at Down The Hatch Restaurant and see the famous banyan tree in the center square. For breakfast we split a plate of “cakes and flakes”. This is a stack of pancakes topped with blueberries, strawberries, and bananas, as well as a handful of corn flakes cereal, served with a side of coconut cream and maple syrup, each to drizzle on top. I think cereal on pancakes is weird and enjoy my pancakes with the pour overs. After breakfast we head across the street to the center square of town that features an enormous banyan tree. As you walk into the square at first it just looks like a park with several trees providing shade for the entire interior. But, as you stand under this tree you start to notice that each of the ‘trees’ are actually branches from the same tree that have each dropped their vines into the ground and grown them to support itself. Many of the branches are much thicker than most trees and many of the large branches have smaller (but still large) branches splitting off from them. This network, the more you observe, spans the entire town square. I believe I heard this was the second largest banyan tree at a ¼ mile circumference. It does not take long for us to get a couple of pictures and make our way back to the bus stop for the next leg. 

under the shade of the banyan tree

a panoramic of the single banyan tree...you see how it looks like a bunch of trees? everything you see is just one tree

As agreed, once on the bus I update Jesse who said he would try to meet us this morning if it fit. The buses all seem to run pretty close to scheduled times and we are at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center at 9:30 and now waiting for our next bus to Pa’ia at 10:00. This will get us into Pa’ia at 10:30 which gives us 2 hours until our bus from Pa’ia back to the airport. Jesse knows we will be in Pa’ia at 10:30. Our first stop in town is back at the Pa’ia Bay Coffee shop. El has planned to go get a run in and takes off for about 45 minutes while I stay to watch the bags and enjoy a cup of coffee. I order and check my phone. To my delight, Jesse is on his way and should be here momentarily. I order him a coffee and trade in my single seat at the bar for a table outside on the patio. By the time I have the luggage and coffees at the new table, I have found Jesse and he joins me, wondering if he just saw El running down the street as he was driving in. I confirm she will be joining us soon. We pick up where we left off and between this and our meeting up on Thursday this is easily one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. It’s funny how life works sometimes. He (and Jeunesse too) were such an important part of my youth, but for a set of circumstances they have not been part of my life since. As I reflect, I am thankful and impressed at just how important that role was. Two genuine souls that I am glad to still be able to call friends. Not sure if or when our paths will cross again, but if I can help it, I won’t pass up the opportunity to meet again. I sincerely appreciate the efforts they put into seeing me and thank them for it. Eventually El arrives after her run and she is ready for an iced coffee and we talk about one of the last foods we should try before we leave, shave ice.

my one and only bowl of shave ice

I have heard of shave ice for years, never had it, and don't actually know how it differs from a snow cone. Around the corner from where we sit is a shave ice shop and, surprise, they claim to be the “best on the island”. Well, at this point, since it is the only one I have ever had, I can't say I disagree. However, I don't know that I ever need one again. El arrives back from the shop to our table with a bowl. It starts with a layer of coconut ice cream. Next is a heaping layer of shaved ice- the consistency of fine snow, next is added our choices of pineapple syrup, coconut syrup, and condensed milk. To the top is finally added a sprinkling of toasted coconut. As you can imagine, there were several topping and syrup options to suit most fancies. For us El chose exactly what I am glad to have tried. However, the amount of sweetness that the syrups leant to the dish was a bit too much for me- and both of us I think, I would just as soon have a bowl of ice cream next time. But, for this once, I was happy to try it and glad I didn't have to eat it by myself. I spend the entire time with Jesse and he walks us to the bus stop offering a lift to the airport should we miss the pick up. Since the bus is on time, we quickly say our goodbyes and wave, not knowing when we may see each other again.

he has no idea how much i appreciated him coming to see us off

The bus drops us at the airport two hours before our flight. Frustratingly we did not realize when we got our boarding passes emailed to us, for some reason, El’s TSA Precheck is not attached, so she is required to go through the routine security check. I join her, but vow to reach out to the airline to ensure subsequent legs of our trip have the proper designation- I mean, we pay for the membership and it should not be omitted as an oversight. It takes a little longer, but the line does move at a reasonable pace. We are at our gate early and the flight leaves on time. 

In conclusion

There are so many variables when it comes to the perfect vacation. If you ask 10 people what their ideal vacation would be, some might say sitting on the deck of a cruise ship in the Caribbean drinking a daiquiri. The next might say going to see shows and casinos in Las Vegas. While the next would say camping in the mountains with no human contact for a week. Someone too, is going to say staying at a resort in Hawaii, overlooking the ocean, sitting on a beach and leaving the beach only to eat or attend a ukulele concert. Well, not putting down these scenarios, I can say with certainty, the way El and I travel and what we like to do on vacation, none of the above appeal to either of us. Parts of each work, I like daiquiris, El likes the beach, We have been to Vegas a few times, but as of this vacation, “resort stay” has been squarely checked off of our “to do'' list and we will be happy to not have to do it again. In retrospect, I am not disappointed we did it, but only to know what we like and what we don’t. Obviously there are plenty of resorts in Honolulu, but there were also a few hostel options, whereas Maui had a lot less hostel options. There are plenty of Airbnb properties, but getting one of those would have added an additional layer of complication to our trip, as we would probably have needed to rent a car and would possibly not have been able to enjoy the exact parts of this trip that we did like the most. As we fly towards home, I leave with a great sense of accomplishment. Utilizing the buses as much as we did- when so much online information highly recommended the car rental out of sheer convenience. After what we saw in terms of challenges with a car (cost of parking, difficulty of finding parking, cost of gas, aggravation of road quality and sharing the road with others who are not familiar with the routes etc) I am happy to have traded the prospect of a car for the minor inconveniences of the bus, which for us was mostly limited to the infrequency of the routes. But, with a printed schedule, it really wasn't hard to navigate. And we were still able to visit Pa’ia and Lahaina. Today Hawaii. Next time, Uruguay (I hope).