Thursday, March 24, 2011


Gone for that long, there was a list of items to get back to where we left off.  Cell phones to reconnect, cable tv off stand-by, where is the silverwear drawer again?  Our vehicles needed to be retrieved from the farm, but first the driveway needed to be plowed to get them out.  And food, yes, I think Chris (our wonderful house-sitter, college boarder) was happy for the inevidable re-stocking of the shelves.  Poor guy, he had more than he bargained for when he was left with the "shovel the driveway" request this year.  I think one of the worst snowfall years on record.  Man, it is still waist deep, and still snowing.

On the way to dance class last night I asked the girls their impressions of Edmonton, our fair city, now that they have other places in the world to compare.  Jaclyn said:  Clean.  Wealthy.  Katie said:  Good bathrooms.  We all  laughed.

The boys?  Derek has vanished - in his room with friends, over at the neighbors, on his cell texting away.  He had hockey at school yesterday, and proudly held a shutout.  Said it was like he never left at all, and shocked his classmates, as they thought they might be able to score on the rusty goalie.  Not a chance.  Travis and I had an appointment with the guidance counsellor at the high school on Tuesday and he will start school again after Spring Break.  His rugby coach has asked him to help with the team, since he can't play this year - his knee surgery is booked for April.  He is looking into summer school to catch up on missed classes, but in likelihood will graduate at 18, rather than 17.  We are all good with that.  He's enrolled in a course to learn how to edit his video clips into a movie, so is excited to start that.

We have lots of stories to share, and it is great to listen to the kid's versions.  They have gained a lot of maturity in the past weeks.... and we are very proud of them.  They have grown, in many ways.  The world has been their classroom, and they all passed with flying colors.

It has been, undoubtably, the greatest field trip ever.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Jet Lag

Flight Day:  Mokolele Kauai to Honolulu 35 minutes
                  Air Canada Honolulu to Calgary 6 hours (overnight flight, 4 hours time change)
                  Air Canada Calgary to Edmonton 1 hr (prop plane, in a blizzard, landed at 7:30 am)

Bags packed, we headed to Mike and Deb's for a farewell breakfast.  We gave them the last of our food stocks, except for the mac chocolates, which we had for dessert - everyone should have chocolate for breakfast I think.  We hope to catch up with them again in the summer, as we have been promising a trip to visit them for 12 years, and still haven't followed that one through.  Jaclyn has qualified to dance at Nationals in Nashville so maybe we can do a loop of that part of the States in July... been around the world but not sure how far it is from Michigan to Tennessee, will have to look that one up...

We returned our last rental car, and went through our airline procedures.  One bag per person, one carryon no liquids, laptops out through security, shoes off, pat down (lucky Rick) and board another plane.  Quick up, quick down, shuttle, another line, another security (lucky Rick again), and hey!  Canada eh!  When we landed in Calgary, the first thing we saw was Tim Horton's..... and yes, it tasted awesome.  And, we had to walk outside to board our plane to Edmonton.  Boy, do we live in the bush. Calgary airport (which I hope is under renovation) had a plywood walkway, not heated and the wind was whipping the snow right inside.  We were still in shorts and flip flops.  Frozen toes!  Static charge! Welcome home!

Janice, Paege and Chris, and mom, and Anita were all waiting at the gate when we walked into Edmonton International.  We stand out, being very brown in this white world.  The snow drifts are still 8 feet high in places, and there were a lot of cars in the ditch... freezing rain makes for slick highways.  It was wonderful to see everyone, and even exhausted, we were charged with energy.  Derek was the funniest.  We had only walked in the door and moved in the bags, and he was already in and out of the shower and dressed for school.  He must have ran there, because he arrived only 20 minutes late for class, and apparently caused quite the stir in the hallway.  He was the most anxious of us to resume his social life.  Travis has a weeks worth of dates lined up.  Jaclyn is dancing non-stop, trying to gear up  in a hurry for Nationals, and Katie is in doll heaven.  Rick and I just needed a nap.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

We're Going Home

Last day.  Wow.  As we packed our bags for the last time, I was overwhelmed by the reality of our trip.  It has been such an adventure, and I know the kids are excited to get home, see friends and family, but myself, I feel sad.

I can truly say that I have loved the family time we have had together.  That for me is as great, or even greater than seeing the world.  Five months with my children and my husband, not distracted by school, friends, sports, work, any commitments that takes us in different directions in our normal life.  For five months, I have got to play, too.  We have learned together, experienced common events, laughed at the same jokes, and now have these memories that will bond the kids together, and to us, forever.  We have learned about the world, and we have learned about each other.  It has been amazing, and I am sad it is coming to an end.  A part of me doesn't want to give them back to their "real" lives.

We have been working on our slide shows so that we can share pictures and video once home, so that has given us time to reflect.  Hawaii was a great "in between" - culturally similar yet not quite engaged.  There will be "heaps" to do, I am trying not to think about all that yet!  I am looking forward to family, friends, my own bed!   And I am so incredibly grateful that Rick enabled this trip to happen for us, and that we took the leap.  It was so worth it.  And off we go.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pigs.... and Pig Hunting

When most people visit Hawaii, they don't have a hunting expedition in mind.  But, when you come from a farm in Western Canada, and have an interest in the more traditional arts of tracking, archery and skeet, well, a good pig hunt is what you might call fun.

There are many feral animals on the Hawaiian islands.  With no native predators, introduced species like mongoose, cats, turkey, goats, donkey and pigs have gone wild.  They have multiplied in the lush jungle environment, and have no natural controls so are truly destroying the natural environment.  The pigs, in particular, are an extreme nuisance as they root up the soil killing vegetation in swaths of destruction, and they are vicious when approached.  They are no longer the cute little piggy with the curly tails, they are instead big and black with large tusks and think nothing of killing dogs and would attack children or even small adults if cornered.  They need to be controlled.  The pig hunt is on.

By special invite, our Hawaiian friend Stan invited Rick and our boys as well as Mike and a few of the Michigan mates to join them Saturday to their ranch.  With the dogs wearing kevlar vests, they headed on foot up Ma'kai (mountain side) to track their prey.  I know they sighted at least five, and had some good "fishing stories", but no luau for dinner.... still, a very unique experience and they saw some country that is normally inaccessible to tourists.  Maholo Stan, what a great day!

Reading Lists.... "world schooling" for us all

I love to read, and on this trip it was great to choose titles that were set in our places of adventure.  Here are a few of the novels and children's/youth books, as well as movies, we tackled along the road...

The Voyages of Captain Cook
The Chronicles of the Inca by Garcilasco de la Vega
Eat, Pray, Love
The Murder of King Tut, James Patterson
The Social Network, the story of Facebook
The Beach
The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCoullough
The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton
Only Two Seats Left, The Incredible Contiki Story by John Anderson
The Touch, Colleen McCoullough

Katie's (age 6)
Magic Treehouse Chapter books - Afternoon on the Amazon, Vacation under the Volcano,  Mummies in the Morning, Dingoes at Dinnertime
Bindi's Wildlife Adventures, Trouble at the Zoo - featuring Bindy, Steve Irwin's daughter
Dr. Suess - Oh! The Places We'll Go, Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop

The Diary of Charlotte Doyle
The Murder of King Tut (she loved it too)
The Clan of the Cave Bear

The Lost City of Z
The Hunger Games series
Tomorrow, When the War Began, John Marsden (also a movie now, just released)
The Dead of the Night, John Marsden

Guinness Book of World Records 2011
PADI Scuba Dive Course manual
Lonely Planet guidebooks:  Peru, Egypt, Thailand

Also enjoyed these classic films:
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (set in Peru)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (set in Petra, Jordan)
Crocodile Dundee I and II
The Castle - great Australia film, and I'm not dreamin'!
Emperor's New Groove
Finding Nemo

We've Been Here and There, Man

An alphabet poem, composed in the car by the Anderson family, driving to the next place down the road....

A - Aguas Calientas
B - Boggabilla
C - Cairo
D - Denmark (a town in West Australia, home of Uncle Rob)
E - Edmonton
F - Fiji
G- Geelong
H - Hilo
I - Ica
J - Jordan
K- Koloa, Kauai, Koh Samui
L - Lima
M - Melbourne
N- Noosa Heads
O - Olympia
P - Poipu
Q- Queensland
R - Rome
S- Spain
T- Thebes
U - Urubamba Valley
V- Volcano National Park
W- Warnambool
X - Exmouth
Y - Yarra
Z - Zoo... Australia Zoo, that is.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Body Surfing with Sea Turtles

We got moving early this morning, and met up with Mike, Deb and Marsha over at Kapa'a for breakfast at the iconic seaside buffet at Scotty's.  The berry pancakes and crispy bacon were consumed by the plateful, and again I had to notice how much the kids have grown over the past four months.  Sunshine and sleep, I'm guessing that was the ticket.  From Kapa'a, we made our way through the snarl of traffic over to Poipu on the sunny side of the island of Kauai.

Across from Brenekke's there is a beach with the smooth, high waves perfect for body surfing.  Though it rained en route, we had a cloud-free day of sun and enough wind to keep us from over-heating.  We were met by the entire Michigan contingent, Mike and Deb's friends who have met here for holidays, all great people who love to laugh and have fun- can you guess that Rick fits right in?  And the best part:  turtles, within feet of the shore, playing in the water with the people-fish.  From spot above the rocky shore near our picnic table, where I laid my towel to watch the surf beneath, we spent the whole day delighted by the antics of at least ten turtles (including some BIG turtles, the up to 300 pound variety) as they too rode the waves and then popped up for a breath, only to ride again.

Rick and the kids had a great time in the surf, and had a few close encounters of the reptilian kind.  They were all wearing masks and more than once came face-to-face with a turtle smile as they both caught the same ride.  Derek had a large one bump him a couple times, and at one point landed with his foot on a rock on the bottom, only to have the "rock" swim away and surface further out a ways.  Katie was thrilled to watch  the turtles "wave" with their front flippers then glide across the surface of the wave.  Her last experience with turtles was in a quiet bay andor laying sleeping on the shore, so this playful variety was very appreciated.  It was hard for all of us not to laugh at the antics of ten turtles on a play date.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hanalei Bay

We are lazy.  Well, maybe travel weary is a better description.  With only a few days left on this journey, it is very difficult to motivate our group to leave their spots on the couch to go for another swim at either another beach or another pool.  They are craving the company of their friends and extended family, and they are ready to come home.

Truly they have done incredibly well, and I am very proud of them.  Three teenagers in the constant company of their parents for twenty straight WEEKS, plus a percocious 7 year old, it could have been a recipe for disaster. But instead, everyone is still laughing, playing cards and word games, sharing their often confined space and very few "toys", and building strong relationships that we know will last a lifetime.

This adventure has been as much about getting to discover our selves and each other as it has been about discovering the world.  And it has been a huge success.

I did manage to get the kids to accompany me into Hanalei Bay, the place where they learned to surf a couple of years ago.  We said a prayer for Andy Irons, our famous surfer friend who owned the condo where we stayed last trip, and who lost his life a couple of months ago to some mystery water-bourne illness.  A young man newly married and with a baby on the way, his tragic loss is felt here in Kauai, where he grew up and made proud with his World Surfer Championship awards.  When we met him in 2009, he was really friendly and offered to take the boys to the big waves with his friends, and is fondly remembered.  Another reminder to live your life, because you just never know.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Garden Isle

Flight:  Hawaiian Airlines Kona-Honolulu-Lahui  35 min flight - 45 min wait- 30 min flight, same plane
Rental car:  Chev Tahoe (nice!)
Accomodation:  Princeville, The Cliffs condo

We arrived just shy of midnight at our condo on the north shore of Kauai, after a detour past Micky D's.  That was a mistake, as Rick suffered a couple of hours later from a burger that had definitely been under the lights way too long. Ugh.  The flight from Kona was a pleasant surprise.  The codes on the flights were two separate ones, so we had been expecting to do a 500 yard dash between gates to make our short connection, but after we touched down we were informed it was the same plane so we were able to stay aboard while the new passengers joined us.  The pilots were excellent, and invited the kids up to the cockpit with the camera, letting Katie "steer" from the pilot's seat and earn her Hawaiian Airlines wings... didn't think that was possible on any flights since 9/11, so a very pleasant surprise.  That was her 22nd flight in 120 or so days, so she has earned them!

The next morning we appreciated our condo all the more... the kitchen has a floor to ceiling view of the ocean and while making coffee I watched whales breaching and blowing offshore.  Very distracting, and I think I will be burning breakfast!   The unit itself was a great internet find, only $125/night to sleep six, and all the amenities we could want:  newly renovated pool, yoga classes, bbq's and walking trails, plus around-the-corner to Mike and Deb.

We were very happy to connect with our great friends from Michigan, and felt "full circle", since it was Mike that drove us to the airport on the day we started this adventure.  The kids have been working on their journals, coin collections, and slide show presentations, and were able to share their stories of the past four months.  It's been quite an adventure, but they are itching now to get home.

Ocean Technology and Science Park

Last day on the Big Island, so we packed up and then headed up to Kona to check out the area just south of the airport.  Unfortunately, the visitors center closed at noon, so we missed the overview lecture of how the Hawaii State Science Park is incubating businesses in alternative energy and aquaculture development, but we were still able to go on our own explore.  Here, solar panels harness power for large turbines which draw cold ocean water up from 3000' below.  They use the cold water to farm: abalone, lobster, algae, pet seahorses, all kinds of fish farms that are contained in ocean-side tanks.  There is a desalination water bottling and salt production facility planned, as well as other business ideas which may not be commercially viable but are still worth developing from a technology perspective.  A thought-provoking side-trip for sure.  Wish we would have had more time to visit the beach here, too, as the volcanic pools were protected from the surf beyond, and it was busy with local families enjoying Spring Break with their kids.

A quick trip to Macy's while Trav and Rick saw a movie balanced the rest of the afternoon.  We have all done well with our "one bag" per person, but the clothes in them are now very worn and tired.  Jaclyn and Derek have also grown several inches in height and width, going up several sizes and I know nothing much will fit them in their "home" wardrobe now either.  Levi's at Macy's for $18.  Minus the 10% visitors coupon.   And, bonus, winter boots on 75% clearance for me... who buys these in Hawaii?  No wonder there are several choices here in March - can't imagine stomping around on the top of Mauna Kea, the only place it snows here, in these knee-high stiletto heels, even if they do look amazingly fabulous... but hey, in Edmonton!  As I have given up on the idea of no snow at home once we are back, I might as well pick up a pair.  Out with the flip flops, don't think I need to drag those around much longer, unfortunately.

Supper - happy hour! Bud Light $2, Margarita's for $4 - at Poncho and Lefty's, overlooking the reminants of the tsunami damage.  ABC store on Ali'i Road was still closed, but most places look recovered.  The news is still horrible over in Japan, now with nuclear reactors melting down.  Definitely worse there, poor souls.  Off to the airport tonight, for the last destination of the trip:  Kauai.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hiking at Hawi

Up to Weimei today to check out the best breakfast place on the island, according to visitors and locals alike.  We had to stant in line a bit, but with pancakes and bacon piled high, and kahlua pork and spam as sides, it was worth the wait.... all the teenage bellies were happy.

We drove the mountain road over to the north side again after breakfast, with views of Maui off shore.  The village of Ha'wi is very artsy, and home to many galleries and quiet shops.  There is a lookout at the end of the road, with a view of the north coastline, rugged and inaccessible.  The trail at the end of the road leads to a black sand beach in a river valley, the Pololu Valley in the Kohala Mountains.  We felt the need to explore.  The trail was pretty steep, and rather hard to negotiate in flip flops, but we made it down in under a half hour. This black sand was the coarse variety, more sharp and rocky like the black sands we remember.  The river wasn't flowing, but I can imagine it would be rather fierce when it rains. The way back up was actually easier to pick footing, but I could feel the burn by the top.  We certainly earned our ice cream!

It has been nice to prepare our own meals in the last half of this trip.  A trip to the market for dinner is less expensive as well as more relaxed as compared to eating out all the time.  Tonight the choice was lamb chops, a carry-over favorite from Australia.  Roasted on the BBQ with mint jelly, I think it will be on the menu when we get home too.  We all like meat pies now too, and Travis promised me that his friend Declan's mom Gay can teach me how to make great ones, she is an excellent cook.  The ones from Costco just won't be the same.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Black Sand Beaches

We found a great beach around the corner from our Mauna Lani condo complex, gated but in true Hawaii fashion, public access cannot be denied.  In a sheltered bay of lava rocks, the sand was soft and sparkling black and golden.  The waves created a shelf about 20 feet into the water, with large lava boulders settling down, and a treasury of shells mixed in relatively shallow water.  Katie spent hours looking through her mask and then diving down to collect her favorites.  The boys competed in Hawaiian rock carrying, lifting the underwater boulders and transporting them by running up the slope to then lift them in shallow waters and toss them back down the bank.... great workout training that kept them busy trying to out-toss their dad.

The snorkeling in Hawaii is fabulous. The combination of the stable lava sands and hard corals make for the best visibility in shallow waters we have seen anywhere in the world.  Jaclyn loves swimming out to the rock outcroppings and spotting trigger fish, angelfish, needlefish, and hoards of others, all swimming in schools right around her.  No one feeds the fish at this beach, so they leave swimmers alone rather than swarming you begging for food.  She and I both hate that.  It is amazing to see the confidence in the water that all of the kids now have, and their swimming skills have grown by leaps after spending the last three months in the water.  I think they will all be able to challenge a few levels in Red Cross when we return, and be on their way to lifeguard status if they choose.

While sitting on the beach I got a beautiful picture of a whale breaching in the played there long enough for me to get the camera out and I got lucky on the timing with Travis' camera.  It seems if you stare at the horizon long enough you will spot a tail, or a blowhole spouting, or a big splash as they jump up to the surface.  The Humpbacks are in Hawaii January to April, and are a true delight to watch.  I think we are going to find a place in Kauai up at Princeville where we can watch the whales right from the lanai.  Can't beat that.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Whales and Shrimp Tales

Friday was a recovery day.  One of the only true days when we feel every month of our "40-something" is an all-nighter, especially if partying was not involved.  Hats off to our friends who work night shifts, because it takes us two days to recover properly from a night with no sleep.  Of course, we can't whine too much, since a beach chair at the pool certainly helps things along.

Rick and the boys were curious about the effects of the storm, so headed over this afternoon to the Mauna Lani resort, our closest beachside development for lunch.  They strolled down to the shore to survey the damages, and of course the boys headed out onto the lava rocks, as boys do.  It didnt take long to see the tsunami effects.... it was still happening! There is really not a huge tide in Hawaii, maybe only a foot or so in elevation, translating to 5 or10 feet on the beach of movement.  But the boys, climbing out and standing on the rocks, where soon cut off from shore.  The waves were atypical, more a level of water that rose for a few minutes like a tide, then retreated.  They watched as the beach path they had followed disappeared, but luckily reappeared after a few minutes later.  Not the usual "wave in, wave out" pattern at all.  The reminents of the tsumani. 

They did see a whale while at the beach, only 50-75 feet or so from shore, spouting and then presenting its tail with a splash.  Makes you wonder how the creatures respond to such a change in their environment. In New Zealand, earthquakes are often preceded by a spontaneous beaching of whale and dolphin species.... like their sonar can sense a subsurface tension, and perhaps interferes with their depth perception.  Before the big earthquake in February, several hundred dolphins and small whales swam onto the beaches just 50 miles south of the quake epicenter, to die on the shores only a few days before the earthquake hit.  The mammals in the sea are victims of the event as well.

We had an update of the damage on our side of the Big Island.  Ali'i Roadin Kona was flooded, including the host hotel of the Hawaii state Brewers convention - had to be moved to a different location for the weekend.  Bubba Gump's managed to clean up and recover much of their missing furnature, and though their electronics were fried and glass smashed, the kitchen was relatively untouch... they were able to open a couple days later so will survive to serve another day. Around the pool, everyone swapped stories of the night in the car, or at the Weimea theater where they opened with a live news feed, or (honestly) in their seaside house or condo hiding from the police and the evacuation orders....risking their lives and the lives of those who may  have had to rescue them had there been a larger problem.   Some people don't get it, or perhaps are niave and innocent (dense) enough to not understand what the potential of the situation could be. Stupid is as Stupid does.  Truly, life is back to normal in most of Hawaii.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Evacuated: Tsunami Warning in the Pacific

The world is a crazy place, predictably unpredictable on our entire journey.  That continued last night, when across the sea Japan was rocked by an incredible seabed earthquake measuring 9 or so on the scale, and setting off a tsunami towards not only the shores of Japan but outward across the ocean, with Hawaii in the middle of the path.  The warnings came across the television at 9pm, and within an hour a full evacuation order was called with the waves forecast for 3am.  The sirens were sounding. "Please leave this area immediately. You must leave the Tsunami Evacuation Zone.  Go to high ground.  Do not return to your homes.  This is not a test."

Well, with all the close calls we have had, we certainly we not taking any chances with our family.  Yes, we are inland, probably 50ft in elevation in the middle of the ancient lava flows, and cannot see the ocean from our condo.  We are also occupying the second and third floors of the complex, so highly unlikely this unit would be flooded.  But truly, if the roads were closed, would we really wish to become an island in a stream of broken sewage with no access to fresh water in the heat?  Short answer, no.  Not imminent danger, but not a place to be stranded for long either.  I have no wish to be rescued from a rooftop because we were too stubborn to follow the evacuation order.  So we started to pack.

A quick trip past the grocery, open til 11, to stock up on bottled water (lots of action there) and we headed up the only road out of our complex and up the hill to Waikaloa Village.  Hundreds of cars loaded with tourists and locals, and busses of people from the resorts, converged on the inland towns to sleep uncomfortably and anxiously in the dark, while the radio broadcast the warnings and updates from Midway Island, as well as the effects on the first islands to be affected: Kauai and Oahu are west of here, so would be hit first.

The tsunami was not a false alarm.  The waves did come at around 4 am to the Big Island, and there was limited damage south of our resort in Kona (okay, specifically, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Factory where we had lunch was one of the worst ones hit).  Hilo had a few houses flooded and one floated away, but no one was killed or injured, so we escaped far better off than those souls in Japan across the sea.  Like Christchurch, crushed by earthquake, and then hit by tsunami, hundreds are feared killed. The Pacific Ring of Fire has been cruel this year.

The evacuation remained in place even after the real risk of the sea was passed.  Our resort was baracaded by police officers, and we could not return at least until dawn.  Not much sleep happened in the minivan, well, I suppose the kids fared alright, by the parents were still pretty tired.  We made our way up to Waimea and the Paniola restaurant, which opened for the crowd of "refugees" at 5:30a with welcome cups of coffee and warm breakfasts.  Fellow patrons joked we needed t-shirts to claim our survival of the Hawaii Tsunami 2011, but it was with true relief that we heard the damage was pretty minimal.  Memories of Phuket, the images of the cyclones and floods in Queensland and Victoria, and the scenes from Christchurch ran through my mind, and I thanked God we were not in a midst of such a scene.  It was only when we returned to our condo that we realized the severity of Japan's situation.  Our hearts are glad we had only a close call, but are heavy with the loss experienced by those who were closer to where the wave began.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Kona, land of great coffee

Today's adventure was south to the area of Kailua-Kona, the city nearest the airport and the area known for Kona's fabulous coffee.  We had lunch at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Factory (disappointing food, but unique atmosphere) we headed up the mountain (well, Mauna Loa volcano truly) through the VOG and into the moist cool climate at 3500'.  Home of the Mountain Thunder organic coffee plantation and roasting mill.  The smell of roasting coffee was the first thing we noticed, and we joined a tour with a sample of their Premium blend in hand.    Can't beat that for freshness, just roasted today!

The coffee trees were very interesting, blooming after every rain and producing "cherries" for three years.  Certified organic means this farm cannot use Round-up or any other chemical weed control, so they have NeNes (native Hawaiian geese) running around munching on the invasive vines that take over the crops.  Everything is hand picked making it very labor intensive, which explains the 4-7 acres that keeps them busy full time.  To supplement, they roast and package coffee for other growers, and charge premium pricing for the Kona organic label.  Well worth it, as the coffee was not at all bitter, nor were the chocolate covered coffee beans...mmmm. They win awards for their medium roast (which is apparently more indicative of good quality production as the flavor of the bean is not altered by the longer dark roasting procedure).  So, my dear potential coffee-snobs, the best  coffee you could drink would be Extra Fancy 19 size screen organic with less than .2% dark or mishaped beans, full green color prior to roasting, and Estate blend, meaning the Peabody beans are mixed in to allow for extra taste.... all this for a mere $56/lb at the door, shipping extra.  We poor coffee schleps from Safeway probably drink the beans that missed the bag on the way to the bin... but hey, as long as it has caffeine, at 6 am I don't think I would notice any difference at all.

Jupiter setting behind Mauna Kea, 11 000 feet alt.

Great trip up to the top of Mauna Kea, or at least to the Observatory visitors center.... altitude still affecting some of our crew in a real way.  The Observatory is above the clouds on the top of the dormant volcano, and across the valley you can see Mauna Loa, almost as high, and then hiding beyond it is where the active volcano is busy churning out lava and gases.  Mauna Kea is the worlds largest mountain, measured from its base on the sea floor to its snow-capped summit over 13,000 feet above sea level.  It has evidence of melted glaciers left from the Ice Age, and has not erupted in over 4500 years, so we felt safe climbing up to the tip of a cinder cone to watch a fabulous sunset over Hawaii.

The International Observatory has telescopes set up for the public, so we were able to see the sun through one (a big orange glow, surprise) before the hike.  It was several degrees cooler up there than you would expect in Hawaii, but we planned ahead with pants and sweaters.  The girls had cold toes, as they are certainly out of the habit of wearing socks, but overall we were warm enough for a couple hours of stargazing.    We saw Jupiter, with its 4 moons, setting in the west after about an hour of darkness, and we spotted the Hubble telescope in orbit above us.  The Orion nebula was also a hit, as was the powerful laser the star guide used to point out the constellations in the sky... the boys are still wishing they would have purchased those in Thailand...only 200 baht!  So the science lessons with the accompanying hot chocolate were a hit, and I can't help but feel like our Greatest Fieldtrip Ever has been a success. We have all learned an incredible amount on this journey, in a first-hand experience that school books could never match.  Home schooling, where the world has been our "home".

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Green Turtles in the Bay

Today's plan was a trip over to the Fairmont Resort, where the Green Sea Turtles nest and swim along the shore.  We were hoping to have a chance to swim with the turtles, as well as hang out at the beautiful resort in Mauna Loa, the same area where our condo is located.  A short drive across the black lava flow, past the Foodland grocery and on to be greeted by a huge Canadian flag, and the Canadian Construction Association annual meeting.  Sponsors included PCL and Richie Bros, but Rick didnt see anyone we knew.

The beach chairs were lined up on the white sand, and we did find a friendly turtle to swim with.  Unfortunately it was too far out in the bay for Katie, but we managed to build a great sand sea turtle on the shore that she seemed just as happy with.  And after an hour or two in the sun, we had all had enough beach for the day.... funny, but after Thailand and Australia, and then Fiji, we have had our fill of beach, and none of us wants to either tan or certainly not sunburn anymore.  So back to the condo for a homecooked meal and some time in the shade.  The countdown is on.... 13 days til the trip winds up, and I think we are all looking forward to coming home.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Madame Pele puts on a show

The main reason for the visit to the Big Island was the lure of the volcano.  Kileuai has been erupting since 1983, sometimes with flowing lava and other times only with puffs of steam.  We have visited here before only once, six years ago with all the Brocke clan.  Both Katie and our nephew Kayden were infants at the time, so my memories of the tour are reduced to crying babies (mostly ours) in the back of a hot crowded van over windy roads to the drone of a biologist who clearly had no idea how to adapt the tour to the multi-age group in his charge.   The volcano deserved a re-visit.

We set off in the morning through Weimea, the Parker Ranch town, en route to Hilo on the other side of the island. We stopped at a couple of picturesque waterfalls, and the rainy weather was adding to their roaring flow.... no one would be swimming in them today!  Hilo was a really nice town.  Rick got directions from the gas station to B.J.Penn's gym, one of our favorite UFC fighters who is Hawaiian.  The gym was great, welcoming the boys inside for a full tour, and they met B.J.'s brothers who train there as well.  B.J. just got back from a fight in Australia (wish we would have known that when we were there!), so the guys all picked up some great shirts from his Australia tour.  A great stop.

On to see the volcano.  Only twenty minutes up the road from Hilo is Volcanos National Park.  On Crater Rim Road, we stopped at the visitors center for an interpretive movie and an update from the Ranger, and guess what?  Since we arrived on the island, Madame Pele had been putting one quite a show! A new fissure has opened up and lava is spurting up to 100 feet in the air, the crater itself has started a new steam vent, and there have been earthquakes (of course) that normally accompany the active state of the lava eruption.  We were able to tour the crater (on the upwind side) but couldn't go down to the active area as the danger risk was too high. But we may be able to take a boat to where the lava enters the sea, and got to see the live footage and watch the seisographs record the action. Very cool indeed.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Big Island

flight:  Molulele Airlines Honolulu to Kona-Kaluai   3pm 40 minutes
accomodation: Mauna Lani Golf Villas, 2 bdrm with loft
rental car: Thrifty 7 seater Caravan - on points

Yes, I know, I haven't been writing for a while and need to catch up.  We now are settled into a lovely condo in the shadow of a volcano on the sunny side of the big island of Hawaii.  Time to adjust to the time zones, North American culture, and to reflect upon the incredible journey of the last four months.... so check back and I will be filling in the days missed as well as adding new details and impressions of the trip with it still fresh in our minds..... and yes, after all the other places we have been, we still love Hawaii.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pearl Harbour, Honolulu

Flight: Air Pacific(Qantas)  Nadi, Fiji - Apia, Samoa - Honolulu, Hawaii  8.5 hours
Accomodation: Best Western The Plaza Airport, Honolulu

We flew all night, and crossed the International Date Line at precisely 11:58pm on Friday March 4.  So the time changed to 1:00am on the exact same day.  Poor Derek, within 2 minutes of turning 15, and has to wait an extra 24 hours for his birthday.  A quick stop in Apia in the middle of the night, then continued another 5 hours to the US of A.  We were the most tan Canadians arriving in Honolulu the next morning.

Impressions of being surrounded by familiar accents and idioms were instant.  Driving on the "right" side of the road, we had to stop and think which way to look for traffic again.   No one tried to run us over even though we weren't in the cross walk. We were really tired after the night flight, so were lucky to check in at 9am into a hotel close to the airport, for showers and a place to drop our bags.  And off we go again.

We have visited Hawaii many times in our lives - probably 10 to 15 at least.  We have never spent any time in Oahu preferring Maui or Kauai, so have never taken our kids to Pearl Harbour.  Rick has never been there, and my only visit was in 1979 when I was like 3 years old (or so, lol).  In the spirit of our educational adventrue, we grabbed a van and headed to the Arizona Memorial for our day's History lesson.

The exhibits at the site are very well done.  There are interactive and video displays, as well as photos and maps and working equipment that you can manipulate, like decoding and periscopes.  The boys liked the displays of torpedoes, and the short documentary was very explanitory.  It managed to keep our attention, even in the dark, quiet theatre when we were all so tired.  There was a short trip across the bay to the site of the sunken ship, but in the murky waters it was hard to imagine what was below.  Our hope is that the kids understood the significance of this attack on the outcome of WW2, both in the Pacific and European fronts.  They can compare the American perspective to what they have learned in school regarding the Canadian point of view.  And gain a new look at the same history.  First hand.

Nadi, the Capital of Fiji

We shared our "farewell" Fruit Punch at the Sunset bar, and departed our wonderful resort on the Coral Coast of Fiji by 11am.  Our van transport was right on time, and escorted us up the road to one of the first hotels on the strip for a poolside lunch.  Fresh fish was served in coconut husks, marinated in lime with mild sweet onion - delicious!  The prices in Fiji are quite reasonable, half of the costs we paid in Australia, but probably more than Bali or Thailand.  Still good value.

We found the Polynesian Fijians wonderfully friendly, but there is obvious tensions between them and the East Indian Fijians who have emigrated here in the past 200 years. Land leases were granted in 99 year blocks, and in the 1970s many of these leases expired.  At the same time, Fiji became independant from Britian and placed their own democratic government in parliament.  The chief clan system combined with the British legal isn't working well, especially after the East Indians started to outnumber the native Fijians in the late 80's...  over14 coups have occurred between 1994 and 2006, and it sounds like there maybe another one in the making - I hope our visit doesn't spark one off!!!

So on to the shops of Nadi.  The city was similar to Lima traffic and Bali shops with Thai salesmen.  We went to a "secret shop" to pick up a few items at a fraction of the price... bargaining in full force.  Seriously, Lacoste shirts for $10.  Are they real?  I can't tell the difference.  Outside, the school busses full of young students in uniform waved at Katie in her blonde braids, with one boy blowing kisses when she made shy.  So sweet.  From the shops of the city to the cruise port, where the same shirt was offered at $140 Fiji  ($85 CAN) and the Hard RockCafe offered drinks for $36 - are you kidding?  We left and  took our chances with the airport food... good choice, as the pizza was excellent and though we were at the airport early, we wern't worried about rush hour on those Nadi streets.

We boarded our flight to Honolulu with a quick stop in Apia, Samoa.  The flight was delayed taking off, so we ate again (much better airline, Air Pacific, with food and drinks included, and movies too!)  And that was our first Friday March 4.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Polynesian drums at sunset

The resort had something for everyone in our family, and I would highly recommend it as a top vacation spot for families or couples.  We'd go back in a flash!  There was two pools,and a swim-up bar.  All inclusive option, but not mandatory so you could opt out of the cost on the kids.  Activities, like bingo, tennis lessons, archery, egg tossing contests, ice cream eating contests, and a disco - playing real disco from the 70's and 80's,  perfect for us "old foggies"to dance the night away.

The friendly staff greeted us with a warm "BULA" at every opportunity, and the dancing in the evenings added to the feel of Polynesia.  Fiji is like Hawaii in many ways, but without the American influence it has developed in a very different way, and is not anything like the commercial giant Honolulu has come.  There is much poverty evident, in both the native and the Indian immigrant communities that share this island as home. The British settled this colony in a different way to Canada, or maybe the same way but with a different land ownership system for the farmers they encouraged to relocate.  It is interesting to contrast the two - Western Canada and Fiji, and see how an ownership compared to a native leasehold system of land management influenced the future political stabilility and wealth of the community.

Fiji did not get its sovereignty until 1970, when the government was left on its own to deal with a 99 year lease system that was set to expire, leaving the tenant farmers at the mercy of a landholding system that was bias, since the majority population was no longer clear - the groups were split ethnically and religiously in a battle to gain power and hold control of the resources: water, land and tourism, where the base of their economy was moving.   Now, after a native-dominated, military government has been in power since 2006, they have been removed from the Commonwealth, and are in the process of taking the image of the Queen off their money.  And there is mistrust and even hatred between the groups obvious to tourists, even after only three days.... what is the future of this country?  And what should it be, to be fair toboth its Indigineous and its immigrant populations?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Coral Coast, Vitu Levu, Fiji

This stop was one of the "should we?" places on our trip.  Originally we wanted to do the whole "Survivor" beach hut experience on a relatively deserted island, but they were closed in the month of March for renos (? who reno's a beach hut?) Anyway, Virgin gave us two options:  Samoa or Fiji.  Samoa honestly was our first choice, though looked more expensive for accomodation.  Infortunately, though the price of the flight was almost identical, the flight times were horrible, landing us in Samoa at 1am which is not great when you don't know where you are going or how to get there.  Fiji also had better options for the length of our stay - we would have had to be in Samoa for a full week, and in Fiji we could do 3-4 days which is what we preferred.  Fiji is it.

Best choice for a place to stay?  Well, asking around I kept hearing to avoid the city area, and the port was overpriced, but the Coral coast was nice.  Trip Advisor gave us a short list of 3 properties, and I managed a great internet rate for a place called The Warwick.  Apparently it was a Hyatt, until Hyatt pulled out of the island.  You see, Fiji has had a lot of political instability in the last 20 years that we really didn't want to get involved with, especially with the track record we have been having.  Honestly, if there is another coup attempt or riots or natural disaster in Fiji in the next month or so, we refuse to be held responsible (lol).

So, landing in Nadi, we chose a private taxi over the tour bus option, and got a pretty good tour on the 2.5 hour drive to the Coral coast. Our East Indian driver was very candid about the quality of life here for the Indians... basically they are not well liked and are, in his words, at the mercy of the Polynesian Fijians who own the land and have the "good" jobs at the resorts and in government.  Our driver was particularly upset about the lack of opportunity for his son, a 17 year old who is a wonderful tennis player but unable to get a scholorship, in his opinion because of political favoritism. I am sure if his sentiments are true, there is much more political unrest to come.

That aside, our resort was INCREDIBLE.  The Warwick Hotel was friendly (well, apart to our driver) and welcoming and clean and a pure refuge.  The food was excellent, and we had our fill of sushi and Japanese table cooking, like, 3 nights in a row.  Swimming in front of our resort was like being in a giant fish tank.  Warm, shallow, teaming with scores of fish and Katie was especially happy to find Nemo and his friend Dory in abundance.  Sea cucumbers, over 5 feet long and with tentacled mouths, munched slowly on the sea bottom, making us startle at first thinking it was covered in sea snakes, but quickly realizing they can only inch along the bottom and have no snake-like head, only the body was similar.  Very strange creature indeed.  And beautiful.