Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hawaii, The Big Island: Part One

Ironically, we didn’t sleep that well our first night in calm waters. We had been at sea long enough for our bodies to become accustomed to the constant movement and our nightly watch patterns. One night was not going to change that!  I also found it very humid, warm and close. We woke early the next morning anxious to clear customs so we could explore, do laundry, get groceries and have a nice meal out. Unfortunately, the customs officer was still not available and we discovered that Hilo is not a full time clearance place – Kona is – and that is where he was. Doug was able to make contact over the telephone and we were granted permission to go into Hilo, but no further. They also advised us to keep our garbage in case they decided to inspect it.

Aerial view of Radio Bay - breakwater in the foreground, narrow entrance into Radio Bay, with cruising sailboats at the back of the bay surrounded by container port.  Hilo Yacht Club in the upper right corner with the town of Hilo to the far right in the background

I was anxious to get on the internet so I could contact my family and post our arrival on the blog. There is no internet in Radio Bay and, of course, my Mexican Banda Ancha would not work here. We found a bar right across the road from the security gates that we could tap into. It wasn’t open, so we sat out in the parking lot of Margarita Village to make our first contact in over three weeks and do a quick check of our email.

We walked about 2 miles along the highway to downtown. It’s not the greatest walking in the world because it is a busy road with lots of traffic, but the shoulders were wide and, eventually, we were able to walk on a sidewalk. It continued hot and humid with the threat of rain surrounding us. As we walked along, we marveled at the incredible lushness of the flora. Gigantic philodendron and what looked like dieffenbachia grew along the sides of the road. Flowering trees and bushes, thick grass, vines and massive banyon trees littered the landscape. The buildings were mostly low with pitched metal roofs and overhangs. We could instantly tell this was a place that wasn’t shy of rainfall!

Radio Bay is just beyond Coconut Island in the upper right hand corner

Downtown Hilo

Park leading into town
Remarkable banyon trees line the street into Hilo

We found the town of Hilo charming. It is surrounded by parkland that we later discovered was the result of two devastating tsunamis that had wiped out a good portion of the area in 1946 and again in 1962. Rather than rebuild, the citizens decided to turn the affected areas into parkland and moved their downtown farther from the shore. The “downtown” consists of a three street, six block grid with older buildings filled with little cafes and souvenir shops.

Aerial View of Hilo - note the parkland and the fact the town is set back from the beach

At one edge is a small market containing fruit and vegetables and some local art work (which expands to 10 times its size on Saturdays) and on the other a bridge crossing a river which empties into the harbour. We browsed the shops, grabbed lunch in the Pesto Café (crispy salads!), got on the internet again, then did a bit of grocery shopping at the locally owned KTA.

Anthuriums are everywhere!

One of the first things I noticed was how expensive everything was – quite a shock after Mexico -$10.00 for a bunch of grapes, $15.00 for four tomatoes, $5.00 for a loaf of bread. Wow! We had been told to expect these high prices and it makes sense. Just about everything has to be shipped or brought in by air. Nevertheless, I was glad I had over-provisioned in Mexico, despite the extra weight on the boat.

I didn’t notice immediately, but gradually I started paying attention to the people around me. Although the place had the superficial trappings of American culture, the people looked very different. In many ways I was reminded of the diversity of race and culture we had found in Hong Kong. The local people looked kind of Japanese, kind of Chinese, kind of Filipino, dark skinned and exotic. The Hawai'ins we met reminded me of our native people in BC. My blue eyes and fair hair looked definitely out of place. (I could certainly understand why the handsome Keanu Reeves and Barack Obama look the way they do!) We later found out that many of the people of this side of the Big Island are, indeed, a broad mix of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Portuguese brought in as indentured labourers to work the plantations which evolved here at the end of the 19th century. Over time these people had intermarried with the Hawai’ins to create a unique culture.

We went to the bookstore and bought Landfalls of Paradise, Crusing in the Hawaiin Islands and the Lonely Planet Guide to Hawaii. We also had various free maps and guides for the Big Island to plan our exploration.

After a few hours in town we were ready to return to Ka’sala. There is a free bus service that eventually connects the downtown to the harbour area, but the last one left around 4pm. We ended up paying $12.00 for a taxi to take us back.

That evening we went out for our first onshore dinner with Barbara and Craig Johnston off Sequoia at a restaurant in Hilo called Pescatore. I enjoyed a wonderful ahi tuna carpaccio followed by a delicious clam linguine. Everyone else seemed to enjoy their dinner as well and we had a fine time comparing notes about our passage and getting to know each other better.
Craig and Barbara

The next day we were able to clear customs and raise the American flag.

Afterwards, we thoroughly washed the salt off the outside of the boat and cleaned off the hitchhikers on our hull.  Ka'sala had survived her journey in remarkably good shape - as had her crew.

Remarkably, soft-shelled barnacles grew along the stern of our port waterline, which was underwater for most of the passage. Doug easily scraped them off.

We rented a car for a week. I couldn’t imagine trying to do the mountain of laundry, the re-provisioning and exploring by a practically non-existent and inconvenient public transportation system. I negotiated a mid-sized car online from Thriftys for $142.00, then discovered there was another $76.00 in surcharges and fees. Still, just over $200.00 seemed like a pretty good idea until I picked it up at the airport the next day. If both of us were to drive the car it would cost another $12.95 a day. If we needed insurance, it would be another $12.95 a day – all quickly adding up to almost $450.00 – not such a good deal. I decided to do all the driving myself to save the money and declined the insurance because I thought my VISA Adventura card would cover it. I ended up in quite a nasty exchange with Earl, the rental attendant, who very snarkily asked me if I valued my boat as well as a few other sneering remarks I won’t write down here. I was quite astonished to receive this kind of treatment after so many of the kindnesses and friendliness we had received since we had begun this trip. Unfortunately, once I was able to get on the internet again, I discovered my credit card covered damage and collision, but did not cover liability. We had cancelled our BC car insurance so we no longer had liability and I was forced by the vision of being sued in the US to go back to the counter and get the insurance. Luckily, Earl was gone by then and the attendant who served me this time was friendly and efficient. Additionally, the Ford Fusion we rented was practically brand new (just over 1000 miles on the odometer) and very comfortable, though brainless, to drive.

Ford Fusion

Next day I was off to the most incredible laundry mat I have ever seen. Laundry Express, mural painted, front end loader spinning, stainless steel glowing, and card activated, is a dream. I was able to efficiently wash 3+ weeks worth of laundry, plus sleeping bags, in a little over an hour and a half for about $25.00. Heaven! 

Mom, can you believe this place??

 A trip to the outskirts of town took us to a huge KTA and a very new looking Safeway. The sight of all the familiar items stocked on the shelves, the produce, the meat, the inexpensive California wines, the deli and bakery were almost overwhelming and I found myself wandering around just looking at colours and labels and unable to make sensible purchases. Doug had to rescue me, but not before I discovered Poke!

Tuna Poke - there are at least 30 other varieties of this raw marinated fish dish

Next day we decided to explore in earnest and, after reading through the various guides, decided to visit the Big Island in three forays:  North Island, Volcanoes, and Kailua-Kona.

We had been told that the passage from Hawaii to Maui could only sensibly be achieved in the right conditions. Strong trade winds can accelerate through the channel that separates the two islands creating 35 knot winds and square seas with sixteen foot waves. Yikes! We read there was a cove at the tip of the island called Nishimura and that cruisers sailed there to wait for good weather to cross. We wanted to see that area for ourselves by land so we chose to travel the north island first.

We travelled out of Hilo and first stopped at Akaka Falls State Park, a few miles off the main road, where we viewed an incredible waterfall.

We even caught the rainbow!

The area was very thick with vegetation so lush we could almost hear them growing.

Banana in flower

A paved path circles the park area

It cost $5.00 to enter the paved pathways that wound in a circular mile to view the natural phenomena from a distance. It was a real treat to drive down to the highway between the wide expanses of lime green grasses we had viewed coming in to Hilo. Before us, the Pacific expanded all the way back to Mexico.

Hamakua coastline - lots of lava, lots of lush

We continued up the Hamakua Coast enjoying the spectacular views from the cliffs. We looked down from a scenic site, then visited Laupahoehoe – a little village that had been tragically wiped out by a tsunami years before – a gorgeous spot.

Aerial view of Laupahoehoe

Breaking surf at Laupahoehoe

Rugged Laupahoehoe coastline

We continued on to the Waipi'o valley, also known as the "Valley of the Kings", at the end of the road, where ancient Hawai’in chiefs ruled among fields of taro rimmed by a black sand beach.

Waipi'o Valley

We were not allowed to descend into the valley without permission as the area is considered sacred, but were contented to observe it from a viewpoint high above the cliffs.

Taro fields of Waipi'o

As we drove along we considered the interesting history of this island, but before we could synthesize it, we needed to understand the how the language worked. There seems to be so many syllables and vowels in each word it is almost impossible to remember the name of anything and it seems EVERYTHING has a Hawaiian name. I discovered that until the American missionaries came to the islands in the 1820’s, the local inhabitants did not read or write their language – it was totally oral. One of the first things these Christians did was to change that and so introduced an alphabet which includes the vowels a, e, i, o and u, with only h, k, l, m, n, p, w. Every syllable in every word must be pronounced even when vowels come together. Unless specified, all stresses are placed on the second last syllable. Every time there is an apostrophe there is a glottal stop. Doug and I had a lot of fun sounding out the very long names for things, enjoying the way the vowels rounded and slipped off our tongues. Try this one: Kamehameha (who happens to be one of the greatest kings) or Lili’uokalani (a queen). Or perhaps a street name: Kanoelehua – which is how you get to the Hilo Airport. It’s fun.

From Waipi'o we continued along the Hawai’i Belt Road crossing through a wide expanse of pastureland into North Kahola passing through the cattle town of Waimea.

Range cattle - most of the ones we saw were black - Uncle Jack would know the breed

According to local lore, the first cowboys here came from Mexico (vaqueros, now called paniolo) to work with the cattle.
                                              Everyone loves cowboys

They brought their guitars with them which the locals adapted to flat-lapped haunting unique steel-sounding fretboard instruments.

The cattle were also foreign which went a long way to killing off endemic species as they grazed. Seven of them were a gift given to King Kamehameha by Captain George Vancouver in 1793 who promptly set them free. (I can just imagine the discussion about this gift. “What are these?” “What do we do with them?” “What weird creatures!” Let’s put them out back with the rest of the crazy stuff”) By 1809 they had reproduced so prolifically that they become pests and the King hired John Parker to manage the problem. Parker married into the royal family and within a short period of time he owned vast holdings and the Parker Ranch would become one of the largest in the world at 175,000 acres. We saw cattle spread all over the wide ranging and sun dappled network of sleeping volcano Mauna Kea’s slopes as we made our way through.

Range land around Waimea
We were pretty hungry by the time we made the turn off to follow the mountain road to the northern tip of the island at the old sugar plantation towns of Hawi and Kapa-au in Kuhala.

We ate lunch at Sushi Rock,

Do these people look happy?

consuming the best sushi roll I’ve ever had in my life: Marvellous Mango with real Wasabi. Wow!

The magnificent marvellous mango sushi roll

After a cup of 100% Kona coffee and sticky sweet at the funky Kohala Coffee Mill, littered with the kind of hide-out hippies from the 60’s we sometimes encounter in the islands of Georgia Strait, we continued south along the east coast to find the Nishimura anchorage.  We didn't actually get to it, but pulled in to a bay further to the south - it looked very remote and tiny, but calm.

We were pretty tired by now and still had a long way to go to get back to Ka'sala, so we continued on down the western coast a few more miles  before cutting across back to Waimea at Spencer Park Beach and back to Hilo. What a day!

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