Monday, February 25, 2019

On the Road Again, Hawaii: Part 4

Haleakala volcano summit at sunset (Photos by Bonnie Schupp)

From sea to summit,

the Island of Maui

was totally wowie!

Super start to a super visit

We flew from the Big Island to Maui on Super Bowl Sunday, and I wasn't expecting to see much of the big game -- especially since game time in Hawaii's time zone was in mid-afternoon.

Our first stop, for two nights, was a stay with fellow members of the international peace organization Servas, in which Bonnie and I have been members of the U.S. chapter for our nearly four decades together. Founded by idealists in 1949, and recognized by the United Nations, Servas International has some 15,000 member households in more than 100 nations and provides an organizational link for traveler members from across much of the planet to meet and stay for free with host members for a minimum of two nights. The goal is to foster friendships across borders and encourage peace on a personal basis... and allows for hosts to travel within their own countries as well.

Hawaii has just two host families, and only one of them was accepting visitors -- which in a popular tourist destination like Maui can overwhelm them with requests. So we felt fortunate to get an affirmative response from Barry and Renee, whose unusually-designed home is located on a hillside near the town of Kihei with a distant view of the Pacific Ocean. Barry built much of the structure, and they reside on its upper floor whose centerpiece is a huge round living room under a domed ceiling.

Renee arranged to meet us at a restaurant in the town of Haiku, where she was having lunch with a group of Friends (with a capital 'F') after their Sunday morning Quaker meeting. Barry was heading to what I anticipated as a small community arts center where the football game between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams was to be shown on a large screen. We all headed there after lunch, and small it wasn't.
Halftime show, live

Barry was watching the game inside a large, and plush, air-conditioned movie theater, and I joined him while Bonnie and Renee headed to a center art gallery to view an exhibit. At halftime, I went outside to find them and encountered a crowd of hundreds seated at tables under an even-larger screen, and a Hawaiian band performing live music under the muted projection of the show from the football game venue in Atlanta. The outside crowd was a lot louder than the insiders during the second-half action.
A snippet of action

As the Patriots finally took command of the low-scoring game in the final minutes, Bonnie and I left ahead of the crowd to escape the packed parking lot and find our hosts' home about half an hour away.

 We spent part of the evening getting to know each other over a dinner of eggplant parmesan prepared by Renee, and shared on their deck overlooking the hillside of homes down to the Pacific. (Our hosts are vegetarians... but we endured just fine!) Retirees now, Renee and Barry first met two decades ago at the local university, where he was a counselor and she had been hired to teach literature. 
Renee and Barry

We made a quick drive to check out a monthly first-Sunday sunset celebration on a beach close to 10 miles away. We enjoyed our first Maui sunset from a wide strip of sand known as Big Beach, but never got to the continuing revel on the almost-adjoining Little Beach. We could hear the distant drumming, but getting there required a risky climb up a darkening dirt and lava rock path to reach the beach on the other side of a steep divide. Some folks were leaving, though, and as we walked back toward the parking area could not help but notice their throwback attire so reminiscent of the Hippie era  of the early 1970s.

Chirpers near the deck: Java sparrows and a lovebird
The next morning, we had more time to enjoy our surroundings -- the property of close to an acre full of tropical foliage and fruit trees, and the chirping of dozens of birds, mostly java sparrows, attracted by the bountiful feeders hanging next to the upper porch deck... barely out of reach of their interested cat and indifferent dog.  Gary and Renee used to live downstairs, and built the upper area for parents now gone. So the lower area is rented, and a separate cottage is home to their son, his partner and her young son.

 The parents had bought the property many years ago,  obviously a good investment. A neighboring house was on the market... its asking price recently reduced, but still more than $1.5 million.

Later in the day, we drove further south beyond Big Beach and past several pricey oceanfront resorts, to the end of oceanside Makena Road in Wailea, to check out the historic Keawala'i Congregational Church, built of lava stone and wood in 1856 -- which replaced a grass structure built two decades earlier.

The church was locked, but a gentleman doing paperwork in its office cottage -- the church music director -- opened its doors so we could get inside. The adjoining cemetery was fascinating -- many of the stones bearing photographs of the graves' occupants. Some of the remaining white blossoms of otherwise winter-bare plumeria trees had fluttered down and adorned the gravesites.

After photo session on the beach, a quickie near the church.
 A sign warns visitors that beach access is not allowed from the church grounds, but about 150 yards further at the end of the road  is a small, scenic public beach popular for weddings and romantic photo shoots... one of which had just ended.

Tricky drive at wildlife refuge
Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, along the road between the airport and Kihei, attracted our interest. But the migratory season seemed to have ended, and there was more mud to see and trying to avoid in walking around its ponds and salt marshes than birds to admire. Even the narrow road looked tricky, but fortunately the water flowing across it was only about hubcap deep.

So many beaches, so little time... naturally, our next stop would be another, at Ho'okipa Beach State Park -- one we had passed the day before on the road to Haiku, where windsurfers play in the waves. But the best thing we found there was a couple of sunbathers near the end of the sand strip, a giant sea turtle and an endangered Hawaiian monk seal.
Sunbathers at Ho'okipa beach
The lifeguard on duty had put out signs saying the seal was not sick or dead, only sleeping, and not to disturb, and used yellow warning tape to cordon off a wide perimeter around the animals.

That evening, we joined Renee for a long sunset walk along the curving paths of a sprawling luxury oceanfront condo, and treated for a carryout dinner for us to bring home and share on our last night together.

Blowing in the (chilly) wind

We moved that Tuesday afternoon to the Maui Seaside Hotel a short distance from the airport, which served as a comfortable base camp for two days of exploration of Maui highlights -- with emphasis on the high.

We drove on Wednesday many miles up a switchback road, hoping, despite increasing cloudiness, to see sunset from the 10,025-foot summit of the long-dormant Haleakala volcano. Bonnie, thanks to the recommendation last year of our friend Kathleen Rutledge in northeastern Colorado, had brought along her bottle of chlorophyll concentrate -- drinking a dose of 18 drops in small bottle of water to improve respiration in the oxygen-thinner air at high altitudes.

About 8,500 feet up, at a roadside viewpoint, I took a cell phone picture of Bonnie standing almost level with the tops of fluffy white clouds. It is one thing to be flying at and above cloud tops in an airplane, but standing there seems magical. (And a little chilly -- and about to get chillier.)
Disclaimer: I took this one.

We reached the parking lot perhaps 50 feet below the summit of Haleakala about 5:30 p.m., nearly an hour before sunset. We had sweatshirts, and I had my all-weather Baltimore Business Journal jacket, but with temperatures dropping toward the mid-40s and a brisk breeze, they were not enough to stand near the summit's edge for long -- and Bonnie realized she had left her down vest in her suitcase. I was offering up my jacket, and to stay in the warm car while Bonnie took photos up top, when a couple from northern Virginia who had parked in the next space came to the rescue. The husband-wife team of serious amateur photographers had brought a car trunk full of camera equipment and sweatshirts, and had extra hoodies to lend.

Haleakala is most famous among photographers for pictures at sunrise, so much so that the National Park Service requires reservations to enter the gates in the early hours before 7 a.m. Our new friends had reservations for sunrise a week earlier and never went, their hopes dampened by an all-day rain. I had asked the ranger at the admission gate about the likelihood of actually seeing sunset, and she allowed as how the sun always sets. (But seeing it can still be subject to the whims of weather.) 

The Haleakala crater is enormous, larger than any we'd seen on the Big Island, with multiple lava cones that have fortunately behaved since about the year 1790.

View from the summit
Despite the wandering clouds, sunset up there turned out spectacularly fine. Photographers and gawkers lined the edge of the summit as the sun dropped to the horizon, and an orange-reddish glow commandeered the sky.

Then came the amusement -- one of the funniest moments witnessed on any of our journeys. Minutes after the 6:25 p.m. sunset, an airport cab SUV arrived at the parking lot, and about half a dozen Chinese tourists jumped out and ran up the summit path carrying cameras. I can only imagine the cab fare they paid for the winding, hours-long ride to the top, only to just miss the most dramatic moments. 

(Worth noting, there was a sunset up there nearly a week later that no one got to witness. A storm system blew across the Hawaiian islands, and access to the road up Haleakala was closed -- because of snow and ice. Hey, this is Hawaii!)

We drove slowly down the volcano mountain in deepening darkness, but there were plenty of taillights to lead the way after the curtains came down on the solar spectacle.

The Road to Hana... and beyond

 On our final full day in Maui, we took on the challenge of the Road to Hana. There's a reason the "road" is named along with the town" -- because it's more about getting there than being there.

I didn't count them all, having been busy steering our rented Nissan Sentra, but an online Maui tours site says the road's 52 miles has 617 hairpin curves and 59 one-lane bridges. And throughout the slow-speed drive (the limit is 25 mph, with cautions and slower speeds for the never-ending curves) are distractions like roadside waterfalls, ocean views, parks and trails... and vendors offering the likes of barbeque, rice and veggies served on a banana leaf, and marvelous loaves of banana bread.
Banana leaf of plenty

At a glance, you figure it's just 52 miles and you can make it there and back in a couple of hours. It took us six hours to reach Hana, and the tough decision on whether to head back the same way or continue around the back side of Haleakala -- a route that includes an eight-mile stretch of rugged dirt, gravel and choppy asphalt pavement. And even the good sections aren't all that good.

Rough road beyond Hana
So, of course we kept on going. As we've long observed on drives along rough (and even nonexistent) roads, "That's what rental cars are for." 

We got back to the seaside hotel well after dark, the adventure having taken a bit more than nine hours to complete. We missed lots of sights along the way... including hiking trails, some of them quite muddy -- and we missed finding the grave of Charles Lindbergh. (Have to wonder, when he visited here in life, to this place that brought him peace, whether he drove or flew.)

It was time to wash and dry a load of clothing in the hotel laundry room -- a bargain at $1.50 for each machine, although the job needed two wash loads and two rounds of the dryer -- and repack for a noontime hop to our third island of the journey.

Next chapter teaser: Almost blown away on Kauai


Sunday, February 10, 2019

On the Road Again, Hawaii: Part 3

A volcano crater, blue sky and clouds on the Big Island (Bonnie Schupp photos)


Tops no longer blowing,

Big Island volcanoes

back in visitor business

Lava leaves its mark... for a very long time

When you think Hawaii and volcano in the same sentence these days, the immediate image that comes to mind is last year’s eruption of Kilauea that consumed nearby communities, forced some 2,000 residents to flee and sent ash and fumes skyward as molten lava flowed into the sea. It put a damper on local tourism, even giving Bonnie and me second thoughts about the where and when of visiting.

But it’s been calm there for months, and volcano country was the goal of our longest drive around the Big Island from our hotel in Kona on the last full day of our initial stay there – heading south, then east and northward along Route 11 for about 100 mostly scenic miles to the national park entrance. (Views of the Pacific Ocean are a constant distraction, of course.)

We had to stop at one beach, drawn in by the roadway sign – for the Punalu’u black sand beach. It is the result of countless centuries of ocean waves pounding lava rock into submission. It felt like ordinary sand, and many families were there enjoying the surf and sun. It is sand, but it just looks odd.
RIP Jack memorial at black sand beach

We found on the beach a memorial fashioned from lava rocks, with a small smooth stone that had the word “happy” on one side, and RIP Jack on the other.  Perhaps some of his ashes had been left there as well. Who knows? But it was beautiful and eloquent for this Jack, who must have loved this unique place.

During the drive, it became apparent to us that we both had forgotten to bring our lifetime senior park passes.

Admission to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is $25, but the nice ranger lady at the gate suggested buying an annual seniors pass for $20 – saving us money there and, later, at National Park Service attractions on Maui and Kauai.

Half or more of the park remains closed in the wake of the May eruption, but it still takes hours to explore open areas along the Chain of Craters Road more than 20 miles down to the ocean – following the track of lava flows from earlier eruptions looking like a sea of black rock or torn-up chunks of asphalt. The craters vary in size and shape, and there’s even one featuring echoes. Bonnie tried shouting, “I love you,” but the bounce-back a second later was slight. “Not loud enough,” I bellowed in response, amusing a few of the other tourists.

End of the crater road, where waves meet lava cliffs.
At the end of the road, Pacific waves crash beautifully against the rock cliffs as visitors try to take selfies with the best background views, including a lava arch. And one man was battling the wind trying to get a kite airborne. Its shape seemed appropriate to our adventures on the Big Island – an octopus.

Rather than driving back the way we came, we navigated further northward toward the town of Hilo and found dinner at a small Korean-American restaurant. Bonnie had a rice dish and I had my favorite on unfamiliar culinary turf: A hamburger. And it was pretty good. Then, in darkness, we drove for more than an hour across the island on a middle route known as the Saddle Road – rising across mountainous terrain, through mist, fog and rain, and back to sea level at Kona… pretty much exhausted.

The next morning took us back to the airport, returning our upgraded and relatively luxurious “full size” Nissan Altima and flying to our second island – Maui.
Up next: More beaches, scary roads and a better volcano!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

On the Road Again, Hawaii: Part 2

Bonnie and I prepare to meet the octopuses.

Octopus encounter

an eerie experience

for visitors to Kona

Tentacular cuddles and a cephalapodian prankster

It was our friend Fred's fault, really -- he was here about a week ago, on a vacation trip from Annapolis, and said we'd really like a cephalopod experience, specifically the Kanaloa Octopus Farm on the western tip of Kona near the laid-back international airport.

The tickets are mostly sold online, at $30 per adult, to reserve a spot for a very odd farm tour offered just twice a day, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You drive down Kaiminani Road, and hang a right on Makako Bay Drive, past a scenic ocean beach and a line of industrial-looking buildings that are part of the Hawai'i Ocean Science and Technology Park.

Past the abalone farm, past the  lobster farm, through the gate and left to a small row of parking spots next to a structure that could pass for the entrance to a circus sideshow. But it is really the gift shop, and a crowd of close to 30 people, including several young children, slowly assembles there for the afternoon tour led by a budding young marine biologist named Marki.

We decided not to buy any of the adorable stuffed animal octopuses or other merchandise, including the $20 octopus farm coffee mug... guaranteed to be a conversation piece.

Marki leads us past three aquarium tanks inhabitated by a few pretty fish, but no apparent cephalopoids, to a large enclosure lined with a double row of tubs... most of them containing one adult octopus, and most of the critters hiding in a little domed rock "cave" at the bottom. They have toys floating on the surface, like rubber duckies, a rubber elephant, a red fishing line float.

After washing hands to remove the likes of dirt, lotions or other contaminants, visitors are instructed to gently wiggle fingers in the water to spark the curiosity of the octopuses, each of which has a name posted on the side of its tank. And after a few minutes they glided out of their caves and extended sucker-lined tentacles toward the surface... and the fingers. And as they feel, or attach suckers to pull at the fingers, you get to play with them.

Several of the children squealed nervously, even pulling back their hands, at first contact. Because these boneless creatures are rather eerie. And you get a sense that these octopuses are both self-aware, and intelligent in their interactions.

Marki said anyone with an underwater camera could use it in the tub, but cautioned that the octopuses would likely try to grab it and try their tentacles at taking selfies. A tiny GoPro  camera was a big hit, and the animal's' attempt to wrest it away from a father's hand doubtless made for a thrilling video.

My playful pal Monty changes color from spotted brown to white.
I cannot remember the name of my first octopus. But when it tired of my fingers, I turned to an adjacent tank and met the rambunctious Monty. He was a tease, tugging at my fingers, then gliding back, and repeating the game, and as I made a little close eye contact he expelled a burst of water like firing an internal water gun.

He missed. And then he tried again, and missed again.

My favorite, though, was the littler Lily, who seemed to enjoy tentacular cudding with my left hand (see video below).

There was also an opportunity to feed them, and the creatures seem to sense after 15 minutes of play with their visitors that chow time has arrived. They pluck bits of crab from fingertips and use their tentacles to place them in their beak-like mouth.

Octopuses are found on the ocean shelf off the Kona coast, and the farm specimens mostly were caught and brought in by commercial fishing crews. But most octopuses caught at sea do not fare as well, ending up on dinner plates. Many folks consider them a delicacy.

The money from tour tickets, and sales in the gift shop, support the octopus farm's experimental efforts at breeding the creatures in captivity, and trying -- so far without success -- to raise them from hatchlings so tiny that they become distinguishable only under magnification. Marki sucked up more than a dozen from a tank using an eye-dropper, and put them in a tiny pool on a slide under a microscope. The teeny swimmers looked like squid.

Unfortunately, Marki said, the farm has been unable to get beyond 12 days of survival before these infant octopuses perish. And there's a lot of death here. A female produces hundreds of thousands of eggs.

Getting them fertilized is another issue -- because a female that is unimpressed by an introduced male octopus might well severely injure it or grab off a tentacle. (They can grow new ones, fortunately, but the cephalopodian sex life is rather perilous.)

The farm is awaiting the arrival of new equipment that will circulate the cold ocean water pumped in from the nearby seabed -- a necessity at keeping the babes alive. And eventually, if the scientific hurdles are overcome, there's hope of creating a sustainable supply of octopuses for the market instead of taking them in large numbers from the sea.

Meanwhile, Monty, Lily and friends aren't going anywhere in the restaurant kingdom... or anywhere else, barring an improbable getaway. Marki said there are occasional escapes from the tubs, but they flounder on the stones underfoot in the farm, spread their tentacles out helplessly and quickly begin to dry out in the warm Kona environment. They breathe through gills, like fish, and must be picked up and returned to the tub.

Octopuses that survive infancy in the real world grow to maturing quickly, but have a short lifespan -- and those here at the farm may live just two to three years.

It's not easy being a mottled brown, or in an instant chalky white or some other color cephalopod. Almost forgot to mention they change color in a flash as a defensive -- or offensive -- tactic. Strange critters, indeed.

Above the ocean, a street festival

We headed for the hills near sunset for the monthly First Friday Art After Dark celebration in Holualoa Village,  about five miles from and perhaps 1,500 feet above the beachfront town of Kona. And we were not alone. Over the past couple of years, a small event has become a huge happening -- hundreds of people exploring a quarter-mile stretch of the village's main street, lined with art galleries and shops, lining up for dinner or snacks from a variety of food truck-style vendors, and close to a dozen musical performers.

One of the performances in Holualoa's First Friday fun

I made a cell phone video of a group featuring ukelele, guitar and keyboard outside a ukelele shop, where an older Hawaiian man was inside strumming an old instrument and visitors were trying out some of the ones for sale. (Eventually, when I figure out how to move it from MY cellphone, I'll add it here!)

Some shops offered free snacks, and two were dispensing iced hibiscus tea... and it was terrific.

The artwork was largely high-end quality, with prices ranging from under a hundred dollars into the thousands, The most expensive seemed to be, of all things, an excellent sculpture of... wait for it... an octopus, crafted from recycled material. It was priced at $12,000 -- a little higher than a sea turtle by the same artist, at $8,000.

A little roadside amusement

Driving back from the north near sunset Thursday, I noticed an odd sign along the coastal Route 19. With a spare half hour before our octopian encounter, we headed about 10 miles past the airport to find it in the early afternoon. And I found one facing the northbound traffic above a mile and a half above a donkey-crossing zone  on the 55 mph highway.

It was one of those adopt-a-highway, litter-fighting signs with local sponsors. This one stood out, though, from the likes of company names or civic group, reading: Psychotic State Racing.

Bonnie took the picture, and on our way back to the octopus farm entrance road she Googled the name -- turns out, it's a local car fancier group with a sense of humor. She posted the picture on Instagram, and the group replied online with its appreciation.

We are so connected.

Coming soon, hopefully: Volcano country

Friday, February 1, 2019

On the Road Again, Hawaii: Part 1

Rob Yagi stands with a surviving Wiliwili. (Photos (c) by Bonnie Schupp)


Chance encounter

provides a lesson

in forest conservation

 Hawaii gives us the (Wili)willies

Timing is everything. Take, for example, our encounter on our first full day in Hawaii with the keeper of the Wiliwili trees.

His name is Rob Yagi, and Bonnie and I met him by chance near an odd roadside sculpture of sorts pointing skyward northeast of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. Bonnie was taking pictures and I walked back toward our rental car, exchanging waves with a chap who had just pulled up in a small work van. I pointed quizzically at the sky-pointer above us, and Rob stepped toward me to chat.

As best he could tell, the artistic piece harked to directional beacons of early Hawaiians, pointing to stars used for navigation. Then we chatted about the area, and about Rob, who it turned out works in tree conservation for a small nonprofit organization called the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative.

This valley between a pair of long-dormant volcanic peaks was once inhabited by a "closed canopy forest" of Wiliwili  trees, which in this dry climate (9 to 12 inches of rain annually) are relatively short in stature, have an orange shade of bark (a defense against high sun exposure) and a wide reach of thick branches. Yet the wood is extremely light -- used years ago in construction of native outrigger canoes.

Then came the goats and sheep -- brought to the island as a gift to the king a couple of centuries back, and protected by royal order. So the critters multiplied rapidly, enjoying in their flora buffet the bean-like seeds dropped in abundance by the Wiliwili, a prolific member of the pea family.  Eventually, ranchers got into the goat and sheep business, clearing out much of the forest for pasture land. And the Wiliwili, once a dominant feature of the landscape, largely vanished. They number now only in the dozens on the Big Island.

Rob led us down a highway to a narrow, bumpy asphalt lane, leading to the initiative's enclosure of about five acres where he is the caretaker. It is fenced to keep out wandering goats. Just inside the barrier stands one of the rare survivors. It even has been given a name, Hi'ialo, which means "Beloved," Rob says.

From our vehicles parked outside the fence, we walk along the lane past other rare foliage including shrub-like uhiuhi trees -- a cousin of the Wiliwili, but with a hard, dense wood, of which Rob says there may be only 50 remaining in the world, eight of them growing here in the preserve.

Finally, we reach the nursery inside yet another fence, where the 32-year-old Rob, with volunteers including young area school children, propagate seeds and plant little trees in an effort to recreate a piece of the closed canopy forest.

The Wiliwili is an odd tree. The leaves drop in summer, and when barren it flowers in orange leaves, and eventually drops twisted-pod beans to the ground. In the nursery, a couple of dozen baby Wiliwili trees are sprouting in tiny pots for eventual planting. And perhaps, in 25 years or so, some of those spreading branches will meet 15 or 20 feet off the volcanic ground... a rebirth of sorts for a little patch of Hawaii.

Getting here was (mostly) fun

We fled Maryland on Wednesday evening, Jan. 29, soon after rain turned to snow, and temperatures began plunging from an approaching polar vortex. Our Alaska Airlines flight was slightly delayed for cleaning and turnaround from the the international pier at Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport, then we sat on the ground for a thorough de-icing before clearance for departure to San Francisco on the first leg of the journey.

But we were quite cozy in unexpected comfort, reinforcing our love for this airline.

We had arrived at BWI more than three hours earlier. The airport seemed deserted, perhaps the weather a factor. We used our Global Entry trusted traveler cards for the first time, not having to shed shoes and belts in passing through screening, and settled in to wait for boarding time. Having managed to secure upgrades from coach to better coach (4 inches of extra legroom, free drinks and snacks) on our previous two flights coming back from Alaska in 2016, I chatted up the nice lady overseeing the boarding gate counter to ask whether I might get lucky again.

It would be a nice gift for Bonnie, I said, noting this was our anniversary trip and the 50th state of our travels during  nearly four decades together. She asked for our boarding passes and said she would see what she could do.

About an hour later, we had an upgrade -- ending up, briefly, in premium class, just a row behind the majesty of First Class, and with an unsold seat that gave us a whole three-seat row to ourselves. Free drinks, too, and maybe even snacks during the six-hour flight across America.

I say briefly, because we were there settling in to the black leatherette seats for just 10 minutes. Then our Lady of the Boarding Gate stepped onto the plane and asked if we would like to.... hmmmm.... move up, just a row, to First Class. "Happy anniversary," she said.

And even if our actual anniversary would not be happening until Feb. 10, nearly two weeks into the trip, it was a great start. We even figured out the personal entertainment units that lift out of holding bins on the right side of the creamy-beige, wider, almost fully reclining seats with footrests, watching the movie "Crazy Rich Asians." We felt crazy rich.

For dinner, served on real plates with real cutlery and cloth napkins, I had ravioli and Bonnie the roasted cod, each served with veggies and a foil-wrapped Seattle Chocolates truffle. And she also had a couple of  (glass) glasses of white wine.

While Bonnie napped later, I enjoyed a second movie -- "The Post," which nearly brought me to tears in the 1971-era scene of the type for the Pentagon Papers story being clanked out from a pool of lead alloy metal on a Linotype machine, assembled in a page frame known as a "chase," and finally, after the tense scenes of high-level debate on whether The Washington Post could or should risk publishing it, the order being given to start the press run.

The jetliner began its descent into San Francisco, rumbling slightly as the press speed increased in the movie moment -- perhaps a little more rumble than the slight vibration i remember from that time in the Baltimore Sun's long-ago fifth-floor newsroom on Calvert Street when the first-edition press run was underway.

Our main steward on the flight, Taryn, handed us a card wishing us a happy anniversary, signed by her and two crew mates, before our speedy exit from the plane to baggage claim, just in time to catch the shuttle bus to a nearby Travelodge and a nap during the trip's only drawback -- a 14-hour overnight layover before a noon flight to Kona.

I think of it as a price paid for the other bargain. After our Alaska trip, we had opted to take the airline credit card with its $75 annual fee, earning in the process the deal of a buy-one, get-one for just taxes and fees, and a free checked bag apiece. And we could not schedule in a multi-day layover to visit friends in San Diego. It had to be a single itinerary with identical departure and destination airports, and the best-priced version available landed us overnight in 'Frisco. (The homebound trip will run 17 hours, from Kona to Sacramento to San Diego to BWI.)

The flight from SFO to Kona was fully booked, no upgrade possibility, and we squeezed into standard coach seats in Row 29, near the back of the plane. (Our seatmate on the aisle was a nice woman traveling with more than a dozen other family members from Utah to a week-long Hawaiian vacation. We chatted a bit about our respective lives, then worked at figuring how to activate our previously downloaded inflight entertainment app to watch movies on our respective iPads. (No back-of-seat, or side-of-seat screens on the older plane, alas. Just coffee, soft drinks, a cookie.)

That said, our round-trip deal came to just a tad over 800 bucks.

An otherworldly arrival

We landed at Kona International Airport in mid-afternoon on Thursday, disembarking on a ramp down to the tarmac and walking into an open-air village of sorts. People are sitting at what seemed like picnic tables near the incredibly informal gate.

The baggage arrived quickly, as did the Hertz rent-a-car shuttle to retrieve what we expected to be a Camry-like vehicle. As a Hertz Gold Club member (free, but you have to sign up for it), we found my name on the electronic greeting board directing us to our waiting car in Space 14. It was a Nissan Rogue SUV way bigger than what we wanted, and lacking a trunk to store stuff during adventures.

Inside at the counter (no waiting line in the Gold Club lane), an amiable lady clerk checked what else was available and offered up a "full size" Nissan Altima that felt just a tad bigger than an "intermediate" Camry, but pretty nifty. And off we went to check in at the Kona Holiday Inn Express, our home for a four-night stay.

We walked two short blocks down to the Pacific waterfront promenade for our first Hawaiian sunset, and dinner at a restaurant recommended by the front desk -- the slightly pricey, but very gourmet Fish Hopper. We split a $38 "Island Platter" of jumbo coconut fried shrimp, dungeness crab cake and blackened mahi-mahi, with sauteed veggies and sweet blue mashed potato, with a couple of glasses of wine for Bonnie and splitting an enormous slice of chocolate passion fruit-cream cake. It was all terrific, but the latter perhaps over-the-top unwise. Burp!

We were asleep by 10 p.m. Hawaii time -- about 3 a.m. back home in Maryland.

More adventures on the open road

An open-air breakfast
Breakfast is free at the hotel, the usual buffet of omelettes, sausage, muffins and biscuits, cinnamon buns, orange juice, coffee and fruit. But at this Holiday Inn Express, the poolside breakfast nook is open-air. Birds fly in for crumbs, and an occasional fly buzzes around looking for a landing zone on strawberry jam.

Well-stuffed, we were ready to take on the Big Island -- and solve a little problem.

Triple-check the stuff you pack before taking a long trip. Bonnie, in reconfiguring what went where, left a little plaid purse with two important prescription meds, medical insurance cards, a medical history printout, and her lifetime seniors National Parks pass.

We managed to arrange for her doc's office to fax prescriptions for short-term quantities to a pharmacy in Kona, only to learn that the CVS affiliate could not fill them for those particular drugs from an out-of-state physician. The pharmacy tossed out the faxes. So on our first full day of exploring, we happened upon an Urgent Care office and in a stopover of a bit less than two hours obtained a Hawaii doc's prescriptions, filled them at the CVS affiliate nearby, and while waiting there found Bonnie's tasty New Zealand wine from the Fish Hopper dinner on sale for 10 bucks a bottle.
Spam (and imitators) at the drug store

At the checkout counter, we also encountered a Hawaiian couple purchasing about a dozen cans of Spam --  introduced as a convenience food for American soldiers in World War II, now a much-loved staple in the local diet, and easily stored on a shelf for emergencies. It is even served as a breakfast item at McDonalds here, they noted. 

Other than not having the parks pass, life was back to normal -- and back in the car, we found our way northeasterly across a mountain road to elevations of about 3,000 feet above the ocean, drove through occasional clouds and rain, savored the impressionist-looking sight of trees enshrouded by mist, and inspected bits of dead coral washed up by the ocean.

A great rainbow view in the eastern sky.
And as we stepped out of the car near waves crashing into volcano-deposited black boulders on a west-shore beach, a brilliant 180-degree rainbow graced the sky east from the setting sun.

Back at the hotel about 6:30 p.m., we asked our friendly desk clerk for another restaurant recommendation, perhaps one more modest in price where locals eat. She pointed across the the parking lot, across the road, to The Island Grill. It was packed, with six groups waiting for tables, and most of the patrons were Hawaiians, many with children in tow.

Dinner was unusual, to say the least -- a dish named the "Moco Loco," with the most elaborate and costly version at $14.95 featuring a bed of steamed rice topped by two scrambled eggs and the choice of three items from a list of other garnishments.
Dinner at The Island Grill

 We picked fried shrimp, panko-crusted pounded fried chicken breast and a corned beef patty, with a glass of Pinot Grigio for Bonnie and a cup of Kona-blend coffee for me. With tip, it came to just under $30.

A bit of travel philosophy   

Bonnie, with camera and coastal view
Dealing with the prescriptions problem was the reason we intersected at that roadside sky-pointer with forest conservationist Rob Yagi.  As I noted at the top of this blog post, timing is everything. And you have to be open to possibilities.

We may have planned flights, and rental cars, and places to stay on three islands before we get back home, but from day to day, life happens. And we seem always to be the better for it.

Tomorrow: An octopian encounter