Thursday, December 31, 2015

Day 162 - Papakolea ("Green Sand") Beach

During our car ride to the southernmost point of the Big Island (and the United States) we not only discovered this special space where a more recent lava flow flew into an older, already overgrown lava flow area. We also re-discovered Kapa FM, the best radio channel for Hawaiian music. Fortunately they run 24 hours a day and have Internet streaming so that you can also enjoy Kapa FM anywhere at kaparadio.com. In the morning (Hawai'i time, i.e. when it is late evening in Europe) they play local favorites in what the call the "kanaka hour" (kanaka means human / man in Hawai'ian language).

 
Today's exercise was a walk to the Green Sand Beach. From the end of the (paved) road at South Point, it took us about 45 minutes to walk there. As my father had been there two times already, he advised us not to bring our snorkeling equipment - and it would have been hard to handle all that stuff. The walk brought us through ravines, over very old lava flows, and past mud puddles.

Green Sand Beach - The sand is actually not normal sand,
but a bunch of very small greenish glass pellets of volcanic origin.
There is a hefty 500 Dollars fine for taking "sand" from this beach
- if they catch you...  

How amazing this beach was! I've never swam in waves that large! Every tenth wave was so huge that you mostly had to duck under beneath. I didn't even care about the saltiness afterwards, it was just worth it. On our way back we made a stop at the place where the ancient Hawai'ian fishermen tied their canoes with ropes to the rocks. As the Big Island stands in 5000 meter deep ocean, there is very good deep sea fishing here - but the current is very strong and takes you directly to Antarctica - therefore the ties to the rocks. If you dare, you can jump of a platform ca. ten meters down into the sea - but we saw no-one venturing into the dangerous waters.

Sunset at Kona coast

Day 161 - Lots of Presents

 
On our first full day on the Big Island (which actually is called Hawai'i), we explored our rental home. South Kona is peaceful and mostly sunny, but the drawback is that there is neither a garbage collection nor a central waters system. As a consequence, the collected rain water in our house was not only unfit to drink (and not really suitable for cooking), but also smelled not really pleasant when being used for washing. Nice was not only the great view over the ocean from most windows and the deck, but also the many cute green geckos who sometimes were so trusting that they licked your finger when you had water (or eggnog) on it!!! What a Christmas present.


Due to baggage restriction and missing shopping opportunities,
the number of Christmas presents this year was small,
and our Christmas tree had to be electronic (Laptop screen)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Day 160 - Flightseeing to Kona

As we had to leave the apartment at 11 AM and the flight was scheduled for the afternoon, we did a short stop at a mall to browse through a "Macy's" department store which is almost a must for every USA stay. In the end we even found a smoothie shop. At the airport then, we missed the opportunity to fly with an earlier flight, because two of us were looking for a snack bar that was signposted, but that we did not find.

The check-in counters at the Commuter Terminal were decorated so cute with twinkling stuff... The Commuter Terminal is a special terminal for island flights only. There is no security screening, and you have to be weighted with your cabin baggage in order to calculate the right loading balance for the little planes. Since many people found it embarrassing to be weighted in public (guess why), our airline just asked for our weight and then assigned us to rows 1 (we girls) and 2 (our parents). Of course row 1 was the best because the plane had no cockpit door and you could watch the pilots doing their job, and see through the cockpit windows. The cockpit instruments looked like in "Flight Simulator" which I appreciated. My first flight without flight attendant. With only twelve passengers, the plane is really too small to walk around and serve drinks. Anyway, we were lucky that the weather was good, it was just like a flightseeing!

video
 
After picking up our rental car in Kona, we went to the Kona Safeway to buy our groceries for the next days - our rental house is quite remote and we didn't want to drive an hour to the supermarket again. After being loaded not only with our checked bags and carry on bags, but also with food for a week, it was dark and we drove another hour to our home for the next week - a Round House! On the way we were delighted by many houses that were over and over decorated with lights and funny inflatable figures. Americans really love to decorate for Christmas.
 
 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Day 159 - Lana'i



"thar she blows" (cf. Moby Dick)


We had to get up early to catch our ferry to which we had to check in in Lahaina (a 45 minute drive from our condo) at 08.45. We chose a place in the rear, but I nevertheless got seasick. With our snorkel stuff, towels, beach chairs, an umbrella, a cooler, noodle, we looked like attending an open air concert. During the ferry ride my dad and sister (mom and I were talking) saw a whale! On our arrival at Lana'i (after a 45 minute sailing), we met an extremely beautiful dog, appropriately named "Bella", with green-yellow eyes.



From the small boat harbor, it was just a 6-7 minute walk to Hulopoe Beach, one of Hawai'i's best beaches. It was nearly empty when we got there. Hulopoe is a yellow sand beach with nice surf, but the best is that on both sides you can snorkel along rocks and reef for hundreds of meters. Its highlights are high visibility, an abundance of fish (even schools of 30 or more) and the possibility of spotting bigger wildlife - dolphins and turtles - farther out. Although we saw no turtles and dolphins today (unlike my father some years ago), it was great snorkeling! Less pleasant was to be accosted instantly by some kind of German speaking boys as soon as my parents were out snorkeling, but what can you do.


See the swarm of fish?


The whale that I saw on the back ride

Friday, December 25, 2015

Day 158 - Ho'okipa and Lahaina



Haleakala, in front Maui's last working sugar mill


Today we had a nice day at the North coast: First we watched surfers at Ho'okipa beach for one hour. These guys must have been so skilled in surfing, because they were just next to huge lava stones. There were also some crosses along the cliff - obviously for deceased surfers. However, it must be a dream for every surfer to once surf at this beach.



The big waiting


 



Lunch today was fish. We went to Mama's Fish House which wasn't far away. For the first time, I experienced "valet parking", where you drive to a certain point, leave the car and give the keys to someone who parks the car for you. Gosh! The food was extremely tasty but too much, as usual. From inside we had a view of palms, the sea and a funny snowman made of sand. Inside the waitresses wore beautiful dresses and flowers behind their ears. And fortunately I was finished when our table's neighbors got served some oysters, I was aghast at this sight.



Mama's Fish House



Mama's Fish House Menu: You not only learn what
kind of fish you get, but also who caught it and where


Instead of doing a hike through the bamboo forest as planned (it had rained and the ground was slippery), after this delicious lunch we decided to drive to a whale watching place and afterwards to Lahaina on the west coast. In Lahaina we accidentally drove by the Hilo Hattie store where we wanted to shop for island wear anyway. It turned out to be a good day for the shop, and already now we're afraid of our suitcase's opinion about it...

At the harbor, a former whale boating harbor and site of Hawai'i's capital in the 18th/19th century, we had a big 'rainbow' shave ice in a café run by a Swiss. One of the famous sites of Lahaina is a centuries old, huge Banyan Tree, which was decorated with colourful Christmas lighting - that however wasn't turned on even after sunset. What a pity.

We booked the ferry to the neighbor island of Lana'i for the next day, picked a parrot feather from the street, walked along the Front Street (another famous tourist sight) and enjoyed a Caribbean-Hawaiian holiday atmosphere of which Lahaina is famous for - of course with a lot of colorful Christmas decoration. As a highlight of today a picture of us was taken by a (obviously) drunk lady :-) the other sides of "happy hour".


Front Street Lahaina


Day 157 - Wailea Snorkeling

Sore muscles! And hurting hands. Despite that we drove to Wailea beach again for snorkeling. At first I wasn't too motivated to do so, but it turned out to be really a good place. At the beach we measured out a square of flip flops, two towels on top and our clothes in between. We first had a little problem with putting on our fins due to big waves, and my mother's snorkel didn't work properly. So she stayed at an area near the beach, whereas we three followed a snorkel trip boat. The sea was full of fish and fish swarms, mostly Black Triggerfish and Humuhumunukunukuapua'a fish. No kidding, that's the Hawaiian name for the Reef Triggerfish.

After a while it got cold in the water and we left. In the afternoon my sister wanted to do some photoshooting at our condo's beach - how embarrassing that was. Fortunately our beach is not as crowded as the one in Wailea. In the evening we watched "Elf" until we were too tired even before 22.00.

Day 156 - At the Bigwig's

This morning I was able to skype after a long time (since Australia) - the internet was just too slow in the meantime. After this one hour we visited the bay of Wailea, where the bigwigs spend their holiday. The beach was really crowded, and there was a long lineup of expensive condos and beach resorts. Mom and dad went jogging, my sister and I had a walk in the sun, and really wished to be able to jump into the water, it was so hot. Back home we first made a liter of Thai tea, and I compensated the missed jog of this morning by doing some exercise.

By the way, we watched the sunset and like yesterday. Just after the sun had completely vanished, someone blew through a conch, whereupon the torches were lit and the crowd left the beach.

Wailea
 
 
 

 
 

Day 155 - Welcome to the Celebrities' Paradise: Maui

Today I was awake at 5.30 due to jet lag - four hours between Texas and Hawai'i time. I could waste one hour until the rest of us was awake, too. We had breakfast and soon were walking along the beach towards a coral promontory where we enjoyed the islands around us, vanishing in the haze. How brisk the water temperature was! I was sure I wouldn't be swimming here...
For lunch we went to a Thai restaurant where my dad first had been in 2003. There he discovered the famous Thai tea that we only ever could buy on Maui in a small Asia shop near the restaurant. We learned: no coconut milk, but canned milk and a very sweetened tea is the perfect mix.
When we came home our delayed bag was finally delivered. So my mother could sleep in a pajama now. For dinner we had tasty "poke" and a few salads from the deli counter. Poke is a national dish of Hawai'i which is similar to "poisson cru" on Tahiti or "ceviche" as we had it on the Easter Island.
I went to bed at 21.00, when my sister was already deeply asleep.
 
The cake shelf at Safeway
 
The Poke shelf at Safeway

Monday, December 21, 2015

Day 154 - IAH-LAX-OGG

Departing from Los Angeles Westward

Due to our Round-the-World ticket we had to continue our trip from Houston, not from Dallas - Ft. Worth. That means we got up at 4:15 AM to drive four hours to Houston by car. Another sunrise on this trip, but anyway: the three of us could sleep, my dad had to drive. It took quite some time for the check-in agent to get us boarding passes for the flights to Maui - four different bookings for us - while my Mom and sister had United tickets, my dad flew the first leg on a Swiss ticket and I on a Lufthansa ticket - while we both flew the second leg on an Expedia ticket. After some 20 minutes, we proceesed to security and then had to split again - two were allowed into the lounge, and us kids had to wait outside and purchase our lunch.
In Los Angeles we probably saw a celebrity (who believes) because someone pulled her hat suspiciously deep into the face. We had lunch at Carl's Jr. where a person left his backpack. What a cuuute puppy came to help the police officers to find out whether it was just a stressed passenger or a terrorist.

On the plane to Maui I had a nice talk with a Californian until he changed seats with his son, because he probably didn't feel well with his size next to a stranger. During the flight my sister and I were talking non-stop to each other, there was so much to tell. When we arrived it was already dark and we only saw some lights of Maui. The arrival would have been cooler if not only three of four suitcases came...

Day 150 through 153 - Christmas Feelings in Fort Worth

 
This morning my father was already gone to work (the reason why we are in Texas), and we had breakfast in the Starbucks near our hotel for about two hours, talking. The talking continued then in our room until we were hungry for lunch at 4 PM. A friendly Jonathan was our waiter and we enjoyed Mexican food. Texas seems to be very bilingual in English and Spanish, anyway. For the first time I had Christmas feelings this year! Starbucks was playing festive Christmas music and the entire city was decorated with lights, ribbons and a big Christmas tree with a Santa Claus in a sledge.

The next days were sunny and warm. As Ft. Worth became famous and grew big as a cattle and cowboy town, the main attraction are the (once) huge stockyards. Before our tour of the stockyards, we followed the recommendation of the lady at the visitor center and went to a Mexican breakfast restaurant mostly frequented by locals. How can they serve Tortillas and hot sauce for breakfast??? If you're hungry enough...

The stockyards district is comprised not only of (the remainders of) huge stockyards, the remainders of big meat packing plants, a rail station and a livestock exchange, but also an indoor rodeo hall, Western-like streets with saloons etc., and "The world's biggest honkytonk" (Billy Bob's). Two times per day, a herd of the famous Texas longhorn cattle are driven through the main street to create some "old west" feeling. Who else wouldn't have expected such long-horned cattle?


Later we visited the water park of Fort Worth. There were three water basins to be seen. The first was a calm basin, not unlike a swimming pool with water running down the walls around. With all that water around and the shade of the trees, even hot Texan summers (with 45 degrees Celsius and more) can be bearable here.


The second basin was filled with with splashy small fountains in whose water drops one could see a rainbow from every angle. The third and biggest basin is a construction of terraces so that you are surrounded by gentle waterfalls all around you when walk down to be basis - over a stepping stone path. The more you walk down, the louder and louder its gets and the more difficult the path seems to be, because everything seems to be moving when looking down.

 

See the posh car in the front? This thing was parking in front of the restaurant we wanted to go which we mistook to be a regular restaurant. Nope, there was a guy opening the door for us, and we were like completely underdressed next to the waitress who looked at us like "what do these want here?". The next restaurant on our list was quite cool, and we had the best food ever (if not too small portions) in the Bird Café at Sundance Square: Gumbo, Pastrami and Roast Chicken with cauliflower purée and asparagus.

By the way, these huge huge huge flags are what you find everywhere. Sometimes bigger sometimes smaller sometimes accompanied by dozens of small flags. Isn't that patriotic? But why need car dealerships to be such patriotic? Anyway, you can't deny that the U.S. flag is the most aesthetic flag of all.
 

All right, fast food time! No wonder that obesity is a problem for many Americans - Healthy restaurants are expensive and need to be researched, while fast food is incredibly cheap and conveniently found at every corner. While on the road, there is hardly a chance to find anything edible other than KFC, Taco Bell, McDonalds, and the like. Anyway, it was just right for our dinner after a three-hour shopping tour. I'm totally in love with the US outlet centers, where well-known brands sell their second-grade quality products or last season leftovers for a discount of 40% or more. My mother, sister and I could have spend the entire day there, but my dad isn't that type of heavy shopper. At the end, our luggage space is limited.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Day 149 - Reunion in Texas

 
Space vehicle development
Today was the day of the long-awaited reunion of our family. In the four hours between the motel check-out and their scheduled arrival, we decided to visit the NASA Space Center for which Houston is famous ("Houston, we have a problem"). We were greeted by several rockets and a space shuttle at the parking lot which rose the excitement for the interior. Mean, how they charge you not only the entrance fee but also a parking fee, and in the inside you have to buy access cards for playing lunar rover simulators, watching a big screen space movie, etc. But it was cool anyway. We were recommended to do a campus tram tour first. Since one (mission control center) had a 45 minute wait line and the other had no line, we took the training facility tram tour.


The main boosters of the Saturn V
We were driven around the campus where astronauts are still training for their future missions. We saw the Mission Control Center from the outside and the international training hall from an inside gangway. Weightlessness simulators, capsules, and lots of more or less futuristic looking stuff - including the mockups for the next manned space missions..The final stop was a huge hall where a Saturn V moon rocket was exhibited.

Space Shuttle Cockpit
 
A short selfie with an "astronaut", a visit to the Starship Museum, a short look into the gift shop, and then we had to drive to the airport. We already thought to be late for our meeting with mom and sis, but still had to wait for about half an hour in the arrival area. What a feeling when I noticed that I almost didn't recognize my mom. Hair grows fast... But what a moment, how great that everything went okay. We immediately called my dad who waited at the "cellphone parking lot" in the meantime.

And this was the beginning of a four hour road trip to Ft. Worth. After having passed a unroofed house, some pieces of sheet metal and a lot of dirt and branches on the interstate highway we (perfect timing) noticed the emergency notification on our mobiles: "Tornado Warning in this area til 5:30 PM CST. Take shelter now. Check local media. -NWS". It was 5:10. Al of a sudden, we found ourselves in a downpour rain as we had experienced it really rarely. It was raining so heavy that the wipers couldn't keep up even in fast mode. The cars on the Interstate either went slow with their hazard flashers on, or stopped completely. Due to low visibility, high winds and downpour, we couldn't drive faster than 40 mph... So our four-hour drive turned out to be a five-hour one. But lucky us, we arrived safe and sound in Fort Worth and checked in into a nice business hotel.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Day 147 and 148 - ¡Chao Chile and Howdy Texas!

 
Looking forward to our big reunion after more than eight weeks, we skyped a last time with our family at home before our departure. We packed our things and tried to eat at the same restaurant we visited two days ago - which was closed today without any notice. Thus we had to try another well rated restaurant which happened to offer tomato soup, meat carpaccio and other delicacies. For a remote little town in the desert, the food quality in San Pedro was surprisingly good, at a quite reasonable price. We enjoyed the last bus ride of about 80 kilometers through the Atacama desert with these mind-blowing optical illusions, like wet streets or floating hills.

Two hours on the plane from Calama to Santiago, two hours at the airport, and nine additional hours in the plane to Houston. As my dad is Star Alliance Gold customer, we could bypass the long queue of backpackers and were soon talking in German to a nice guy that happened to be the station manager. At first he thought that my dad would fly Business while I sit in Economy. Because we both flew Economy, actually, we were upgraded spontaneously to Premium Economy, like on the flight from Auckland to Rarotonga. How nice that we could sleep on seats with so much legroom! We had a more or less good sleep, and it was very useful that you didn't have to disturb your neighbor when going to the loo. The only thing was that I had terrible tailbone pain from seated sleeping.

During the flight we gained three hours, so that we arrived at around 6 AM, Texas time. Already in Santiago my dad had figured out an IHOP on our way to the motel that saved the morning: the so-called International House Of Pancakes had opening hours like 24/7 and served American size meals, so that I wasn't hungry anymore, but felt queasy. I hardly could manage the hash browns, bacon and scrambled eggs. My hot chocolate came with a hat of whipped cream and extra marshmallow flavor, so that I nearly poured all of my ice cold tap water in it to lengthen it, but it was still way to sweet and creamy. For the last one and a half pancakes I had to order a take-away box...

By the way. Do there exist any "un-chained" restaurants, i.e. ones that are not part of a restaurant chain like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Denny's, Wendy's, ihop, Sonic and the likes??? It really is a pity that these way healthier opportunities are so hard to find, and so expensive, too! No wonder that you feel fit, healthy and thin among al these people you see in the shopping mall.

The rest of the day, by the way, we spent at the washing machine and dryer.
 
Pay attention on the Shopping Mall Santa's pose when he saw me

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Day 146 - Extraterrestrial Landscapes and an Extraordinary Sunset


 
This day began much more relaxed than the last two days. We could 'sleep in' which turned out to be 9 o'clock, had an easy morning at the pool (no, not swimming, doing e-mails and chatting), and were picked up at 15.30 in the hotel lobby for our last tour. We were persons three and four that were picked up, and two stops later the 30-person bus was full. Here we come, Valle de la Luna!

We were brought to the far end of the park road where we could have a look at the "Tres Marías" in the middle of a moon-like salt landscape. Indeed, this valley was used for mining sand until the 1990ies. The odd shaped rocks look like praying women. Also interesting was that the ground was full of large (10 cm diameter) objects that looked like ice cubes, but actually were mineral salt crystals.



As another highlight of the tour we climbed the side of a huge sand dune where it was rather windy, so that we were hit by several small sandstorms and had the eyes full of sand. The view was stunning. Fortunately some cars drove by from time to time, down on the road from where we came too, to create a size reference in this unreal, extraterrestrial looking landscape.



Afterwards we were brought to a cave in the salt mountains range. These caves were relatively cool so that they have always been used by animals or caravanes as shelter. Another photo stop was the so-called Valle de la Muerte, an odd-looking erosion landscape. Due to the setting sun and the dropping temperatures, the hills around you were cracking quietly. There are two anecdotes that tell how the valley earned its name: (1) because people died under the mass of eroded mud after massive rainfalls (that happen, but very rarely), (2) because an early explorer (a Belgian) called it a mars-like ('martian') landscape which was mistaken for the Spanish word muerte.


The sunset really was a wonderful conclusion not only of our third big tour, but of the entire visit to the Atacama desert and in San Pedro. I have to admit I had had doubts about going to South America, but I was totally surprised by the order and "normality" that I found here.

At sunset, at the Piedro El Coyote, we took some breakneck pictures, enjoyed the "Alpenglühen" of the Andes range and how it slowly went from red to dark grey. After I waited for the very end of the pink at the mountain tops I had to rush back to our bus where everybody was waiting for me already - and even after four days in high altitude I was so out of breath, I swear!

 
video
 

Day 145 - Hot Pools at Sub-Zero Temperatures

 
The moon and Spica
 
Because we went to sleep soon after dusk at around 8 PM, we slept almost enough to start our tour at 4:30 this morning. Not such a bad time if you are used to times around 3:30 from the Australian Outback trip, actually. The only misfortune was that we had to stand up this early to spend 45 minutes picking up other hotel guests around town, and then had to drive another 1.5 hours to the El Tatio geysers over very, very bumpy roads.



Before we left the bus, our tour guide suggested to wear all the things we could, because it would be cold outside. Alright, we're in a desert, how cold could it be? We definitely didn't expect a total of -4.5 degrees Celsius that immediately cooled the entire organism down - our first sub-zero temperatures after almost ten months. The Tatio Geysers are on 4320 meters elevation, that explains the cold sunrise temperatures even in spring. What a shame that my dad forgot to bring his anorak, it probably would have been the only time he would have really needed it during the entire six months of travelling. For this reason, why carried it through the Japanese and Singaporean summer heat, and even through the Australian Outback, And I, I left my gloves and got that Raynaud shock again. As my pants were already burst at one knee (the second knee burst when I kneeled down for a picture), and I wore these "cool pants" with turned up pant legs, I really felt cold.

Enough the grumbling, it was really worth it. Especially after a few minutes when the first sun rays reached the valley of the Geysirs, it was nearly bearable. After half an hour at 4320 meters elevation (we were recommended to walk slowly), we had breakfast in the freaking cold. I wondered how they warmed up the milk and cacao until I saw a hot spring where a milk box was put in. Clever...

 
After having enjoyed a hot coffee and some bread (at least the others, because I was busy with warming up myself), we headed to the Pozon Rustico, a thermal bath or hot pool. Hot in inverted commas, actually it was luke warm and also had a fitting color with many people in it. So we undressed ourselves in a cabin next to the pool, wore our swimsuit and stood there, barefoot in a bikini at sub-zero temperatures... Been there, done that!!

 
Okay, enough freezing, the sun was already burning as long as you were protected from the wind. We stopped in a little village called Machuca comprised of (this time really) around ten clay huts and a adobe church on the hill behind the village - very picturesque. But even more picturesque were the llamas walking around (fortunately not spitting around) with their colorful ear decorations. At a food stall you could also buy llama meat sticks and sandwiches, but I found this a little too cruel, eating them while looking at them.


Eat my dust.

Shortly after noon, we were spat out of our bus exactly at the time and place where the 'asuncion' parade started. What looks like a village copy of Starlight express is actually a serious procession with a Madonna statue, a dancer with a devils mask (at front), a lot of 'angel' dancers and an ambitioned brass marching band.

 
We spend the evening in the Meteorite Museum of San Pedro. The exhibition was ultra interesting and the audio guide gave us a good overlook and explanation of the meteorites exhibited in the vitrines. We learned that meteorites can be more or less easily found in the Atacama desert, because there is no erosion here, and the meteorites just land on the ground and sit there until they are picked up. Meteorite hunters look for them with metal detectors, because most of them contain lots of iron. Some rare ones don't. One of the highlights of the exhibition is one of only 19 meteorites of a certain type known worldwide - and the only one that is publicly exhibited. Another highlight was that we could test ourselves the different iron content grades of three different big meteorites with a magnet -  and even touch them! What an experience.