Hawaii 2007

(Reminder: rest mouse pointers on photos for captions. Yes, you have to.)

Our flight didn’t leave until 11:15p and our rental car wasn’t due till 10p, so we got a late checkout (5p) at the hotel, had an authentic island “spam” (they call it Portuguese sausage now, probably cuz Spam is a brand name) breakfast at a cute place by the water and hit another famous tourist spot, Captain Cook’s Monument off the coast. First, one thing about the restaurant. It’s known for its gecko residents. Greg told us on Tuesday that the geckos have learned to recognize the jam packets, and will come up to the table to give the preserved fruit a lick. Of COURSE we had to go for that. A gecko stopped by fairly soon after we sat down, but Mr. W scared it with his big camera, and despite the jam we set out on the sill, we never saw another one there.

While I turned around to look for other geckos, I spotted this furry little guy behind the open doorway.

On to the monument. Captain Cook (or as Mr. W calls him, Captain Hook) is the “discoverer” of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands. The reason “discoverer” is in quotes is because when Mr. W read the monument plaque to me, I said, “Wasn’t there already people on the island when he got there?” Anyway, the monument is a white vertical spike-looking thing set up where he first landed on the Big Island and near where he later “fell.” The reason why “fell” is in quotes is because it’s really the place where the Hawaiian natives took him out. As in, navigate to the bright light, Cap’n! Navigate toward the light.

In order to get to the monument, we either have to hike down a steep grade jungle-y mountainside for miles (ick, mosquitoes!) or kayak there from about 1-2 miles away. We opted to kayak, and rented a 2-man plastic kayak for $40 for the entire day. It was a beautiful watery trip, and the clear teal ocean was so full of life that I was afraid I’d hit a fish upside the head when my oar dipped in. We didn’t cause any fish this pain (that I know of), but my body did not escape the soreness. There just wasn’t enough blood in my deltoids and I had to take a few pauses and wait for sensation to return. Any guilt I may have had about not having any upper body workout for the past week was obliterated.

We “parked” our kayak (what’s the proper term for that? “dragged to rocky coast?”) near the monument and jumped into the warm water for some amazing snorkeling. The coral reef in that area is expansive and beautiful. Mr. W had purchased some 35mm underwater cameras and we both went thru our 27-some shots in less than half an hour. I even saw some ancient petroglyphs on a rock underwater but the photos didn’t come out too well.

There were many different fish, and I loved hearing the colorful parrotfish munch on the coral.

Whenever I’d drift by and hear the “chomp chomp” scraping sound, I’d look all around and try to find the coral munching fish. Man, fish are constantly eating down there! What a bunch of piggies.

Mr. W found it remarkable that he wanted out of the water before I did cuz he says usually whomever he snorkels with wants out way before he’s willing to get out. That day, once he said he wanted to go, I tried to swim over to the kayak and get out of the water, but I kept getting distracted by stuff like this.

A few times a huge swarm of hundreds of thousands of baby silvery fish swam up to me and they’d split to go around me, and rejoin behind me. At one point I had a cloud of silver swirling all around me and I kept spinning to see them all, sparkling in the sunlight like liquid mercury drops. Like a big spillover of silver stars. Like that one scene where the bad cop explodes into a million cold quicksilver droplets floating in the air in the Terminator 4-D show at Universal Studios. (graphic, huh?)

Wanna see that again but slower?

Our photos spent along with our energy, we rowed back toward the other bay where we were parked. For some reason, I turned around and looked behind me. And saw small triangular black fins sticking out of water in the bay we had just left. Spinner dolphins! We quickly turned the kayak around and rowed back so fast we passed other kayakers like they were standing still. There were probably 20+ dolphins in the school, and they were doing mating shows, smacking their tails against the water surface, leaping into the air in teams. One dolphin demonstarted why they’re called spinner dolphins. He leapt high into the air and spiraled the entire arc until he hit water again, like how a football spins if thrown correctly. But faster. And he jumped back out and did it again as the onlookers cheered and clapped. And a third consecutive jump. Mr. W hurriedly put on his mask, snorkel and fins and jumped in the water and got to swim with the dolphins. He said they swam deliberately slowly underwater around him to wait for him, a whole family with a baby. After he got back on the kayak I tried to do the same but at this point, the dolphins were at a different spot and the water had poor visibility so I could only see them if I had my head out of the water and could spot their fins. I only saw them in the water when 4 or 5 swam in a downward arc about 10 feet underneath me. We cursed the moments we used up all our films on stupid fish.

After getting out and returning the kayak, we hit up Costco and dropped our film off for 1-hour processing, and went back to the hotel to clean up, pack and check out. Our swimsuits and towels were too wet and sticky with ocean saline to pack, so I did a load of laundry at the hotel’s outdoor facility while I chatted with an Oklahoma woman on vacation there who saw my UCLA travel wallet and had to comment that her husband’s also a Bruin. She loaned me her laundry detergent so that I didn’t have to buy a box, and I gave her the remaining half bottle of our dark Maui rum since she was staying another day past us, and she told me about her family as we played with cute little geckos. Small brown furry ferrets or meerkats or mongoose or something frolicked on the lawn, too.

Then we had a nice seafood dinner (well, I had a fresh-caught ono wrap while Mr. W had a bleu cheese burger) back in Kailua-Kona town in an outdoor patio overlooking the ocean, walking distance from our hotel, walked through town visiting some more shops, and then went to return the car (a great experience, the streets and directions were perfectly labeled street-side and visible despite the late hour, and the Hertz return guy came out to us and checked the car, then took instant payment right there and printed the receipt from a portable hand-held machine he had in his hand, we never had to go in) and shuttled over to the airport. Where I slept waiting for the flight to come in (about 2 hours) and slept immediately on the plane through all of the 4+ hour flight home.

(Reminder: half the story is in my photo captions. Sort of.)

We’d planned to drive to Volcano National Park, but the sudden rain in that area, the long 2.5 hour drive it would’ve been, the fact that other wedding people that went there said they didn’t see anything interesting as the lava flow had changed direction to somewhere inaccessible, turned us off. We had a chat with a friendly souvenir shop salesclerk Duane who was born and raised on the island and he recommended his favorite snorkeling and dive spot 20 minutes away, so off we went with our gear and swimsuits (after stopping by WalMart again to buy an underwater disposable camera). The highly-touted Kealakekua Beach not only had ample parking (a rare find on the Big Island), tons of great fine salt-and-pepper uncrowded sandy beach to hang out on, and fish everywhere, but also yielded three yellow turtles chomping away on some rock moss a few feet away from the shoreline. I literally stood thigh-high in beach waves looking down at them, as they washed to and fro with the surf. Occasionally a yellow and black spotted fin would flip out of the water, and sometimes it’d be the back end of the shell with a pointy tail. More often it was a little yellow head with round black eyes that would pop out, take a gulp of air and blink at us, then disappear again.

A local who kayaked out to sea had his black dog run excitedly up to the water to greet him when he returned, and as I was nearby, the dog dropped what I thought was a tennis ball in front of me and crouched down low with a whimper. I picked up what turned out to be a small tennis ball colored furry coconut she’d found on the beach somewhere, and played catch with her for awhile. I had a great time deepening my strange tan (seriously white ass) and Mr. W worked on his sunburn.

We drove by a Kona coffee mill on the way back and decided to go in for the tour and watched the coffee processing methods.

Ever seen a coffee plant before it’s reduced to coffee beans? The berry that houses the bean is called a “cherry.” 100 pounds of cherries yields 20 pounds of coffee beans.

The raw coffee beans (called “parchment”) are poured into this big roasting machine.

While the beans are roasting, they have to be guarded very carefully because within seconds it’d audibly crack once, and then again, and at the 3rd crack, the beans are constantly checked to get to just the right darkness, then released into this spinning thing to be turned and turned. I don’t know what the spinning thing does or what it’s called cuz my attention span gave out at this point and I’d wandered off.

After the beans spin for a few minutes, they’re packaged and ready for grinding.

A lot of the mills buy outside cherries around the area, too.

Coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world behind oil (as in crude oil for gasoline).

While at the mill, we looked at the plantation’s back lot and saw, beyond the coffee plants, was another lava tube!

Mr. W sprayed me down with DEET insect repellant and we went off to explore.

This tube was short, only 100 feet or so, but we got pictures this time! Apparently all lava tubes are drippy drippy, tho.

After we exited we saw some pretty things I’d like to share.

This one is for my girl Jordan:

After that we came back to town, walked to a new favorite beachside diner and had fresh opa fish as I made a new silver tabby friend and fed the tiny skinny thing half the grilled fish from my fish tacos. This is the first vacation I can remember where I wasn’t ready and itching to go home after 3 days, although on the 3rd nite I did have a nightmare that something was wrong with Dodo and that it was my fault for neglecting him. Mr. W said it’s a sign we should retire here. Tomorrow night’s the flight home.

(Regular readers know to rest their mouse pointers on photos for captions.)

The new Mr. and Mrs. “Wilco” had made it very clear to their wedding guests that this is not their honeymoon and they do not need time alone and to please not avoid them. On that same vein, Christi made lunch reservations for about twenty of us at a pretty famous (as far as famous goes in an island village) Asian fusion restaurant called Bamboo at historic smalltown Hawi, at the top northernmost tip of the island.

On the drive north, I prepared to take an in-context photo of the “Better Together” roadside graffiti, and as we rounded the corner, I started snapping away and saw…the molestation of the sign.

The sign was all the talk when we met up with the wedding people. Mr. W and I were able to chat with and get to know the other wedding guests a little better at this lunch, as well as trade stories about everyone’s Hawaii experiences thus far. Not just tourist stories and the couple’s behind-the-scenes wedding stories (such as how Mike really DID want to play cheesy wedding games but was vetoed), but for example, another wedding guest couple got engaged the day before the wedding in Hawaii, at what turned out to be one of the worst marriage proposals ever (girl’s opinion). It went something like this: guy pops the question on the beach, pops open the ring box, and both pairs of eyes pop as they see the box is empty. Girl thinks it’s a tasteless not-funny joke, but was wrong about it being a joke; guy panics and goes back to the room to see if it’d maybe fallen out there while girl sits on the sand guarding the same spot in case ring had popped out there. Luckily, they find the ring, buried inside the sand, and don’t know how that could’ve happened. He puts the ring on her finger when she accepts the proposal, but it only fits as far down as to the top of the first knuckle. Turns out he’d remembered her ring size wrong and was off by two whole sizes. Girl, we heard, had to go back to her room to recover from the proposal.

After lunch, half of us stayed and explored the town, had ice cream…

…took photos, and we all decided to go to Lookout Point, where the street ends and you’re supposed to be able to look over the water and see Maui or Kauai or something.

Turned out that Lookout Point wasn’t only a lookout, it was also a steep hike zigzagging down the mountainside to a black sand beach.

Since everyone drove separately, we all got there at separate times but Mr. W and I were lucky enough to run into the newlyweds.

Mike and Christi made it down the trail fairly quickly, snapping photos with their intimidating large-lensed cameras as they went.

Mr. W and I went much more slowly, as he painstakingly took incredible care in setting up each of his shots of every insect, fungus, shrub, skyline, rock and dirt clod.

We’d lost Mike and Christi for about 15 minutes when my right foot slipped and SNAP! the top of my slipper-style sandal disconnected from the base. There was no way I could make it down the rocky pathway with one shoe, so Mr. W decided (to my disappointment) to turn back and hike back up the hill to the car. I left Mike a message on his cell phone and Mr. W and I drove to what was described by the tourbook as arguably the best beach on the island, Hapuna Beach, within walking distance of Mike and Christi’s wedding site.

Mike and Christi surprised us by showing up there minutes after we’d gotten there, and the four of us took photos of the sunset and each other, Mike and Christi with their professional expensive cameras with the lens more expensive than the Hawaii trip, Mr. W with his slightly-less-professional partial-SLR camera, me with my trusty cameraphone (laugh if you want, but I was the only one who was able to instantly send watery sunset photos to my mom in California and Jordan in Florida, so there).

While there, I had a phone conversation with my mom, who called me to ask what the hell I was sending to her phone as she didn’t know how to open the images, and she informed us it was the autumn Chinese Moon Festival that night, so we all took pictures of the huge full moon, too.

“None of you or your friends know that it’s tonight?” my mom asked in surprise. The three of us white-washed Asian kids plus the one white dude looked blankly at each other. *blink* In that phone conversation, my parents also offered to buy me the Alexandrite ring. I protested it, said it was too extravagant and unnecessary, fought off their offers to gift it as an engagement present or a wedding present, until my mom hit the logic chord. I should take her credit card information and purchase the ring on the Island, she reasoned, so that I could have it in-hand instead of having to wait for them to mail something so expensive to me after purchasing it, and what if they swap out the stone and mail me a fake? I didn’t think the last part would happen, but the first part made sense. I promised to pay them back for the loan, but she insisted it wouldn’t be a loan.

Christi was excited for me when I told her about the ring and they followed us back to Kailua-Kona town, where we were all going to meet for dinner anyway, and came into the jewelry store with us. I’d called our sales guy, Ron, to tell him I’d be coming for the ring that night and he’d offered to hold the store open as late as we needed to get back into town as a favor, but luckily we got there well before closing. The ring was instantly resized (turned out what I’d thought was a good fit wasn’t good enough for either Ron or the owner of the store, both of whom thought it should be sized from a 7 down to a 5.75 to be perfectly secure on my right middle finger, and they were right) as Ron ran my parents’ credit card information through the machine…and it came back “declined.” What the heck. My parents have responsible credit habits and never carry a balance. He ran it again. Declined. I called my parents at home and heard myself whining to them. They were understandably concerned, too, especially since it turned out they’d misheard the price of the ring and thought I’d told them it was $1000, but gave me another card to try, and that one came back “Call Credit Center.” Turned out that for purchases over $4000, some credit card companies require a physical confirmation of the legitimacy of the purchase, which is a pretty good thing, I suppose. The second card was eventually approved, and I was given my ring. YAY!!! Along with another free CD of songs composed by Ron (Mike and Christi got one, too) and a free bottle of cabernet sauvignon. I am so paying my parents back, tho.

The four of us met up with Greg and Cheryl and some other people of the wedding party who could not make it to lunch and had a nice dinner in town. The large round table had a white butcher block papercloth along with a bunch of crayons for us to draw with, so Greg snatched a red crayon and wrote in big block letters in the center of the table “JUST MARRIED” with arrows pointing toward Christi and Mike. I drew some hearts around the words in gray crayon, and two more arrows pointing toward Cheryl and Greg. The latter two protested they weren’t “just” married, they were married a month ago, so they weren’t truly newlyweds. “Oldlyweds,” Cheryl called themselves. I said it was new enough, so Greg clarified his table label with a different color crayon by writing “9/22” by Mike/Christi’ arrows, and “8/11” by his own arrows. Then he drew two more arrows pointing toward me and Mr. W and labeled those arrows “9 years later.” Not to be outdone, the other half of the table, 3 young unwed and unengaged friends, grabbed their own crayon and wrote “SINGLE” with three arrows pointing at themselves. I suggested they write phone numbers for their numbers, but no takers. Right when we were about to hand over the check, the restaurant, along with that entire side of town, lost electricity. We found ourselves sitting in darkness until suddenly, there was a click and everyone laughed as one member of the party put a small but very bright flashlight pointing up on the table. Talk about prepared! And then Mike emerged with another flashlight. “You guys are so funny!” I said. Another guest joked, “I thought you were going to use a whole different word aside from funny.” It was a bit geeky of them, but luckily so. We paid our bill, the “true” newlyweds dropped us off at our hotel (which was probably the first building we came to that was unaffected by the blackout, which turned out was due to a traffic accident), and we called it a night.

After an early-morning snorkeling trip to a new and nearby spot (again, amazing snorkeling conditions and this particular snorkeling visit is momentous as it marks my first snorkeling experience where I was not physically uncomfortable with seasickness, cold, boredom from lack of visibility, and/or jellyfish stings), we got back to the hotel, cleaned up and drove to Hilo. The drive to the eastern part of the island was long, about 2 hours’ worth each way, and surprisingly rural. (Rest mouse pointers over photos for captions.)

Following his guidebook (yes, WHILE driving and reading lots of Braille on the road), Mr. W drove us to multiple picturesque spots, including a few waterfalls.

The same hike takes us to Akaka Falls and then to Kahuna Falls.

Where there are water and jungle and tourists, however, there are ravenous mosquitoes. I’d thought I was prepared with newly purchased Avon SkinSoSoft mosquito repellant/sunscreen/moisturizer, but apparently, these wild jungle mosquitoes don’t get turned off by a little lotion. Instantly I was bitten multiple times on my legs, instantly the areas swelled and itched like mad, causing me to stop waiting around for Mr. W to take photos of every flower, tree, moss chunk, distant vine and waterfall, and instead to return to the car. At the parking area, while I waited half an hour for Mr. W to return, I paced so that mosquitoes would not continue to land on me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a blonde woman (clearly a tourist, not a native) walking toward me. I thought she was walking to the restrooms behind me, but instead, she approached me directly and said, “Excuse me. Can we trade tops?” I didn’t understand her immediately. Trade tops? Tops of what? She continued, “Your top’s really cute.” I smiled at the compliment and thanked her. She continued to stand in front of me, smiling nicely, and said, “So is that a no to trading tops? I like it, it looks great on you.” What the hell, was she serious? Who the hell trades shirts with strangers? I looked at her teal knit tanktop. She was still standing in front of me, smiling, as if waiting for an answer. Possible responses were racing through my head, like Thanks, it’s Nike; or I don’t think my top would fit you. I kind of laughed and said, “Thanks, but I don’t make a habit of taking my top off in public.” She smiled again and finally walked away, saying as she left, “Okay. You look great in it.” One of the most bizarre encounters I’ve ever had with a stranger.

Driving to our next spot, we pulled off the road whenever something looked interesting or pretty to us, like these bays, where we saw people swimming, hanging out with their families, and swimming with turtles.

The guidebook mentioned a pretty Japanese water garden nearby, so of course we had to stop by and see.

Next we drove to a lava tube, which is a long cavernous tunnel formed by hot flowing lava underground. A portion of the lava tube had collapsed, which formed an opening to the tubes.

Going left from the opening just led us to a cave about 30 feet deep.

Going to the tube on the right led us to the longer part of the tube, which goes in 2.5 miles! If we were to walk the entire length, the other side of the tube opens out onto someone’s private property, we hear.

But we didn’t trek the entire 2.5 miles. It was pitch black in there, with hair-like tree roots hanging overhead, dripping water. The top of the tunnel had areas of shiny silvery lichen, and the sides were smooth with hardened lava. The bottom had rocky craggy stones that were broken off pieces of hardened lava, and pretty unstable to walk on. Mr. W had only bought one flashlight, which proved very difficult for two people to use. The person in front had the light and left the person behind in darkness, unable to see what he/she was stepping on. Also, the tube was not an even size, sometimes squeezing into a tunnel opening that I had to squat and almost crawl through, other times opening into a huge room with cathedral ceilings. Sometimes the floor gave way into a deep wide walkable crevice as the lava stream had apparently flowed both above and below some ground and hardened in the middle. We didn’t get in very far when we realized the one flashlight is not going to work. Luckily, right behind us was a tourgroup and the tourguide, after giving her group the history of this lava tube, started chatting with us while giving her people 10 minutes to wander around the openings. Upon finding out that we didn’t have enough light power, she loaned us one of her flashlights and told us, as she took her group back up the narrow stairs to street level, to simply leave it hidden behind the cement stairs and she’ll pick up the flashlight tomorrow when she brings another group here. Hawaiians are SO kind, we’ve been finding all week. The “spirit of aloha” is very strong on the islands.

We went back to the car so I can change into my hiking shoes and Mr. W could get fresh batteries for his camera, then we went into the long cave maybe half a mile deep or more, which is how I was able to bring you the written description above. A written account is all you’re going to get cuz Mr. W realized he’d put in dead batteries into his camera after we were already fairly deep into the caves, so you’re not gonna have photos of deep inside from us. Oh, and water drips on you the entire time. At one point when Mr. W went on ahead, I waited for his light beam to disappear around a bend and I turned off my flashlight. Completely in perfect darkness where I could not even tell by sight if my eyelids were open, I waited for my auditory sense to sharpen. I heard in stereo surround sound the different droplets of water hit all around me, all sounding different as they hit different levels and types of surfaces, like a watery xylophone being played. Pretty cool stuff.

We found the King Kamehameha statue in this park where people were playing soccer. Rather than photograph the soccer players, I found this more interesting:

…And here’s the king.

Wait. Isn’t he the guy on the chocolate-covered macadamia nuts boxes? Let’s take another look.

On the long drive back to Kona around the coastline, we stopped at a convenience store and I bought real, effective, chemical mosquito repellant in a metal aerosol can, with active ingredient the poisonous DEET, not that weak-ass enviro-friendly lotion crap.

This day was driving exploration day for the southern part of the island. We left early in the morning for snorkeling, having learned that dolphins do their thing in the morning hours. Sea turtles mosey along the water all day long.

Well, we didn’t see any dolphins, but one spot we hit for snorkeling nicknamed “Two Steps” was unbelievable. I practically stepped on a large yellow tang with my fins as I lowered myself into the water off a rocky shelf. Instantly, we were over a coral reef with colorful and beautiful fish were everywhere. I mean, EVERYWHERE. Each time a wave lifted, visible fish were in the raised cross-section of ocean. I was struck by all the life and coral forests underneath the surface, and all the many fish living together, swimming lazily about, pecking at hidden things in the crevices, being very kind to us intruders into their world. I even watched two fish “fight,” which I learned later was a cleaner wrasse pecking the parasites and dead scales off a yellow tang in a symbiotic relationship. Going farther out into the ocean, the coral stopped and we found ourselves swimming over a sandy ocean bottom. Suddenly, a surprise for the visitors of the water: on the white sand underneath, written by placement of cement bricks, was the word “ALOHA.” As we swam along, the water sometimes got “wrinkly” and blurry, and at times got very cold currents that chilled me to the bone. Turned out there was a fresh water spring that feeds into the ocean somewhere, and the mixing of the fresh and salt water was what created the wavy rippling effect, and possibly the temperature change. After getting out (I got a little seasick), I mentioned to Mr. W that I needed to pee. He said, “You didn’t pee while you were in the water?”
I looked up at him. “No! There’s all this fish and life down there, I’m not peeing on them!”
“They pee on you all day long,” he said. I held my breath and visited the Port-o-Potty, which I figured would be really clean if people thought like Mr. W. “OR they could just be full of shit.” Great. (He was right.)

After the morning was spent exploring beaches, we spent the afternoon and evening visiting Kailua-Kona Town on foot again, taking photos.

Many of the shops weren’t open when we visited it the day before, due to the early morning hour. On this day, a cruiseship had come in, so all the shops and streets were abuzz with excitement. We walked into a jewelry store, wandered around a bit, Mr. W said he didn’t care to look at jewelry and walked out. I followed him, since the store clerk was helping a couple of cruisers anyway and was busy. We later passed by that jewelry store’s side window on the way back down the street, and I casually looked over, saw a pretty purple gemstone ring, then looked a foot to the left of that and saw two rings, both with a purplish-gray tint. I stepped up to the window and lowered my height up and down, seeing the rings from two different angles. The color changed to a greenish-gray. “Oh my gosh, I think that’s Alexandrite!” I exclaimed and Mr. W walked back to me and looked. So of course we had to go back in, especially since Mr. W figured that if there was Alexandrite in the window, there had to be Alexandrite in a display.
The store clerk came by as we were searching the displays. “Is that Alexandrite out there?” Mr. W pointed.
“Indeed, it is,” the clerk Ron said as he unlocked the window and took out the smaller of the two rings. It was perfect; a half carat or so of natural, not simulated, Alexandrite from Russia, of amazing clarity and quality. No clouds, feathers or inclusions could I see with my eyes, and the color change was so distinct that it went from a red (red!) in indoor incandescent lighting to an emerald green in direct sunlight. My simulated Alexandrite isn’t even of this quality, and the clerk noted how rare this stone is in general, and how unheard of a natural one of this color-change quality in this size is in new jewelry. The best natural Alexandrite I’d seen barely goes from a light purple to something slightly blue-green, with cracks all through the tiny stone. Also, this band is slender, feminine 18K white gold, the center Alexandrite is emerald-cut and safely set in a Bezel-setting, accented on either side by clusters of 3 diamonds, and the band itself has diamonds running halfway down the sides. It was everything I’ve ever wanted, more than I’d ever hoped to find, thousands more than I could afford, but half the price of the engagement ring. It was The Ring, the one Mr. W was looking for to propose with but could not find. He knew it, too. I put it on my finger. “And it fits, too!” Mr. W said incredulously. The clerk engaged in a great conversation with us about his background as a science teacher and gemologist, which he’d come to the Island 25 years ago to do after a near-death experience in which a gunshot wound ripped out most of his carotid artery and bled him to death. I should call it a death experience, but what he experienced as he died, after he died, and upon his return to his body hours later, reinforced everything I believe in. That sideways glance into the store window, catching the ring unexpectedly, was no coincidence. He gave us a CD of some music he composed on his piano after his experience, we chatted some more about how his scientific anti-religion family disowned him, his epiphanies about life and death, and I decided I could not turn away this ring. So he brought it back out from the window and we talked shop. He gave me the 10% local discount, couldn’t go down lower as the store’s policy was to never discount their stuff, but he can legally avoid having to charge me sales tax as he was mailing me the ring out-of-state, so I saved another 8% right there. The plan is to go back home and call him with my credit card information (funny story: I unwittingly brought along an expired credit card on the trip, duh) and he’ll mail the ring to me next week. I’ll just not spend any money on gas or food or anything at all for the next few months to pay for it.
I was happy the rest of the day, looking forward to my future jewelry. I glowed in the dark all through our dinner at a nice tatami-style Japanese restaurant in town. The hunt for my birthstone is finally over.

The walk through town back to our hotel was also highly romantic.

Reading photo captions by resting mouse pointer on photos is MANDATORY. 🙂

Mr. W and I got up early on Saturday morning, before the crack of dawn (the 3-hour time difference will do that to ya), and explored the very quaint beach town of Kailua-Kona on foot.

We drank organic Kona coffee grown locally, ate local ice cream, watched the waves crash over the rocks, looked for sea turtles, bought a ton of fruit at the local Farmer’s Market, which we brought back and stashed in our room’s refrigerator.

Bananas were $1 a bunch, unusual red furry lychees 30 for $3, large Butter avocados 3 for $2, sweet papayas 7 for $1. For $7 we got a week’s worth of fruit. Oh, and also, we went and purchased some supplies at the local WalMart. =P

Then we went back to the hotel and got ready to attend “Wilco” (Mike) and Christi’s wedding. The wedding resort Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel in a town called Puako an hour north of us is a cross between a ritzy palace and a maze. It has its own golf course. Rooms cost $400+ a night, that’s all I need to say about it.

On the drive up, we observed “Hawaiian graffiti” along both sides of the highway; names, initials, little messages “written” by placing white coral rocks against the black lava stone landscape.

I freaked out excitedly when I saw this one.

It was Mike and Christi’s wedding theme, “Better Together,” and it was HUGE. Mr. W u-turned, pulled over and stood on the hood of the rental car to take the photos. We would find out later that one of the wedding guests actually did the graffiti to surprise the couple. Damn. Wish we would’ve thought of that.

Mike and Christi found a Hawaiian Catholic priest who performed the ceremony for them in the warm easy manner that Hawaiians have, sharing a bit of local lore in between the Bible passage readings.

The ceremony itself was similarly hybrid, held outdoors at the resort’s private beach as the sun slowly dipped toward the watery horizon.

Mike and Christi did not want to bore their guests with a long ceremony — after a couple of songs, a lei-ing ritual between the couple and their family and a symbolic sand-pouring ritual between Mike and Christi similar to the Catholic unity candle lighting…

…the two became officially bettered together and made out in front of their friends and family.

After the ceremony, the guests were directed to a nearby private cliff off the lawn of the resort, where we were served delicious catered hors d’oveures and drinks.

I don’t know why, but I was the only female called out to toast Mike with a tequila shot.

By that time I’d already had a rum & coke and a surprisingly strong Mai Tai on practically an empty stomach. (I had the Farmer’s Market fruit for lunch.) And the shot was very generous. It took two huge gulps to down it. I was a little concerned at this point that I’d be drunk for the first time in my life, and it didn’t help that Mr. W was going around announcing, “She claims she’s never been drunk before. Do you believe that?!” and all the declaration did was make people look at me with an evil “Hmmm” glint in their eye. Because, as it was explained to me by more than one guy, it was now a challenge to get me drunk. Strangely, though, the tequila cleared up my head and coordination. I almost engaged in a jujitsu battle with Greg (who was responsible for my tequila shot) before I reminded him, after lining up with him, that I’d thrown our friend Jimmy, and all of a sudden he remembered seeing that and backed off. (We wouldn’t have REALLY sparred anyway. I think.)

Dinner reception was in a private hall inside the resort.

I was happy that the couple didn’t do the cheesy wedding games that I’d come to dread (“We’re gonna blindfold the groom, then I’m gonna call up volunteers. The groom has to feel each volunteer’s hand/nose with one finger, and determine which one is his new wife. Meanwhile, we’ll be really sneaky and hide a male guest in the lineup of women, so the audience can have a big laugh at the groom’s expense!”). Mr. W and I left during the dancing, but at that point there wasn’t even a bouquet toss or garter throw. THAT is admirable. I’m going to cut that out of my wedding, too. I really enjoyed all the class and goofy details of the wedding like the single delivered pizza Christi ordered for Mike (his one expressed dinner desire when they were planning the menu)…

…and the extra giant Boston Crème Donut cake in addition to the standard wedding cake with a clay cake topper which Christi hand-made…

which details personalized the wedding more than even their wedding favor did, which was a deck of cards with their wedding theme logo and names printed as the deck design (cuz, you know, all their guests had a long flight home with nothing else to do).

An unexpected highlight of the wedding was meeting Dardy for the first time. I’d been wanting to meet this guy for a long time, ever since I randomly dropped in on his blog some years ago through Mike’s blog, and then had to email college roommie Diana to ask whether this guy was for real or if it were a gag blog. Diana reassured me it’s a friend of hers and Mike’s. I did not expect him to be so cool, despite the few emails we’d exchanged over the past couple of years. Mr. W said that he wished we had more time to hang out with him, as Dardy flew back to his Northern California home the morning after the wedding.

Congratulations to Mike & Christi. How can you look at them and not smile?

After my very first American train ride from a station 10 miles from home to Los Angeles, then hopping on a free shuttle from the train station to Los Angeles International Airport two miles away, Mr. W and I had an uneventful and smooth arrival to the airport. Cost: $1.75 each. Time in transit: 45 minutes (30 mins by train, 15 by shuttle). Had we driven, it would’ve cost $100 to park near the airport, plus gas, plus easily a 2 hour drive in traffic. I wouldn’t do it by myself, as when we got to the slummier parts of LA, I felt a need to turn my ring downward into my palm. Some of the train riders, dressed in gang-banger gear talking loudly to their homies in slang that I haven’t yet learned through Gizoogle, made me uncomfortable. Aside from that, it was a great experience.
The flight was uneventful as well. A German guy sat to my left, Mr. W to my right. The German guy awoke groggily when the flight attendant inquired as to his beverage selection, and he replied in confused mixed English and German, “Orange juice, bitte.” After flipping through the Skymall magazine, I spent the remainder of the 5 ½ hour flight unconscious. I didn’t see a need to be awake as American Airlines, despite the hefty cost of the tickets and despite the flight being at dinnertime, did not find it necessary to give us any solid food. Instead, miniature bags of chips were available for purchase for $1.00 and cold sandwiches were a steal at $5.00 each. I thought back to our China flights, which saw to it that all passengers received a hot meal, no matter the duration of the flight. We got to our destination in the very flat, rustic looking airport at the Big Island of Hawai’i, Mr. W shuttled off to get our rental car as I stayed behind waiting for our luggage, he came back to pick me up and off we went to our Kona hotel.
Our room’s great. It’s on the fourth floor, has a balcony overlooking both mountain and ocean, and has two full-size beds. That’s cool with me, means the room’s bigger. The hotel itself (Kona Seaside) is a block north of Ali’i Drive (which means “royalty”), the main drag full of night life and shopping that runs alongside the beach. You literally have waves crashing up against the low wall made of indigenous volcanic rock as you stroll on the sidewalk.

As always, rest mouse pointer on photos for captions.

I’m BAAAAAaaaack! And a whole new nice shade of toasty brown, too! Well, except for the portions covered by bikini fabric which look like they belong on a different person.

Mr. W ended up bringing his laptop, so altho there was no internet access, I did manage to pre-blog daily accounts of the trip, and once I merge those with photos, I’ll for once have posts about my vacation as opposed to just posts PROMISING posts that don’t come to fruition. I’m well aware I still owe the last couple days of Cancun 2005 and the entirety of China 2007. =P

…I know where it went. It was STOLEN!

I was up at 7:30a and wrote a list of things to do today on my day off before our flight takes off to the Big Island of Hawaii tonite at 7:10p. I thought I was doing REALLY WELL, too, and remarkably ahead of schedule. The to-do list looks like this:

1.) pack (just makeup, sunglasses left to pack)
2.) pay bills
3.) gym
4.) buy wedding card/hit up ATM
5.) as time permits, a professional pedicure across the street from the gym/ATM
6.) tidy up house

So Mr. W told his son to come by my house at 3p to give us a ride, and then said that he (Mr. W) will be at my house at 3-ish as well. It was 10:30a when I started paying the bills that would become due when I’m gone, having finished packing (except for the makeup, which I’ll still have to use after the gym, so I’ll pack it then). Scribble on the checks, scribble on the register, peel-n-stick the stamp, peel-n-stick the address label, lick the envelope, ingest what some overpaid researchers have discovered is half a calorie per envelope seal licked, on to the next one. I was a productive methodical machine! And waaaay ahead of the 3pm schedule!

And then the cell phone rang. By “rang,” I mean that Mariah Carey crooned “Oh, you’ll always be a part of me, ooh I’m part of you indefinitely, boy don’t you know you can’t escape me, ooh darling, cuz you’ll always be my baby!” which would be a creepy stalker anthem if it weren’t so upbeat and if I weren’t already engaged to the caller. Mr. W asked me what I was doing. I happily reported how ahead-of-schedule I am. He asked me what’s next on my agenda. I told him I was going to drop off my bills at the post office, go withdraw money from the bank, buy the wedding card (okay, so THAT I big-time procrastinated), then hit the gym, all of which things were within one square mile of each other. He said he got the afternoon off and will meet me at the gym at noon to work out, then we’ll go eat and he’ll come back with me to my place to wait for his son.

Wait. Did I just hear that I got THREE HOURS shaved off my preparation time???

ACK! It’s less than 10 minutes to noon! I gotta GO! Now all of a sudden I’m LATE and I was SUPER DUPER EARLY just an hour ago!!

Two people contacted me yesterday to nudge me to post (one was very gentle, the other was kind of a brat about it), so okay, I’ll just sit on the blog here and see what blubber falls from my fingers.

Speaking of falling blubber, I did a 45 minute hilly run yesterday at lunch for my workout. I hadn’t run in a long time, and it surprised me that I was never out of breath, and my brain never bitched to me about how awful the run was and tried to bargain with me for cutting the run short. My only limit was time. However, the first half-mile to mile of the 4-mile run was painful on my stomach and abdomen, because all the fat bouncing around made my skin ache. I wished for a fitted bodysuit. I wished for a jog bra for my entire body. (There, that’s some TMI for everyone who wants to tell me I’m not fat.) How do those seriously obese people on “The Biggest Loser” do it? I enjoy that show, BTW. I find the participants’ weekly 15-lb weight loss inspiring, in the same impossible wistful way that I aspire to live like Mother Teresa.

Gee. I sound cranky. I wonder why that is. Maybe it’s due to the awful nightmare I had this morning that brought to light all the worst qualities of who I am and played it out in a dream about going to China with Mr. W. Poor Mr. W. I suck. I don’t know whether he hasn’t realized it yet, or whether he’s realized it and loves me anyway. Sucker!

Speaking of Mr. W and trips, this Friday evening we are leaving on a flight to the Big Island of Hawaii to attend “Wilco”‘s destination wedding. I took care of the flight, accommodations and rental car as a 2-year anniversary present for Mr. W. He’s definitely the most expensive wedding date I’ve ever bought, snicker.

Speaking of wedding dates, there isn’t one for us, yet. People keep asking, I keep replying “9 years.” It’s gotten so that Mr. W automatically replies “9 years” as well. Over the weekend when Mr. W and I were visiting my parents, they talked about all the wedding venues being booked up for 8-8-08 (8 in Cantonese, a Chinese dialect, is the phonetic equivalent to the word for “to prosper,” so many Chinese people want things with 8s in them for good monetary luck. House numbers, phone numbers, social security numbers, dates.), similar to how there were a ton of American people who thought they were brilliantly original for aiming for 7-7-07, lucky number 7. My dad brought up that if couples wanted luck for their wedding, they really ought to aim for 9-9-09, because 9 in Chinese is the phonetic equivalent to longevity. We don’t want to get divorced, or have our spouse die early on us, do we? I’m all for aiming for 9-9-09, because it gives me leave to procastinate more.