Monday, November 26, 2007

A Hawaiian Adventure

I’ve heard a lot of people say that karma or the universe or something else always makes things turn out fair, and I guess I believe that, so I should have realized that when I became eligible for free airline travel there would be some sort of a catch… Let me tell you a tale of our latest adventures in the beautiful state of Hawaii.

About two weeks before we were to leave, I started looking in earnest for somewhere to stay, thinking that I could easily find a cheap place since I’m an airline employee, and you know, travel industry people are supposed to take care of each other. Well, apparently $125 per night is really cheap in Hawaii for any sort of hotel; unfortunately, that’s way too expensive for us (our budget for the whole 3-day trip was around $200), so it was time to go into panic mode. After searching high and low through the dregs of hotels and condos, we found something called the Hibiscus Hut not too far away from the airport and beach for $55 per night (it ended up a little more expensive because we brought another couple, but it was still cheap enough), which promised to be just right for the “Budget Traveler.” We called someone who called himself Jim and claimed to own the place, and were told to just go ahead and wire the total for three nights plus a $100 deposit to his PayPal account, and he’d meet us at the door when we got in. I guess I should have been skeptical right off the bat, but it wasn’t until after the money had been sent that I realized I had just parted with a lot of money for a promise from some hippie with a Hawaii phone number. What was done was done, though, so we hopped on the plane hoping for the best but ready to sleep on the beach if needed.

We got in late Sunday night and made the short drive to our hut where we were happily surprised to find that Jim was a real person with a real place for us to stay. We also found that “Hut” in Hibiscus Hut wasn’t really just part of the name, but also a very appropriate descriptive word. I’m not very good at judging distances, but I’d bet that this place was well under 400 square feet. Jim said it best when he said it’s not exactly the Hilton, but it doesn’t cost the same, either. Anyway, it didn’t take long to get situated and fall fast asleep.

Our living room, dining room, and bathroom...

We woke up somewhere around 4:00 on Monday since we were still on Utah time, and sat around until we thought the grocery store would be open so we could go get breakfast before heading off to swim. After we got done being pillaged by the local grocers and eating our breakfast amongst the homeless of Kihei in a local park (none of them were Polynesian, and I’m convinced that they were other airline employees who got bumped from their flights back to the mainland…) we embarked on what we thought would be a fun little hike to a great snorkeling spot. After all, the couple we were with had been here before, so I trusted that they knew what they were talking about. It started off on a nice little trail through an old lava field along the shore, which was really cool to see. The lava rocks were razor sharp and made fantastic shapes in contrast with the rolling waves. After about 20 minutes of our (supposedly) 25 minute hike, we came to a sign saying that if we proceeded any further, the State of Hawaii was not responsible for any blood, sweat, tears, dismemberment, or death in this forsaken wasteland. I questioned whether we were on the right path, especially since there was no path anymore, but I was assured that this was exactly what we were expecting. Literally 45 minutes later after struggling through an exceptionally strenuous hike in direct sunlight at 15 degrees latitude without water through a desert of death, I finally strongly vocalized my uncertainty in the direction we were going, but at this point the only option was to keep walking until we either perished or found our holy grail. It only took us another 20-25 minutes to find what people there call The Fishbowl, where I was able to snorkel for the first time in my life. Would you believe that the hour we spent there totally made our hike worth it? I had very high expectations for what snorkeling would be like, and I was still floored by the beauty of the different coral and fish (and Pixar’s ability to depict tropical fish so accurately). Jamie and I had to take turns going out so that the baby could be watched, and while she was out she and Brandon (my friend who accompanied us) saw an octopus as well as myriad other tropical fish, sea cucumbers, anemones, and the like. I missed the octopus, but I was able to catch everything else. It was insanely cool, and I wanted to stay all day, but there was another family there who didn’t look like they had just traversed Mordor, so we had to follow them out in order to find out where the trail really was. It was bittersweet that the hike back took a mere 20 minutes and was along a groomed trail the entire time (if you ever go, the real trail’s on the right side of the road, just past the fifth power pole up from the parking lot). Ah well, it wouldn’t have been such a reward if we didn’t have to work so hard for it, right?

Can you tell that I don't ever take my shirt off?

This is why you should stick to the trail...

After adventure number one, we decided that it was time for a little vacation from our vacation, so we just went back to our hut for a while and then headed off to the beach. I don’t know how many of you have been to a good beach in your life, but all I’ve ever been to have been in California (I can’t really remember the ones in Brazil for some reason), so I was absolutely floored by how amazing this one was. No offense to you California fans out there, but this beach put those all to shame. The sand was totally clean and finer than sugar, the palm trees were towering over us providing a perfect shield from the city behind us, and there was hardly anyone there but us. That’s not even the best of it, though. The water was bathtub warm! Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it was the first time I can remember being able to swim at a beach in totally comfortable water. It was amazing.

That night, Brandon and I went to meet another friend from work at the airport while our wives chilled at “home.” The reason our friend came out was to go see Haleakala Crater, a 10,000-foot dormant volcano, which is supposed to provide a place to watch the sunrise that will provide something of a religious experience. I’m sure it does, too…if you make it to the top. Again, we woke up around 4-5:00 to make the hour drive to the top. Along the way, I thought it might be a good idea to get gas, but then decided that we were in too much of a hurry to stop, and I was sure ¼ of a tank would suffice. The van we were driving had one of those displays that tells you how many miles you have until you’re empty, and about ¾ of the way to the top of the volcano, I was unpleasantly surprised to see that we were sitting at 3 miles left in our tank. Like the day before, we decided that we may as well press on and try to get to our goal. We made it to the national park entrance when our display said zero miles, but then we found out that there were still 11 miles to the top, and the sun was already coming up, so I threw the van in neutral and started coasting down the mountain hoping to make it to the gas station at the bottom before the car died. We would have made it, too, but when we had—and I’m not kidding here—less than ½ of a mile left to go, the van started shaking terribly, kind of like it does when your tire goes flat. Unfortunately, it felt kind of like that because that is exactly what happened. I have never in my life seen a tire so completely destroyed as that one was. We pulled over to change the tire, but for the life of us we couldn’t find a spare even after looking under the van where the spare usually is. We called the rental company, and they sent someone up from the other side of the island, and we were out of there merely two hours later. For your information, if you are driving a van with Stow ‘N Go seating, the spare is under the engine block…

After our second adventure, we again decided to take it easy, and we just drove over to Lahaina for some more snorkeling, beach, and a little shopping. That took up the rest of the day, so we got a bite to eat, took our friend back to the airport, and got to bed early so that we’d be ready for the next day and whatever surprises it held.

This is a banyan tree in Lahaina. It's all the same tree, and I thought it was pretty cool...

Maui is quite a rural island, with the only inhabited areas being right along the coast. Kahului and Kihei are on the northern end of the island, where most people live, and Hana is a little town on the southern end where everyone else lives. There’s only one road that circles the island and the western half of that road is called the Road to Hana (creative, eh?), which is one road where the journey is much more rewarding than the destination. It’s only a 54-mile drive, but the average speed limit is 15 mph, so it takes a good 3-4 hours to drive, and that’s what we wanted to finish our trip off with. I’ve been trying for days to try to find some way to describe or explain the experience of driving the Road to Hana, but all I can say is that if we missed our religious experience viewing true beauty at the top of Haleakala Crater, we certainly made up for that on our drive. We saw roaring waves, thick jungles, quaint villages, towering waterfalls, beautiful black sand beaches, and astounding coastline overlooks along the way. If you’ve ever pictured tropical paradise, your mind is showing you the Road to Hana.

If you view any of these pictures in fullscreen, do this one of Jamie and the baby. It's my favorite.

We got to Hana at about 5:00 in the afternoon, and planned on driving completely around the island since that way only takes about an hour, and we had to be back to the airport around 8:00. Unfortunately, we got about 10 miles when we were stopped because there had been a landslide, closing off the road. Our only choice was to backtrack as fast as we could. Remember, this is about a 3-4 hour drive during the day, but it was quickly becoming very dark. Oh yeah, and it was starting to rain. Now, when it rains in the tropics, it’s not exactly like it is when it rains in Utah. I literally couldn’t see 10 feet in front of the van nearly the entire way back to the airport. I’m not sure how it happened, but we were able to somehow make it back in time. In fact, we drove up to the airport just in time to check in and walk right on the plane.

So there you have it. Yes, we got a nearly free trip to Hawaii, but on the other hand, we had our share of excitement. Seriously, though, this was an absolutely beautiful and amazing trip. I really hope you all get to see Hawaii someday if you haven’t already. At very least, I hope you enjoy the pictures. I'll just throw the rest of them on here.

This is taken at our hut. I just thought it was a cool picture that showed how tropical it is there.

I've always wanted to swim under a waterfall in Hawaii, so I did it. You'd be surprised how cold the water is, though.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

New York

So, here's the story. I found out that on December 1st I'll lose free flights on Delta, and I'll have to start paying a (nominal) fee for flights with them. I'll still get free flights on Skywest, but that doesn't get me nearly as many places as Delta does, so Jamie and I decided that every Monday and Tuesday until December first will see us in a new destination. On Sunday night, we decided to take the redeye flight JFK airport in New York City leaving SLC at midnight. We got to the airport at about 11:15, and got to the gate just in time to walk onto the plane before they closed the door. Nothing is ever as easy as it should be, thought, because when I was about halfway to my seat, I realized that I didn't have my laptop with me (even though it was with me when I got to the airport...). I ran out to see if I had left it outside the door, but it wasn't there, so I asked the guy if I could run and grab it. He said yes, but since we were non-paying passengers he said that he was going to shut the door with or without me when the plane was supposed to leave (in about 7 minutes), so I took off running. I finally found it clear back by security, and since I am so out of shape I was almost dead at this point, but I only had a very few minutes to get back to the gate or the plane would leave with my family but without me, so I kept running. I got to the plane just in time, but I literally had sweat running off my bald head by the gallon, and I was panting like Dan's dogs. Oh well, I made it.

The flight was fairly uneventful since the boys slept the entire time. Neither Jamie nor I got any sleep, though, so we were a little tired when we landed in NYC at about 6:00 their time. We immediately headed out to the supposedly free shuttle train that would take us to the subway, and were more than a little surprised when we found out that it actually cost $17! Oh well... We caught the Subway out to Times Square and got something to eat before snapping a few pictures. As you can see, even though it was 7ish there, the boys weren't quite used to the time change yet.

After that, it was just an adventure in trying to find the right subway stops and landmarks using some inaccurate maps. We did pretty well, I think, and were able to see the Christler and Empire State buildings without much difficulty. We even accidentally found the New York City Public Library (remember Ghostbusters?).

Christler Building

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

New York City Public Library

After that, we made our way up to Central Park and the Temple, which is basically right across the street, and hung out for a while there. Then we headed down to Ground Zero before going to the airport. The last time I was in New York was 1997, so I actually stood on top of the twin towers, and even though I knew what to expect this time, it was shockingly touching to see the hole where the buildings used to be. There were probably nearly a couple hundred people at the memorial, yet it was almost reverent there. It was a good way to finish off a day in the Big Apple.

After we spent a while at the church next to Ground Zero, we hopped on the subway back to the airport, and promptly fell asleep. I woke up to see Jamie nearly fall off the bench and every person on the train staring at the strange tourists with all those kids. It was actually pretty funny. Anyway, we got to the airport in plenty of time, and were fortunate enough to see the airplane leave without us because there weren't enough seats...oops... Anyway, we told the kids that we were going to have a special sleepover at the airport, so they got all excited instead of getting mad that we didn't get to go on another airplane ride. We spent the night in a very cold airport terminal, and caught the first flight home on Tuesday morning. I probably don't need to say that although the trip was fun, we were very glad to be home.

Alas, I must be off to work. I hope you enjoyed this.


Monday, October 8, 2007

Here are some more pictures...