Stinking and Sinking in Puerto Aventuras

Our condo at Chac Hal Al overlooked Bahia de Fatima, a beautiful, serene bay with clear cerulean water perfect for swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, or paddle boarding. For the less active, it was a beautiful setting for sunbathing or just sitting in the shade of a palm tree or palapa with a good book or a cocktail.

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Bahia de Fátima (Fatima Bay) from our beach

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Báhia de Fátima (Fatima Bay) from our balcony

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Swimmers and snorkelers at the beach

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Gail paddle boarding

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Jim chillaxin’ poolside with a view of the bay

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Gail sunbathing on the beach

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Jim with a view of the pool and the bay

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Time for nachos and Coronitas

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My view

Idyllic, wouldn’t you agree? That is until our idyll was disturbed by two events. The first disruption occurred when we observed this.

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What looked like brown seaweed invaded the peaceful azure waters and definitely discouraged water activities. My research revealed it was sargassum or sargasso seaweed, which is an increasingly common problem in the Caribbean. The free-floating algae originate in the Sargasso Sea located in the Bermuda Triangle of the North Atlantic. While its existence is nothing new, the amount has increased dramatically and may be attributed to the warming of the ocean due to global climate change. In normal amounts, sargassum provides habitat for lots of marine life including hatching sea turtles but the massive amounts washing ashore today can adversely impact tourism. Clogging the water, it discourages swimmers and snorkelers and the smell as it deteriorates drives away beach-lovers.

I was impressed to see residents and employees working side by side to rake and bag the sargassum and haul it away from the beach. Soon they had the beach looking pristine again and ready for activities. We did, however, observe sargassum at other beaches along the Riviera Maya during our stay so I wonder how they are dealing with the issue.

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Jim walking back from the area where clean-up occurred

The next puzzling event occurred when we noticed a large ship which appeared offshore in Bahia de Fatima.

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Large ship in Bahia Fátima

After several days continued presence, we asked a local realtor that paddle boarded to our beach about it. She said a Mexican Navy ship hit the reef and sank. I posted a teaser on Facebook and Twitter that a blog post would follow. This is finally that post.

We still didn’t know the full story. Why was the large ship there? Day after day, when I saw it was still there, I wondered what it was doing and how long it would continue to be present. It dominated our view and became a daily topic of conversation.

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Mexican Navy Ship

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View of the navy ship from our upstairs balcony

We even discussed it over cocktails at the Omni swim-up bar.

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Our view of the navy ship from the swim-up bar at the Omni Hotel

And then it was gone and the drama ended. We finally learned from reading the local paper, The Pelican Free Press, a Polaris Patrol Interceptor boat lost power causing it to hit the reef. It was hung up on the reef for several days, where Jim first saw it, but it sank when it was pulled from the rocks. Salvage operations first centered around removing equipment and weapons from the boat. The Mexican Navy’s second largest multipurpose logistical ship, a BAL-02, equipped with a hoist arrived to refloat the sunken ship and tow her in for repairs.

Life on Bahia Fátima returned to its previous undisturbed halcyon state. But I’m sure the tourists and locals who were there sometimes say, “Remember when…”

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Next time: Playa del Carmen

Based on events from January 2016.

 

 

Categories: History, Mexico, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Miss Chichen Itza

The Maya are an indigenous Mesoamerican people whose civilization flourished as long ago as 1800 B.C. in southeastern Mexico and the northern areas of Central America in Guatemala, Belize, and parts of Honduras and El Salvador. The city of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula was established by the Maya people in the first half of the 5th century A.D. and was the center of civilization until its decline around 1200 A.D.

I’ve been to Mexico many times and I’ve visited the Maya archeological site at Tulum but this was my first visit to Chichen Itza. When I discovered it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, I was keen to see it. Our guide, Norma, provided many details about the Maya and the structures we viewed. For example, the Maya grew cacao for a chocolate drink, they had a complex written language recorded in books, they were brilliant astronomers, and played a game on a large court putting a ball through a hoop.

There are many descendants of the Maya people still residing in the Yucatan and their homes continue to be organically constructed of earth or wood with thatched roofs as shown in the photo below.

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Typical Maya dwelling

As we entered Chichen Itza, the main thoroughfare was lined with vendors selling their wares. We were on a tour with a guide so there was no opportunity to shop at that time even though we had learned to ask in Mayan, “Bahoosh?” (how much).

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Vendors lining the entrance to Chichen Itza

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High Priest’s Grave

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Wall along the Great Ball Court

 

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Ruin at Chichen Itza

 

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Norma, our guide

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Caracol, an observatory for astronomy

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Las Monjas

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Path through the jungle at Chichen Itza

The iconic El Castillo, or Pyramid of Kukulcan, is the building everyone goes to Chichen Itza to see. The four sides of this temple each contain 91 steps which total 364 plus one single step at the top for a grand total of 365 steps which equal the number of days in the Mayan calendar. I was under the incorrect assumption that we could climb to the top and felt some trepidation at the thought. A friend of mine told me about the experience. She said the steps were so narrow and steep that coming down she had to sit on the staircase and ease down step by step. Thankfully, visitors are no longer allowed to climb so we dodged that bullet.

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The Temple of Kukulcan or El Castillo

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Temple of Kukulkan behind us

Following our tour of Chichen Itza, we had a tasty buffet lunch at a restaurant designed to feed busloads of tourists.

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Fresh tortillas for lunch

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Buffet for a multitude

Following lunch, we stopped at Ik Kil for a swim in one of the most beautiful cenotes I’ve seen. A cenote is a sinkhole where the Maya and others located their towns to have a supply of fresh water available.

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Ik Kil

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Ik Kil

We declined to swim but enjoyed the experience, nevertheless. And best of all, Norma advised us before leaving the bus to be back by 2:30 saying, “If you’re not back on time, it’s okay.  We’ll be back here in two days and we’ll pick you up then.” No one was late!

Based on events from January 2016.

 

 

 

Categories: History, Mexico, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Behaving Badly in Puerto Aventuras

We enjoyed our week in Puerto Aventuras on the Mayan Riviera of Mexico in January 2015 so much that we returned in January 2016 and extended our stay to two weeks. (If you want to read my previous posts about Puerto Aventuras, check posts from February and March 2015.) In the several days before our friend, Gail, joined us, we got reacquainted with Puerto Aventuras; walked to the grocery store, Super Chedraui, to stock up on essentials; discovered a Starbucks; and even found a Zumba class.

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View from our condo

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View of Dolphin Discovery from Hoo Haa Restaurant

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Sea Lions at Dolphin Discovery

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Marina at Puerto Aventuras

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Cannon outside the National Museum of Underwater Archeology

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Marina at Puerto Aventuras

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Our condo at Chac Al Hal is on the right side upper 2 floors

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No explanation required

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Beach in front of our condo

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Poolside

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Guacamole on the balcony

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Iguana sunning itself

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Party boat leaving the marina

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Dinner at Dos Chiles

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Starbucks

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Zumba

Knowing  our friend, Gail, wouldn’t care to accompany us, we decided to take a bus tour to Chichen Itza before she arrived. We booked our tour through Paradise Tours located in the lobby of the Omni Hotel. For $85 per person, our package included narrated bus transportation, entrance to Chichen Itza with a guided tour, buffet lunch on the return trip, and a stop at a cenote for a swim. As it turned out, we got even more for our money.

A 12 passenger van picked us up promptly at the Omni and then picked up another couple at a nearby resort. The driver stopped next at Barceló Resort but the passengers were not waiting. What?!!? The driver got on his phone, drove around the resort a bit, waited some more, walked around looking for them, walked inside the resort lobby, and phoned some more. Meanwhile, we were worried we’d miss our connection with the tour bus and I was getting more annoyed by the minute. This is why I usually avoid tours; there’s always someone that keeps the group waiting.

When the young couple finally appeared a half hour late and climbed into the van laughing and chatting, oblivious to their inconsideration, something in me snapped. Honestly, if they had apologized or seemed contrite or abashed, I’d have swallowed my irritation but instead, I blurted, “I hope you were sick in the bathroom and aren’t just an a**hole making us wait.” Oops. I couldn’t believe I’d said it. The words just escaped from my mouth. My bad. And their bad certainly didn’t excuse my bad.  I heard Pete, from the seat behind us, gasp and say quietly to his wife, “And you think I’m outspoken.”

Well, we made our connection with the bus but when we got there, the guide took us and the couple that made us wait aside. I thought, “Uh-oh, now what?” The guide told us that everyone else on the tour had paid more for their package which included breakfast and snacks and they would give us the same extras at no additional charge but not to say anything to the others. Then they seated us together, with a table between us facing each other. Awkward. I was somewhat embarrassed and when I introduced myself, my husband offered, “You can just call her A**hole.” Thankfully, that broke the tension and we had a pleasant 2-hour ride to Chichen Itza. We also enjoyed the additional perquisites including  Coronitas, little Coronas which are just the right size to take the edge off an awkward situation.

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So tell me what you think. Whether you think I was horribly rude or just a little out of line, feel free to weigh in below in the comments. Has anything like this happened to you on a tour?

Up next time: Chichen Itza

Based on events from January 2016.

 

Categories: Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 12 Comments

Aloha ‘Oe, Hawaii

One of the challenges faced by cruise passengers is what to do with luggage while sightseeing before or after a cruise. Most airports no longer offer lockers due to security issues. If you have a hotel reserved, they’ll usually keep your bags until check-in but if not, what’s a tourist to do? We decided to rent a car to store our luggage while we toured Oahu upon our return to Honolulu. For around $50, we had wheels for the day and storage for our bags while we waited for our evening flight.

As soon as our cruise ship, the Pride of America, docked, we took a taxi from the port to the Honolulu Airport to pick up our car. Happy to have the protection of our own vehicle due to intermittent rain showers throughout the day, we headed across the lush Koolau Mountains to the Kamehameha Highway on the windward side of the island.

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Koolau Mountains

The Kamehameha Highway follows the coastline with plenty of stopping points to capture the incredibly beautiful views.

 

 

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Water view along Kamehameha Highway

We stopped at the ruins of the Kualoa Sugar Mill in the Kaaawa Valley of the Koolau Mountains where the scenery looked like Jurassic Park, probably because the movie was filmed in this area. The first sugar mill on Oahu, Kualoa Sugar Mill was built in the early 1860’s and abandoned in the 1870’s because there wasn’t enough rain in the area to grow sugar. Who’d have thought?

 

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Koolau Mountains with ruins of the Kualoa Sugar Mill

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Ruins of Kualoa Sugar Mill

We stopped next at the Polynesian Cultural Center but alas, it wasn’t open yet. The “cultural” part of the name attracted us but honestly, it was more of a theme park. We read some of the cultural and historical signs and left before they opened.

After meandering up the eastern coast, we finally arrived at the famous North Shore, home of the perfect wave for surfers. The Van’s Triple Crown of Surfing, a three event men’s professional competition has been held on the North Shore each year since 1983 and in 2015, the dates of the competition were November 12 through December 20. We happened to be there on November 21 toward the end of the second crown, the Van’s Cup of World Surfing, which took place on Sunset Beach. Too bad we didn’t see any action that morning.

 

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Sunset Beach

 

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Sunset Beach, home of Van’s World Cup of Surfing

 

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View from Kamehameha Highway

Waimea Valley Park with a hike to the famous Waimea Falls was on our to-do list but untimely showers made the 1.5 mile hike unappealing. We walked around the botanical garden a bit and then stopped at Waimea Bay Beach in time to see blue skies briefly.

 

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Hawaiian vegetation at Waiamea Gardens 

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Waimea Bay Beach

The rock at Waimea Bay Beach in the photo below provides a popular albeit dangerous attractive hazard that locals climb then jump into the water. We didn’t see anyone up there that morning so maybe the tide was too low.

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The rain returned as we drove through the North Shore town of Haleiwa. Further exploration including a shaved ice would have to wait for next time.

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Haleiwa

We skipped the Dole Pineapple Plantation  this trip but it’s wildly popular among families, entertaining and educating one million visitors each year. Jim and I were there in 2003 with our teenagers and enjoyed the experience. We did, however, see lots of pineapple fields and snapped a few photos. We also ate every bit of fresh pineapple offered to us while in Hawaii. Yum.

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Pineapple Fields

After our drive to the North Shore, we headed to the Dole Cannery in Honolulu, once the largest pineapple cannery in the world, now a retail space containing a movie theater with 18 screens. Our friend, Rick, discovered a film festival that he was keen to check out.

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The restored Dole Cannery

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Rick ready to see a film at the Hawaii International Film Festival

While Rick attended a more artistic film, Lori, Jim, and I watched the last movie in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay Part 2. Afterward, we stopped by Max’s for an outstanding Filipino dinner prior to our long foodless flight home.

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Outside a Filipino restaurant, Max’s

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Inside Max’s

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Tasty Filipino chicken adobo

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Filipino veggies

The tradition of throwing lei into the water dates back to the early 1900’s. Upon leaving Hawaii by boat, visitors threw their lei into the water to return it to Hawaii as they hoped one day, they, too, would return. Leaving by plane and not knowing whether it’s allowable to toss our lei from the Pride of America, we simply left them behind to signal our intention to return one day.

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The remains of our beautiful lei

Aloha ‘oe (farewell to you), Hawaii. A hui hou (until we meet again). (🤘🏽🤘🏽🤘🏽shaka, shaka)

Listen to Elvis sing Aloha Oe from the movie, Blue Hawaii,  here.

 

Based on events from November 2015.

Categories: cruise, History, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Na Pali Coast of Kauai

The iconic Na Pali Coast on the north shore of Kauai is only accessible by boat or air. Well, except for that treacherous 11-mile hiking trail that didn’t especially appeal to us. Fortunately for us, the Pride of America was scheduled to sail along the 17-mile coastline of Na Pali. We were excited to experience sublime views of the emerald-green cliffs on our last day aboard the NCL Pride of America. Unfortunately for us, the weather did not cooperate.  Our first view looked like this.

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Approaching the Na Pali Coast

The coastline was almost completely obscured by clouds. As we got closer, they began to dissipate a bit but our views remained misty at best.

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Low clouds on the Napali Coast

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The first bit of green appears before our wondering eyes

We made the best of the situation, however, and enjoyed what we could see. Actually, in retrospect, I think it was fortunate that we initially thought we’d see nothing because then we appreciated what we did see so much more.

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Misty Na Pali Coast

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Closer view through the mist and low clouds

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Na Pali Coast

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Looking up the valley along the Na Pali Coast

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Another view

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Na Pali means cliffs–you can see why

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My favorite view of Na Pali coast

We had considered a helicopter or a catamaran tour but I’m glad we didn’t spend the money in view of the weather. The fact that our tour was included in our cruise made us feel like we got something extra. The captain of the Pride of America tried so hard to get us close enough to the shore to see the amazing lush vegetation and velvety emerald cliffs through the mist. We tell people if you haven’t experienced surreal Na Pali in the mist, you haven’t seen Na Pali. But I know I’ll go back  hoping to see Na Pali on a crystal clear day.

 

Based on events from November 2015.

 

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More on the Garden Isle of Kauai

Back on the south coast of Kauai after our visit to Waimea Canyon, we stopped first at Russian Fort Elizabeth State Park where hundreds of feral chickens greeted us in the parking lot. Sights like these are the most memorable for me –they stand out because they are unusual or unique.

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Parking lot at Russian Fort Elizabeth

Named for the czarina of Russia, Fort Elizabeth was one of three forts built by Russia on Kauai between 1813 and 1817. I had no idea Russia had a presence in Hawaii so this historical trivia was intriguing to me. Apparently, we were alone in our interest, however, because we were the only people there. According to the signs on-site, Russia wanted to establish a trade relationship with Hawaii to obtain food for their Alaskan settlements. That seemed odd in view of the fact that it’s only 55 miles across the Bering Strait to Russia  (I’ve heard you can see Russia from your porch in Alaska) while it’s over 3000 miles from Hawaii to Alaska. Nevertheless, that was the plan. King Kamehameha wasn’t a fan, however, and expelled the Russians in 1817. Not much remains so it was a brief stop.

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Remains of Russian Fort Elizabeth

We drove on to the Kauai Coffee Company, Hawaii’s largest coffee grower. Originally a sugar cane plantation, the first coffee trees were planted here in 1987 and today they have more than 4 million trees. The Visitor Center and Museum had a lot to offer, including unlimited self-serve coffee samples.

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Kauai Coffee Company

While we savored amazing coffee, we watched a video about the coffee production process and viewed the historical exhibits.

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Admittedly, we were there for the coffee but this visitor was mainly interested in the spilled sugar. The gold dust day gecko is not native to Hawaii but was introduced in the 1970s. Because they help keep insect populations in check, they are usually welcome guests.

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Gold dust day gecko

The people at Kauai Coffee Company definitely have a sense of humor. This was the first of a number of signs that caused me to chuckle.

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With coffee in hand, we wandered out to the self-guided walking tour. It was a paved trail with lots of explanatory signage along the way about growing, harvesting, and processing coffee.

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Signs like this explain coffee growing and processing

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Jim along the trail

 

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Our friend, Rick, a true coffee lover, in front of coffee trees

The signs contained interesting coffee facts that I didn’t know previously. For example, did you know that longer roasting reduces the caffeine in coffee? Consequently, a medium roast has more caffeine than a dark roast. There are usually two coffee beans inside the coffee cherry but when just one forms, it’s called a peaberry. The peaberry roasts more evenly and produces a superior cup of coffee which we confirmed in our taste tests. And each coffee tree produces just one pound of roasted coffee per harvest.

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More humor

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Coffee cherries

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Plumeria growing at the coffee estate because this is Hawaii, after all

This was a pleasant stop with lots of interesting information. We purchased some coffee to take home, returned our rental car, and headed back to the ship in time for dinner.

Based on events from November 2015.

Categories: cruise, History, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Visiting the Garden Isle of Kauai

Kauai, the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, is nicknamed the garden island with good reason. Every rainy, verdant, undeveloped, dramatic landscape looks like an untamed garden.  Due to its appeal, over 60 movies have been filmed here, including the Jurassic Park series, Jurassic World, Pirates of the Caribbean, Avatar, and The Descendants, just to name a few.

The Pride of America docked at Nawiliwili where we rented a car. For just $50 a day, we had the freedom to explore wherever we liked on the island. Of the many choices to see and do, the top of our list was the Napali coast followed by Waimea Canyon. You can only see the Napali coast by boat or air and, fortunately for us, the Pride of America would cruise along the coast the following day. We chose to drive to Waimea Canyon, once dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific by Mark Twain.

The drive was just 31 miles but it was up a curvy 2 lane road with amazing scenery so we took our time and stopped along the way. At first, it seemed odd that the landscape appeared somewhat arid with red soil and shades of yellow and brown vegetation interspersed with patches of lush, verdant plant life. Then I remembered this was the leeward (drier) side of the island.

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The drive to Waimea Canyon

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View on the road to Waimea Canyon

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View of the Pacific

 

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Our friends and travel companions, Rick and Lori

 

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Red Dirt Waterfall

 

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Laura and Jim at the entrance to Waimea Canyon

 

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Waimea Canyon

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Waimea Canyon

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Waimea Canyon

Waipoo Falls rising 800 feet above the canyon floor amazed and inspired us.

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Waipoo Falls in Waimea Canyon

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Overlook at Waimea Canyon

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Waipoo Falls

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Waipoo Falls

In the parking lot at Waimea Canyon Lookout, vendors sold exotic tropical fruits and other products. We tried the dragon fruit which the sign told us tastes like pear plus kiwi. Yum!

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Vendors at Waimea Canyon Lookout

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Tropical fruits for sale

I wish I had tried the manapua which is a pork pastry originally introduced to Hawaii by Chinese immigrants. I noticed there was also a sweet variety with cream custard, probably to appeal to today’s sugar addicted consumer.

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The vendor where we bought our fruit

We were intrigued by the chickens we saw wandering freely all over the island including this parking lot. The protected feral chickens supposedly have no natural enemies on Kauai so they flourish in larger numbers here than on other islands. My research, however, led me to this article from the Hawaii Invasive Species Council. The mongoose was introduced in 1883 on other islands to control the rat population in the sugar cane fields. An unintended consequence occurred because the mongoose has no natural predators on the islands and it also reduced the population of island birds including feral chickens. The mongoose was never introduced on Kauai but a number of sightings and one capture have occurred. If indeed, the mongoose has gained a foothold, Kauai will need to develop a management plan.  (First Live Mongoose Captured on Kauai, May 2012)

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Mama and her brood

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Colorful rooster

Come back to read more about our visit to Kauai. Spoiler alert: more chickens, a fort, and good coffee are coming up.

Based on events in November 2015.

 

References:

Press Release. (2012, May 23). First Live Mongoose Captured on Kauai, May 2012. Hawaii.gov. Retrieved from http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/hisc/news/kauaimongoosepr/

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Unscripted on the Big Island

After a busy week exploring Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island, we were ready for an unscripted beach day. And, because it rained most of the previous day on the windward side of the island, we looked forward to dry weather on the “Kona side” (leeward) at Kailua-Kona. Cruise ships anchor offshore at this port, so our first order of business was taking a tender from our ship to the pier.

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Tender to the Kona pier

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View of the Pride of America from our tender

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Beach ready

After the requisite photo on the pier, we were ready to find a beach. Fortunately, historic downtown Kailua is adjacent to the pier so we didn’t have to look far. We stopped at Tourist Information and learned the Kona Trolley would take us south to the beaches for just $2 per ride.

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Roadside view from the Kona Trolley

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Trolley View

We got off the trolley at Kahalu’u Beach where Jim was first into the water. When he spied a large sea turtle swimming next to him, he was intent on avoiding contact after seeing the sign announcing a $35,000 fine for touching these protected creatures. An underwater camera sure would have been handy to capture the experience, however.

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Kahalu’u Beach

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Jim swimming with the sea turtles

While the beach was lovely, there was too much coral in the water which makes for good snorkeling but awkward wading, so we packed up and got back on the trolley to try another beach. Magic Sands Beach was perfect.

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Magic Sands Beach

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Magic Sands Beach

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Magic Sands Beach

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Yours truly in the water at Magic Sands Beach

The official name is La’aloa Beach, but locals nicknamed it Magic Sands because the sand washes away in the winter only to return each summer when the currents change. Fortunately for us, there was plenty of sand during our visit in November.

A sweet little dog wandered about the beach visiting various groups of sunbathers and eventually he joined us, too. We, of course, assumed he was a stray but when he turned up his nose at the granola bar we offered, we knew his owner was nearby. Sure enough, as we left, we saw him jump into a car with a local.

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Lori and I made friends with this sweet dog

When we’d had enough beach time, we took the trolley back to town for a little exploration. We’d been advised to have a shave ice with azuki beans and finally located a place that sold them. Azuki (or adzuki) beans are red beans that are sweetened and used in Asian confections. Since the tradition of Hawaiian shave ice was first introduced by Japanese immigrants, it makes sense that they would use azuki beans. They were surprisingly tasty in the shave ice.

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Shave Ice offerings

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Ordering our shave ice

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shave ice with azuki beans

At the end of a relaxing unscripted day in Kailua-Kona, we were ready to return to the Pride of America to set sail that evening for the island of Kauai. And if you’re wondering why we didn’t visit a coffee plantation, we did –on Kauai, so please come back and check it out.

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Home sweet Pride of America

 

Based on events from November 2015.

 

 

 

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The Legend of Akaka Falls

Legend has it the Hawaiian god, Akaka, lived next to a waterfall with his wife while his girlfriends, Lehua and Maile, lived nearby. When his wife returned early one day nearly catching him with one of the girlfriends, Akaka ran away and fell into the falls. (Some versions say he jumped but I find that hard to believe.) Lehua and Maile cried so hard when they heard about Akaka’s death, they turned into small waterfalls. The waterfall that Akaka fell into was named Akaka Falls and two nearby small cascading falls are called Lehua and Maile Falls.

Today, Akaka Falls State Park is a very popular and iconic attraction near Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. To reach the falls, we walked a short paved trail through stunning tropical vegetation. While the entire trail is less than half a mile, there are stairs involved so the trail is not wheelchair accessible. The park is a tropical paradise that defies description and the photos hardly capture such incredible beauty. When I say tropical, I mean it was hot, humid, misty, or rainy the entire time but thankfully, I never saw a single mosquito.

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Red Firespike

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Red Firespike

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Ti plant

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Ti plant (Hawaiian Good Luck Plant)

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Lori under the aerial roots of a large Banyan tree with Jim in the background

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Red Ginger

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Yellow Ginger

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Heliconia Mariae

The walk through this lush tropical jungle would have been quite enough to satisfy us but our first view of the Akaka Falls took the experience to another level.

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First view of Akaka Falls

The falls drops 442 feet into a gorge so we knew that we had only seen the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. The full view was truly sublime.

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Akaka Falls

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Akaka Falls and trail

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Jim and Laura on the stairs to the viewing area of Akaka Falls

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Lori and Laura at Akaka Falls

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Full view of Akaka Falls

If the photos don’t fully convey the beauty of the falls, click on this video to see Akaka Falls in motion.

Continuing along the trail, we also spotted the small Lehua and Maile Falls crying copious tears together.

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Lehua and Maile Falls

Our visit to Akaka Falls was part of the Pride of America excursion to Volcanoes National Park. The third component of this excursion was a stop at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center. Although I’m not a huge fan of these commercial stops that all cruise lines include in their excursions, we actually appreciated this shopping opportunity to pick up some macadamia nuts to take home. Unfortunately, the factory was closed or we’d have enjoyed a look about there, too.

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We spent only a day in the port of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii but felt we’d gotten a good introduction to the windward side of the island. That night the Pride of America sailed on to Kona where, the next morning, we would explore the leeward side.

Based on events from November 2015.

 

Categories: cruise, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Hiking Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Mauna Loa and Kilauea, on the island of Hawaii, are two of the most active volcanoes in the world. Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984 and is due to erupt again. Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983. In addition, Mauna Loa is actually the tallest mountain in the world standing 56,000 feet (17,000 meters) when measured from the ocean floor rather than sea level. These two volcanoes comprise Volcanoes National Park and a UNESCO  World Heritage site. In my opinion, this was the single most important “not to be missed” sight on our Hawaiian cruise and for this reason, we booked an excursion to Volcanoes National Park through the cruise line. For $139 per person, we were transported to the national park, we hiked the crater of Kilauea Iki with a guide, and visited Akaka Falls, too.

The Pride of America docked in Hilo where our excursion began. Our bus stopped first at the Kilauea Visitor Center which interestingly, was built in 1941 as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project. The CCC was a New Deal program established during the Great Depression in 1933 that taught young unemployed men many valuable skills while improving the infrastructure of the United States.

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Kilauea Visitor Center, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

We began our 4-mile hike at the Kilauea Iki (Little Kilauea) Trailhead. The trail followed the rim of the crater through a lush tropical rainforest, then descended 400 feet (122 m) by switchbacks and stairs to the floor of the crater, crossed the crater, and ascended again.  Our guide led us through the hot, wet, humid, tropical rain forest telling us about the vegetation as we hiked. Periodically, we had stunning views into the crater.

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Our guide telling us about the rain forest on the Kilauea Iki Trail

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Kilauea Iki Trail

 

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View from Kilauea Iki Trail

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Tropical rain forest vegetation

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Fern fiddleheads in the tropical rain forest

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Kilauea Iki Overlook

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Looking into the crater of Kilauea Iki

Kilauea Iki last erupted in 1959. Prior to the eruption, the floor of the crater was 800 feet deep and covered with forest.  When a lava lake of 86 million tons flooded the crater, the floor raised 400 feet. Today the lava lake is solid but steam vents indicate it’s still hot inside.

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Reaching the floor of the crater with rain to welcome us

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Hiking into the crater at Kilauea Iki

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We made it to the bottom but still had to hike across the crater and back up the other side

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Lori and our group hiking the crater

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The trail is marked by ahu (stacks of rock)

One of the advantages of an organized tour is the interesting facts the guide shares that you may otherwise never discover. One of those tidbits was Pele’s hair. Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and Pele’s hair is the thin volcanic glass threads produced when molten lava blows through the air.

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Pele’s hair

Our guide also showed us a steam vent which honestly, I would have told my husband to stay away from if we didn’t have a professional with us.

The incredible resiliency of our earth amazed me with the amount of impressive vegetation that sprouted in cracks and crevices of lava rock.

 

When we ascended back to the rim of the crater, we visited nearby Thurston Lava Tube, named after the discoverer in 1913, Lorrin Thurston. A lava tube is formed when molten lava flows through walls hardening around it. The Thurston Lava Tube is about 600 feet long.

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Thurston Lava Tube

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Thurston Lava Tube

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Inside Thurston Lava Tube

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Thurston Lava Tube

Our final stop in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to eat a sack lunch at the Jagger Museum offered views of the active Kilauea caldera from a safe distance. Active lava flows were only visible from the air during our visit. You can check the park website to find out whether views are safely available during your visit.

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Steam rising from Kilauea Caldera

Next time I’ll show and tell about Akaka Falls. But let me just offer a spoiler alert right now. Our excursion to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Akaka Falls was the highlight of our visit to the Big Island and indeed, a top highlight of our entire trip.

 

Based on events from November 2015.

Categories: cruise, History, National Parks, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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