Monday, September 29, 2014

Out Of This World

I’ve been talking a lot about sleep in many of my Hawaii posts, for which I have many valid reasons. I’d like to thank the 6-hour Toronto to Honolulu time difference, the unlimited things to do and see with very limited time, and the excitement these islands bring me.

Sleeping on the cruise ship is quite relaxing as you feel the boat sway subtly through the ocean. However, on my second night, I was too excited to sleep. I made sure my Canon and GoPro were fully charged, I planned my outfit down to the socks and packed my backpack. They warned us to dress warmly, so my outfit consisted of 4 layers on top, 3 layers on the bottom, two socks and a toque. I crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling until my enthusiasm calmed down just a little. Eventually, my eyes shut and in what felt like a second, my alarm was going off. 2 A.M. was the time we had to get up to get ready. 2 in the freaking morning. I seriously woke up contemplating if I had actually slept a little or if I had just blinked. But, that is the price to pay to experience what I was just about to experience. With my heavy, half-open eyes, I did my quick morning routine, got dressed and met at the meeting place for the excursion.

Today was the day we would watch the sunrise at Haleakalā Crater. By 3 o’clock, we were on the road, in a smaller, more private tour bus. With nothing but the headlights of the few cars out, it was pitch black. I took this opportunity to nap and gain a little bit of energy. I woke up to the winding road up the volcano and the air thinning as we went higher and higher in elevation. A 2-hour drive later, we reached the Haleakalā Visitor Centre, which is the second highest point, but the best view of the sunrise.

The sun was scheduled to make its appearance in the next half an hour. So we chose a spot and stood our ground. The little light pollution allowed us to spot many stars. Driving out to the middle of nowhere, in Ontario, cannot compare and will never suffice to what was above me. Has anyone ever told you they loved waiting? No, because people nowadays are very impatient. But this, this moment, was the best wait of my life. The night sky. The shooting stars. The looking up at oblivion and the endless universe. It’s actually unreal.

This was after the sunrise, but this was the audience

The horizon slowly started to light up as the sun began peaking through. The beginning was my favourite part. Although the sunrise was just starting, the top of the sky was still sleeping. Stars still flickered as it blended with the touch of orange and the brightness that would soon overpower the entire sky. As the clouds and the crater were highlighted, it felt as if we were transported to a completely different planet.

Night meets day

It wasn’t a completely clear day in terms of weather, but I liked the effect the clouds gave. I’ve read on many websites that each sunrise is different and unique, providing a different experience each time. Knowing this, I will definitely pay a visit to the crater each time I visit the island of Maui. I say this confidently because my return to Hawaii is inevitable. I will come back.

Pictures do no justice

By 6 o’clock the sun had risen and our surroundings were now in clear view. The crater itself was massive and very reminiscent of our idea of Mars. Haleakalā, also known as the East Maui Volcano, is actually an active but not currently erupting. The last time it erupted was 1790. The name, Haleakalā, actually means “house of sun” in Hawaiian. There are many stories that revolve around the history and culture of Hawaii. The one behind the name of Haleakalā, comes from the demigod Maui trapping the sun in order to slow down it’s journey across the sky to lengthen their days. As I post more, I’ll share the many other beautiful Hawaiian stories I’ve come to hear throughout my trip.

Uhm, what planet am I on?

After roaming around for a bit more, we drove up to the highest summit. This is where they have one of the world’s most powerful ground-based telescopes. Operated by the U.S. Department of Defense, this observatory does a lot of research due to its prime location – minor light pollution, elevation and clarity. With telescopes, you may think the research being done is on the celestial aspect of space but actually they study man-made objects such as spacecrafts and satellites.

Haleakalā Observatory

On the opposite side of the observatory is another lookout point, which is almost as remarkable as where we watched the sunrise. I literally felt like I was on top of the world and I think at 10,023 ft. above sea level, that’s as close as I’m gonna get. It was amazing.

As I was leaving to get back on the bus, I saw these weird looking plants. Our tour guide soon told us that these plants, Haleakalā Silversword, are the same family as the daisies and are extremely rare. They were near extinction and actually only grow in 3 locations in the entire world, all of which are in Hawaii. They grow in elevations above 7,000 ft. Once in a while, they’ll bloom a stalk full of maroon flowers. In the past few years, the people of Maui haven’t seen them bloom. Lucky for us, they did this year. Very alien-like, don't you think?

We drove down the upper country and admired our view of the island. By 9 o’clock we were back on the boat and already through a good portion our day. An already extraordinary day, I must mention. I wasn’t willing to sleep and waste any time on the island, so we ate and headed back out to the nearby stores to purchase some souvenirs. We didn’t shop for too long because all we really wanted was to relax on a beach. We found a very secluded one near our port and spent hours soaking up all the Vitamin D and colour my skin is deprived of. I’m trying to look Hawaiian, okay!?

After tanning and swimming for as long as I could, time came for us to return our rental car. The sun was still out when we boarded the boat, so I hung out by the pool for a bit. As we sailed away, we watched the sunset yet again from our “backyard” and later ate dinner. We spent the evening on the cruise ship at a slow pace because at this time, we had already been up for almost 20+ hours. After dinner we almost fell asleep watching a song and dance show. Correction, my dad did fall asleep and woke up clapping because everyone else was.

If you ever visit Maui, please take the time and make the effort to watch the sunrise at Haleakalā Crater because it is absolutely incredible. I would do it again and again and again if I could. Everything from the sunrise, the view, the volcano, and the plants, are out-of-this-world.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Beauty of Travel

The great thing about cruising is the ability to unpack once and see numerous places. I would say it’s the most ideal method of travel for those who want to see the world, without the whole hustle and bustle of getting from point A, B, and C. The evening of embarkation, my parents and I settled into our room and enjoyed what my mom liked to call our backyard (it’s really just our private balcony). We set sail just after sunset, watching Waikiki fade into the distance. As the skyline slowly disappeared, we made our way to Aloha Café to enjoy a buffet style dinner. After a long day on Oahu plus a full stomach, I was knocking out on the bed again.

NCL's Pride of America

When I awoke, we were already docked at the port in Kahului, Maui. This was day 1 of 2 we would be spending on this island. My mom decided it would be best for us to experience this stop by renting a car. So the first thing on our to-do list after leaving the ship was to pick up our rental car. If you plan to do this while cruising, don’t fret! It’s actually super simple. A lot of the rental car companies like to provide shuttle busses to and from the ports and their pick-up locations. This is great for minimal time wasting, as well as excluding taxis or public transportation out of the journey. We arrived at Budget and after a quick check-in, they handed us the keys and the car was waiting for us in the parking lot.

Loved the rainbows on the Hawaiian licence plates!

The plan for the day? Nothing specific. We had a GPS and typed in whatever suggestions we found in pamphlets, travel brochures and places mentioned in excursion descriptions. First, we attempted the road to Hana. Typically a whole day trip, driving eastward to the end of the island, but we opted for going as far as we could then move on to the next destination. Although Hana would have been an experience with their popular waterfalls and beaches, I don’t think we wanted to waste a whole day seeing one portion of the island. We drove for about an hour along Hana Highway and came across a bunch of parked cars along the road. We knew we had to stop and see what all the hype was about.

This was just the additional parking over the bridge. The main parking was packed!

A farm stand greeted us on arrival to what we would discover as... Twin Falls

We parked our car, and walked for about a mile along a hiking path located on Wailele Farm grounds. Admission is free to inspire and encourage people to visit and experience the natural wonders that grow on these islands. The hike proved a little difficult towards the end as a narrow walkway only had space for one person to cross, at a time. With a little patience and communication with the people on the other side, we balanced our way across and made it to the Upper Falls. For as many people as there were cars parked, the hype was a little inflated. Indeed, It was a peaceful set of falls with a refreshing little swimming hole but I imagined something a little more epic. This was still pretty awesome and surrounded by such a tropical, rainforest like setting. We approached the swimming hole via a little stream flowing away from the falls. Although the hike was very simple, the scorching heat needed to be resolved. It would be wrong not to take a dip in the water. I cautioned out every step due to the unknown depths and made my way under the falls. It was very pleasant and if I had something like that near my home, it would definitely be a regular spot I'd go to relax.

On our hike back to the car we realized a few things:
  1. We left our GPS on the dashboard of the car, along with our belongings.
  2. Our GPS was not only left visible in the car, it was also left on. We also forgot the charger so our little adventure was coming to a near end.


We walked back a little faster in hopes of luck being on our side. Car theft is a petty crime common among the Hawaiian Islands. Tourists will leave their valuables in the car thinking it’s safe locked up inside or in the trunk, but in reality it’s easy to point out a rental car and for that, they’ll soon become targets. I read about this before the trip but unfortunately, I didn’t remember before the hike. Thankfully, we didn’t have to learn the hard way from our mistakes. Our things were still there and the GPS stuck to our window was well, still stuck on our window. Phew.

We drove a little further until our GPS lived it’s last few minutes and stopped at a much less busy spot. A little lookout point accompanied by a tiny fruit and shaved ice stand. After ordering our drinks, we walked down a few steps to a small hut, looking out towards miles and miles of lush greenery ending at the ocean. We saw waves coming in and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Talk about a perfect day!

Absolute paradise

Some adopted locals joined us, a man from France and woman from – you wouldn’t believe – Toronto! They ditched their homes to enjoy the paradise that is Hawaii. After a quick conversation, it had me rethinking my life plan. That’s how I am; I get inspired quickly and fall in love with places too easily. Thank God I’m not too impulsive and require a lot of thinking before taking action, ‘cause who knows where I’d be right now! Moments like these are especially why I love travelling. Unplanned roadside stops, meeting unexpected strangers, all with similar interests. The Canadian attended George Brown College and now, I was in Maui watching her hack coconuts. Of the few things she said, the best thing was, “Go see the world.” Isn't it funny how little was exchanged in our conversation and already, there was so much to relate to.

West Maui Mountains, I believe

We said goodbye to our nameless friends and decided to drive back to the port, charge the GPS while we eat lunch and immediately head back out again. The Kahului Port provided free parking for rental cars, which was only a minute walk away from the ship. Super convenient! The next hour went according to plan and the second destination was Wailea-Makena. We drove by luxury hotels and miles of beaches. We initially wanted to find a much more secluded beach to relax. Instead the search turned into a joy ride around the island. Next destination was Lahaina. This area reminded me of a tropical version of Virginia Beach. They had a boardwalk filled with restaurants, local stores and of course the obligatory souvenir shops. We walked around for a bit, with an accompanying gelato in hand.


We returned back to the car and made our way back to our temporary, floating home before night snuck up on us. That evening’s sunset was admired from the backseat of the car, driving along one of the few highways on the island. I forgot to mention, many sections of the highway run along the edge of the island with a mountain on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. This was my third night, third sunset, viewed from my third method of transportation. Cotton candy colours filled the sky as I stared at the two large islands in the horizon.

One was very familiar, after a bit of Google-ing I soon found out the island I was thinking of was just that. Molokini Island, the large crescent shaped, partially submerged crater. It’s a popular scuba diving spot and its photos are quite popular on many social networks dedicated to travel. This is yet another reason travelling gives me butterflies – seeing these picturesque locations in real life. It’s breathtaking. It’s unbelieveable. And when it happens, it’s right there. All those pictures you’ve seen online, in books or in movies, will turn into your own. And then it'll be your turn to share them with friends and family, hoping they too will want to see the places you’ve seen.

It's not the best picture, but you can totally tell the shape of the island thanks to the sunset

I’ll end this one with another favourite quote of mine. As said by St. Augustine, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” We live on a beautiful planet with so much to discover and see. Each city has its own unique characteristics. Whether you’re looking at natural beauty, architectural beauty or historical beauty, it’s out there. Go out for yourself and see.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Worthwhile Oahu

A favourite saying of mine is “Sleep is for the weak.” I can wake up early and go to bed extra late if it means I get to do something worthwhile. Mentally, this would be me all the time. But sometimes, very rare sometimes, my body just can’t. That full day of travelling from Toronto > Newark > San Francisco > Honolulu plus the all-nighter I had in hopes of sleeping beautifully on the plane, was torture. Not to mention United Airlines’ cheap service, uncomfortable seats, scarce entertainment, expensive onboard meals and excessive delays… Absolute torture. The end result was collapsing on the hotel bed and not wanting to wake up for anything, even in Hawaii. My parents woke up early and took a stroll along Waikiki Beach while I took over the bed, not moving an inch.

Palm trees galore!

Thankfully, realization began to kick in and I finally found the strength to get up and get ready. After missing Waikiki Beach, I knew I couldn’t miss anything else. That morning, my dad reunited with an old friend who graciously took us out for the day. First stop was breakfast! We drove by million dollar beach homes and million dollar views until the road ended at what seemed to be a hidden treasure – The Kahala Hotel & Resort. Breakfast tasted like a million dollars while staring out into the Pacific Ocean.

Getting lei'd

While I thought, what could get better than this food, this view, and this company? The company of dolphins! The Kahala Hotel & Resort has several dolphin, stingray and turtle residents on site. Just steps outside the restaurant, I was welcomed with dolphins peeking in and out, swimming left and right, in their own natural lagoon. As I watched the dolphins play, a trainer was in the midst of treating a dolphin for scratches on their fin. The dolphin was the youngest of the batch (14 years old) and was surprisingly so well behaved, better than most kids I’ve seen!

Afterwards we drove around as much of Oahu as one could in a few hours. We checked out the University of Hawaii campus (who knows, maybe I’ll enjoy continuing my studies there hehe), National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, and my personal favourites Nu’uanu Pali Lookout and the secluded beach inside the military base. The scenic drive was also unbelievable. I can’t get enough of the mountains! After checking out of the hotel, we also made a quick stop at Pearl Harbor to see the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. Such a historical spot. And as our time together was coming to an end, we spent it downing some Jollibee (Filipinos know!) by King Kamehameha’s statue and the Iolani Palace.

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Nu'uanu Pali Lookout, *insert heart eye emoji here*

Chicken joy and palabok.. Ugh I'm drooling!

Two things I discovered today:
  1. Everyone has access to any of the beaches in Hawaii. There are no silly entrance fees and none are off limits. It doesn’t even matter if someone lives right by it, Hawaii's beaches are for everyone.
  2. Chickens are untouchable and everywhere. They can’t be hunted and are as common as our Canadian geese! I can’t help but think of this Vine whenever I saw them roaming around and for that, you’ll always catch me dying and overly amused.

Awesome trees called Ficus Benghalensis, or more commonly known as the Indian Banyan

It was a jam-packed couple of hours, but it was very much appreciated. Although the day started out a bit rough, this was one of those moments that made losing a couple hours of sleep worthwhile. I saw a quick glimpse of Oahu and as always, I’m left wanting more. Aside from everything I saw that day, what stood out the most was my first hand experience of the Aloha spirit. A thousand mahalos, salamats and thanks to Uncle Jet for a great day. Sadly, we said our goodbyes at the dock where we boarded the NCL’s Pride of America. Until next time, Uncle!

After embarkation, we admired yet another Waikiki sunset on deck 13 of the cruise ship. From up in the air one day to the sea the next, the sunset was just as amazing. And lucky for you, I have visual aid this time around. No need for Google here on out. Enjoy.