Friday, October 31, 2014

Journey To Waimea Canyon

Kauai was the last stop on our Hawaiian adventure. But lucky for us, it wasn’t the last day. And the first of our two days here was dedicated to some sightseeing. I woke up before the ship docked and was able to experience sailing in and getting closer to the island. Rainbows appeared and added an even more post-card touch to my already perfect view from the balcony.

After breakfast, we met for our excursion called ‘Journey To Waimea Canyon’ and unlike the other tours we’ve taken this felt the most touristy. We boarded a very large bus filled with seniors. I was the youngest one there, with my parents falling close behind. It wasn’t my ideal way of travelling but I guess we were all just trying to see the same beautiful spots.

The drive to the canyon was a long and winding one. And once we arrived, it was still a little tourist-free. If you’ve ever visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona, you’ll be reminded of the terracotta monochromatic colours. I read many reviews saying that if you’ve witnessed the Grand Canyon already, to not even bother with Waimea. This is such ridiculous advice. To visit Kauai and not catch even a glimpse of Waimea Canyon would be such a waste. In my opinion, Grand Canyon is indeed grand but it lacks a few things Waimea Canyon has. What I really loved about Waimea Canyon was how much more lush it looked. It was decorated with greenery, scattered along its terrain. Being the wettest spot on Earth, the canyon reaches about 50-100 inches of rain in its most mountainous regions. I even spotted several waterfalls. I only wish we could have hike and visited a few of them.

Afterwards we continued to drive along the island, passing yet another coffee mill, the Spouting Horn and locations where they filmed movies like The Descendants and Jurassic Park. It was a rather short tour but worth it for Waimea Canyon. We returned back to the dock where we took advantage of the numerous free shuttles. We had little time to spare because we had a luau scheduled for that evening, so we decided to scope out the area really quick.

We ended up at Kalapaki Beach, conveniently a 5-minute drive or a 20-minute walk from the dock. Right by the beach is a Marriot hotel, which oozes luxury and paradise. We pretended to be guests as we walked around the hotel grounds taking pictures. Before heading back to the boat, I also made sure to book surfing lessons for the next day. I had been waiting to surf the second I found out we were going to Hawaii. What a perfect place to learn.

We took the shuttle back and quickly got ready for our luau. Several busses transported people from our cruise ship to Kilohana, Kauai’s legendary plantation estate, where the luau would be held. As someone who used to dance hula and Tahitian when I was younger, I was excited to see how it was really done. We started Luau Kalamaku by getting lei’d, welcome drinks and photos with some of the dancers by the plantation’s beautiful garden and tiki torches. We had reserved seating, not quite close to the stage but close to the live band. While waiting for the show to start, we were served an authentic Hawaiian meal. I had my first taste of poi and, let’s just say it will probably be my last. I like taro but more in the form of blended drinks and ice cream. The show started soon after dinner ended. It told a heroic love story between Gods and Goddess and the voyage made from Tahiti to Kauai. It was very beautiful with its blend of lights, music and of course the talented dancers. It definitely made me miss the days I danced Hawaiian and wished I never stopped.

We returned back to the boat quite late and immediately got ready for bed. I was very excited for the next day and couldn’t wait to get my surf on.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

31 Days To Take-Off

Lately, all I’ve been doing is counting. Counting the months. Counting the weeks and now… Counting the 31 days until I’m at the airport, boarding a plane and moving half way across the world. Destination? The next chapter of my life.

The counting started in May, when I counted the people before me. Counting the resumes the recruiters must go through before they received mine. And when it was my turn, I counted the seconds I had to make a good first impression. I handed over my resume, said a few words, smiled and I was out the door. I counted the hours until I received the call to attend the second day of recruitment. There, I counted the ones that were sent home before me. I counted three slips of papers telling me I had been successful from three different rounds of group interviews. Once the day was done, I counted the forms and websites that needed to be filled and all the documents I needed to submit. I remember seeing my doctor more than I’d seen my friends due to the amount of needles for vaccinations I had gotten (5 and counting). And one night after a closing shift, I received 1 call. The ‘Golden Call’ as hopefuls like to call it, telling me that I had gotten the position as Cabin Crew for Emirates Airlines.

It sounds all good to be true, but I’ve been holding off sharing the good news because I wanted to make sure that it was real. And each time Emirates sent me e-mails, I feared they might take back their offer. But, 5 months into the whole process and I’m still confirmed to join.

After reading many of my previous posts you’d think I should be excited for yet another adventure. But this kind of excitement entails a lot more emotion than that. I’m scared, I’m nervous and I’m sad. Being accepted for the position wasn't the only change I'd have to endure. I would also need to live in Dubai for the duration of the contract, which is almost a world apart from the city I spent my whole life in. And within this city of mine are all my friends and family. I’m going to hate the rainchecks, the see-ya-laters and of course, the goodbyes. And while I’m gone, I’m bound to miss many momentous occasions. Which, for lack of a better word, sucks. But, I promise you I’m not being as negative as you think. The whole idea of leaving everything I’ve known for a prolonged period of time is clouding the fact that this is an amazing opportunity for me. Not to mention it will feed my admiration for travelling and seeing the world. I know I’ll be fine. And not to worry (kind of speaking to myself here), this isn’t forever. Whether I’m gone for a year or three years, I’ll be back.

Despite anxiety keeping me a nervous wreck, I’m leaving on the 19th of November. Until then I’ll be counting more vaccinations shots, more documents needed for collection and the number of clothes I can fit into my luggage. This last month is going to feel like a blur – I know it.

Mississauga will always be home.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Kona Adventures

Sometimes doing things alone can be intimidating. However, as an only child I’ve learned that’s just how some things are going to play out. If many of you haven’t realized already, I went on this trip with my parents. They’re my photographers, my yearly travel buddies and the kids I babysit when they somehow lose all common sense. They’re the reason I’m so fascinated with the world. But, with these similar interests aside, there are some activities that won’t be found on both of our to-do lists. And this was evident when looking for what to do on the other side of the Big Island in Kona. Luckily for me, my mother finally cut the umbilical cord and let me do something on my own. After weeks of convincing, I was going rafting and snorkeling!

That morning we woke up still surrounded by water; floating quite a bit from the shore. Cruise liners do this when the destination’s port cannot dock a ship that massive. Instead of skipping the place altogether, they allow for tendering. They use smaller boats to take passengers from the cruise ship to shore. Holding about 50+ people at a time with several boats going back and forth in rotation the entire day.

After I had breakfast with my parents, I quickly left to meet with my tour group at the ship’s theatre. The wait was already lonely enough as families and groups of friends rolled in and occupied the seats around little ol’ me. I sat there quietly hugging my backpack waiting for our time to depart. Finally, it was our turn to load up the tendering boats. I sat next to a bunch of youths, like myself, with my thoughts screaming, “Make friends with me!!” I quickly got over it as I overheard the one dude I sat next to saying there were dolphins circling our boat. The ride to shore was about 5 minutes and in that short time, I saw more dolphins than my fingers and toes can count.

Spinner dolphins are very popular amongst the Hawaiian Islands. In Kona, they like to swim quite close to shore and show off their wicked skills. As the name suggests, these social creatures are constantly jumping out of the water and spinning like no tomorrow. It was amazing to see them out of an aquarium and in the wild, doing their tricks freely.

We quickly arrived to shore and were divided into smaller groups to embark on our rafting adventure. The company I chose was Captain Zodiac, and if you ever find yourself Kona-side then you must, must, must take this tour. The rafts aren’t like what you expect when paddling down a stream. They are just like the ones Navy Seals and the U.S. Coast Guard use. They go real fast and real close to caves. We boarded our raft, listened to the safety procedures and were told to, “Hold on tight.” And just like that we immediately zipped through the waters; swerving left and right, leaping up and down. We passed several more spinner dolphins again and of course, they couldn’t help but hop out of the water.

We traced the coastline of Kona to a little spot surrounded by a national park filled with plenty of archeological sites and history. Kealakekua Bay is actually part of marine life conservation popular for snorkeling, scuba diving and kayaking. A popular monument stands tall to represent the first European sailor to arrive at the bay, Captain Cook. Captain James Cook. Reaching the bay by foot is rather difficult and only recommended for experienced hikers, so if that’s not your type of fun then definitely don’t miss out and ride a boat over.

This was my first time snorkeling. Ever. I’m also not that great of a swimmer. But how could I possibly pass up an opportunity like this in Hawaii?! And for as much as it made me nervous, I was thrilled I had done it when it was all over. I was side by side with the prettiest fishies and coral, all while swimming better than I had expected. I started off with a noodle and soon got rid of it because it was keeping me too afloat to go down any deeper. I swam the entire time and was one of the last ones to get back on the raft. This just goes to show what you can miss out on when you let fear take over. It was an unforgettable experience and I’m so glad I didn’t let my little anxiety stop me.

These pictures are no where near what I saw. The colours are off as well because once you go below water, it loses the red spectrum of color. I should have bought a filter for my GoPro! Darn.

About 4 hours later, we were on our way back to the port after a little more cave exploring. I really enjoyed this tour and would definitely recommend it to whoever likes a mix of fast pace and downtime as well. I rode in the front of the raft, holding on for my life. I saw dolphins to my left, right, and swim up from underneath. I witnessed caves and numerous waves splashing onto the endless cliffs. I saw fish of every color of the rainbow. I saw all of this and there are no photos or videos that can amount to the experience.

I arrived back at the port and I took the first tender boat back to the cruise. While I was out, my parents went on their own tour and wouldn’t be back for another hour. So, I decided to spend my time wisely waiting at the pool. I soaked in a little more sun, got dressed and as soon as my parents returned we took yet another tender boat back to shore. We visited the Hulihe’e Palace and Mokuaikaua Church. I also couldn’t resist some shaved ice, especially from a place with dozens of flavours hanging from the ceiling. Sush was much fancier than my first shaved ice experience in Maui especially with the servings almost the size of my head.

The day felt short with all the fun I was having. I started to realize my time in Hawaii was coming to an end. And I was also starting to realize that being alone, surrounded by strangers won't always be a lonely time either. Unless I have something very specific to do, I usually like doing things with someone by my side. But after doing this tour, afraid of doing something new and knowing no one, it turned out to be such a thrill and even making friends with a few people hailing from New Jersey all the way to Australia. We are our own worst critic and if I had let being nervous and shy get the best of me, well, I wouldn't have this blog post to share. The next two days were the last stretch until it was back home and back to reality. It was going to be hard to accept after having a taste of paradise with a side of slight independence. I can’t wait to share my 48 hours in Kauai, it only gets better. Aloha.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Home Is Where The Coffee Is

Back home, if time allows, I always like to start my day off with coffee. My relationship with the caffeinated beverage started when my Grandmother saw me struggling to stay awake and do my homework, so she made me my first cup. The habit stuck throughout high school and then on to University. However, I never really paid attention to it. I’m not what you call a coffee connoisseur. If it taste like coffee, it’s just coffee.

On the third day of our cruise, we arrived on the Hilo side of the Big Island. We booked an excursion called ‘Volcanoes & Tastes of Hawaii’ which basically started our tour with a trip to Coffee Farm. And my basic thoughts off coffee were thrown out the window thanks to all my newly gained knowledge of the process, the roasting, and the different flavours.

That's what I like to hear!

Hilo Coffee Mill is Hilo’s largest commercial coffee processing farm. Although the other side of the Big Island, Kona, is much more known for their coffee, Hilo produces just as much. I was surprised to find out that Hawaiian coffee is the only US domestic coffee out there. I never really thought about it with all the Starbucks occupying corner after corner in North America. Within their 24-acre land, they grow their own trees, harvest by hand, roast and package straight out of their facilities. Jeanette, the owner of the mill, allowed us to taste her first batch since they’ve been sold out back in March 2014. We tasted many different roasts, but the one that I really enjoyed was their pineapple flavour. We also had the opportunity to taste their different kinds of macadamia nuts covered in chocolate, toffee and wait for it… wasabi! My morning coffees aren’t usually accompanied by chocolate but from here on out, I think it should. I was filled with enough caffeine and sugar to keep me up, alert and ready to see some volcanoes.

We hopped back on the bus and my mind was racing with thoughts of lava and erupting volcanoes. Unfortunately, well more fortunately, the day did not consist of any live lava. We drove towards Volcano National Park. Instead, the route provided a nice scenic drive through a rainforest showcasing all the exotic foliage that I’ve only seen in photos.

The first stop within the National Park was at Halemaumau Crater. It’s actually an active volcano that is not currently erupting. However, if you were to get close to the crater and look down about 100 ft., the lava can be seen. But that is quite impossible due to the high levels of sulfur dioxide gas escaping from the cracks. We watched the fumes waft into the sky from a safe distance at the Jagger Museum. I spent more time outside staring at this volcano thinking omg-there-is-lava-underneath-me-right-now and less time reading inside the museum.

Halemaumau Crater

Good thing because, a gentleman who grew up in Hawaii, but moved main land for better opportunities, was visiting the crater as well. With the blessing of the National Park guards he shared a ritual called the ‘Haka War Dance’ stemming from ancient Māori people. I knew exactly what he was about to do thanks to the New Zealand basketball team performing the Haka at the 2014 FIBA World Championships against Team USA. This war dance has found itself into Polynesian history due to years of early migration of New Zealanders to the island.

My video will be included in the highlights video below!

Afterwards, I spent my last few minutes in the museum. I found yet another Hawaiian mythology that was very interesting. According to tradition, Halemaumau Crater is the sacred home of the goddess of Fire and Volcanoes, Pelehonuamea (or more popularly known as Pele). Remember that name because I’ll be mentioning her quite a bit later on!

Next, we made a quick stop to see natural steam vents, which were extremely hot. I know this because after being told it was really hot, I had to lean forward and have my face figure it out. Trust me and listen to those warnings. It was so hot, I flinched back the millisecond the steam touched my skin. Then it was another quick stop to Kīlauea Iki crater where a long-awaited eruption happened for 36 days in 1959. The land swelled up for months before the lava beneath had finally forced its way out. The crater is of course hardened today and many people can hike across it. However, you can sometimes still feel the heat from the surface because the inner core is still very hot. It’s massive. And from the lookout point where stood, the people doing the 6 km round trip hike looked like tiny ants.

And finally, the part of the tour I looked forward to the most: the walk through a rainforest and a lava tube. I was excited for the rainforest because well, I’ve never been in a rainforest before. The trees are different, the animals are different, everything is different compared to your usual hike on any of the Bruce Peninsula trails (see Hamilton, ON). I’m used to your regular maple leaf-type tree with plenty of grass, mud and twigs. After our nice nature hike, we walked through the Nāhuku Lava Tube. You're probably wondering, what is a lava tube? Well it’s basically a river of lava with a faster flowing inner core. The outer surface cools and creates a straw-like crust. The inner lava continues flowing, drains, and leaves a vacated tube. I have never heard of such thing and this was my first time learning about it. It was beyond interesting. Imagine a classroom out exploring; school would never have a dull moment. No wonder I’ve been told, “Travelling is the best history lesson.”

The lava tube extends for much longer, and is even said to go as far as where our cruise ship was docked. However, only a portion of it is allowed to the public for obvious safety reason.

Definitely something different!

Along our walk through the rainforest, we were also told a mythological love story. I melt for these. Especially Nicholas Sparks’ novel-based movies. Love them!! Anyways, this love story involved the goddess Pele. I told you to remember her name. Well, Pele fell in love with a tall, strong, handsome man named Ohi’a. Pele had the mentality that she was a goddess, beautiful and could have anything and anyone she wanted. She wanted Ohi’a. But, he was in love with another. Lehua, a normal woman, who was caring and as fragile and gentle as a flower. Pele was furious that Ohi’a would turn down her love and choose whom Pele thought was a nobody. Pele watched the two fall in love, and one day she couldn’t handle any more jealousy, that she transformed Ohi’a into a twisted ugly tree. Lehua was devastated. She begged everyone in town, as well as Pele, to find a solution and bring back the love of her life. Unfortunately, Pele’s powers were far too strong. The other gods and goddess saw Lehua’s sadness and the injustice Pele had done to the innocent couple. They came up with an alternative answer and turned Lehua into a beautiful red flower that bloomed on the twisted ugly tree that was Ohi’a. Now, they will never be apart.

And on our walk we saw just that. The trees that represented the love of Ohi’a and Lehua. Those are actually the names of the tree and flower as well. It’s also said that if you were to pluck these red flower, it would rain the tears of Lehua because she cannot bear to be separated from Ohi’a.

The last stop in the National Park was to see old, hardened lava. You can really see the shapes and the flow of what it used to be. I stood inside what use to be a tree, which was once filled with lava and exploded. The hardened lava looked smooth but was actually really rough and sharp. I can’t even imagine tripping and scraping a knee out there. As much as the molten rock produced beautiful colors, I couldn’t take any home as souvenirs. Another Hawaiian tradition was to not take any pieces of their land away. No rocks, no plants, no sand, nothing. They say you will receive years of bad luck upon taking a piece of Hawaii home. And who else would be the one to curse you? Pele. I think the only way out of such predicament is not to take a piece of Hawaii home, but to make Hawaii home. Eh, eh, get it?? ;) Told you I fall in love with places quickly.

And to end off our day, we had a late lunch at the studio of a Hawaiian artist. He creates jewelry, scarves, sculptures and paintings. And I guess he figured out my solution much earlier than I did. He isn’t a Hawaiian native, but actually lived main land for most of his life. Same went for our tour guide and the two individuals we met in Maui at the Huelo Lookout. This just goes to show how beautiful life on the island is and how easily people are falling in love with it day after day. I mean, Hawaii already has plenty of coffee to start my day just like I do back home in Mississauga. Grandma won’t ever have to worry about me falling asleep on homework again… and that’s not just because of the coffee, I won’t be doing any homework! It’s a win-win situation.