We went on a vacation. A real vacation, a complete escape from our regular lives. No email. No news. No internet. No work. No visiting family. Exceptions only for purposes of travel planning and checking in with the dogsitter. We also wanted to try and stay kosher, under our work-in-progress family definition of kosher that involves ethics, trying not to benefit from the exploitation of other people, and stuff like that. And we didn't want to have a bunch of travel hassle, so we wanted a non-stop destination from San Francisco. And we wanted to take more than a long weekend, but knew we'd be insane after two weeks out of our comfortable home routines. And we didn't have this list handy when we planned it. So, as special snowflakes of pure, unique, and ethical vacation energy, we—oh, and I can't stand to be away from Kona for any length of time, but we weren't realistically going to bring her—decided to fly to Kailua-Kona and then drive around the island for a week.
It was lovely. A few days at a resort hotel, a few days at B&B in the Volcano rainforest, and three days at a lovely and charming B&B in Hilo (although one of those days we snuck back across the island and into a mega-resort hotel in Waikoloa for the day). We did a little bit of everything, from lazing around reading to volcano hiking to astronomy sightseeing to touring local farms. We did not ride bicycles dozens of miles, and we did not lie on a beach or get in the water (at least I didn't. Too wet and sandy). Some highlights:
The coffee farm tour was nice, and made me wonder why coffee is still grown in small farms rather than huge plantations. I'm guessing because it's hand-picked, so the economies of scale only apply later in the value chain? But the abalone farm at NELHA was much more interesting scientifically. After the 1974 oil embargo, Hawaii decided to invest in alternative energy, specifically tapping energy from pumping cold deep ocean water up to the surface and exploiting the differential between cold and warm water. They set aside land by the airport, near a huge underwater shelf (easy access to the deeps), stuck some mile-long pipes out into the ocean, and started lending money and land to startup companies. It's been almost forty years and here's how well it's worked:
And Hawaii still has the most expensive electricity in the US. Still, in the long term it's guaranteed to pay off (if you ignore the concepts of ROI and time value of money), since there is inevitably some price of oil which makes OTEC cost-effective. Meanwhile, this farm is using the bulk of the cold water to grow abalone, which are cold-water molluscs, in the tropics. Just as a dairy farm is really a grass farm, this is really a seaweed farm, so in addition to the huge chilled and shaded tanks full of abalone, there are even more chilled but not shaded tanks growing seaweed. And they still have to import dried seaweed to keep up. The reward is probably the cleanest, safest, and happiest farmed abalone in the world. In ecological terms, it may well be a decent second-best solution, since reducing demand for wild abalone to a sustainable level is never going to happen, at least not before the revolution.
We did go on a lovely hike through a crater bed. The Park Service is extremely thorough and helpful; they showed us how to stay safe from the lava (easy, since none is currently flowing). They also taught us to avoid the sulfur spouts. And as for the lava bears, I don't think they exist.
Mauna Kea was great. We could only go as far as the visitor center, which was thoroughly fogged in, but after waiting some hours we were rewarded with a partial clearing, some assisted star-gazing, and a staggering awe for the growth of the Mauna Kea summit tourism business. And a very good film at the visitor's center which gives you plenty to think about in the conflict between exploiting the scientific potential of the site and respecting previous land use and cultural practices.
In addition to avoiding sand and salt water, I was lucky to avoid any creepy crawlies beyond mosquitoes. Except: the lovely B&B in Hilo was unfortunately on a hill. Facing a major arterial street with an impressive amount of truck traffic for one lane each way. With neighbors whose kids' playful shouting was noteworthy both in volume and in duration: hours. And the thing that makes the coquí (an invasive species that Walmart's careless shipping practices, allegedly, brought from Puerto Rico) so annoying is not their noise level (impressive though it is) nor their incessant repetition; it's the particular uptone at the end of the two-note croak that makes it sound like a question. Over and over and over. And over and over and over. They and everything else, including the extremely polite Aussie co-guests, mostly stopped before midnight, leaving about six hours of quiet before the neighbors' rooster started up. It's a good thing I had earplugs. Which leads to the creepy crawlies:
The second night, I went for my earplugs and they were swarmed by ants. After disposing of those, I was left to wonder if it was the earplugs or my delicious ear wax that the ants were so excited about. If the latter, did that mean the ants would be crawling in my ears that night? It was the next day, after peaceful sleep up through but not beyond dawn, that I realized that the former possibility might mean that ants had been crawling around my plugged ears the first night.
Here is a Bi-selfie (paired otheries?) at South Point, the southernmost point in the 50 United States, leaving only three other extreme cardinal points to reach, all in Alaska, plus Death Valley and Denali.
Headed home but with an hour to spare at the airport, I ducked into the Ellison Onizuka Space Center tucked between gates 1-5 and 6-10. Onizuka was a Kona boy who joined the Air Force, became a test pilot, then an astronaut, flew on Discovery, and was on the final Challenger flight. I asked the woman behind the counter if she had known him. "He was my brother." The Center is tiny but crammed with interesting things, and quite moving. Give yourself an extra 45 minutes at the Kona airport to check it out