Tag Archives: island

Basking in the Big Island

Big Island Silhouette

It seems like I am always hearing people in California talk about how they are going to or returning from Hawaii. Even though the flight is only a little longer than a flight to the east coast Erika and I had never been. Finally, that has been rectified. We spent eight days there in the middle of May—specifically on the Big Island.

The Big Island (the one island actually named Hawai’i) is big, larger than all of the other Hawaiian islands combined. It is also less developed than Oahu and the landscapes are more varied—all but 2 climatic zones exist on this one island. We flew into Kona on the Western side (the dry side). I’m not one to fawn over airports (and I haven’t been to all that many), but the Kona Airport is pretty superb. The entire facility is outdoors and each gate is a thatched pavilion. We stayed at the Royal Kona Resort primarily because half of our nights were free thanks to a time-share presentation we had attended in January. There are many nicer upscale resorts on the island, but—as folks used to sleeping on the ground—it was more than sufficient for us. Besides, we didn’t intend to spend much time in the room. We didn’t.

We squeezed as much into those eight days as we could. We spent a day on the Eastern side of the island, but most of our time was on the Western side. I’d like to return and spend several days exploring the lush jungles and forests (full of waterfalls and enormous trees) on the Eastern side of the island. Much of our time was spent participating in water activities: scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and beach bumming.

SCUBA: We went on four dives during the week. The reefs and life in the area are beautiful and the water is a bit warmer than California, but the big draw in Kona is manta rays. Our last dive was the famous Manta Night Dive. This is a surreal experience. For roughly 45 minutes, we sat at the bottom of the ocean while various lights attracted plankton, in turn attracting several mantas. These alien-looking creatures not only swim near you, but often brush across your head as they eat the plankton your dive light attracts.

Snorkeling: We tried various spots, but nothing beat Kealakekua Bay. The hike in and out can be rough, but it is absolutely worth it. If you can only go snorkeling once when in the area, go there. if you don’t want to hike an hour or so down and up the steep trail, you can launch a kayak from the end of NapoÊ»opoÊ»o Road across the bay or go with an outfitter.

Beaches: Big Island has an enormous variety of beaches of all types. The ones we especially liked were:

  • Makalawena – no crowds, sand and rocks, turquoise water
  • Mahai’ula - near and similar to  Makalawena, but easier to get to, great trees for climbing
  • Punalu’u – gorgeous black sand beach, plants growing out of the lava flow
  • Waialea Beach (Beach 69) – easy access, but not crowded, similar to Mahai’ula, but smaller

 Pololu Valley: We drove North until the 270 ended. There we found Pololu Valley. It is a spectacular green valley that opens to the ocean. We hiked down a winding trail at the end of the road leading down to the valley and beach. My words won’t do it justice so I won’t bother. If you are in Northern Hawaii, make the drive to Pololu.

We also had a short visit to Volcanoes National Park where we saw an active caldera and hiked through a lava tube—a cave created from hardened lava. There is clearly lots more to see and do there than we could manage in a few hours. We had a short visit to Hilo, saw Rainbow Falls, visited a macadamia nut farm, and climbed a huge banyan tree. We even attended a luau. It is hard to do everything in eight days on Hawaii (we’d probably need eight years). Now that I’ve been, my list of places to see has only gotten larger.

As we drove to the airport to fly home, we pulled to the side of the highway and explored one last lava tube as the Sun set. We checked our baggage, then sat under the moon as a cool breeze wafted past and planes rolled down the tarmac. I doubt I’ll ever again be so content while waiting for a plane to arrive.

Makalawena Breaks

Gallery is below, but there are even more photos on Facebook.

BC Summer — Part 2 (of 2)

Near the end of May, I quit my job and fled to Canada for two and a half weeks. The first week was spent sight-seeing with Erika. The second week involved backpacking down the West Coast Trail. The last few days were spent riding the Amtrak down the coast to L.A. This entry will focus on Week Two.

I fumble around in the twilight. My hand finds the zipper. I squeeze through the tight space between the tent opening and the adjacent rock face and into the cold sand. Before me are the remnants of our failed fire. I stand, squeeze past the tent, and inspect the clothesline. Our quick-dry clothing is still drenched. The air is too damp for anything to dry. Oh well. I exit the cave and step down onto the beach. The rain has ceased for the time being. The sky is still overcast, but the rising Sun is strong enough to illuminate a gray haze. A light mist rolls across my skin. I stare out into the ocean for a bit. It’s cold. My body tends to run warm, except in the morning. No point in lollygagging. The sooner I get moving, the sooner my core temperature will increase. I hike down the beach to a small cove where I stashed my bear canister. Still safe. The bell sits atop it unmolested. Steven slides out of the cave. Time for breakfast. We sit in the sand huddled around my tiny stove and watch the ocean. The world is waking up. Birds fly past, waves roll in, the Sun fights to be seen, and perched on a rock yards away sits a bald eagle. It watches us as we eat our modest breakfast. We laugh. In America, it is Memorial Day. As we share breakfast with a bald eagle, we realize we are having the most patriotic Memorial Day of our lives. We are in Canada. It’s day three on the West Coast Trail.

A few years ago I realized my life wasn’t headed in the direction I wanted. I was coasting. I had become complacent. When I imagined my life had I lived in centuries past, I liked to think I would have been an explorer boldly trekking across newly discovered wild lands. Yet, little in my present life leant credence to that thought. Other than moving across country, struggling to find a living, and taking public transportation around Los Angeles, there hadn’t been much adventure in my life for years. At least not the kind I longed for. I knew I needed to make some big changes and I struggled to decide what those changes should be. Suddenly, fate intervened. My greatest fear came to pass—my great grandmother died. She was an old Cuban lady who spoke very little English, yet somehow communicated with everyone. Everyone called her ‘Mima’ which essentially means ‘mother.’ It was a very apt name. My family had lost its collective maternal figure. Nothing makes life seem more precious than death. It was time for change and I couldn’t wait any longer. Shortly after, I instituted several changes in my life including ending an eight year relationship with my then girlfriend that was being held together by familiarity and convenience. It was time for big changes and time to evaluate my life. Much changed over the next couple of years. As I became more proactive in my choices, I found myself finding more successes in all aspects of life—business and personal. One of the decisions I had made was to integrate adventure back into my life. Hiking, backpacking, climbing, rafting, and other outdoor pursuits became a priority. The more time I spent in nature, the more I learned about myself. It was making me stronger—physically, emotionally, and psychologically. When I read about the West Coast Trail in British Columbia, I knew it was a chance to push myself further.


The West Coast Trail runs 75km—that’s roughly 48 miles—down the Western coast of Vancouver Island from Pachena Bay to Port Renfrew. It is known for brutal storms and a history of disastrous shipwrecks. An early version of the trail was known as the “Life-saving Trail.” Its purpose was to give survivors washed ashore a solid chance of making it to civilization alive. Now, it is a week-long backpacking challenge for those who want to experience beauty and hardship in the Canadian wilderness. The descriptions I read of the WCT excited the adventurer inside me: suspension bridges, miles of mud pits, hand-operated cable cars, surging tides, river crossings, dozens of tall ladders, rocky beaches, and unpredictable weather. I knew I wanted in.

The last few years had been going well, but the time for drastic change was coming again. I decided to quit my job and embark on the path of full-time self-employment. But, first, I would go to Canada. What better way to baptize a new path than the West Coast Trail? My friend and coworker, Steven, was also quitting for similar reasons and agreed to meet me in Victoria, Canada. Together we would face the WCT before putting our individual professional lives back together. I knew the trail would be both fun and miserable. I expected both. My secret hope, although, was for an epiphany along the way.


Read the rest of the story and see more pictures…

BC Summer — Part 1 (of 2)

Near the end on May, I quit my job and fled to Canada for two and a half weeks. The first week was spent sight-seeing with Erika. The second week involved backpacking down the West Coast Trail. The last few days were spent riding the Amtrak down the coast to L.A. This entry will focus on Week One.

British Columbia. No, it isn’t part of the U.K. and it isn’t in England. It is Canada’s Southwestern province (kind of like a U.S. state). B.C. is known for being strikingly beautiful and full of bad-ass outdoor activities. Nearly half of the most gorgeous and exciting ads I see in adventure travel magazines tend to depict British Columbia. It is also known for rain and we got plenty of it. For every day it doesn’t rain in Los Angeles, it does in B.C. That’s a lot. But, hey, if you want a region to be green and full of life, it needs lots of rain.

Erika and I had been wanting to visit the area for a while and we aren’t afraid of rain. We wanted to see as much and do as much as we could in a week. Thus, we did a little research, but didn’t make any definitive plans. When traveling, that can work for and against you. We flew into Vancouver—so barely in Canada, you can throw a rock and hit Seattle—and rode the train downtown. The B.C. tourism website recommended a very inexpensive place near downtown. Awesome. We made our way there. We ignorantly assumed anything the tourism board listed in their literature was kosher. We learned otherwise. The hotel we stayed in for two nights was in an area of Vancouver called East Hastings. If you didn’t just get goosebumps, you’ve never been to or heard of East Hastings. We should have known better when a slightly crazed and possibly homeless woman tried to talk us out of going there. The Olympics allegedly rerouted their parade to keep it away from East Hastings. While in B.C., every time I mentioned the words "East Hastings," the person I was speaking to would grimace and relay their own horror story of the area. When we arrived, the streets were packed. Every type of prostitute was accounted for: young, old, transvestite, ancient. Nearly every person on the street was disheveled, high, and desperate for something—mostly for another hit. Some were picking at the crushed roaches on the concrete hoping a little grass was there among the mashed paper. Some were yelling belligerently at others across the street. Others conducted "business" in alleys or on the sidewalk. We strode through and entered the hotel. After assuring them Erika was not a whore and we intended to stay the whole night, they gave us a key to a shoddy room three floors up. We spent a bit of time in the attached pub downstairs (which was quite likable) and decided not to venture out after dark. The next morning we saw two teen girls passed out in a doorway with bloody needles in their arms.

Vancouver wasn’t all junkies and sex workers. We spent a few hours at the Capilano Suspension Bridge and went zip-lining at Grouse Mountain. Northern Vancouver is the lush wonderland we expected from B.C. We wanted to see as much of the region as we could and we didn’t want to spend a third night in East Hastings so we hopped the extremely inexpensive ferry to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Do not be fooled, Vancouver Island is no tiny piece of land off the coast of Vancouver. It is an enormous 12,000 square mile island over an hour from the mainland. The ferry that takes you there is basically a mini-cruise ship with small restaurants, arcades, and a playground. It carries many passengers, their vehicles, and various big rigs each way. As you cross the channel, you have ample opportunity to admire various small islands and sea life.

Nanaimo is a small city.  We had heard it had good SCUBA diving and a small island called Newcastle Island. We were saddened to find out no diving trips were available on short notice, but we were able to ride a small dinghy to Newcastle. There, we hiked along beaches abundant in purple stars and through woods filled with banana slugs. We had a seafood dinner on a floating restaurant in the harbor accessible only by boat. As we walked back to our room, we came upon a rabbit warren in a small seaside park. From Nanaimo, we rode a Greyhound bus to what would be my favorite of the three cities we visited—Victoria.

Victoria is a beautiful city. It is the capital of B.C. It has beautiful architecture and—as one of the oldest cities in Canada—has a rich history that is visible all around. We visited a museum, watched IMAX documentaries, toured Craigdarroch Castle, took a ghost tour, and walked all over town admiring the city itself. Unfortunately, even Victoria has a junky problem as I saw a man surreptitiously shooting up on the steps of a Community Christian Center. Local parks also had small trash bins for used syringes. We spent two days in Victoria. Steven met us there the second night. The next morning Erika would return to the U.S. and Steven and I would begin the six day journey called The West Coast Trail.

More photos after the cut…

Channel Islands

I have been wanting to visit the Channel Islands for some time now. They are a group of islands off the coast of Ventura that are part of a natural reserve. In other words, you can’t live or build there, but you can visit and camp. Erika and I took a trip to the closest island, Anacapa today. It was her first time on a boat and it was a hell of a way to be introduced. The waters were quite choppy and the trip was fairly wet. Sometimes spray would splash across the upper deck. Anacapa is a beautiful place. I hope to go camping, kayaking, and snorkeling on one of the other islands in the near future, probably Santa Cruz. On that one, you get to take a small skiff with all your supplies over the waves and onto the beach and you’ll probably get very wet.

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