Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kitties and Mongoose and Saffron Finches, Oh My!

22 October 2016

We're in Hawaii! On the BIG island, also known as the Big Island, the one named Hawaii. And these are the phone booths at the Kona airport - how gorgeous! Gotta love basic things like phone booths with a Hawaiian flair!

We got tired of the cold and wet in Bellingham. The Pacific NW is beautiful in autumn, with wonderful red orange yellow gold trees standing out brightly in front of the somber green evergreens. The sun shines golden and the lighting softens. Wisps and tufts of fog linger among the trees, clouds refusing to leave the earth.

And then the rains begin. We were slammed with an early storm of heavy rain and high winds. A worse storm was predicted for two days hence. Flights were being cancelled, it was recommended people stay home, and we saw young trees uprooted by the wind.

So we headed to warmer climes. Hawaii. Closer than the Caribbean, and a place we've never been. Plus I found a package deal that included airfare and our hotel. Why not?

We're on the Kona coast, the western coast of the Big Island, on Keauhou Bay. (That's pronounced key-AH-hoo.) We're slowly adjusting to the Hawaiian names of streets as well as towns, mountains, volcanoes, and such. Slowly relaxing as the sunshine warms our chilled bones. And equally slowly exploring our little corner of this big island, which is some 4,000 square miles. (That's four times bigger than Rhode Island, or 25% larger than all of Puerto Rico. A REALLY big island!)

Hawaii is the only US state that once was a kingdom with its own monarchy.  The royalty who ruled over the unified archipelago of Hawaii originated in the Kona region of the big island; prior to that, each island had its own hierarchy of chiefs.  In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed an official apology for the overthrow of the original Hawaiian monarchy.

Roads are named for many of the Hawaiian royals, such as King Kamehameha, or Queen Ka'ahumana.  Not so easy for us visitors, but we're learning our way around.

Our hotel has a collection of stray cats, including a family of four adorable kittens who hang out right below our lanai. We talk to them, they stop and watch us - but when we walk around to that area, they all run away. The strays are a problem across the state, and many hotels, including ours, has a feeding station where they put out food and water on a regular schedule. Part of the purpose of the schedule is that it makes it easier to trap the cats so they can be neutered when they're old enough, then released back on the grounds. The cats also get yearly checkups. (They must have a brave veterinarian - these cats won't let us get anywhere near them!)

Many of the cats seem to live in the complex above-ground roots of some kind of palm tree. We've seen the kittens climbing up and then disappearing into this crazy maze. But then, mongoose come running out periodically. We're not sure if there's a large hollow space in the center, where the mongoose and cats camp out in separate areas, or if they all live amongst the branching roots in self-enclosed apartments. We haven't seen any cat and mongoose fights - which is good because while the cats are bigger, well, mongoose are really feisty animals!

The mongoose are also somewhat friendly, stopping to look up at us when we talk to them, but running away if we get to close. As in the Caribbean, mongoose were brought to the islands to kills the rats which were eating the sugar cane crops. However, rats are nocturnal and mongoose are diurnal (awake in the day), so that didn't work. I suspect the stray cats do a much better job of keeping down the rat population. 

There are also all kinds of unique birds, or at least birds we haven't seen before. One of the prettiest is the saffron finch, which is mostly bright sunny yellow with almost an orange spot on the head. Wings and tail are yellow with darker splotches, but the rest of the bird is almost a fluorescent yellow, they're so vivid!

We also see yellow-billed cardinals, which are black and white birds with bright red heads. And, obviously, a yellow bill. I was surprised to find out that these are cardinals, since I'm so used to the all-red cardinals of North America. They look sort of like zebra birds wearing a red hood!

The flowers are wonderful - multiple colors of bougainvillea bushes, tropical lilies, and all kinds of hibiscus. The grounds at our hotel are really beautiful, with the flowers and palm trees planted in and around outcroppings of igneous rock. The rocks have swirls and whirls where the lava flowed and slowly cooled into solid rock, making crazy van Gogh-like patterns in the rock. 

The island seems to have two really tall volcanoes, Mauna Loa at 13,679 ft above sea level (about 4210 meters), and Mauna Kea at 13,796 ft (4244 m). They both had snow this week!!!! That seems so amazing to me, since we're by the coast where it hovers between 80-90 degrees F (25-30 C). Altitude, right?

We were told today that Mauna Loa takes up about 51% of the island, and that our hotel in the Keauhou Bay area is, technically, on the volcano. The coastal outskirts of the volcano, but still, on the volcano. 

This is also the island with the Kilauea Crater, the super active volcanic lake that often is steaming and bubbling with molten lava. (I think that's pronounced kill-ah-WHEY-ah - but it takes me hearing and repeating it a few times to get it right.) If one is lucky, there's the occasional (or frequent) geyser or plume of lava, spewing some 50 or more feet into the air!!!

Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. It is said that she lives in the Kilauea Crater, since that has been the most active volcano here for at least a generation or two. Kilauea is considered a separate volcano from Mauna Loa, although it's really like of a small bump on the side of Mauna Loa. On the map, it looks like Kilauea is more like Mauna Loa's baby, riding on her back.

Kilauea is part of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There are a few areas south of the crater that have opened up and are "leaking" lava, with new lava flows heading out to sea and actually dripping slowly into the water. Definitely on our itinerary, and of course with the hat!

Not that we've seen any of the volcanoes, they seem to hide in the clouds most of the time.  But lava, we see lava everywhere!  Not live lava though.  Much of the island is covered with lava flows from ancient eruptions, though there have also been more recent eruptions and lava flows. The coastline seems to be mostly black volcanic rock, with little pockets of sandy beaches - perhaps where the lava didn't reach, or maybe the sand washed up into little flat areas. But there are also dramatic cliffs of the igneous rock jutting out into the Pacific.

We rented a car and have driven around a bit. There's one region where there are caves in the lava flow, and information signs about these caves. The plant life is quite grown, hiding the caves, so we haven't walked down to try finding the caves. And there didn't seem to be a trail.

But here's the info about the caves:

"The Ohi'a Cave Historic Preserve

“About 300 years ago, the island of Hawai’i had rival chiefs who led canoe armadas and warrior armies in ebbing and rising tides of fierce battle for control of the island. 

“Hawaiian tradition recounts how the young, the old, and the weak took refuge in caves called ana pe’e kaua, the caves in which to hide from wars. In Kahalu’u, the Ohi’a Cave was one of these. Inside the Cave, entrances were fortified by stones walls, to narrow passageways and make the access difficult and dangerous for intruders. Natural skylights cast light on terraces and platforms where refugees carried on an improvised routine of daily life. 

“The remains of hearths for warmth and light and the debris of ancient meals are all that now show where Hawaiians awaited the outcome of battles that waged on the lava flow above. 

“The Ohi’a Cave was a place for the living, a refuge from the hot Kona sun on the black a-a. It was also a refuge for the dead. Called na wahi hunakele, the places for secreting the bones of the dead, places like Ohi’a Cave were formed by the creative elements of nature and used by Hawaiians to harbor the spirits of their ancestors. They provided a continuity between life and afterlife. Burials throughout the Cave show that this practice continued from prehistoric times well into the 19th century. 

“The rule of kings might change, but the burial rights of families survived on their lands. With this right is connected an inherent love of the land of one’s birth, so that men do not willingly wander from place to place but remain on the land of their ancestors.
     - S. M. Kamakau, Hawaiian Historian, 1869 

“The Ohi'a Cave is a network of lava tubes, joined to the surface by only a few small openings, many that are hardly large enough for a single person to squeeze through. The Cave lies beneath the rugged a-a lava and its openings are hidden by stands of koa haole trees. It runs for almost a mile from near the ocean up into the hills above this spot. Its tunnels and chambers are varied, with some so low that only crawling on your belly would let you pass into other chambers that rise 20 feet high. Within the darkness of this Cave, the Hawaiians of long ago took shelter during times of war and buried their dead in times of peace. 

“The Ohi’a Cave is in the ahupua’a called Kahalu’u. This land stretches from the rocky shoreline up the steep forested slopes of Hualalai volcano. The main village clustered around Kahalu’u Bay, where tradition says ali’I nui, high chiefs, held court since the late 1600s. This was a royal center of temples and chiefly residences. 

“The Cave lies beneath the 700 year old Waha Pele lava flow that marks the boundary between Kahalu’u and neighboring Keauhou. Across this rough a-a flow, Hawaiians built steppingstone trails to ease the difficult traverse. Many of these trails lead to entrances to the Ohi’a Cave, one of the many important places of Kahalu’u. 

“Ohi’a is only one of many traditional names for this Cave. Other names include Noni and Kanupa. The different names my refer to different entrances to the Cave. 

“The Ohi’a Cave Historic Preserve is a legacy of our Hawaiian past. Out of respect for the sensitive burial and habitation remains, cave entrances are closed to visual inspection. Please respect the sacredness of this ‘aina.” 

So we have a lot to do, places to see and things to do.  Visiting the volcanoes and the lava pond.  Some swimming, snorkeling, maybe a little scuba diving.  A boat trip, a drive around the volcano rim, or across the old lava desert.  A visit to a coffee farm, or a chocolate farm, or maybe a pineapple field.  And of course trying various foods like Kona coffee ice cream, Kona chocolate, and local macadamia nuts.  

The scenery and climate is similar to the Virgin Islands.  The culture is totally unique, being part of the Polynesian culture.  We're having fun learning about this and of course participating in as much as we can.

Yeah, we like Hawaii already!

And as always, a few extra large photos.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mountain to Ocean, Peak to Bay, Skiing to Swimming

22 September 2016

“Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another. Indeed, he would have found it difficult to tell, among the many places he had lived, precisely where it was he had felt most at home.”

― Paul Bowles, The Sheltering

I found this quotation on a travel website, and really liked it. Sort of describes our life at the moment.
We travel, we hang out, we live wherever we are. People ask, don’t you have a base? Our reply is that we have a storage unit.

For the moment, Bellingham is
home. Where we are for now. Our time here is lingering longer than we had hoped. Doctors are baffled over Richard’s hitchhikers, who have been around so long, they’ve become trespassers. Other doctors keep finding new things to check out for me, despite the fact that everything has been normal thus far. Such is aging, or something like that.

Of course, life isn’t all doctor visits. We waited until we had a clear sunny day
and headed up to Mount Baker, hiked around and admired the views.  The scenery is so incredibly beautiful, it almost looks like a movie set in all directions.  As if it isn't real.  It's too perfect and beautiful and scenic to be real. 

Okay, really, we went up to the Mt Baker ski area, where people take the ski lift to ski on Mt Shuksan. Makes perfect sense, right?

In the photos, the rocky pointed mountain is Mt Shuksan.  The snowy white dome that looks like ice cream, hiding behind the clouds, is Mt Baker.  Some days Baker is visible, but this day the peak was hiding.  Scenic and beautiful, but hiding.

Mt Baker is a sort of active volcano. Not active enough to
threaten the neighboring towns at the base. Not active enough to rumble, or leak lava, or shoot out anything more than the occasional puff of steam. But that little puff of steam keeps it alive and not asleep or dead. According to what I’ve read online, Mt Baker isn’t the kind of volcano that erupts violently. Something about the geologic evidence shows that, at least in the last 14,000 years, it hasn’t had an explosive eruption.
Baker is the baby volcano of the Baker volcanic field, being only about 80,000 to 140,000 years old. (The volcanic activity here has been going on for 1.5 million years, for comparison.)

The Native American name for Mt Baker is
Koma Kulshan, meaning “white sentinel with a puncture wound” – the puncture wound being most likely the crater, although during the warmer months some of the rocks show through the glacier and that could be it too. The name Baker came from the British sailor Joseph Baker, third lieutenant on the ship of explorer George Vancouver; Joe B saw Baker on 1792, and Vancouver renamed the mountain and recorded it in his journal, which was later published. Thus the name Baker became official.

Mt Baker is 10,781 feet high (3,286 meters), making it the third tallest mountain in Washington state. After Rainier, Baker is the second-most glaciated volcano in the Cascade range.

Baker is pretty much in Bellingham’s back yard. People here grow up skiing on Baker (or Shuksan). We know it’s a clear day when we can see Baker in the distance.

And then there’s the Ski to Sea event. This is a 93.5 mile (150 km) long team relay race with seven legs, each one being a different sport. The race begins at the ski area where we were today, at 7:30 AM. (The “racing pistol” is a blast of dynamite.) The first leg is 4 miles of cross-country skiing; next is 2.5 miles of downhill skiing (although snowboarding has recently been accepted as an alternative). Then a 2.5 miles downhill run, where participants lose about 2,200 feet in elevation. The fourth leg is a 42 mile road bike race, followed by a two-person canoe trip of 18.5 miles on the Nooksack River. (There are the occasional log jams or submerged trees along the way.) The sixth relay is cyclocross biking on 20-plus miles of trails, fields, and “some street sections thrown in,” according to the Ski to Sea website. Finally, the last leg is sea kayaking 5 miles across Bellingham Bay to the finish line.

So each team needs eight team members. And then there’s a huge party, with all the exhausted team participants and their supporters.

The entire race takes about six to eight hours for the typical team. Not a race for the faint of heart. Nor the couch potato.

But the Ski to Sea is a huge deal around here, with something like 300-350 teams competing. Spectators line the route, cheering on friends, acquaintances, or just cheering because it’s a pretty exciting event. I’ve had friends in Seattle come up to compete, it’s that big a deal. 

Local business sometimes put together a team to compete in the Ski to Sea (no swimming though).  Our favorite breakfast spot, the Bagelry, placed in the Ski to Sea race for something like ten years in a row, starting by coming in third place and working their way up to first place for several years.  

And no, we've never participated.  Richard and I aren't fans of snow, or cold water, or even racing.  We haven't been in Bellingham for the event, which happens over the Memorial Day weekend.  But, maybe next year.  

Since I need this knee replacement surgery, we'll schedule it and come back in time for whatever prep stuff.  We're thinking June.  But maybe we should get back to Bellingham for the Ski to Sea.  It sounds like a blog-worthy event, right?

The gorgeous dahlias are from the Bagelry.  The guy who started this bakery/cafĂ© also grows beautiful dahlias.  Even though he sold the business and is now retired, he still brings in his dahlias to decorate the place.  (Best bagels in the state!)

That's about it for the excitement here.  There are always more photos than the narrative, so enjoy the views!