Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hilo Town

We have rented a room for in Hilo for the month of February. This is a great development because it means we don't have to fool around with wwoofing. After our experiences here, good and bad, we're a little worn out on wwoofing and considering the fact that we will be returning home to do another apprenticeship, it will be nice to take a break from it.

We met our roommates, Shannon and David, early in January when they were couchsurfing at Bob's place at the same time as us. They are a lovely couple from Northern California who are both attending University of Hawaii at Hilo.

We are hoping to use our time here in Hilo to go up Mauna Kea more often and have a place to spring from when we go on camping trips around the island. Jay also got himself a fishing rod and is happy about that. Also, we now have a spot for people to crash if they come to visit. *wink wink*

Yesterday we went for a hike with another couchsurfer, Nick, in Volcano Park. We explored a lava tube and hiked across Kilauea Iki, the crater adjacent to Kilauea Caldera. It was pretty magical. I'm looking forward to going back to the park this week with our friend Nick from Oahu who is coming for a visit!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Things I Love About the Big Island

  • Hitchhiking! It's easy, fast and safer than at home. Free as well!
  • Coconuts and many wonderful fruits grow in abundance everywhere. Lilikoi! Avocado! Also free!
  • Rainbows and moonbows make my day or night!
  • Domestic animals gone wild! Hawaii features feral pigs, goats, horses, turkeys, and even donkeys! (Sadly, also cats and dogs who are less able to fend for themselves.)
  • The Hawaiian language is beautiful and fun to get the hang of as it is written phonetically. Humuhumunukunukuapua'a! Also, the locals speak Pidgin which is a lot of fun to listen to and incorporate into your speaking. Shoots Brah! Mo Bettah!
  • Big dudes playing ukulele. It is just the tiniest guitar being played by a giant man and I love it! I also enjoy when anyone plays uke on the bus or in public.
  • Honu (turtles), dolphins, manta rays, sharks and whales and all the beautiful creatures of the sea.
  • Mauna Kea Observatory and the clear nights for star viewing.
  • Black sand, white sand, and green sand!? Kick ass beaches!
  • Fresh seafood! Poke, mahi mahi, ahi, it's all tasty.
  • Pakalolo! The green grows here like back at home except outdoor, year-round. Comparable prices too.
  • The bus is free even if it is infrequent.
  • Shaka it to me! The shaka or "hang loose" hand signal is good fun to give and receive.
  • Aloha Spirit. The people here are giving, friendly and generally helpful. Aloha is in the air.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Star Mountain

Mauna Kea kuahiwi ku ha'o ika malie

(Mauna Kea is the astonishing mountain that stands in the calm)


We just had a three day party at Uncle Bob's house with some wonderful couchsurfers from France and England as well as our friend Graham (he is one of the Canadians who picked us up hitchhiking last week).

When Graham picked us up we told him about Mauna Kea and the awesome volunteer program (link here). We are encouraging everyone we meet here to do this because it is such a unique opportunity to learn about astronomy in this special place. I didn't know if he would but he showed up at Mauna Kea on Saturday night and got a ride with us back to Hilo Town that night and partying ensued.

Mauna Kea means "white mountain" because it is often topped with snow and ice. At the peak (approximately 14000 ft) you are above 40% of the Earth's atmosphere. There is a tropical lake fed by permafrost near the summit called lake Waiau. The ancient Hawaiians would bring the umbilical cords (piko) of their children here for good luck. The lake itself was considered the "umbilical connection" to the earth.

The ancient Hawaiians revered this place as the domain of the gods. It was known as Mauna O Wakea or Mountain of the deity Wakea (the sky father). It is the tallest mountain in the world (not the highest peak) and it seems absurd that you can just drive your 4x4 all the way up.

I could go on! This is a place rich in spiritual history and scientific discovery. The telescopes on Mauna Kea are of the highest quality and plans are moving forward to build the largest mirror yet. At 30m across it will be three times that of the largest mirror currently. The larger the mirror, the more light can be collected and therefore we will be able to see farther back in "time". We are seeing things billions of light years away now, so this means we will be even closer to seeing back to the "big bang".

I think this is the most exciting and rewarding thing we have done on Hawaii and we plan on volunteering as much as we can before we leave. The people we have met up there, rangers, employees and other volunteers have all been so wonderful.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Makalawena, Pololu Valley and Hawi

This has been a great week for us, filled with radventure and new sights!

We left Hilo on Monday to go to our new farm and found it to be more than adequate. Our hosts are a lovely couple, Norm and Lisa. Norm is a direct descendant on Kamehameha, the first Hawaiian Chief to unite the Hawaiian Islands. She is a feisty little powerhouse of a woman! Lisa is a sweet, intuitive lady and a great cook (chocolate coconut creme pie!) originally from Tennessee.

They have 20 acres of land outside of the town Na'alehu in the southern part of the island. It is considerably drier here than back up in Hilo/Puna area. The farm is in the early stages of growing pineapples, tomatoes and many other tasty things. We have to be careful to not wander off of the paths because there is a lava tube running through the land and if you are not careful you can fall into a puka (hole) 50 ft deep! There is also a beautiful Ohia forest and many native plants.

We worked two long days weeding and cleaning house and then we were set free to wander the island again. Our hosts gave us a ride up to Kekaha Kai State park north of the Kona airport where we hiked to the beach over a field of chunky a'a lava. We took a break by the abandoned Magoon house and kept on north over more lava to the hidden treasure of Makalawena Beach. We swam and watched the sunset and camped in the trees. In the morning we were woken up by the wild goats that wander around that area. It's private land and the caretaker nicely told us that we wouldn't get away with camping there another night.

So we hiked back out to the highway, scoring five young coconuts on the way! Jay got a wasp sting through his shirt but I think he would say it was worth it. Coconut water is full of electrolytes and it super thirst quenching.

I was watching the planes fly overhead while we tried to hitchhike northwards and feeling homesick for Canada knowing that we are flying out of that airport in two months. We were told it is more difficult to hitchhike on Kona side due to most of the traffic being tourists but we only waited about fifteen minutes and a white Mustang convertible pulled over! The most obvious of tourist rental cars!

I knew the driver, Kevin, was a Canadian within five minutes of chatting with him. Mostly because his sentences were punctuated with the f-word. We blasted some classic rock tunes including Loverboy and he drove us to Hapuna Beach, a beach often judged the best in the country. And it was so nice! After a swim and some sun we all went to get food farther up the coast.

After local grass-fed beef burgers (yum!) Kevin graciously drove us to our next camping destination, Pololu Valley. What a great guy! I got my taste of Canada after all. At the Pololu Lookout we ran into some cool kids including a girl from Salt Spring Island and then we ventured down into the valley.

This was a perfect spot for camping! I'll post photos soon! Black sand beach, sand dunes covered in tall trees and a lake in behind. There are no facilities, you have to bring all of your own water but it is not crowded at all and is entirely mystical!

When we hiked out the next day we got a ride back into Hawi with yet another Canadian from Vancouver Island. We had planned to hitchhike to Hilo but after two and a half hours we gave up and went back to Hawi to get a hotel room. Nothing beats a bed and a hot shower after a week of working hard, hiking hard and sleeping in hammocks. Hawi is a pretty little town in North Kohala. We plan on coming back up here to whale watch (they mate and calve between here and Maui) and do some more camping before we leave.

We have almost made it around the whole island! Three sleeps until star mountain!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Date with the Stars

Next week Jay and I are starting the volunteer program at Mauna Kea Observatories. Mauna Kea is one of the highest peaks in the world at approximately 13, 800 ft and is the tallest mountain in the world when measured from the ocean bottom. There is snow on the peak right now!

I've been interested in stars ever since my mum showed me how to find the constellation Orion when I was a kid. Now we will get a chance to see them up close through state of the art telescopes. Nebulae!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Southwards to Ka Lae

Tomorrow we will take a two hour bus ride to check out a new farm located near the southern tip of the Big Island, actually the southernmost point in the USA. The people there have gone to great lengths to preserve the native trees on their property which is admirable as many residents on the island choose to flatten their acres completely. The trees create a wind break in this particularly windy area known for wind farms and the freshest air in the world. I'm really looking forward to seeing a different part of the island and we'll be riding the bus through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Pretty cool.

This weekend was a welcome respite from our travel schedule, allowing me to catch up on correspondence (skype!) and giving us a chance to plan our next move. We've both felt pretty overwhelmed by the fact that we've been here on Hawaii for a month and have only seen a tiny portion of the island. It will be really good for us to move on to a completely different scenery.

I've been spending a lot of time this weekend following the news on the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Having spent much of the past two years traveling around and living in America, I have become much more interested in news here and abroad. There is something about the heated political atmosphere of this country that is way more engaging than that of Canada's stuffy parliamentary system. That being said, most of my Canadian friends are well-informed and unbiased thinkers who seek out many sources before forming opinions.

I, like many Americans, react emotionally to everything so it is a great resource to me to have friends like these who I can take a cue from and see the bigger picture represented by many perspectives and cultural influences. As a highly effusive, emotional person, I give thanks to the rational!

I reflect often on the subtle differences between the US and Canada. I've met many intelligent young Americans who are university educated and still react to the word "socialism" as if it's an attack on their essential liberty. Yet, we are often asked by Americans what it is like to have universal health care. My reply is always, "Awesome!"

I don't feel pride in my nationality, rather I feel fortunate for it. We recently acquired a wonderful friend with type 1 diabetes. He is so busy worrying about where the money for his insulin is going to come from that he doesn't have time to chat about politics. He is also one of the most open-minded people I've met in America. Sweet and unassuming and resilient, he is an example of what is most important; the value of human life.

Friday, January 7, 2011


I finally have time to update! Let's see...

We had a lovely Xmas dinner at the farm with our boss and coworker and a few friends of theirs. It was unfortunately also a sort of going away party for our boss, Don, though we didn't know it at the time. He had been trying to secure the property for 8 months and finally after all that, the deal fell through and he decided to pack up and go. In an act of solidarity, we helped Don with packing, cleaning and delivering his things to a storage place. We resolved to go back to Hilo instead of staying on at the farm and working for the previous owners.

What a weird situation! I can't say much because we didn't really interact with her much but we heard from other wwoofers that the owner was often drunk and verbally abusive to wwoofers. I didn't want to work in those conditions, especially knowing how much work there was to do to get the place back up to running speed.

Luckily we didn't have to go far to find a place to stay. Our friend Sean offered us a cabin for a week, no strings attached. We had a great time with him, making lots of food together and getting around Puna a bit.

For New Year's Eve we went camping on the easternmost tip of the island, 25 feet away from huge waves breaking against the lava rocks. We had a bon fire complete with hot dogs and set off some fireworks at midnight. We awoke at dawn to see the sun rise over the ocean. A nice way to start 2011!

We're back in Hilo now at Uncle Bob's, mustering up our strength for the next leg of our journey. We're set on going to Kona side to check out the farm we'll be working on come February and hopefully we'll find a place to work/stay in the meantime. I've been a little disappointed by the farms we've found so far, especially in Puna. It's a beautiful place and I'm sure all the working farms are full up with great wwoofers and that's why we never got a reply from them.

The Puna area is just packed with organic farms and it's a vibrant community. Even being there for two weeks, we were starting to feel like locals. But it just isn't our scene: sitting at the health food store talking about what kind of yoga you're doing or how you're dropping red meat from your diet or that ayahuasca ceremony/rave you went to... There are gems amongst the hippies but so many hippies...

Not having rewarding work to do and lots of organic food to eat like our previous wwoofing experiences has left me a little bummed and homesick. I'm sure things will start looking up soon after all, we are in Hawaii!

Lots more updates soon on funny jungle stuff and check out my photos!