My Epic Trip To The Big Island, Hawaii (Liveblog)

hawaiiconquered

Feb 3, 10:47 PM (Hawaii-Aleutian Time Zone (UTC-10:00))

I think life is too short not to be spontaneous, so I jumped on two planes to get my body to The Big Island, Hawaii. I have no plans other than to:

  1. Sleep in hostel
  2. See volcano
  3. Beach myself
  4. Write 

Other than that, it’s all up in the air. It’s funny to me how some people script out their entire trip like a play, only because I’m completely opposite in my approach. If you think about it, traveling to a new place is already going to be well, new and different, so why not make your time there the same? I do have a rental Volkswagon, so I’ll be looking for places to go. 

My First Error 

Travel rarely goes perfectly. In the haze of my initial excitement when I booked my flight, I thought that I was flying into Hilo. That’s where I booked a weeklong stay at a hostel.

Oops.

After booking, I realized I was actually flying into Kona, and Hilo is on the other side of the island, about a 1.5 hour drive. That would seem fine as I have a rental car, but with my late arrival via plane, I wouldn’t have made it for the 10 PM check in time at the hostel. So I asked to move my check in date back and they were kind enough to oblige.

Tonight, I’m here in Kona before I head east at some point tomorrow. I’m in a stranger’s home that I found through Air BNB.

IMG_20150203_225507000

As a side note, a stranger’s home can sometimes feel like home to a traveler. It gives you that exciting, “Where am I and what am I doing?” feeling. I like that feeling, because uncertainty is the definition of adventure.

Adventure (n): “A risky undertaking of unknown outcome.”

Now that I’ve got internet access, the next question is…

What am I doing tomorrow?

I hope to be doing this.

powered glider hawaii

I’ve hang glided before, and this looks like even more fun. Plus, the scenery in Hawaii might be decent (!). (photo by Houston Marsh)

I’m not sure I can book it on such short notice (one downside to my style of travel), but I bet I can find a way to do it before I leave this volcanic-ridden slice of paradise.

Feb 5, 4:47 PM 

I didn’t write yesterday (Feb 4th), but I drove from Kona to Hilo, where I’m staying at The Hilo Bay Hostel. Before I left Kona, I ate at the Big Island Grill. I got the catch of the day, which was a fish called “monchong.” Delicious!

monchong

The drive to Hilo was great—volcanic rocks were everywhere, which seemed eerie to me, because where I was driving was probably covered in lava at some point in time.

drivetohilo

The radio stations here are terrible for the most part, so it could have been better if I had some decent music for the trip. This is in contrast to Kauai, which had awesome radio stations!

After I got here, I walked around town a lot. They had sold out of padlocks at the hostel, so I had to go find one. The only place that sold them was Ace Hardware, and I literally checked a dozen other places first.

The rest of the evening was spent meeting and talking to people at the hostel. Just like in any hostel, there are people from all around the world here. 

hilo bay hostel

This is the common area of the Hilo Bay Hostel, and if you are social here, you’re bound to meet a lot of fun and interesting people!

One of the cool things about getting a rental car is that I’ve been able to share my mobility with others. I drove four other hostel guests to a couple of the “beaches” here. I put “beaches” in quote marks because one of them was a rocky lagoon, and the other one was a black sand beach with a LOT of rocks. Neither one was the typical type of beach with the long stretch of sand going straight into the ocean.

I was a little bit disappointed in the lack of sand to be honest, but they were beautiful places. 

Carlsmith

This is Carlsmith, a lagoon in Hilo. The swimming was nice (no waves), but it was not a great spot for snorkeling because there were few fish. It was beautiful, as you can see.

We also swam at Richardson’s Beach, which has black sand!

blacksand

I thought black sand was exotic, but I’ve heard about a green and red sand beach on this island, and I plan to go to the green sand beach (2 hr drive from Hilo, at the southern tip of the island).

Advice: Don’t go to Hilo on the Big Island for the pristine beaches—you won’t find them here—go for the volcanoes, hikes, and Hawaiian culture. Kona seems to be the side with the nice beaches. The other Hawaiian islands are your best bet for beaches. Don’t get me wrong. The Big Island is amazing in its own way!

Swimming With A Sea Turtle

One of my new friends here (from Italy) was really wanting to see a sea turtle as she never had before. She and I swam out to snorkel on Richardson’s beach, and while we were discussing the fish we were seeing, I saw a massive sea turtle breach the water behind her! It really surprised me as I’ve never seen a sea turtle come up for air like that. It was priceless to see her reaction when she turned around to see a huge sea turtle just a few feet behind her. We swam alongside him for 10 more minutes.

Other than that, it was just general swimming around, fish gazing, and taking in the excessive amount of natural beauty around us. I kept trying to grab the fish, but they were too fast.

Kayaking And Power Gliding?

These are two unknowns that I hope will work out. I wasn’t able to go on the powered glider yesterday, but I might be able to do it on the day I leave. I’m in Hilo and the power glider is in Kona, where I’m flying out in about a week.

I might get to kayak with the hostel owner’s sister tomorrow. If we do go, there’s a good chance we’ll see humpback whales, which would be amazing!

What Do You Get From A Trip?

Seeing new places is amazing, but I personally find that the best part of traveling is meeting new people and interacting with a new culture. This is funny to me because while traveling, you may plan to see different places, but there’s no way to really plan to “meet a new friend while sitting at the hostel table.” It’s just something that seems to happen if you’re open to it.

Oh! I’m super excited to go to Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano and observatory. According to the University of Hawaii, Mauna Kea’s summit is one of the “best observatory sites in the world.” I love stars, so I can’t wait to go. Someone here told me to make sure I see the sunset from Mauna Kea, too. The sunset we saw at Mauna Kea was one of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen because of the location.

For an unplanned trip, I’m finding myself almost overwhelmed with things I want to see and do! This is a good kind of overwhelmed though. 🙂

One of the worst parts of this trip so far is that it’s not turning into much of a “writer’s retreat.” I think the mental picture I had of writing on the beach in Hawaii is being engulfed by thoughts like, “Wow, I need to see this volcano! What? This beach has GREEN sand! That observatory sounds amazing! Kayaking with whales! Let’s go on a power glider!” That’s a lot of competition that makes, “write a book” sound at least a little bit boring.

Feb 9, 9:22 AM 

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t been able to write. I’ve had so much fun with the people I’ve met here and have explored amazing places. Instead of trying to remember everything chronologically, I’ll just list some of the things I’ve done. 

Kayaking For Whales (And Failing)

As I mentioned earlier, I talked to the hostel owner for a while and he invited me to go kayaking with his sister. There was talk of seeing whales, as they are seasonally active in the area from January to April. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a single whale while out on the open seas. We did see this sea turtle though.

sea turtle

Volcano National Park

Never before have I walked on a landscape like this crater we traversed. It seemed like a different world; a world cracked and dry, black, barren, and harsh. But before the crater section, we walked in a lush forest, which surely benefited from the mineral-rich soil of a volcanic land.

Side note: Everything here seems to grow bigger. This morning, I ate a hass avocado twice the size of the ones I see in the continental USA. Look at the size of this yam I found at the grocery store.

yam

 Back to the Volcano National Park trail, here’s what it looked like.

volcano national park trail

fern

And here’s what the crater part of the trail looked like.

crater

danger!

volcanic rock

volcanic rock!

volcano flower

Later in the hike, we came upon another crater that had hills and rocks to climb upon (if interested). I felt dramatic, so…

crater climb

After hiking for a few hours, we ate at the volcano house restaurant.

volcano house

IMG_20150206_172111532

Papaya salsa with root vegetable chips!

mmm.... burger

mmm…. burger!

 And to cap the night off, we saw the lava glow!

lava glow

This was amazing to see, but you weren’t allowed to get any closer for safety reasons.

 Feb 12, 9:32 PM (PST)

So much for “liveblog,” huh? I’m home now and it’s been three days since I updated this! During the trip, I barely had any time to write. For a spontaneous trip without plans, I ended up making plans every day that lasted all day.

It’s strange to say, but for such an incredible time, I feel more sad than happy right now, and those two things are related. You wouldn’t expect to form any kind of meaningful relationships in a week, but well, I was surprised. I ended up spending most of my time with the same few people for several days in a row. And the connections that were formed and strengthened over this past week have been suddenly severed, or at least suspended in time. It’s odd. I’d think this experience were all a dream if I didn’t look down to see tan red arms.

friends

Most often, my rental car’s five seats would be occupied on the way to a new adventure. Two of those seats would always be taken by Angela (Italy) and Irina (Germany), whom I became friends with early on in the trip. They were excellent travel companions and I’m grateful to have met them!

While my mind was blown by some of the sights I saw, this trip further confirmed to me that it’s not really about what we do in life, but who we share our lives with. People are most important. Even if you think that your career is the best thing in your life, the entire reason we work is to support ourselves and others. If you were the last person alive, what would your career mean then?

Truly connecting with another human being is greater than scaling the highest mountain or surfing on a whale’s back. Ok, maybe whaleback surfing could compete, but it probably still wouldn’t win. The highlight of my trip was the conversations I had, with one in particular that stood out as special, raw, and deep. And that’s saying a lot, because I saw humpback whales playing while flying a powered glider 1,000 feet above them. 

cool people

We had a particularly fun group go to the planetarium! Mist is fun, too.

Hostels Are Special Places

Like I said in the Portland trip, I love hostels for their social value. As I tell you in a moment about the other things I did on this volcanic island, none of it would have been the same without the people who were with me. I didn’t experience anything in a personal vacuum—I shared the experiences with them. And I think sharing experiences is one of the strongest human bonding mechanisms.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how most people take vacations—they get a hotel, set up activities, see things, do things, and leave. It’s nice and relaxing, but it’s not quite the adventure like staying in a hostel tends to be. It’s possible to do it in a “tourist vacuum.” The underlying culture of the area is generally more interesting than the tourist trap coat of paint over it, not that they are always mutually exclusive.

If I were any more pro-hostel, you’d probably suspect that I was trying to sell you something.

The one thing I am trying to sell you on is this: try staying in a hostel at least once in your lifetime. As you sit at the communal area with strangers, just take the first little step to ask someone where they’re from or what they plan to do there. And maybe you’ll form an unexpected friendship from that. Also, if you like to travel, you can build up a wealth of friends in different countries at hostels, which is always a great thing!

Oh, and if you’re looking to have more interesting stories in your life, you won’t likely find or create better ones than at a hostel. During my stay, several people were kicked out of our hostel for various reasons—none of the violent sort. Other people you meet in hostels are characters—the type of people you thought only existed on TV. Whether they are weird, interesting, funny, or cool, almost everyone I’ve met at the hostels I’ve visited has been very friendly.

The elderly man who slept across from my bunk has been living there for several years. That was pretty interesting to me. I wondered what it’s like for him to see so many people come and go as I just did.

As a last thought before I begin telling you what else I experienced, I must give credit to the Big Island of Hawaii. I was privileged to spend time in such a unique and beautiful place. I could see myself going back there.

Tomorrow, I’ll update you on what else I did (with pictures!).

Feb 14, 5:15 PM (PST)

Planetarium, Pohoa, & Lava Tree State Park

We went to the planetarium, and personally, I was disappointed. We watched a video in an Imax-like theater about Mauna Kea, but it contained no actual footage of it! Instead, we got 2006 digital animation that looked pretty terrible. In addition, the rest of the museum was dated and geared more towards kids.

After we left, the fun began. Ghie led us to sugar cane and we chewed on it.

sugar cane

Afterwards, we drove to Pohoa, a small hippy village, and had some of the best pizza ever. Seriously, it was incredible, and I think you can tell from the picture!

pizza

Then we visited Lava Tree State Park, which is notable for “lava molds of the tree trunks that were formed when a lava flow swept through a forested area in 1790.” (wikipedia) It has a nice 30 minute trail with plenty of plants and “lava trees.”

lava tree

weird dude

I’m a strange person, but that’s probably fine.

As our last major activity for the day, we drove along a coast-hugging road as the sun set!

Road 137

The road marked red is a great drive if you have a zippy car. There are lots of little twists and turns and plenty of great views along the way. Fun!

We then found a cool spot to pull off and stare at the ocean. People like staring at the ocean.

VW Hawaii

I liked driving the VW Jetta in Hawaii. And that’s not a bad view!

John then found something unreasonably awesome—a volcanic bridge!

volcanic bridge

It seemed like a good idea.

This seemed like a good idea. And it was. I need longer shirts.

At the grocery store on the way back, I found this funny. It’s correct, but where I’m from, we call it “trash.”

rubbish

So there you have it—rubbish capped off a very fun day!

Waipio Valley

So, there’s a really cool place in the upper NE of The Big Island called Waipio Valley. When we first arrived, we were greeted with this view.

waipio valley

And I hid my neck from the sun in the most stylish way possible.

stylish sun protection

After you get your fill of the lookout, you can hike or drive down to the beach in the valley. But your car needs to have 4 wheel drive or your brakes will get toasty. Some people hitchhike up or down the trail. We walked down and found the best beach on the East side of the Big Island (because it had actual sand and wasn’t full of rocks!).

beach

We jumped in, swam around, and covered ourselves in mud a little bit. Afterwards, it was time to hike back up. But the thing about the hike up is that it’s extremely steep and challenging. Being me, I asked who wanted to run up it with me, and Angela and Cosette both said they would. Long story short, it was really hard and we didn’t last long “running.”

steep

It’s harder than it looks, ok?

The problem with this hike up is that vehicles also drove up it, and while it was easy enough to get out of their way, the vehicles had to work hard to move up this road, and seemed to spit out twice as much exhaust as usual. Meanwhile, you’re running up this slope needing nothing more than oxygen as you breathe in car exhaust that seemed to linger forever! It was not cool!

In the trek upward, I moved to the pole position. Then Corry got inspired to run and caught up with me as we started conquering this mountain as comrades. The ladies were getting smoked, but they soon had their revenge. As Corry and I gasped for air, a truck driven by a couple of guys whizzed by us, and in the back, you guessed it, were the three ladies waving to us. Ha! I thought it was hilarious, especially because the guys “didn’t have room” for us. Sure guys. Real believable.

But at this point, I didn’t want a ride anyway. I wanted to finish the race. Corry and I drank the last of the water, toughed it out, and finally reached the top. It was an incredible feeling, and I mean physically too, as the endorphins were pumping. We were (too) proud of ourselves.

champs

February 18, 8:33 PM (PST)

It’s funny how productive I’ve been AFTER getting back from this trip. During the trip, I barely wrote anything in my book. But I’ve written a lot in my next book lately. Also today, I mailed out five signed international book contracts for Mini Habits. I’m so excited to see it published in almost a dozen languages! It’s 2/2 so far, being a best seller in South Korea and the USA markets. 

But let me tell you what else I did on that beautiful volcanic paradise!

Mauna Kea 

With a full car once again, I drove four of my new friends up to the famous dormant volcano, Mauna Kea. Aside from it being a volcano, the amazing thing about Mauna Kea is that it is now one of the world’s best observatories! The lack of light pollution and altitude make it ideal for star gazing.

The visitor’s center is at 9,199 feet, and the peak of the mountain—Hawaii’s highest point—is 13,796 feet above sea level. We drove to the visitor’s center for sunset and then to look at stars through the telescopes. The drive there was scenic!

scenic big islandbig island driving

But it was right before the visitor’s center when we pulled off to the side and looked at one of the most spectacular sunsets we’ll ever see.

big island sunset

After that, we hung around until it was dark. They set up telescopes to point at areas of interest. Here were the highlights:

  • Venus and Mars were (relatively) boring. They just looked like stars. It was cool to think it was a planet, but looking at it was like, “Oh, that’s Venus? Cool.”
  • Jupiter was awesome! The reason Jupiter was awesome is because you could see three of its 16 moons in orbit around it! It was a larger dot with three tiny dots in a vertical line through it.
  • Orion’s Nebula was awesome! This was really cool because you could see the “space dust” type of cloud around the nebula. It was the kind of thing you usually only see in NASA pictures, so I loved being able to see it with my own eyes!
  • The sky was FULL of stars. Obviously, non-telescope star gazing was still quite impressive in such a location. 
  • Green laser pointers are great! The employees there used green laser pointers to literally point at stars. I was amazed at how you could see the laser go “right up” to the star. It also looked awesome because it’s a green laser.

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