Wednesday, September 19, 2012

There’s no place like home…

They say there’s nothing like travel to make you appreciate home, and I’m pained to say I’m starting to agree with “them”.

It’s been just days since I got back to Burragan following a month-long holiday and I’m already feeling like a fraud when answering queries about our overseas trip with “Yeah, it was good, thanks” in the type of voice which is really saying “Holy Crap, I’m glad to be home!”

An old uni girlfriend’s wedding in up-state New York, USA, seemed like the perfect opportunity to drag ST to the States and see the sights of NYC, LA, Hawaii, a touch of Canada and the likes. If you’ve ever known a farmer then you’ll know oftentimes it’s an Olympic marathon just to get them past the boundary gate let alone on a plane to the opposite side of the world. So I teed it up with ST’s family and booked flights at the very beginning of the year, giving ST no room to back out as our August departure drew closer.

Well, if you’ve ever wanted to really convince a man (who’s already not a friend of the “overnight trip to town”) that he really, really should never leave the property again, then, dear readers, take note… Because this is how it’s done...

We arrived in Hawaii at 7am - which really felt like 2am – after a sleepless, crammed flight, and dropped our bags at our hotel before hitting the beach. With eight hours to kill before we could check into our room, hitting the beach meant buying a beach towel, finding a shady palm tree and napping in the summer heat of Waikiki among the delightful company of 70 thousand other tourists. The jetlag was like a hangover, we were tired, cranky, hungry, hotel-less… and I’m still not sure why no one understood my woeful cries of “Seriously, would somebody please bring this woman a Mai Tai!”

For the first 12 hours Hawaii sucked. Though we didn’t actually say that out loud, I’m sure we were both thinking it. But hey, we were on vacation, we were in beautiful, romantic Hawaii, and so we knew our blues were nothing an afternoon nap (we could finally check-into the hotel!) and a few G&Ts couldn’t fix.

It was around this time that we stumbled across a little smoothie bar riiiggghhht down the back of the International Markets. It’s funny how a good drink or feed can change your mood, and I’m not sure if it was just that it was completely what we needed at the time, or if it was, in actual fact, the world’s best smoothie, but boy did the creamy, fresh coconut and pineapple concoction rock our world.

It was just what we needed after some spruiker had shoved a mega-giant, multi-coloured bird on my shoulder, grabbed my camera out of my hand and started taking (blurry!) photos of me before demanding we pay him $10 (in fact, that guy kind of sums up my feelings about Hawaii).

Later on, a night of the most delicious passionfruit mojitos we’ve ever had revealed to us the sort of Hawaii we’d imagined before leaving Australia, finally!
A satisfying night’s sleep meant we liked Hawaii even more come our second day. One of the best meals of the whole trip was that morning’s Brazilian breakfast dish known as an Acai bowl:

Overall, Hawaii was nice. And yes, I mean “nice” as in how you can’t be bothered to think of anything better to say. Sure, it was beautiful, the weather was fabulous, there were fresh pineapples and coconuts galore, we had some fantastic fresh seafood meals and some great drinks to go with the beautiful meals… but it was also expensive and very touristy – this we found out the hard way, following:

1) a recommended “more private” and “authentic” Hawaiian Luau where six other coach-loads of tourists arrived with us to be drafted through queues like cattle before a fake pig was pulled out of a fake fire pit and served up to us with fake fish by waiters with fake tans to match their fake smiles;

2) a much anticipated tour of the Kualoa Ranch and the adjoining valley where Jurassic Park (one of my all-time favourite movies) was filmed, where an “extreme adventure” ATV tour was ruined by being limited to a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour and having to sign waivers stating we were definitely not going to have any fun, at all, whatsoever (heaven forbid you should have some fun and then sue them);

3) and finally a day tour which had promised to be “12 people, private and fun… just for Aussies and young people” and instead proved to include Gran and Pa from southern Kentucky along with 30 of their closest friends and family.

I had desperately wanted to explore the island of Oahu and try to uncover the real Hawaii… the Polynesian, tropical, relaxed Hawaii I’d seen in my mind’s eye. Instead it was all like “Here, try this authentic Hawaiian Japanese sushi roll,” or “Here’s your authentic Hawaiian wood carving labelled ‘Made in the Philippines’,” and “Oh, look at this beautiful mountain fed waterfall and rock pool, please go from a swim… but no, no, no… do not enter the water from outside the flags, do not swim over to the waterfall, do not touch! Do not have fun! Or else we’ll chastise you in front of everyone with my megaphone!” (Yes we actually witnessed this happen.)

The worst part was that these things were all expensive – built for hordes of tourists… and by the end of it we just felt empty and ripped off.

Fortunately, the thing I was most looking forward to in Hawaii also turned out to be our highlight of the state. Waaaayy back in February, right after I’d booked our flights, I had also booked us a native guided tour of the active volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii. We had to fly to the other island for the day, but I’m so, so glad we went to the effort.

ST and I stood on the rim of the KÄ«lauea caldera (one of five volcanoes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii, along with its more famous cousins Mona Loa and Mona Kea)… walked through lava tubes no one else gets to walk through… felt the warm, sulphur gases of deep steam vents coming from the centre of the earth… and hiked through lush rainforest leading to barren, black deserts of dried lava.

Actually, according to the US Geological Society, Kilauea is regarded as the most dangerous volcano in the world. Though it’s very safe and easy for visitors to look around, there are areas away from the main caldera (currently a full days hike to see) which are constantly flowing fresh lava, slowly claiming suburbs and entire cities of the Big Island. Yep, it’s awesome. Check out some up to date webcam images of the Kilauea Volcano here:

But just like everything in Hawaii, a good moment was followed up by a sucky, expensive moment. And after our super cool day exploring the volcanoes, we ended up standing in the pouring rain for an hour in the town of Hilo waiting for a taxi which we had to call three times, worrying that we would miss our flight back to the island of Oahu.

When it came time to leave Hawaii a few days later, headed for New York City (via bus from Boston, after plane from Honolulu via a very tight connection in Seattle), we were actually relieved and really looking forward to the US main land. So after a $60 cab ride to the Honolulu airport (it seemed to be getting more expensive each time) and lining up to check into our 1pm flight, it was the last thing we wanted to hear when the check-in lady said, “Oh you’ve been changed to the 8pm flight….”

Ummmm, say WHAT!?

To be continued…