Sunday, February 25, 2007

Big Island Adventure

We just returned yesterday from our vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii. When it was getting towards the end of our stay, I thought I would not want to come back, but I found that, by Friday, I was ready to come home. This is partly because we were on an island for a week and beginning to feel cooped up, but mostly because we were able to see most, if not all, the sights we wanted to see. Before we left, our friends gave us "Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed, Ultimate Guidebook" by Wizard Publications. I have to say that we'd have been lost without this book. It is written by people who actually go to all the attractions, restaurants, sights, and hotels, so it takes them one to two years to complete an edition. A book on each island is written, and I would highly recommend purchasing this if you are planning a visit. We happened to get lucky with our hotel - we reserved our room at Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort and Spa in Kona, which was given a "gem" by the guidebook, before really knowing what was out there. After seeing the other hotels and condos in different areas, we were pretty happy with our choice because it was a quieter location (just south of Kona), within our price range, and not too remote.

The best part of our trip was just being able to relax. There truly was no agenda - we did not go to Hawaii with a "plan of action" and we didn't sign up for tours each day. Instead, we went on a Circle Island Tour during the first part of our stay so we would know what to see and do, but the rest of the time we explored on our own. Let me just say that it would have been difficult to do this without a rental car. The island really is huge - the circle tour was 12 hours long and covered much of what you'd want to see in general.

We were able to visit a coffee farm, which wasn't hard to find since the west and southwest parts of the island are peppered with coffee and macadamia nut trees and farms. On our tour, it was mentioned that most of the coffee grown within the United States comes from Kona.

The next stop on our tour was the Black Sand Beach, which was very windy and a bit cooler than Kona area. It was beautiful, though, and the drive was well worth it. Because the winds are so strong, the waves crash along the shore and I had to be careful to keep my balance and not get knocked over.
Following the road northeast, we were able to visit the Kilauea Volcano. I was surprised at the sheer amount of lava that's visible on the island until I found out that Kilauea is still active. We could not see any lava, but only sulfur coming out of the crater. The only way to see the active part of the volcano is to take a helicopter tour, which is quite expensive.

Near the crater of the volcano, we walked through lava tubes, which were hidden in dense rainforests. I was pretty amazed at how much plant life was able to grow despite the lava flows. On different parts of the island, the "pancake batter" type rock is visible, with these lone plants and trees sprouting from underneath and in between the crevices.
After visiting the volcano, we went towards Hilo on the east part of the island and stopped to see Rainbow Falls. This part of the island is so different from where we were staying - very lush and green due to the humidity and rainfall.

From there, we travelled west towards Wimea and Parker Ranch. According to the guide book, Captain Vancouver brought cattle to the island in the late 1700's, and they were multiplying and getting out of hand by ruining crops and driving people out of their homes. John Parker was hired by King Kamehameha to "fix" the horned cattle problem and ended up starting a ranch, which now spans over 200,000 acres.

One night we went to a luau in Kona, which was entertaining. The two best things about it were the baked pig and the show. Even though the dancers are entertaining, they are supposed to be telling different stories through their dance, but to me, it's hard to tell what they are saying. The costumes are different, though, and some of their dance is more peaceful and other parts are quite lively.
And then there's the fire guy who eats flames - that's always a big hit in my book. H was pretty impressed, too. I was disappointed, though, because most of his performance was behind a net. They didn't used to do that. I bet someone in the front row had fire accidentally tossed at them. Now, because of the legalities, there are nets. I'm not trying to be flip, but there is a section in the guidebook that explains things like this - that certain attractions and sights are considered "at your own risk", and in danger of closing down to the public if there are complaints or lawsuits.

Second to the ocean, the most beautiful thing about Hawaii are the flowers. Everywhere I looked, there were flowers. I'm not a fancy gal, but flowers are girly thing I do appreciate.

One of our last places we visited was the Place of Refuge, which was a sacred place that people could go for asylum. If they had broken a law, they would be immune from death if they could reach this place before they were captured.

Hawaii leaves quite an impression on a person. It is a very relaxing place, not just because there's nothing better to do than relax, but because of the whole atmosphere. However, there were a few things that left us longing for home. Firstly, people of Hawaii are not exactly the pinnacle of health that shows like "Baywatch", "Magnum P.I." and "Hawaii-Five-0" would have you believe. It's not hard to see why. I've never seen so much greasy and fried food. H and I both commented on how much we looked forward to our own food again, cooked in our own kitchen, and not a bit of it fried. Also, it's hard not to wince when everything is so expensive and when literally every place "quarter and dollar's" you to death. I don't say "nickel and dimed" because the incidental charges, tips, and such hurt your wallet far more than losing a few nickels and dimes. H and I just about fell over from shock when we visited the Place of Refuge and parking and admittance was free (I think that was the only free thing on our trip besides the shell necklaces at Hilo Hatties). Even so, there were experiences on our vacation that were priceless that I wasn't able to capture on film. At the luau, couples were asked to get up and dance together to a Hawaiian song of love (please don't gag - it was actually sweet). Also, just like the guidebook promised, the geckos at the Aloha Angel Cafe really were friendly and licked small pieces of strawberry from my fingers during our breakfast. Most importantly, H and I had nothing better to do than to enjoy each other's company.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Aloha and Mahalo!

We're flying the coop for the week - I might come back.

Monday, February 05, 2007

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

After much deliberation and trials and tribulations with finding this book, I finally broke down and bought it. Originally, I wanted to get this book for my brother for Christmas, but do you think I could find it anywhere? Of course not. Now I have the excuse to peruse the book before I buy it for anyone else, since it's not cheap. I can say right now that it's well worth the $34.95 I spent. I like how the book is laid out - there is a preface by Michael Lydon, Founding Editor of Rolling Stone, followed by a list of contributors (there were 91!), and an album index. The "meat" of the book is laid out in decades starting with the 1950's and going up through 2003. In each decade, the albums are sorted by release date, with most pages having a picture or album cover, a track listing, and a 3-4 paragraph writeup of why the album deserved to be in the book. I have learned many interesting facts which I had not known before, like the fact that Eddy Van Halen did the guitar in Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean". Most impressive, since Eddy is now relegated to doing the music for porn videos. Most of the albums listed are not a big surprise, like Elvis Presley's self titled ablum (1956), the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night" (1964), Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1970), The Boss' "Born In The USA" (1984), Nirvana's "Nevermind" (1991), and Johnny Cash's "American IV: The Man Comes Around" (2002).

Some highlights from "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" by Leading International Critics:

1950's - Frank Sinatra's "In the Wee Small Hours", Fats Domino's "This Is Fats", and Ray Charles' "The Genius of Ray Charles"

1960's - Joan Baez' "Joan Baez", BB King "Live at the Regal", and Bob Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde"

1970's - Black Sabbath's "Paranoid", Elton John's "Madman Across the Water", and The Ramones' "Ramones"

1980's - Michael Jackson's "Thriller", Cyndi Lauper's "She's So Unusual", and Dire Straits' "Brothers In Arms"

1990's - Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Blood Sugar Sex Magik", U2's "Achtung Baby", and Green Day's "Dookie"

2000's - Madonna's "Music", Coldplay's "A Rush of Blood To The Head", and 50 Cent's "Get Rich or Die Tryin"

Even though there were several albums I expected, there were some listed that made me say "Whaaaa?!?", like the White Stripes, Justin Timberlake, and Bjork, who are all artists in the decade labeled "2000's". I really can't find much wrong with the recommendations from the other decades, even if I have heard a certain album and don't particularly like it. I think the problem is that current music isn't that compelling, so our expectations for what constitutes "good music" are lowered. I'm not saying all music from our current decade is crap, but not much of it is anything I'd care to listen to. Maybe I was just born in the wrong time period.

A few albums I am curious about checking out as a result of this book are: Royskopp's "Melody A.M." because I heard the song "Remind Me" on the Geico caveman commercial and couldn't get the damn thing out of my head, Miles Davis' "The Birth of Cool" because I've never been into jazz but would like to try, Rod Stewart's "Gasoline Alley" because I want to remember when Rod had some balls and didn't sing stuff that's already been sung, and The Flaming Lips' "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots" because I'd desperately like to believe that there's something that Justin Timberlake can do right, cuz it sure ain't singing (Lips recruited him to play bass on this album).

For any music lover, this is a great book. It's not just a "coffee table" book, but it's one that can help you expand your musical horizons. I give "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" 8 out of 10 dancing feet.