Friday, November 30, 2012

The Pineapple Express

It's one of those rare days in San Jose - grey clouds hang so low in the sky that you feel like you can touch them if you just stretch that little bit further, the rain is not waiting to fall, and I have even have puddles in the back yard. Yep, it's most definitely rainy season. According to the weatherman, we are experiencing the effects of the pineapple express - a blast of storms all the way from Hawaii - weather that has followed us, in fact, because this time three days ago we were snorkeling in the warm blue waters off the Big Island, Hawaii. Coming home to this weather feels decidedly surreal, more like the days when my bump-down-to-earth after vacations dumped me into rainy Belfast and a trough of depression. Did I dream Hawaii? Did it really happen? It feels like a hazy, beautiful memory from another world. Still, I wonder if anyone who has holidayed in Hawaii can avoid the post-vacation blues, no matter where they live?

One thousand, two hundred and something photos later, (and that's not counting the two disposable underwater cameras I sent off for development yesterday) I realize that the Hawaii trip cannot, and should not be blogged about in one post. So I'll be breaking it down into at least six posts - the volcano, the East Coast one day road trip including the amazing Tropical Botanic gardens, the coffee growing, Manu Kea - the largest mountain on the planet (yes from undersea-base to tip 10000 meters compared to Everest's 8000m above sea level) and the snorkeling. Today I'll be starting with transport and our lodgings in the rainforest.

We flew with Alaskan Air directly to  Kona from Oakland International Airport (OAK) early on Thanksgiving morning. The drive took us about 45 minutes since the roads were empty given the holiday. The parking was  reasonable and even though the long term parking lot was full, they allowed us to park in a closer, shorter term lot for the same price. I thought this was pretty decent of them. Overall, OAK proved to be as handy to us and cheaper than SFO. The terminals were nice and easy to navigate.

I wasn't quite expecting the singing girls, in grass skirts, handing out garlands of flowers on our arrival,  (though a tiny part of me hoped that all that those old Elvis movies, from BBC2 on rainy Saturday afternoons of my youth, would be played out upon our landing in Hawaii) but I was totally unprepared for the airport at Kona on the Big Island.

Passengers sheltered from the sun and rain under canopies in wall-less departure lounges.

From here you could comfortably watch planes take off and land.
A very unique gate complete with palm trees!
The open air gates reminded me of the toll booth in Blazing Saddles!

Alaskan Airlines charges for checked bags. The Big Island of Hawaii has 11 of the 13 climate zones that exist on earth and we had planned to visit all of them so we needed to pack warm clothes as well as just bikini, sarong and toothbrush! Our one checked bag was waiting for us at the baggage carousel and we went straight from their across the road to the Hertz van waiting to drive us to pick up our rental car.

I was amused by Hertz's offer of a free "upgrade" from the compact car we'd booked, to either a mustang convertible or a minivan! Apparently compacts were in short supply.  We politely turned down the gas guzzler "upgrade" and waited the 15 minutes until a Toyota Corolla became available. We planned to do a lot of driving beginning with a three hour drive to the town of Volcano, on the doorstep of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The temperature fell from a humid 80F to a chilly, damp 60F as we climbed up through the coffee belt to the rainforest. Vines, ferns and unfamiliar vegetation thronged the sides of the road - so much of it that it felt like if you turned your back it would engulf the road too.
We stayed in the Forest House at the Rainforest Retreat, Volcano and I cannot write enough good stuff about this idyllic spot.
Anne met us as we parked. By the time she had guided us beneath the giant tree ferns to our home for the next three days, I'd already fallen in love with the place.

Anne got us settled in and gave us great advice about how best to view the volcano. The house had maps and she outlined a possible hiking itinerary for the following day and recommended Thai Thai Resturant in Volcano for dinner that night - possibly the best Thai food I've ever eaten!

She gave us her phone number and told us to call her if we needed anything. Feeling completely pampered, we used the last of the daylight to explore our new found paradise.
Anthuriums abounded in different colors and size, growing wild in the forest. 
They made beautiful flower arrangements inside and out.
Beauty soothed the soul wherever the eye fell, and to sooth the body we had the use of a hottub, right in the forest.
Nestled in the rainforest this hexagonal shaped cabin had everything we needed - robes to keep you snug to and from the hot-tub, flip-flops, torches (it gets really pitch-black at night), and umbrellas.

The continental breakfasts were huge - the bananas like none I'd ever tasted - so delicious! We had enough breakfast left over to bring with us on our hike for a picnic lunch.
When night fell, black and inky around us obliterating the beauty of the rainforest, the cabin became a cozy haven as we tucked up in front of the gas fire watching dvds about the volcanoes so that relaxation battled the excitement of knowing that tomorrow we would see a real live volcano....

Byddi Lee

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thankful for growing up all over again

As I look back on the last four years, my immigration to and settling into California reminds me of growing up.
SFO - the "maternity" ward!

First, of course, you are born. You arrive to a whole new world where everything is novel and fascinating. The temperature is different, the light is bright (the sun being almost alien to Irish folk!), people sound different to what they sounded like muffled in the womb of the Irish brogue, missing Irish chocolate, and exchanging the love of the smell of turf smoke for the perfume of California sage bush (aka Cowboy Cologne). Moving to the other side of the planet brings change in every sense of the word.
Dawn in Yosemite Valley

I was lucky/unlucky (in a glass half-empty/half-full sense) enough to be moving without a job. This presented benefits along with problems. The obvious advantage was time to get us organized. The less obvious disadvantage was time on my own that left me bored and fighting loneliness and homesickness. Fortunately, I'm a silver lining seeker and knowing how many people would have loved to have been in my position, (some of whom are dear friends and relatives...) in their honor, I always counted my blessings.
So, like a young infant that is mesmerized by everything from her own hands to the clouds in the sky, I marveled at the world around me. I exercised my new-found vision to better focus on the important things that my new life had to offer. In those early days, I had hours and hours to spend on any project I chose - buying the furniture we needed for the new apartment, swimming, and even knitting (though the sweaters turned out to be too warm for this climate!)

But without a job, I found it hard to find people to make friends with. Without kids, I had no Moms to chat with at the school gates. As the novelty of moving wore off, I revisited a feeling I hadn't truely experienced since I was a kid. Boredom!

Like a cooped-up puppy, I'd pounce on my husband when he came home exhausted from work, demanding his full attention. As patient as the saint he is, he encouraged me to follow my dream of writing and dissuaded me from feeling guilty for not bringing money into the household.
Tollymore Forest Park, County Down, Ireland

With this freedom to pick whichever path I wanted, I decided to write and also try out some volunteer work. (Writing is a lonely job.) I joined the Edgewood Weed Warriors and like a kid in primary school (kindergarden-elementary in the US), thirsty for knowledge and friendship, I found exactly what I needed!
Tidy Tips - California wild flower

Just as a child's perspective changes from the toddler's egocentricity to the peer sensitive middle-schooler (which is first - third year in the Irish and UK school system) as I met more people and acquaintances became friends, the new life blossomed and with the move to our house and garden another dimension of this brave new world opened up to me - the garden.
Pulling out the oleander to make way for the natives

This pulled me happily to the high school stage - here I could pursue projects that gave me personal satisfaction - producing my own food - my husband teases me about being like those pet cats that present their owners with their dead quarry so as to contribute to the pride, as I bring in the produce from the garden.

My writing is still a daily anchor, and the people in my writing groups now valued friends as well as peers.

Along with these, I have other play mates for swimming, biking, hiking, shopping, coffee chats and generally hanging-out, so that my poor husband can finally have some "alone" time outside of work - like the parent whose kids have reached an independent enough stage to go off on their own for the afternoon to hang out with their buddies.
Mono Lavender - South African hybrid

With a vibrant circle of friendships blossoming and lots of things to do now, I find it harder to find the time to sit down to write my blog, an activity that gave me such pleasure back as an eager sixth-grader in "immigration" time.

During the week I was at a Master Gardener talk. I was standing at a stall at the back, the speaker was just about to begin and another MG came in at the last minute. As she passed me she leaned towards me and whispered, "I love your blog." She moved on not waiting for a reply and my heart bloomed with gratitude towards her. Those few simple words mean so much. To be appreciated by even one person makes the effort worth it.

Now, I'm like the sixth-former (high school senior) with gardening, my budding business and emerging novel being the subjects that are my seeds for future enterprise, my 'after-school' clubs - namely Master Gardeners, swimming and biking, and a circle of friends to enjoy it all with.

Thanks to modern technology I can still hold dear the friends from my old life.

Growing apart doesn't change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I'm glad for that.

 Ally Condie quotes   

No longer do I hear myself echo the teenagers whine of, "I'm bored," and thank goodness too, for now relaxation time can be exactly that.

Instead, the mantra is, "How time flys!" I've learnt to appreciate the joy of "busy" because it sure does beat the butt of the other B word!

So in this "Thanksgiving" week I'm thankful for being kept busy with friends, family and projects, the hindsight with which to view the journey and sharing with you readers ...whose appreciation keeps me returning to the keyboard time and again.

Byddi Lee