Sunday, June 28, 2020

Hawaii - one last arboretum

My last day in Hawaii was also sans Sika as she had an early morning flight. I figured I could drop her off at the airport and drive back to some of the scenic bits we passed (and maybe get in some snorkeling) before returning the car and meeting up with my buddy Sarah. So after a blessedly silent drive to the airport (Sika is also not a morning person.) I headed to Haunama Bay. The neat thing about getting there before dawn is you don't have to pay for parking OR the entry fee AND you get to see a sweet sunrise.

Unfortunately, the snorkel shop didn't open until 8 and the car had to be returned at 9 (and a two hour car extension which would have given me at least an hour of snorkel time cost the same as a whole extra day of rental. Can't say I didn't try.) I also missed surfing with Sarah but the early morning beach walk seemed worth it because Sarah and I got to meet up for a delicious Hawaiian style (but vegetarian) bento breakfast at Kaimana Farm Cafe and brief jaunt to Lyon Arboretum.

The Arboretum, according to their website, houses more than 19,300 individual plants representing some 6,200 taxa, especially heliconias, gingers, aroids, figs, and one of the world’s largest palm collections. We spent most of our time hiking around looking for "the scenic overlook" which didn't really overlook that much.

Sarah indulged me in getting caffeinated (because even one week in I remained jetlagged) and taking me somewhere to buy individually wrapped foods for my friends and colleagues (which in a Covid-world I wound up eating myself). Then we chilled on Waimanolo beach before heading to the airport where I absconded with Sarah's umbrella.

I will note that I have never gone straight from the beach to the airport so I had to seriously recombobulate myself in the bathroom...before flying home to an unending work from home situation and not-quite-crushing anxiety...before moving to Seattle for a new and different work from home and not-quite-crushing anxiety situation. I am endlessly grateful to Sika for suggesting this break and we definitely lucked out (perhaps through early adoption of physical distancing, avoiding buffets, and Purell-ing ourselves into oblivion.) Can't wait for the next adventure!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Hawaii - a lazy day and a circumnavigation

The next day we lazed around to prepare for our big adventure the next day. We rode the trolley to Diamond Head a volcanic crater which we had planned to hike but Sika declined such adventure so we continued on to Leonard's bakery. On the way, the trolley driver let us know that there are two cheesecake factories on Oahu - a culturally relevant point. Leonard's bakery is famous for their malasadas but (don't shoot me) I thought the ones at Zippy's were better. (Maybe because against my better judgement I got a guava-filled one despite not being a big fan of squishy foods.)

On Friday, we rented a car to circuit the entire island and see all of the other ridiculous tourist items, starting with the Dole Plantation, Hawaii's Pineapple Experience. James Drummond Dole was born in my neighborhood in Boston in 1877 and was son of the minister of the Unitarian Church which I literally lived next door to. Dole went to Hahvahrd and then moved to Honolulu in 1869 and bought a 65 acre plantation which he slowly expanded as he mechanized production. (His cousin was governor after the 1893 overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani so we're talking all sorts of imperialism.) Homeboy then bought the entire island of Lana'i which then became the largest pineapple plantation in the world at 20,000 acres. It eventually declined due to the advent of shipping by airplane, increasing the ease of competition from other producers. 

The attraction as it stands was established in 1950 as a fruit stand and morphed into what it is now in the 80s. It hosts a model plantation, the world's largest maze, a bromeliad garden, a shopping center and multiplex theater and conference rooms and ballrooms. We went on the Pineapple Express train tour of the plantation and meandered through the garden before eating the requisite Dole Whip ice cream which was just as gross as I had expected.

Not so delicious Dole whip.

Sika made me purell myself after this photo

Then we drove over to the Banzaii pipeline to watch the surfers on the huge waves for a bit before heading up to the North Shore to eat at Giovanni's shrimp truck (I much prefer the garlic shrimp to the BBQ shrimp but either way my gall bladder suffered hard core) and get some waffles on a stick. Oreo waffles!

Sika had a small mishap in a mud puddle and as she changed I wandered around the food trucks looking for tea (failure) and admiring the industrial remnants of the site. She evidently had another small mishap setting off my car alarm so I came back to find her pantsless in the hot car...and angry at me for not responding to her frantic text messages that I didn't get until about an hour later.

Then we hopped from beach to beach...

...before checking out Byodo-In, a Buddhist temple in the Valley of the Temples cemetery. 

We hit up one more beach but it was absolutely pouring so we took the scenic route back to the hotel. I passed on dinner with Sika's friends because I was still in gastrointestinal distress from the stupid  (yet delicious) shrimp and waffles. 

Hawaii - go go go

My second morning in Hawaii I woke up at 4AM and went for a mosey, ate breakfast at our hotel's lackluster buffet. and asked the concierge a gazillion questions to aid my planning for the rest of the week -- all before Sika woke up. (Actually Sika had also woken up at 4AM but decided to lay there quietly until she fell back asleep instead of go go go.)

In my questioning, I discovered that the hotel offered a shuttle to various snorkeling locales (and the airport) and that there were some ridiculously touristy trolleys that circled Honolulu at rates much higher than the buses and schedules much less convenient...but it's the experience of the thing.

Our first day we decided to go full chill and booked massages at a parlor. Evidently, there is a cottage industry in massages as we wound up in an apartment (in a building filled with apartment-based massage parlors) for our treatments. There was a beautiful view from the somewhat squicky room we were in. I chose a lomi lomi style massage - a traditional Hawaiian style the incorporates long strokes from "loving hands" and theoretically incorporates the Hawaiian concept of aloha, which means love, unification and breath, and promotes personal harmony. Therapists are taught to focus on the massage with love and intention. It was a nice thought but for some reason the therapist spent an awful lot of time on my beat up feet - perhaps because they were in rough shape.

We followed up the massage with an insane mango shaved ice and beach lounging.

The next day I again woke up at the crack of dawn, and watched the sun rise on a run on the Ala Wai canal. Once Sika was buttoned into her jumpsuit we moseyed to a fancy breakfast and then took a trolley to the Foster Botanical Garden. The trolley driver was a young man who told a wide variety of tree jokes and laughed at all of them. The Garden did not let me in at a discounted rate but the small urban park was lovely and totally worth the $5 entrance fee with a wide variety of tropical trees (and a corpse flower!) We glommed on to a tour and Sika broke my cover by telling the guide that I was an arborist and had already told her much or what he was telling the group.

(I will revisit this post with notes on specific trees when/if I ever get my journals back. I do remember the sausage tree (Kigelia africus) which has hard sausage-shaped fruits. Like break your head hard. And the calabash nutmeg (Monodora myristica) tree the flowers of which smell like, you guessed it, nutmeg. There was also a butt nut. The Lodocieae  is a one-specie family of endangered coconut palm. The male flowers are arranged in 1m long catkin which produces pollen over a ten-year period (That's a super long time non-tree nerds). The fruit is 40–50cm in diameter and weighs 15–30kg, and contains the largest seed in the world. The fruit, which requires 6–7 years to mature and a further two years to germinate, definitely looks like a butt and is sometimes also referred to as the love nut. I think the Foster Botanical Garden planted 10 and three have germinated. They are rightly super proud of them. (Also they offered me a job because their arborist left so if the Seattle rain gets to me, I have a back-up plan.)

Sika and I struck upon a division of labor where I chose the things that we did and she chose the things that we ate. It worked especially well on this day where we visited Chinatown and ate at Maguro Brothers in one of the fish markets. Best. lunch. ever. I did note that there were very few people in Chinatown as racist economic reprisals had started in response to the coronavirus. Sika and I were also stopped by a pair of (hot) cops for jaywalking. They explained that in Chinatown we were more likely to be run over (which is also racist).

After this adventure we returned to the beach to chill.

Hawaii - I arrive too early

In January or February of the Year of our Lord everythinggoestoshit, my friend Sika and I were catching up after months and months of no contact (I'm a terrible friend) and she mentioned that she would be starting an exciting new job and wanted to take a vacation beforehand but had never traveled alone. As a fantastic friend, I offered to accompany her to the Caribbean or Hawaii which were the two choices on the table at the time.

Side note: My bestie Nara and I had been trying to plan a vacation to Hawaii for March but my sister Mary said that she and her hubz were planning a trip to S. Korea and would I want to do that instead. Nara lives in Korea so we'd still get to see each other, just without the exotic trappings of sandy beaches, tropical vegetation, and volcanoes. Nara evidently told her parents that we were coming so even when Mary's trip fell through it looked like I wouldn't be able to get away without the torture of a Korean family visit - where I would be coddled and well-fed and squired around the country in style. Then coronavirus happened and travel to Korea was cancelled and I was just dumb enough to think a trip to Hawaii would be safer.

Sika and I had an exhaustive conversation about our travel styles, which I recommend for all travel buddies (or any relationship really) to set expectations and identify mismatches. Fancy or budget hotels? Hiking and biking or beaching and drinking? Dividing expenses down to the penny or within $50? Activity filled or straight-up loafing? As a go-go-go budget traveler with a $50 cushion and a mild thirst for adventure we were a slight mismatch that would have been a big deal if we hadn't talked about it.

I have a friend in Hawaii so without even asking her if she was available and willing to house me (she wasn't), I booked my ticket for the day before Sika was set to arrive. Since my friend Sarah was in fact on a research cruise counting fish or birds or something I spend my first day in Hawaii alone. After arriving to my hotel, I moseyed down to Moana Loa beach and just vegged because I was jetlagged to the core. My only goal was to make it to 9pm. Post-vegging I moseyed back up to Zippy's, Hawaii's own fast food chain, founded in 1966 and offering a fusion of Korean, Portuguese, and Hawaiian delicacies including their famous chilli. I ate a bean stew that was markedly not vegetarian, some lackluster fries, and the most delicious malasada - which I would describe as a giant donut hole.

I went to bed at 9 and woke up the next morning at 3. I waited impatiently for sunrise and then went for a run down to Moana Loa beach. Post-run I rented a bike to ride down to the Bishop Museum. However, I could hear my phone's GPS from its position in my backpack, a problem not made better by sticking the phone in my cleavage and I got very lost in downtown Honolulu. So I returned the bike and went to Iolani palace instead.*

I made a quick stop at the Hawaii State House because I'm a nerd but there were no tours available. I was able to glean some information from Wikipedia, Lonely Planet, and a brochure distributed in the Capitol. The building was built in 1969 and is the only open air capitol building in the US. "The sky is the Capitol's dome." The building is surrounded by a reflecting pool that represents the Pacific Ocean and which is evidently plagued with algae. The legislative chambers are cone-shaped representing volcanoes and the columns are shaped like palm trees. The building has it's own liberty bell, eternal flame military memorial, and statue of Father Damian who ministered to the lepers.

My next stop was Iolani Palace, built in 1882 and home of Hawaii's last monarchs. We were all proferred slippers to make sliding around the palace more effective and an audio tour to guide us. Most notable to me was that each corner room had a smaller turret room off of it for use as a small library or dressing room or office depending on the occupant's preference. The building served five Hawaiian kings until the US government overthrew Queen Liliuokalani and sentences her to five years of hard labor (later commuted to house arrest). The tour was unflinching in its proud representation of Hawaii and Hawaiians and the fact that the deposition of the Queen was an act of warfare.

After lunch, I transferred hotels to meet up with Sika and we spent our first afternoon just chilling on Waikiki beach.

*I have no notes on this trip accessible because my journal was packed in my moving POD and evidently I'll never see my stuff again as they're holding it hostage until non-existent protests clear up in my new neighborhood.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

San Francisco - to the oceans white with foam

In a strange turn of events, M had actually made reservations for Muir Woods, an old-growth redwood forest that was set aside for preservation in 1903.The tallest coastal redwood at Muir Woods is about 258 feet and the average age of the coastal redwoods at Muir Woods is between 600 to 800 years, with the oldest being at least 1200 years old. This is still young for redwoods as they can live up to 2200 years.The park itself was surprisingly cold and poor Mina was wrapped in a blanket sitting in her motorized chair. As such, we didn't do much hiking because we didn't want her to freeze.
So we moseyed on to Point Reyes National Seashore which is gorgeous but in the middle. of. nowhere. Bring snacks - that is one think that all of my siblings excel at actually. 

I struggled to explain how I wanted us to pose for an artistic photo looking over the bluff and T kept exhorting us to get closer and closer which for some reason resulted in this giggle fest:

That evening we returned to the city for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of Indian food. The next day was my last day in town so we spent the morning driving to scenic overlooks. From Lombard St to Twin Peaks to the Painted Ladies (ie the Full house houses).

And so ended my San Francisco interlude.

San Francisco - The family descends

On day three of the San Francisco dream, we were expecting M's husband and mother-in-law. I'm sure I had been given this important information but I must have denied the impact that a little, old, mobility-impaired, set in her ways (but perfectly charming) Indian woman in full sari would have on our plans. So in the morning I stuck close to home and walked over to the rooftop Salesforce Park. I liked how it made use of a marginal urban space, incorporated the bus station below into design elements (like a fountain that went on any time a bus went by), and stuck to drought-adapted plants. But I was struck by how unfriendly it was to the man-of-the-people element. Ok, it was hella bougie. Ironically, the New Yorker thinks so too.

I spent lunch at a session of the Association for Slavic Eastern European and Eurasian Studies (the conference my sister was organizing) about sacred (tree) groves on the border of Finland and Russia. In the Karelia region, groves of trees were used to mark sacred places, burial grounds, places of worship, and even to mark good hunts. As a forester, I asked "What kind of trees?" and was disappointed to hear that the researchers didn't know.

This marked the end of MY vacation and the beginning of the family vacation where I made suggestions but tried to be as flexible as possible with plans, which you may have guessed is not always my strong suit.

Upon T and Mina's arrival, it began to rain in earnest. Evidently the sunny weather I had been experiencing was the anomaly. Despite weather conditions, we drove over to the Golden Gate Bridge to take typically touristy photos.

Then we continued on to Ghiradelli to have sundaes for dinner. Ghiradelli was an Italian immigrant who came to the United States in 1849. In 1865 one of his employees discovered the Broma technique to purify cocoa butter and this is one of the many reasons I support open and inclusive immigration policies. 

We followed up our sundae dinners with an Indian dinner with T's cousin who interestingly had been in-sourced from India to provide IT support for a large retailer over the Black Friday sales. 

The next day, we ventured to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose at the request of T. A sprawling mansion, the house was (mostly) built in 1886 by Sarah Winchester, widow of William Winchester of rifle-making fame. Sarah Winchester was evidently instructed by a psychic to continue construction on her house indefinitely to keep the haunting spirits of people killed by gun violence at bay. Upon Sara's death in 1922, the house had 6 kitchens, 13 bathrooms, 2,000 doors, etc, etc. It is evidently haunted by friendly ghosts and in present time there is a huge gift shop and carnival games on the premises as well. I'm not entirely sure why it is such a popular tourist attraction.

We continued on to The Tech Interactive, a unique hands-on museum with displays on hacking, medical technology, and design. We debated for quite some time whether we wanted to see Frozen 2 in IMAX before or after having dinner with my buddy Lin. Given strict instructions to choose Indian, Chinese, or Thai (maaaaybe Mexican), we hung with Lin over Thai food in Palo Alto (where my super intelligent friend is getting a PhD at Stanford.) Unfortunately, as we ate someone smashed the window of our rental car and grabbed my sister's backpack and my ukulele. Lin was a great sport and hung out with Mina and me for two hours at Starbucks as the rental car was exchanged.

We never did see Frozen 2.

San Francisco - The Rock

In a rare moment of planning and forethought, I had reserved tickets for the boat to Alcatraz in advance. So day two in San Francisco I moseyed over to the piers for my prison tour. I was probably the only person to go alone - so I skipped the photo opportunity on the ferry.

Alcatraz was an active prison between 1934 and 1963. It was considered a last resort for the worst of the worst criminals - which struck me as interesting because many of the inmates were gangsters and bank-robbers that we have since glorified and made famous.

The display at the Visitor Center highlighted that the island sits on the original homeland of the Ohlone people. In 1964 and 1969, indigenous groups from all over the United States re-occupied their land for three years. According to the National Park Service, "During the period the occupiers were on Alcatraz Island, President Nixon returned Blue Lake and 48.000 acres of land to the Taos Indians. Occupied lands near Davis California would become home to a Native American university. The occupation of Bureau of Indian Affairs offices in Washington, D.C. would lead to the hiring of Native Americans to work in the federal agency that had such a great effect on their lives."

Yes most of my photos were of plants. Upon returning to San Fran proper, I got a traditional clam chowder in a sourdough bowl and then hiked up Lombard St. (It is not as exciting walking as it would be driving but I was just pleased that I didn't hurl.) Then I trolleyed my way back downtown where I had a drink alone in the hotel bar.

The San Francisco Treat - November 2019

Last week I hopped on a plane to Seattle to start a new job. Despite the terrifying spectre of being trapped in a metal tube with 100 potentially germy people, I was excited to finally have the opportunity of exploring a new city again. Even looking up ways to get to new restaurants or parks in my own city was a pleasure that I haven't had since March. So friends, since I haven't written about my last two vacations I thought I would do so now -- and give you the opportunity to live vicariously (and back in time) through me.

In November of 2019 the biggest challenge we faced travelling was the California wildfires. But I decided to head West anyway to join my sister M at her work conference in San Francisco before spending Thanksgiving together. I was pretty stressed at work so didn't have much time to put together an itinerary or research mass transit options. I think I threw something together that looked like this: SF Botanical Garden, Alcatraz, Muir Woods, whale watch, bike across Golden Gate to Sausalito, that windy street, Pacific Ocean!

Evidently one of my sister's colleagues thought that my visit would be stressful - that M would have to help me figure out how to get places and recommend sights to see. That's not usually the case but I will admit that I found the mass transit system more confusing than necessary. Between the BART, the Muni, and the cable cars (which are not trolleys), I needed like three different passes and wound up walking most everywhere to just avoid figuring it out. No matter.

My first day in the motor city city of brotherly love golden city, I headed to the botanical garden of course. Since it costs $12, I pulled out my "I'm a member of a different arboreta card" to get in free. But of course I din't actually have my card so the person working the front desk offered to call the Arnold Arboretum to prove my membership. I was put on speaker and when the phone was answered I said "Oh hi Ana" and she responded "Ell! How are you?"so that was pretty effective. I wandered around a bit before heading to the Japanese Tea Garden for refreshments.

The Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public one in the US of A. It centers a small cafe with tasty treats in a beautiful landscape. However, there was a surprisingly steep entry fee so I'm not sure I would actually recommend it for the casual tourist unless you are a real Japanese landscape nerd or on a hot date. Or perhaps to reflect on the Hagiwara family who began to take care of the land in 1854 until they were expelled to a Japanese internment camp in 1942, never allowed to return. I wandered pre- and post-iced green tea.

Then I headed for the Conservatory of Flowers for a botanical hat trick. (I was once again able to argue my way in for free. Gotta love reciprocal agreements.)

After all the plantage I needed a nap so I stretched out on a grassy knoll in Golden Gate Park. Thus refreshed I took another trolley or bus or tram or some other conveyance to World's End. The world, guys. Nothing on the other side of that Pacific Ocean. I dipped my feet in just to have the right amount of wet pants and sandy socks for the trek back for dinner with my sister.

Hawaii - one last arboretum

My last day in Hawaii was also sans Sika as she had an early morning flight. I figured I could drop her off at the airport and drive back to...