Monday, March 26, 2007

Winding Down

We spent a lazy morning at the cottage doing not much of anything which felt really good. Why is that so hard to do at home? Late in the morning, we tore ourselves away from Hana to make the winding trip back to civilization, but not before stopping to buy one last tree ripened papaya and some apple bananas. I am in love with these fragrant little bananas bursting with flavor. Back along the "road to Hana" where we encountered quite a bit of traffic going the other way, somewhat treacherous since much of the road and bridges are one lane only. Maui proper was just as crowded with a chain of traffic going toward Lahaina, on the western shore. I have to admit, the beaches are pretty, but you have to be willing to share them with hoards of people. We drove a bit north and spent some time walking around a mall, where to my surprise, we ran right into David Soo and his wife. David also grew up in Urbana and his mom was a good friend of my mom. I wouldn't have recognized him, but apparently he recognized us from our Christmas photos! It is always so amazing to run into people in places like this, what are the chances??

Ray is getting ready for his big fishing expedition tomorrow. We have had our fill of mahi mahi for lunches and dinners but it would be nice for him to actually catch one. The charters here do not give you your catch, providing you with only a filet, or selling the fish back to you. Somehow this just doesn't seem right, does it?

It has been a wonderful trip, full of many new adventures and sights. It appears many people come to Maui and see only the resorts and walk only the streets of gift shops and malls. This is quite a shame as the island has so much more to offer in terms of nature and geology. Every corner of the island has its own distinctive flora, weather and ecosystem. It is a fascinating place to explore.

Tomorrow, we head back home. It will be a long trip since we leave from Maui and have a long layover in Kona, before arriving in LA and then on to SF.
Aloha!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Heavenly Hana

We got our share of exercise today. We each did our morning run-Hana is not flat and so it was quite a work out going up and down the hills, but so heavenly running along the beach with the salty cool wind blowing. The streets have very little traffic and most people are quite friendly. Hawaiians, though, are not tiny people by any means, and the women especially can be big and "mean". It was a lazy Sunday that we spent walking to various beaches and watching the surf. Ray watched with envy as one local boy caught 8 fish from the top of the cliff, reeling them in every 10-15 minutes.
We drove further out of Hana toward the southern end of the island and hiked up to Waimoku Falls, a good 4 hour round trip that took us through a magnificent bamboo forest, past layers of pools, through streams and across bridges high above waterfalls. The bamboo forest stretched for about a half mile, the stems rising 30-50 feet into the air. It was so dense, that the wind made a rattling sound as the bamboo knocked against one another. The trail was muddy and full of tree roots and rocks. I was amazed to see so many people hiking it in flip flops! The end of the trail led to a spectacular waterfall, falling a thousand feet straight down the side of a cliff. It was a hike worth doing! We felt rejuvenated and well exercised! It feels like such a healthy lifestyle-lots of activity, sunshine, clean air, fresh fish and fruit.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Escape to Hana

We stocked up on some supplies-fresh pineapple, bananas and other groceries and headed out of town to Hana. The road to Hana is a narrow two lane winding road that is full of majestic pull-outs-waterfalls, pools, overlooks and fruit stands. Driving down this road, we had the feeling of escaping to somewhere truly special and secluded. Most people take this road down and back in the same day but to spend a few days down there is a treat. The weather changed from sunshine to mist to downpour as this part of the island is the wettest, with 300 inches of rain a year. It is very much a rainforest with tropical plants and birds. We stopped at several parks, walked along the coast viewing blowholes and sea arches-the crashing waves throwing their spray high up into the air. From our vantage point, we could see many fountains of spray shooting upward, and foamy waves hitting the cliffs. At the end of the day, we arrived in Hana, a lovely small village with no more than 2 general stores and one restaurant that is open only some of the time. Our cottage is a short walk to a secluded beach, sitting next to a koi pond. It is peaceful and quiet. This is the Maui that I had imagined!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Maui

Early in the morning, we arrived at Kona Airport, only to stand in line for a long, long time. I have to keep reminding myself that Hawaiian time means to relax and forget about being in a hurry. Here, everything is laid back-even the animals-dogs lay in the middle of the road and even cattle lay lazily on the ground! The lobster delivery man had to wait almost 30 min. for his boxes to get checked in; no wonder lobsters are so expensive. Isn't it amazing at how much stuff people take on trips? The people in front of us had so many bags they had to keep counting and counting them, and figuring out among the 4 of them, who was going to carry what. It is a very short and beautiful flight to Maui.

We headed for the bed and breakfast, an old plantation house filled with antiques and set in the middle of fruit trees and tropical plants. She made a mistake on our reservation and only had a room for us tonight. But after driving around Maui, sitting in a long chain of traffic that wound up the west coast, we decided this part of the island has way too many tourists and resorts for our taste. We decided that we would spend another night in Hana instead. We spent the afternoon on the beach, did some snorkeling, had a fabulous fresh mahi mahi sandwich and retired for the evening.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Adventures




It was a typical Hawaiian morning, misty and warm turning into blue skies and sunshine. The Big Island seems to have many microclimates, with unpredictable weather, as clouds blow in and out. As we drove across the northern part of the island back to Wai'po Valley, the weather changed from showers, to sunshine, to gusty winds. We were totally energized for this hike, especially the down and up hill climbs in and out of the valley. The valley is along the coast, one of many that line the northern cliffs of the island. It is a narrow cut in the land, lush and tropical. From the top of the cliff at the overlook, we could see the winding river as it flowed into the ocean. One enters the valley via a one mile hike down a very steep one lane road. At the bottom, we walked toward the back of the valley, an immense bowl with 2waterfalls dropping straight down the side of the cliff. Backtracking we walked toward the ocean through a magnificent tropical forest. Bright orange blossoms dotted the tops of trees, 20-30 feet above the ground. The sound of birds was everywhere. The river entered the ocean atop black sand and met the crashing tides head on, swirling foam in many directions. It was quite windy and the dampness of salt lingered on our skin. What a beautiful way to start the day. Our return was the workout we had been anticipating, a mile climb up a very, very steep road. It made Mission Peak seem easy. We climbed steadily, stopping only briefly to allow passing cars to go by, a good excuse to catch our breath. Reaching the top, we felt a great -- our workout accomplished.

The afternoon was spent driving down the Kohala or west coast to Kohona Bay where we spotted a large green turtle along the shore. This part of the island is very dry, rollling hils that show a combination of lava and yellow grassland, intermingled with bright bouganvilla gardens of resorts.

Our excitement built as it was to time for our big adventure up Mauna Kea, the highest observatory in the world. We decided to drive up before dusk to familiarize ourselves with the road, which we had read and heard was somewhat treacherous. The drive up took about an hour on a narrow, and not so well paved road that climbed upward through mist, fog and sometimes clear skies. Past the 8,000 ft. level, suddenly the skies were blue and the air crystal clear. The road climbed steeply now. We were above the clouds and found a place where we spent a considerable amount of time watching a magnificent sunset and amber hills surroundedd by blue and pink clouds. It was surreal. Along with a large group of visitiors, we waited for darkness at the Visitor's Center. Several telescopes were set up with astronomers there as guides. This was an amazing experience--seeing Saturn, about the size of a pea but with its rings a slight orange hue is unforgettable. It was a new moon and through the telescopes, we could see the gray surface and its craters so clearly. Another was set up to see Venus, and the last 2 stars in our galaxy and 2 galaxies out of ours. It was quite a thrill! What sights we had seen this week-the birth of new lands, stars millions of years old, lush rainforests, and the bluest of ocean waters!
We have met friendly and warm Hawaiians and experienced a life so different from our own.
It is hard to believe we have only been on this island since Sunday; tomorrow we leave for Maui.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Fresh Fish

What a very pleasant morning it was, fresh baked nut bread and a view of the lush forest. We left the town of Volcano, made a stop at the orchid nursery, sending several plants back to CA. We headed toward Hilo and spent some time in the town, stopping for a quick meal of fresh ahi tuna at a local hang-out. Fresh fish is definitely the meal of choice here, and so inexpensive! Following the coastal highway, we stopped at several places to see waterfalls and the coast line, and for a Hawaiian smoothie made from fresh bananas, papaya, guava and juices. We ended at the lookout to the Wai’po Valley, too late to hike down but with plans to do so in the morning. Another wonderful B&B cottage-spacious and clean in the town of Waimea where we stopped at the local grocery store for fresh ahi tuna and cooked it ourselves in the kitchen. This place is high up on the hill and the wind is gusting outside. Is the entire island windy all of the time??
The observatory at Maunea Kea beckons-are we brave enough to drive the narrow road up there to see the heavens?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Craters


Today we awoke to rain. We spent some time at the Visitors center talking to the ranger who was originally from Los Altos Hills! We drove around the rim of the crater, and then met a group at the parking lot to hear his ranger talk which led us on a walk into an old lava tube. It was very much like a cave tunnel, damp and very dark. We spent the rest of the day driving the rim and looking at craters. We walked down onto the crater floor, which was immense and quite a thrill, seeing the many steam vents giving off plumes of steam. Ended the day with pizza at a local restaurant. This B&B was in the middle of a rain forest and very secluded. I am amazed that the places are all so new, large and very nice. Hawaii is truly laid back-even the dogs are laid back-sleeping in the middle of the roads with not a care in the world.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Young and Adventurous (Foolish?)






We awoke to sunshine and a beautiful view of the ocean. The grounds are immaculate and very beautiful. It is so much more pleasant staying in a small town versus a busy resort teaming with tourists and traffic. I went for a run along the local road, which turned out to be somewhat treacherous. Not wanting to become road kill, I truncated the run. Breakfast was simple wheat breads and a bowl of local fruit-papayas, bananas, strawberries and melon. But eating it on the lanai was a perfect start to our vacation. The owners have run this place for 6 years, and are just now starting to ramp up their business by using the web. She is from BC and he from Collinsville, IL. Their stories about building up customer traffic were interesting. We exchanged horror stories about experiences with b&b’s. We learned about Kona coffee and this area which has many coffee plantations. She told us that cheaper packages of Kona coffee are usually only 10% Kona coffee and you have to be careful to read the label. Good Kona coffee is 100% and runs around $18/pound. She buys her coffee from a local woman at the garden store. We did a short tour at the Bayview Coffee Co., a small place with one young man who roasts the beans by hand using a single roaster. An elderly Japanese man was waiting for his own beans to be roasted. He grows his own on the east side of the island and comes over twice a year to have 50 pounds roasted. After tasting their coffee, we decided we liked the one from the B&B, and went to the garden center to buy our supply. You would never have thought to go there for coffee, as the elderly Japanese woman driving a forklift runs this little place selling fertilizer, seeds, and other garden materials.

We were sorry to leave this lovely side of the island.

We wound our way to the southern tip of the island, where the Polynesians first landed. The winds in this area are incredibly gusty. Several groups of men were fishing from the cliff, high above a very rough ocean. Boat hoists sat on the cliffs where in the past, Hawaiians lowered their canoes to the water. The area is always windy and they say that currents can take boats out to “Antarctica”. It is a very dangerous area. We were surprised to see two people swimming toward shore.

It apparently is a very rich fishing area, and the men talked about catching mahi mahi, ahi and marlin. Ray was curious about how they bring their fish in from so high up and they showed us their metal hook and tube set up for pulling their line up to the top of the cliff.

We stopped at the Black Sand Beach, with its glistening black grains of sand. Too windy to stay, we continued on. We stopped at the local sweet bread bakery for Hawaiian bread. Around 4, we arrived the Volcano National Park. The ranger was just starting her talk outside on the patio. She talked about the current lava conditions and recommended a lava walk in the evening. If you walk out at 5, you can get out onto the lava fields by dark and see the glowing lava flows, but you have to walk back in the dark. If you are more adventurous, you can walk out even further about 3 miles and see the lava flow as it hits the ocean waves. Cool, we thought! We’ll go check in and come back at 5.
We should do it tonight since the weather was so clear, and it rains about 80% of the time in this area. How impetuous we were! Didn’t even give much thought to preparation. This is so unlike us!

We checked in, a bit impatient as the lady wanted to give us a full property tour. Grabbing extra flashlights, some bread and water, we went back to the park. We started on the trail around 5, and started walking with a large crowd of people, which thinned as time went on. It was not an easy walk as the lava fields are bumpy and undulated. Midway through, we ended up in an area where the ground was very warm with steam coming out of vents in ground. Everyone got really excited. It was crispy where we walked, as the silica crackled under our feet. We were careful not to fall and very careful not to step into crevices where you could easily turn your ankle.

As it got darker, the lava field looked metallic in the setting sunlight, with ribbons and bulbous shapes on the ground. Darkness set in and we found ourselves next to a 2 foot high lava mound, with red glowing lava slowing oozing out. It was mesmerizing until we suddenly remembered that we had farther to go, and we set off again. Off in the distance, we could see plumes of steam rising up, marking where we were heading. It looked so far away. We had forgotten to check our batteries in our headlamps and the b&b flashlights and so were cautious about using too much of our lights. Several a half couples and groups turned back, as returning hikers said it was still pretty far, and we had been walking almost 2 hours by then. One young couple said it had taken them a total of 5 hours. There were no more reflectors on the trail and we passed the last of the beacons (wooden horses with reflectors and lights on them). We were surprised that the beacons were placed so far apart, and were trying to remember their placement so we could locate them on the way back. Soon only a few couples remained. A large group of guys in army fatigues ran by us up the trail. We continued on, wondering if perhaps we should also turn back, as it seemed beyond the point that was deemed safe. The roped areas along the shoreline, keeping people from “benches that could fall off into the ocean” had ended. But people returning said it was incredible to see and it wasn’t too much further. We trudged on. The army guys were returning and encouraged us to go further, pointing out where the view was the best. After another half an hour, we got to the edge of the cliff and looking out on to the ocean, we could see hot lava flowing down into the crashing waves, creating plumes of fire and bright red clouds of foam and steam. It was such an unbelievable sight!

We were witnessing the birth of land and it was so spectacular. Further away in the distance, we could see what looked like waterfalls of fire flowing into the sea. Ray took video and I tried without success to take photos, but it was dark as can be and the movements of the lava and waves so violent. We watched for a very long time, listening to the crashing of the waves and the sizzling of the lava.

It was time to head back. Energized by the experience, we started out over the
mounds, and undulated ground. At first we walked hand in hand, later splitting up. We were worried that our headlamps and flashlights might run out, so we used them sparingly. It would be a long walk back. We walked and walked for an hour, not seeing any beacon. We found ourselves repeatedly coming to the ropes by the shore and knew that we were zigzagging along the fields, how quickly and easily one can become disoriented in the blackness. The stars in the black sky sparkled like diamonds but they were little help in guiding us along. Tripping and sliding on the silica covered ground, and avoiding the crevices, we trudged on for hours. Toward hour 3, we became worried that we had veered to far off track. To our right and in the distance, we could see ribbons of lava with their speckles of red from the “windows” of the lava tubes, reflecting out their glowing lava. There were 2 or 3 large sections of such ribbons.

By then, we were flailing, our legs were so tired, we were on autopilot. We had to remind ourselves to stop every so often, look up and try to find the beacon. Finally, beacon #5, how happy were to see it, but there were 4 more and each one was just as difficult to find, we would see one and as we walked down a slope, it would disappear from view. Sometimes we could see multiple lights in different directions, and couldn’t figure out which one was closer. After 3 hours, we were comforted by the presence of young groups of people setting out on short hikes. This meant we were getting somewhat closer. It was around 10pm by then. How wonderful it was to see the reflectors on the trail again, and finally, the paved road. We were exhausted by then, had eaten all our bread and drank all our water. We had made it safely back. In retrospect, it seemed that the area we were standing on, probably was a dangerous area, as it could have been a bench, and broken off into the ocean. I think we were the oldest couple on the trail, maybe the older ones thought better of the risk! Lots of danger, much adventure and some great memories.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Up Up and Away



How lovely it is to travel with Ray! Not only is he an amusing companion, he can get us upgraded to First Class! Though domestic first class is certainly not as
cushy as international, it sure beats sitting in between 2 large guys hanging over the armrests onto your lap. Although with free food, It’s hard to stay on a diet-I prepared a lite veggie lunch only to be offered a frittata with potato cakes. My cubed kohlrabi and container of cucumbers, peppers and shredded carrots will have to wait until tomorrow.

It was a smooth flight, clear and beautiful. Kona airport resembles a public park, the departure/arrival lounge is all open air with benches around large containers of tree. They obviously have no issues concerning airport security here.

After getting our rental car, we drove down the Kona coast, not pausing to stop in Kona-Kahulia as it just appeared much to touristy. Checking out the coast, we made several stops along the shore where kayakers were coming in, and watched a beautiful sunset at Honaunau. The orange glow of the sky with the swaying coconut trees in the background was quite a sight. Following our trusty Fodor’s guide we found a very plain family style cafe in the town of Captain Cook serving very fresh mahi mahi and ono, fresh and sweet. Most of the customers were local people, Hawaiians mostly. It was a slice of local Hawaii and quite pleasant and very inexpensive. Our b&b is simply charming. The room has a beautiful lanai and glass sliding doors that look down onto the pool, patio, lush gardens and the ocean in the distance. We are staying in bed and breakfasts this entire trip and booking them over the internet, I could only hope that the customer ratings were accurate. This one was a winner!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Kicking the Sugar Habit

24 hour fitness started the year with a $55 special - lose 5 pounds in 5 weeks. The personal trainer said most people have dropped out after realizing that they had actually had to exercise and change their diet to make it happen. Most did not lose more than 1-2 pounds which they immediately put back on. March finds the gym much emptier, which is great for the rest of us. I was at Borders yesterday and gasped at the 2 full bookcases full of diet, nutrition and weight loss books. I skimmed through a few which left my mind whirling-what to believe? ... eat carbs, eliminate carbs, eat meat, no meat. Reading some would have you running to the top of a mountain and jumping off-for some would have you believe there is nothing good in any of the foods we eat-chemicals, antibiotics, additives, sugar, preservatives-oh my! The only solution is to grow it all yourself and raise your animals too.

I have developed tremendous sympathy for all of the overweight people in America, as in the past month, I have come to realize that losing weight is harder than just about anything you will attempt to do-harder than learning to ride a bicycle, learning to drive, learning to knit! It is about on par with learning to play piano and learning a foreigh language---it takes more dedication, will power, and motivation than the average person can remain committed to. Far from being a 1-2 week commitment, weight loss requires a total change in lifestyle for a long, long time. Worse thing is, most people don't event realize what is making them fat. The culprit--our American diet. Our portions are gigantic, our boxed and bottled foods full of sugar, and our favorite foods high in fat.

At a recent dinner party, the conversation turned to the morbid subject of aging and nursing homes. The comment was made that at a recent visit to a retirement home, they were shocked to find an absence of males. Where were the men, they said? I was shocked to realize that we, as wonderful nurturing wives, are causing the demise of our wonderful husbands with the foods we put on the table each day. Sexist as it may sound, it is we that buy the groceries, prepare their favorite meals, and smile with happiness as they enjoy dinner each day, and the lovely baked goods for dessert.

About a month ago, I realized that my so called diet was not working-the love handles were as solidly implanted as cast iron.
What could be wrong-I no longer ate fatty foods or bakery sweets and other than working, I was exercising. The scale refused to budge. I decided to take drastic means to jump start my body and went back on the South Beach Diet. I couldnt' stand to do phase 1 for more than 5 days-deprivation is mentally painful! Most importantly, what it did was to force me to read labels and shocks you into realizing what terrible things we Americans consume. The Costco diet is killing most Americans. There is virtually nothing good that comes out of a bottle, jar or box. The sugar content of most processed foods is so high that it is near to impossible to maintain a healthy weight. Most troubling is that our nation's children are being raised on a sugar high. It is no wonder that so many have health and behavioral issues.

I have since moved on to a modified phase 2 of this diet. Paying attention to the glycemic load of foods is a good guide ot healthy eating:
http://www.50plus.org/Libraryitems/2_5_glycemicload.html
www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods.htm
If you really want to get into it, here is a list of 750 common foods. http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/76/1/5/T1
A glycemic load of 1-10 is low, 11-19 medium and over 20 is high. it is important to look at the fat content of prepared foods in addition to the glycemic load and eat in moderation. Basically, natural foods (not processed) are much lower in GI and GL.


We feel detoxed-after a month without added sugars, we've lost our cravings for sweets. I've lost 4 pounds and Ray, the bugger has lost 10. Our diet consists of all fresh and natural foods-lean meat, fish, tons of fresh vegetables, whole grain breads, brown rice, nuts, low fat cheese, skim milk, and fresh fruit. With all the vegetables and whole grains, I have found that I don't require as much food. I am strict about a "fist size" portion of meats and no limit on veggies. Interestingly enough, I realized that I am cooking chinese food every night. As the weeks go on, I am developing new dishes to cook and it no longer feels like diet foods. I have developed a version of squash soup and spinach soup made totally without cream. I take about 6 fistfuls of spinach, or a squash, boil it lightly in just enough water to keep it from drying out. Puree the spinach or squash in its own water and return to the pan. Add chicken broth to thin it and add lots of chopped garlic, dill, parsley and curry powder. It is a delicious superfood!
Recipe 2-shell large shrimp and mix with curry paste, a bit of chutney, green onions, garlic and a little bit of oil. Pan fry until browned. Brown onions in the pan and return shrimp to the pan, mix.
Recipe 3- Sugar pods or pea pods are wonderful sauteed with garlic. Put in a hot pan with a bit of oil, sautee and add a few tablespoons of water, Keep sauteeing until bright green and crispy.

The second part of this weight loss plan is exercise. Heidi is getting to be in good shape as we run 3 miles a day together in the morning, or do fitness walks after work using downtown as a track.

Bad part of this plan is that it is hard to have a social life. What does one eat when invited to someone's home? I like the ideas given to me of a "binge meal" once a week, being really low cal and healthy the rest of the day to make up for it. You learn not to waste those calories! I won't eat a pizza unless it is a really good pizza!

In conclusion, I am still convinced that losing weight is almost impossible for many people. I look in the shopping carts of others at Costco-the huge boxes of prepared foods, big jugs of juice, and the other day-the biggest round chocolate cake I have ever seen! The foods we think are healthy are really not-have you ever read the glycemic content of granola, or sweetened whole grain cereal? How about salad dressing, Ragu spaghetti sauce, or a plain bagel? It appears that the US needs to make a concerted effort to educate our citizens because the current trend is not a pretty one.