Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Streets of Parati

I tried to suppress my laughter as I saw the tourist struggling to drag his carry-on luggage over the large, bumpy, uneven cobblestones. He had just arrived in Parati, a quaint colonial town about a three-hour drive south of Rio de Janeiro, and hadn't yet found the pousada where he and his friend were staying.

I wasn't trying to be insensitive or mean, but was laughing because his predicament reminded me of a similar, hilarious experience my sister and I had in Colonia, Uruguay when we thought we'd save a few bucks by walking instead of taking a taxi, which turned out to be a comedy-of-errors as we realized that wheeled luggage and cobblestone streets don't go well together.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Three Wishes

The native peoples of the Amazon have a legend that if you hold a tento seed in your hand, close your eyes, and then make a wish as you close your hand and put the tento seed in your pocket, your wish will come true.

I had three opportunities to make a wish like this.

The first time, I made a general wish for a happy life.

The second time, my wish was that I would be able to make it home from Brazil with my virtue.

Visiting a native village

Rui seemed reluctant to take us to the Sao Tome native village.

"There are too many people there from Rio" he explained. The village had been adopted by a Brazilian reality TV show, and so it was filled with workers giving it a makeover. The village visit was on our itinerary, though, and Rui knew that the lodge's guests would complain if they didn't get to see it, so he took us there anyway.

I must admit, it was my least favorite part of my stay in the Amazon, although I did think it was fun to see the TV show producer riding in a speed canoe, with a big camera mounted on a tripod in the front. I also liked seeing the men of the village on the bank of the river, unloading all the building supplies that had been shipped in.

Jungle Survival

"Please! Look to the soil, and don't touch anything!" Rui commanded as we began the first of our two hikes along the rainforest floor.

The first rule of surviving in the jungle is to watch where you're stepping, rather than looking up to see all of the birds, animals, butterflies, and vegetation up high in the rainforest canopy as you walk along. I had to remind myself to stop when I wanted to look up to see interesting things like the epiphytic bromiliad plants, which grow on top of other plants to be closer to the light and escape the darkness created by all the trees shading the rainforest floor.

The second rule: don't touch anything, was much easier said than done.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Contentment in the jungle

"I can't believe it!" Sam said as he, his girlfriend Abby, and I walked back to our canoe after visiting the home of Francisco, Selina, and their 14 children. The family lives in a cluster of buildings along the Rio Negro, about 40 minutes by canoe from the Ariau Jungle Towers.

"That woman is the happiest, most content person I've ever met!" Sam declared. He'd just spent the last hour chatting with Selina as they sat together at the table beneath this grass roof over the family's kitchen and dining area.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Swimming in the Amazon

I hadn't planned to swim in the Amazon. I hadn't even intended to TOUCH the Amazon, because I was so scared of the bacteria and waterborne larvae that can penetrate your intact skin and give you horrible diseases. The Salt Lake County Health Department nurse who gave me my vaccinations described the diseases in vivid detail, and even gave me a prescription for antibiotics to take in case a drop of freshwater accidentally splashed on me.

But, once I was actually THERE, and saw that the resort offered an option to swim with pink river dolphins, I really wanted that experience. I carefully studied the 7-page health precautions report the nurse had given me, and learned that the highest freshwater disease risk was in Bahia, the first state I visited, rather than here in the Amazon. Since I'd already purchased the freshwater antibiotics and had them with me, I figured I could take them for good measure.

I reasoned that the Ariau Jungle Towers is a 5-star resort, with guests like Bill Gates staying there. Certainly they knew what they were doing and wouldn't put their guests at inappropriate risk.

So I changed my mind and decided to sign up to swim with the Amazon's pink river dolphins. One of the first questions the lodge asked in response was if I was having my menstrual period. The scent of blood, of course, attracts some of the larger dangers of the Amazon, like the river sharks and piranhas and caiman. I wasn't having my period, so I was good to go.

"I have another tour and won't be able to go swimming with you" Rui told me "but will send you with my friend Paulo. He doesn't speak English, but just do whatever he says, and you'll be fine."

Since I knew one of the other tourists I'd be swimming with spoke both Portuguese and English, I wasn't too worried about being able to follow directions, but the German man next to me who overheard our conversation laughed and asked "How is she supposed to follow directions she doesn't understand!?" So, Rui elaborated further:

"Just keep your hands below water the entire time, and you'll be fine. The dolphins can't see very well, so if your hands are outside the water, they might think you are a fish and bite you. But if you keep your hands below water, you won't get bit." I figured I could do that.

Because of a busy schedule that day, instead of meeting at the lodge, Paulo picked me up in his canoe at the end of my jungle hike. I'd carried my swimsuit in my pack during the hike, and so the first order of business was to stop here to change clothes:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Give that man a raise!

The next time I feel like complaining about my job, I hope I'll remember Amadeo, and stop my whining.

One of Amadeo's many responsibilities at Ariau Jungle Lodge is to take people on caiman spotting tours, so they can get an up-close-and-personal experience with the crocodilian reptiles that live along the Amazon. Since the caiman are most active at night, these tours happen after dark. Here's a photo of Rui and Amadeo standing at the front of our canoe, using a large car-battery-powered spotlight to scan the river banks, looking for the caiman.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fishing for Piranha

"If you don't hide the hook, you'll just be feeding the piranhas!" my guide Rui explained as he showed us how to place the chunks of cow heart we were using as bait on the hooks of our bamboo fishing rods. Here's a photo of my pile of bait, sitting on the side of the canoe:

We'd met Rui and Amadeo at the dock where we always boarded the little canoes for our outings, and I was surprised that they only took us about 100 feet upstream to fish on the Ariau River, which eventually makes it way to join the Rio Negro and eventually the Amazon. Here's the area where we fished.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Staying at an Amazon Jungle Lodge

"Do you want to sleep in a hammock on your balcony?" asked my guide at the Ariau Jungle towers, two hours upstream from Manaus.

When I hesitated, he said "Don't worry...nothing will get you. The opossums...they don't jump!"

"What about the snakes?" I asked. The movie "Anaconda" had been filmed here, and I certainly wasn't looking for an up-close-and-personal experience with them.

"They're down there" he said, pointing to the jungle floor about 30 feet below "so you don't need to worry! And the monkeys...the monkeys won't bother you either".

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Waterfall Paradise

"What is your name?" the young man with a mischievous smile asked as we stood in our swimsuits along the Pedra Branca waterfalls.

"Cindy" I replied.

"Cindje, put out your hand".

I did, and he put his hand over mine to drop something very light into it. He left his hand over mine, looking into my eyes and smiling broadly. I smiled back and grabbed his wrist with my other hand, not sure I'd be happy with whatever I was holding, but when he pulled back his hand to reveal what he'd given me, I was delighted to find that I was holding a little black frog.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dancing in the Streets

I'm a fan of Brazilians....I love the way they express their "joie de vivre" through celebrations, song, and dance.

I'm currently in the beautiful colonial city of Salvador de Bahia, and don't have much time, but at least wanted to upload some videos to give you a flavor of life here.

Here are some men dancing in the market:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Capitol Reef National Park

My friend Angie and I opened our motel room curtains near Capitol Reef National Park to see this beautiful sunrise.

We loved it so much that we threw jackets over our pajamas and ran outside to take a few photos, like this one of the moon over the rock bluffs across the street:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A few of my favorite things

"A happy family is but an earlier heaven."
- George Bernard Shaw

Just wanted to share this photo of my mother and my nieces and nephews sharing some happy times together recently. I love the look of contentment on my mother's face as she cuddles one of her sweet granddaughters.

Whitewater Rafting

As the raft entered the "Hospital Bar" rapid on the South Fork of the American River, the powerful river flipped it into the air as easily as if it were a child's toy, dumping all 10 rafters into the cold water and leaving the raft floating bottom-side up.

It was now our turn to enter the rapid, and seeing the raft in front of us capsize was very sobering. I took comfort in the fact that Tobi, our guide, had been doing this for 9 years, and knew what she was doing. You can see her standing to guide our raft here:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Escalante Slot Canyons

"We'd better find a place to hide our backpacks", my Uncle Franz directed, "because we won't be able to make it through the narrow slot canyons with them on."

We were in the middle of a desert, so moving forward without the food and water in our packs required a little faith. We'd carried our packs as we hiked through red desert sand and across barren slick rock to reach the entrance of Peek-A-Boo Gulch, in southern Utah's Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Uncle Franz grew up around here. He and my Aunt Margaret have spent their adult lives ranching around here. They'd both been through these slot canyons before, so I trusted them and obediently hid my pack in the bushes. We did keep at least one water container to share among ourselves, carried by my strong and agile cousin Jim.

We then turned our attention to climbing up the person-sized steps at the entrance to Peek-A-Boo Gulch.

Monday, September 6, 2010

You Can Choose

It all started on July 4, 2001, when my sister and I were waiting for the Elvis impersonator to appear. As we sat in the baseball stands at Murray Park, waiting for that evening's entertainment, I noticed a beautiful thin woman standing near the dugouts.

"I wish I had a body like hers." I thought to myself. At that time, I wore size 26 clothes, and was more than 100 pounds overweight.

Immediately, I heard a voice in my mind say: "You can choose."

I was startled by it. "Really?" I thought. "I can choose?" I had made several serious attempts to lose weight before, and had failed every time. As a result of those experiences, I had no confidence in my ability to do the difficult things that would be required to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Could I really choose this? I knew I couldn't have a body exactly like hers, but a glimmer of hope started to grow in me that I could make my own body as fit and healthy as possible, given the limitations of my age, my genetics, my busy schedule, and my not-very-strong supply of willpower.

So, even though I wasn't completely convinced that I really did have it within my power to choose this, I started taking actions in the hope that the voice in my head was telling the truth.

Those actions culminated on another July day, 9 years later. That morning I stepped on the scale, like I do every morning, and saw a number that caused me to burst into tears. I had finally reached my weight loss goal. That morning, I weighed 118 pounds less than I had at my highest point.

Now, I'm a size 8, and can even occasionally wear a size 6. I now weigh less than I did during most of my junior high and high school years. (Although, I must admit that I dieted while I was in high school, and once reached this same weight for about 5 seconds back then, before gaining again.) I'm not planning to maintain my weight at the 118 pound loss level--they suggest that you go at least 5 pounds below where you'd like to maintain, which I did. I'm hoping to maintain at 110 pounds lower than my highest point.

Here are a few photos of me when I started, and along the way:

Something larger than myself

In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.
Mother Teresa
We all want our lives to matter, to know that something we said or did made a difference to someone. We all want to be part of something larger than ourselves....something that will go on even after we are gone.

I recently found a small way to make a difference for someone; just thinking about it warms my heart with satisfaction and joy.

I am sponsoring the education of this little girl: Mekides.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sterling Singers

My new roommate Rebecca keeps a baby grand piano in her living room. She's trained in music performance, and when I'm lucky, I have the privilege of hearing her play and sing.

I don't yet have a video of Rebecca performing, but here's one of Rebecca's niece Nicole, also a very gifted musician. I love Nicole's dramatic flair in this little video clip:

We started taking photos, and Rebecca and Nicole were very fun models, working to perfect their puckers:

Every Sunday evening, they go to a rehearsal of the Sterling Singers, a community choir whose mission is to testify of Jesus Christ through music.

They always come home from the rehearsals happy and joyful, and so one Sunday I tagged along to observe.

I was hoping to be inconspicuous, but that didn't work out so well

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dancing with my Danish relatives

A long time ago (1865) in a far-away place (Denmark), a young couple decided to leave home, family, and all that they knew in order to migrate to America. The world was much bigger then. Without jet travel and modern communications, this decision meant that they would never see their beloved parents and siblings again.

But, they had recently joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and felt a strong desire to gather with other church members, so Seier and Annie Jensen boarded the ship BS Kimball and sailed to America. Along the voyage, their toddler son contracted measles, and they sorrowfully buried him at sea. Within a year of arriving in America, Annie had another baby, but both she and the baby died within two weeks of childbirth.

Seier was heartbroken, and all alone. He wrote a letter to his family back in Denmark, expressing his longing for them.

Recently, that letter was found in an attic in Denmark. With the help of a few miracles, the Danish and American sides of the family found each other. The letter was translated from Danish to English for the benefit of Seier's descendants, of which I am one. (Seier remarried after losing Annie, and my great grandfather was the oldest surviving child of that union).

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of meeting some of my long-lost Danish relatives.

Here I am with Lene and Karsten Christensen, who live near Aarhus Denmark.

Friday, August 20, 2010

In the direction of your dreams

My refrigerator is usually covered with magnets. Magnets are my favorite souvenirs--I love to bring one home from each trip I take, because they help me remember the fun I had without cluttering up my house too much. Looking at them makes me happy.

Recently, though, I packed my magnets, because I was moving. I put them in metal baking pans, hoping they wouldn't get broken or banged up that way:

But I left one magnet unpacked: the one I bought at the gift shop of the United Nations in New York City.

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined." the magnet proclaims, quoting Henry David Thoreau. That's the direction I'm hoping this move will take me, but the process was challenging and sad, so I left the magnet all alone in the center of my otherwise naked refrigerator, because I needed the encouragement.

Grateful to be here, now

It was a hot day. So hot that I felt badly for the potential tenants who were sitting in a car in front of my house, waiting for the property manager I'd recently hired to arrive and give them a tour. I would have given the two men and a woman a tour myself, except I was really busy--my sister was moving out of the basement right then and her movers were coming in and out of the house, and I had a handyman in the kitchen installing an updated oven/range.

But it was too hot to leave them outside, so I walked out to the car and invited them to wait inside. The man in the passenger seat eagerly accepted my offer and threw the car door open, causing me to notice he was missing a leg from the thigh down. As he stepped out of the car and settled in his crutches, he spoke to the others in another language, and only then did those two climb out of the car.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I loved my friend

For several years, I've had this piece of art hanging in my home:

This is a Traditional Chinese representation of a verse of scripture from the Book of Mormon. My friend Jeanie Hsu made it for me.

I first met Jeanie when I traveled to Taiwan for my work in 2000. We worked together for a few weeks. Jeanie was a single woman not much older than me. She showed me around Taipei and helped me avoid making huge cultural blunders (or, more accurately, helped me recover when I did make them)! She was energetic, vivacious, and fun. I loved her.

Monday, May 31, 2010

City of Rocks

Bowl of pancake batter in hand, I peeked into the kitchen at the Almo Outpost Steakhouse to ask if they'd mind cooking our pancakes on their stovetop, since our kitchenette next door only had a microwave. Almo Idaho, population 140, is in the middle of nowhere, so we didn't have many other options.

"I'm too busy to cook your pancakes, but you can come back here and cook them yourself!" the 50-ish lady told me as she placed a heavy cast iron pan on the stove. She reached for one of the 20 plastic bottles of melted butter she kept above the stove, squeezed a generous amount of butter into the pan, handed me a spatula, and suddenly I was having my first experience as a short order cook.

I enjoyed visiting with the lady as we cooked. She was good at multi-tasking, and fast, even using a pair of scissors to cut the toast, explaining that it was faster than cutting with a knife. She lives about 15 miles south of Almo, just over the Utah border.

My friends Dori, Brittney, and Melissa loved the pancakes; they were the best I'd ever cooked. (The butter helped, I'm sure!) The four of us were staying in Almo because of its location at the entrance to the City of Rocks National Reserve.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Iosepa: Utah's Hawaiian Ghost Town

When my two young nieces saw the flower in my hair as I met them to attend a Hawaiian celebration in Utah's west desert, they wanted a flower in THEIR hair too. Fortunately, they were staying with their Grandma Ruby, who is an expert at improvisation. Grandma Ruby quickly pulled two daffodils off her silk flower arrangement, grabbed a glue gun and some barrettes, and soon the little girls had flowers for their hair too:

Three-year-old Paul didn't want to be left out, but doesn't have long enough hair for a barrett, so he got to have a flower hung over his ear:

Before leaving my parents' Salt Lake City apartment for our 70-mile drive to the Memorial weekend celebration held at the Hawaiian ghost town of Iosepa, I snapped this photo of my parents with my sister Julie and her five children, who are visiting from Maryland.

There's not much to see in Iosepa, the former site of a town settled by Hawaiians in Utah's barren skull valley, but it is interesting to visit because of its story.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Playing with my coworkers

"You're a big jerk! You should have given her more of a chance!" one of my coworkers joked to the other who had just eliminated me from the game of "lightning" we were playing at our team party. At that moment, I realized that me playing this game with my male coworkers put them in a no-win situation.

If they eliminate me, the only woman on our team of software developers, then they're a jerk.

If the one, not-very-athletic woman on the team eliminates them, then they've lost face.

So I decided to be a spectator. I'd just spent a delightful hour playing volleyball with 7 of them. I was tired, and had jammed my thumb during the volleyball game (clearly the reason I missed my basket!), and so was happy for the chance to relax and snap a few photos.

Here's a video of the lightning game, where you are eliminated if the person behind you in line makes a basket before you do:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In defense of 15-year-old boys

Recently my coworkers were discussing 15-year-old boys. They reminisced about what a painful and difficult age that had been for them, and about how lazy and annoying they were at that age. One of them figured that most 15-year-old boys were a big pain, because of all the transitions they were experiencing.

I happen to have a 15-year-old boy living with me right now, and my experience with my nephew Parker has been the opposite of what my coworkers described.

Parker is charming. He's currently learning to play the ukulele, and one of the pleasures of my life is to hear the sweet sounds of him playing and singing each day. Here's a video of a song he recently performed at a year-end concert at his Jr. High School. He was dissatisfied with this performance, because he was a little nervous to be performing in front of so many peers and such a large audience, but it will still give you a sense of his sweet music:

Friday, April 30, 2010

Final thoughts on Hawaii

Sometimes when you're on vacation, you have experiences and photos that defy categorization. This final Big Island blog post is all about those miscellaneous things worth sharing...somewhere.

Like how amused I was by the conversation I had about muumuus with a man who grew up in Malaysia and then moved to Hawaii for his work. His first Friday in the office, when he saw a female coworker wearing a muumuu, he thought to himself "Poor her! Her home life must be incredibly busy, since she didn't even have time to get out of her pajamas to come to work!" Only later did he learn about muumuus and "Aloha Fridays" where people get to wear their favorite Hawaiian clothes.

Then there was the man who brought his ukelele with him to church.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Onomea Bay Ranch

"Good morning!" Ben's loud voice boomed through our open window. "It's April Fools day! Will you play an April Fools joke on me?"

We thought all day to come up with a good joke to play on Ben, the gregarious 35-year-old developmentally disabled son of Vicky and Ben Dalauidao, the owners of the Onomea Bay Guest Ranch where we stayed in the Hilo area. By the time we made it back to the ranch after the day's adventures, however, Ben had already gone to bed and we didn't get to play our joke on him.

Here's a photo of Ben, bringing us smoothies:

Merrie Monarch Hula Festival

The Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, Hawaii's most prestigious hula competition involving hundreds of dancers, started the day I flew home. Although I missed the main event, attending the opening ceremony for the related Merrie Monarch craft show was a highlight of my time in Hawaii.

The ceremony opened with a chant. For those who can't view video, here's a photograph of some of the chanters:

Hilo Waterfalls

"This is a healing place" the man said as I stopped to take a photo of this enormous banyan tree, just above Hilo's Rainbow Falls. (Look for the person in the lower right corner of the image, to get a sense of the tree's size.)

"I used to bring my children here when they were young, and now they are all grown up and gone" he said wistfully. "It's important to create beautiful, happy memories, because eventually, that is all you have."

Pacific Tsunami Museum

As you drive around the Big Island, you see signs like this one, letting you know when you are entering and leaving tsunami evacuation areas, so you can know how far inland you must go for safety in case of an incoming wall of water, the consequence of a distant earthquake.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum, located in a former bank building in downtown Hilo, is a very sobering place. Here you can learn about tsunamis that have happened around the world over the years, including the huge 1960 one that swept through that very building. You enter the former bank vault to watch a video where survivors of the tsunami describe their experiences. It's a sad place.

Hilo Farmers Market

"Did you make these muumuus yourself?" I asked the 80-ish Hawaiian lady tending her booth at the Hilo Farmers Market.

"I made the ones on this side" she replied, "but these others were made by my partner, who is 90 years old!"

"When my partner was fifteen years old" she continued "she loved to hula dance near the dock where the cruise ships arrived. She was such a good hula dancer that the tourists gave her money. But she didn't want money...she wanted lipstick, so she could attract some boyfriends! Her mother did not approve of her buying lipstick, so she just asked all the lady tourists if they'd give her their used lipstick tubes instead of money."

"She got a BIG collection of lipstick," the muumuu maker said as she opened her arms wide to show just how huge the collection was, and then her eyes widened with excitement as she continued "and used all that lipstick to attract not just one, but TWO boyfriends!"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

South Point

Along the way to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you can take a 20-mile detour to visit the southernmost point in the United States, Ka Lae, or South Point.

There's not much to do or see there, but we took the detour, just for fun.

Along the way, we saw this funny sign:

We also saw these satellite dishes, and dreamed up all sorts of conspiracy theories explaining why they might be there.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

As I walked past the tiny photography shop, the 8-foot-tall print of this photo caught my attention:

"That was taken by my partner, CJ Kale, about 4 months ago." Nick Selway mentioned as he saw me gawking at it. "We visit Hawaii Volcanoes National park several times a week to capture photos like this. This one was taken at sunrise."

I loved the photo, and was excited because I had planned a sunrise boat tour to get an up-close-and-personal view of hot lava flowing into the ocean. I was looking forward to watching the creation of new earth.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Visiting a Coffee Farm

Because of my Mormon faith, I'm not a coffee drinker. But, as I drove through the "Kona Coffee Belt", a 20-mile section of the Big Island with the perfect climate for growing coffee, I found myself curious about how coffee is grown and processed. So, I toured Greenwell Farms and the nearby living history museum, and was glad I did.

The folks at Greenwell Farms were incredibly gracious, offering me samples from the 10 or 11 varieties of coffee they had. When I politely declined, they offered me a chocolate-covered coffee bean. When I politely declined again, they asked if I'd like to pick an orange off of one of their trees, which I enjoyed doing, especially since the experience was a life-time first for me.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sea Kayaking Adventure

"Hawaii is a great place to be homeless" Adam commented as the two of us drove in his rusty old blazer to Keauhou Bay. Earlier he'd asked if I wanted to strap our bright yellow sea kayak, with the message "Aloha Kayak: the best outfit in Hawaii" written in magic marker along the side, to the top of my rental car, but I preferred to take his vehicle.

"There's fruit everywhere, and you can easily catch seafood, so you never have to worry about starving here." Adam continued. "There are places where you can sleep on the beach, although there are people who have certain territory that you need to stay out of if you don't want to get hurt." He spoke about being homeless in Hawaii with enough detail that I wondered if he had experienced it first hand. He had moved to Hawaii from the mainland a few years earlier, to get a new start, and chose Hawaii for that very reason. He explained that he currently rooms with his boss, the owner of Aloha Kayak, but sometimes when they have a lean month and he's concerned about being able to pay the rent, he's glad that being homeless in Hawaii is not too bad.

The word "adventure" is very versatile. Sometimes when I write about my adventures, I'm referring to thrilling, wonderful experiences that I would happily repeat. Sometimes, though, calling something an "adventure" is a way to put a positive spin on what was really a negative experience, which is how I'd describe my day spent sea kayaking and snorkeling on the Kona Coast.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My lucky friend Juan

When I asked Juan to pick up the dog poop in an area of my yard frequented by dog walkers, I could tell he really didn't want to do it. Armed with gloves and plastic bags, he started walking towards the area anyway. Then he turned, smiled, and with an optimistic tone, said: "I'm going on a TREASURE hunt!"

I met Juan for the first time just that morning, when my friend RoquesAnn, who owns an employment agency, dropped off Juan and Daniel to help me do yardwork. I had hired them in hopes of making good use of the Murray City Green Waste trailer I had rented for the weekend.

When RoquesAnn introduced me to Juan and Daniel, Juan said "You mean we get to stay HERE to work?! I like jobs like this!" His enthusiasm and positive energy were contagious, causing me to have a fun, uplifting, beautiful experience as we worked together.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Heiaus (temples) of Hawaii

When I saw the farmer working in his yard, I was happy to see another human soul. I'd been driving on a rough, remote road for quite some time and thought I might be lost.

"Is this the road to the Mo'okini Temple?" I asked him.
"Yes," he replied "You are about a mile away".
"Is the road good enough that I can drive it in this car?", I queried.
"I don't know." he responded. "I've never been there. There are too many ghosts around there, so I stay away."

The Mo'okini Heiau was a place of human sacrifice. I pondered the farmer's words, but decided to continue on, since I had come to the northern tip of the Big Island specifically to see this heiau. It is one of the oldest on the Big Island (built around 400 BC), and also one of the most sacred, being off limits to commoners clear until 1978.

Mauna Lani resort

I tend to be a budget traveler, cheap on food and hotels so I have money to spend on experiences. Since I wanted to attend the Twilight at Kalahuipua'a event held at the Mauni Lana resort, though, I splurged to spend one night there. I LOVED it. It. Was. Worth. Every. Penny.

Thinking back on my arrival makes me laugh: I had been hiking and swimming in waterfalls that day, so I was still wearing my swimming suit under muddy clothing when I arrived at the gorgeous resort entrance, and felt quite awkward and under-dressed to be so dirty in such a grand place.

Despite my dirt, the employees warmly welcomed me with a lei and offered to take my luggage, which I was embarrassed about because it was also a mess after the day's activities. They were kind, though, and put cute little stickers on my various plastic shopping bags full of dirty laundry, canned chicken, and other budget-traveler stuff to make sure it was routed to the right room. I was just too embarrassed to put my jar of pickles on their shiny luggage cart, though, so I left it in the car and retrieved it later under cover of darkness!

One employee escorted me through this beautiful entranceway to a comfortable chair at a desk, where they offered me fruit juice as I checked in. When he noticed that I was only staying one day and that I was muddy, he kindly told me about the free laundry room and offered to extend my checkout time till 6 p.m. the next day so I could have more time to enjoy the resort. He also kindly upgraded me to a room with an ocean view. He did it in such a way that I didn't feel judged or looked down upon, but where I felt highly valued. All the people were that way...I love that place.

When I reached my room, I was delighted to see a plate of exotic fruit beautifully arranged and waiting for me. Even though it wasn't on my diet, I ate it, and savored every bite. I was also tickled to see the "his" and "her" sections of the bathroom, with a chair and makeup mirror on "her" side, and shaving-type stuff on "his" side.

Here's the view from my room

At night, I enjoyed opening the big balcony doors so I could relax to the rhythmic, gentle sounds of the waves lapping up on the beach. As I drifted to sleep, I thought to myself "Maybe this is what it's like to sleep on the beach, except in a totally comfortable bed, minus all that pesky sand getting in your shoes and clothes!"

They have tons of activities going on there, and I'd like to stay there again sometime, so I can participate in their classes on snorkeling, coconut husking, lei making, ukelele playing, hula, and throw net fishing. Here's an image of a yoga class I happened to walk by:

I enjoyed seeing the torch lighting ceremony, which is held each evening as a man in traditional dress blows his conch, and then spends about 15 minutes running through the resort, lighting all the torches. Here's a little video of the start of the ceremony:

I ran after him so I could get my photo with him, but the photo didn't turn out well. Not only did I run after him, but lots of children also followed him around like a Polynesian Pied Piper. Here's an image I captured of them all:

Here's the main atrium at the hotel. One of the things I loved it was that the entire hotel was open, so you would feel the gentle ocean breezes as you walked through the hallways and interior areas of the hotel (except your room, which you could choose to close completely, or keep open).

Here's a closeup on some of the beautiful plants they had in the atrium:

Here's a view of the Koi pond they have at the hotel entrance:

Here's what the resort entrance looks like from the highway

I was surprised to see that once you turn off the highway, you still must drive a mile through barren black lava fields, before you finally arrive at the seaside resort.

I loved the contrast of the bright green golf courses built on top of the black lava.

They have surfboards and snorkeling equipment you can use during your stay.

Here's a photo of an employee using the traditional blow-torch method of lighting a fire for the S'mores making party:

They also have lots of hammocks around, in case you just feel like chilling out at the beach.

I met these young boys as I was out enjoying the sunset. They were concerned about the turtle, saying "Either it's really old, or it's giving birth", because it wasn't moving, which I had to smile at.

Here's an image of the sunset I captured there:

Here are the freshwater fishponds, which once belonged to the king, and have fish that like to jump several feet into the air.

When I looked to the west, I saw the big orange sun sink, and when I turned back to the east, I saw the big full moon rise over the palms:

In Hawaiian, the name "Mauna Lani" mean "Heavenly Mountain", and I had to agree--it was heavenly there!