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Sunday, 31 August 2014

Tom's last word

Hello there. We're about to take off on our flight back home to London. It''s going to be hard adjusting back to our home, and I don't just mean the jetlag. The time here is 7:15 in the afternoon (3:15 AM in England), and I've been watching my dad enough to know how to post this as a suprise for my parents. Well, here goes.

Our holiday this year is up there with the magic bus. There has been everything from film studios and mountains, to Hawiian beaches and classic diners. I've expanded my knowlage and enjoyed myself more then I'd have ever thought possible, however the real troopers have been my parents.

I went on a few hikes with my parents, one being 11 miles (something or other km), but they made an effort to do one that tough every other day, which I was very impressed by, and proud to be the son of some real mountain goats.

I have had some jobs to do (mostly New York Film Academy homework) but they packed up all our stuff from place to place, drove us around and were the driving power behind our travel.

This holiday was going to be great, but my parents made it exellent.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Homeward bound

We are in the terminal waiting for our overnight flight to London after one more precious day in California. After packing up and leaving the house we went for breakfast at "Linda's" which could not have been nicer. Its such a popular place that they serve you coffee on the benches outside while you wait for a table.

Tom, the Film Student, spent some time composing this picture and talking about the need to "respect the rule of thirds" and so forth. Terminology, which of course went completely over our heads, not having been Film Students. 

Then, Highway 1 for a slow mosey up the coast with stops whenever we saw an attractive stretch of coastline to walk along...

...or in.

There was a flurry of tiny State Parks with nature walks which buzzed with dragonflies while surf crashed off in the background


There were stops in Pescadero and Half Moon Bay too for snaps and messing around...

But all too soon we got to the airport. Tom just said "Its coming to a close" and he is right. They are calling for us to board. Its been brilliant and we have been so lucky to have had this time together. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

A day in Santa Cruz

A lively drive from San Francisco Airport over the mountains last night - all last-minute curves narrow lanes and concrete medians - brought us to Santa Cruz and this lovely house that we found on AirBnB. Its gorgeous inside and cost less than a hotel. Sadly the tandem promised in the spec was not available for some reason, but it was only a twenty minute walk to the famous boardwalk. 

Among its many attractions is the Big Dipper (in the background) which has been there a very long time and which, of course, we were going to go on...

Tom was very gung-ho about it, even if in the queue, he began to think rather seriously about whether it was something he really wanted to do...

But it was great fun; a proper slam-you-around Old School rollercoaster which starts in darkness and rockets over the rails at breakneck speed until you are exhausted trying to hold on. It was a great start to the day!

P took him on the Haunted Castle ride and we discovered that Tom can do death-defying as long it involves physical risk. When the threat is purely a result of ghostly lights and your imagination, he'd really rather not look...

And the rides that made me want to heave of course, he wanted to do again. I was fine with that as long as he did it on his own (though we had thought there might be someone else on this ride too...) 

There were very few people around with no queueing for anything. At the end of the pier was a classic end-of-pier snack place with a really friendly Latina waitress who got us smoothies and iced coffees and acknowleged that yes, the summer was pretty much over as far as they were concerned. We are keenly aware of our holiday coming to an end too.

Honking beneath us were these guys. They are a fixture on the Santa Monica pier and I remember them from spending an evening here when I was a student travelling around on Amtrack. 

We walked back to the house along quiet streets in bright, late afternoon sunshine. Its a really pretty neighbourhood and P and I could both very happily live in Santa Cruz.

Time for one final meal out; at a local Italian recommended by the owner of the house. We got spifffed up to celebrate our month away. We'll really miss being able to spend so much time together once the treadmill of school and work starts back up again next week. 

Goodbyee Hawaii

We're now on the flight to San Fransisco and I am left with a wistful feeling that there was a whole lot more in Kauai (and to some extent in Maui) that we simply never saw. That's true of course as we could have spent a lot more time in both places. But we saw plenty. Hawaii is far more interesting than its sun and surf reputation might suggest.  I can't think of it as a US state - it feels like a foreign country. Its a land that loves the apostrophe - though only in the Hawaiian language. When it is used in English it is condemned to signify a plural: "coconut's" and "mango's". Philippa has to be physically restrained from whipping out the marker pen... 

The native Hawaiians we met were always charming to us but when they talked to each other they were incomprehensible to our ears. In a way they seem to be living in two countries. We were constantly reminded of just how far away it is from well, everywhere. Most people assumed we were Australian, partly I suppose because Oz is simply much closer than the UK. 
We will miss the nightly bubbling of the bullfrogs, the shriek of the crickets and, to a lesser extent perhaps, the squawks of the roosters an hour or so before dawn. We will certainly miss the magnificent Pacific, breaking its blue waves over the only significant islands in the seven thousand miles between Papua New Guinea and California. 

Two nights in Santa Cruz and then home.

Napali Coast

Yesterday we had a day around the house and went back to our beach for another snorkel. The tide was out revealing the lumpy brown reefheads and the waves had churned up the seabed making the water too milky to see anything. So we walked a little way along the shore watching the tiny fish flitting through the pools at the water's edge. The sea on this beach is never less than rolling; big blue breakers sucking up the water ahead of them and crashing down into the sand. Its fun to swim in but there is an undertow to watch for - P and T found they were beginning to get stuck the other evening when only about fifteen feet from the shore. We swam in the warm water and blatted a little ball to each other (record: 20!) until we all got too hot and retired to the house to read (and blog) in the shade. 

Today though we were ready to explore again and headed for Tunnels Beach a forty five minute drive along the north coast. This coast to my mind is what Kauai is all about. The communities are low-rise and unpretentious, the jungle foliage either side of the road is green and dense, the beaches have an untamed quality to them and soaring up over the sea are jagged sharks-teeth mountain peaks. This is the Napali Coast and its gorgeous. 

Tunnels Beach is one of the most famous snorkeling spots in the islands and once again we found it by guesswork as there was not a single sign anywhere to announce its presence. Hawaii's motto should be "Don't worry, you'll probaby find it on your own". The beach is famous for a long reef which is protected from the waves by another reef further out. 

You can swim through the inshore reef  - even at low tide - via a series of sandy avenues. The water was sparkling and clear and the fish were plentiful; from darting little electric jobs, hiding in the crevices, to fish as big as tea trays gliding around in small shoals. We all spent about an hour exploring - feeling like we were in an aquarium. P almost stepped on a turtle. 

Further down the beach where the reef stopped, the waves were crashing in and Tom of course had to have a go with that... Some of the waves were at least two feet taller than him and he was picked up and thrown back down on the sand again and again, laughing all the time.

 He spent at least another hour being hurled around and would have stayed longer had P not brought back some sandwiches from a caravan in the car park. 

The sun was fierce and we'd all spent rather too long in it - feeling distinctly crispy around the edges. So, back to the jeep and down the coast to the very end of the road and Ke'e beach. It was clearly once a perfect little hideaway with a half-moon of golden sand and its own reef to explore but now everyone knows about it. And everyone was there. 

The end of the road is also where one of the most spectacular walks on the island begins - the Nepali trail which skirts the most rugged of the island's scenery for eleven miles. Its a tough hike and not one for today - we were too hot and it was too late, so we did the first half mile to a viewpoint. It really was baking hot and a steep climb at the start. 

As it was late afternoon we passed dozens of people coming the other way and its clear that had we started the trail this morning we would have had a lot of company. We stopped at a kink in the trail where we could look down on the golden coastline on one side and the sheer cliffs, furrowed and green, on the other. 

The sun was sinking in the sky but it was still fiercely hot and there was a stiff warm wind. We sat for a bit enjoying the view when out over the sea we saw a rainstorm heading our way. Having played this game before, we decided it was time to go. We retraced our steps along what was becoming an increasingly slippery path as cold raindrops began to spatter our backs.

It soon passed and we stopped at the food van again for a huge multi-flavoured "shave ice" which is a bit of a Hawaiian institution. Then we poked around in an enormous cave carved out by the sea many years before. It was a huge space, cool and silent, It was rather eerie to have this great weight of mountainside propped up over our heads. 

On the way home in Hanalei we stopped for supper at "Tahiti Nui"; a place described by the guide book as looking like a bit of a dive but with great food. It was correct on both counts. Inside there were boozy twenty-somethings cackling at the bar and music playing rather too loudly. We sat on the porch, on split and ancient vinyl-topped bar stools which stuck uncomfortably to our sunburned legs. But across the road the mountains loomed over us and the sun was still sinking dramatically through fluffy pink clouds. 

Inside, the music stopped and we watched through the open sides of the restaurant as a huge man got on stage to play a tiny ukelele and sing traditional songs. The guitar looked like a toy in his meaty hands but he played and sang very sweetly and for a couple of songs a composed young woman danced next to him in the traditional way, swaying slightly with hands moving slowly and precisely (it looks to me rather like Balinese dancing). 

The food came and it was terrific. P had perfectly seared tuna and I had big fat Kauai shrimp cooked in macadamia nuts and honey. T finally got to have a Hawaiian Pizza (ham and pineapple) IN HAWAII! 

It was a good last night in Kauai and seemed to sum up what's great about the place: epic views, interesting local culture and not overdeveloped. Rather than sell its soul to tourism it has retained a sense of frontier character. Everyone is welcome, but on the island's own terms.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Waimea Canyon, a trifle damply.

Kauai is in fact one of the wettest places on earth. Parts of it - and I am not making this up - get thirty seven feet of rain a year. The forcast for the time we are here is pretty much the same every day, a lively combination of sun, cloud and thunderstorms. Sometimes the rain misses us completely, but today was not one of those days. 

Hankering for another tough walk in the mould of Haleakala, we struck out for Waimea Canyon. It is only a quarter of the way around the island from us anti-clockwise, but its the bit of the island where the road doesn't go. Getting there entails a clockwise drive of about ninety minutes through small beachside communities with flat fronted clapboard buildings. Then it heads high into the hills. 

It rained on and off all the way and when we got to the trailhead there was a sign saying the middle bit of the walk we wanted to do along the Na Pali cliffs was closed. This turned out to be a good thing because it meant we would walk only about six and a half miles instead of more than eleven, and the weather was frankly not ideal for a stroll. 

We set off through the forest with the promise of a dramatic view from the cliffs three miles away. As we did the rain came and went, and came again and we all got a bit damp. But we had rain macs and all was fine. 

The constant cloud meant the viewpoints tended to have a fine view of about four feet but still we plodded on, gently downhill for about two thousand feet of descent. Then the rain started to fall a bit harder and the cloud got thicker and we were doing the walk for the sake of it, because there seemed very little chance of seeing anything when we got there. 

But as we finally reached the cliffs, we ducked just under the cloud and there, with a goat in the foreground, was an astonishing view along a ridge, deeply grooved with sharp green valleys running down to the sea another two and a half thousand feet below us. 

We found a damp patch of earth to sit on and had pita bread with cheese and tomato, watching the cloud roll through the valley beside us, revealing more, then less, then more again of the jagged cliffs covered in what looked like green velvet. 

Birds soared and wheeled far below us. Just about as soon as we finished eating, the rain began coming down in rods. A proper tropical downpour that lasted for much of the return journey back up a path that was by now a muddy brown torrent. 

We were utterly and completely drenched. At one point Tom said "I think it is raining inside my head". Our hiking boots were all full of water to the extent that Tom no longer avoided the deepest puddles, but walked through them. It made no difference. 

By the time we arrived back at the parking lot it felt like we had all just been swimming in our clothes. I wrung about a gallon of water from my t-shirt and socks and we all tried to find ways to get dry. The rain sort of stopped and the sun came out and soon we were back in the jeep marvelling out our fat pruny hands. 

The Waimea gorge is described as "Kauai's Grand Canyon" and it really is breathtaking - far more colourful than its Arizona namesake with greens and reds and golds splattered across it like oil paints. The cloud made it hard to get a good look at it but we found a couple of overlooks that did it justice and the rain had created a stunning waterfall on the far side of the cliff face. 

We wove back down to the shore and drove back to the town of Waimea - a place which was once the port hub of this side of the island, before losing its industry and then reviving again with a large influx of Chinese and Japanese settlers who took over abandoned taro fields and got things going again. During the Second World War Japanese settlers made up 40% of the population of Hawaii, a fact which meant they escaped internment because the islands would have ground to a halt without them. Martial law was imposed instead.  

There was also a discrete statue of Captain James Cook who made landfall in Hawaii at Kauai in 1779 - the first white explorer to do so. The statue was a copy of one in Whitby. Cook was later killed by natives on the Big Island in an unfortunate dispute over a rowboat.

We made landfall at an ice-cream shop with a cheery owner who joked about the "British weather". I said Kauai had us licked on that score as even damp old Blighty doesn't get 37 feet of rain... There was a whiteboard for visitors to say where they were from. Tom wrote "England - ye old country" 

Further along the coast are the star shaped remnants of the old Russian fort at Port Elizabeth. It was built for Russian fur traders in 1816 after an agreement with King Kaumuali'i, who evidently fell out with the Russians almost immediately and the fort was used by Hawaiian soldiers until 1865 when it was dismantled. Its sturdy lava-block base remains though and the local authorities have decided that it is actually quite interesting and should be preserved.  

Further on, past a local industrial plant and on a rutted red road, we came to Glass Beach. A close look at the sand reveals that it is made of tiny pieces of glass - clear, green, blue and brown. 

I can't find any definitive explanation about why so much of it has gathered here apart from the fact that this bit of coast was used as a dumping ground for many years and all that glass has been pounded and rolled by the surf and ended up here. The waves were huge and both P and T found themselves suddenly up to their knees when a big breaker came in. 

We were by now almost dry - well not quite so wet anyway - and we were huuungry. Most of the way home in Kapa'a Old Town, we found a busy restaurant - the Olympic - which was almost certainly named for the size of its portions. Perfectly cooked fish surrounded by mashed potato and vegetables on each plate that would have fed a family of four. Tom ordered calamari which I can only think came from one of those giant squid which attack sperm whales. We watched the sun vanish behind the omnipresent clouds around the mountains and, serenaded by a solitary Hare Krishna lady at a stop light, we made are way back to the jeep and home. 


Its a forty five minute flight from Maui to Kauai but the two islands are very different. Where parts of Maui are very much the playground of the rich and famous (Oprah has a ranch there) Kauai feels less developed and more overgrown. Its a much smaller island too with only one main road, which skirts about three quarters of the perimeter, before coming to a respectable halt at the foot of the giant jagged peaks which dominate the north west. 

We are staying at a large, airy plantation-style house raised on stilts, surrounded by a lazy river and overlooking Moloa'a Bay. White egrets poke about in the gardens, sharing the lawns with families of chickens which are all over the island. There are several stories about why there are so many. One says they escaped from a chicken farm when Hurricane Iniki blew in, in the early nineties. The other says they are descended from the jungle moa brought by the original Polynesian settlers centuries ago. There's probably some truth to both stories. The result though is that everyone wakes up when the roosters do... (Except Tom). The fauna and flora are very much in evidence in Kauai. Every room has a nervous little gekko which of course are very welcome. We have learned not to leave a light on in the bedroom in the evening, after doing just that one evening and finding the ceiling covered with slow moving beetles. Arriving back after dark too you have to have a torch handy to avoid walking on the frogs. The bullfrog chorus every night has to be heard to be believed. It sounds like a group of very small roadmenders with pneumatic drills. I promised Philippa I wouldn't go into the "Spider Incident" in too much detail. Suffice to say kitchen, scuttling and enormous.  

The bay has a reef on one side of it which we have snorkeled around, spotting the sinister head of an eel gawping out from its hole, as well as plenty of fish flickering about in shafts of sunlight. Its very quiet as we are a couple of miles off the main road and there is nowhere for anyone to park who doesn't live here so we have the bay more or less to ourselves. At the turning from the road there is a juice stand which also sells fish sandwiches and coconut water and various other tropical goodies. Its a handy lunch spot when we can't really be bothered to find groceries. After all the hurtling around in Maui its nice to have a place to recharge for a bit (oh this holiday has been SO stressful...ahem). Tom has found a miniature Hawaiian guitar and discovered he can pick out tunes on it using violin fingering. Its nice hearing the music float through the house.