Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stalking the Wily Sea Turtle

A few weeks ago, I suggested to Mrs Elliott that we might consider taking a camping trip to Hawaii. She jumped at the chance. "I suppose it's the only way I'll get you to Hawaii," she said. She knows that I find staying in resort hotels to be boring.
   My idea came from an article I read online about Happy Campers Hawaii, a Big Island company that rents out VW pop-top campers for $125 a day. The campers are fully set up, with beds, a stove and sink, linens, silverware, a hand-drawn map of the island showing major towns and beach camp parks, and other basic necessities. They don't come equipped with refrigerators, the original Dometic unit being small as well as finicky to keep operating, but they do provide an ice chest and ice is easily found in the local stores.
   Considering that your $125 covers the cost of lodging and a rental vehicle, it's a good value. 
So Mrs Elliott cashed in a bunch of her credit card air miles for tickets, I reserved a van, and we flew RDM to PDX, PDX to Honolulu, Honolulu to Hilo on the Big Island, arriving in the midafternoon. Bud and Teri, who own Happy Campers, met us at the airport, drove us to their little operation right off Highway 11 in downtown Hilo, and helped us get set up with Uli Kai, our 1987 VW Vanagon Westfalia camper. We own the 1984 model so we didn't require a lot of instruction to get familiarized with the new "treehouse on wheels" we'd be using for a week.

Uli Kai -- Click on picture
for larger view. (photo: Jack)
For all but one night at a resort hotel, we camped at beaches.

Like all of Happy Campers Hawaii's vans, Uli Kai had a journal in the glove box for guests to write about their experiences. We found plenty of tips and tales in ours, and Mrs Elliott filled in seven pages with details about our adventure. I photographed them for transcription here:

Captain's Log Star Date 4/27/11: Arrived in Hilo from Bend, Oregon last week. After stocking up at market & Longs [drugstore] for wine glasses (can't drink wine in plastic cups) we went to Issac Hale Beach Park -- grassy area & parking lot were nice but we chose to park on the gravel near the boat launch. Lovely spot but someone parked nearby and played reggae [Hip hop, actually -- Ed.] into the wee hours. 

En route to Luapahoehoe park
we stopped so Mrs Elliott could
take a sip. (Photo: Jack)

Day 2. Up to Luapahoehoe [beach park]. Lovely grass parking with a cherry spot on a hill between trees but it was windy so we came down onto flatter ground. Nice spot, friendly people. 

We rode the zipline at the "UmaUma
Experience" as seen on The
Bachelorette (I don't pay much
attention to that show, commented
the owner). (Photo: Jack)

Mrs Elliott)
Day 3. Headed to Waipio Valley and stopped in the town [...]

Rainbow over the sea at Kapa`a
beach. (Photo: Jack)
(Two pages are missing here, "town" would be Honoka`a, where we had lunch. Then we drove across the island through Waimea (overcast, wet) to the other side of the island, then north along the coast, through the popular Spencer's beach, which looked like a fun family place but requires reservations, then farther up the coast to Mahakona beach, which was grubby, then even a bit farther to Kapa`a beach, where we found a lovely spot right on the shore. Another couple driving a Happy Campers van was also at the beach, they said that this was one of their favorite parks.)

Day 4 was spent at the Hilton on the Kohala coast, a 62-acre oceanfront resort in Waikoloa Village.
Mrs Elliott)

The journal resumes:
[Jack had] one too many Mai Tais by the pool and napped most of the day. Mrs Elliott swam, paddleboarded, bike boated, went down the water slide, swam some more, and shopped.
Church at Milolli
(Photo: Mrs Elliott)
Day 5. We were ready to hit the road, the nice bellman filled up our ice chest and we were off to play in Kona. Went to the farmer's market, walked around town, and shopped. Then down the coast to Hookena Beach -- not our kind of place. Nowhere to really part the van to enjoy a few, but friendly staff. A good place to swim and boogy board, but we don't do that so we moved on to Milolli. We liked it better than Hookena because it was quiet and had great tidepools. We met a young chap from Cambridge, England who was bicycling the entire island. It as just him & us for the night. (Flush toilets no showers that we could see!) We parked at the very end of the lot. There is a church across the driveway. 
   Drove to Volcano and check out Namakani campground -- it was very nice and grassy. No view. It was cold and rainy so we just walked the Kalieua Iki [volcano caldera] trail which was fun & a good workout. Saw the lava tubes -- just okay, and the Jaggar Museum. We were too cold and wet to wait 'til sundown [when the red glow of lava lights the fumes coming out of the caldera], so we went into Volcano fior dinner. Rock Lava Cafe OK for what it was.
Stalking the wily sea turtle.
(Photo: Jack)
   Then we drove back down to Punalu`u Beach Park to sleep. We wanted to wake up in sunshine. Whittington is by far more scenic but we figured we could see turtles and swim at Punalu`u so went there. 
   Water is cold & choppy and so far no sea turtles (oops, just saw one on shore).
Day 6. Parked on the far side (north side) of Punalu`u Beach by the boat launch. There is a dirt road that takes you to this side where the boat launch is [as well as the ruins of Punalu`u Landing -- Ed] and where you can park the van under a tree facing the ocean. Fairly secluded but at the sand and not a parking lot.
European-Americans and Aussies standing about.
Despite the many, many signs advising that it is
bad form, rude, and a violation of state and federal law
to get close to or touch the drowsing sea turtles,
a surprising number of pimplewits thought it necessary
to have their darling children alarm the animals by,
you guessed it, approaching and touching them
so their idiocy could be captured on film forever.
(Photo and commentary: Jack)
Since it's our last day, I assume Mr Elliott will be finishing off the beer & wine and having another nap [I did -- Ed.]. I'll finish my book and go for a swim [She never -- Ed.] then BBQ & off to Hilo in a.m. for our trip home.

Mrs Elliott finishes book.
(Photo: Jack)
Mrs Elliott closed by providing tips:
Tips: Get paper plates -- so much easier. We ran out of BBQ propane & water in the [van's] tank so make sure it is filled. Baby wipes make better toilet paper. A small headlamp makes a great light to read by at night. Buy fresh fish from roadside vendors. Big pieces & fresh for very little money makes a good dinner. Ice blocks last longer than cubes. Dry ice is the best but must be wrapped in newspaper or it freezes [the food]. 

Her contribution to the journal will be appreciated by future campers, I am sure.

What I learned.

The weather was nice, if you like that kind of weather. It was humid, and warmish, mostly. The air felt . . . used, like the air in a small room with too many people in it. I found that even one blanket was too much at night, and usually slept with only a sheet on top. Even so, after three nights, the sheets smelled sweaty. Like an unwashed nutsack.
   Adding a layer of sun screen on top of sweaty skin didn't make things better. I was sticky much of the time.
   Staying at the Hilton provided a nice place to clean up. Most of the beach parks on Big Island have showers, but they are for rinsing salt from the sea off, so they are outdoors and soap is not permitted or cool as they drain right into the soil or the sea.
   The locals are very family-oriented, and considering that until recent history, "family" tended to include just about everyone one might ever see in a lifetime, everyone is family. So our European-American ideas of personal space and campsite boundaries are more rigid than theirs. Which means that a local might feel comfortable sitting down at the picnic table directly in front of one's van. As did a nice local woman at one camp.
   Camping is different in Hawaii. For one thing, there are no designated camp sites. No signs saying "Camp Here." One might come across a "No Camping" sign in a few places at or near the parks, but near as we could tell, if camping was not explicitly forbidden, it was permitted, or at least tolerated. Most campgrounds have a fee requirement, but no one comes by to collect fees.

I had hoped to snorkel. I have never snorkeled before. My reader may recall that I am not terribly comfortable on water, and don't find bobbing around in it to be much better. My friend Bruce Miller offered to take me to Juniper Fitness and teach me how to snorkel, but I had to cancel because there was simply too much to take care of before departing.
   The next option was to sign up for a snorkel adventure while on the island, but I could not work up much enthusiasm for that. Mrs Elliott and I could have rented snorkel gear, but none of the beaches looked very snorkelable, being mostly lava. Besides, no one should every snorkel alone and Mrs Elliott suffers from vertigo when she snorkels.

Snorkel. That word looks funnier and funner the more I look at it. Snorkel. Snorkel.

While driving around, I paid attention to the demeanor, conditions, and expressions of the folk living there. Hawaii, or at least the Big Island, does not look a cheerful place to live. No one looked happy. The European-Americans looked the least happy. The place does not look a healthy one: obesity is a recognized problem with Pacific Islanders, but most European-Americans were obese, too. Looked saggy and tired. The tropical sun is not kind to white skin, women in particular looking battered by decades of UV, faces like saddlebags.
    Nor did the women look very happy. When visiting a new area, I always check to see if women look happy, feeling that places where women are happy are happy places to live. It was one quality that Mrs Elliott and I both noticed about Bend: plenty of pretty women who looked happy. There were few pretty and no happy-looking women in Hilo or Kona.
   I saw no signs of interesting music. Near as I can tell, there is little live music in either town, and what music there is is "old" music: old acoustic stuff from the late '60s, early '70s, like James Taylor, performed by old white folk; or old Hawaiian music performed by old local folk. Nostalgia music. The towns seem to close at dark.
   Likewise, outside of touristy art in cruise ship ports, the art scene looked moribund.

Jack is not certain whether he could live in Hawaii.

Even so, we are thinking of visiting another island. As I write this, Mrs Elliott is looking up rates at the the new Disney Resort and Spa on Oahu. She's thinking of bringing her kids and grandkids there next year to frolic. Her side of the family is big on that sort of thing. Jack, not so much. Unless he is left to sample umbrella drinks until he needs a nap, he prefers to avoid places designed around entertaining children. So it's not likely that Jack will want to spend much time at that Disney Resort and Spa.
   However, one must give Honolulu a try: the 2010 edition of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that Honolulu ranked sixth in overall wellbeing and placed "best" in the categories of Life Evaluation and Emotional Health.
   In Why Are Some Cities Happier Than Others? Richard Florida crunched the Gallup data and found that higher average income correlates with happiness, and while Honolulu rates highly in terms of well-being it  has average income only slightly above the national mean; and though human capital (education levels) correlates strongly with happiness, Honolulu, again, is not exceptional in that regard.
   The key may be the significant negative correlation between well-being and the share of working-class jobs -- meaning that areas with more knowledge, professional, and creative jobs tend to have less unemployments and creative jobs tend to be more satisfying. Honolulu seems to have a large number of these jobs

Maybe there's even music.

And we might want to visit Kauai, as it has white sand beaches. The Big Island is too new, geologically, to have significant white sand. In Kauai, now, there's a place where a fellow can snorkel.

Snorkel. Heh.


  1. "The place does not look a healthy one"

    Your impression to the contrary notwithstanding, Hawaii has the highest life expectancy of any state and is #5 in America's Health Rankings, compiled by the United Health Foundation. Oregon is #15. Thinness is not the only gauge of health; you see a lot of thin people in Oregon, but most of them are meth addicts. (Okay, that's a slight exaggeration.)

    You went to the wettest island at the wettest time of year. I'd recommend going sometime between May and September, or even early October, and visiting Maui or Kauai. Warm, sunny weather, warm ocean, sandy beaches, trade winds.

    And turtles.

  2. "It was one quality that Mrs Elliott and I both noticed about Bend: plenty of pretty women who looked happy."

    You'll find plenty of them in Hawaii too -- but, as in Bend, you have to know where to look.

  3. Health expectancy notwithstanding, the people looked worn, tired, and saggy. Attire was ratty old t-shirts and faded, baggy shorts. If I gotta be around people, I want them to look happy and halfway good-looking!

    And why would I want to go to the islands between May and September? The weather's fine here then. We're looking for charming places to visit in March or April.

  4. "Attire was ratty old t-shirts and faded, baggy shorts."

    Sounds pretty much like Bend.

    "And why would I want to go to the islands between May and September?"

    For the swimming, snorkeling and beaches. And to be someplace other than Bend.

    I also would disagree with the statement that the weather is "fine" in Bend in May. Some days it is, but not as a rule.

    "We're looking for charming places to visit in March or April."

    Try Cabo.

  5. Cabo? Naw, I don't find Cabo charming. It's a theme park for gringos, gringos who have different ideas about A Good Time than I do.

    I've heard Belize is good, but those I've heard that from are also quite satisfied with gringo theme parks so I distrust their opinions.

    Thailand sounds interesting -- a cheerful place, I hear, and I'd like to get there before the Muslims* in Myanmar take over and make it just as depressing as Myanmar.

    Pago Pago, maybe?

    * Jack is not an Islamophobe. Jack just does not care for any of the Abrahamic religions. 6,000 year-old desert prejudices and superstitions. Judaism is the least obnoxious, not being a religion out to convert anyone, but the other two are colossal pains in the butt. What the Christian missionaries did to the Hawai`ians in the 19th century is Tinkertoys to what the Muslims would do to a place like Thailand.


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