Posts tagged travel
I never finished recapping our awesome babymoon to Maui! So back to it. After exploring Lahaina and Haleakala, relaxing around the resort, and a day of snorkeling, we hit the famous road to Hana. I have been on a number of curvy mountain roads in my lifetime, but this was definitely the curviest road I’ve ever seen! It runs along the northeast side of Maui which is the wettest, rainiest part of the island so the landscape is extremely lush and tropical.
We stopped several times along the route to take pictures, admire the view, and — in one case — sample some sugar cane juice. It was sweet with a very planty aftertaste. Not bad, but not my favorite either.
We saw all kinds of cool foliage. Bamboo, bananas, and plenty of plants with huge green leaves that I can’t name.
There were also several waterfalls to admire along the way. Since hiking and swimming weren’t really on our agenda, we didn’t leave the main road but according to the books, there are even more waterfalls to admire just a bit off the road in several locations, along with pools to swim in.
This was one of the prettier overlooks, even though it was tough to get a good photo of the two of us thanks to the shadows. I thought I was really starting to look pregnant at the time. HA!
At one stop, there were chickens. In the trees. Yeah, I don’t get it either! These branches were very low to the ground but still — the chickens were just there, chilling, in the branches. There were wild chickens all over Maui so this wasn’t the first time we came across a group of them, but it was definitely the funniest setting.
Speaking of wildlife, we also saw this mongoose/ferret thing at a rest stop along the way. He was jumping into the trash can, of course, to scavenge whatever tasty bits he could find. There were several others slinking around on the edge of the woods too, but they were very skittish. We were a good 30-40 feet away and had to stay completely still just to get a photo.
A lot of the guide books advised getting underway first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds, but just like the day we went to Haleakala, we didn’t want to get up super early. After all, we were on vacation! We again chose to sleep in, take our time around the hotel in the morning, and finally got on the road around 11:00 I think. We stopped in the small town of Kula for lunch before the Hana Highway really began. This tactic seemed to work pretty darn well — there really wasn’t a ton of traffic to speak of, and we enjoyed a leisurely drive without having to worry about other cars or tour buses. This was especially nice since most of the many bridges along the road are only a single lane wide!
We made it to Hana by about 3:30 or 4:00. There really wasn’t much there to see, other than more gorgeous scenery and views of the ocean of course. We wandered around a small general store and souvenir shop, bought some snacks, snapped this picture of the post office to prove we “survived the Road To Hana,” as the t-shirts say, and then turned around to head back to west Maui. If we’d started in the morning, we would have had time to continue the drive around the other side of the island. I’ve heard that is neat just because the landscape changes so dramatically, so we’ll just have to do it next time we’re in Maui. Yep, next time!
Jose drove on the way out, so I drove on the way back to give him a chance to admire the view a bit more. It was hard to look around much while driving since the road really does require the driver’s full attention! But being the passenger also has a disadvantage — you’re more likely to feel a little car sick thanks to all the curves!
We arrived back in Kula and pulled off the road just past there to admire the sunset from a park. The parking lot was high up above the beach, and we stayed there for a while watching a group of surfers down below. They were too far away to get any good photos, but they were fun to watch.
Here’s the full set of photos from our day of scenic driving:
After a day in Lahaina, a day on Haleakala, and another day spent lounging around the resort, it was time for some snorkeling! The only camera we took along was my iPhone, but we still got a few good photos of our day. We booked a tour with Trilogy Excursions to Molokini – a partially submerged volcanic crater just off the coast of Maui that’s one of the most popular snorkeling and dive spots in the world. It’s less than half a mile across, so it’s a tiny speck of land out in the middle of the water.
The Trilogy trip left bright and early at 6:30 a.m. so we got to the crater ahead of most of the other boats, which was nice. We’d been warned to bring a sweatshirt for the trip out there since it can be chilly, and that was good advice. There were about 30 other people on the boat (a nice catamaran) with us.
The trip actually took us to two different snorkeling spots. First was Molokini, where the highlight was seeing an octopus scooting along the bottom. There were also plenty of colorful tropical fish including Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a. (Say THAT three times fast.)
Before we jumped off the boat, Jose asked if they had wetsuits (since their website had said they did). They gave us each a wetsuit top, and a lot of other people on the boat quickly asked for one as well. It was kinda funny — Jose started a trend! The boat guides teased everyone because they didn’t think the water was cold, but with a temperature around 78 degrees, it felt chilly to me, and definitely colder than the Gulf and Caribbean. Not so cold that you couldn’t swim and snorkel, of course, but cold enough that after 30-40 minutes in the water snorkeling, I was shivering pretty good!
The water inside the crescent of Molokini is calm and sheltered, but after we finished there, the boat took us around the back side of the island on our way to our next spot. The island looks completely different from there — waves from the open ocean pounding the shore, and lots of rocky, craggy cliffs.
From Molokini, we went to a spot called “Turtle Town” off Napuna Point on Maui. I was skeptical, but it totally lived up to its name! Within minutes of jumping into the water, a HUGE sea turtle went swimming past and below us. He had to have been at least 4 feet long! I’ve seen one other sea turtle in the wild before, while snorkeling off Cozumel last year, but that one was tiny compared to this guy. It was so cool! By the end of our 45 minutes in the water (at which point I was shivering again and ready to get out) we’d seen two other sea turtles that were just as big! I actually spotted one of them while my head was above water — I saw a splash out of the corner of my eye and turned to see a turtle who had come up to breathe. SO COOL.
With our two snorkeling spots finished, we started back towards the harbor and the guy on the boat served us a surprisingly tasty lunch. They also put the sails on the catamaran up, so we got to sail instead of motor for a little while. It was a gorgeous sunny day, but the chill of being in the water stayed with me for a while and I was bundled up in Jose’s sweatshirt for the rest of the trip!
I’ve only been snorkeling three times, but each has been in a pretty spectacular location — Belize, Cozumel, and now Maui. Belize was first and still ranks as the best in my book, but I’d rank Maui above Cozumel because of the sea turtles alone!
Last month we went to Hawaii! And, as expected, Maui was pretty spectacular. It was a perfect vacation spot for our “babymoon” since there’s a good combination of interesting things to see and fun places to just relax.
We stayed at the Westin resort in Ka’anapali on the west side of Maui. It was pricey, but not as bad as several of the other resorts in the area and it fit our requirements — located on the beach, with a nice pool area, and close to at least a handful of restaurants. We liked it a lot. Our room was all the way down at the end of one hallway so it was quiet and more private. The beach was steps away, as you can see, and the pool complex featured FIVE different pools plus waterslides, waterfalls, koi ponds, flamingos, and all kinds of cool tropical plants. Kaanapali is basically just one big resort area, but it was actually kind of neat — there was a sidewalk that ran all the way up the beach past the other resorts and an outdoor shopping center, and we were only a 5 minute drive from the town of Lahaina. For the first several days we were there, it was VERY windy (which you can see if you look at all the trees in the photo) — which actually made sitting outside or walking along the beach a little less fun. But the wind died down the last couple days.
We arrived on a Saturday evening after a long day of flying from Houston to San Francisco to Maui. (The only direct flight to Hawaii from Houston goes to Honolulu, so we had to connect somewhere. It wasn’t so bad, since it helped break up what would otherwise be a pretty long flight.) We were pretty tired after a full day of traveling so we had dinner at the resort and went to bed pretty early, but woke up ready to go on Sunday!
We decided to spent the afternoon exploring Lahaina. Some of the guidebooks said it was overly touristy, and I guess it sort of was, but we really liked the town anyway. There were lots of shops to wander around, and several tasty restaurants. We also stumbled upon the 139th Birthday Party of the Lahaina banyan tree — which meant the park was full of artists and entertainment.
We also tried some Hawaiian shave ice. (Shave, not shaved.) It’s kind of like a snow cone — but soooo much better. So tasty, in fact, that we ate it twice in that same day. We tried a few different places over the course of our trip, but our favorite was Local Boys. Get it with ice cream on the bottom and cream on top. YUM.
After a relaxing day in Lahaina, we decided to get more ambitious on Monday and drive to the top of Haleakala — the 10,000 ft volcano that forms the eastern half of Maui. The popular “thing to do” is be at the summit for sunrise, but we didn’t really feel like getting up at 2 a.m. Instead, we enjoyed the morning around the hotel and then hit the road. Maui is a pretty small island so even with a bunch of stops (including a long lunch break) on the way up, we got to the summit about 4 hours after leaving Lahaina.
We stopped at the Kula Lodge for lunch, by which point we’d already gained a couple thousand feet of altitude. The photos don’t really do justice to the view, which was pretty spectacular. Maui is basically two volcanos that met on a smaller strip of land in the middle. You could see both sides of the island from our vantage point! The top of the mountains on west Maui were in the clouds, as usual.
Not long after leaving Kula, we went through the clouds ourselves! The summit and crater of Haleakala are all part of Haleakala National Park, and the entrance is around 7,000 feet. It was foggy and misting lightly when we passed the gate — for free, because it happened to be National Park Week! But soon after that, we popped out above the clouds. It felt like being in an airplane! Clouds, clouds everywhere.
Finally we reached the summit! Looking in the crater was really amazing — the landscape is so different than anywhere else on the island. (And Maui has a LOT of different landscapes to take in, from lush tropical rainforest on the northeast side, to fields and farmland on the slopes of Haleakala, to the drier but sunnier beaches on the west side.) We read that Apollo astronauts visited here to train for moonwalks, and you can see why. The landscape is really rocky and desolate.
There are several hiking trails that run down into the crater and I would’ve loved to explore some of the cinder cones up close. But alas, being 24 weeks pregnant and hiking at altitude didn’t really mix so we just enjoyed the view. Next time!
I also geekily took a photo of the Haleakala Observatory, which was Hawaii’s first observatory. One of the current occupants is the Air Force, who would occasionally use their equipment to monitor the shuttle while it was in orbit. (We called it the Maui burn!) I wanted to take a tour, but it’s closed to the public. Sad. Instead, we just enjoyed the view from the summit itself, and I must ask that you PLEASE NOTE THE CYCLIST in the photo on the right. We overheard him talking to a couple other people at the top, and dude rode his bike from sea level to 10,000 feet. I’m pretty sure that if I tried to do that, my heart would explode. Hard core.
There wasn’t much animal life, but we did see this one weird chicken/pigeon bird walking around the parking lot. It’s called a chukar and it’s a non-native species — Hawaiians make a big deal about native vs. non-native species because so many of the native species of plants and animals have died out due to the effects of all the non-native things that were brought to the islands in the early years. We also saw several silverswords — a strange-looking plant that only grows on Haleakala. They bloom later in the year, and send up tall stalks of flowers.
After enjoying the view, we headed back down from the summit and back to Lahaina and Kaanapali where we discovered that our balcony provided a great view of the Westin’s luau! Since we could see the dancing and hear the music, we ended up getting most of the luau experience for free — and on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights! It was pretty cool to be able to enjoy the show from the comfort of our room.
Here’s the full set of photos from our first two days on Maui. Next up? Snorkeling!
(I stole this picture of a sunset in Maui from my sister, who never updates her blog)
Jose and I have been trying to decide where to go for our next big vacation this spring. (If we can find a good week between Russian vehicle launches and the SpaceX demo flight anyway. I foolishly thought I was done planning my life around missions when the shuttle program ended, but nope! The end of April is looking like our best chance.) His first choice is some combination of Prague, Vienna, and/or Berlin but my first choice is Hawaii, which I’ve had on the brain for YEARS now. And because of plane ticket availability given the number of frequent flier miles we have, it’s looking like Hawaii will win out.
All the books and websites recommend that you stick to no more than one island per week, so we’ll only be going to one island. When I think of Hawaii, I usually think of the Big Island because of 1) active erupting volcano Kilauea and 2) cool observatory on top of Mauna Kea — so I figured the big island was the easy answer. But as we look into it, and as I talk to people who have gone there, Maui is sounding more and more appealing. My sister went to both Maui and the big island last year, and while both were awesome, she told me that Maui would probably be her first pick.
So, I know a lot of my friends and acquaintances have been to Hawaii before. Do you have advice on Hawaii? I’d love to hear it! Consider this an open solicitation for recommendations on the best things to do, places to stay, and things to eat, and whatever else you think I should know!
The deep blue salt water of the Gulf of Mexico as seen from our balcony, and the clear blue fresh water of Cenote Azul somewhere on the Yucatan peninsula.
Whew! I’ve been gone for a while because I went on a cruise! And a bunch of other stuff happened too.
We lost two days (i.e. we departed 2 days late) because of Tropical Storm Lee, so we didn’t get to go to Belize or Honduras. (It turned into a “Mexican booze cruise” according to one post on a discussion board.) There were a couple additional major stressors that happened just before and while we were on the boat. And on the last day of the cruise, I ended up in bed with the flu. (That made my “vacation” even longer since I missed two days of work when we got back.)
It’s like the universe was trying to tell us not to go on vacation — and we totally ignored the universe and went anyway! Ha! Take that, universe!
(I’m just kidding, universe. Please give us a break for a little while.)
But despite the delay and the health issues, we did have a good time exploring the boat, visiting Costa Maya and Cozumel, and spending time with 5 of my best friends from college.
In Costa Maya, the whole group hired a taxi who took us to see the Chacchoben Mayan ruins and to swim in a cenote. In Cozumel, Jose and I went snorkeling at Palancar Reef. Both port stops were lots of fun.
I didn’t take a ton of photos, but I will post a few more tomorrow.
I’m not a fan of people who always complain about how busy they are. And yet quite often, I am that person. Rather hypocritical, I realize. But the Russian launch accident last week has kept me OMG. SO. BUSY. at work. On top of that, my body is diligently trying to fight off something-or-other, as evidenced by a sore lymph node, sore throat, and general body aches. I am trying to treat myself well so I can get over whatever minor bug it is, because:
I am going on vacation next week! And I am SO READY to be on that vacation, where I hope to see a lot of this:
Yep, we are going back to the Caribbean and will be passing right by the lovely area where we spent our honeymoon a couple years ago. But this time we’re going on a cruise! We leave from New Orleans and will be making stops in Costa Maya, Belize City, Roatan and Cozumel. On top of that, a few of my old friends from college are joining us — it’s a 10-year “reunion” trip because we all went to Europe together in 2001 right after graduation.
I’ve never been on a cruise before and to be honest, I wasn’t feeling particularly enthusiastic about it at first. But now that our departure is imminent, I’m getting excited — even though I’m not entirely sure what to expect. Any advice on how to make the most of it?
After more than 5 years together, I finally took Jose to the farm! Here we are in the “new” barn…which was built in late 2001. That should give you an idea of how long it had been since I’d visited: WAY TOO LONG.
“The farm” is my family’s dairy farm in southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. My dad grew up there in the 50s and 60s, and my two uncles took over in the 1970s. Every year, we’d drive up from Charlotte to spend a week or two at the farm and my siblings and I all LOVED it. We fed calves and stacked hay and picked up rocks and rode on tractors — and my uncle even paid us like $1.00 an hour, which at the time seemed like the coolest thing ever. Today, two of my cousins have joined the business too, so the farm will stay in the family for at least another generation.
This is the house my dad grew up in, the house we visited every summer, and the house my grandmother lived in for years until she had to move into an assisted living home a few years ago. Today, my cousin lives here but I still call it “Grandmother’s house.” I can’t help it — I think it will always be Grandmother’s house to me.
We got to see my grandmother on Tuesday, which was really important to me because Jose had never met her. She’s 91 years old and her health has deteriorated a lot in recent years, and she wasn’t able to come to our wedding in 2009. Still, she completely demolished both me and Jose in a game of Scrabble — totally fair and square, too. Her score was more than our scores combined!
Anyway, the farm is quite an operation, as Jose discovered. I think he was picturing something small and quaint, but these days they have more than 1000 acres and something like 600 cows. This is the view looking down from the “new” barn towards the old barn. (What looks like a nice tranquil pond is actually the manure pit. I like to call it the poo lagoon.)
It was great to see my family and introduce them to Jose. I don’t plan to let another 10 years pass before I go back.
Taken at the British Museum in London. I stood on the second floor for a few minutes watching the people in the huge atrium below walk by. I don’t think any of them noticed the quote at their feet.
Our time in London coincided with 2 very important days in our lives! Jose and I went to the Natural History Museum on his 31st birthday, where he was pretty much in heaven. Here he is with his good buddy, Charles Darwin:
And here he is in the main hall of the Natural History Museum. It was a gorgeous building designed specifically for this museum in the late 19th century — it’s like a church for science!
The following day, we spent our 2nd anniversary wandering through the Science Museum, seeing the Magna Carta and other cool items at the British Library, shopping in Soho, and eating a fantastic Moroccan dinner. Here I am with the Apollo 10 command module. I thought all the Apollo vehicles were still in the US but sure enough, this is the one command module that’s located in another country!
And here’s Jose at the British Library:
It turns out I didn’t take many photos on our anniversary, so here’s a bonus photo that we took in our front yard the day we left to go with the similar photo from last year.
Jose is 31 and we’ve been married for 2 years! Time really does fly when you’re having fun!