More from the Nashville Superspeedway

Thanks to Gigi and Michael for a great time at the Nashville Superspeedway on Saturday evening.

The track and the amatuer superbike scene is something to be experienced to be believed. It was my first time to visit a NASCAR-sized track. Huge. Really makes you feel small. And Michael was making the circuit in about a minute, hitting more than 150 mph in the straightaway.

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Radio Radio at the Hard Rock in Memphis

Kath, Greg Hosterman, and trukLast night, I got a chance to catch up with a good friend from my past, Greg Hosterman, who was in town with his band, Radio Radio, playing at the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street in Memphis. Yesterday was my anniversary, and by chance, Greg found me on Facebook (which I loathe but keep a page up just for things like this) the day before and sent me a notice that he was going to be in town. I happened to check that email account and get the notice in time, so we made plans to see the show after dinner at Automatic Slims.

The show was very good. I hadn’t heard any of the songs before, except the excellent cover of the Bowie song, I’m Afraid of Americans. Greg has been writing and performing great songs for as long as I’ve known him, and this show really showed just how much he has honed the skill to, well, an art. It was wonderful to see him getting out there and really doing something he enjoys so much and does so well. And the amazing thing is that the timing worked out so well; Greg was in Memphis 11 years ago on the day to sing at our wedding. (He did an outstanding job then, as well.) One of the best things about catching up with Greg is how he makes you feel when you are around him. He is just grounded and positive and clear-headed. I’ve always admired that about him.

Radio Radio has a couple of CDs out, including an EP that is really well done. If you are into the Killers, INXS, David Bowie, that sort of thing, you will really enjoy their music. You can buy tracks from iTunes or order the EP from their website.

I’m definitely not waiting 11 more years before I make it a point to catch up with Greg again! That’s way too long…

Microloans Made Easy – Kiva.org

It has been a busy couple of months, but I’ve been working too hard to have anything decent to write in this space. I tend to lie pretty dormant in the winter, which in Memphis can be mercifully short (usually only 2 months long, or so).

Kiva.org LogoI have been experimenting with a few things worth mentioning, though. One of those is kiva.org, which is a site that allows you to loan money directly to people around the world that need it. The idea is called microcredit, and while it has been around for a long time, what is relatively new is that it is now possible for individuals to easily (via the web) to pool their efforts and loan money directly to other individuals and groups.

Kiva.org has been around a few years now, and while it has gotten a fair amount of press (including a mention in President Bill Clinton’s book Giving), most folks are still unaware that such a thing exists. How does it work? Well, the kiva.org site is full of requests from people all around the world that need a relatively small amount of money loaned to them so that they can expand their business or accomplish a similar short-term goal that will result in them being able to pay back the loan and, hopefully, make their life better and improve their community in the process. After creating an account on kiva.org, you can select the projects you wish to fund through a loan.

In most cases, depending on how much you want to loan, you may be loaning money to an individual or group on the other side of the world in partnership with several other people doing the same thing. For example, the total amount of a loan provided for a person in Ukraine may be $1100, but you may only be putting up $50. You decide how much you want to put up for the loan. A PayPal account is required to provide a loan, as that is how the money is provided for the loan overseas, as well for how it is paid back.

It is important to note that you are not paid any interest for your loan but that interest (about 21%) is charged to the person or group that takes out the loan. All of the interest goes to pay for the Kiva Field Partners, which are the folks on the ground the various countries around the world, investigating the validity of the loan request and facilitating the dispursel and collection of loan money. As the Field Partners have a great motivation to ensure that money is only loaned to people who can pay it back, as it is the only way that the Field Partner makes any money, the repayment rate on the loans is near 100%, meaning that they money that you are loaning is pretty safe. (Like any loan, however, there is a risk that you could lose the entire amount you are loaning. Only loan an amount you can stand losing, if the worst happens.)

Namugongo GroupKiva.org isn’t without its critics, but I found the entire process of loaning $50 to a group of Ugandan women, called the Namugongo Group, very straightforward. Through the kiva.org site, the Field Partner will keep me up-to-date with how the loan money is used and let me know when repayments are made, which could take up to a year. By doing this, I am able to personally help make a change in the lives of others half-way around the world, people I’m never likely to meet. I’m also probably not out any money, as it would likely just have set in my PayPal account making a tiny bit of interest. The money will eventually come back to me. And, if I’m lucky, maybe a little karma, too.

I have a lender page set up, where you can find out more about the individuals and groups I choose to fund:

http://www.kiva.org/lender/truk

If anyone reading this is interested in an invitation to join kiva.org, drop me an email through the Contact page. (An invitation is not required to join Kiva, but I will get credit for an invited person actually joining Kiva.)

My Very Own Chinese Stamp

Jeff and Katy recently returned from a trip to China, which must have been an amazing journey, if their photos and descriptions are any indication. Some of my favorite posts cover Xian and the Terracotta Army and Shanghai, but there are several others listed on Jeff’s website, Peebo.net.

While Jeff was in China, I took care of some very easy website updating for him, and to say thanks, he got me a Chinese stamp with my name on it. This is similar to a stamp I gave to Dave in 1995, and I’ve been wishing I had picked one up for myself ever since coming back from China that year.

truk’s Chinese Stamp

You can get these stamps made for you all over China, particularly anywhere there are tourists. They will carve whatever you want into stone (usually marble), though most people elect to simply get their name written in Chinese. I always wonder how many folks have a stamp that actually says something totally different than what they expect, simply because no one around them reads Chinese.

Christmas 2007

Kath and I just returned from our annual Christmas road trip, where we visit family living in Cleveland, MS, and Jacksonville, AR. We had a great trip and enjoyed everyone’s company.

Lambert Christmas Dinner

It was wonderful to see everyone, even if we only get to see most of the folks once a year.

Opening Presents at the Penningtons

This was our nephew Jacob’s 2nd Christmas, and now he is really getting into it, ripping into presents (with a little prodding – maybe it seems like something that he would normally get into trouble doing?) and throwing paper like a champ.

View more photos from the Lambert-Pennington Christmas 2007 here

Kath’s Bowling Birthday Party

The Birthday Girl and trukKath loves birthdays and bowling, so why not combine the two? We had been bowling for Kath’s birthday 5 years before, and it was so much fun the last time that I tried to duplicate the success. Previously, I had thrown her a surprise party, with a good bit of help from our friends. This time, my goal was to throw a reverse surprise party.

What is a “reverse surprise party?” Well, you wouldn’t be the first to ask that question. A reverse surprise party is where, rather than structuring it so that the person being surprised arrives to find their guests already at the location of the festivities, they arrive first and do not expect any guests. The surprise is that the guests actually do arrive, preferably all at once, as a big surprise.

Well, Kath’s party didn’t really live up to what I was hoping. I just found out that the surprise is all in the arrival, and the more grand the arrival, the better the surprise. Because I didn’t give them better directions, Kath’s guests arrived gradually, and the only surprise was wondering who was going to be the next to show up.

Oh, well.

Kath, Her Dad, and the Cake

At least the bowling was fun. A good crowd showed up that Sunday afternoon, cake and ice cream was enjoyed by all, and bowling names were picked with earnestness.

And, I’ve got five more years to figure out how to throw a better surprise birthday party.

Click here for more pics of the party

Hawaii (Mostly Budget) Accommodation Review

When gathering information about where to stay in Hawaii, I was surprised by two things: (1) How much even basic accommodation cost, and (2) the limited amount of independent information about budget lodging options on the islands. A few sites did provide some useful starting points and a basic look at the options on various islands, including Andy’s Hawaii Hostel Review and Hawaii Hostel Guide, but nothing really helped on the order of budget accommodation review sites covering other parts of the world. A person could come away with the idea that there really isn’t any kind of quality budget accommodation in Hawaii, but that conclusion is incorrect. There are places to stay that provide good value, as long as you book sufficiently ahead (recommended 2-3 months, particularly in the winter).

This review covers the places we stayed in Hawaii on a recent trip, and in order to take advantage of these places and also see the good sites, you will need a car. You probably already knew that, but I’m just making sure. My hope is that a fellow traveler that appreciates budget accommodations and the fellowship (and common areas) that you only find at a hostel will be able to use this information.


Backpackers Vacation Inn and Plantation Village

North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii
59-799 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, Hawaii 96712
Voice 808-638-7838 – Fax 808-638-7515 – Email info@backpackers-hawaii.com

If you want the surfer dude experience and be incredibly near some of the best surfing the world (well, in the winter; the summer waves are pretty calm) without blowing all your cash, this is the place. The odd name really does describe this hostel: It really is a village. Located in Waimea (I don’t know why their address lists them in Haleiwa) directly across the road from such legendary beaches as Three Tables, Pupukea, Waimea Bay, Shark’s Cove, and the Banzai Pipeline, Backpackers is really collection of different styles of accommodations commonly managed. There are the two large structures, holding multiple rooms, the Beach House and the Brown House, as well as the Plantation Village, which is a collection of small private rooms on a common driveway. All are very close to the beach, though the two building groups are about 100 feet apart, separated by several private homes.

I liked this place, but my wife did not really care for it. We stayed in the Brown House, in one of the back rooms, which don’t get the good windward breezes, and our room was pretty warm. The common bathroom was less than clean, but it was far from disgusting. Basically, it was exactly what I imagined budget accommodations for surfers would be like, and I can recommend it as a great base of operations on the North Shore. You can easily get to Haleiwa for the famous shaved ice, and a Foodland grocery store is within easy walking distance down the Kam Highway.

I think we ended up paying around $70/night, which is probably as cheap as you are going to find on the North Shore, unfortunately. If you are going to stay at Backpackers, book early and ask for a private room that faces the sea (if staying in the Brown or Main House) or get a spot in the village.

The staff is really friendly and fun at Backpackers, and they go out of their way to help you. We stayed there over July 4th, and the staff put together a trip to local military base were we grilled out and watched fireworks. It was exactly the kind of experience you hope to have at a hostel, and they really pulled it off well.

Backpackers is also a good option if you don’t have a rental car, as they provide pick-up and drop-off for free from the airport or Waikiki, which is very handy. Recommended

Arnott’s Lodge
Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii

98 Apapane Rd, Hilo, Hawaii
808-969-7097 – mahalo@arnottslodge.com

When we were in Hilo and touring the north shore of Hawaii and Volcanoes National Park, it was a toss-up between Arnott’s Lodge and the Dolphin Bay Hotel. In the end, I’m not sure that we made the right choice (especially since Dolphin Bay organizes the lava chicken outings), but Arnott’s turned out to be, well, OK.

Like Backpackers Hawaii above, Arnott’s is more of a complex than a central building. There is a main structure, around which the various amenities, such as hundreds of movies on demand, reception, kitchen, outdoor dining area, and grassy camping area can be found. Private room featuring a bathroom are just across the road. We stayed for 2 nights in what they call a “semi-private” room for about $70 per night, which features a kitchen and bath you share with another room across the hall (and we didn’t have anyone in that room for the two nights, which was nice). On our way back through Hilo, we stayed in a “private” room for 10 bucks more, which are situated around a common kitchen with a private bath plus A/C. Free wifi is available throughout, and the fellow travelers we met while staying there were very friendly. You’ll be in good, laid-back company.

Arnott’s is a great place to base your Hilo related adventures, as it a bit out of town and away from the traffic. You can walk to a rocky beach (the only kind in Hilo), and the highly recommended Ken’s House of Pancakes is just down the road. Hilo is really comprised of two different towns: the historic downtown on the northwest side and the more modern, big-box retail and residential center on the east side. Arnott’s is sufficiently apart from both of these to let you get away from the hustle and bustle after spending all day exploring the nearby natural sites.

If there is one knock against Arnott’s Lodge, it must be the surly staff and the list of rules that you have to agree to in order to check in. This was the only place we stayed were the staff did not seem welcoming or even happy to see you. No real aloha spirit here. And it is obvious that Arnott’s has suffered in the past for poor guest behavior, and a long collection of rules and restrictions greet you at the check-in desk, instead of a smiling face. When we asked about how late we could check in, we were told that we would have to pay an extra $5, per person, to check in between 8 and 10 PM, and it was impossible to check in after 10. This, after Backpackers Hawaii left our key in a box next to the office, complete with a map of how to find our room.

If you don’t mind being treated less than kindly, Arnott’s is a good deal, and you will enjoy their clean, orderly place. Somewhat Recommended

Pineapple Park
Kona area, Big Island, Hawaii

81-6363 Mamalahoa Hwy, Kealakekua, Hawaii
877-800-3800 – 808-323-2224 – park@aloha.net

This is a good place to explore the Kona region, on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii. You’ll find Pineapple Park near the turn-off to Napo’opo’o Road in Captain Cook, which takes you down to Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument. This is particularly good place if you are into the various adventure sports available in the area, especially kayaking, snorkeling (don’t forget the sunscreen!), and hiking. You can even rent a kayak the night before and be ready to hit the bay around 7 AM, when the Spinner dolphins are usually around and playful.

The staff is friendly and very helpful. They live on-site, so they are always eager to do anything to make your stay more comfortable. If you are looking to cook, whether to save money or try your hand with some of the local fish, the communal kitchen works well, and an gas bar-b-que is available.

Be prepared for some very busy traffic along Highway 11, with stop-and-go all the way from Keokea to Kailua-Kona, including the area just in front of Pineapple Park. Getting into and out of the place, as well as just moving around the local area, can take longer than you would think.

The only weird thing about Pineapple Park is that guests that pay for the private rooms are allowed to congregate on the upstairs patio, while folks that rent dorm or semi-private rooms have to stay down on the shaded lanai, near the BBQ grill. It isn’t clear why this is necessary, but it didn’t bother us much. Then again, we were allowed up on the patio. Recommended

Mindy’s Affordable Rental
West Kauai, Hawaii

808-337-9275

Mindy’s is the best value we experienced in Hawaii. It was hard to leave this place. Located in Kekaha, Mindy’s is a second-floor apartment over a private home. You can walk 2 blocks to a deserted beach perfect for traditional Hawaiian paddle surfing. (Or, in our case, the perfect place to watch traditional Hawaiian paddle surfing.)

There are so many wonderful things to say about Mindy’s, but let me try to hit some of the highlights:

  1. Clean – This is no musty, over-used efficiency apartment. You get the feeling like you are staying a really nice guest house that is meticulously maintained.
  2. Breezy – Mindy’s doesn’t have AC, but you don’t need it. The coastal breezes keep the apartment comfortable.
  3. Great lanai – There is a BBQ grill, if you want to cook out, or if you just want to veg, the porch gets great sun in the morning.
  4. Great Internet access – OK, I know that you didn’t go on vacation to get online, but if you do want to email the folks back at home, Mindy’s has a fast, easy connection for you.
  5. Friendly hosts – You get the sense that Mindy and Dave really care and want you to enjoy your trip to Hawaii.

The south and west sides of Kauai have a lot of offer, and while most folks make a beeline for the north side or stay in the confines of their resort, only venturing to the west side to see Waimea Canyon, there is a lot more to experience that you might imagine. A place like Mindy’s puts you in the middle of the action, halfway between Polihale State Park with its wild beach in the west and the calmer, perfect waves of Poipu in the south. The towns of Waimea and Hanapepe are only minutes away, but the traffic is much calmer in Kekaha and the stars at night, well, they have to be seen to be believed. Highly recommended

Wainiha Oceanview Apartment
Wainiha, North Kauai, Hawaii

808-826-5566

If you are staying outside of the east coast on Kauai, you are probably looking at staying in a guest house or a timeshare condo, particularly on the north side. If we learned one thing about finding lodging in Hawaii, it is book early, preferably months in advance of when you arrive. Needless to say, we did not book early on the north side of Kauai, but we did find a good place to stay (though at a pretty steep price).

If possible, try to stay west of the busy hamlet of Hanalei. As you drive toward the Na Pali coast from Hanalei, the road gets narrower and the number of 1-lane bridges increases. Unfortunately, the amount of traffic on the road, at least during the middle of the day, also increases, as folks cruise out to the end of the road in their Ford Mustang convertibles and other rental cars to go snorkeling at Ke’e Beach or Tunnels Beach.

There are two apartments on the same property at this location, one facing the ocean and the other in the back part of the lot. There is a beach just across the road, and you can look across huge breakers coming into a mostly sand beach to see Princeville across the bay. Just a beautiful spot, and you can see it all from your living room. Very sweet!

The ocean apartment features a hot and cold shower outside (very nice after coming back from an early morning swim), as well as a nice partly-shady front yard and laundry facilities. The drawbacks to this space are few: small kitchen with only a mini-fridge, somewhat uncomfortable furniture, and strange lack of any wireless signals there (no cell or radio signals were available – but you can get cell phone service on the beach across the road). These are minor annoyances, and once you take in the view from the front of the apartment, you will forget all about them. Recommended

Kauai, Hawaii – The North Side

Kilauea LighthouseIt was hard to leave Mindy’s and the wonderful southwest side of Kauai, but we had a reservation in Wainiha on the north side that we had to keep. Especially given the cost of where we were staying, which we had to pay in advance to even keep our reservation! Because Kauai does not have a road that goes all the way around (which actually is a good thing – it keeps development in the fragile northwest portion of the island to a minimum), we had to circle the island, passing through the traffic messes that are Lihu’e and Kapa’a.

We stopped in Kilauea to check out the lighthouse and accompanying Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, which was an unexpected treat. This place is a haven for birds (and bird lovers), where you can see the Pacific golden plover, Laysan Albatross, and the Nene (the official Hawai’ian state bird), all in one place, with a wonderful old, white lighthouse set before the pounding Pacific. The US government built the lighthouse in 1912, and it remained in operation through 1974, when a more modern, automated lighting system took over.

kath at Ke’e Beach

When we arrived in Wainiha, we finally got an idea of just far we had come from the bustle of the east side of Kauai. Past Hanalei, the pace really slows down, with an increase in the number of one-lane bridges and a road than runs for long stretches in a winding trail just above the ocean. Our rental place looked out over Kepuhi Beach, which was good for more than just the view and the nice breezes. It turns out that we were backed into a kind of chasm which kept out almost all radio waves, including cell phones and wifi. Even the FM and AM didn’t work. To get email during the 5 days we were there, we headed across the road to the beach, where the iPhone could barely get a signal, probably from Princeville, across Hanalei Bay. We actually loved the remoteness, and the lack of instant Internet access helped us get away from it all, even more.

Hanalei Church

We spent most of our time on the north side relaxing on beaches and snorkeling or swimming in the waters just off of them. This area of Kauai is a beach-goer’s paradise. From Queen’s Bath to Hideaways to Wai’oli on Hanalei Bay to Kepuhi, Tunnels, Ha’ena, and Ke’e beaches toward the end of highway 560, you could spend a month lounging on north shore beaches and not be bored with scenery. I’ll talk more about the beaches in a future posting, but all of them, without exception, were incredible. It rained a bit during different times of the day, but the sun was always shining in a half-hour or so, and we never had to leave the beach due to the weather.

kath at Hanakapi’ai Beach

We took a great hike along the Kalalau Trail, which starts at the end of the road, at Ke’e Beach. While only 11 miles long, this is some of the most challenging, literally breathtaking, and visually stunning hiking in the world. While we only went a couple of miles in, to Hanakapi’ai Beach (the furthest you can go without a camping permit), the hike really stoked our sense of adventure. We really felt like we were seeing one of the wild places of the world, much like our hike in December 2005 through Abel Tasman in New Zealand. The ocean crashes into the beach with tremendous force, as the coastline come right out of the water and the beach is only there because of a river that runs through the chasm. We found a sea cave just to the west of the beach, filled with nesting sea birds. While we were exhausted when we got back, the hike left me wanting to see more of the coastline.

Na Pali coast with a rainbow

Wai’ale’ale Crater waterfallsTo this end, we took a helicopter tour of the entire island just before catching our series of flights home. This allowed us to float above the Na Pali rugged coastline and see many places that it is impossible to get to by hiking or taking a boat.

While it cost a lot, the helicopter trip was definitely worth it. Circling the Wai’ale’ale Crater, surrounded by a dozen waterfalls streaming down a thousand feet, well, that was simply incredible. It’s another place that is impossible to describe with words or pictures.

Traditionally, the area was kapu (taboo) and people were forbidden to enter. Even floating around inside the crater in a helicopter with the doors off, I could get a sense of the magic, and I was filled with wonder.

Manawaiopuna Falls

Waimea Canyon from the helicopter

kath in the helicopter

truk and kath in the helicopter

More photos of the Hawaii trip can be seen here

Kauai, Hawaii – The West Side

Kath and I are back in Memphis now, after what seems like one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. Coming back to Memphis was actually a little depressing. I love Memphis, don’t get me wrong, but when you’ve been used to staring at incredible beauty day after day, for more than two weeks, the endless strip malls and crumbling streets can really weigh you down.

It is probably best to break up a description of Kauai into one part covering the west and south sides of the island and another part featuring the northern coastline, as we stayed in both areas. This part will focus on the Waimea area in the southwest region of Kauai, were we were based for 4 days.

We stayed at a guesthouse loft in Kekaha called Mindy’s, which turned out to the best value place for the entire trip. Mindy and Dave were great hosts, and they really went out of their way to make us feel welcome. We could walk a few to the Kekaha Beach Park and watch the paddle surfers or take a refreshing swim anytime we felt the urge.

kath and truk at sunset in Kekaha

However, there was a lot to see all over Kauai, especially on the western side, so we spent a lot of time roaming around and taking it in. We drove (in our rental car – a yellow, PT Cruiser – ugh, terrible choice made by Dollar) to the end of Highway 50 on the west side, behind the back of the Pacific Missile Range Facility and close enough to Polihale State Park to know where the best sunsets could be seen.

Waimea Canyon

The next day, we checked out the Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park areas. The views on all of the roads around the canyon, particular the Waimea Canyon Drive are just stunning. Save an entire day for this activity, if you want to get out and do some short hikes, stop at most of the scenic overlooks, and drive down one of the ridge roads. While the views are breathtaking, perhaps the magical part involved the ever-changing weather and flora that you encounter just off the main roads.

kath at Koke’e walking through clouds

We walked about a mile past the Pu’u o Kila lookout and watched the clouds blow over the ridge, stream through us, and back down the other side, down into the Kalalau Valley, a place we would see from the air a week later.

Kalalau Valley, Kauai

While most folks hit a few of the overlooks and head back for the beach, we lingered along the Makaha Ridge Road, stopping just before the Makaha Ridge Tracking Station to snap some pics. This area is completely remote and empty, except for swooping birds and the crushing sounds of the ocean 1000 feet below. I only wish we had thought to bring a picnic…

Mekaha Ridge, overlooking the Pacific

We spent another relaxing day in Po’ipu, which is largely a resort and residential area. Normally, this would not have been my first choice, but as we came to discover on Hawaii, while no one owns the beach, most of the best beaches are surrounded by development, and there is no way to totally avoid it, if you want a sandy beach experience reachable without a long hike. The Po’ipu Beach Park and Brennecke Beach consistently win awards as some of the best beaches in the world, and it wasn’t hard to see why. There is some decent snorkeling from the beach at Po’ipu, and I made it over to a sandy island and almost stepped on a monk seal. Apparently, I’m not the first person to encounter the wildlife here… In the breakers, just beyond the protective sea wall, you can view sea turtles coming up for air as they ride the waves only feet away from bodyboarders. While the Grand Hyatt Kauai and many vacation homes keep this area full of vacationers year-round, we never felt crammed in by people. There is plenty of space and lots to do all around Po’ipu.

Brennecke Beach, Kauai

Wailua FallsOn our way around to the north side of the island, we stopped at Wailua Falls. This sight, while beautiful, wasn’t really worth the drive out of Lihu’e. In a way, it broke the spell that Kauai put on us (and which we badly needed). There is just so much to do on the island that you feel a little overwhelmed. There is beauty everywhere you look. I mean, munching on a $1.50 hot dog in the Costco parking lot, you are staring up at the amazing Ha’upu Range. You can’t get away from it. Wailua Falls brought us back down to earth, and we were finally able to enjoy the majesty of the island without the pressure to see every sight and enjoy every activity, because we knew that not everything would live up to our expectations. But almost everything else on the island did…

Click here for more photos of the Hawaii trip

Kauai = Paradise?

We haven’t been able to post anything for the past few days, as we are on the very edge of cell signal (and civilization) at our current place, but that has afforded us more time to enjoy the paradise that is Kauai.

We have been hanging out at a different beautiful beach every day, catching rays and snorkeling, gazing at fascinating fish and turtles, and avoiding traffic jams and other people as much as possible. We even hiked a part of the incredible Na Pali coast to a wild beach and discovered a hidden cave along the coast.

It is hard to believe we have to leave tomorrow. Usually, I’m quite ready by this point to return to civilization. But, here, in this still wild end of Hawaii, I don’t believe I’ve seen a tenth of its magic. I now know why people come back year after year…

Posted by iPhone from Kepuhi Beach

Kayaking on the Big Island of Hawaii – Sunburned and Fancy Free

“Are you Japanese, sir?”

These are some of the first words I heard, as we prepared to cross Kealakekua Bay in our rented ocean kayak, hoping to approach the dying place of (Captain) James Cook and, perhaps, the finest snorkeling on Hawaii.

Bay

Where to start? Kath is a a cultural anthropologist, studying urban Aborigines in Australia, and her particular emphasis is on the Kooris in La Perouse, in the northern mouth of Botany Bay, Sydney. This is the same place that Cook first landed in Australia. In fact, if you look across the bay from where she spend endless afternoons, gathering stories from the locals and trying to gain the understandings of the folks clustered around Yarra Bay House, you will see the place where Captain Cook first landed on Terra Australis, though he didn’t really realize what it was. There are stories within the local Aboriginal inhabitants, some of which cover Cook’s initial landing and the reception that resulted, including Aborigines lobbing stones at the English, trying fruitlessly to drive them back into the sea. During the year that we spend in Australia among various Aboriginal groups, I heard over and over again that La Perouse is where “the bastards let Cook ashore.” As if Cook was the worst of their problems, then and now.

But what were we gubbas to think upon getting so close to the exact placement of Cook’s death?

After leading 3 largely successful expeditions of the Pacific for the the Crown, Cook was killed, quite ungracefully, on the volcanic beach at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii, across from the current harbor, where his body was, well, cut up and preserved by the victorious Hawaiians, in the method that they would afford a great leader, before portions of it were returned to the HMS Resolution for a proper burial at sea, only after a demand by the crew. (There is too much to this fascinating story to relate here; for details, check out Wikipedia’s take on this event.)

Kath by the kayakFor our part, we rented an ocean kayak and some snorkeling equipment the night before from Pineapple Park (our kindly hotel up the road from the Bay), and we arrived early, hoping to spend some time with the spinner dolphins of the Bay. We watched them for about an hour and then started progressing toward the monument site. Half-way across, we seemed to cross through the dolphin nursery, where the baby spinners were being guarded by one adult while the remainders fed, under the annoying, watchful eye of swimming tourists making marine mammal songs on their own (seriously). It was very cool, the little baby dolphins following us, curious, but too afraid to breach or even show much more than a fin.

But, before we could even get the kayak into the water, we had to navigate the locals, which are way more active on a beach than I would be at 7 in the morning. One woman stopped to help us get the kayak into the water, and then helped us get our seats connected right, after my intuitive just-go-by-feel was obviously a failure. I had the seats upside down, which is apparently a common thing that Japanese do all over Hawaii (getting things situated upside down, apparently), thereby earning me the infamous question. But, despite the embarrassment, we got underway and got what we were promised: some of the best snorkeling I could imagine, especially right off a tall landmass and island.

Turtle

Kath and I stayed, tucked away on a little volcanic spit, until the mid-afternoon. By this time, I was fully ripened by my repeated trips into the water with snorkel and fins attached, and my back was stinging through the dried salt around my sunburn. We powered our way back to the dock and out of the water. The lady that wondered if I was Japanese was still there, directing traffic and wandering around to help newcomers. She really did personify Aloha.

The next day (July 10th), we spent wandering around the northeast portion of Hawaii, including some stunning beaches (such as Beach 69), before heading over the Saddle Road back to Hilo, where a plane was due to take us to Kuaui. We ended the day walking through Coconut Island with Kath, reflecting on our time in Hilo and wondering why it had to end.

From our first impressions of Kauai, it is a complete paradise. The sunsets are stunning, the pole surfers are mesmerizing , and red clay captivating. More later, as we figure more out about this place.

Kauai west coast

See more photos of the Hawaii trip here

Liquid Rock – The Volcano National Park – Hawaii

We spent most of the past few days exploring the Hawai’i Volcanos National Park. This (very) gradually expanding park features a lot to see and do, if by see, you mean look at expanses of black hardened lava, dormant calderas, and a few steam vents, and if by do, you mean hike around and baiting dehydration. We did a little of both, and it was really worth it.

truk in a lava field in Puna, Hawaii

We happened to come at a time when no lava is actively flowing down into the sea. On June 17th, after several years of pretty steady activity, part of the active Pu’u ‘O’o eruption area collapsed into itself, effectively sealing the lava flow off and causing the lava to only build up in one inaccessible area rather than sliding down the hillside to a place where we could get to it. Eventually, the lava will build up and overflow, probably creating a new path down to the ocean, but for now, there was nothing really to see other than the historical wrath of Pele. Thankfully, there was a lot of that to take in.

For the driving public, the park basically consists of 2 roads, one that leads around the crater and another that leads down from the crater to the sea. We took both, making sure to stop and take in the stark beauty as often as possible. While it would have been great to have gotten close to some active lava flows – particularly to cook some lava chicken – we actually got a chance to spend more time just taking in the landscape, which is amazing in its own right.

Before making it into the park, we explored the east side of the Big Island, in an area called Puna. This is a place of small, winding, one-lane roads that lead through stretches of lava fields and mangrove swamps, by seemingly suicidal surfers and ancient trees cooked by lava flows, whose crust now stands nearly immortal.

Surfers at Puna

When we picked up the rental car, the Hawaiian lady behind the counter asked me where we were going, and when I mentioned that Puna was one of our destinations, she said, “Why? There’s nothing there. I live there; I should know.” A clever trick to keep a haole from discovering a slice of paradise or ignorance about one’s home? Who knows; all I can say is that, if you get the chance to go, definitely do it. There is something about walking across an expanse of 40-year old lava to the edge of the pounding ocean, far away from park rangers, common sense, and, well, probably legality.

kath and truk at the Kileua Caldera

Inside the park, we walked to the end of the road, literally, where a 2003 lava flow covered up the highway through the park. It is a strange thing to see asphalt covered by a more organic but harder surface. The National Park Service really tries to strike a balance between allowing people to really get up close to really pretty dangerous areas without letting them go all out and hurt themselves. By looking at the flow’s expanse over the highway, a thing we can all visualize and understand, you can really get a sense of just how much liquid rock moved through that area. It is unlikely that highway will ever be cleared and rebuilt to connect with Puna.

Kath at the end of the road

Today, walked through a 500 year-old lava tube, traipsed through a micro-rainforest on the side of the Mauna Loa (the largest volcano on Earth), watched a tiny lizard eat jelly out of a disposable packet, peered across the bay where Captain Cook was killed, drank way too much Kona coffee, and walked around a Hawaiian traditional kapu site, watching gigantic turtles looking back at us in crystal clear tidal pools. The day ended eating fresh wild-caught tuna steaks that I cooked behind our hostel, along with an organic salad and fresh edamame, while watching the sun gradually sink into the Pacific.

More photos of the Hawaii trip are here

Island Hopping

Haliewa churchThe morning of July 5th was spent rushing around, complete with an expedition and exploration of downtown Wahiawa, in the center of Oahu. The afternoon, while less exciting, revealed some of the more subtle charms of the North Shore, making me wish we had more than a couple of days to experience it.

We visited the historic town of Haliewa, which serves as the traditional gateway to the North Shore from the business side of the island, Honolulu, Waikiki, and Pearl Harbor. Haliewa is just the kind of place that you want to help get you in the mood to be away from the the hustle and bustle of 8-lane highways. One of our first stops was at Matsumoto’s store, which serves perhaps the best Hawaiian shaved ice in all of the islands. There is a permanent line there, stringing along the road, just hoping to get in for a $2 treat, and it was well worth the wait.

We checked out the beaches on the west side of the North Shore, but they were a little rough for our tastes, so we headed back to Backpackers Hawaii spend the rest of the afternoon at nearby (and utterly perfect) Waimea Bay. Our hostel, Backpacker’s Hawaii, was directly across from the Three Tables beach (excellent for snorkeling or diving; just throw on your gear and jump in) and near Shark’s Cove and Banzai Pipeline. Waimea Bay was only a 200-yard walk downhill. I can really see how the locals can get used to this. Quickly.

Kath at Wiamea Bay

On July 6th, we headed back to the airport for the hop to Hilo, on the Big Island, officially known as Hawaii. Hilo is in the northeast and, therefore, windward side of Hawaii, and the amount of rain delivered by the moisture-laden trade winds keeps the entire area soaked most of the year. Luscious green plants are everywhere, clinging to every waterfall and providing sensory overload, even for the most amateur botanist.

truk struggles with KoreanHilo’s Lyman House Memorial Museum was recommended to us as a way to get some context for what we would see on the Big Island. While most of the museum was obviously geared for kids, they did have a fascinating exhibit on clothing of the 1930’s and 40’s from Japan, Britain, and the US that featured patriotic war motifs. Freaky little kidwear featuring tanks and airplanes dropping bombs, things like that. There was also an exhibit about traditional Korean life, but I spent most of my time there spell-checking the older Korean texts.

As we plan to check out Puna and the volcano area tomorrow, we spent the remainder of the day checking out Rainbow Falls and then making our way along the Hamakua Coast, which stretches out 40 miles or so the north and west of Hilo. After meandering around deep gullies and through natural botanical gardens, we ended up at the end of the road, the incredible Waipi’o Valley Lookout. (Only 4-wheel drive vehicles can continue on from there, and something told me the rental Chevy Malibu was just not going to cut it.) The only thing that could complete with that view might be the small Hawaiian woman who had to be in her 80’s that we overheard say that she still walked down to the Waipi’o Beach from the lookout (15 minutes) and back (45 minutes) every day.

Waipio Lookout

In Hilo, we discovered a new type of cuisine, and we aren’t even sure what to call it. It is definitely Polynesian-inspired, but there is a multi-ethnic twist to it, with a lot of Japanese, Korean, and Filipino influences. We tried the Loco Moco, which is white, sticky rice in a bowl, covered with brown gravy and topped with meat (fish or sausage or something else) and a couple of eggs, cooked whatever way you want. (Some photos and reviews of the food are here.) Yummy. Very tasty. Tonight, we checked out Kuhio Grill, where I had something called “siamin,” which is an Hawaiian noodle soup, usually served with cabbage, spam, thinly sliced eggs, and all in an egg broth. The flavors really echoed the waves of immigration that have flowed to these islands over the past 500 years. Rarely can a multicultural society be summed up in a single dish, but there you have it. If you get a chance, try the saimin.

Click here for more photos of the Hawaii trip

A World Away

Beaches on the east coast of OahuKath and I made it to Honolulu yesterday evening, after traveling all day from Memphis. All is well, and we are currently ensconced on the North Shore, waiting for the big waves that will never come, at least not this month. (Because this is summer… Idiot… Idiot…) All of the big waves come in the winter on the North Shore, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying it. In fact, due to the largely empty, placid beaches, we probably enjoyed it more.

No, actually, I knew that the waves would be calm on the North Shore before we booked. I just wanted away from the hectic 4-day package crowd down in Waikiki, and the (relatively) isolated North Shore seems just the ticket. Plus, it would be a great place to escape to after a long day.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself… First, I have to tell you about the generosity and hospitality of Jeff and Katy, who shepherded us from SFO to the ferry terminal for a superb meal.

Well, actually, I need to step back and thank Stephen for taking us to the airport early on the 3rd. The man has a car in the shop, yet he still found the time to get us to the airport on time. A true friend…

Katy, Jeff, and Kath at the Ferry Terminal, San FranciscoJeff came and met us at baggage pickup at SFO, but we really didn’t have any baggage, since all our luggage was already checked through to Honolulu. Instead, we could focus on chatting with Jeff, and Katy met up with us down at the ferry terminal so that we could all share an enjoyable meal. Jeff took us back to SFO in time for our next flight, and we continued one of our longest days (at least, by timezone switching), ending up with a rental car at Backpackers Hawaii with a key in an envelope in a drop box. We saw nothing terribly beautiful on the darkness that had already enveloped Oahu.

On July 4th, we determined to take advantage our limited time on Oahu and quickly circled the island, ending up near enough to Waikiki. We saw some amazing things, particularly on the “windward coast” (facing the trade winds), in northeast Oahu. There is still something of the spirit of the old Hawaii on these islands, if you know where to find it. The trouble is, though, that the spirit is gradually getting harder and harder to find… (Thanks, Turtle Bay Resort… and Waikiki…)

After several cramped and long hours in Waikiki trying to get a contrast to the rest of the trip, Kath and I made it back to the car (we had to stash it at a mall, as there didn’t seem to be on free parking spot anywhere on Waikiki) to prepare our getaway. Being July 4th, everyone (and, by that, I mean almost everyone) would be near the water.

Waikiki on July 4th

We rushed back from Waikiki to make an excursions with some of the folks from Backpacker’s Hawaii. Basically, we could not pass on a a July 4th celebration, Hawaii-style. Bar-b-que, fireworks, and good conversation was held at the Schofield Barracks at the center of Hawaii, and after showing ID to the MPs, we were allowed into what is basically a military stronghold complete with pretty stiff protection. And we did not fit in (but that didn’t matter) … 🙂

July 4th at Schofield Barracks

Thanks to Craig, Brian, Josh, and everyone else at the hostel for inviting us along and allowing us to celebrate the 4th with them. It was a blast!

Click here for more photos of the Hawaii trip

Support Jesse Morrison Over Cowardly Malco

A few days ago, our friend Jesse Morrison, an employee at our local Malco theater, was suspended for writing a negative (and likely very correct) review of the new Fantastic Four movie, Rise of the Silver Surfer.

Today’s Commercial Appeal is carrying the story.

Please visit Jesse’s site, Memflix and Beyond, for more details about the circumstances of Jesse’s situation. The story, essentially, is that Jesse worked as a projectionist when Rise of the Silver Surfer was shown at a trade screening. As he has done many other times, Jesse watched the film he was screening and then, later on his own time, wrote a review of it and posted it online. 20th Century Fox found out about the review when it received coverage on Ain’t It Cool, a popular news site, and contacted a Vice-President at Malco to complain. The VP at Malco called Jesse and suspended him, even though Malco knew that Jesse wrote these reviews. Jesse’s excellent free newsletter, Memflix, which contains his reviews and other info about Memphis cinema, is distributed at Malco locations.

If, like me, you feel that Malco should, at least, tell their employees not to write reviews or have them sign a non-disclosure agreement before they basically fire them for writing a review of a movie, especially when they have been doing that same thing for years, please visit their Contact page and let them know.

UPDATE: The Commercial Appeal is reporting that Jesse has been allowed to come back to work by Malco, but Jesse will be moving on in 2 weeks. Thanks to everyone that contacted Malco on Jesse’s behalf!

Larry and Michelle Get Married

Kath and I just got back from Larry and Michelle’s wedding on Shelter Island, NY, which was a wonderful affair, enjoyed by all.

We flew into La Guardia on Friday and explored a swath of Harlem with our friends Melissa and Rob, who share a great apartment near 113th Street and Lenox Ave. We ate West African food in the afternoon and poked around the more secluded areas of the northern section of Central Park, before heading into the Upper West Side for some serious window shopping. Later, we ate some Ethiopian food (yes, it was an all-African meal day) before turning in so that we could get up early to catch the train out to the east end of Long Island.

Kath on the roof of the MetMelissa turned us on to something that is something of an underground NYC thing. Apparently, there are some pretty cool spots to unwind after the long work day is over in the city that most folks, including native New Yorkers, aren’t really aware of. For example, on Fridays after 5 PM, during the summer, you can get to the 4th floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art via one of the elevators in the back, and a doorman will escort you to a little stairway the leads to the roof of the building, where a bar and 150 or so of your new best friends are waiting. The views are outstanding, with about 200 degrees of visibility, including looking over the park. You feel like you are looking out at building poking up through a lush, green carpet.

Anyway, this post is really about the wedding, which was excellent. This was our first real “East Coast Wedding.” Though I had heard about them before, I didn’t really think that a wedding could go on so long and yet remain so fun and worthwhile. After all, I hail from the South, where we actually get invited to potluck weddings. Yes, where the guests actually bring a dish, along with their wedding gift, which may or may not be something they whittled.

Michelle and LarryThe East Coast Wedding is much more formal affair, complete with a sit-down dinner that goes on for hours and festivities between each of the courses. The 6-hour open bar also helps ratchet up the entertainment. Larry and Michelle were outstanding hosts, going out of their way to make sure we had everything we needed, and the rain held off until after everyone was back to their cabins at the Pridwin, one of the best places to stay on Shelter Island.

Anyway, my thanks goes out to Larry and Michelle for allowing us to share this experience with them. We all really enjoyed it.

Another Fun Memorial Day at the Parker’s Lakehouse

Big thanks go out to the Parkers for putting us up again for what has been a long-standing tradition, Memorial Day at the Lakehouse.

Crusing in the boat

We all had a blast, though we continued a trend (which started when most of us entered our 30’s, strangely enough) where we actually bring more beer for the weekend than we could actually drink. Sigh. I guess that is just another example of getting older.

It definitely isn’t an example of maturity, that’s for sure…

Click here to check out the other photos from that weekend.

DEFCON, the Game?

I just discovered a relatively fun, if someone disturbing, computer game that struck a chord in me. Published by Ambrosia Software and developed by Introversion, the game DEFCON has an interesting catchphrase: “Everybody dies.” And they are aren’t kidding.

DEFCON Opening Screen

From the splash screen to the beautifully rendered game pieces and playing area, the attention to detail lets you know that you are in for a treat. Basically, the idea behind the game is to simulate the 1983 film WarGames, which features a teenager that accidentally breaks into a top-secret, US military warfare simulation computer looking for a unreleased videogame to play. In the movie, the computer almost causes World War III. However, in DEFCON, World War III happens every game; you can’t stop it.

You begin at DEFCON 5, where you can place your pieces, including air bases, radar stations, missile silos, battleships, aircraft carriers, and nuclear submarines, throughout your territory. Placement, as well as the missions you assign to each piece, are critical to winning the game, as you have less control over movement as the game goes along. As in WarGames, the computer moves you from DEFCON level to DEFCON level, rather swiftly getting to DEFCON 1, which means nuclear weapons are cleared for launch.

DEFCON: It’s On!

If you launch your ICBMs and bombers too early without destroying the defenses of the other side, you will likely not hit the enemy silos, meaning that your cities are vulnerable. However, if you wait too long to launch a crushing blow, most of you missiles will be destroyed in their silos. As in a real Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) scenario, the game is nothing more than a somewhat complicated game of Chicken, with millions of lives at stake. Well, virtual lives. But this game evokes more than the standard level of engagement when you see your hometown erupt in white light and the casualty number glows below it. “Memphis: 1.1 Million Dead.” Yikes. I guess I shouldn’t have launched my full attack so soon, eh? Sorry about that, pals…

DEFCON brought up memories of hours spent playing a Mac game called Strategic Conquest in the early-1990s. Much like DEFCON, Strategic Conquest didn’t show you what the enemy was doing until it was usually too late to stop it, and both games have nukes. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two, though, is that I always played StratCon with the idea of trying to avoid nukes and wipe out the other sides using conventional weapons. In DEFCON, nukes are the point. The unimaginable actually happens in every game. You can’t win if you don’t nuke. And if you don’t nuke, you’ll get nuked. Everybody dies, indeed.

DEFCON: Game Over

DEFCON has a limited demo mode that will let you play the full game but only with non-human players or as an observer of other games happening simultaneously on the Internet. Unlocking the full game is only $25, but you don’t need to buy it to really enjoy some human vs. computer action, which is really more in the spirit of WarGames.

Perhaps the only way to win at DEFCON, as was pointed out by the computer in WarGames, “is not to play.” But with a such an elegant yet simple game that can easily prove addictive, choosing not to play is harder than you think.

A Sunday Afternoon at the Old Millington Winery

The Sunday afternoon drive. Before the time of expensive gasoline, gridlock, crumbling roads, and suburban sprawl, many folks considered the Sunday afternoon drive the pinnacle of their week, a great time for the family to spend time together and take in the majesty of country scenery and some much needed fresh air.

Well, those days are largely gone now, but a sub-culture of Sunday ramblers still exists. For example, soccer moms might catch of glimpse of Harley-riding CFOs in their mid-40s while filling up the minivan and buying some snacks for the big game. Around Memphis on Saturday morning, the roads with longer stretches start crawling with cyclists on $1000 bikes, and they stick around to almost sundown on Sunday. Convinced that I wasn’t taking full advantage of the gorgeous weather this weekend, I elected to join them and see some of pre-sprawl Memphis with some friends in my Jeep Wrangler (which hasn’t had its soft-top on for over a year, I’m proud to say).

Completely by luck, Pete Big Bear, Dave, and I stumbled on what we can easily see becoming a weekly event. While cruising down U.S. Highway 51, a green highway sign for a “Winery” caught our eye, followed with “Live Music on Sunday” right below. Curious, we turned around, heading down a tiny, shaded two-lane that eventually dumped right in front of what looked like a family reunion.

Old Millington Winery SignOld Millington Winery [map] has been around since 2000, but few people in Memphis even know it exists. The feature some good, inexpensive fruit and sweet wines, including Muscadine (called Dancing Goat), Blush Muscadine, Strawberry, Peach, and Blackberry. They also offer a red port, made from West Tennessee grapes, as well as some decent table wines, red and white. Owned by Perry and Carrie Welch, Old Millington Winery is as proud of the quality that goes into making their wine as they are of the award-winning product.

If the Sunday afternoon music events are any indication, the annual Oktoberfest events must be a blast. (The next one is scheduled for October 14th, 2007.) If October is too far off for you, they have a Big Crawfish Boil on May 20th. In addition to perfectly chilled wine and some great tunes from Corey Osborne and friends, if you are hungry, you can get some homemade hot wings and turkey legs from some folks cooking right outside, featuring a grill with a hydraulic lift you just have to see to believe.

Visitor Center at Old Millington WineryWhile you may not think of it as a wine producing region, Tennessee actually features more than 20 production wineries. However, most of these wineries are in the cooler eastern half of the state, in or near the Smokey Mountains. Perhaps the best wineries in the western 1/3rd of the state, other than Old Millington Winery, include Cordova Cellars (in Cordova) and Old Medina Winery (in Jackson).

Well, I think I know where I’ll be going on my next Sunday drive…