About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

Hawaii, Chapter 4: Stay & Work!

This morning I got my things together and was in the process of checking out, a couple of hours away from my departure back to the mainland, when Laina, working the reception counter, surprisingly asked, "You're leaving already?  Want to stay and work?"  I said heck yes!  After a phone call to my friend Thomas back in Long Beach, California, confirming it would be alright to leave my car in his family's driveway while staying here in Maui for a while, I agreed to work 16 hours a week (housekeeping) in exchange for a bunk in the staff quarters.  I'd train this Wednesday and Thursday, and start first Monday morning, my shift being 9am-1pm, four random days a week, for a month.

The next month was a mix of scrubbing toilets and having fun.  I didn't have my rental car anymore (too expensive), so I relied on the bus and other staff for transportation, which generally worked out fine.  I had a ball bonding with the other staff members and finding my place within them over the course of the next several weeks.  The crew:

Andy (maintenance) & Melanie (housekeeping) - andy stresses, melanie calms
Chase (head housekeeper) - sweet, intuitive, hula-hooping rocker
Émilie (housekeeping) - free-loving, happy-go-lucky hippie
Henry (tour guide) & Brittany (reception) - camera-carrying, karaoke-singing, cool kids
Isaac (tour guide) & Laina (manager) - kept everyone in line, included me in outings
Jason (maintenance) - free-diving, fire-breathing, non-drinking, alaskan wilderness captain
Jeremy (reception) - funny, stoned goofball, said i'm the coolest gay dude he's ever met 
John the gardener - quiet, private, pleasant, snores
Julia (housekeeping) - caring, hard-working zip-lining guide 
Ken (maintenance/reception) & Sarah (reception) - friendly, athletic, strong-minded
Martin (reception) - mysterious Argentinian
Matt (reception) - reminds me of me, only older, thinner, thriftier, drinks more, and straight
Mike (housekeeping) - soft-spoken, wise, always willing to help
Nadine (tour guide) - free-spirited, hula-hooping, life-loving, party animal hippie
Tour guide Mike- from stock broker to surfer dude, got me the job
Tristan (housekeeping) - thoughtful, friendly, will go out of his way for you

Hawaii, Chapter 3: Fun in the Sun!

Baldwin Beach, Maui

Tuesday, November 30th 
Today I checked into Banana Bungalow, an international youth hostel recommended to me by a local.  They offer awesome, free group tours all over Maui, all week long.  I thought this would be a good way to make friends with some fellow travelers, and I wouldn't have to worry anymore about if I'm going to have a place to stay every night.  It's $31 a night for a dorm room with anywhere from 4-6 bunks.  They gave me a key to my dorm room (4 bunks), and a little tour of the small property, which had a pretty cool layout, with a separate lounge building for socializing that included a pool table, foosball table, flat-screen television, kitchen, computers, wi-fi, and staff dorms, and in back of the grounds was a Tropical Garden with Picnic Tables, Hammocks and Seven-Person Jacuzzi Hot-Tub.  Looks like I'm all set :)  I'm all signed up for the group tour tomorrow and can't wait to see what it's like!

Oh, I am SO glad I thought to include ear plugs and blindfolds in my bag!  No, we're not having an earthquake - we have the snorer of the century in our room, lol.

Wednesday, December 1st
At around noon all of us bungalowers piled into the two big passenger vans, and my van got a little overview of the day's activities from our guide, Mike.  First impression: the quintessential, laid-back, tanned, surfer-looking dude, friendly and sociable.

Cliff-jumping off Black Rock!
Today was an all-day tour of west Maui. The tour drove along the western coast to the old whaling town of Lahaina, once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, where we rented snorkeling gear, and headed up to Ka'anapali to snorkel at Black Rock, or "Pu'u Keka'a," a prime place for snorkeling and cliff-jumping at the site of one of the last volcanic eruptions on Maui, which forms a great reef wall, dividing the beaches of Ka'anapali and Kahekili, that front the popular hotel resorts and Whaler's Village mall.  It's a popular tourist destination, but also a sacred place where ancient Hawaiians believed their spirits "jumped off" or left this world to join their ancestors.  The Sheraton Resort hosts a cliff-dive ceremony every evening at sunset, in which a cliff diver lights the torches along the cliff, and dives off of Black Rock in a reenactment of a feat by Maui’s revered King Kahekili.  It's a free show if you're at the beach at sunset ;)
"Honu" (Giant Green Sea Turtle)
The sugary sand of 3-mile-long Ka'anapali Beach has been rated one of the best beaches in the world by numerous travel publications, including Condé Nast magazine, and with the tourist season not quite yet here, I was pleasantly surprised to find it uncrowded.  It was my first time snorkeling, and once I got used to breathing only from my mouth, it was a blast!  The water was crystal clear, and I saw a spotted eagle ray, a plethora of bright, colorful fish, and "Volkswagon," the resident honu (giant green sea turtle) named for his hefty size!  After an eyeful in the warm, tropical waters, I cliff-jumped off Black Rock, and let me tell ya, it's not as easy as it looks when you're up there looking down about 25 feet into clear water, that looks so shallow!

Next we explored the peaceful grounds of the Jodo Mission back in Lahaina, a replica of an authentic Japanese Buddhist Temple, commemorating the first Japanese immigrants. The grounds feature a temple building, a 90-foot-tall tower, a 3,000 pound bell, and an enormous bronze Amida Buddha statue 12 feet high and roughly three and a half tons - the largest of its kind outside Japan.

Then we went over to the touristy Oceanfront area of Lahaina for some free time to browse the shops, art galleries, restaurants and historical sites.  I admired one of the country's largest banyan trees (60' high, with 12 major trunks in addition to a huge core that stretches over a 200-foot area and shades 2/3 of an acre!), and spent the rest of the time strolling down lively Front Street with Nelly, a friendly girl from Germany.

Thursday, December 2nd - First time body-boarding!
This morning the hostel guides took us snorkeling at one of their favorite spots by the Maui Prince hotel beach, in an area known as "Turtle Town."  We walked down to the south end of Maluaka Beach to the rocks at the end of the sand, where the coral reef starts, hopped in, and found a group of turtles within 5 minutes (in addition to many fish).  I'd say I saw about 5 turtles in all!

Next we spent some leisure time at nearby Makena Beach State Park, commonly referred to as "Big Beach," for its "nearly 2/3 of a mile long by 100 yards wide" stretch of sand!  Many of us went over climbed over the volcanic cinder cone hill to the second section of beach, known as "Little Beach," "Hawaii's most famous nude beach (and one of only a handful in the state)." Although technically illegal, it's not enforced. It has better swimming conditions than Big Beach, but no life guard coverage or facilities.  This was my second time at Little Beach; I was here on Sunday for "Hippie Church" with Austin.  With the beach being clothing optional, I'd say the ratio of clothed to unclothed is about 50/50 (tourists vs locals, lollol.  I spent a lot of time in the warm water body-boarding - FUN!  If you want to experience something new (life is short), go here!

The last stop of the day was in the town of Kihei.  I wandered through the large, local handcraft market, checked out the great happy hour and live music at South Shore Tiki Lounge, then joined the rest of the crew at Banana Bungalow's forever favorite, Life's a Beach Restaurant & Bar, loved for its live music and 1-Liter Mai Tai for $6! 

Friday, December 3rd - North Shore
Today's group tour was the north shore area of Paia, a former sugar cane plantation village  turned surfer town of colorful storefronts filled with local art galleries, shopping boutiques, restaurants, and a couple of great beaches within a few miles' distance.  At beautiful Baldwin Beach I watched some surfers, took some snapshots of my new friend Erica from D.C., and did some body-boarding.  Careful of the water's strong under current - my shoulder was sore the next few days!  

I worked up an appetite, so I followed the advice of tour guide Mike, and whether or not it's true that the fish is actually caught fresh the same morning as the day it's served, I no doubt had the best fish I've ever tasted at Paia Fish MarketMy mahi mahi burger which was literally dripping with flavorful juices, was actually worth the wait of the line out the door!

We finished out the day with a visit to Ho'okipa Beach Park, "The Windsurfing Capital of the World," a famous contest venue for two major world-class competitions, to watch the experts in action. 

Saturday, December 4th
Today we were gone hiking all day in the crater of Maui's Haleakala Volcano in Haleakala National Park - at over 10,000 feet high, it's above the clouds!  We left at about 8:30am for the incredible drive up Haleakala, a 37-mile drive up from sea level to the summit, one of the greatest elevation gains in the shortest distance in the world!  We experienced a wide array of climate zones as we passed through pasture land, exotic flower farms, and fragrant pine trees to reach the lava-covered summit.

Then the magic began - a 12-mile hike through the largest dormant volcano in the world!  We started at the Sliding Sands trailhead up at the summit's visitor center, then connected to Halemau'u Trail, lunched at Holua Cabin, and finished at the Halemau'u Trailhead.  From the desert-like landscape on the crater's floor, up to the sub-tropical rain forest, it was stunning.  Notable plant-life sightings included the Haleakala Silversword (found only here, it's one of the rarest plants in the world).  Wildlife encounters included the tenacious Chukar (they nearly hopped into our laps to grab the food from our hands!), and the protective Nene (an endangered goose found only in Hawaii, it's Hawaii's state bird).

I hiked alongside Nick most of the time, a friendly Australian living in Vancouver, B.C.  We got to know each other pretty well, and besides seeing some pretty awesome Hawaiian rainbows and scenery, we bared witness to a rare phenomenon: As we came upon the ledge of a mountainside and peered down the edge of the cliff, we saw my reflection staring back at us on the clouds, manifested as an enormous, magnified shadow, my upper torso centered within two halo-like, rainbow rings of light, my arms distorted as wings!  When tour guide Nadine came to see what all the fuss was about, the image disappeared.  Nick and I explained what we saw, to which Nadine responded, "Dude, you saw your aura!"  The Germans named this phenomenon "Brocken Spectre."  Native Hawaiians have called it "Ho'okuaka," and have likened the experience to seeing one's soul.

After the hike we hopped in the vans and drove over to nearby viewing area of Haleakala Observatories to watch the incredible sunset above the clouds (with the summit being a freezing 30 degrees colder than at sea level, thank god we dressed in layers!), before heading "home" to soothe our aching muscles in the outdoor jacuzzi. 

Fire-dancing at "Little Beach"
Sunday, December 5th
Today we all slept in, and I took my friend Nick into Paia for souvenirs for his girlfriend Rachel, before sadly driving him to the airport.  I went back the bungalow to join the others in taking a day off from hiking and adventure to relax at Makena's "Big Beach," and "Little Beach." "These beaches in southwest Maui are among the most beautiful in the Hawaiian islands. Big Beach is a large, white sand beach with some interesting body surfing. Do be careful of the surf! Many of us went over to Little Beach, which is hidden on the other side of a lava outcropping, and is clothing optional." There were people playing music, dancing, swimming, body-boarding, surfing, and other recreational activities... Our beach day ended with Maui's biggest sunset jam, right on the beach - a drum circle and fire-dancing! 

Monday, December 6th
This morning I and my fellow bungalowers stopped at nearby Kepaniwai Cultural Park, on the way to our tropical forest hike.  "This county park is a memorial to Maui's cultural roots, with picnic facilities and ethnic displays dotting the landscape. Among the displays are an early-Hawaiian hale (meeting house), a New England-style saltbox, a Portuguese-style villa with gardens, and dwellings from such other cultures as China and the Philippines.

Iao Needle
The cultural park was located right next to our destination, Iao Valley State Park, where we enjoyed a beautiful rain forest hike in one of Hawaii's most significant historical sites.  "This peaceful 4,000-acre, 10-mile long park is home to one of Maui's most recognizable landmarks, the 1,200-foot Iao Needle. This iconic green-mantled rock outcropping overlooks Iao stream and is an ideal attraction for easy hiking and sightseeing.

Aside from its natural tropical beautiful, sacred Iao Valley has great historical significance. It was here in 1790 at the Battle of Kepaniwai that King Kamehameha I clashed with Maui's army in his quest to unite the islands. Even with Iao Needle serving as a lookout point, Kamehameha defeated Maui's forces lead by King Kahekili in a ferocious battle that ultimately changed the course of Hawaiian history."

Mmm, Guava
We took the stream-side trail through the lush, tropical forest, up one of the valley walls, reaching a peak with amazing views of the valley overlooking the town of Wailuku.  Whenever we got hungry we just reached out and grabbed a snack from the trees - we tried guava, strawberry guava, kukui nuts, and Hawaiian raspberries!

On the way back down the trail, tour guide Mike told me I should consider a work-trade situation with the bungalow.  He said I'd be a good addition to the team and I'd love it, and that a couple of the staff might possibly be leaving within the coming weeks.

We ended the hike with a swim in the [freezing!] sacred Iao Valley Stream.

When I got back to the bungalow I talked briefly with Laina the manager, expressing my interest in a work-trade with the hostel :)

Tuesday, December 7th
Today while the bungalow was doing its group tour of the Road to Hana, my friends Jason from Alaska (a staff member) and Marie from Montreal did our own version, stopping to do some cool things that the organized tour doesn't offer:
Red Sand Beach
A "Rambo" hike through a thick bamboo forest, (where we tasted fresh coffee beans picked right from the tree!), boulder hopping up streams and rivers, climbing up ladders and ropes, and cliff-jumping
Collected fresh coconuts at Keanae Park
Stopped at a road-side stand for AMAZING fish tacos 
Nearly killed ourselves on the eroded, cliff-side walking trail to Red Sand Beach
Took a dip in Venus Pool, Maui's hidden gem
Got our feet wet at Ohe'o Gulch (aka "Seven Sacred Pools")
Continued driving around the back of the island into "Cowboy Country," and witnessed a spectacular sunset (past Hana the road is restricted by the rental car companies due its ruggedness - parts are unpaved, narrow, with large potholes and no gas stations, but I'm a rebel)


World-Traveling Gnome on Sand Sculpture
Polo Beach - At the recommendation of a friend, I went here one afternoon with a few of my fellow bungalowers, including Marie, a French-Canadian from Quebec.  "A small, uncrowded crescent fronting the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort.  Swimming and snorkeling are great here, and it's a good place to whale-watch.  As at Wailea Beach, private cabanas occupy prime sandy real estate, but there's plenty of room for you and your towel, and even a nice grass picnic area."  I lied under one of the unoccupied cabanas (for hotel guests, hee hee) as if in a quintessential Hawaii, Corona-like commercial, while Marie sunbathed, and the other guys made a sweet sand sculpture for their world-traveling gnome.  Afterward, we met up with the bungalowers on the day's tour at Life's a Beach Restaurant & Bar, for $6 one-liter mai tais and live music from Canadian Idol's Earl Stevenson (made it into top four of season 6 - 2008), who was staying at the bungalow with us.

Rocky Horror Picture Show Party - Today I took my friends Matt the staff (aka, "Matt #1" who put on this party), Marie, Sophie from Denmark, and Henrik from Denmark, to pick up the movie "Rocky Horror Picture Show" (never saw it before) and costume materials from Savers thrift store.  We went back to the bungalow where everyone dressed in drag, watched the movie (it was awesome!), and watched Earl break out his guitar.  I won the costume contest!  Not too bad for my first time in drag, lol - free mai tais the rest of the night, woo-hoo! :)


Hawaii, Chapter 2: Can We Try This Again?

Saturday, November 27th
As I was landing
My flight landed at dusk, and my first couple of days in Hawaii proved surreal and disappointing, to say the least.  A friendly former co-worker of mine (I'll call her Nichelle) who's been following my travels arranged for me to stay with a friend of hers (I'll call her Tess) who had just recently moved to Maui from Minnesota, with her cousin.  After speaking with Nichelle, I trusted it would be a good fit, but from Tess' slurred speech while relaying the directions to her home after getting my rental car, to the half-dozen drunken phone calls she placed to me on my way there, to her irrationally throwing her cell phone at her sliding glass door in an intoxicated stupor after my arrival, the experience got worse and worse, and when I could no longer understand a single word out of her mouth and became extremely uncomfortable, I followed her cousin's lead, and left (not without having to pull her off my shirt first!).

I don't think I've ever been so shaken up from a social encounter in all my life; I've certainly never observed such psychotic behavior right in my face before, and from someone making a first impression on a guest, no less.  I could hardly process the intensely bizarre events I had just witnessed, and my hands were shaking as I sent out a couple of last-minute couch-surfing requests.  Luckily I found myself in the home of a couple of guys from the couch-surfing site only about an hour later.  I was still worked up from all the hysteria, but I did my best to laugh it off as I explained it to them.  They were shocked, and amused themselves by answering a couple of the insane phone calls Tess was relentlessly making to me. 

Sunday, November 28th
This morning I received another phone call from Tess, who apologetically admitted to not remembering much from last night other than letting herself get out of control, and embarrassed, asked for a second chance.  With my couch-surfing hosts eager to be rid of me (I wasn't the babe-chasing frat guy they had hoped to go out and score chicks with), and my wanting to see the side of Tess that Nichelle had told me about, I decided to give Tess another chance.  After all, I've made mistakes too, and it would be nice to make a friend to explore the island with.  So after meeting Austin (here for a couple of days before heading back to Oregon to visit family; a friend of a cool couch-surfing host I previously stayed with) for "hippie church" (a friendly drum-circle gathering of free-spirits and fire-dancers who show up at "Little Beach" every Sunday to socialize, smoke, and relax), I went back to Tess' to make amends, and in fact had a nice, mellow evening getting to know her.  She was the sweet, friendly girl that Nichelle had described to me :) 

Monday, November 29th
A distant view of "The Road to Hana" from Keanae Park
I was so excited for today!  Tess invited me to spend the day with her and her cousin and a couple of her friends for the "Road to Hana" scenic drive, aka the "Hana Millennium Legacy Trail" as designated by Bill Clinton in 2000.  "It's Maui's most famous road show, and one of the Pacific's most scenic; the narrow, cliff-side, corkscrew Hana Highway on the island's lush, isolated northeastern coast, is a 50-mile stretch of highway through rain forest canopy, from the laid-back, former sugar-plantation-town-turned-surfing-community of Paia to the quiet, old-fashioned, eye-blink village of Hana.  It climbs and drops among some 617 curves, crosses 54 one-lane bridges, and passes several places to stop and explore, some advertised, some not, including countless fruit stands, dozens of waterfalls, vistas, swimmin' holes, hikes, beaches, and other attractions.  Even with one full day set aside, one cannot possibly see everything.  Note: Fill up with gas before you go!  With Tess' native-Hawaiian friend as our tour guide, we:
Cliff-jumped from the top of a small waterfall located at the end of a small, slippery trail off the main road (my first time ever cliff-jumping!)
Lunched at Keanae Park (between mile markers16 and 17) - a ruggedly beautiful lava rock beach and banana bread stand (world's best!)
Stopped for a look at Waikani Falls (between mile markers 19 and 20), also called "Three Bears Falls" for the 3 side-by-side falls that get smaller and smaller
Explored Wai'anapanapa State Park (just past the mile marker 32) - a black sand beach (volcanic pebbles), jagged sea arch, tunnel trail of Polynesian hau branches, and two caves - one down at the beach, and the other a [freezing cold] freshwater spring fed cave pool (the secret hiding place of an ancient, slain princess), oh and I spotted and Indian mongoose (idiotically introduced to the island in the 1800's in order to keep the rat population under control, however unlike the nocturnal rats, the mongoose is active during the day, causing the even bigger problem of endangering native populations of ground nesting birds)
Jumped out of the car for a snapshot of the lush, 80-foot Wailua Falls (just beyond mile marker 45), probably the most beautiful road-side waterfall in all of Hawaii
Pulled over and collected fresh, tasty yellow lilikoi - a type of passion fruit that when opened, reveals deliciously tart seeds and pulp
Checked out Oheo Gulch, aka "Seven Sacred Pools" - hiking trails, archeological sites, a series of natural pools and waterfalls, part of Haleakala National Park
Instead of taking the same way back, we continued on Hana Highway to try and make the beautiful sunset on the other side, however, we didn't, lol.  Still, it was an adventurous (i.e., white-knuckle) ride, being a very narrow, one-lane, unpaved road with zero-visibility over hills and around long curves.

I didn't mesh well with Tess and her friends today.  As soon she picked them up she turned back into the party girl.  The day quickly took on a different dynamic, and I became the fifth wheel, but I tried not to let it bother me. 

This reminds me what a dramatic turn my life has taken the past few years, as I've gone from awkward kid to awkward adult, lol.  Back when I was attending college I would've no doubt gotten along great with these bartender/server types that like to party hard and stay out super late.  Been there, done that!  I still like to go out and have a good time and be social and everything, but I've mellowed out a lot since then, and have brought more balance to my life.  Overall, I like who I am, and realize I'm not always going to get along with everyone.  Not everyone in life will like me.

I'm in Hawaii and am going to enjoy myself!  "There's no crying in baseball!"  :)


Hawaii, Chapter 1: Maui It Is!

"Traveling to Hawaii is as close as an American can get to visiting another country while staying within the United States."

"Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states (1959), and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands.  It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of Australia. Hawaii's natural beauty, warm tropical climate, inviting waters and waves, and active volcanoes make it a popular destination for tourists, surfers, biologists, and volcanologists alike. Due to its mid-Pacific location, Hawaii has many North American and Asian influences along with its own vibrant native culture. Hawaii has over a million permanent residents along with many visitors and U.S. military personnel. Its capital is Honolulu on the island of Oʻahu.

There are primarily six major islands to visit in Hawaii: Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Hawaii’s Big Island. Due to shifting volcanic activity, the oldest Hawaiian island is Kauai to the northwest and the youngest is Hawaii’s Big Island to the southeast. You can see this difference by comparing the topography of these two islands: On Kauai you’ll find lush rainforests and sea cliffs worn by time along the Napali Coast. Hawaii’s Big Island features rugged lava landscapes as well as Kilauea Volcano, erupting to this day at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Isolated in the mid Pacific, 2,400 miles from the nearest continent and having never shared a connection to any other land mass, the Hawaiian Islands are the most remote major island group on earth. It is generally drier on the leeward (western) sides of the islands, and wetter on the windward (eastern) sides. Hawaii’s wide range of elevations and microclimates allow you to experience a variety of environments including some of the world’s best beaches, lush rainforests, volcanic deserts and scenic high-altitude views."

Deciding which island to visit on my first trip to Hawaii was no easy task.  Each of the islands offers its own distinct personality and unique experiences.  Of the six major islands I scratched off two right away: Molokai, "the least changed and most laid-back of all the islands, with plenty of peace and quiet," and Lanai, a small island that "attracts the well-heeled in search of privacy."  I wanted adventure, and these two islands just can't compete with the others in this respect.  I was left to decide between the remaining four islands:

Kauai, "the oldest and northernmost island, is graced with dramatic, natural beauty.  Known as the 'Garden Isle,' you'll find the lush, green folding sea cliffs of Napali Coast, the colorful and awesome Waimea Canyon, and more beaches per mile of coastline than any other Hawaiian island."

Oahu is the most developed of the islands, home to the state capitol and the majority of Hawaii's population.  "It's a vibrant mix of natural and cultural wonders with hot restaurants and lively nightlife, the legendary North Shore (surfing pros), cultural sites including Pearl Harbor, and popular Waikiki Beach."

"Maui no ka 'oi means the best, the most  the tops.  It's the second largest island and the most diversified, home to what some believe are the best beaches in the world. The waters off of Maui are also some of the best places in the world to whale watch every winter. Wake up early to catch the Haleakala sunrise, stroll through the historic hot spot of Lahaina town, or drive the long and winding road to Hana for spectacular scenery."

Big Island, or the island of Hawaii, "is larger than all of the other islands combined, and is vast enough to hold 11 of the world’s 13 climactic zones—from sandy beaches to snowcapped mountains. See waterfalls, rainforests and botanical gardens in Hilo, explore the calm and clear water off of Kona, or view Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park."

At the advice of several people, I chose Maui, since it has a mix of everything.

"Maui no ka 'oi is what locals say - it's the best, the most, the top of the heap.  To those who know Maui well, there's good reason for the superlatives.  The island's miles of perfect-tan beaches, lush green valleys, historic villages, top-notch windsurfing and diving, stellar restaurants and high-end hotels, and variety of art and cultural activities have made it an international favorite.  Combining the best of both old and new Hawaii, Maui weaves a spell over the more than 2.5 million people who visit its shores each year, and many decide to return for good."

One thing to know about Hawaii is that paradise doesn't come cheap.  It's remote, and accordingly everything is noticeably more expensive than on the mainland.  Mid-December through mid-April is the busy tourist season, so understand that prices on airfare, car rentals and lodging is priced at a premium during these times. Keep in mind that the temperatures are wonderful all year long, if you want to avoid the crowds.  I bought my round-trip airfare from Los Angeles to Maui on November 19th for $595, although it's generally significantly cheaper to fly from Seattle.  I booked a car rental for 16 days for $277.  As always, the daily rate gets cheaper with the more days you book, and it was especially a bargain considering the outrageous price I would have paid had I booked it during the high season, when I saw people paying over $100 for just one day in an economy car!  With transportation covered and lodging arranged, I was all set, and on November 27th I enthusiastically hopped my 5 1/2 -hour flight to the tropics.

"The Happiest Place on Earth"

Me, Mike and Thomas
I revisited Disneyland today!  It's a traditional outing my good friend Thomas and I do when I come out to visit him - not only does Disneyland rock the hizzy almost as much as HE does, but thanks to generous Thomas I usually save the $100 admission and get in for free  :)  This time, we had a new acquaintance of mine with us.  I met Mike when I was staying with my friends Brandon & Heather in Washington state, and he happened to be visiting family down in San Diego, so I thought it would be nice to invite him along, especially since he said he was going to Disneyland anyway - and what better person to show Mike around (he was a first-timer) than Thomas, a self-professed everything-Disney geek (he has special memberships to online clubs to prove it, lol). 

"Opened on July 18, 1955, Disneyland is the only theme park to be designed and built under the direct supervision of Walt Disney.  He came up with the concept of Disneyland after visiting various amusement parks with his daughters in the 1930s and 40s.  With nearly 600 million guests since opening day, Disneyland has a larger cumulative attendance than any other theme park in the world! In 2009, 15.9 million people visited the park, making it the second most visited park in the world that calendar year." 

Never have I seen Disneyland more beautiful than today,  brilliantly adorned with holiday lights and decor.

Today, "Disneyland has eight different themed areas or 'lands' that host various rides, shops, restaurants, and live entertainment.  These areas are known as Main Street, U.S.A. (patterned after a typical Midwest town in the Victorian period of America), Adventureland (designed to recreate the feel of an exotic tropical place in a far-off region of the world), New Orleans Square (a themed land based on New Orleans in the 19th-century), Frontierland (recreates the setting of pioneer days along the American frontier), Critter Country, Fantasyland (styled as a Bavarian village), Mickey's Toontown (partly inspired by the fictional Los Angeles suburb of Toontown in the Disney film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"), and Tomorrowland (designed as a living blueprint of our future)."

Adjacent to Disneyland Park and part of the larger Disneyland Resort is Disney California Adventure, which "opened on February 8, 2001, with 55 acres that consist of five areas: Sunshine Plaza (the main entrance into the park, designed to evoke the sensation of stepping into a California postcard), Hollywood Pictures Backlot (styled to appear as Hollywood boulevards and movie backlots, with Hollywood, television, and movie-themed attractions), The Golden State (allows guests to experience California's natural settings), A Bug's Land (seen from the point of view of a bug), and Paradise Pier (themed after a Victorian-era California boardwalk).  "In 2009, the park attracted approximately 6.05 million guests, making it the 11th-most visited theme park in the world, its highest ever attendance total for a calendar year."

"To all who believe in the power of dreams, welcome. Disney's California Adventure opens its golden gates to you. Here we pay tribute to the dreamers of the past: the native people, explorers, immigrants, aviators, entrepreneurs and entertainers who built the Golden State. And we salute a new generation of dreamers who are creating the wonders of tomorrow, from the silver screen to the computer screen, from the fertile farmlands to the far reaches of space. Disney's California Adventure celebrates the richness and the diversity of California... its land, its people, its spirit and, above all, the dreams that it continues to inspire." ~ Michael Eisner

Thomas got the three of us free "Park Hopper" passes, which allow us entry into both parks.  

In Disneyland, we: 

"Rocketed into the outer reaches of darkest space" on Space Mountain
"Payed our respects to the 999 ghostly residents" of the Haunted Mansion
"Joined the Pirates of the Caribbean on a bayou bateau for a swashbuckling voyage"
"Went for a bumpy ride through a lost temple" on Indiana Jones Adventure
"Caught an enhanced version of the 3-D film musical Captain EO," starring Michael Jackson.

In California Adventure, we:

"Ripped through the air" on California Screamin'
"Sailed 'round the glimmering face of Mickey" on Mickey's Fun Wheel 
Went Soarin' Over California on a "simulated hang glider"
Took "the elevator ride of our lives" on The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Of course my day at Disney wasn't complete without "marveling at the stunning effects that erupt against the broad night sky as beloved Disney Characters join the reverie of Mickey's active imagination in Fantasmic - a musical, pyrotechnic spectacular where the forces of good and evil battle in his dreams!

*To view my photos, click HERE

California PART 1 - "Eureka!"

Mount Shasta

Monday, November 15th
Today I entered northern California from Oregon.  The first notable landmark was Mount Shasta, which is so big and rises so abruptly without connection to any other mountains, that it looked like an optical illusion sitting on the clouds - seriously, it looked photo-shopped!  "A colossus of four volcanic cones, the highest rising 14,162 feet above the flats of upper California, it's the crown jewel of the Cascades, a snow-capped peak that is one of the state's most beautiful landmarks, visible from as far as 100 miles away."

Tonight I stayed at the White House!  Okay, fine, not THE White House, but I just wanted to keep your attention, lol.  The White family was generous to let me crash at their place in Ukiah.  I was no match for her kids in a game of Clue, and Battleship, and I felt a little guilty having the whole loft to myself.  

                                                                 Tuesday, November 16th
Champagne Bath
This morning I took a "Champagne Bath" at the historic Vichy Springs Resort.  The 157 year old carbonated spring bubbles into the sunken tubs, and dilates the pores of your skin, creating a warming sensation, making it the only naturally warm and carbonated Vichy mineral baths in North America!  The property is located out in the country, surrounded my mountains and trees, and it was a beautiful morning, so it was nice that the baths were outside with a view, and even better, I had the place all to myself!  The water is said to contain therapeutic and medicinal properties, and can be used both internally and externally.  Read a blurb about it hereAs a bonus, I got to fill up my water bottle with the stuff!  If you can get past the sulfuric, rotten egg factor, it doesn't taste that bad :P

After taking a dip in the hot tub, my spa day took me down to Calistoga, where at Indian Springs Resort I immersed myself in my first-ever mud bath!  I checked in at the lobby, where I was provided slippers, a key, and a robe (a whopping $75 fee is charged if not returned!), and led to the locker room.  I killed a little time before my treatment in the Olympic-sized mineral pool, set at 102 degrees (bliss!).  Now it was time for the main event.  I undressed, changed into my white, flannel robe, and my attendant led me to the baths.  He helped me into the tub, and covered me neck to toe in hot volcanic ash.  Here I would lie for the next 10 minutes.  
Mud Bath
Take note that this is not a treatment for anyone with claustrophobia!  The mixture of wet ash and peat is heavy, and you're not going anywhere.  Think of it as a therapeutic straight jacket, lol.  I rinsed off in the shower,  then soaked in a claw-foot tub filled with "pure Indian Springs' geyser water, rich in minerals and salt," for roughly another 10 minutes or so.  The bathing room was very humid, and they provided me with cucumber citrus water to keep me hydrated.  Next I enjoyed the steam room for a bit, then was led to a simple, private room, where the attendant put on some relaxing music, and wrapped me in soft flannel blankets.  I cooled down for 15 minutes, before ending my experience with a little time at the tranquil Buddha pond out back.  I mean, it WOULD have been tranquil had a construction crew not been jack-hammering! :)

By late afternoon I made my way down to "America's most famous wine region," Napa Valley, for some serious touring and tasting.  "Packed in shoulder-to-shoulder along a narrow, 35-mile valley bounded by two mountain ranges, American wine-making's greatest and most famous names are all found in the verdant valley Napa Valley."  With over 300 wineries lining little Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail, the drivers-side views of the vineyards alone, were mouth-watering.  So many wineries, so little time, lol.  
Distinguished as the first large scale winery established in the valley before prohibition, I decided on the Signature Tour & Tasting" at the Robert Mondavi Winery.  "Approximately 75 minutes in length, this in depth winery tour follows the path of the grape from the vineyard to the cellar to the finished wine.  Guests walk into the To Kalon Vineyard, visit the wine-making cellars (including fermentation and barrel aging) and receive a seated educational tasting of three wines with one of our wine education specialists."  Now I'm no sommelier, in fact the only bit of knowledge I ever really knew about wine was that red is usually paired with red meat, and white wine with fish.  However, by the end of the tour I felt like a pro!  Felt, being the operative word here, lol.

By nightfall I crossed over the iconic 1.7-mile-long Golden Gate Bridge, an engineering marvel whose 4,200-foot central span set a record for suspension bridges unchallenged for 27 years."  I drove down to Daly City to leave my car with Jonah, a perfect stranger from couchsurfing.org who let me park my car at his place the next five days.  Thanks Jonah, you ROCK!  Having a car in San Francisco sucks; I was so happy to take Bart (Bay Area Rapid Transit) there.

Golden Gate Bridge
Justin met me at the station and we walked to his place as we caught up - it was SO good to see him!  We became good friends while I was living in Minneapolis, MN, but he recently moved to San Fran to continue schooling in the Japanese language.  Already a fluent speaker of Japanese, the course he completed allowed him to teach, which he is now happily doing :)  His place is in "Tenderloin" a sketchy neighborhood in downtown (aka "Skid Row," or 'Wine Country,' an allusion to "winos" (street-dwelling alcoholics").  Basically, when you step out your door you should expect to be repeatedly asked for money by beggars, see many homeless, and, as with what happened to me, be shouted obscenities at for walking by.  So anyway, it's a good place to experience a side of San Fran that the tourists don't often see (or wish to talk about, lol).  After dropping off my bags he showed me a couple points of interest in his area, including an over-the-top cathedral. 

                                                                 Wednesday, November 17th
SF Public Library
This morning Justin went to work and I blogged at the San Francisco Public Library, boasting SIX floors that fill over 376,000 square feet of shelves, offices, study rooms, a wing for children, 300 computer terminals, and room for 1100 laptops!  All this for only $140 million - what a bargain, lol.  When Justin got home from work we went to the 6th annual "Mole To Die For" contest at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, offering the public a chance to "taste dozens of different moles, and vote for your favorite."  The event was scheduled from 7-9pm, and we arrived at 8pm with our $7 entrance fee.  They gave us a $2 discount, and we soon realized why - ALL but two moles were completely devoured and the voting was closed!  We were totally ripped off, but at least the two sauces we did get to taste were delicious, and it was cool that the event shared space with a gallery displaying art which celebrated Day of the Dead, a Spanish holiday that remembers deceased family and friends.  The art displays ran the gamut of sad, dark, fun, festive, wild, wacky, and tacky, and many of them included personal altars with photos honoring their loved ones.

When we got back to Justin's, he introduced me to one of his favorite TV shows, a mockumentary-style comedy centered around an immature news crew with no clue what they're doing.  Damn it, I forgot the name of it!

Thursday, November 18th
Today I visited my old high-school friend Britta, who I got
caught up with over some frozen yogurt (or "Froyo" to the cool kids, lol).  It was short and sweet, and not at all awkward as I feared it might be after nearly a decade without contact.  It was no surprise that she is doing well for herself being happily married with a great career.  To me, she's always been of those rare, "whole package"-type people.  She's successful in everything she does, and while she could be a super model but for a couple of inches, she has an awesome sense of humor, a brain, an inspiring attitude and zest for life, and I've never heard her utter an unkind word about anyone.  Britta, let's trade lives, haha :P

After froyo, I explored the area by foot some more, before hopping a cable car back to Justin's. 

                                                                 Friday, November 19th
Japan Center
Tonight after Justin returned from work we went to Japan Center in Japantown; "The Gateway to Japanese culture, cuisine, and shopping" and one of Justin's favorite places.  I had never been in Japanese mall before - it was fun!  The decor was cool; there were staircases imitating Japanese bridges with zen rock gardens underneath them, and it was my first time in a Japanese dollar store (I bought an umbrella).  Afterward, we grabbed food at the grocery store for the potluck party at my friend of a friend Justin Lee's house.  We first met when our mutual friend Andy invited me over for a send-off for Justin Lee and his friend Patrick's cross-country bicycle trip.  It turns out Justin Lee's bike broke down in San Francisco, and he loved it here so much that when his bike was repaired he decided to stay!  With an open mind, you never know where you'll end up :)

Saturday, November 20th
Today is the day for Alcatraz Island, yay!  We decided to walk down to the pier instead of taking transportation, since I'd get to go through Chinatown and see more of SF.  We passed by the iconic needle-shaped TransAmerica Building, "the tallest and probably most 
Grant Avenue, Chinatown
recognizable skyscraper in the San Francisco skyline," on our way to Chinatown, which was just like I remembered it - fun, festive and clean - of all the Chinatown's I've been to, this is my favorite.  It's also the "the largest one outside of Asia" and "the oldest in North America."  Apart from the herbal and souvenir shops, pagoda roofs, and culture, attractions include the Tin How Temple (the oldest in the U.S., founded in1852), the Sing Chong Building (one of the first places rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake), and the Gateway Arch (the only authentic Chinatown Gate in North America).

Despite our best efforts (e.i., a lot of running), when we reached the pier, we found that we literally missed the boat!  To add insult to injury, the representative was completely unsympathetic and would not re-book us for the next boat :(  I was super bummed, but after Justin let me vent for 10 minutes we had a fantastic day of exploring.  

Lombard Street
We saw Lombard Street, famous for having a steep, one-block, one-way section consisting of eight tight switchback turns that have earned the street the distinction of "crookedest street in the world."  Bill Cosby described like this: "They built a street up there called Lombard Street that goes straight down, and they're not satisfied with you killing yourself that way—they put grooves and curves and everything in it, and they put flowers there where they've buried the people that have killed themselves."  LOL!

We visited Coit Tower (a 210-foot monument to SF firefighters) with panoramic views of Alcatraz Island, Saints Peter and Paul Church, the Ferry Building, and the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay bridges.  Inside the tower, the walls are painted with beautiful murals of San Francisco back in the day.  Then we went down to Fisherman's Wharf, a historic area on the bay once populated by fisherman and their fleets, now full of shops, restaurants,  and tourist attractions.  We ate at Neptune's Palace on Pier 39 - we had great food (yummy seafood sampler plate) and a window seat right over the water with spectacular views.

View of Alcatraz Island from Coit Tower
After dinner, we got ready for his friend's birthday party over in Oakland.  The party was great!  His friend has a beautiful home (the gays know how to decorate, lol), and had an awesome spread of delicious h'ordeurves, plenty of booze and bevs, his unusual friend recited an abstract poem that made me go "Huh?," and instead of singing the same old birthday song, we each chose a song at random in our heads, and on the count of three sang it simultaneously, creating a vibrant cacophony of ill-sounding noise from around the room (I won't call it music, lol).  I believe I sang "Pretty Woman," lol.

                                        Sunday, November 21st
Justin the thinker
We had to get our butts up early, and this time didn't walk, lol, but we were able to board a boat to Alcatraz Island, woo-hoo!  Not only does the island provide a fascinating, narrated self-guided tour of perhaps the most famous federal prison in US history, but also shares the less-popular history about early military fortifications, and later occupation by American Americans.  Oh, and the island also lends killer views of San Francisco!

When we were finished we caught a boat back, I said my goodbyes to my good friend Justin, picked up my car from Jonah's, and headed down to Los Angeles.

Tuesday, November 23rd
I went to "The Happiest Place on Earth" today - Disneyland!  Read about HERE.

Friday, November 26th
I've been staying up at my good friends Alida & Kyle's house the past couple of days, about 30 minutes north of Los Angeles.  Alida's quite persuasive (i.e., dominant, lol), and she insisted for months that I be at their place for Thanksgiving, so I actually rerouted my trip to be here in time.

The game is on - Kyle's happy :)
Alida & Kyle were my first good friends I made when I lived here in Los Angeles.  I met them when I started working at a luxury boutique hotel in Burbank. We bonded right away by sharing experiences about our useless boss, and stories about our crazy coworkers and the eccentric business guests and celebrities.  When my apartment lease in the ghetto with Satan was up I took Alida up on her offer to move in with her (I even left my apartment a few weeks early because it was so bad).  About a year and a half later Alida & Kyle were in a relationship (aww...), and I was ready to move out on my own, so it worked out quite nicely for them that when I moved out, Kyle moved in. 

"Aunt Alida" w/ baby Jacob
They're both a bit older than me (40's).  Alida's a blonde bombshell (think Stiffler's mom if you've ever seen American Pie) who cusses like a sailor and drinks like a fish. When she's not out shopping she's at home watching garbage gossip shows like "Real Housewives of New York" (oh why did she have to get me hooked?!), or cooking enough comfort food to feed the Chinese army. Kyle is her exact opposite - a frugal, more introverted, bookish guy, who organizes collections for ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, "the world's largest research library on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered heritage and concerns." I like to think that he basically sorts porn all day (my dream job, haha). They're quite smitten with each other, and are going on a few years now. Their place is like a geriatric center for pets. If Alida takes in one more sickly old stray she could register as a non-profit. 

Jenny & I
Today we celebrated Thanksgiving. Apart from the usual feast for the masses that Alida whips up just for Kyle and I, she was having extra company, so she upped her game, and though I took only a little sampling of each of the 20,000 dishes she prepared, I must have had at least two plates full!  Kyle turned on the football game, and neighbor Liz brought baby Jacob over, former neighbors Sandy & Tim came, as well as Jenny - my sweet friend from Montana that I met when we both worked for a premium cellular phone company.  I introduced Jenny to Kyle & Alida before moving back to Minnesota, and they've since become good friends.  I like to think of it as a parting gift, lol.

Tomorrow I fly to Hawaii, woo-hoo!


               -----------------------------------Fun Facts & Trivia----------------------------------- 

~ The California Condor found in the Santa Lucia Mountains in Central Coastal California is North America's largest land bird with a wing span of 10 feet. 
~ One out of every eight music festivals in the United States is held in California.
~ If California 's economic size were measured by itself to other countries, it would rank the 7th largest economy in the world.
~ The state motto is Eureka!, a Greek word translated "I have found it!" The motto was adopted in 1849 and originates from the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada . 
~ The first motion picture theater in the United States opened in Los Angeles on April 2, 1902.  ~ Reputed to be the most corrupt politician in Fresno County history, Vice-leader Joseph Spinney was mayor for only ten minutes.
~ One out of every eight United States residents lives in California.
~ The largest oil can collection in the world, of 10,000 cans, is found in Santa Rosa, CA. 
~ The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco has enough steel wires in its cables to circle the earth at the equator 3.5 times.