Below is an embedded review of our recent trip to Dublin. Just swipe (phone) or scroll up and down to check it out!
Below is an embedded review of our recent trip to Dublin. Just swipe (phone) or scroll up and down to check it out!
We went to Kauai this year, since Brian wanted to celebrate his 30th birthday there. We attracted a big crowd of family and friends along the way, and had a wonderful time. OK, the part about Crystal breaking her arm wasn't so great. But if we overlook that one little incident... There was hula, a luau, sailing and snorkeling, surfing, stand-up paddle boards, golfing and lots of good food. So go here to view the photo album.
For those of you that are visually oriented, here's a link to my photo album for 2016. Ahem... here.
Just in under the wire, (what does that even mean?), here's our newsletter for the year. Follow the link to enjoy the PDF.
Happy New Year!
I spent the better part of a week recently at Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference; "WPC" in Microsoft-speak. I thought I'd try summarizing the week by collecting up my tweets here. Why? First, because I'm lazy. Second, because, you know... social media and all that. Plus, I feel a little sorry that Twitter is getting dumped on. But mostly, I'm being lazy. Or as they call it, "repurposing content."
This year's conference was held in Toronto, a city I visited many times during my days at BNR/Nortel, and during my time at SOMA Networks. It's been about ten years since I was last in Toronto (ask me about the rooftop lounge at Hooters) so I was interested to see what was old and new.
This probably happened the last time I flew to Toronto out of SFO: I'm on a United Airlines flight, but it's operated by Air Canada. Which means I've gone to the wrong terminal. Grrr.
Next stop: the gate. Since my days of holding duper premium elite gold extra-special status are long over, I'm waiting for my "zone" to board when I see a couple of passengers push forward to test whether the gate agents are checking which zone you're in. Turns out, they are.
On the plane now, ready to enter my usual sleep state that's brought on by flight attendant announcements.
It turns out that this year's conference is sold out, for the first time ever. That means I'm in Toronto with 15,999 of my closest friends. And they all made hotel reservations before I did. So I'm staying nowhere near downtown and all the events. But, Toronto now has very nice subway service from the airport to downtown, so that will work. And on my arrival at conference registration, there was this moose...
Free, working, Wi-Fi on comfortable and quiet subway trains. Take notice, CalTrain!
I once had a goal, while working at Nortel, to stay in every Canadian Pacific hotel in the chain; they're all magnificent. I stayed at the Royal York once, when Nortel had their big user association meeting in Toronto and when there was a big Marketing and Product Management pow-wow on what we needed to do next with Nortel's phone system. It was also at this time that Nortel announced quality problems in one part of the manufacturing business (the biggest part), which caused the stock to plummet in value. I thought some of my colleagues, who had left most of their retirement savings in Nortel stock, were going to die right there outside the hotel.
I remember riding in a taxi down to the Billy Bishop City of Toronto airport, on a flight to Ottawa (so much nicer than schlepping out to Pearson). Once you got past the Skydome and the CN Tower, there wasn't much going on. Now, that's completely different. There's the Air Canada Center, the Rogers Convention Center and a ton of condo developments.
On to the conference. Microsoft and GE announce a partnership focused on "Internet of Things." I just liked this quote.
The moose I expected. A Blue Jay wouldn't have surprised me. But... woodpeckers?
How times change. Three years ago, Dropbox was seen as "consumer" and Box was for the enterprise. Now...
CGNET was nominated for a Microsoft partner award. We didn't win, but we're already doing work with the guys that did win. And they have a Tesla as a company car. That's pretty cool.
I was looking for a place to grab a bite when I ended up meeting some new Microsoft partners at another event.
More "keynote" tweets, including an announcement that Facebook has adopted Office 365. I was just around the corner, you guys could have called me!
Back to the convention hall. On the way they're handing out...
"Digital Transformation" was one of the buzzwords of the conference, but there's some truth behind it. Businesses are moving to digital infrastructures, and those that can't support that movement are dying off.
Time now for a happy hour out on Lake Ontario.
Here's a nice picture of the Toronto skyline.
I've already told the story of how I didn't realize the celebrity athletes were real. Until I saw Bill Walton. Trust me, I'm standing next to him.
The next day I had to stay in my hotel room to finish a report. I had TV on for the background noise. Listening to the Canadian version of Guy Fieri and his shtick was...
See, Microsoft's cloud platform is called Azure, so naturally...
A nice quote from the Women in Technology session.
Last party, lots of food options. I chose...
I couldn't leave until I'd listened to Gwen Stefani.
And I leave you with some Canadian humor.
So the family went to Kauai this past March/April; our sort-of-annual ski vacation... Usually I would post lots of pretty pictures and photos of happy vacationers. But somehow food (and drink) took center-stage. So grab a Mai Tai and some pork hash and enjoy!
2015 was a year of yin and yang; probably every year is like that. Mostly, this was a year that went by very quickly (where did the time go?) but also very slowly (during rush hour).
Family Christmas togetherness
Blown up workout schedule
A grey beard
Halloween at the Hollywood Bowl with Wendy, John, Holly and Kenny
Being lost in the town you grew up in
Watching Stanford football and texting with John Gless
Losing to… Northwestern??
The passing of friends
Weddings, anniversaries and babies
|Acts of terrorism||The kindness of strangers|
|So much to share||Time's up/pencils down|
The gardening season is a little like the PGA Tour. You can "wrap around" by planting over-wintering crops such as garlic and green manures. In this case, there really is no end of one season and beginning of another. But for the sake of declaring the season "over," let's consider that this year's garden is done.
The pictures are here: Now let's talk about what worked and didn't work.
A big winner was tomatoes. We have a good system down now. My brother Patrick dries and saves seeds from the best tomato plants of the previous year. My sister Cheryl and I baby the seedlings along with heat mats and grow lights. Then, first weekend in May, it's into the garden. While we cut back on production due to the drought in California, we still had a good variety of plants, with lots of production. Patrick was nice enough to find and develop my favorite, Oaxacan Jewel. We also had Sun Gold (a favorite), along with standards like San Marzano. But there were some new ones as well, such as a Roma that produced great dried tomatoes.
Potatoes also did well. The biggest reason for improvement over last year's crop loss was moving them to a different bed. Last year's bed had (and still has) a resident gopher, who eventually ate through the roots of every plant. This year, we planted potatoes in a smaller, but taller, and gopher-free bed. Lots of soil amendments and regular watering meant that the crop came in great! As an added bonus, we were able to harvest a few "volunteer" Kennebec potatoes from a different bed. FTW.
Cucumbers were also a winner this year. We grew them for pickling. These were either Jackson Classic or Alibi; I can't remember. Despite being planted in the aforementioned gopher-infiltrated bed, we were able to get a good crop without losing too many to the little varmint. We tried enclosing the plants in tomato cages, in the hopes that the plants would grow up the cages and get the fruit off the ground. But that didn't really work. I think a trellis will be the way to go for that. We did a better job of picking the cucumbers regularly, which prevented the eventual discovery of baseball-bat-sized fruit.
Squash, specifically pumpkins, did pretty well. We didn't plant summer squash, since we knew it would be likely that they would go un-picked for long periods, resulting in squash too big to want to eat. But Cheryl likes to plant pumpkins for harvest and display around Halloween. We planted these on the perimeter of a greens bed, and tried to trail them out onto the surrounding ground to give them room to grow. We got enough for a small door display (Cinderella type), and a couple of sugar pumpkins suitable for eating.
As with corn, we're finding that it's hard to justify growing our own when the local farm stand has tons of pumpkins available.
Basil would have made it to the Winners category, except that we mostly let it go to seed. It's hard to process a 4'x4' bed of basil, unless you want to make a lot of pesto.
We planted some artichokes last year in the half-barrels, and were happy to see second-year growth. Unfortunately, the chokes haven't been as tasty as we would like. Maybe we're not picking them at the right time. This is another why-grow-it-when-you-can-buy-fresh-locally item.
We're thinking that our asparagus bed is not producing as much as we would like. We're not sure if there aren't enough plants or if the bed needs more nourishment. Asparagus is also one of those vegetables you want to check on every day, sometimes multiple times a day. There's nothing worse than an overly tough asparagus stalk that was perfect for eating yesterday.
I really like growing beans. And last year's attempt was a bust. So I was happy when I was able to get beans growing this year. I grew French Flageolet beans (thinking they were the main ingredient in a cassoulet I remember having in Paris), but I didn't get much production. Plus, these are closer to haricots verts in that they need to be picked and eaten at an early age. I had waited until they were plump, by which time they were past their prime. I got more production from the Italian Tongue of Fire beans, but both varieties were planted in a bed that has a gopher. As a result, the gopher managed to chomp through many of the beans' roots, limiting what I was able to grow to harvest stage.
Peppers were a big loser this year. The ones I planted in my home garden were quickly devoured by a grasshopper (more on that below). The peppers we planted at the Hubner Farm were left without water for a few weeks, killing off most of them. The replacement peppers never really had a chance to set fruit before the end of the growing season. We also had a problem with a viral wilt, which damaged some of the peppers. I did manage to get one batch of pepper sauce out of the peppers (see photo album) but not the Cayenne sauce I've produced in the last couple of years.
Greens we planted at the Hubner Farm (arugula, mixed greens, lettuce) did pretty well. Providing some sun shade helped them grow without bolting.
Greens at my house, on the other hand, were a complete bust. Apparently a grasshopper had taken up residence in the garden. While it didn't touch the tomato plants, it did eat everything else I planted. Anything green was eaten down to ground level in a matter of hours. If you check out the picture of our round planter with greens, you'll notice that the grasshopper ate the green lettuces and left the red ones.
The best natural control for grasshoppers is a chicken, but with Mona's interest in chasing birds that wasn't going to work. I would have considered renting one for a day.
We continue to learn and refine our garden approach. Hopefully we can see more success than disappointment going forward!
Sometime back in the fall, the family is sitting around the table discussing options for our winter vacation. The default option is to use our timeshare week in South Lake Tahoe and go skiing. But this year Sean, Danielle and Brian (who all live in places where it snows in the winter) want to go somewhere warm. I can understand that. We check out numerous February vacation options and the one that seems to pop successfully out of the linear optimizer is Hawaii; specifically, The Big Island. The last time anyone was there was for our friend Kaui's funeral, so there are some emotions to navigate. But eventually everyone is on board and we're ready to go. Brian is heading out first (and in first class--what a brat!), Sean and Danielle next, and Crystal and I last.
Here's our account of the trip, complete with pictures of course. So sit back, grab a Mai Tai or bottle of Longboard Ale, and enjoy!
Crystal and I fly from San Jose to Maui, and then on to Hilo. We stop in at Café 100 for some Loco Moco. Not too early to get into Hawaiian style! I ask the car rental agent if I need four-wheel drive to go across Saddle Road, and she gives me a "you haven't been here in a while, have you?" look. Turns out Saddle Road was recently renovated (thank you, Senator Inouye!) and is one of the best roads on the island. Our rental car seems to be having transmission issues, so I take it back and get upgraded to a practically brand-new Dodge Durango. Off we go.
This is my first time crossing the island this way, and it really gives you a good feel for all the different climate zones that exist on the island. We cross the summit and drop into Waikoloa, just in time for the weekend going-home traffic. Even in paradise…
We catch up with Brian, Sean and Danielle at the Sheraton, where we're staying for a night before our condo is ready the next day. Lots of excitement as we catch up and talk about what we want to do for the week.
First up, dinner in Waikoloa at Roy's. The food is great, service OK. It's a great way to start our vacation.
Check-out day at the Sheraton Kona and check-in day at the Kona Coast Resort just up the road. The place is a little dated, but there's plenty of room and we're near the pool, restaurant, bar and barbecues so we'll take it. It's right on a golf course (yeah!) which is closed for renovation (dang!). After check-out we head down to Keauhou Harbor, to Akule Supply Company, for breakfast. Sean, Brian and Danielle have already been frequenting this place and like the food and atmosphere. This means another chance to sample the Loco Moco, which is fantastic.
Next up, we head to a local farmer's market to pick up fruit and vegetables for the week. (We always start out thinking we'll cook most of our dinners, but it never seems to work out that way.) It's amazing to see how many varieties of avocado and papaya there are on the island. Then there's the jackfruit, which is like a punk-rocker version of a watermelon.
After the market, we check into our condo and then head down the road for lunch at Da Poke Shack. I'm not that big of a poke eater, but this stuff is outrageously good. They serve whatever kind of fish they get that day, which in our case is tuna. There are a variety of preparations, but it really doesn't matter what you choose, because they're all good. And the Primo beer (the big dog in local beer before the craft brew revolution) is a nice touch.
We reach Steve Doyle and invite him down for dinner. About the time I head to KTA to pick up some fish for dinner, a windstorm hits the island and knocks the power out. Good thing I have cash… Steve and I pick up on our mutual joke-telling while I grill up dinner. Mai Tai consumption is trending upward.
Steve sleeps over, and we convince him to join us for brunch at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. This is one of those memory-lane events we've all been anticipating, since this was a favorite activity on earlier trips. We remember all kinds of great food, from sushi to fruit to all kinds of breakfast choices… all served in an open-air lobby. But first, it's time for a papaya breakfast, supplemented with Ahi jerky. Hey, those farmer's market fruits won't eat themselves!
This year's version of brunch doesn't match up to our memories. The venue has moved to another area of the hotel, apparently because that part of the Mauna Kea was damaged in the 2006 earthquake. The food's still good—very good—but the atmosphere is a little lacking and the overall feeling is this meal isn't going to live up to our expectations.
After brunch we head over to Hapuna Beach, one of the best beaches on the island. Normally this beach has a wide swath of white sand. But with the waves up and stormy conditions, most of the beach is gone. We spend lots of time in the water, but it's tough to catch any waves with the water so churned up.
After time at the beach, we head up to Kawaihae Harbor so Sean can show Danielle where he used to work. We head to the bar above the former Harbor Grill and Sean immediately reconnects with the owner. We have pupu's and Mai Tai's, judging the Mai Tai's to be some of the best on the island.
We return to Kona and head to Humpy's Alehouse for burgers and beers. Crystal and I get into a conversation with a couple from Washington state who have retired and bought property on the south end of the island. They're telling us about starting out with no running water and no electricity. Crystal and I are thinking "oh, hell no!"
Today is our Big Adventure, a snorkel cruise to Kealakekua Bay on board a catamaran. It reminds me of sailing with Pam and Malcolm through the Greek Isles. The ride down to Kealakekua Bay turns into an impromptu whale watching trip as we see all kinds of humpbacks breaching a few hundred yards away from the boat.
Snorkeling is great (I even saw an octopus) although crowded. It's a great ride back to Keauhou Harbor, with lots more whales to see and the waves crashing up against the shore. After we get back we head down to the Kona Coffee district. We make a brief stop at the Painted Church, then drive down the hill to Pu'uhonua Honaunau, aka City of Refuge; one of my favorite places. If you broke one of the many kapu's and had a hoard of angry warriors trying to chase you down and kill you, your one shot at redemption was to get to this place. Here the local religious people would perform the rituals that would get you a reprieve. (Confession would be a lot more popular if the alternative was being eviscerated.) A lot of the grounds are under restoration so it's not as fun as we remember from past trips.
After that it's back to Akule Supply Company for dinner; awesome short ribs and (of course) more Mai Tai's.
We hear about an earthquake in Japan, and are happy to hear that the tsunami warning is cancelled.
Today's surf lesson is postponed, since the instructors are fully booked. So, on to Hawi, at the north end of the island. We take Highway 190, which traverses the mid-altitude side of the saddle, into Waimea (aka Kamuela). There's an awful lot of ranch country up that way. Sean is pointing out many of the highlights to Danielle, who has heard the stories of Sean's horse training days up country.
Next stop is Parker Ranch store, where we stock up on Hawaiiana. I see an agricultural theme and pick up a number of t-shirts. We head to Hawaiian Style Café for breakfast/lunch. Hawaiian Style is known for its large portions, which should only be eaten by paniolos before they start their day. It's interesting to note that the menu lets you know you can't order a split dish, but any leftovers are fed to a local hog farm… lucky hogs!
We go on to Hawi, for a short walk through the center of town. The Batman rides outside one of the local stores are long gone, but in other respects Hawi seems about the same.
I want to go to the heiau there because it definitely gives you "chicken skin" but everyone else is ready to get back to Kona. We stop at Kapa'a Beach but it's too rocky for swimming. On the other hand, there's lots to see with the whales offshore. At some point we imagine them saying, "oh yeah?! Watch this!"
As we make it past Waikoloa Village we hit a horrendous backup on the road (there's only one) into Kona. Mostly it's just the traffic from everyone who lives in Kona (or south of there) and works at one of the resorts along the Kohala Coast. But there's also a delay due to people setting up a fresh memorial for those that died the past weekend in a head-on collision on the highway. So sad.
Eventually we make it into Kona and head to the Kona Brewing Company (yes, that one) for some brews and dinner. They actually have a large variety of beers (one of which features Kona coffee) and the food is OK; bar food. After that, we stop in at the Kona Inn (another Malcolm Brown recommendation) for Mai Tai's. We're not sure they're the best on the island (we're voting for the Seafood Bar in Kawaihae) but they're still quite good.
Today we learn to surf. After check-in and a pretty funny on-land practice getting up on a surfboard, we head down the road to Kahalu'u Beach. We're learning on long boards, which are pretty forgiving. There's not much surf, but we eventually decide to give it a try anyway. The beach has a rock jetty that protects a cove and coral reef, but there's a break to the right where we can sit and wait for the waves. Everyone manages to get up on the board and catch a wave at one time or another; Danielle seems to be a natural at it. As for me… let's just say there were some spectacular face plants into the water, and that I was advised at one point to not use a skiing stance on the board. We were joined at one point by a local surfer and his retriever (who swam out in a doggie life vest). At least the dog was kind enough to not show me up by surfing back into shore.
After surfing we head into Kona to Broke Da Mouth Grinds for some lunch. Danielle found this place, and it's a winner. It's small and non-descript, in a business park. So the only thing it can have going for it is awesome food—which it does. The menu is a combination of Hawaiian and Philippines and it's good.
After lunch we head back to Kahalu'u Beach, this time for some swimming/snorkeling. It's a bit crowded but the sea turtle that decides to haul out and sun himself near us makes up for it.
Dinner find us back at Akule Supply Company for dinner. Then we walk back to our condo, stopping long enough to enjoy another wonderful sunset. After that, it's a game of Hearts. Brian correctly points out that I'm hard to play with, as I have a "go big or go home" strategy, meaning I try to run the board almost every hand.
Last day in paradise for Sean, Danielle and Brian. We're off to Kona for Acai Bowls (another Danielle find) and Three-Stone Blend from Java on the Rock (thank you for the suggestion, Malcolm Brown!). Everyone wants some beach time, so we head to La'aloa Beach, aka White Sands Beach aka Disappearing Sands Beach. The surf is too rough for swimming, but it's fun to watch the waves. A local snorkeler bags an octopus and asks us, "did you see that shark?" When we say "no" he says, "neither did I!" Ummm, k.
We head over to Keauhou Harbor since it's the only nearby beach with decent swimming conditions today. Apparently the sea turtles agree, and we're happy to share space with them.
And naturally, since we're here, we stop in at Akule Supply Company for poke and burgers (along with more Lava Man Red Ale).
After swimming and a break, we're on our way to Kawaihae for dinner with friends Steve and Diane, at Café Pesto. This was always a must-do item when visiting Steve and Kaui, for goat cheese pizza. Then we're off to the airport to drop off Sean, Danielle and Brian. Crystal and I head back to our condo, which feels much larger and quieter than we'd like. We find a local cooking show to watch while we finish off the last of the papaya.
It's a little strange to wake up with our kids having gone back to the mainland. We head into Kona, to Island Lava Java for some fantastic coffee and breakfast. Suddenly we have to make our own choices about where to eat and what to do. Where are the tour guides?
The weather is great today. The winds have turned around and the surf is down at Kahalu'u but it's coming up elsewhere.
When we were in Havi, I learned about a program to grow all of the area's vegetables and fruit locally; apparently they import a lot of it, which makes no sense. I roll the thought around in my head that maybe I could help the North Kohala food security program via CGNET, or SITIA. It's an interesting thought.
Crystal and I decide to head south, to coffee country. We stop at Greenwell Farms and get a personal tour of the operation. It turns out the "we're accepting cherries" sign refers to coffee cherries; it's roasting time! From Greenwell Farms we head over to the Painted Church, which is beautiful inside despite showing its age. And the view of the ocean from the church entrance is enough to make you not look and trip on the steps leading to the parking lot.
After the Painted Church, we head down to the Kona Pacific Farmer's Cooperative. Whereas Greenwell Farms buys coffee cherries from local farmers and processes them (as well as their own coffee), the Kona Pacific Farmer's Cooperative is more of a hippie-style shared resource setup. Here, farmers come and use the equipment to process their own coffee (as well as macadamia nuts). These guys have been around since 1910 and the tour is decidedly un-touristy. They do have a nice garden with examples of common trees and plants from the island. I'm fascinated with all the chickens roosting in the shade of the trees.
We head down to Napo'opo'o Beach to see about swimming. It turns out this is the beach we had come to with Sean and Brian the first time we visited nearby City of Refuge. I remember them boogie-boarding. Now, the beach is gone. Hurricane Iniki sideswiped the island here, and took all the beach sand with it. We're at the other end of Kealakekua Bay, and can see the monument to Captain Cook at the far end, where we were snorkeling earlier in the week.
Heading back to our condo, we stop in at Sam Choy's for a drink, and to check out the view. The restaurant has a killer view of sunset over the ocean, but we've come a bit early to avoid the crowds. The hostess asks us if we want to sit inside or outside (outside, please) but seems confused when we tell her we don't want to sit in the sun. Apparently "outside in the shade" is not a combination she recognizes. It's happy hour, and there's an incredible whale show going on out in the ocean. I think the difference between locals and tourists here is that the locals don't turn around to check out the whales breaching offshore.
We head back to Keauhou Harbor to swim, as the surf's been too rough elsewhere on the island. Our decision not to scuba dive tonight with the manta rays is a good one, as the dive boats are fighting five to six foot swells as the snorkelers and divers get ready to head into the water. We take tons of pictures of the surf crashing on the lava outside the Sheraton.
Today we travel to Hilo, where we will depart tomorrow for California. After checking out of our condo, we head in to Kona for coffee at Java on the Rock . We tell the server to say hello to Malcolm's sister-in-law. After coffee we're on our wait to meet Steve in Waimea. Try as I might, I still miss the turn-off to Steve's house. Steve takes us to the coffee house in Waimea, where they have a picture of Kaui on display. Sigh.
Steve's going to drive with us down to Hilo, and Crystal has several stops planned along the way. Right on schedule, the mist kicks in when we get about a half mile out of Waimea. But then the mist doesn't go away as I had thought it would. And what I then think is a brief shower shows itself to be a persistent, heavy downpour. At one point it's raining about one to two inches per hour. We stop at Tex's Drive-In in Honaka'a, but with the rain and the long line we decide one less plate lunch will be OK.
We drive on, and stop at Akaka Falls. It's still raining like crazy, but Crystal wants to see the falls. I kind of wish we could have reproduced the picture of Sean and Brian standing next to the sign at the falls, but that wasn't in the cards. I'm ready to get annoyed at Crystal for not following the suggested route to the falls, when—of course—her intuition or memory is correct and we've taken the short route to the falls. Despite saving so much time, we're still soaking wet by the time we get back to the parking lot. Steve, wisely, decides to wait for us and stay out of the rain.
We drive on toward Hilo, and stop just outside of the city. We're at the cemetery where Kaui's ashes are interred. She's buried alongside her mom and grandmother. The spot overlooks the ocean, and (on any other day) would provide a great view of a large tree and the ocean beyond, very serene. Steve leaves the flowers he picked up in Honoka'a. The inscription on Kaui's headstone reads "Love One Another. Rejoice Evermore. Pray without Ceasing." The headstone is for both Kaui and her mom. Steve tells us the story about how Kaui was supposed to get a headstone for her mom, but never did. So it was up to Steve to rectify the situation, five years after her mom's passing. We all have a good laugh about that, such a typical Kaui story. Spending time at Kaui's grave was emotional, as expected. I sort of felt like we were holding our breath all week, waiting for this moment. But in the end, "turn the page" becomes the phrase that captures our feelings. Hawaii isn't the same without Kaui. Neither is Steve. Neither are we. But Hawaii would have changed regardless, and we have changed as well. It feels good, in an odd way, to feel like I can end this chapter and go on to the next one. I'll always miss Kaui, and I'll always remember so many good times we had with her. But I'm ready to live in the present.
We drive on into Hilo, and check in to our hotel along Hilo Bay. We head over to Uncle Billy's for a Mai Tai, as Crystal's father had suggested. But the bar is closed, for good. Clearly, it's time to move on.
Back to our hotel to change out of our wet clothes. Steve and I are watching some comedian on Comedy Central, laughing our heads off. Seems like old times. We head out to Pineapples, a restaurant Steve recommends, for dinner and drinks. The restaurant is an open-air style, typical of Hawaii. So it's a bit cool, since the rain is still coming down hard. The overhang is keeping the rain out so we're OK. But there's something surreal about being in a restaurant in Hawaii in the pouring rain, while we watch an outdoor hockey game being played at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara.
The rain from yesterday has diminished to a drizzle. It's hard not to miss Kona, on the sunny side of the island.
Breakfast with Steve and Crystal at Kuhio Grille, "home of the one-pound lau lau". Sounds like gut bomb to me! One of the local high school basketball teams is at the nearby table; interesting to see what the players choose for their pre-game meal… Breakfast of Champions as they say.
On to Longs Drugs for some gift shopping before we head to the airport. There's an interesting only-in-Hawaii episode involving Crystal, a CVS discount card (or not) and the cashier. In the end, she gives Crystal the kamaaina discount, saying, "this really is the best island."
On to Hilo Airport. Steve decides to hang out with us until we need to get to the gate. One more opportunity to have a Lava Man Red Ale.
Time to check in. Hilo is a tiny airport, and every passenger flying out of Hawaii has to go through agricultural inspection, so I'm a little nervous about the time. As it turns out, we're two of about twenty people all told that are flying at this time, and the whole ticketing/baggage inspection/security routine takes about five minutes. After that we're off, quickly leaving Hawaii below the clouds.
It's been a great trip. We love traveling with our adult children; it's fun to see what they find fascinating and how they choose to spend their time. It's great to see that Steve is doing well. We went to Hawaii to relax and recharge. Mission accomplished.
Cruises: love them, hate them. They're certainly perfect for those "intersection of the life stories of ten people" movies. Our good friend and budding travel agent Malcolm arranged for us to join him and some of his college buddies on a cruise through the Western Caribbean. Crystal and I are not huge cruise people, but we love traveling with Pam and Malcolm and the decision to join in was made after a few glasses of wine, so there you go. Plus, the itinerary included diving at Grand Cayman--a bucket list-worthy activity. So, in early April we found ourselves meeting up with our BFF's for the week at the San Jose Airport, as we headed to Houston and then Galveston to start the cruise. What follows are my notes, for your enjoyment and amusement.
The cast of characters:
Our plane to Houston is two hours late taking off, since the crew hasn't shown up. It has to with United/Continental flying different planes and not being able to swap crews. Malcolm's head is going to explode. Connie tells the gate agent: "You WILL be taking care of this… either get us there on time or fly us to Jamaica and put us up in a hotel until the ship arrives." Malcolm happens to be approaching, with all papers at the ready. Connie sends him away. Perfect good cop/bad cop routine.
Houston. Magically, our bags are the first off the plane. Our driver gets us to Galveston with minutes to spare. He is a Texas gentleman all the way, but pushes the limits of what Texas State Troopers will allow with respect to speed.
The nice thing about arriving so late: no lines at check-in. Could this be the new trend?
My first thought on arrival in Galveston: the smell of hydrocarbons. It takes me back to high school and visiting an oil refinery as part of our Chemistry class. I'm pretty sure breathing this stuff isn't healthy.
On board the cruise ship. First up: mandatory safety drill. Due to intercom problems, it sounds like a Peanuts cartoon: "wah wah wah.. Wah wah, wah wah wah wah. I get the essentials about how to put on the life jacket. I'm looking around for Rose and Jack.
On to our room, then to the Two Poets bar to meet up with our other traveling companions, Greg and Leona. Despite having purchased the cruise line's all-you-can-drink pass, I stop at two Manhattans. A man's got to know his limits. Our traveling companions carry on, until our dinner at 9. I'm definitely not going to be able to keep up with these people. A tough thing for an Irishman to admit.
Dinner at the resident steak house. Lots of fantastic wine. Stuck my finger on the wrong Italian wine description when ordering wine, cost me an extra $40. You only live once--if you're lucky.
Great dinner, much conviviality. But eating meat late at night--not such a good idea. In to bed for a full nine hours of sleep. Considering I never went to bed before we left for the cruise, I'm improving my average quickly.
Coffee on the mini-deck, watching the ocean go by. No worries here.
Into the gym for some self-imposed penance. That felt good. FitBit was happy. Plus, now it's lunch time. Out on the pool deck (in the shade, let's be sensible) and on to sample the drink of the day. It's got blue Curacao in it, and you know what I think about what blue in nature means--pain.
Don't tell anyone… but it turns out they do have Wi-Fi on the ship (at exorbitant rates, of course). I'm going to pretend I didn't know that.
Best sighting of the day: a T-shirt reading "Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles." This addresses a favorite pet peeve of mine regarding that other baseball team based in Southern California.
As this is our second day at sea, today definitely qualifies as an "OMG, I wish I didn't get sunburned yesterday!" kind of day.
Finally, land! I can't wait to get off the ship. Malcolm has arranged for a tour of the Appleton Estate rum distillery. Since it's in the interior of the island and we have limited time, he has arranged for a driver and tour guide. This leads to an immediate immersion in the language and culture of Jamaica. For instance, our tour guide says "ting" instead of "thing", "hear" instead of "year" and "Otre Rios" instead of "Ocho Rios."
Our first stop, by the side of the highway, is to point out the high school where Usain Bolt graduated. Our tour guide is clearly proud of what Bolt has done for the country. She points out that he purchased a school bus for the high school. I marvel at the fact that the track is just dirt covered with a little bit of grass. No wonder these guys are fast, if these are the training conditions!
We're on a two-lane road up and over the mountain to a high mountain valley where the Appleton distillery is located. With one lane each way, Orville, our drivers, is doing a lot of passing and then jamming back into our lane to avoid head-on collisions. I did not realize a thrill ride was included in the tour! Could this be the origin of the reggae song, "we be jammin'?"
Going through the countryside, we see lots of small shacks, with wood or cinder block construction. Other houses are simply shipping containers with cutouts for windows and doors. It seems like every town has its bar and jerk take out place. At the distillery we learn that Appleton makes an over-proof rum, called Jamaica's Best. Most of it never leaves the island, and given all the bars advertising it along the way, I can see why that would be the case.
Back in the van, as we have to hoof it to our next stop for my request: jerk barbeque. After asking several Jamaicans for a recommendation, we settle on the most popular choice--Scotchies. This is exactly what I was looking for in a jerk place. It's flimsy, made from concrete blocks, corrugated metal and palm fronds. It's sooty from all the barbeque, with great aromas. There are guys cooking chicken and pork on top of pimiento logs placed over the wood coals, with pieces of corrugated tin roof used to hold the smoke in. The food is fantastic--jerk chicken with a side of grilled breadfruit. And the heat means that the Red Stripe beer goes down easily.
We learned at the Appleton estate that the Pimiento tree provides the berries that we call allspice, which provides jerk's unique flavor. Our tour guide says they crush the berries and use them for jerk seasoning, and use the leaves to flavor other dishes, including something called bammy.
After getting our jerk, we head over to a gift shop that is primed for our arrival. We're whisked away by sales clerks offering us all sorts of stuff. Most of our group opt for the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. I go for the package of jerk spice. Greg, waiting outside the shop, is offered ganga by one of the locals. Greg gives him his, "you do realize I used to be a prison guard, yes?" look and respectfully declines the offer.
Crystal can't dive today, due to a sinus blockage; that's a shame. So she's off with some of our group to go see sting rays and dolphins. That turned out to be super fun. Our dive group is walking around George Town, killing time before our dive boat leaves. There are lots of backyard chickens. Since George Town is a cruise ship port of call, we start noticing that it seems like every port has a Margaritaville, KFC, Burger King and Domino's Pizza. And there is always lots of shopping for jewelry and cheap T-shirts.
Our first dive is a wall dive, across from the Great House. The water is beautiful and clear, with at least 60-80 feet visibility. I'm a little more "buoyant" (ahem) than I used to be and have some trouble getting down to the bottom. We're at 80 feet, and the wall drops off to… nothing. We learn that it's 3,500 feet to the bottom. Between my struggles getting down and swimming against a strong current, I'm using air like crazy. In no time at all I'm back on the anchor line of the dive boat, slowly ascending. Even so, I saw lots of beautiful corals and sponges, in all kinds of colors. I also saw a turtle munching on something.
Our second dive is on the wreck of the Oro Verde. There are many stories about how the ship met its demise. I like the story of the captain who tried to smuggle marijuana along with the bananas and got tossed overboard when he wouldn't share with the crew. The dive book says something else entirely--that the ship was sunk on purpose--but where's the fun in that story?
Either way the ship is all broken up, scattered across the sea floor. There are a couple of bikes down there for good measure, which many of the divers attempt to ride. We see more wildlife on this dive: lobster, a nurse shark, an arrowhead crab, and lots of corals and sponges. I do a much better job managing my air consumption.
Today's agenda includes a trip to the Tulum archeological site and Mayan ruins. Tulum is actually located in Playa del Carmen, about 20 miles south of Cozumel. But there's a reef that runs along Playa del Carmen that protects the coastline from hurricanes. So we have to dock in Cozumel and take a tender (think big, smelly water taxi) down the coast, then disembark and take a bus to Tulum.
We heard the story of one city that carved a break in the reef to allow cruise ships to enter and dock. The city was later wiped out by Hurricane Gilbert. That will teach you to mess with Mother Nature!
Armando and Julian are our tour guides. They're both Mayan, and clearly proud of their heritage. They claim that Mayans are probably descended from the Chinese, owing to similar body types. The physical anthropologist in me objects. It's also clear they're still ticked off at the Spanish for that whole Conquistador thing. Armando and Julian tell us that the temple is aligned to capture sunlight from the summer solstice. The engineering is pretty amazing.
There are iguanas all over the grounds--lots of iguanas. Armando says they're "like backyard chickens." I am not pleased.
In suggesting explanations for the disappearance of the Mayan civilization, our tour guides point to poor resource management. They say there were more than 5,000 cities, and it took 20,000 trees to build each temple and city. The Mayans stripped the land of its resources and died out as a consequence. Another morality tale!
Despite being on the Gulf coast, it's very hot when the wind stops blowing. Cold beer never tasted so good.
We're back on the tender for the trip to Cozumel. They're selling blankets and other trinkets. Talk about a captive audience!
I fall asleep on our stateroom couch last night. I guess I just like sleeping on couches. I slept in--until 8:30 AM. After that, I put in a nice long workout in the gym. Those Margaritas won't go away by themselves.
Later that evening, it's NCAA Final Four time! Both games were very exciting. It was fun to be in the bar with the Florida Gator fans, who were whooping it up early on, but ended up skulking away once their team fell behind to UConn.
We had a great dinner at Sabor, an upscale Mexican restaurant on board. There were very arts-fartsy margaritas (that were nonetheless very good) as well as guacamole made table-side.
Hurry up and wait is the order of the day. Our bags were packed and left outside the door the night before. Now it's up for one more breakfast on the ship. We have to come to grips with the fact that tomorrow we'll be clearing our own dishes and making up our bed--and not every day.
After breakfast it's down to the assembly areas to wait for our turn to disembark. Things drag a bit owing to the time needed to get through customs and immigration.
Off the ship and back in Houston, we drop Greg and Leona off and have some time to kill. We decide to go to the Johnston Space Center. It was a very cool experience, especially if 1) you're a technology geek and 2) you lived through the era. Seeing the Saturn V rocket up close (Connie estimated it at 510 feet long) as well as some of the capsules really brought the times to life. The Mercury capsule looked a lot like a garbage can mounted on top of a rocket. And as Malcolm said, just remember you're strapped to a rocket provided by the lowest bidder.
Next we're off to the airport for a reasonably relaxed time through baggage check and ticketing. One or two more beers and we're on our way back home. It will be nice to get back home and the 542 messages I no doubt have waiting for me.
Our travel style is a little more toward the hang-with-the-locals approach, and we generally would rather stay longer in one place than see several places for just a few hours at a time. That said, we couldn't beat the company on this cruise, and have made some new friends that we're already meeting with on other adventures. So while we generally opt for other vacation formats than "cruising," it certainly works if you go with the right people.
Been on a cruise lately? Let me know what you think!