Kathy's 60th Birthday Bash
4/25/14 - In early April we celebrated my big birthday by joining a group of friends in Hawaii for a variety of adventures. We had a group of 14 of us that took a small ship called Un-Cruise around 4 of the islands. One of our friends, Molly, was also celebrating her 50th birthday on this trip. Another 2 friends couldn't join the cruise but met us for a few days of exploring on the Big Island.
We celebrated the spirit of "Aloha", which recognizes & appreciates the uniqueness & differences each of us brings to the world. And we embraced "Ohana", which signifies the very broad definition of family. Candy & I arrived on the Big Island several days before the cruise began & settled in to the Mauna Lani Bay resort. We spent some time strolling the beaches littered with lava rock & coral & had some stunning sunsets. We took a 2-hour helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Seating on the 7-person Eco-Star was determined by body weight (yes, you have to step on a scale when you check in) & we were really lucky to get seated in the front 2 passenger seats, next to the pilot. We flew over lush rain forests, deep valleys, recent volcanic formations and the bubbling caldera of the active volcano Kilauea. We saw the lava oozing towards forests & watched the trees on the edges fall & burn. Then we flew around the northern edges of the island, where we saw evidence of recent rains that had filled the rivers and the amazing waterfalls that cascade over the cliffs.
Sabrina & Dan joined us for a few days & we spent breakfasts, lunches & dinners catching up. We went on a Kohala waterfalls tour & hike on the northern part of the island with Hawaii Forest & Trail. We toured off-road for part of the time in a 6-wheel-drive vehicle. We drove through areas that used to be plantation towns for sugar cane in the early 1900's. We then hiked for a few miles through valleys & waterfalls, stopping for a swim in one of the waterfall pools, and for lunch on a cliff overlooking the ocean. During a quick stop in a small town we tried “shave ice”, which is like a BIG snow cone with a scoop of ice-cream in the middle of it - delicious! We were so thankful for being able to share the experiences & spend the time with Sabrina & Dan!
On the day we were to board the ship, our friends Stacy & Madeleine texted us a cryptic message "There is a shooter at our hotel and we are in hiding!" At the hotel where they stayed after a late night arrival, a man pulled up outside in the morning & started shooting towards the windows, hitting the room next to Stacy & Madeleine & Madeleine's 2 teen-aged daughters. They called the desk & were scurried out of their room & hidden in a closet until the shooter was apprehended. What a way to start vacation!
We all boarded the ship, the Safari Explorer, on Saturday. It was a 36-passenger yacht with 18 cabins. The crew of 15 was incredibly welcoming & helpful. The chef was particularly creative with my wonderful vegetarian meals but he also offered gourmet selections for everyone at each meal. In addition to Stacy, Madeleine & the kids, we were joined by Molly & Lori, Suzanne & Suzanne, Darryl & Nancy and Tracy & Marcia. The other 22 passengers hailed from Australia, New Zealand & the U.S. For the next 7 days we sailed between the Big Island, Maui, Lanai & Molokai, navigating into coves & under cliffs.
We snorkeled in crystal-clear water and saw a variety of butterfly fish, trigger fish, yellow tangs, trumpet fish, moray eels, sea urchins & starfish. We spent an entire morning watching green sea turtles as they swam, floated, fed and were cleaned by other fish picking the algae off them. One of the highlights for me was our night snorkel with the manta rays. We suited up in full-body wetsuits and hung onto boards that had lights shining down into the water. There were scuba divers sitting on the ocean floor with bright lights as well, which attracted plankton. The manta rays swooped in to feed on the plankton. We had six of them in the water with us at one time. They were prehistoric-looking, with their wide mouths, white undersides and black topsides. Although they can be as large as 16 feet from wingtip to wingtip, the ones we saw looked more like 6 or 8 feet. Their feeding appeared balletic as they circled in the water next to us. We were not afraid of being bitten but the sensation of swimming so close to them was frightening & exhilarating at the same time!
Many of us tried stand-up paddle boarding for the first time & you'll see the results of that in the photo gallery!! Fall, get up; fall, get up; fall, get up... During several of the days we had dolphins riding our bow wave and playing in our wake. One morning our friends woke us up at 6AM to tell us to come watch the dolphins & whales. We were so excited that we rushed out in our robes & pj’s to watch the dolphins cavort off the bow! There were pantropical spotted dolphins & bottlenose dolphins. We also saw spinner dolphins when we were out in 18-person skiffs. We had some very special experiences with a few mama Humpback whales who had not yet started their migration back to Alaska because they had young calves they were still raising. One was a newly born baby, who flopped & splashed around on the surface while the mama hung out right below. We watched that pair for hours off west Maui.
For the most part, the seas were calm enough but there were a few rough nights as we crossed some of the channels between islands. On one note-worthy night the ship was rocking forward & back so hard that our cabin door kept slamming open & shut. (The sliding doors opened out to a walkway around the outside of the ship.) It had a faulty latch that one of the crew remembered to check on. We could not secure it from the inside & it would have been a hazard to leave us inside & secure it from the outside. Our hero crew member (Donnie) escorted us to the lounge & set us up to sleep there for the night!
We were able to get a sense of the Hawaiian spirit & culture on several of the islands, and it differs on each island. We met locals who described their heritage & their current living conditions. We got to tour traditional taro fields & pound the taro into poi (which they did in order for their elders to be able to eat it once they had lost their teeth). We visited with one family on Molokai that has lived in Halawa Valley for 50 generations! While feasting at a luau we listening to Hawaiian music, then watched & learned some hula steps. People were generous & kind & loved "talking story" (just telling tales of old & shooting the breeze). Candy really liked the aloha on Maui & I liked Molokai.
Molly & I were joined in our birthday celebration by Avery, Madeleine's 13-year-old daughter, who had an early April birthday. The crew presented us each with beautiful flower leis & a huge birthday cake. Our friends, the Suzannes, picked up rock-star accoutrements to compliment the birthday necklaces Candy brought for our whole group. Candy, Molly & I had gotten henna tattoos on the Big Island & the birthday girls showed them off during the celebratory evening. It was a wonderful trip to an enchanting place with very special friends. We are thankful that they are all present in our lives. The ship’s crew documented our adventures & gave us each a thumb drive full of photos & videos. Most of the underwater shots in our gallery were taken by them. The videos are ours, taken with a GoPro camera & edited way down. Candy set them to Hawaiian music. Enjoy!