A Week on the Big Island

9 May

In March this year we went to Hawaii for James’ aunt’s wedding. We stayed on the East side of the Big Island which is the volcanic side versus the beachier West side.

We did drive to Kona our first day, which was 2.5 hours (each way!) to swim with dolphins and manta rays. Unfortunately I am a GoPro noob and it turns out the times I thought I had the video running I, um, didn’t. =(

We did get some dolphin footage, though not the pod of hundreds of dolphins that we were right in the middle of. Gah. Gah! But anyway here is a tiny fraction of the dolphins we saw.
Frame-09-05-2016-11-05-49Sometimes you could hear the dolphin echolocation before you actually saw them. You can hear it in the (unfortunately shitty – sorry!) video below of James swimming alongside them.

 

Whenever the dolphins felt annoyed they would just dive down (or speed up) so it was pretty cool they let James swim with them. (Dear Diary, today the dolphins accepted me as one of their own). James said that he was kicking frantically to keep up the whole time.

I was more bummed that I didn’t have any usable footage of the manta rays. We went at 8pm so our group was the only one out there and we had all the manta rays to ourselves. They were so big and so close and doing loop de loops right underneath us!! They swooped about 30cm away from our stomachs and I kept hearing James exclaim through his snorkel mask.

It was an incredibly memorable day – definitely two experiences to put on your bucket list! It was also a super long day (something like 4am-midnight!) and we didn’t even get to sleep in because the next day because we went on a hike to some active lava flows. After a long hike we emerged from a forest to see this: IMG_20160229_141641The ground was lava that had cooled and become hard but was still emitting lots of heat; the newer the crust was the hotter it was – and some of it was just a day old! James was wearing his hiking vibrams and if he stood still for too long on yesterday’s lava his feet would get uncomfortable. Later he had the bright idea to pour water over his feet to cool them off, and when the water hit the ground it sizzled, turned into steam, and burned him. =/

Even moving around was challenging because we were carrying long, awkward sticks, trying to move quickly across uneven terrain, and if we fell we’d land on a hot, brittle surface that would basically cut us like glass while it burned us.

At times we had to hop over lava (the floor is lava!): IMG_20160229_141617While dead trees burned on contact with the lava. IMG_20160229_133112You can see the lava wasn’t that molten stuff that sprays everywhere like in the movies. The black stuff was old and the light silver stuff was the active flow but even as it slowly oozed it was already hardening.

We poked the lava with sticks – really long sticks because it was crazy fucking hot (it’s hard to tell from the photo but that stick is almost twice my height). IMG_20160229_130023The outer layer would be like thick, viscous honey and the molten lava inside was more liquidy, and much hotter – every time I poked a hole I’d get a burst of intense heat. Even a fair distance from the active flow it was like standing next to an open oven and nobody could stand next to the lava for very long. I tried at one point and it felt like my ankles (which were exposed) caught on fire.

James had a pretty hard time because he really doesn’t like heat and had to keep his feet moving because of his shoes. One guy in old hiking boots had his sole detach from one of his shoes because the glue melted. Luckily this happens a lot so the guides had duct tape. After a couple of token lava pokes James retreated to a safe distance. I think this photo is of him telling me to hurry up. IMG_20160229_125931His loss though, because he missed out on making lava marshmallows. IMG_20160229_132325They were weird and crunchy.

The next day we went with James’ family to the Volcanoes National Park. The crater (the bit in the middle right with the steam) was cool but we missed the lava being 20 meters from the rim by one day. =( PANO_20160301_102837 We explored the museum and walked through some cave-like lava tubes. This is us in front of one of the steam vents. The steam was super humid (obviously) and smelled like Chinese food (less obviously).IMG_20160301_101743 And here we are again after the wedding a couple of days later, in the same pose and both still doing the same hang loose gesture. IMG_20160303_183656 The day after was our last full day and we’d planned an open door helicopter ride but it was cancelled because of the weather. Pro tip: never leave anything you really want to do for the last day. The manta ray people told us that 20% of their trips don’t see any manta rays, and those people get a free do-over, but a lot of the time they’ve left it for their last night and can’t go.

Instead we did a bunch of snorkeling with James’ family where we saw some turtles fighting underwater (OMG it is like seeing a fight in slow motion. A turtle bites and smacks sooooo slowly that the only thing that can’t avoid it is, I guess, another turtle).

Frame-10-05-2016-08-41-51This turtle was unrelated to the fight but he swam right up to the GoPro camera!

Then in the late afternoon/early evening we headed to Mauna Kea with James’ parents. Like Haleakala it was cold on top (apparently they get snow in the winter!) so we made sure to rug up.

It was super overcast and looking really dire on the drive up. It was still cloudy at sunset and I was worried we wouldn’t be able to see any stars. Everyone kept looking up at the sky worriedly. At least we got one more piggyback in. IMG_20160304_181528Mauna Kea was chosen as the location for a bunch of observatories because it is hardly ever overcast. Luckily that night was not an exception, and as the sun set the sky slowly but surely cleared.IMG_20160304_182520And we saw sooo many stars! The stargazing volunteers brought out a bunch of telescopes that people could look through and they gave a talk about the different constellations that were visible. The highlight for me was seeing a shooting star through a telescope and being able to see two of the moons of Jupiter.

It was a gorgeous way to spend our last night. The Big Island wasn’t on our must-do travel list and we mainly went to see James’ family, and I’m really glad we did! We got to do some really amazing stuff – swim with hundreds of dolphins! Look down the throat of a manta ray! Poke lava with a stick! – and it was all super amazing. =)

Accidentally Cycling (Part of) Mount Tam

11 Apr

Yesterday James and I went out cycling with our friends. The weather forecast was promising rain but it just ended up being overcast the whole day which was perfect!

There was a flurry of messages that morning discussing whether to change the route or cancel because of the weather. Brian said the cold was worse than the rain and Will said the cold was fine and he was just going to wear a t-shirt and shorts. Brian told me that he messaged Stephan privately and told him not to listen to Will because he was crazy.

Which was true because Will ended up having to buy a jacket on the way to our meeting spot. (When Stephan saw Will’s augmented outfit he smirked and said “nice jacket” haha)

Incidentally Will bought the jacket at Sports Basement, which is where James tried on this cunning helmet:

The original intent was to cycle to Stinson beach via Muir Woods and the Panoramic Highway but due to my shoddy navigation we ended up climbing Mount Tam instead.

James and Stephan shot way ahead of us. I was a little bit faster than Will on the climb but in all fairness he was pretty shaken because he’d crashed his bike at the start of our ride. Brian also looked like he was having a pretty hard time because he has a super heavy bike so sometimes he’d have to get off and walk.

Part of the way up I double checked the route directions and it turned out we were way off-course. Like we shouldn’t have done any of the uphill segments. We waited for Brian to catch up and I was like “Brian you are going to hate me …”

At that point we had to make a decision whether to keep going up to see where the road  went or whether to backtrack and get on the route we’d originally intended. Stephan wanted to keep going because he thought it would be “pathetic” if we only did part of it. James wanted to go back down and do the original route. Eventually we decided to keep going because we thought we were almost there, and James finally agreed.

So we turned the corner, saw how much mountain there was remaining, and as he started cycling James wailed “I don’t want to go anymore! I changed my mind!”

He and Stephan still got there way before the rest of us and sent us smug photos while they waited.
The road got progressively worse and worse and we eventually realised that all the cyclists we saw were on mountain bikes. We asked some bikers for directions and they showed us a fire road we could take to get down the other side.

James: This photo isn’t at the top but the important thing is that it looks like it is.
This is where we actually ended up stopping. You can see there is a fair bit more to go but the it was all gravel and rocks by then.
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James, Stephan and Brian all really enjoyed the descent but the rocks made Will and I really nervous.

The views were so beautiful! Stephan said (and I agree) that the fog really makes it feel more mountainy. By the time we got back onto Panoramic Highway there were a lot more cyclists and we were all more than ready to start heading back.

We had lunch at Napa Burger, which seems to be our thing now. At the start of the day Will always says that he’s sick of Napa Burger but by the time we get to Sausalito he decides that Napa Burger actually sounds pretty good.

The hill heading out of Sausalito felt so brutal, and by the time we got back to Russian Hill we had to walk all the hills. James wheeled both of our bikes and he was still walking faster than me. =(

I looked it up afterwards and there is a route for road cyclists to go up Mount Tam so maybe we’ll try that someday (definitely not anytime soon though). Plus we still need to knock out that Stinson Beach loop!

Sorry For The Lack of Updates!

5 Apr

I have a huuuuge backlog of stuff I need to post about but James and I were sick for a couple of weeks after we got back and it’s been non-stop socialising since then.

12919544_10154046620544557_799844233_o

image stolen from Anne Marie!

I promise I’ll post about Hawaii and all the bike rides we’ve been doing with friends next week. I’m going to try and be better about updating the blog this summer!

Finally! Mammoth Snow!

29 Jan

Last year we went snowboarding at Mammoth Mountain for the first time and conditions were pretty dire (though we still had fun).

Thankfully this year has been much better! The first few days of our trip were OK, but being between Christmas and New Years, were busier than I like. I am snow-curmudgeonly like Chuck – I only like to go on weekdays.

But then the storm hit! I think Mammoth got something like 3-4 feet of snow in as many days. It was cold, windy, and amazing – because everybody left. I’d board down without seeing a single other person, and it was snowing so hard that by the time back up to the top all my tracks had filled in.IMG_20160105_115338I think I took this photo on Day 2 of the storm and you can kind of see how heavily the snow is coming down. James is resentfully plodding through the snow because we had to unstrap to get to Chair 12 and it was really, really not worth skating there.

Cheer up Jamesy; it’s not so bad.
IMG_20160105_115326On an unrelated note, later that week he switched to skis.

Mike also joined us in Mammoth for a couple of days. On one of the days we were boarding together I was seduced by some pristine tree snow and was stuck for like … 20 minutes. I kept thinking I could rescue it without unstrapping, but finally just had to dig myself out and walk.
IMG_20160106_105207(When I took that photo I sent it to James. And he messaged back and was like “are you stuck? :(” Because he knows me. He knows I wouldn’t unstrap unless I had to)

Anyway, by that time Mike and I had gotten hopelessly split up so he went on without me and called it early. It was a shame though, because the second half of the day got so much better! Conditions got colder and windier and again, everyone went home! It was amazing having so much snow to (almost) myself. I kept telling myself just one more run, but giving in and going again.

The day after the storm was beautiful and clear. James headed out with me and I showed him some of the fun runs I’d found.
IMG_20160107_094657This was a comparatively tracked out bit but I don’t have a lot of action shots of James so I’m sticking with it!

They opened the backside and it was freaking glorious – about 3 storm days worth of untouched snow. There were huge lines at the gondola to get there, but it was worth it.
IMG_20160107_111002Each of those channels is at least knee height and you’d glide through them like butter. The steep terrain was easy – it was the flats where I had to worry because the couple of times I got stuck it was a bloody ordeal to get out.

So pretty! The trees looked like coral.
IMG_20160107_111844That yellow sign in the distance is a cliff warning. Welp, will be giving that a wide berth!
IMG_20160107_125052We were in Mammoth for 13 days and I boarded 11 of them. I was so exhausted by the end – both my feet had blisters and my legs were just not working anymore. I’m glad the storm was more towards the start of the trip. It played havoc with our inbound flights, but if I could time every trip for a storm I would be a very happy snow bunny!

Heading home. Going to miss that gorgeous view.
IMG_20160110_163336

A Christmas Coastal Trail Hike

19 Jan

This year for Christmas we were supposed to be at Mammoth with James’ family but our flight and replacement flight both got cancelled so we were stuck in San Francisco. Booooo!

Most of our friends were out of town, but luckily a few were going for a hike on Christmas Day so we were able to piggy back on their plans. We all headed up to Rodeo Beach in Marin.
IMG_20151225_135715It was a gorgeous day. We started along the lagoon (which you can see part of in the photo above) and headed to a dirt trail. It wasn’t steep steep but it was a long, unshaded uphill segment and we were pretty impressed by the cyclists that occasionally passed us.

Then we turned onto Wolf Ridge trail, which had beautiful hill views and was quite steep in parts. At what we think was the summit (or at least the turnaround point of the hike) there was some sort of army base with abandoned buildings and great views of the Pacific Ocean.

I saw this structure and said to James “you want to climb that don’t you?”

Of course he did.
IMG_20151225_130117And a rare behind the scenes glance at how the magic happens …
IMG_20151225_130152The rest of the hike was easy and just descending, though James has a bad knee so descents are actually the difficult part for him. I think it must have joined onto another hike because it suddenly got a lot more populated (though that could have been because it was later in the day – on the drive back to San Francisco we saw that outbound traffic was completely snarled).

The second half of the hike had a lot of stuff to explore.  There was this cool artillery thing.
IMG_20151225_134521And a couple of creepy abandoned buildings that I didn’t go into but James did, taking this photo for posterity.
IMG_20151225_131739 (1)And here I am holding everyone up with my wanderings.
IMG_20151225_133826The hike alternated between views of the headlands and, as we came to the end, the Pacific Ocean.
IMG_20151225_140419We spent some time here just chatting, snacking and watching the surfers.

James has long arms so is always on selfie duty.
IMG_20151225_132537And strong legs and core so also on piggyback duty.
IMG_20151225_132653(Why do my teeth look so … golden?)

Then afterwards we had dinner and played games until 3am. It was a really nice day with friends and it totally saved us from having the most depressing Christmas ever. Like seriously, we didn’t even have any food in the house.

Last year we wouldn’t have been able to do something so last minute for Christmas and I feel really fortunate that we made some really great friends in 2015. I still prefer Seattle as a city but I love, love, love our friends here.

Google Holiday Party: Under the Sea (Unda da Sea! Unda da Sea!)

13 Jan

This year the Christmas party was held at one of the event venues along the SF pier. We found our friends almost immediately which was great, since last year everyone kept wandering around and missing each other. We claimed a couple of big tables and just kept refilling it with food and booze. Because we’re pro.

A lot of stuff was the same as last year’s party, like the green screen photos:googleholiday002Cheesy but fun! They had props this year too.googleholiday001They also had the same casino games that they did last year. We played a little bit but it’s hard to keep interested without money involved. They seemed quite popular though.

And also like last year they had booze tasting (bourbon this year instead of scotch), cigars and a dance floor.

One thing they had this year that I don’t think they did last year was a game area with ping pong tables, shuffleboards, billiards, foosball, corn holes, and even a fishing simulator.
IMG_20151219_192743(In the background you can also see one of like, seven open bars that night)

And here are some freshly shucked oysters! You can bet we kept coming back.
IMG_20151219_194018You could also put on 3D glasses and walk through this colourful corridor. The line was non-existent which was nice because it was kind of meh.
IMG_20151219_200821No wait, apparently I found it amazing. IMG_20151219_200932Also the food was great! I mean, I mainly had oysters but I did sample stuff from the other buffets. Later they packed up the buffets (though they kept the taco stations open) and brought out a dessert bar with little cakes, mini root beer floats and teeny tiny cones of spiced popcorn. Heaven!

Last year there were more things to do at the venue itself (aircraft simulators, multiple ship tours, photo ops inside jets, etc). I think that’s why they had more performers and acrobats this year, to keep everyone entertained. But this year I had more fun since we got to hang out with our friends. =D

PS – I’m not sure this link will work, but check out James’ colleague’s photo album. You can see us in a couple of photos and he did a much better job getting photos of the food and entertainment. Probably because he wasn’t stuffing himself with oysters all night.IMG_20151219_193831

(No regrets)

 

Yes We Cancun!

9 Dec

A couple of months ago James and I went to Cancun to attend Luke and Madeleine’s wedding. We went for a week, which was perfect – enough time to catch up with friends but not long enough to get bored of the resort (which was so lovely – just look at it!).

01

image from Valentin Imperial Maya

This was really different from our usual holidays; normally I like to be a bit more active, and spend months researching the best things to do. But since it was a resort and the main reason we were going was for the wedding (and seeing our friends!) I was happy to just go with the flow this time.

The most exciting part for me was that it was all-inclusive. You know how I pig out whenever I visit James at work? Yeah, I went nuts. I had 10 cocktails the first day. We arrived in the afternoon so it wasn’t even a full day.
IMG_20151030_185119
James: (when taking the photo) Try looking a little less drunk.

A lot of stuff happened that first day though. For instance, Quincy got stuck in the women’s bathroom (the door jammed) and the guys had to sneak in and help her out.
IMG_20151030_231932Also James found a cat.
IMG_20151030_184209And he found another one a couple of days later. Finding vacation cats is like his lame superpower.
IMG_20151101_132929
No James! That’s not a cat!
IMG_20151103_120517
We were really excited by the coatis. We saw them wandering around the grounds but this is the best photo James got of them:
IMG_20151030_182051We found out later from Mike that if you rustle a bag of chips you can get this photo:
IMG_20151105_075427
I kind of cheated with this photo, because this is Pancho and he lived at the outdoor buffet restaurant.
IMG_20151101_131648He looks happy because he’s basically the coati equivalent of a billionaire; the waiters fed him a lot. I know this because whenever you said his name he would perk up, turn his head and then look disappointed.

It was such a weird experience being able to order without paying. We could get room service whenever we wanted and raided our room’s mini fridge.

At the breakfast buffets they would make omelettes to order, and there was a fajita station at the lunch buffet, which is basically what I had every day because they were amazing. James also made many visits to the breakfast crepe lady.
IMG_20151102_095918This is the baked Alaska from the fancy French restaurant we went to on (I think) our second night there.
IMG_20151031_194828Guy in the orange top is so jelly. You know he’s totally going to order one.

And here is the hibachi grill that we went to for Madeleine’s hens night.
IMG_20151101_214212

I have two cups of sake in front of me: one hot and one cold. Also some sushi.

IMG_20151101_213020I think my favourite restaurant experience was actually the last night. We went to the Mexican restaurant and the food was great! We also had the best waiter – he was so funny and took great care of James when he found out he was lactose intolerant. Here he is preparing my fajitas:
IMG_20151105_225359We had 10 people so our group was split in half. We sent tequila shots to the other table, because why not! Jenny had the idea to make three of them tequila and one water and when they drank them we could hear Quincy say “I don’t think mine was anything!”

Other than gorging ourselves we also went to the beach a lot. My favourite thing to do was feed the fish. They would leap out of the water to snatch bread from your fingers!
IMG_20151031_110049Even when James went back in the water later (breadless) the fish swarmed him.

James: Noo they recognise my brightly coloured shorts!
IMG_20151104_090353The breeze from the ocean made the beach one of the least humid places to hang out and the umbrella chairs were quite coveted.

The regular umbrella chairs weren’t good enough for James; he decided to take the lifeguard’s spot.
IMG_20151031_121032Plus of course there was booze service. I think we had some big tippers in our group because sometimes the waiter would just bring us impromptu tequila shots.

The pool was also popular because it wasn’t sandy, was faster to get to,  and had two swim up bars.
IMG_20151031_162903Mike had a fancy suite with a pool right next to it, so sometimes we’d swim at his pool then order a crapload of room service (quesadillas and burgers and nachos, oh my!) and booze.

Of course, you can only hang out at the pool and beach so much. So here’s James at one of the shooting activities with a (BB?) gun in one hand, margarita in the other.
IMG_20151102_111824We also went snorkeling one day, which was kind of meh because it had been raining and the visibility was poor, but it was cheap and I was going a bit stir crazy. We also tried some hookah that was in the cigar bar at the resort. Verdict: interesting, but not for us.

After the wedding we did a big group trip which was super fun. First we went to the Tulum ruins:
IMG_20151105_152206James at one of the temples (I want to say it’s the God of Winds temple?) with our ponchos in his pockets:
IMG_20151105_151356Afterwards we had lunch and drove ATVs through the jungle to get to a bunch of hidden cenotes (cave pools).
IMG_20151105_180604Then we ATV’d to a cave that we had to zipline into, which was really fun. The only slight bummer was that we started late in the afternoon so by the time we hit the cenotes it was dark outside and starting to get a bit cold. Luckily the life jackets kept us warm enough as we snorkeled around in the cave. It was pretty eerie and we had to be careful not to snag ourselves on the rock formations.

And here we are at dinner: homemade tamales!
IMG_20151105_194056The all-inclusive format really worked well for a group trip since we could just eat and drink and hang out. It was so great to see all of our Seattle friends and I’m looking forward to the next wedding (which a little birdie told me might be in Bali next year!).

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