Thanks for coming back for Part IV. To catch you up, I’m visiting Hawaii for the first time in over thirty years. I’m with my three-year old daughter, my wife, and her parents. The in-laws have been coming to Hawaii regularly since the 1970s. My wife went with them often into her twenties, but she’s been gone a good decade, too. I’m reporting back on the oddities of Hawaii, the “joys” of traveling with a toddler, and the… um… yeah… of traveling with in-laws.
The trip to Hilo: We didn’t have anything planned for Day Four, so we opted to head over to the other side of the island.
We loaded up toddler’s tablet with a new episode of “Vampirina,” just like our forebears did in the covered-wagon days, and drove up north. She had barely tolerated the hour-long trip to Costco, and all the beautiful “nature-y” things the rest of us enjoy looking at are lost on her. So Disney Junior, it is.
Before crossing the northern slope Mauna Something-or-Other, we hit a macadamia nut store. I was hoping for something like wine tasting in Napa, with the driveway winding through groves of macadamia… uh, vines? trees? bushes? Couldn’t tell you how macadamia nuts grow, cause the store was not, in fact, in a grove of macadamias.
The brochure said we could see how the nuts were flavored and canned. By the letter of the law, that was accurate. If my dumbass thought that meant I’d see them harvesting and cracking open nuts, that’s on me. Instead, we saw one guy cutting open plastic bags of macadamia nuts and putting them into a spinner with some flavor salt. We then saw a machine put nuts into a can, put the lid on, and label it. Where those nuts originally came from was anyone’s guess.
But what it lacked in agriculture, it made up for in free tastings. Holy crap! There were a good ten different flavors of macadamia nuts there, and each one had a bowl of free samples. They also had samples of macadamia brittle and coconut brittle and kona coffee brittle. And popcorn, for some reason. I didn’t question, I just sampled.
Oh, and we grabbed some macadamia nut ice cream on the way out. No free samples of that.
After we crossed the island, we stopped off at Akaka Falls. They were lovely. Wife remembered the hike being abysmal when she was a teenager, but it was fine for these forty-something legs. Only a few thousand steps, according to my Fitbit. And if you made a circle, you could see two different falls, although the closest we could get to Kahuna Falls was still far off and seeing it from the side.
Then there was this:
Not too shabby.
The Falls were now visible from the parking lot. In-laws remembered that not being the case. We asked the dude working the parking ticket meter if they had moved something. He said there had been a storm that had destroyed some of the largest trees that were obstructing the view.
“From destruction comes beauty,” he shrugged.
Evidently he’s never seen an earthquake in the Nevada desert.
Lunch: Lunch has become something of a trial since we got here. If lunch on Day One hit a hundred percent, then the ensuing days have progressively dropped to seventy-five percent, then fifty percent on Day Three. What was in store for Day Four? If you’ve studied your math, you would know there’s only one slice of pie left.
Nobody knew Hilo well, so I did what humans have been doing for thousands of years when in strange lands. I checked Yelp. Marco Polo did the same. Look it up.
“This place called Puka Puka sounds interesting, if you can get over the fact that it’s named after a double-vomit.”
“What’s it got there?”
I follow the link to the website, recite some of the items. They are met with general ambivalence.
“Here’s something called the Lunch Spot. Oh wait, it closes at 1:00.”
I call out another one. Wife looks it up. We’ve already passed it.
Mother-in-law, who is driving, pulls into a parking lot for us to decide. Hey look, it’s a standard suburban shopping center, complete with a Burger King, KFC, and a Panda Express. There’s a Jamba Juice and a Subway across the street.
And you know, nothing says authentic Hawaiian like orange chicken. So that’s where we went for lunch.
At least I went for their special “Eight Treasure Chicken.” They didn’t have that the last time I went to Panda in California, so I’ll pretend it’s a Hawaiian specialty (and ignore the fact that I’ve seen billboards for it back home).
As an added bonus, the code to get into their bathroom at the Panda Express (because the mall area in Hilo, Hawaii is ground zero for vagrancy) was 1918. The Condo we’re staying in on the West Side is #1111, so I’m getting a cool “Armistice Day” vibe going on here. 11/11/1918 – Let’s hear it for World War I! Huzzah Trench Warfare!
Nevertheless, at the rate we’re going, I’m expecting McDonald’s for lunch tomorrow.
Hilo: The town itself looked nice, from what I could tell driving through it at breakneck speed en route to a unique lunchery. Kinda stuck in the 1950s. I expected Kona to be like that on Day One, but Kona (or at least the part of Kona I saw) was mostly urban sprawl. I would’ve liked to spent some time walking up and down the streets of Hilo, maybe frolic on the greens at the University there.
But, because we have a Toddler Dictator, we headed straight for the zoo. The zoo was free to enter, which made me nervous. A friend of mine went to the North Platte (Nebraska) Zoo once, and he joked that the animals on display were the ones that happened to be in that location when the cages went up. A donkey, a cow, a horse. I figured the Hilo Zoo would be something similar, since there are already quite a few exotic animals in Hawaii and, you know, it was free.
The final verdict? Well, they had a tiger. Allegedly, they had two, but I only saw one. The tiger enclosure was huge and it was too fucking hot for me to walk over to the other side of it. The one tiger we saw was trying to sleep in the shade.
Other than the tiger, it was a lot of birds, but they did have some lemurs that were very conversant. I had never heard lemurs babbling quite like these. The ones I’ve seen are usually squawking. Turns out they were just whining for lunch, because the zookeepers were coming up right after we walked down to see the monkeys. Then it was an iguana and an alligator. Basically, it was a lot of tropical animals, because Hawaii is hot and humid. Can’t imagine polar bears being all too happy here.
Allegedly the polar bears at the San Diego Zoo are quite happy. They change their diet to a low-fat variety (more to fit in to SoCal than anything else), and when given the choice between frigid water and temperate water, the slimmed-down polars actually prefer the temperate. Then again, San Diego is a dry heat, and Hawaii is most assuredly not.
The zoo was laid back, which was nice. They had a lot of benches that were painted to resemble the animals nearby. Very ornate. I only took a picture of the tiger bench because it looked like they were about to get “frisky:”
There was a park near the entrance, and once my daughter saw that, it was all she wanted to do. We held her off for a while, but eventually we had to give in. We weren’t the only ones. At any given animal exhibit, we might’ve seen two other patrons. At the playground, there were twenty.
Saddle Road: For our route back from Hilo to the Kona side, we had a couple of options. We could have gone back the way we came, only now we were ten miles south and a wee bit inland, so that route appeared to take an extra half hour. Or, according to Google maps, we could go straight across.
“The Saddle Road?” my in-laws asked. “Are you sure?”
Hell, no. I’m just telling you what the magical Google god said. It’s listed as Highway 200. I don’t know what the fuck a Saddle Road is.
So I did what any self-respecting 21st Centuryer does. I googled Saddle Road.
Google sent me to a Wikipedia entry, where you know you can trust everything. Hey, did you know Wikipedia gets its name from a Hawaiian word, wiki, which means “made-up shit”? Or maybe not. I looked it up on Wikipedia, so who knows?
Anyway, the Saddle Road, which runs in a valley, which I assume looks like a saddle, between two volcanoes, used to be off-limits to rental cars. Hence my in-laws’ aversion to it. But now it’s a-ok, according to legal expert Wikipedia. As we drove it, I thought, why the hell would this have ever been a no-go for rental cars? Then I saw “Old Saddle Road” running off to the northeast, and yeah, that shit was one-laned and windy as fuck. I bet it had potholes, too.
The Saddle Road has a pretty major elevation gain, too. I think it goes up past 6,000 feet. And in Hawaii, that elevation means you’re in the clouds. At a certain point, visibility dropped, and we were in a very picturesque fog/rain combination, where the condensation almost seemed to float around the car and the pockmarked black lava landscape like an otherworldly phenomenon. Of course, it’s “picturesque” in the metaphorical sense, cause it was way too dark in those rainclouds to actually take a picture.
Yeah, add that in with a one-lane, windy road, and maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea when Avis disallowed this route.