Barbados – January 2016

18 Jan
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Alleynes Bay, Barbados

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Sun, sea and sand :-)

…rum cocktails; warm turquoise waters lapping the tree shaded beaches of the exclusive west coast resorts; an interior landscape of small villages and rolling hills of sugar cane plantations; huge atlantic waves crashing onto the rugged limestone cliffs at the northernmost point of the island; miles of deserted palm-fringed white sand beaches in the southwest (our favorite part of the island); fishing villages; colorful fish shacks at the renowned Oistins Fish market; bougainvillea and orchids; forests of bearded fig trees and other exotic flora… all quite lovely…

On the other hand all is not absolutely perfect in paradise… the beaches of the south around the capital, Bridgetown, are distinctly less appealing and considerably more overcrowded and touristy. Bridgetown itself, is, without doubt, a top contender for the least appealing capital city of any of the Caribbean islands… aside from the Parliament Buildings the architecture leaves almost everything to be desired – grungy, scruffy and grubby looking and distinctly 1970’s in design…shops filled with the usual uninspiring gamut of vital purchases for the cruise ship vacationers arriving at the nearby port – from t-shirt stores to the ubiquitous Columbia Emerald stores. Goodness knows if we had arrived on a cruise and were faced with a day of exploration in Bridgetown or its surrounding beaches we would knock the rest of Barbados from the “must-revisit” list forever….

Luckily, however, we saw the rest of the island from the comfort of our overpriced rental car :-) We set out to explore the island at our usual pace whilst our friends, with whom we were vacationing, enjoyed one of the best views of the island – gazing onto the sun-kissed glittering Caribbean sea at Payne’s Bay – from the comfort of their sun loungers, cocktails in hand and the warm waters lapping at their toes.

To be fair Rob did actually move from his piece of prime real estate to race about on jet skis at full pelt with Geoff – both gleefully trying to kill themselves as they flew (in Geoff’s case quite literally) across the waves with the wind in their hair. Rainzley and I had a girls shopping and lunch day curtailed marginally by the interesting swelling of Rainzley’s right foot which was taking place before our eyes. The voracious mosquitoes had obviously been enjoying the tasty delights of British flesh for a few days before our arrival on the island and judging by the size of some of the bites I’m surprised Rainzley’s leg hadn’t actually rebelled and dropped off entirely ;-)

Forewarned and armed with the knowledge of the more than usually active mozzys we never left the room without being slick with spray and managed to survive the week without a single nibble…

Anyway… concerned that the horrible things might need some medical attention we wandered into the medical centre to be greeted by the hacking, sneezing and spluttering of another Brit carrying some disgusting contagious tropical disease (I was on full OCD alert as you might imagine). We watched a parade of various broken legs and ankles hobble in whilst we waited for her appointment. It shouldn’t have taken too long as there were only 4 people ahead in the queue but it transpired that there was only one doctor on duty and after almost 2 hours watching the comings and goings of various accidents and injuries we finally left clutching a pile of pills and potions. Happily, Rainzley’s leg returned to normal size and shape by the next day :-) I haven’t as yet (at the time of writing) contracted the foul disease which must have been swirling around our heads looking for its next victim to infect but I’m still on full alert… watching and waiting… ;-)

Whilst several afternoons were frittered on the beach, our mornings were spent on the open road, map in one hand (bars of Bajan Agapey caramel rum chocolate in the other) and camera at the ready. We criss-crossed the island from our base in Holetown (our favorite town on the island – littered with the requisite cute shops, cafes and restaurants).

We ventured  to the far north where the rugged windswept coast and limestone cliffs were battered by enormous waves which rushed through blowholes and nearly knocked poor Geoff off his feet –  I was holding out for the perfect holiday snap and didn’t see it coming either ;-) …then we headed down to the bays of Cattlewash and Bathsheba on the east coast with their dramatic rocky outcrops – lethal for swimming but famous for surfing.

For a tiny island (only 14 x 21 miles) I am ashamed to say that most of the time we were hopelessly lost – not always my fault to be fair – the road signs are almost non-existent, those that were once erected are now invariably faded, impossible to read (most of them being of the very homemade variety) and/or are lying on the ground pointing in the wrong direction. To make matters even more interesting the map was vague in the extreme. It was mainly by pure good fortune that we fell upon our intended destinations at all… but in the end it was, of course, the journey which was half of the fun…I think… ;-)

Lost again at the end of one such dead end, we fell upon an abandoned hotel – Sam Lord’s Castle – and drove onto the grounds to have a quick look around… an unexpected urbexing (“urban exploring” – or “trespassing on possibly dangerous abandoned sites” as it might otherwise be known ;-) ) experience awaited. Subsequently we discovered that the hotel had suffered a devastating fire in 2010 and the grounds were now, in 5 or 6 short years, overgrown with creepies and crawlies which made for some interesting shots :-)

Back at the beaches, the southwest coast was absolutely fabulous… Foul Bay and Bottom Bay (if we ever have to find them again I suspect it would be impossible ;-) ) were our clear favorites… much of the appeal owing to their remoteness and inaccessibility, of course!

Driving through the hills, country lanes and along cliff tops bore a considerable resemblance to off-roading much of the time. Roads in the interior and on the rugged east coast would be better described as muddy, pitted and cratered tracks. The rental car (a brand previously unknown to me with the stability of a blancmange and the unbridled power of a moped engine) managed to traverse the craters without plunging us down any of them to our untimely deaths but it really wasn’t quite as successful at climbing hills. Ascending from the coast up one particularly steep and winding road I suddenly realized that the car was being thrashed at full revs with Geoff’s flip-flopped foot to the floor but we were entirely stationary… The only way to make it out in one piece without rolling back down the hill out of control was to reverse downhill as quickly as possible before another vehicle with an engine more powerful than a hair dryer came careering up behind us. Having reversed at full speed and reached the bottom of the hill again in one piece Geoff stuck the gears in sport mode slammed his foot to the accelerator and I peddled like crazy along with him, feet to the floor like Wilma Flintstone, with my eyes shut and fingers crossed that no-one would be speeding down the hill around the blind bend towards us as we sped uphill towards it ;-)

Driving on the island was invariably an adrenaline fueled ride at the best of times… the locals like to play a game of chicken by driving at full speed towards you down narrow lanes (apparently oblivious to your oncoming presence) and then veer back to their own designated side of the road at the last split second… but all of that paled into insignificance when we were passing through (yet another) unnamed and unidentifiable village when a huge blue and yellow public bus screamed around a corner towards us on 2 wheels narrowly avoiding sending us all plunging to our deaths over a cliff ;-)

In the centre of the island we visited Anthony Hunte’s garden – Barbados’ most famous horticulturist. He has created a veritable magical wonderland of secret gardens, sculptures and winding paths overflowing with exotic, leafy, flowering plants. Geoff was highly skeptical when I suggested we criss-cross the island (yet again) navigating its labyrinth of dirt tracks and dead end roads in order to wander around a garden when we could have been sunning ourselves on the beach. However, I was pleased to note that ultimately even he was quite speechless at the overwhelming scale and beauty of the project – 20 years in the making – a little piece of paradise created in a sinkhole – 150 feet deep and 500 feet across caused by a massive landslide.

The final excursion inland was to locate Turner’s Hall Wood – the last remaining natural area of woodland on the island – old Barbados as it was before the sugar cane cash crops destroyed the wilderness. I am not entirely convinced that we would have expended quite as much effort to locate it for a sweaty hike if Geoff hadn’t read over my shoulder that it was also the last place on the island where wild green monkeys still swing freely through the trees (allegedly). After some considerable time driving backwards and forwards down one dead end after another (following the vaguest directions I have ever had to follow in my life) we pulled up at the end of the line outside a ramshackle house at the top of a remote hill “somewhere” inland… with a scrubby path off to the right… and to be fair… just as the instructions promised.

Unsure where to leave the car we decided to abandon it at the side of the road and we disappeared between a gap in the trees and followed the unmarked track into the woods in enthusiastic search of wild monkeys – dressed entirely inappropriately in running shoes. 2 hours later we re-emerged – not a single sign of a monkey anywhere – but we had found plenty of shoe-sucking 3″ deep mud to slip and slide about in on the steepest hike of the island. Survival was ensured only by joint cooperation – navigating the path both up and downhill whilst clinging on for dear life to each other. By some miracle, whilst one of us slipped and tripped the other one of us was solidly upright… and vice versa… all the way back to the car ;-) At least the view from the top of the hill across the hills to the coast was worth the slippery climb :-)

The remainder of our days passed uneventfully back on the west coast on padded sun loungers on the beach (favorites being Payne’s and Alleyne’s Bay)… for me – the latest John Grisham novel in one hand and a(nother) bar of Agapey coconut chocolate in the other… and for Geoff – a Rum Sour in one hand and a Bushwhacker  in the other ;-)

 

Mexico – December 2015

30 Dec
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San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

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Christmas in SMA :-)

Bright blue skies; a picture perfect climate; the usual chaotic excitement of latin american street life; vendors vending, children playing and their elders watching on in the (quite literally) pulsing heart of the city – “El Jardin” (The Garden)… the main tree-lined park in the centre of SMA; a huge glittering Christmas tree gracing the cobbled square in front of the fabulous pink limestone Parroquia (the parish church of SMA); ankle-twisting, bone-breaking cobblestone streets; 17th and 18th century Spanish colonial architecture; a family of gorgeous living, breathing sheep in the nativity scene in the park :-) ; handmade chilli chocolates; kids bouncing their prized 10 foot pencil shaped balloons as far into the air as they could manage; sweet and fruit sellers on street corners; vendors blowing bubbles for the tiny kids to play in; buckets of spicy fried crickets – seemingly irresistible to Geoff (he never seems to learn his street food lesson ;-) ); church bells ringing day and night (thankfully we packed earplugs); a Christmas Eve bride and groom on horseback serenaded by elaborately clad mariachi singers; Santa on a moped zipping through the backstreets; locals posing for photos in the square on a bored-looking burro sporting giant sunglasses ;-) ; more handmade chilli chocolates; a weekly organic farmers market with attendant “fast food” taco and burrito stalls – Geoff tested them out as anticipated (I believe it only took an hour or so for the swelling in his throat to subside ;-) ) – I stuck with the chilli chocolates ;-) ; shiny star-shaped piñatas hanging from the plazas… colored paper decorations strung across the streets; verdant courtyard cafes with twinkly lights and elegantly decorated trees; music bands and street entertainment in the square; quaint and cozy coffee shops squeezed into corners of the restored rows of casitas and mansions; bougainvillea draped roof terraces; doors and windows embellished with intricate hand-wrought ironwork; art galleries; and row upon row of immaculately renovated casitas in shades of burnt orange, ochre and gold; and, amongst many other wonderful things… a plethora of fabulous restaurants… irresistible :-)

Best of all, of course… not a single giant inflated plastic Santa fresh from the sweatshop factories of China, no palm trees wrapped in colored lights, no “fake snow” lights and no mile marker sticks informing the reader of the distance to the North Pole … utter bliss :-)

We absolutely loved the Spanish colonial architecture, the parks, plazas, courtyards and cafes. We wandered aimlessly through the artisans market people watching and absorbing the atmosphere… We fell upon secluded courtyards around many corners and took every opportunity to stop for copious amounts of (superb!) coffee and cake… :-)

San Miguel de Allende is very european in parts and (mainly) without the attendant european doggie doo to inadvertently step into which is just as well as the very hilly cobbled streets are already a death trap of craters, unexpected kerbs and other treacherous obstacles totally unsuitable for my collection of extravagantly high heels ;-) …and, conversely, very un-european in the quality of its air.

Whilst the cloudless ultramarine skies looked pristine, at ground level the fumes from the ancient cars, trucks and buses were absolutely choking… not Cusco, Peru-choking (where it was only possible to breathe through the filter of a handkerchief wedged up each nostril)… but it was pretty close ;-)

Christmas Eve in the inspirationally named “The Restaurant” started our vacation in typical disorganized latin american style. Geoff clung to me as I staggered in my dangerously lethal heels in the dark, uphill, leaping canyons in the cobbles, and avoiding inconveniently placed electricity wires and other such extraneous constructions on the notably narrow sidewalks, all the way to this much lauded restaurant, for our anticipated Christmas Eve dinner.

I hobbled in as elegantly as possible on twisted ankles, smiled as beatifically as I could muster and proclaimed in immaculate espanol that we had a reservation for 7.30. We then stood back and waited to be escorted efficienty into the beautiful restaurant with its open air terrace and twinkly lights for a romantic dinner “para dos”.

As the search for our name was taking slightly longer than anticipated I began to wonder what the implication of the inaudible mutterings from the maitre d’ and his check-in girl might be. Suddenly the maitre’d smiled back equally beatifically, apologized (with no hint of sincerity whatsoever) and proclaimed that our names were unfortunately not on the reservation list at all… and what was more, they were fully booked for the night (unsurprisingly).

So… there we are on Christmas Eve – dolled up to the nines on one of the busiest nights of the year in this hugely popular town (not just popular with the substantial ex-pat community but also with visitors from afar and the rather well-heeled from Mexico City) apparently without anywhere to eat :-(

Unwilling to accept my looming vision that we might be left with no alternative but to share a left-over breakfast croissant and a rapidly wilting cucumber for our Christmas Eve gastronomic delight I pressed on with my insistence that we most definitely did have a reservation. Beside me, I could see that Geoff’s lower lip was beginning to twitch in irritation (probably alcohol deprivation) as I scrabbled through my handbag looking for my reservation confirmation. Et voila – there it was! Relieved, I thrust it under the nose of the manager who was beginning to come out in a cold sweat.

However, it transpired that we weren’t quite yet safely through the trees.

Ahhhh… (on examination of my crumpled print-out) – all was now clear – he explained – I didn’t have a confirmed reservation for dinner because my booking had been made online and they weren’t accepting reservations online for Christmas Eve. How unfortunate, I thought, however I couldn’t really care less what the failings of the website booking reservation system might be… my reservation had been made direct on “The Restaurant’s” own website, it came replete with time, date and confirmation number and we were getting hungry… far worse… Geoff (who was beginning to spit feathers) was getting thirsty… ;-)

“Well – you coulda fooled me Buster”… (reverting to my very best English)… “as you can clearly see this is a print-out from YOUR website with a confirmation number which clearly states December 24th, 7.30pm Reservation Confirmation for 2 – now seat us pronto and feed me your overpriced 6 course set menu “special evening” dinner, por favor, cos it’s been a long day wandering the cobbled streets and we’re kinda hungry now”.

The conversation continued to rotate much along these lines for a good 10 minutes as the idle rich in their various fineries began to pile up in the entrance behind us looking, initially, flustered and then just plain irritated.

After an infinite time of embarrassment and absolute abdication of responsibility for the failings of their own website booking system (I was barely able to believe that this was all my fault), the manager finally conceded that he might actually HAVE to find us a table because we weren’t showing signs of leaving and there were now audible ripples of discontent behind us from the well heeled americans and the drugs lord from Mexico City with his extended family… not a situation the maitre d’ wished to sustain for long, I’m sure ;-)

Suddenly we were whisked away, deposited at the bar and plied with complimentary cocktails (by that stage a blind man could have seen that the atmosphere could only be improved with the provision of alcohol) and we were told we would have a table in 30 minutes. Numerous alcoholic beverages later we were still waiting for our table an hour later by which time we had also (luckily) scoured the fixed price menu for its various offerings. Less fortunately, however, we discovered that the main course options all involved the consumption of the corpses of cute, cuddly, furry, dead animals … Could the evening get much worse?

…a first world problem, of course, but then again we weren’t thrilled at the prospect of spending an arm and a leg in order to simply sip soup and devour dessert (which we’ll get to later… ).

Scuttling back to the maitre’d (who was undoubtedly wishing he hadn’t been so rash as to promise to find us a table at all), Geoff asked what alternatives were offered for those of us who don’t eat cute, cuddly, furry creatures. The answer was – apparently – none… maybe gnocchi if the chef had time to knock some up… (really??) – nope – that wasn’t going to wash so Geoff sent him back to the kitchen to try again.

10 minutes later we were informed that the chef MAY have some scallops in the freezer he could defrost (a similarly unenticing offer)… so back to señor le chef…

A final rifle through the fridge culminated in the offering of salmon and vegetables which we accepted with no hope whatsoever that it would be worth the vastly overpriced fixed price menu for Crimbo Eve… but what are ya gonna do??!

Luckily, we were wrong :-) The chef, at least, had some pride in running his kitchen even if the manager could barely care less about customer service ;-)

Almost replete, we turned our thoughts to dessert. Offerings on the menu were Chocolate Pot de Crème (a no brainer for me) and Pumpkin Pie (more a dessert of desperation). Imagine our barely disguised delight when the waiter offered us Cheesecake and Pumpkin Pie…

“Well hang on there un momento Miguel but I had set my heart on the Chocolate Pot de Crème so I’ll have one of those, por favor”.

“Ahh… many apologies señora but the kitchen has run out of chocolate dessert” …at 9.30pm?… on the busiest night in the city?… when all the little offspring of the drugs kingpin on the table beside us were simultaneously chatting about ordering the divine sounding Pot de Crème?? We could barely wait to hear the upshot of the conversation when they had to tell their kids that the kitchen had run out of chocky pudding ;-) Not wanting to get caught in the crossfire (literally or figuratively) we quickly ordered the cheesecake and the check and headed home as fast as we could stagger.

Thereafter, however, the week passed smoothly – save for the hobbling up and down the cobblestone paths and roadways which were anything but smooth sailing ;-)

7 courses for Christmas Dinner at Zumo the following night (why does anyone need 7 courses?) rather left us unable to consume anything more until the following evening when we met with a work colleague of Geoff’s from Mexico City and his wife at the swanky Rosewood Hotel. Many Mexican Flag Tequilas were imbibed (the boys may have been in competition)… as were many restorative cups of coffee the following day ;-)

The only time we could be bothered to tear ourselves away from wandering the streets of the old city or sharing a ringside park bench with the other oldies at El Jardin watching the world go by, we headed uphill (on the morning of our penultimate day) to the Botanical Garden “El Charco” to catch some fresher air than the usual 2 stroke truck engine fumes ;-)

El Charco is a proudly vaunted area of natural beauty in the hills above the city which brought to mind the wild scrubland of New Mexico (perhaps unsurprisingly) or Arizona (but without the billowing trash)… a reservoir previously supplying the city, a diminutive canyon and many, many enormous cacti …it was a relief to breathe freely again but not desperately exciting…

Still, our final afternoon passed perfectly – we managed to squeeze in even more chilli chocolates, kill a few hours in our favorite verdant courtyard cafe and enjoy final cocktails watching the sun set on the gloriously pink Parroquia from the rooftop terrace of our casita :-)

Adios Mexico! Hasta luego :-)

England – October 2015

16 Oct
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Lavenham, Suffolk

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Thoroughly homesick for the first time in 16 years we took an emergency trip to our motherland in search of a cure ;-)

Geoff was rather hoping for 2 weeks of rain, grey skies and general freezing misery to finally dispel my romantic notions of rose-covered thatched cottages, cricket on the village green and puffy white clouds floating over emerald green fields. Luckily, (or perhaps not – for the homesickness!!) he was wrong and we were fortunate enough to arrive just in time for somewhat of an Indian summer with overtones of autumnal color.

It was absolutely lovely (discounting one day of rain in London which I am now choosing to ignore ;-) ). Not only did the weather play ball allowing us to potter aimlessly in the sun – the fall leaves swirling at our feet – we also managed to spend quality time with family and friends – which is, of course, the real reason we were so homesick…

…that and missing the gastronomic delights of the British Isles ;-) At the final tally we calculated that in 2 weeks we had consumed something in the region of 100 million calories comprising, amongst other meals, of 3 curries, 4 fish and chip suppers, and coffee and homemade cake at various tea shop stops around the country x 14 (or maybe more).

Our time was spent at break-neck speed as usual.

We visited my parents in Windsor, Berkshire and celebrated my mum’s 80th birthday. I hope I’ve inherited my mothers genes because (all bias aside) I don’t think she looks even close to 80 :-)

We passed an idyllic autumnal day pottering along the River Alde estuary at Snape Maltings with Geoff’s grandmother, his dad and step-mother.

We spent the weekend bonding with my new hairy nephew Asher (a huge Bull Mastiff, somewhat intimidating at first sight, but ultimately an affectionate, cuddly great lump – able to puncture a football kicked for him by his Uncle Geoff with one enormous clench of his jaw) and the other members of the chicken, duck and geese menagerie at my brother Paul and his wife Katie’s newly purchased small-holding in the beautiful Suffolk countryside.

There was the traditional Gardner family get together evening replete with a full contingent of very bouncy nieces and nephew – thanks again to beloved Auntie Val for baking the most delicious surprise early 50th birthday cake for Geoff.

London is always fun – despite the on and off rain. Whilst Geoff was warm and dry presenting something fascinating in the Red Hat London office, I kept myself dry in the Tate Modern Gallery but I soon tired of the piles of bricks and barbed wire oddities in preference for the far more interesting street life of the city.

We finally got to meet the rather cute future husband (Damion) of a very old friend of mine (Kate… also my former bridesmaid) from my days in the law … it seemed only right that we should thoroughly vet and approve him before booking the flights to the wedding in the Greek Islands next summer ;-)

After a couple of days of Geoff working in the Red Hat Farnborough office (whilst I gallivanted around the countryside with my parents), we caught a flight up to Cheshire to spend the weekend with our longtime best friend Gary, his wife Tracey and their drop-dead gorgeous Ragdoll kitty, Ollie. We were collected from Manchester airport in their newly acquired refurbished lime green 1979 T2 Bay VW Camper Van whistling Dixie at full volume at us by horn. I haven’t quite got over the embarrassment even yet ;-) We kicked leaves in the Cheshire countryside, Geoff found some very fat cows to feed and a tree to climb… so he was happy… We wandered the streets of fabulous Chester where we tried to watch an (as advertised) “awe-inspiring” falconry display from the city walls – but after half an hour of giggling at the poor handler whistling at a distant tree and chucking a dead mouse up in the air to tempt the naughty escapee falcon down from its perch on high we gave up on the show and found a tea shop instead :-) … we also had a bonus fun evening at the best gastropub in the entire world with Gary, Tracey and other mutual friends, Rob and Rainzley – which was a blast :-)

… by this time of course the homesickness was hardly wearing off… and was ultimately compounded by our final few days spent with one of my best friends, Caroline, Stephen and family ( I can’t imagine where the time has gone but we have known each other now for 30 years since we met in the first few days of University). Naturally all the stops were pulled out as we hiked our way from one delectable tea shop and pub to the next …over, around and through various of the Yorkshire Dales – one of our favorite places in England :-)

So… back home in the Sunshine State, we are no less homesick but it was nice to come home and shed a few layers of clothing to sunbathe by the pool and reminisce :-)

Thank you all for an absolutely wonderful vacation :-) We miss y’all! xxx

Summer in New England and Washington – July/August/September 2015

29 Sep
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Lobster Landing in Clinton, CT

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Summer flew by with more time than usual spent up in the North East this year.

Whilst Geoff enjoyed the limited excitements of the office in Tyson’s Corner, I loitered about aimlessly in Georgetown, Foggy Bottom and the National Mall in Washington enjoying the far lovelier architecture of the city, the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden and the street cafes… and then followed it with more of the same guided by a local friend well versed in the side streets and neighborhoods of 14th Street, Logan Circle and U Street …she always knows the more interesting areas to hang out in and while away the hours chatting in a caffeinated state of contentment :-).

Aside from the summer heat, humidity and usual city-type busyness of DC we passed our weeks around work and art shows friend-hopping, visiting and catching up with artist friends in various states, one of the highlights of which was house sitting for an art collector friend on the Connecticut coast in Mystic. Much to Geoff’s delight he was also requested to “car sit” so he got to try out the 5.5 litre AMG version of our Mercedes SL 500 :-)

… this wasn’t necessarily a good thing, with hindsight ;-).

July, August and September in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine went by in a haze of rocky coastal communities; coastal walks at York Harbor, Maine, on the Marginal Way at Perkin’s Cove, Maine and the coastal trail in Newport, Rhode Island – breathing in the smell of wild beach roses warmed by the summer and early fall sun; coastal marshes; fishing villages; lobster shacks; oyster bars; country forest drives; evening runs along the picturesque Mystic River watching the sun setting on the boats bobbing about in the marina; explorations up the Connecticut River Valley and into the Litchfield Hills; visiting idyllic colonial towns and villages; shopping til I dropped in the boutiques of Portsmouth, New Hampshire… and other quintessentially typical New England summer and fall delights :-).

In addition, (thankfully) I sold a lot of paintings which was, of course, the entire purpose of our summer spent mainly up north ;-) :-).

Mont Tremblant, Canada – August 2015

7 Aug
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Mont Tremblant, Canada

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A flying weekend trip to Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada squeezed in between art shows :-).

It was all very sedate in summer in this renowned Canadian ski resort …less skiing icy moguls and more perambulating around the lake and the immaculate pastel painted, tin roofed town in flip-flops and running shoes (naturellement!).

…and, more importantly, of course, food testing our way through the french patisseries and local fromages… followed by sipping du vin on the apartment balcony overlooking the lake :-).

All very pleasant, relaxing and distinctly unchallenging for once …except for trying to remember all of our schoolboy/girl french… ;-).

California – June 2015

8 Jun
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Torrey Pines Beach, Southern California

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Frittered a few days reacquainting myself with the good and bad of San Diego and its environs whilst Geoff attended a conference in the Hotel Del at Coronado Beach :-).

Despite our many trips to California over the years time seems to have eroded our memories of just how chilly a summer on this coast can be. Having dipped my toes fleetingly into the Pacific for old times’ sake I wondered with awe how all the tourists and locals managed to immerse their bodies fully into the icy waters without the protection of wet suits and a layer of English Channel swimmers grease ;-) …. I guess we have lived too long in the Sunshine State with the balmy Gulf waters at an average temperature of 85F over the summer months compared to 70F in San Diego :-).

Still, the Coronado boardwalk, bordered at each end by the famous naval bases was a beautiful location for a morning run each day – ignoring the wind chill and the frost bite nipping at our ear-lobes ;-).

Wandering the San Diego waterfront and Balboa Park in the sun (whilst Coronado Island froze under its blanket of summer fog less than 2 miles away) was very pleasant, albeit touristy. Over the passage of time, I seem to have forgotten the full horrors of the famous Gaslight District jammed with bars and chain food restaurants and, similarly, I had forgotten just how eerily quiet this city can be in the daytime … dominated as it is by the huge Conference Centre buildings and the fact nobody goes to bars at 11am … it’s an odd place…

We decided to retrace old steps with a weekend at beautiful La Jolla just up the road… home of the ultra well-heeled … boutique stores, posh restaurants and Seal Cove – which is best observed from a  distance; right down amongst the cuddly, lazy lumps themselves sunbathing on the beach, the accompanying odors pervading the air were heady to say the least.

To be fair, I am not sure if the blame for the unholy stench should be laid at the door of the harbor seals playing at the shoreline, the sea lions flopped over the beach rocks or the thick guano dripping down the cliffs – courtesy of the cormorants and pelicans who like to stop there and spread their wings to dry out. Either way, if I had $10 million to invest in a house on the Southern Californian coast I suspect I wouldn’t do it where you could only enjoy cocktails on your sea view balcony whilst wearing a gas mask ;-)

Torrey Pines State Reserve at sunset was as spectacular as ever… the golden cliffs brought to life by the dying rays of the sun and reflected in an almost mirror image on the wet sand. A newly fledged family of Peregrin Falcons soared in the sky at the clifftop – mommy was busily teaching her chicks how to eat in mid-air… all rather idyllic for a sunset stroll…

Whilst we do love California for its wild beauty, quaint, trendy towns and its great hiking climate, we wondered, as we careered up behind a 13 mile tail back on I5 en route to Laguna Beach for the afternoon, how (stubbornly wearing our rose-tinted pro-Californian glasses) we had forgotten about the horrendous traffic, the ridiculously manic way of life and the general overcrowding in Southern California. Luckily, we screeched to a stop before joining the 2-hour queue to nowhere, u-turned and headed straight back in the direction of La Jolla again. By some miracle we managed to find a prized parking spot by Del Mar beach and braved the chilly breeze to absorb some sunny warmth behind the shelter of large beach rocks. We watched the crazy locals frolic in the frigid sea with their equally crazy dogs until we could take the cold no longer… ;-).

Time to head home to warmer climes …

 

Hawaiian Islands – May 2015

27 May
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Tunnels Beach, Kauai

Incredible tropical beaches, playing “ball” with sand crabs, hogs and frogs while dining at a vegan restaurant, mangoes falling from the sky, canyons, mountains, rainforests, hiking volcanoes, river rock jumping and leaping over waterfalls in the most remote islands in the world :-).

Photo’s are here or you can just click on the photograph above.

11 of the world’s 13 climates in one small island chain – packing for every eventuality was going to be challenging ;-).

Our travels through the Hawaiian islands began on the island of Hawai’i – the Big Island. Not quite what we were expecting of a Hawaiian island although neither of us could quite put our fingers on why.

We felt right at home in our Waikoloa Beach apartment when a kitten strolled past the patio and stopped to say hello as we were sipping tea watching the sunrise (jet lag! ;-) ) over the golf course on our first morning. Fifteen seconds later it’s twin appeared and then mommy appeared from the undergrowth and wandered up for a stroke and a chat. Mommy looked distinctly more bedraggled than her kittens so I whipped down to the local store to get a couple of cans of food in case she was hungry….

By the time I got back the “family” had expanded to 4 with appetites so voracious I had to whip back to the store again… ;-)

After breakfast (not ours, as I hadn’t had time to deal with that yet ;-) ), mommy cuddled up to one of the cushions on my patio chair and the kittens curled up under Geoff’s chair and dozed off.

On our exploratory travels that day we grabbed a few more cans and a box of dry food in case they were back the following morning…

Needless to say, when we returned, mommy hadn’t moved at all after her gargantuan breakfast and she had clearly decided that she was staying for dinner (she could sense a kitty sucker a mile away, obviously). The moment we flipped the lid on the can the kittens also miraculously reappeared with a friend. We asked in reception who they belonged to as when we looked more closely around the pristine resort landscaping there were a number of kitties running loose, catching geckos on the lava rocks. We were told that they had wandered from the cat colony on the beach a mile or so away and while guests continued to feed them contrary to all the rules ( the most heinous of which was letting them enter the apartment… oops ;-) ! ) they weren’t inclined to leave the luxury of the resort…

So, we inadvertently adopted a family of 4 with a daily rotating friend for 8 days … breakfast and dinner…and occasionally if I were lucky enough I was able to sit on the patio chair too enjoying the breeze if mommy could be bothered to move her furry butt. We can only hope the next guests after we left were as kitty silly as we are or they might have had to head back to the cat colony for dinner where the felines were considerably more lazy and similarly well-fed… I did mention in passing to Geoff that maybe we could slip the family into the hand luggage but he didn’t seem inclined… rotter… :-(.

Anyway – Hawai’i – the Big Island – it is the largest island of the chain whose landscape is dominated by 2 enormous dramatic volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Measured from the sea floor base to the highest peak, Mauna Kea is the highest mountain in the world. It also snows up there in winter.. whilst a few miles away the coast basks in sunshine…

The island also has one of the world’s most famous volcanoes – Kilauea – which has been erupting constantly since 1983. No helicopter flights to witness the legendary luminous red lava flow into the ocean for us, however! The closest we got was to view the eruption through a long-distance telescope due to poisonous gases blowing in an inconvenient direction… Still, once we’d seen the quite incredible sight of the earth roiling, boiling and churning like the ocean that was probably as close as we needed to get ;-).

We took a hike across the Kilauea caldera – the dormant part ;-). Even so – the crater was still distinctly warm under foot in places, with steaming fissures in the rock which you could stick your hand into if you were a really stupid tourist… With all of that underground activity around us I didn’t want to spend too much time loitering for a photo shoot ;-).

The Big Island is a land of vast diversity – from wind-blown, green, rolling hills in North Kohala with it’s views down to the ultramarine sea rimmed with calm turquoise waters lapping the sandy or rocky shores; to the stark, dry, rugged, black lava and boulder strewn rocky landscapes around the bases of the volcanoes in the center of the island where mongooses and bearded mountain goats roam wild; to verdant, rainforest-covered headlands on the wet northern and eastern sides of the island where wild boar roam the forests and roosters and hens with their families of chicks peck through the undergrowth.

As to the beaches, they covered the whole gamut from wild, black sand volcanic beaches with huge crashing waves to calmer yellow sand coves with warm lapping water where you could watch large green turtles haul themselves up on the sand to rest.

And just to emphasize the difference in climates from one side of the island to the other – it was nothing to register 90F on the car thermometer on the dry sunny, western side of the island, drive through the misty, cloudy hills of Waimea and plunge into 56F en route to the east coast – all in the space of 40 minutes.

On the west coast, where we were based, were the greatest concentration of the most beautiful sandy beaches on the island (which was convenient :-) ). Even from the roads you could see the route of swaths of historic lava flows from the volcano, crossing the farmland down to the beaches. It was a breathtaking sight to see the sun setting on the volcanoes behind us in the centre of the island, and on the colorful farmland at their feet, from the comfort of your beach towel with your toes dipped in the warm, transparent, turquoise waters of the Kekahakai coastline :-).

Our favorite and most remote find was also the most pure white sand beach which we discovered on any of the 4 islands. Fabulous Makalawena Beach was almost always deserted – something to do, no doubt, with a 15 minute off-road crater-filled drive followed by a hot 30 minute hike across steamy (not literally ;-) ) black volcanic rock to reach it’s shores. Clad in bikini, sunhat and hiking boots I wondered why I had thought that the spangly bejeweled beach resort sandals and my collection of embroidered indian silk sarongs would be useful items to pack in my limited Geoff-imposed hand luggage allowance for 3 1/2 weeks ;-).

Whilst Geoff had some work to catch up on (courtesy of our 4 months in South East Asia interfering slightly with our pre-planned summer vacation), I drove through the island checking out the hot-spots for Geoff’s subsequent guided tours. Highlights were the northern wilderness areas such as Pololu Valley with it’s forest trail down to crashing waves on a wild, black sand beach which was breathtaking at sunset; Laupahoehoe Point State Beach; and a tough almost vertical 1 mile hike down to Waipi’o Valley where only local Hawaiians are allowed to enter by car and the secluded valley is one of the wettest and most remote areas on the islands.

The coastal routes on the east coast to the south were punctuated with beautiful sparkling blue coves dotted along winding, tree lined roads with waterfalls and streams at every turn. On the hiking trails bright with hibiscus, wild ginger, gardenia and plumeria flowers, ripe orange mangoes literally fell from the sky onto our heads. The north and south of the island had quaint bougainvillea draped villages (Hawi, Kapa’au and Holualoa were favorites) so I was never far from an emergency latte if needed ;-). On my lone travels I even managed to squeeze in a cultural side-trip to the sacred historical coastal site – Pu’uhonua-O-Honaunau, also known as the City of Refuge. Here, miscreants would be safe from penalty if they made the dangerous journey and arrived safely – benefiting from absolution by a priest for their transgressions – thereafter they could return safely to their villages without fear of death.

The Big Island has some beautiful and spectacular sights but we were still looking for the picture-postcard, quintessential Hawaiian beach…so….onwards to Maui :-).

Wow….Maui certainly ticked all of the boxes when it came to cute country villages, great cafes serving amazing organic, island-grown food, fabulous dramatic coastal drives, cloud covered rainforest mountains, waterfalls, and a handful of pretty beaches where you might get lucky and swim with a turtle.

It is known as the Valley Isle. I, on the other hand, would probably call it the Windy Isle though that may not be so good for marketing purposes ;-). It’s landscape reminded us of a combination of New Zealand, England, the Caribbean and California rolled into one. Obviously, we were going to be quite happy there for a week :-).

Our first afternoon seemed a little blustery (to put it mildly) so it was spent trying to find a beach where we could shelter from the clouds of sand which were billowing down the coast on the south of the island. I thought I had struck lucky with my careful analysis of wind direction and the orientation of the various contenders on my list of must-do beaches so we settled onto the sand at Makena Beach to absorb some rays. Unfortunately, I was disturbed from my afternoon reveries by a very unhappy husband covered in one giant sandblast from head to foot in thick, dark, yellow sand. Whilst he frantically tried to remove a bucketful of sand from his ears, I was tasked with picking sand from his hair like an orangutan grooming it’s offspring. Not quite the anticipated romantic Hawaiian beach vacation quite yet! ;-). Luckily, I survived the worst of the onslaught by the human shield lying next to me but even I was still locating inappropriately lodged particles of sand from various orifices for several days afterwards.

Luckily, the main purpose of our trip to Maui – to hike the Haleakala volcano and to drive the “Road to Hana” – were both infinitely more spectacular than most of the beaches turned out to be in the wind ;-).

Having said that we did find one which we loved – Oneloa Bay on the north shore which was still a little windy but far more beautiful than the others (albeit that it backed onto a golf course community – so it wasn’t winning in the “wild” category). We also saw our first (and last) surfing dog at Oneloa which I am sure was worth the drive to the other side of the island from Paia alone :-).

Clearly, although it has some unbelievably wild and beautiful spots, Maui was still not quite the island of our beach dreams (some might say we are getting very fussy in our old age, of course ;-) ). Many of the well-known ones (Napili Bay, Kapalua and so on) would have been pretty if it weren’t for the 500 beach chairs and kids toys strewn everywhere.

However, to give it it’s due, it was most definitely the Hawaii of our dreams when it came to spectacular coastal drives through lush waterfall fed rainforest and mountains (the Road to Hana and the even hairier single lane cliff edge road to Kahakuloa and beyond); and to crashing waves and cerulean seas; to blowholes and dramatic headlands; and, when it came to volcano hiking.

So we concentrated our efforts on the countryside instead – exploring the highland area villages inland from Paia, and hiking the Haleakala Volcano National Park, the Ohe’o Gulch Valley and the Iao Valley State Park.

By the time we had hiked down 1000 feet, across the Haleakala crater in the Volcano National Park and back up out of it again at an altitude of 10,000 feet we were probably fit to expire and spend the rest of the week on a beach, albeit a sand blasted one. It was incredible (visually and physically ;-) ) to hike down the scree and shifting sands to the dark red cinder cones, through the surreal, stark moonscapes passing weird and wonderful vegetation. We picnicked on a lava rock (is there any other kind on these islands?) watching the afternoon clouds roll in around the mountains below us…it was quite magical .. as if we were on top of the world :-).

The other 2 hikes we did were barely less physically exhausting.

The first was a hot and humid hike into the valley from the starting point of the Ohe’o Gulch Falls which cascaded into the ocean. The aroma of fermented mangoes which had fallen from the trees onto the flower filled trail was enough to knock us off our feet before the hike even started ;-). Still, we pressed on, passing through fern valleys, pristine wilderness and tall bamboo forests rustling in the wind until we reached beautiful Waimoku Falls.

But the best hike of all on Maui was trespassing at Iao Valley State Park ;-).

I had read about the great hikes around the Iao Valley State Park – with it’s iconic image – the Needle – but I hadn’t got around to picking up a map. We asked at the pay booth for a hiking map and the elderly local selling tickets looked bemused and told us there were no hiking trails and, consequently, there was no map….Umm…great…

On further cross-examination, Geoff managed to elicit that there were actually trails which some brave locals used but they weren’t legitimate as they were all sectioned off behind “Do Not Enter” signs…

Not to be deterred, Geoff took matters into this own exploratory hands when the park ranger had his back turned, leapt over a fence barring our way and scuttled up a slippery slope. Not entirely convinced that we wouldn’t be sacrificed at an altar somewhere deep in the valley for trespassing on sacred land, never to be found again, I was a little bit more cautious until we met a young couple in flip-flops descending the mountain trail covered from head to foot in thick slimy mud. They were the only other people we met for the whole hike to the viewpoint – 2 miles uphill. They mentioned that it was muddy in parts ;-). That turned out to be an understatement. 2 miles uphill doesn’t sound like much but when every step uphill is accompanied with 1/2 a step slipping down the mud slick hillside and the rest of the more horizontally oriented hike we were jumping over streams and traversing wide muddy swamps on fallen logs (at the same time as trying to avoid being caught up and asphyxiated by strangler fig roots) it was actually quite a time consuming and hot and sweaty feat.

Obviously, we had no excuses at any juncture to turn back as we couldn’t be outdone by the two 20 something hikers who had managed the whole route in flip-flops ;-). The view was spectacular… miles of wilderness and mountains with no sound other than the birds in the trees around us :-).

Maui is also justifiably famed for it’s rustic local fruit stands. We stopped at one far out into the boonies on the road back from Hana. I suspect our vendor – stoned to the high heavens – foraged for wild fruit in the forest to sell (and why not?!). He was so excited that somebody had stopped to buy his produce that he insisted that we try every variety of fruit on his stand. Sounds great – but this wasn’t good for my cleanliness phobia. If he had washed his hands anytime in the last 10 years I would be stunned. With these very same bacteria and grime encrusted fingers he cut up chunks of fruit with a rusty old knife (similarly filth encrusted) and handed us the most delicious pieces of mango, papaya and banana we had ever eaten.

(As an aside – even better, of course, neither of us regretted our acceptance of his generous offerings by spending the next week glued to the toilet in our luxurious beach house bathroom on the north shore in Paia … thank goodness ;-) ).

We decided to take a risk on a coconut too as we were thirsty and fancied some coconut water (having already purchased a pile of fruit we would struggle to get through). He hacked the top off and we asked if he had a straw. No – ahh – that might be awkward then…A moment later he grabbed a piece of hollow stem from some unknown forest dwelling plant lying at the side of the fruit stand, cut out a 9” section and said we could improvise with that. Smiling at his impressive innovation – it was perfectly clean he said – running his fingers up and down it with enthusiasm before sticking it into the top of our coconut and handing it over to me. Nothing if not imaginative… As a parting gift he handed me a sprig of rosemary which he had just picked from the roadside. It was for our dashboard to make the car smell nice. Someone less cynical perhaps may not have thought that it would also be ideal to mask the heady smell of cannabis which wafted in the air around him ;-). Nice of him to share the tip though ;-) ;-).

Somewhere along the road to Hana (or maybe dangling over a precipice on the mountain road from Kahakuloa in some of the most drop-dead gorgeous rainforest landscape in the world) we mooted that surely this is what life is really supposed to be… It can’t all be corporate America, art shows and Starbucks coffee….surely…

How does someone drop so far out of the “real“ world that they survive on the spoils of their foraging for wild organic fruit to sell to the occasional passing tourist? And by that I guess I really mean …. how can WE do it?!! ;-).

Would we go stir crazy on a tiny island in the North Pacific where GMO’s are banned, the evil Monsanto is vilified and local food is grown organically and sustainably… and everyone seems so happy because they live in paradise?

Umm… I don’t think so… :-). We couldn’t go the whole hog, give up washing and walk the streets barefoot but so much of the ethos of life there speaks to us….

We loved Maui – for it’s fantastic scenery, for the irresistibly quaint (organically and hippie dominated) town of Paia; for Grandma’s Coffee House (and her depressingly delicious selection of cakes :-( ;-) ) in Kula; for the diversity of hiking terrains from volcano to rain forest; for our nightly coastal sunset run along the beach; for the general ethos of life; and for the peace and tranquility of the highland villages …

But one or two beautiful wind blown beaches wasn’t quite enough to make this our absolute perfect Hawaiian Island…

So… back to the open air hopper flight airport and 40 minutes later we were touching down on the island which I hoped would have it all… Kaua’i – known as the Garden Isle (or Gardner’s Paradise ;-) ).

Certainly on initial impression, it seemed that we had found the most laid-back, chilled out place in the US.

The people were friendly, we found a couple of vegetarian organic cafes (our favorite had a family of wild hogs roaming quite safely in the fields behind it ;-) and giant frogs hopped about our feet in the garden at night catching bugs)…and a great coffee shop…all was looking good…

So, having settled into the hotel in Kapa’a on the central eastern coast, we hit the road for a week in search of what we really wanted Hawaii to be.

And we had, at last, finally found it :-).

We also found some of the toughest hiking we have ever done – the Koke’e State Park, parts of the Kalalau Valley Rim Trail, Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of the Pacific) – around the rim, clambering over rocks in the dark red dust and giant roots to reach our spectacular lunch stop – the Wai’poo Falls which dropped off 800 feet below us and our sandwiches :-).

Whilst Waimea Canyon is dry and desert like (aside from a  few waterfalls), the dramatic pinnacles and steep valleys of the Napali Coast next to it is covered in rain forest…and in the interior of the island (to give you an idea of exactly how damply exotic Kaua’i’s rain forests can be), Mount Wai’ale’ale is the wettest place on earth, receiving on average 450″ (11.43 meters) of rain annually.

Days hiking were often ended with a sunset stroll on the beach…Ke’e or Tunnels…

Days without mountain or canyon hiking were usually frittered with a day on the sand – some obscure beach located down a dirt track perhaps…where Geoff would body-surf or stare wistfully out to sea whilst playing “ball” with sand crabs…rolling seeds (fallen from the trees swaying overhead) towards the crabs on the sand and watching them scuttle off sideways after them … I guess he missed playing with the cats ;-).

The true beach of our Hawaiian dreams, however, was infinitely more accessible.

Tunnels Beach at Haena State Park… at the far end of the North Shore close to where the road runs out and the unbelievably spectacular Napali Coast wilderness begins.

This is the land of “South Pacific”, “Jurassic Park”, “King Kong” and countless other movies. It is everything we could possibly have imagined :-).

….except for the lethal waves, riptides, deadly undertow and a myriad of other watery threats which even the locals don’t seem able to avoid. A constant reminder of possible mishaps are the makeshift shrines dotted along the coastal road – memorials to teenagers swept out whilst chasing their last big wave.

However, I won’t hear a word against Tunnels, of course, because it is my dream beach ;-). It was also calm, peaceful and pristine whenever we laid our towels under the shade of it’s ironwood trees and bobbed about in it’s crystal clear waters staring gooey eyed at the Bali Hai headlands and the towering rainforest covered mountain backdrop :-).

It shouldn’t be a great surprise that anywhere with a coastline as dramatic, wild, rugged, untouched and unspoiled as the Napali Coast might have some large, treacherous and unpredictable waves. We got lucky with most beaches on Kaua’i but whilst others looked gorgeous it was easy to see how their waters might rip you from your perch on a rock or knock you clean off your feet and drag you out into the Pacific…

And so on to the Napali Coast – probably the most stunning coastline in the world. You can take a scenic flight over it, or cruise around it, but the only way to see it up close and personal is to hike in…. so that is what we did…

The first stop was Hanakapi’ai Beach – a small cove with crashing waves and hikers crashed out on the rocks… and most importantly, a warning sign advising visitors to say away from the shoreline. It showed a tally of 88 deaths in that one tiny cove alone… this didn’t, however, seem to stop the family with 3 young kids playing in the surf… Either they were very stupid or actually trying to lose one … unbelievable :-(.

The other hikers began to dwindle in number after the beach stop as we proceeded onwards to the Hanakapi’ai Falls. In total only an 8 mile round trip in picture perfect 78F weather….but it turned out to be one of the most exhilarating and tiring hikes of our trip. We straddled waterfalls running down the mountainside, leapt across streams, jumped from one huge precarious rock to another and negotiated slick boulders and fallen logs over rushing rivers, craggy rock faces, tree roots and muddy slopes…

It was absolutely worth every effort :-).

It is difficult not to wax lyrical ad nauseum about Kauai because it ticked all of the boxes – it even had a couple of quaint towns – not Maui quaint – but Hanalei, Kilauea Town and Koloa Old Town were appealing all the same.

So, I won’t …. wax lyrical…that is.

But I will say that we will be back … maybe for a few months…or maybe a year or 2… :-). Next time we will do the considerably more strenuous full 11 mile overnight hike on the Kalalau Trail … unless we are too old and rickety by then to hike into the Napali Coast again … So maybe we would just fly over it or sail around it instead… either way, we are not done with it, nor the island, quite yet!

Leaving was miserable…but leave we had to as we started our journey home via our fourth and final destination – the island of O’ahu.

Oh boy… I had my reservations when I booked it but our flights home made it inevitable to stop off somewhere – and better another Hawaiian island than Los Angeles  – so we decided to spend a few days on Waikiki Beach.

It is probably the busiest stretch of beach we have ever seen outside of the French Riviera on a sweltering day in August. Ram-jammed with crispy fried and blistered white bodies, blow-up kids toys, loud music, umbrellas and discarded beer cans and cigarette butts…. :-(. With hindsight, Memorial Day weekend may not have been the best weekend to choose to visit this incredibly popular beach destination either.

Aside from an evening walk to watch the surfers in the dying rays of the sun hanging 10 against the backdrop of Diamond Head headland (and a subsequent attempt to body board (me) and surf (Geoff) in the lovely, clear and irritatingly calm, warm and wave-free waters), we decided to avoid Waikiki and make the best of O’ahu by checking out some of the other parts of the island.

The signature tune to “Hawaii Five-O” blaring from my cellphone, and suitably decorated with my first orchid lei of the vacation, we zipped about the streets in a fittingly flashy bright red Mustang which I’ll admit I rather liked :-).

We did find some parts of O’ahu which were appealing. The historic town of Haleiwa on the North Shore where we enjoyed our last lattes of the vacation and a final lilikoi (passionfruit) Aloha bar under the shade of a giant acacia tree and surrounded by papaya trees loaded with fruit was quaint. The mountain ranges en route from the south coast to the northwest were beautiful, as were parts of the coastline past the iconic Diamond Head headland onto which Waikiki Beach backs.

Undoubtedly, the weather is perfect on this island all year round with an average temperature of 80F and it was admittedly relaxing and peaceful to watch the surfers catching their dream waves on the quieter beaches whilst listening to the surf crashing on the shore. Beach life here is all consuming – whether you are walking your pig on the beach or smoking a joint with your school friends – it all happens at the shore ;-). Which I suppose is not much different to life in Florida…except for the pig ;-)

However, O’ahu, for us at least, had a less appealing, less laid-back atmosphere.. it had a far more mainstream US feel to it than the other 3 islands… Honolulu was like a miniature Miami or Fort Lauderdale but set against a mountainous backdrop…and, just like Miami, the streets were noisy and the peace was shattered by constant police sirens. That’s all fine in Miami – we love Miami – but this is Hawaii and we just wanted it to be so much more than that…

So, when it comes to these tiny islands in the North Pacific, the most isolated and remote land masses in the world, none of them will ever speak to us quite like Kaua’i… the island of our Hawaiian dreams … :-)

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