Couchsuring & Camping on Kona

What is Couchsurfing? For the founders, it was vision of a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfering isn’t just about a free place to stay, it’s about sharing your life with new people from all of the world as well as fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.

The couchsurfing.org site provides a platform for members to “surf” on couches by staying as a guest at a host’s home, host travelers, or join an event. In March 2013, the website had 6 million members in 100,000 cities worldwide. Tom & I have had an account for close to a year now (our cs account) and have hosted and/or met people from Germany, Belgium and Seattle. 

Our first surfing experience was in Kailua-Kona, the center of commerce and of the tourist industry on West Hawaiʻi. Our generous host, along with his partner and son, live on an acre of land with a starfruit tree, beautiful outdoor lanai, inground pool & a beer fridge full of local brews. Tom & and were absolutely spoiled by the experience and can’t wait to do it again on the other islands!

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T’s gratitude’s & highlights

Snorkeling at white Sands Beach (aka Magic Sands beach because the sand disappears at certain times during the year). Unlike many east coast beaches, the Big Islands beaches are full of natural shade trees that provide a perfect setting for watching the ethereal sunsets on the water.

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Sneaking into the Hilton Lagoon & bourgeois-ing it up. R practically ran head-first into an eel (much to T’s enjoyment)! While it is a terrifying-looking creature, I’m sure did not intend any harm (at least, I’m pretty sure it didn’t).

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R’s gratitude’s & highlights

While I’m not a proponent of keeping animals in cages (esp. when those animals are as intelligent as dolphins) it was incredible to be so close to them.

Spending time sunning and swimming at Kahalu’u beach. T introducing me to snorkeling – the clear waters here are teeming with bright tropical fish & large green sea turtles.

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This sign.

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Hawaiians LOVE Spam. Hawaii consumes more Spam than any state in our union — in total, 7 million cans a year. I found Spam flavored macadamia nuts….it makes me happy just knowing they exist.

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After couchsurfing for 4 nights we camped out at Spencer Beach where we itroduced some island kids to s’mores. It’s not a thing here like it is on the mainland and the children flocked to us like seagulls to fish for the rest of the time we spent camping here. It was the most expensive camping experience so far ($40/night) BUT we bamboozled the park ranger and got two nights for the price of one. Small victories ;).

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….and the Thorn (quite literally)

Tom was attacked by a sea urchin! ….well, sorta. He accidentally kicked a reef during one of our snorkeling trips and the reef kicked back. Sometimes called sea hedgehogs, sea urchins are small, spiny, globular sea creatures and they are the self-imposed protectors of coral reefs. Their spines inflict a painful wound when they penetrate human skin, but are not dangerous if fully removed promptly – although the purple ones do tend to tattoo their victims (now both T & I have foot tattoos!). One panicked drive and visit to the ER later and things were back to relative normalcy, although I’ll never look at sea urchin the same way again. o.O

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Camping on a Volcano

I don’t know about you, but one of my childhood dreams was to visit an active volcano. I was able to make that dream come true by camping in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park at Nāmakanipaio campground, where I not only visited an active volcano, but pitched my tent on one.  This park doesn’t offer white sand beaches and warm weather, but it does have, something you can’t find anywhere else,  spectacular views of the largest active volcano in the world.

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According to GoHawaii.com,  the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses 333,000 acres from the summit of Maunaloa to the sea. Here you’ll find 150 miles of hiking trails through volcanic craters, scalded deserts and rainforests as well as a museum, petroglyphs, a walk-in lava tube and two active volcanoes: Maunaloa, which last erupted in 1984 and Kilauea which has been erupting since January 3rd, 1983. Geologists estimate it took nearly 1 million years to build Hawaii, from the first time lava punched through the Pacific Ocean seafloor to the island we see today.

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 T’s highlights & gratitude’s

Watching the red-orange lava glow at  of the Halema’uma’u crater (part of the Kilauea volcano) after sunset, a truly breathtaking sight. Because of safety issues the access to the crater is restricted, but we had a stunning overview of the crater at about 1 mile distance.

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Spotting large flightless Hawaiian Geese, aka Nene, which are endemic to Hawaii and the state’s official bird. Just for fun, T picked a nene berry, officiall called ‘Aiakanene, and ate it (with no ill effects).

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Going past the ‘safety’ rope to explore the sulfur vents.

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Hiking Devastation trail whose terrain went from volcanic to tropical so quickly it gave us whiplash.

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 R’s highlights & gratitude’s

Descending into the Kilauea Iki,  an old volcanic crater, the uncontested winner of the trip.  It was a profound experience and felt like entering the heart of the Hawaiian Volcano Goddess, Pele Honua Mea. Even after 50 years of inactivity, the surface of the crater is still warm to the touch. T & I saw the spectacular ‘heart of Pele’, found pieces of raw peridot & completed the moderate 4 mile hike (we lucked out, experiencing nearly no sulfur dioxide fumes).

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Taking the Hawaiian culture walk (which was not a kitchy as it sounds). Our tour guide and park ranger told us about the Native Hawaiian’s mythology and taught us Hawaiian words. My favorite of which being, ‘makawalu’ meaning literally ‘different perspectives’ – it’s a way of looking at situations through the lenses of everyone involved, rather than seeing if just your own perspective.

I was accepted into Antioch’s Clinical Psychology program (to become a licensed marriage and family therapist) in Santa Barbara! While this is wonderful news, I’ve decided to defer for (at least) a year. This is because I’d like to give myself an opportunity to find rewarding work in SB – if that fails, back to school I go!

Doing Crater Rim Drive, which is the 10.6-mile drive that circles Kilauea Caldera and offers spectacular views of the coast line.

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And the Thorn(s)

Learning about the many disasters which spawned from bringing (with the best intentions) outside wildlife into Hawaii, where they inevitably became invasive species. For example, in order to control the rat population (which had a taste for sugar cane, Hawaii’s cash crop) Small Asian Mongoose, called ‘Iole manakuke’, from Calcutta were introduced to the islands. So what’s the problem with mongooses? Well, they hunt during the day… and the rat is nocturnal. With no rats to hunt, mongoose developed a taste for birds (& especially bird eggs). Rats were already endangering native populations of ground nesting birds – rather than fixing this issue, bringing the mongoose only exasperated the problem. Ooops!

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If I were a more paranoid person, and thought mother nature was an actual entity, I would probably feel like her newest mission was to make my life miserable what with the sulfur dioxide clouds, altitude sickness, freezing temps & daily rain showers. Since I do not believe that, I have to concede to the fact that my genetic “gifts” are, in fact, to blame. Camping on an active volcano means we are putting ourselves in a little bit of a risky situation, as it is constantly spewing noxious fumes.

Only one can really kill you (sulfur dioxide), so T and I do our best to stay upwind of it. This is a relatively easy feat as the rangers monitor sulfur dioxide particulates in the air 24/7 and post it on a website for easy access. There is a threshold where it becomes dangerous for sensitive folks and a few notches up it becomes dangerous for everyone else. During a ranger led hike, I had to admit to the ranger that I fell into the former category (highly sensitive) and for the rest of the hike, fellow hikers approached me with what they thought of as sympathetic remarks. One older woman simply looked at me and said, “I read about people like you at the visitor center.” Oy vey.

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Hanging with Locals

The best thing about having friends who live in the area is that they can take you to all the cool places that only the locals know about. Palmer is a friend of mine from way way back (as in grade school). He was stationed on Oahu while he was serving in the military. He’s been out for a few years now and is studying marine biology and geology at Hilo University on the BI where he met his partner, Emily. As you might imagine, given their majors, not only did they know about the local spots, they had a wealth of knowledge about the island’s geology and marine life. Staying with them was like having personal tour guides for ‘off the beaten track’ adventures. T & I can’t thank them enough for their generosity, but we can certainly try! Muchos gracias amigos!

T’s gratitude’s & highlights

Taking “controlled” risks by jumping off a bridge.

Completing a rigorous 9 mile hike on the pu’u oo volcano trail (which we originally thought was only 5 miles).

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Tea tree oil application to the mite bites (we counted a total of 36 bites- ouch!)

Palmer chopping down a sugar cane stalk, stripping it and giving it to us to chew the raw sugar stick – that’s service!

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Seeing the sunset above the clouds at 9,000 ft elevation at the Mauna Kea Observatory

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R’s gratitude’s & highlights

Surviving the steep road that leads down into the Waipio valley. The road gains 800 vertical feet in 0.6 miles – if classified as a road, it would be the steepest road of its length in the United States and possibly the world. Also, of course, the exotic black sand beach in the valley.

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Gorgeous flora & sights at Akaka falls

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Also completing the 9 mile pu’u oo volcano trail hike!

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Handing out candy to the ridiculously cute trick or treaters (I haven’t had the opportunity to do this since I lived in VA, over 3 years ago, and I missed it!)

Acro show presented by Yoga Centered at the Black & White festival in Hilo, HI (and realizing that my & T’s acro abilty was on par with nearly all of the performers!)

And the Thorn

While completely sober, I tripped and fell down a small, outdoor, wooden staircase that was slippery with dew and had no railings. Luckily, I broke my fall; unfortunately, I broke it with only one finger…can you guess which one? T has been doing anything that involves dexterity (zippers, filling up camel packs, opening food packages, even tying my shoes) which he doesn’t mind at all but which makes me feel a bit like a little useless blob. Hopefully this sprain will heal quickly!

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Tom’s Nature Photography – 1st Installation

T bought a Sony Cyber Shot to do some amateur photography during our travels. We have a multitude of scenic photos to share that don’t fit well in any other part of the blog, so we’re putting them here. Enjoy!

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