Saturday, July 30, 2011

Blog on Fire Award!

Thanks to Kathy at Life As I Know It, who just gave me a Blog on Fire Award! She's an awesome blogger I recently discovered who eerily reminds me of myself: a gamer and Harry Potter fan who loves math, used to dance, and works at a zoo (well, I volunteered at an aquarium, but there's some similarity there).

For this award, I'm supposed to share seven things about myself. OK, let's see what random facts come to mind this morning...

1. I weighed 8 lbs, 8 oz when I was born--the chunkiest of my siblings.
2. For the rest of my childhood, though, I was extremely skinny.
3. I was baptized at age 14 with water brought in a bottle straight from the River Jordan. It was my confirmation class's Confirmation day, but since two of us had never been baptized in the first place, we got baptized that day. The parents of one of our classmates had just come back from a trip to Israel and had brought with them the symbolically significant water, which they kindly donated to our baptism.
4. I'm not really religious anymore, though I still treasure certain mementos from my time in Confirmation.
5. Perhaps my biggest claim to fame in college was as one of the Chapel Choir's kite flyers. During the big Opening Exercises and Baccalaureate ceremonies, three or four of us got to wave poles with large hand-painted silk kites on the end (wings and streamers--picture Japanese-style kites), leading processions, welcoming all the incoming students, or hailing the graduating seniors. No one was actually certain what the kites symbolized (we called them simply "spirit kites"), but most agreed they were beautiful and fun and added to the celebratory atmosphere.
6. I hate mayonnaise and mustard.
7. I don't drink alcohol. I'm like a little kid, still--I think it tastes yucky :-/

Hmm, those are some pretty random facts, though you can see certain trains of thought there.

Now I'm supposed to pass this blog award on to other deserving bloggers. To the recipients: Don't worry about accepting or not accepting the blog award, I have no expectations and don't care if you don't want to follow any or all of the supposed rules for the award.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The most amazing birthday (Part 3)

Tuesday the 12th was my birthday, but I didn't celebrate it as I normally do on this blog. In the two previous years, I've done special posts on my birthday where I share baby pictures of myself. This year, however, I was too busy to write up such a post (or, more importantly, to scan in old photos) on my birthday, because I was on vacation. The Housemate and I were on the Big Island for a week, staying at his brother's house in Kona.

I had an amazing birthday this year, with two of the most spectacular experiences of my life. But in addition to my adventures swimming with dolphins and night-diving with manta rays (which I've already described in detail in those previous posts), the day was pretty great all around.

First of all, in the morning, I forgot how old I was. The Housemate's four-year-old nephew had been told that it was my birthday, but he was trying to guess how old I was.
"Um, ten?"
"No, older than that..."
"One thousand?"
"Ah, no, ten was closer. Let's try 'warmer, colder'."
It was clear this method wasn't working. "Why don't you start at one and count up, and I'll stop you when you get to my age."

That worked better. Aside from a nearly skipped number 15 and an attempt at an "eleventeen", he knew his numbers pretty well. Then he got to "24. 25..." I panicked at "26", whacking the Housemate on the arm and saying "Help, how old am I?" I did the quick subtraction in my head (2011 - 1985 = 26) and yelled "Stop, I'm 26!" by the time the nephew got to "27". Oh dear. Am I finally old enough that I have to keep track of my age by subtracting my birth year from the current year? That's how I figure out how old my parents are. I think I've got it now--just takes a little getting used the first day--but I had myself scared there.

After that, the Housemate and I picked up malasadas (Portuguese donuts) for breakfast. We actually took a long time to find the place because we were looking on the wrong road. The sad thing was that we'd both been to the malasada place the day before, in the car with the Housemate's brother, wife, and two little children, and the shop wasn't even very far from their house. We'd just been...distracted. His brother's car has a little TV screen viewable from the back seats, and both the Housemate and I had been oblivious to the path we took to get to the malasada restaurant because we were so mesmerized by an episode of... "The Backyardigans." Delightful kids' program where colorful anthropomorphic animals make-believe exciting stories in their backyards, complete with singing and dancing in a style distinctive to each episode. Yes, that is why we got lost on the morning of my birthday trying to find the place we'd been the morning before.

When we got to the malasada place, we had an amusing exchange with the lady at the register--one of those "Do I live in a sitcom?" moments--but to explain I'll have to back track to the previous morning.

Malasada shop, Monday morning

Lady at register: Hi, what can I do for you?
Me: Uh, we'd like four malasadas--two plain, one mango, and one guava, please.
Lady: OK, so that's two plain, one mango, and one lemon?
Me: No, one mango, one guava.
Lady: One guava, one lemon.
Me: Mango and guava.
Lady: I'm sorry, I don't know why I was stuck on the lemon...

The Housemate and I thought it was pretty funny how determined she seemed to give us a malasada with lemon filling. That brings me to my birthday, the next day...

Malasada shop, the next morning

The same lady: Hi, can I help you?
Me: Yes, we'd like three plain malasadas, two mango, one guava, and one pineapple, please.
Lady: That's three plain, two mango, one guava, and one lemon.
Me: No lemon! Two mango, one guava, one pineapple.

She got it right then, but afterwards the Housemate and I laughed pretty hard about the fact that, yet again, she was trying to push the lemon-filled malasadas on us. Maybe they were her favorite?

Anyway, the malasadas were delicious and filling. After our morning dive with the dolphins, we had a quiet afternoon at home. The Housemate's sister-in-law made a nice lunch of some saucy beef with rice dish, and I had various phone calls and emails from friends and family wishing me a happy birthday. I even got a Twitter "Happy Birthday" from Bonnie Burton which made me squee a little bit.

The dive with the manta rays that night was fabulous. Between that and the red-hot lava I saw last year, it seems that some of the most magnificent sights in the world can be seen on the Big Island after dark. We got back home very late, after the kids had already gone to bed, and ate some homemade pizza leftovers for dinner. Afterwards, when I thought the brother and sister-in-law had already gone to bed, they came out with a cake, full with 26 candles. They'd gotten it at a very nice bakery, and it was a delicious chocolate-raspberry, with light whipped cream icing (which I much prefer to heavy butter cream). It was perfect.

After that, we went to sleep. I was fully content. I can only wish that every birthday is half as wonderful as this one.

Back to Big Island Trip master link page

Now, I feel like I have to include at least one photo of me as a young 'un, to celebrate how far I've come. My photo collection here in Hawaii is basically the photos that my parents either had extras of, or didn't like enough to put in their own photo albums. So I don't have the best selection. I'm all out of baby pictures, but here's one of me with my brothers when I was seven. We'd hiked to get to that waterfall, and my dad was darned if he wasn't going to get a photo of the three of us in it, no matter how cold the water was in early summer in New England. My little brother's face here is priceless. My swim suit, on the other hand...not so much.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The most amazing birthday (Part 2) - Manta rays!

The one dive that all my diving friends had repeatedly told me to do was the nighttime manta ray dive off of Kona. The boat charter for the dive, however, costs $100 per person through a dive shop. Between, me, the Housemate, and his brother, that adds up to quite a steep price. Luckily, the Housemate's brother works at a company that happens to be right next to the cove where the boat charters go to see the mantas, allowing us to drive in through their gates at night and park our car right near the shoreline. Boat charters are expensive, but shore diving is free.

As the sun set, we scouted out the black lava rock shoreline and moved our gear next to what looked to be the most promising entry point. The rocks were jagged, but more importantly slippery where wet, so it wasn't going to be the easiest shore dive. Still, it seemed manageable. About seven or eight boats were clustered at the mouth of the cove, much closer to shore than I'd expected. That meant that once we got in the water, we wouldn't have to swim far to get to whatever point they were sending their divers. The sunset was a lovely pinky orange--sunsets in Kona tend to be colorful, I believe thanks to the vog (volcanic fog)--but a few low clouds eliminated any green flash we might have had a chance to see otherwise. By the time the sun set, we were ready to start assembling our gear.

From the shore, we could see the spot where the bright lights on the seafloor were shining up. It's the bright lights that attract the plankton on which the manta rays feed. Snorkelers were already floating on the surface, though I wasn't paying close enough attention to tell when the divers from the boats jumped in. As it got dark, we heard the first wave of delighted screams from the snorkelers out in the bay. Clearly, the manta rays had begun to arrive. We hurried to finish putting our gear together, now in the darkness, lit by the underwater flashlights we'd rented. We also had glow sticks to attach to the top of our air tanks to make it easier to see one another, but one of the three sticks turned out to be a dud. The Housemate opted to go without one; we had flashlights, and it was a simple dive (swim out to the mantas, sit there, then swim back), so it didn't seem too bad to go without a glow stick. Then we were all geared up, and it was time to get into the water.

The Housemate's brother went first. I watched him climb down from above, shining my flashlight to light his way, with the Housemate assisting next to him. I was surprised at how long it took him to get in the water--as with the dolphins that morning, I was growing impatient. But once it was my turn to get into the water, I saw how complicated it actually was. Stepping down large, slippery rocks with 50-60 lbs of gear on your back is pretty scary. I started to see why the $100 for the boat charter might be worth it...I could just picture one of us getting injured with a medical bill over $300, and then we'd wish we'd gone with the boat. But I was so close at this point, I couldn't turn back. Finding stable places to put my feet was almost as tricky as finding ways to position my overloaded torso so that my hands could be planted in useful places. At least I had rubber-soled booties, so I could climb down without either flip-flopping in my fins or cutting my bare feet on the sharp rocks. I used to think the one-piece fins were more convenient, but now I really appreciate the benefit of having open-heeled fins with separate boots. The swell was small, so fortunately the waves weren't particularly threatening once I got to the water level. If the waves had been larger, this entry would have been impossible.

After much encouragement from the Housemate and his brother, and no small amount of cursing on my part, I was finally in the water. Thank goodness for the wetsuit, which made the entry into the dark water quite comfortable. I pulled on my fins and swam clear of the rocks near the shore. The Housemate had an easier time entering the water, having the longest legs of the three of us, but it still took him a couple minutes. We shined our flashlights as well as we could to light his way, but from the water level it was hard to light the top of the rocks onto which he was stepping down. Before long, though, we were all in the water.

We had left our snorkels on shore, as we'd learned that was the protocol put in place to avoid scraping the underbellies of the manta rays swimming too close overhead. Thus, I suggested we "otter paddle" out to where the manta rays were (on our backs, kicking our fins) to conserve air. It was only a three or four minute swim, and we could still hear snorkelers calling out in joy, so we knew we hadn't missed the mantas. Once we were maybe 50 feet from the snorkelers, we decided to go down and swim the rest of the way underwater. We gave the signal to submerge, then sank under the black water, our flashlights illuminating the rocky, pebbly floor. It was really shallow, probably between 30 and 40 feet, so we didn't have to go down far. Then we continued swimming in the direction of the snorkelers and the light.

As we swam along, what had started as a fuzzy glow in the distance began to resolve itself out of the veil of visibility. A cluster of four bright spotlights sat on the ocean bottom, shining up toward the surface. All around it in a circle knelt about forty divers, each holding their own flashlight and pointing it upwards. It looked a bit like some sort of mysterious pagan ritual in a movie: hooded beings kneeling around a fire, holding candles and chanting, to summon the great beasts out of the darkness.

And what magnificent beasts they were! Massive and solid, with 10-foot wingspans, they danced in the beams of light that attracted clouds of their tiny food. We hastened to take our places, kneeling on the seafloor at the outer edge of the circle, shining our own flashlights to the surface. I counted eight or nine of the giant rays. I found out later that we were pretty lucky to see that many; sometimes there are only maybe three, or none at all (in which case I hope the boat charters give people their money back!). Someone at the dive shop told us that the mantas were really "going off" this week. There's even a chance there was more than nine--it was difficult to count the mantas with them darting in and out of the light.

I was in awe. They looked so unlike anything we see on land, they seemed almost alien. Wide, gaping mouths with flaps on the side, which you can see right into as they approach. One expects to see darkness when looking into a creature's mouth, signifying the gullet leading down to the stomach, but the mantas' mouths were like sterile, empty, echoing chambers which you could fully illuminate with a flashlight. Five gill slits sat on each side of their white but spotted underbellies, and at the right angle we could see the feathery flesh hidden inside the gills. Their topsides were dark; such "counter-shading"--dark on top and light on bottom--is quite common in the ocean. Their large, circular eyes watched us, seemingly with knowing and understanding, though that was probably just my imagination--they are fish, after all (cartilaginous fish, related to sharks). Still, I found myself wondering what they thought of the whole ordeal, and of us, their odd, noisy spectators. What are you crazy people doing down here? perhaps, or maybe Thanks for all the zooplankton! Maybe just Mmmmm. If I did that dive often enough, I could probably learn to identify the different mantas. The spots on their bellies were all distinctive, and some had distinguishing characteristics--one was missing its tail, one was missing half a tail, and another had a fish hook stuck on its "lip". They weren't all the same size, either, though all of them were pretty huge.

The mantas soared and swirled above us, flying through the water, graceful and perfect. Sometimes, two would be about to swim into each other head on, but then both would do a back-flip to avoid crashing. They'd swoop down right over our heads. Had I not known that they had neither the desire nor the capacity to eat me, it would have been quite terrifying seeing a giant creature swim straight towards my head with an open mouth. Mostly, they were very good at calculating exactly how low they could go and still avoid hitting us, but a couple times we had to duck. Whenever one swam right above my head, missing by just an inch, I'd let out a high-pitched squeal of excitement until it had passed. It was all I could do to keep from reaching out and touching the lovely beast, as such behavior would be frowned upon. I could hear the Housemate let out a low laugh when he had to duck from an approaching manta. And the close encounters didn't get old--each time one narrowly missed the top of my head, it was a thrilling experience.

Time seemed to stop down there with the manta rays. The mantas weren't in a hurry. They just had to fly and flip, moving and eating and breathing all in the same motion. At one point I stopped to examine this manta food that was swimming in my flashlight beam. Tiny little zooplankton in constant motion, swimming and drifting at once, with no idea they had been lured into a trap. But I left the identification to the Housemate, the biological oceanographer. I was there for the mantas. The darkness surrounding us, the bright lights in the circle, and the steady, beautiful mantas combined to create a mesmerizing, otherworldly experience.

Sadly, the moment couldn't last forever. We were intruders to that realm, with a limited air supply. Maybe half an hour after we got there (it was hard to tell time, remember), a diver went over and turned off the bright lights in the center of the circle. The divers with the boat charters, who had been in the water longer than we had, began to trickle up to the surface as they ran low on air. As more people left, and fewer lights remained to attract the mantas and their prey, more of the mantas decided their meal was finished and swam off. It also became harder to see the mantas that remained. Soon there were only a couple clusters of divers left, and three or four manta rays. Then it was only the three of us.

We clustered together to shine our flashlights alongside each other, hoping that the single brighter beam would keep the manta rays coming back. One manta ray came by for one last swirl through the beam of light. It passed through the beam, then turned around to swim through again, clipping me with its wing on the left side of my head from behind. A firm, blunt, but harmless clunk. It did one more back-flip through the flashlight beam, mouth open, catching what plankton were there. Then it was gone.

We looked around for a couple minutes longer, but it was clear that the mantas had all moved on. A couple of red-orange squirrelfish (or something similar) swam by, but there wasn't much else to see on the coarse sand and rocky bottom. We swam back in the direction of the shore, this time underwater using our remaining air, as we still had plenty (more than a third of the tank).

It took us a little time to find the spot on shore where we'd entered; we decided next time we'd bring an extra glow stick to mark our entry and exit point. Still, once we found it, getting out was much easier than getting in. The Housemate's brother got out first, clambered up the rocks, and took off his gear, followed by the Housemate, who did the same. Once I got onto the rocky ledge, I stood up with the water just at my ankles, and the Housemate was able to reach down and lift my scuba gear up off of me. Climbing up without gear was a lot simpler than climbing down with gear.

As we packed up our equipment, we excitedly talked about the dive. We laughed a bit, mentioning our close calls and crashes, discussing how the mantas would do back-flips to avoid crashing, comparing the details about the mantas that we'd noticed, guessing at plankton species. But it was hard to put into words just how we were feeling. It's an elation that comes from experiencing something more beautiful, mystical, serene, and wild than you'd ever expected. That morning, I got to swim with dolphins for the first time ever--a lifelong dream come true. Swimming with the manta rays, however, was an experience truly beyond my wildest dreams.

Click here to find posts about the rest of my Big Island trip.

Update: I returned a year later to see the manta rays, this time armed with a camera. See the video here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The most amazing birthday (Part 1) - Dolphins!

Tuesday was my birthday, and I had two of the most amazing experiences in my life. It would have been the perfect day, had it not been for the one glaring flaw that my camera was broken. But there's nothing I can do about that now; all I can do here is try my best to capture the experiences with words.

After our disastrous (for my camera) dive at Hanaunau the afternoon before, the Housemate and I decided to go back to Hanaunau in the morning. That area tends to be sunny in the morning, then cloudy and drizzly later in the afternoon, so while the afternoon the previous day had been a bit drab, we hoped the morning would have nicer weather. This time, we went diving with the Housemate's brother as well.

Once we got all our gear to the beach, we noticed that there was a pod of dolphins in the cove. A sign on the beach mentioned that it was not an uncommon hangout for spinner dolphins and warned us not to touch them--marine mammal protection laws, blah blah. This was the perfect birthday present! It was truly a life-long dream of mine to swim with dolphins. I fell in love with the ocean after watching The Little Mermaid at age four, and my love of dolphins was cemented when I saw them at Sea Life Park at age five. Though replaced by sea otters as my "favorite animal" when I was seven, they still held my fascination and respect. All the better to swim with them in the wild, where they are free, happy, and natural.

It took an excruciatingly long time to get our equipment set up (attach the BC, put in the weights, attach the regulator, clip into the BC, turn on the air, check the air, defogger on the mask, put on the wet suit, the boots, the mask and snorkel), especially because the Housemate's brother hadn't been diving in over 10 years, so he needed considerable help remembering how to do everything. I was a bit impatient, I must admit, because I really didn't want to be standing on the shore while the dolphins decided they'd spent enough time in the cove and moved out to sea.

But finally we were in the water. I suggested we snorkel over to where the dolphins were, since it's easier to keep track of distance and direction when you can look up from the water, and also so we could conserve air. We made a bee-line for the cluster of snorkelers that signified the dolphins' general location. As we got close to the snorkelers, though, they seemed to be less clustered--maybe four here, three over there--and I started to despair that we'd missed the dolphins. Then, suddenly, there they were, emerging from the darkness of the water, swimming across in front of us, maybe 20 feet down. Finally, for the first time, I was swimming with dolphins!

I was so excited, I immediately signaled to my two dive buddies to go down. They nodded and returned the go underwater signal, and I started letting air out of my BCD (inflatable/deflatable vest-like "buoyancy control device"). As soon as I was submerged, I realized I wasn't getting any air when I inhaled. In my rush to get underwater to see the dolphins, I'd forgotten to switch from my snorkel to the regulator! Uh, oops. I was lucky my snorkel closes when it's underwater, so instead of a mouthful of saltwater I just got nothing. I was still only about three feet under, so I easily surfaced and got it all sorted out. Going under, take two...

Now I was sinking, equalizing my ears, equalizing my mask, getting down to the level of the dolphins. This was hard, of course, because the dolphins weren't staying at the same level. The water was probably about 100 feet deep at that location, and they could easily move between the surface and the bottom in maybe half a minute or less. Hovering around 40 feet seemed to be the most reliable way to see them, but we actually did a lot of rising and falling. Distracted by the dolphins, we weren't paying too much attention to staying neutrally buoyant, plus our only visual references for location were each other and the dolphins themselves...not exactly stationary objects. Without visible reef or nearby seafloor, it was easy to change depth without knowing. At one point near the beginning we sank to over 70 feet, but after that we were a bit better and stayed in the 30-50 foot range. Luckily we had dive computers to recalculate our "no decompression dive" minutes remaining based on whatever depth we went to, so we didn't have to worry too much.

Hovering in the water, we could see the dolphins swim all around us. At first there were eight, but after a few minutes the pod got back together and there were 16 swimming together. Two of them looked like juveniles, not tiny but maybe 3/4 the size of the adults, and always swimming close by mommy. Some of the dolphins had a strange wound on their side, the size of a golf ball or tennis ball, perfectly round. They were cookie cutter shark bites--the sharks ambush their targets and scoop a round ball of flesh out of their sides. Pretty nasty, but at least the dolphins are large enough to survive such wounds (in smaller fish, the cookie cutter bites may be fatal).

The dolphins weren't directly interacting with us, but they were probably checking us out--goofy humans wearing 60lbs of equipment just to be underwater. A few times I thought I heard them making squeaky dolphin sounds, but they didn't seem to be talking to each other that much. Or maybe their squeaks were just too high pitched for my ears. We watched them swim over us, as they touched the surface for air and entertained the snorkelers. We watched them swim below us, circling in the depths, swimming on their backs sometimes when the mood struck them. We watched them swim around us, in perfect formation, so graceful, at ease, at home. They weren't hunting (there were only a few fish around, and they were left alone). They were just enjoying a nice swim around the cove on a pleasant morning. I wanted to be a dolphin and swim around all day. They just looked so happy.

At one point we lost sight of them for a minute or two. We signaled to each other to surface, as we could spend the rest of our air looking at the beautiful reef and reef fish. But then the dolphins were back, and we stayed to watch them longer, mesmerized by their graceful dancing.

After maybe forty minutes, we decided to move on. We still had enough air for a short dive around the reef. As we approached the shallow reef, I thought I saw another dolphin--something long, thin and dark. But then I saw it...unfurl. "Looks like a blanket," I thought to myself. I had just enough time for my eyes to resolve the shape as a manta ray before it disappeared beyond the range of visibility in the water. Foreshadowing for my upcoming dive that night...

We didn't see anything on the reef that I hadn't seen before. It was the dolphins that were clearly the highlight of the dive. The best dive I'd ever had, though I suppose that's not saying too much when I've only been on seven other dives. Back on shore, we were all in awe of our experience with the dolphins. It was the perfect birthday gift for me--a memory I will always treasure. I thought I'd never have a better dive than that dive with dolphins on my birthday. But it only took until that night to prove me wrong.

Back to Big Island Trip master link page

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

First, the bad news (the good news is in next post)...

My camera is broken. It's actually a little more complicated than that--let me explain so I can get it all off my chest.

I have a camera that can go underwater up to 10m/33ft. That's deeper than I'd swim while snorkeling, but not deep enough for most scuba dives. Since the Housemate and I were planning on doing a lot of diving on our Big Island vacation this week, I ordered a waterproof housing for the camera that's designed to go to 200 ft--deeper than I ever plan to scuba dive. According to the shipping estimate, though, the camera housing might not arrive before we left for the Big Island. So I just had it shipped to the Housemate's brother's house, where we are staying on the Big Island. It would arrive some time in the first half of our week-long vacation.

For our first few days on the Big Island, we didn't go diving at all, because we figured we'd wait for the camera housing to arrive. But when the camera housing still hadn't arrived halfway through our vacation, we realized we'd better go diving with or without the camera, or we'd miss our chance. For our first dive, we decided to do a shallow dive, no deeper than 30 feet, so we could bring the camera with us--we didn't need the housing if we kept it shallow. We went to Hanaunau, where we'd had a great time snorkeling last summer. It was late in the afternoon by that point, though, and the weather was cloudy and slightly drizzly on and off, so the colors weren't as bright underwater as they were last year.

About half an hour into our dive, my camera suddenly started...vibrating. It was buzzing. It was very weird. I was confused at first what was going on, but then the screen started fuzzing out a little bit, and I knew that it must have flooded partially. I surfaced (we were shallow, so it didn't take much time), and brought the camera in to shore. But I don't know why it broke! We were diving for 28 minutes and went no deeper than 26 feet (with our dive computers, it's easy to keep track of these things). I didn't break any of the rules. I just broke the camera.

I hoped that if I dried it out then maybe it would work again. But after leaving it open overnight, it still buzzed when I turned it on in the morning. It doesn't have a problem showing previous photos taken, and it still takes pictures, but they come out as fuzzy and off-color as the screen display shows. It's broken. Once I go home I can see whether the camera is still under warranty, but for now there's nothing I can do for it.

So that's why I didn't have my camera with me while diving the next day, my birthday, when I saw two of the most amazing things I've ever seen in my life. I can blame it on the broken camera, but really I would have needed the camera housing anyway, because we went deeper than 30 feet. Basically, this tragedy is all due to the fact that the housing didn't arrive on time. If it had arrived on time, I wouldn't have taken the camera diving without the housing, and it wouldn't have gotten flooded. It would have been working on my birthday, I would have taken photos and video of the amazing things I saw, and I wouldn't be typing this sad blog post today.

It breaks my heart that I don't have photos or video to remember what I saw yesterday by. I know that in the old days, people never had photos or video, but I have become quite reliant on it. Yes, I have memories, but I don't have a perfect memory. Can I really picture the scene exactly as it happened? I'm already forgetting specifics, patching in things that I think might have happened where I can't remember what really happened. I truly treasure the lava video I took last summer. I can always watch it to remember an exact moment, and to prove to myself that I was really there. Photos are truly the best souvenirs. Without photos or video, I feel empty. A day later, and the experience already feels a little less real, like maybe it was just a dream. It's like the moment is dead; all I have left are memories.

The housing still hasn't arrived. I just hope it arrives before the end of our vacation, so the Housemate's brother doesn't have to ship it to us. Stay tuned for my next post, where I will try my best to do justice to the spectacular things we saw while diving on my birthday.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I'm in Kona!

Here, they just call it coffee.

Actually I've still heard people call it Kona coffee here, but it seems like it should be that way. Yesterday had quite a lot of vog--that is, fog from the volcanoes--but the weather was nice. The Housemate and I are visiting his brother, who lives in Kailua-Kona with his wife and two kids. The kids are adorable, though the 4-year-old son is a bit of a handful. We've been eating very, very well. I'm kind of in heaven...the wife cooks a lot. She's Indonesian, so she cooks great Indonesian food, but we've also had homemade pizza, beef stew, and crepes every morning.

I had an amazing time here on the Big Island last summer. I'll be taking tons of photos again, but this time I'll also be scuba diving, now that I have my certification. Hopefully that means I'll have even better underwater pics to share from my underwater camera. But I'm pretty busy until I get back late next week, so probably no posts until next weekend. Aloha!

Back to Big Island Trip master link page

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My odd Fourth of July

I had a largely uneventful 4th of July yesterday. No parades, no barbecues. The most patriotic thing I did all day was take the "American History Quiz for July 4th" on The Daily Beast (got 20 out of 22--I was fairly pleased). Last year, the Housemate and I had gone down to Ala Moana beach park to see the fireworks. This year, we made no such plans--he actually worked most of the day. Luckily, though, we had a nice view of the fireworks from our living room. It was much better than the weekly Friday fireworks in Waikiki, which are in a different location about two-thirds obscured by tall buildings. It was a good show, and there were some new fireworks designs that I hadn't seen before: multiplying tiny points of light that burst and hang in the sky looking fuzzy like impressionist paintings; half spheres with streamers coming out the other side, a bit like jellyfish. I think it might be fun to design new fireworks. Where can I get that job?

After the fireworks show, we watched the movie Princess Ka'iulani (pronounce each vowel individually, with an "uh-oh" like glottal stop at the '). Based on Hawaiian history, it was a movie we'd considered seeing in theaters, so we were excited when we noticed earlier in the day that it was available to stream instantly on Netflix. It's not a great movie--the pacing is weird--but there are some good scenes, especially towards the end. Mostly, though, it's just not a good movie to see on the 4th of July. Doesn't instill any sense of American pride and makes you feel bad about what happened to the Hawaiian people. In the late 1800s, under the influence of some rich white businessmen, the U.S. aided in the deposition of the Hawaiian monarchy and finally annexed the Kingdom of Hawaii as a U.S territory. It wasn't until 1993 that Congress issued a formal apology to the native Hawaiian people for this illegal violation of the nation's sovereign rights. Add to these events the fact that Princess Ka'iulani died of illness at age 23 a year after the annexation, and the movie was a really big Independence Day downer. The timing of our Netflix browsing couldn't have been much worse.

It's good to remember history, especially to learn from our mistakes, but we can feel guilty about what our nation has done and is doing the whole rest of the year. On the Fourth of July, we should celebrate what America has gotten right and the good we've achieved. Next year I'll remember to stick to Will Smith and Independence Day.