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Sailing to Hawaii -- Part II

Author: travelmel (More Trip Reviews by travelmel)
Date of Trip: October 2006

Caffeinated on Kona

When we docked in Kona, I was struck immediately by how different it was from Hilo -- even though it is on the very same island. Hilo felt industrial at the pier, and arid and almost desert-like outside the city; Kona on the other hand is lush, damp and green (and one of the few ports we pulled into where there wasn't a Wal-Mart sign gleaming on the horizon). The rainforest environment, in fact, supports the region's booming coffee business.

Finding a good cup of coffee was my business for the day. Kona coffee is one of the best known varietals of coffee in the world, and is hitting the mainstream market as a major trend with convenience stores like Wawa, Quick Chek and 7-Eleven offering 100 percent Kona java or at least blends (though those generally contain only 10 percent Kona coffee). Hawaii is the only U.S. state growing coffee, and the plant isn't native but was brought there from Brazilian cuttings in the 19th century by an American missionary.

Kona Coffee Then & Now is a standard bus tour, and the shore excursions desk actually called to make sure that I really did intend to book that particular one; it did, I must admit, stick out like a sore thumb amid the hiking, surfing and other assorted adventures I'd booked. But a day of good old fashioned sightseeing was in order -- and I was eager to learn more about one of my favorite beverages.

The "then" portion of the excursion found us at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm. The seven-acre working coffee farm still operates as it did in the early 1900's by first generation Japanese immigrants; artifacts on the property ranged from a traditional Japanese bathhouse to the dinged tin cans children wore around their necks as they set about harvesting coffee beans. I know I learned something new: Coffee beans are grown inside of a small red fruit that's called a cherry; we were encouraged to pick cherries up off the ground or off trees, and squeeze the white beans out of the sticky pulp (the beans do not turn the signature coffee brown color until they are roasted).

The "now" was a visit to the Bay View Farm, which uses a modern mill to sort its beans and produce its coffee. Our driver recommended we wait until this last stop to by coffee to take home, and I was grateful to him for the tip. There were several varieties and flavors to taste and purchase, and the shopkeepers were happy to grind beans for you on the spot. I fell in love with dark chocolate covered peaberries, rare whole beans that are less bitter than the standard split seed from coffee cherries. Since I've been home, I've already ordered two more bags of chocolatey peaberries via their Web site!

Unlike many of the other ports on this itinerary, which are simply starting points for adventures further inland or along the coast, Kona boasts a very walkable pier-side village with stores and restaurants for those of us who like to shop and eat in town. Even though it had started raining, I spent the window between the end of my excursion and "all aboard" exploring. If I had more time, I would have toured the nearby Kona Brewing Company -- but instead settled for a bottle of their crisp Fire Rock Pale Ale and a burger at Lulu's, an eclectic second-floor open-air eatery facing the beach.

Mud Madness

The Mudbug & Waterfall Safari wasn't my first choice for day one in Kauai. In fact, I'd booked a beginner's scuba lesson ... but it was canceled due to lack of participation (i.e. I was the only person who'd signed up). The whole point of the Mudbugs, which was the must-do recommendation I got when I polled the shore excursions staff, is to drive an all-terrain vehicle through puddles of muck and get really filthy. I wasn't digging it. Plus, the tour has to be booked by two passengers -- one driver, one passenger.

Well, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and got teamed up with -- get this -- the shore excursions manager. Apparently, he'd never done Mudbugs, but all of his (mostly male) colleagues thought driving an ATV to get doused from head to toe in mud was a barrel of fun, and here was a passenger traveling alone who needed a Mudbug buddy. "You have to do it!" they peer-pressured me. The clincher? "You'd pay just as much to get covered with mud at the spa." I couldn't argue with that logic.

So there I was in my newly purchased Crocs water shoes, an oversized T-shirt and camouflage pants supplied by the tour operator, goggles, and a helmet -- harnessed into a completely open ATV with the shore excursions manager at the wheel. He gave me a wicked grin. "This is going to be fun!"

Well guess what? It was fun! A caravan of 10 Mudbugs set off for the 11-mile ride through thick vegetation (this part of Kauai was the backdrop for parts of the original "Jurassic Park") toward a Maui waterfall. I saw the first mud puddle up ahead and as we sped toward it I forget I had goggles on and instinctively closed my eyes … but not my mouth. So not only did I not see anything but I also ate dirt. Ugh.

For the next, much larger puddle, I remembered to hold my lips together and my eyelids open with imaginary Krazy Glue. The mud literally enrobed the vehicle in a big brown shockwave and suddenly I was completely drenched -- hair, skin and my very fashionable ensemble. I was warned that would be the case, but I didn't expect to be laughing and whooping it up. Once I was dirty, it didn’t matter how big the puddles were or how fast we hit them; in fact, the bigger and the faster, the better! At the waterfall, we were able to rinse off in a beautiful but cold pool ... and then drove back the same we came, getting gross once again (the driving downpour that had begun made even bigger, muddier puddles).

Even though we rinsed off in our bathing suits under outdoor shower heads, I had to wash my bathing suit and my hair three times back onboard before the water stopped running a dingy rust color.

Guess playing in the dirt is not just for kids anymore.

Surf's Up

Surfing was hard. Really, really, really hard. I wasn't very good at it, and throughout the day I kept saying to myself, self, what were you thinking?

The excursion, Poipu Beach Surfing Lesson, was the last of my trip. An instructor from the Aloha Surf Shop met me and three shipmates as we exited our tour van, and led us to a spot on the beach where boards were set up for the on-land part of the lesson. He assured us that even at the furthest point we'd be going that day, we could stand up and our heads would be above water. The first step would be to lie flat on our stomachs on our boards and paddle out. Once we got to where he wanted us to be, he would physically turn our boards around for us, lead us into a good wave and yell "stand up!" when it was time to, well, stand up. At that point, in two swift motions (any more, and you'll surely lose balance), you were to push yourself up on your hands and feet as if doing a push-up -- and then hop up, arms stretched out, in the center of the board. The secret to stability, we find out, is keeping your gaze on a fixed point on the beach. We practiced a couple of dozen times in the sand, which seemed easy enough, and then carried our boards down to the beach for the real deal.

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