Thursday, July 5, 2007

How I spent my summer vacation

I am finally back from the most badass vacation in the history of man. Even Mountain Dew guys would look at some of my pics and say "Whoa. That's intense!" The trip got off to a bad start when I got into Oahu late on Saturday, June 16th, when either Airtran or Southwest lost my luggage, which left me clothes and toiletry free for the first few days. We crashed at our spectacular apartment, with a scenic view of Ala Wai Golf Course and a 42" Plasma HDTV.

Sunday we explored Waikiki, enjoying the Father's Day brunch at Sam Choy's, then returning to the apartment to catch the end of the U.S. Open at my insistence. We unwound at the pool, which was on the roof of our building, before picking up the rental car. Then we drove to Walmart and picked up groceries for the rest of the week.

Monday we woke up at 5 AM , drove an hour to the other side of the island (the North Shore), and went shark diving. Cage goes in the water, we go in the water. Shark's in the water. Our shark. A Galapagos shark, about 10 feet. We were disappointed that is was the lone shark we encountered, but it swam incredibly close to the cage - like two or three feet away from me. After that adventure we went swimming with sea turtles on the appropriately named Turtle Beach. We topped off our North Shore trip with lunch at the renowned shrimp truck Giovanni's. Exhausted, we ended up falling asleep around 7 PM.

Tuesday we woke up around 5 AM again, so we decided to hike Diamond Head Crater. The 271 steps kicked our asses, to say nothing of the steep rock path. We celebrated our accomplishment with malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts) from Leonard's, and then set out for Tantalus Road, also known as Round Top. Within 20 minutes, we're looking so far down on Diamond Head that I feel foolish for expending all my energy on it. I see some random sign for a trail at one point - Manoa Cliff Trail, and of course I want to hike it. For nearly half an hour we're hiking up enormous mud steps that have been savaged by rain delineated by planks that are over a foot high, walking along the edges of cliffs, without any indication that this is going anywhere worthwile, especially since there isn't any sign of anyone else ever having been here. Suddenly the view opens up on Nuuanu Valley and our jaws drop. We see the mountain range over the tiny city below and are inspired to continue. Eventually we come to a bench we assume marks the highlight of the trail and rest to take it in. This bench and a minute tower on one of the mountains is the only indication of humanity anywhere we can see. Absolutely inspiring. Finally we stopped at Pu'u Ualakaa Park for a final lookout. We drove back and could barely move the rest of the day.

Wednesday we snorkeled at the legendary Hanauma Bay for about four hours. I got as burnt as a Richard Pryor and still am on my Achilles. It was worth it, or at least almost worth it. We saw a number of exotic looking fish; my favorite was purple with orange U's on their side delineating scales. After swallowing more than my fill of salt water, I was dying for some good old fashioned fast food. We pulled into a strip mall and stopped at an intriguing fast food place called Loco Moco, which I wanted to go to since I had just beaten a video game called Loco Roco. The house special of the same name consisted of two hamburger patties, fried eggs, and gravy over rice and a seafood salad. It was pretty insane.

Thursday was our last day with the rental car and we started out by going to the windward side of the island to take in Lanikai and Kailua beaches, which are the two most picturesque beaches I've ever seen. I was particularly impressed with Lanikai Beach: the sand was so fine it was like walking in powdered sugar. We then took a quick stop at Pali lookout, although at this point we were completely jaded when it came to lookouts. We visited the Byodo-In Temple, a replica of a 900 year old Buddhist Temple in Uji, Japan, and then moved to the Hilton Hawaii Village and returned the rental car.

Friday was Rachel's first day at the conference, so I spent my time shopping around Waikiki, most of the day at the Ala Moana Shopping Center, where I bought a few T shirts.

Saturday I woke up around 7 AM and took the bus to Pearl Harbor, where I visited the USS Arizona Memorial. That was pretty intense. My favorite display was that of Midway, where briefing information, models. and a timeline were displayed. A large rusted cylinder is the most visible part of the Arizona, and you get a ticket to see a brief documentary then ferry out to the memorial that spans the sunken battleship. That night we went to a luau. which was crap until the fire dancer came out.

Sunday I lounged around the Hilton, listened to a time share presentation for a $100 gift certificate, and used some coupons for some freebies. That night we had a larger luau with an open bar (finally!) where after some heavy drinking I decided to bite the bullet and go skydiving the next day. We topped the night off with a very nice sushi buffet.

Monday morning I called and scheduled a shuttle to pick me up and make the hour drive to the other side of the island to go skydiving. When pulling up to the airfield I couldn't help but notice a flower memorial with what appeared to be a grieving mother. Before signing the waiver, which was covered with the warning "YOU COULD DIE," I had to ask the cashier what was the deal with the memorial. As soon as she said "drunk driving," I said "Thank God" and signed the waiver, and my heart really started pounding. I met the guy I was going tandem jumping with, and gave me some brief instructions - basically to arch my back during free fall so we don't spin out of control. We go up, and I was reasonably calm until the first group jumped, although to the untrained eye it sure looked like they were sucked out. We jumped third, and when you realize there's nothing holding you up, it's a whole new level of fear. I tried to enjoy the view as my cheeks started flubbering like I was listening to a Memorex tape with the volume set to 11. When he straightened us up I knew the chute was about to open, and when it did it felt like both of my inner thighs were hit by a 2' x 4' swung by Gary Sheffield. You're basically going 100 mph or however the hell fast you're going and land on these two straps on your inner thighs, so it really kills. I was so concerned with twisting an ankle when we landed that I held my legs up so long I landed on my tailbone, which is still incredibly sore. After I got back to the hotel, I was thrilled to learn that I could just make happy hour at the conference, so I hoofed it over there for a few beers.

Wednesday I went golfing at Ala Wai Golf Course, where I played nine holes for under $40. The highlight was the sixth hold leading back into the clubhouse, with Diamond Head crater creating an incredible backdrop.

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