The Nine Becomes a Zero

Birthdays, especially decade-commencing ones, lend themselves to a bit of introspection. Popular culture tells us that rolling over from an age ending in a 9 to one ending in a 0 is a traumatic experience, and we can’t totally discount the wisdom of popular culture, after all, it is “popular.” Popular culture has brought us musical gems as “Baby Shark” and Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” It has graced us with cinematic marvels like Sharknado and Aquaman. Popular culture has also brought us the abomination that is the Kardashian empire. I realize that it’s quite possible that none of this is making my case that we must follow the dictates of “popular culture.” Regardless, it exists and it tells me I should fall apart with abandon this week. On a positive side, people’s current obsession with the KonMari method is a bright light in popular culture. While I am not on that bandwagon- moving every two years keeps my things at a naturally more minimalistic state and I cannot abide by the idea that I should have fewer books- it does seem like a good overall life-view. Blame it on pop culture or not, major birthdays do summon a bit of nostalgia and contemplation.

It hasn’t been a major dwelling point (Venezuela-living has put enough other things on my plate this last month), but there was no avoiding that the 9 was rolling over to a 0. I could easily get bogged down in the negatives of another candle being added to the cake, but in reality, I’ve got very little to complain about. When I turned twenty, I was newly married and in the middle of working on an English degree at a well-respected university. I was happy, but definitely living month to month and paycheck to paycheck. (Those were the days that we had to check the bank balance to see if we could splurge on a trip to Taco Bell and wandering the Super Target near our house counted as weekend entertainment.) My twenties expanded into wonderful years of teaching middle school English, a job I loved, and then a sabbatical from that passion to follow another, more budding one- travel. Two years of Peace Corps rounded out that decade- a period that forever changed the direction of my life. While teaching was still enjoyable, a bigger world was calling my name.

My thirties brought a whole lot of life changes. I went from being a home-owning middle school teacher in suburban Idaho to living a nomadic lifestyle interspersed with semi-regular periods of unemployment. When my husband joined the United States Foreign Service as a diplomat, I walked away from teaching (with original thoughts of returning, which for a whole variety of bureaucratic and personal reasons has not happened) and started a new life that means frequent moves, a revolving door of friendships, and a whole lot more adventures around the globe. Since I turned thirty, I’ve lived in Idaho, Washington D.C. (twice), Chengdu, Kuala Lumpur, and Caracas and visited countless (okay, not countless- I could count them up, but the list is probably only interesting to me) other cities on every continent except Antarctica. I’ve earned another graduate degree and my annual Christmas card list has addresses on it from six out of seven continents. (Antarctica is really a sticking point for me!)

If anything, my anxiety about turning forty is more about how much I will miss the incredibleness of my thirties and hoping that the next decade lives up to the last.

So, forties. I am just not riding the struggle bus on this one. (I’m not saying there is no twinge when I realize I should be a bit more diligent about the nightly face moisturizing routine or that those internet articles labeled “Hairstyles for yours 30s” and “Worst Fashion Faux Pas in Your 30s” no longer apply to me. Rather, I just am not losing sleep about being “old.” Forty is the new thirty, right? Right?) I recognize the significance of the change, but I’m excited to see where the next decade takes me. As we continue with the foreign service lifestyle, we can expect to live in three to four more cities in the next ten years. I have high hopes of doing something more with this blog, especially the book review part of it (somebody help me!) and I can’t wait to find a way to check that final continent off my travel list before 5-0 creeps up on my calendar. There is little to discourage me about this next 0-9 set of numbers. Maybe my random arthritises (not a word, I know, but I feel entitled to a bit of word-fabrication at that point in my life) will ache a bit more often (that’s what drugs are for!) and maybe it’s time to finally said adios to soda forever, but those are small prices to pay for what I can only expect to be bigger and better yet!

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”
― William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

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Road Trippin’ to Hana

The world is full of famous paths to be followed. China’s Great Wall spans more than 13,000 miles and just begs to be partially-trekked by adventurous visitors. The Inca Trail on the way to Machu Pichhu is a several-day adventure that leaves the traveler covered in bug bites and filthy from head to toe, but with a new appreciation of the splendor of the Andes Mountains. Closer to home, Route 66 in the United States was famous for opening up the Southwest to travelers, creating an abundance of kitschy roadside attractions to lure in tourist dollars. For ages, travelers have been drawn to these well-traversed ways; I am no exception.

After a few low-key days in Maui, visiting pineapples and watching whales (well, more dolphins than whales were spotted, but it was super early in the season), it was time to hit the road- the Road to Hana to be exact.

Travel books will tell you that the Road to Hana is a steep and winding path, one that while only 65 miles long will take hours to travel. It’s not just the switchbacks and countless one-lane bridges that make the physically short drive a chronologically long one, but the fact that there are more spectacular things to stop and see that one can possible fit into a single day drive.

Want to see enormous waves crashing into a rocky shoreline? Take the Road to Hana.

Want to swim in a pool beneath a waterfall? Take the Road to Hana (and a swimsuit).

Want to eat grilled pork accompanied by a wild fern salad off a giant leaf? Take the Road to Hana (and $20).

Want to hike to cascading pools that are a part of the National Park system and maybe pick up an awesome woven fish at the same time? Take the Road to Hana (and befriend the park ranger).

Want to see the final resting place of Charles Lindbergh? Take the Road to Hana.

You’re picking up what I’m dropping here, right?

Our handy-dandy guide book had each of these sites, and many more, arranged by mile marker, so we headed out from our AirBnB first thing in the morning, with plans to make as many stops as possible and still make it home before dark. (Spoiler alert- we failed miserably, both in seeing everything we wanted to see [impossible, really] and circumnavigating the island in the daylight.) While we did not stop at every possible “site” laid out by our travel book, we hit a good number of the highlights and found our own favorites along the way.

High points of day included a black sand beach that was heavenly to wander on barefoot, making friends with the two old dogs at the coconut ice cream stand, listening to the eerie creaking of enormous bamboo shoots as the wind blew through their stands, and getting my super cool woven fish from the park ranger at Haleakala National Park.

Once we reached the eponymous Hana, we had the option to either turn around and go back the way we came or to continue on around the island, back to the mainstays of civilization. Several of our guidebooks made note that if we continued forward, most rental companies saw that as breaking the rental agreement, as the road was not well-maintained or particularly safe. (Ha! Not well-maintained is an understatement.) Regardless of these recommendations, no one was super keen to turn around and retrace our steps, as we’d been there already and wanted to see something new. So, with a vote of 5-0, onward we bound.

If the getting to Hana part of the trip was winding and narrow, the after-party would best be described as painfully-unpaved and barely existent in parts. There were times that our rental Durango was inches from the edge of the road on each side. Luckily, very few other people had the ridiculous idea to forge down this path, so we ran into very little oncoming traffic. I honestly don’t know what we would have done in some sections where the pitted dirt road, a rock wall on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other, was no wider than our vehicle. The only option would have been for one car to reserve for as long as it took to find a wide spot in the “road.”

The Road to Hana is not for the weak- especially when it comes to the actual driving part of the adventure. As for the stops, there is such an amazing variety of options- hikes that are an easy 20 minutes round-trip to longer treks that could take a couple of hours. There are ocean and jungle and history options- really something for everyone in your group. Start early, take snacks (or buy banana bread from the ubiquitous sellers), and leave yourself open to whatever pops up in front of you. Make many stops, but keep an eye on the sun because you’ve only got two options to get home- both becoming more difficult in the dark.

“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.”
― Erol Ozan

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Pineapple Princess

Warning: this post involves pineapples and I am well-aware that pineapples are a divisive fruit. Particularly they split the electorate when it comes to pizza. Some folks feel strongly that pineapple should be a pizza-topping staple, while others see it as a defilement of their go-to Friday night dinner. (Personally, I am not a fan of cooked fruit of any kind, so my desire for pineapple-free pizza has more to do with the cooking issue than it does with the specific topping itself. Fruit pies are a no-go in my book as well.)

But, when one visits a state known for its pineapple production (although levels have dropped considerably in the last decade), regardless of personal feelings about its pizza appearances, a tour must be taken. To be fair, I’ll take a tour of nearly anything! Give me the chance for a behind-the-scenes look at a factory, a ship, a warehouse…anything really, I’ll be the first to sign up and pay my money. As a non-drinker, I’ve been on countless tours of breweries and distilleries and then subsequently choked my way through the complimentary booze at the end. I credit (or blame?) Mr. Rogers with my love of factories. While I always enjoyed seeing his cardigan/canvas shoe combo for the day and visiting King Friday on the red trolley, the episodes where he popped in the film and we toured a crayon production line, a violin workshop, or a toilet factory were always my favorites by far. I needed more of those and less sidewalk chats with Mr. McFeely. Something was just off about that postman…

But back to pineapple tours!

Maui Gold Pineapple Company has a pineapple growing operation that is open for public viewing. (I know that “pineapple growing operation” sounds awfully clinical and removed, but I tried out various other nouns and none of them seemed right. My preference is “pineapple ranch” as I love the image in invokes of wild pineapples being lassoed into submission by pineapple cowboys, hopefully sporting boldly colored Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. But, I figured it was just a bit too ridiculous, regardless of its appeal. Pineapple plantation has a nice alliterative ring to it, but a not-so-nice historical vibe, so I quickly ruled that one out. Pineapple farm might be most accurate, but coming from Idaho, it just feels odd to think of farming pineapples. My mental landscape for farmland is filled with sugar beets and corn and potatoes and wheat.) For a more-than-nominal fee, one can board a bus and head out into the pineapple pastures. If said rider has a good ear, s/he can learn loads of information about the history of pineapples in Hawaii, the growing stages of the plant, and the backbreaking work done by Maui Gold employees to make sure that each pineapple is picked at its height of acidic perfection. For those with less auditory skills, a confusing drone of words and mumbles over the bus loudspeaker will accompany your picturesque view of the fields.

The best part of the tour isn’t the pineapple sing-along or the bus dodging the insecticide spray, or even the endless sidelong remarks about how terrible Dole pineapples are, but rather when the driver pulls over and everyone (a grand total of about twelve) hops out for some straight-from-the-field pineapple samples. Our driver/tour guide had a machete that meant business and soon got down to said business of cracking into fruit after fruit, handing out samples for as long as we would keep taking them. Originally, I was all in and had plans to eat pineapple until the guide called it quits. I may have talked too big of a pineapple game. The first few slices were amazing- so juice and sweet. (Although, I do have to admit a preference for refrigerated fruit over ambient-air temperature. I would never have admitted this to our dedicated pineapple steward of the day.) Then, things started to slow down for me. By slice four or five, there was an uncomfortable tingling in my mouth that I should have respected.

Know thyself!

But..free pineapple…

So I kept eating.

I think it was probably around the sixth slice, one bite in, when it all came to a screeching halt for me. My mouth felt like it had been stripped raw. I am fairly certain I lost a good percentage of taste buds that morning, just burned entirely off by acid. Tongue, gums, lips…it was all just pins and needles. With my head hung in shame, I passed the rest of my slice off to Thad, who was still going strong with the pineapple consumption. For me, the gig was up. I tapped out- not only of tour-pineapple, but I avoided it for days to come. My mouth had a bit of pineapple PTSD. Even the thought of a chilled pineapple juice or some sliced pineapple (we each got a free pineapple to take home!) made my mouth burn.

As a conflict-ridden food-item, pineapple has a tough row to hoe. Loved by some. Loathed by others. The internet has dedicated way too much space to the discussion of when/where pineapple is appropriate. Few other fruits undergo such scrutiny in the modern age. (Maybe durian, but really, that should not really be up for debate. It smells like dirty middle school gym socks. It is not meant for human consumption.) Pineapple, I feel your pain (literally!) and I want you to know that after visiting your place of birth, I will always be on your side. While pineapple on pizza isn’t for me, it is easily picked off, so enjoy pineapple-loving friends. Friends, order your Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza. (And remember, the biggest takeaway from the Maui Gold tour was that Dole is the worst…)

“Be a pineapple: Stand tall, wear a crown, and be sweet on the inside.”
Katherine Gaskin

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