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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In Search of the End of the Sidewalk: The Best of 2014

It is that time of year, where all bloggers worth their salt come out with their year-end roundup lists and since this blogger likes sodium chloride as much as the next writer, I’ll continue the tradition here at In Search of the End of the Sidewalk. (This is the 4th edition. You can click here to see reviews for 2011, 2012 and 2013.)

So, without further ado, here is the best of everything 2014! (“Everything” might be a bit ambitious with just a single full day left on the calendar…)

Best Books of 2014

Thanks to my trusty GoodReads account I was able to quickly go over my literature intake since January 1. If my count is right (remember folks, I’m working on a degree in literature these days, none of that fancy math nonsense for me!), this year my total book count is a whopping 153!! Keep in mind, several factors play into that overwhelming large number, including the fact that I have been unemployed for the last seven months and I’m working on a literature degree, which means not only am I reading for fun, I’m also reading for class. Oh, the books! The books! (Although, I must be doing something wrong when I add books to my “read” shelf. GoodReads had a cool link to show your books for the year, but when I clicked it, it showed I had read a mere two books this year. I read that many in a week sometimes! Anyone know what I am doing wrong?)

{Don’t forget to click on the links to related posts!}

5- California by Edan Lupucki

4- The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

3- Redeployment by Phil Klay

2- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

1Hard Choices by Hilary Rodham Clinton

(This was a hard list to make. Next year, I may have to break it down to top five non-fiction, top five young adult and top five fiction, as it is hard to compare/judge the two genres.)

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Best Outings of 2014

(*In no particular order)

5- Hawaii. We started 2014 off with a bang, meeting my parents in Hawaii for a seven-day cruise around the islands. Between snorkeling, whale watching and kayaking, we found time for lots of all-you-can-eat buffets and nightly shows in the ship’s auditorium. Happy 2014!

4- Hong Kong. This was our last “China-vacation” before leaving post and what a great way to wrap up our first tour with the Foreign Service. While I didn’t love the cable car, the Buddha at the top was worth the terror and the funicular up Victoria’s Peak was a ride much more my style. We stayed at a great boutique hotel just a short walk from the metro and loved the ease of getting around this crazy, bustling Asian mega-city.

3- Kuching, Malaysia. By far my favorite city in Malaysia. What can beat a cave filled with bats, a day of rainforest hiking or a visit to wild orangutans?

2- Nampa, Idaho. Home leave! It is a fabulous perk of the Foreign Service, that after a tour abroad, officers and families are *required* to spend some time back Stateside. While for some this can be a burden, we’re lucky to have lots of family and friends willing to let us crash with them for days/weeks at a time.

1-Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, of course! A new country, a new city and a new home! It is always exciting (and intimidating, tiring, frustrating, invigorating…) to move to a new post, but so far, KL has been a great city to call home. Not only have we explored various parks within the city, but this year was the first time we’ve hosted a Thanksgiving, complete with friends, old and new.

*Honorable mention: New Meadows, Idaho. While on home leave, we bought twelve acres of beautiful mountain top just outside of New Meadows. Right now it is home to bears and deer and lots of small mountain mammals, but maybe when we retire in a million years, it will be home to us too!

Best Moments of 2014

(*Again, in no particular order)

5- Birth of our newest nibling- Camden Byron McDaniel, the youngest (and last?) child of my brother and sister-in-law. His arrival makes for a grand total of twelve niblings: six on Thad’s side and six on mine. We’ve yet to meet in person, but I see his chubby self on FaceTime every week or so.

4- Volunteering at the UNHRC school for Chin students in downtown Kuala Lumpur. This was a great opportunity to put my teaching skills to use and to introduce not only American vocabulary (Malaysian English tends to be quite British), but also talk about school culture in the US, where many of these students hope to be resettled.

3- Going back to school. This fall, I started an online graduate program in literature and writing. It has kept me busy, but I am loving the reading and writing and discussions with my classmates. Nerdily enough, I even love writing the term papers! (A big thank you goes out to my two editors: Matt and Angie!)

2- A new job! Technically, this won’t happen until 2015, as I start in mid-January, but getting hired in 2014 is a win. It was not easy to find work in Kuala Lumpur and it definitely wasn’t easy to get multiple rejection emails, but in the end, things seem to have worked out and soon I’ll be having to roll out of bed and get dressed with the rest of you!

1- Meeting the First Lady of the United States. It was a lot of work to prepare for her visit to Chengdu, but it was all worth it when the Consul General called me over and said to FLOTUS, “Michelle, I’d like you to meet our Michelle.”  She said she wondered who the tall blonde woman was and I told her I had spent the morning being her stand-in for height measurements!

So there you have it, the 4th edition of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s year-end roundup. As I look ahead to 2015, big plans are bouncing around my gray matter (although I think it is more pink than gray, which we all know I prefer anyway), looking to claim a spot in my continued search for the end of the sidewalk.

Happy 2015!

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From Zaijian to Aloha and Back Again

I love the idea of having an R&R. It’s brilliant. I work in a stressful job (okay, my job is minimally stressful, on the average day, but my location definitely can bring on the headaches) and as a “reward” for that, I get a plane ticket to either Sydney, Australia or anywhere in the US. Fantastic! (Side note from my previous life: teachers should all get a once-a-year R&R!)

Originally, I thought we’d opt for the koala bear option, but once I discovered how incredibly hard it is to get to hold one of these cuddly little creatures, I was less enamored with the idea.  (Plus, out of KL, we’ll be even closer to the land of the Vegemite sandwich, so we’ll probably make that trek in 2015.And I *will* find a way to hold one. I will.) So, with no need to exclaim, “Crikey, mate!” we set our sights on another land of blue skies and sunshine- the Sandwich islands.

The sunshine I had been dreaming of met us at the airport when we touched down at 8AM, nearly an hour before we took off from Chengdu that morning. (Oh, the magic of international dateline time travel!) I couldn’t wait to see everything the islands had to offer, but within hours my lungs rebelled against the clean air. After flying all night, we checked into the hotel, filled up on a giant plate of IHOP pancakes and then decided to take a nap for a few hours, rejuvenating our batteries after seventeen hours in airports and airplanes. In the space of that two hour nap, I went from healthy and full of energy to having a throat that felt like my pancakes had been made of porcupine. Not a good sign. By the end of the day, I had a full blown cold. I swear it is because my body is so used to a certain level of pollutants that it can no longer function correctly without at least triple PM2.5 digits.

While my cold was bad enough that had I been home, I probably would have called in sick to work for two days in a row, there is no calling in sick on vacation! I had sites to see, stores to hit up and a hair appointment that was not to be broken.

Luckily, we were able to wander around Honolulu for a few days before boarding our cruise ship, so I nursed the worst of the cold on solid ground. (Buying out the clearance rack at Old Navy was some great retail therapy that I am sure boosted the powers of my Target OTC cold medicine.)

Next up: cruise time!

With my purple flower lei draped haphazardly around my shoulders, Thad and I posed for what would be the first in a lovely series of cruise-forced photos. (Each time we got off the ship, there would be someone in a random costume, lining up guests for photos. One day it was a dolphin in a coconut bra, while another day it was a giant, squishy pineapple. These pictures were then developed and for sale on the ship for a mere $12 each. It’s too bad they were so pricey, as Thad and I made ridiculous faces in each and every one. It would have made a fantastic photo album.)

For the next seven days, we cruised the Hawaiian Islands. From snorkeling at Molokini, where I spent an hour following my favorite fish, trading “favorites” each time I found one that was more awesome to watching whales breech and tail slap their way across the bay, our first outing was fantastic.  I have the swimming skills of a house cat, which means I wasn’t able to dive several feet below the surface of the ocean, but Thad said he could hear the songs of the humpback whales that we shared the area with that day.  I did learn that snorkeling with a clinging cold can be a bit, well, gross. Put your entire nasal system inside a tight-fitting plastic mask and then float face down for an hour. Things drain. It just happens. But, I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to float with the fish because of a bit of congestion.  Ick. I know.

The cruise was filled with four-course meals (I had dessert every night!) and nightly shows heavy on the choreography and hits from a handful of decades ago. (Side note: there was a group of deaf vacationers on our cruise who attended these shows each night. I was mesmerized by their interrupter. She rocked out to musical hits through the decades and Polynesian war chants alike.)

Wandering through lava beds at Volcanoes National Park. Kayaking up a river to swim in the pool below a waterfall. Hopping through tide pools to visit sea turtles on Kona. Quietly walking the memorial at Pearl Harbor.

R&R is definitely full of rest and relaxation, but it wouldn’t be a fantastic vacation without days full of activities and adventures. Really, I’m up for just about anything as long it is warm and there is sunshine involved. Blue skies, golden sunshine and a touch of color on my skin- that’s what I needed after an already long winter in Chengdu. (As I write this, our AQI has been over 400 for more than twelve hours. And this is why my lungs didn’t know what to do with fresh air.)

I do have to wonder though, will I want to R&R in Alaska once we move to Malaysia?

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