“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Gandhi

Today Stacy and I took on another super-touristy day, much like the day we did Green Sand Beach and Volcano all at once a few weeks ago.  A lot of people might not be up for such strict schedules, but we love packing our days full of everything we possibly can. Today also happened to be a highly educational day… who doesn’t love learning?

Around 9AM, we climbed into the car and went toward Kona.  Our first stop of the day was the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm for a tour.  Check out www.seahorse.com if you are interested in this awesome organization.  Ocean Rider is a small “Mom-and-Pop” type of farm – it just happens that they farm seahorses instead of crops or other animals as you would usually expect.  This is the only farm of its kind in North America, and they are on the cutting edge as far as breeding seahorses and other aquatic life.

Our tour guide was great.  I now feel very informed about seahorses – and what interesting creatures they are!  It would be sad to see these little guys become extinct, and this is part of the reason that organizations like Ocean Rider are so important.  They are breeding seahorses to be pets in order to avoid having seahorses taken from the wild at all.  Their populations in the wild are dwindling as is, and the hope is that one day Ocean Rider may be able to re-introduce species into the wild if they do become extinct.

Seahorses are in fact a fish, and they are actual predators when found in the wild – at least as far as plankton is concerned.  The seahorses that Stacy and I met today have become accustomed to eating frozen versions of the food that they may have found in the ocean, but these guys were all bred in captivity.  When this farm began, they had only one seahorse that would eat the food they provided.  Because he liked it, they named him Mikey (as in “Mikey likes it!”).  Seahorses learn by observation, so Mikey was moved from tank to tank, teaching the other seahorses that they could eat this food and survive.  Eventually, young seahorses began to eat this food without question, which the biologists think is due to some sort of genetic mutation or natural selection.  This meant that Mikey could retire from his job, and he now lives happily in an aquarium with the owners.

Seahorses naturally mate for life when left to their own devices in the wild.  This animal is one of only a few that are monogamous, but the really fascinating thing here is that, by placing their seahorses in large groups, mixing them around often, and allowing for much social interaction, the biologists at Ocean Rider have now produced swinging seahorses.  A problem with pet seahorses was that if you had a pair of them and one died, you usually had only a week or two before the next would follow.  Now, these seahorses will usually recover and move on, pairing with a new seahorse.  Another reason that I think seahorses are highly fascinating is because they are one of only a few animals in the world that have a male pregnancy.  Male seahorses have a pouch on their stomach, and when they impress a female, she squirts her eggs into his pouch.  He then fertilizes them internally and carries them to term, eventually going into labour to deliver perhaps over 1000 babies.

The pet industry has severely hurt the seahorse population, but another use has had an impact as well.  Seahorses are thought in some types of herbology and naturopathic medicine to be a cure for everything, from sexual dysfunction to kidney ailments to joint pain and circulatory problems.  This industry is incredibly damaging to the survival of seahorses in the wild as aquarium seahorses are not thought to produce the same results.

At the end of the tour, I got to hold a seahorse.  It was actually a much more magical experience than I expected.  My seahorse’s name was Nova.

We had to mimic coral and keep very still so that the seahorse would feel safe.

At this point, I also want to discuss another project that Ocean Rider is currently undertaking as I think it is absolutely amazing.  The organization has purchased four Leafy Sea Dragons.  These animals are extremely close to extinction.  They exist only in a very tiny location in Australia.  These Leafy Sea Dragons reproduce interestingly as well.  The female will spurt eggs onto the tail of the male Dragon, where they will stick and become fertilized.  At this location in Australia, only one pregnant male Leafy Sea Dragon may be taken from the wild per year.  These Dragons are incredibly popular in aquariums everywhere, so this means that they are in high demand and are in danger of continuing to exist in the wild.  Ocean Rider has two males and two females.  In the wild, Leafy Sea Dragons reach reproductive maturity at 4 years of age, and in the past, Dragons have often died after living only a year in captivity.  Ocean Rider has a female Leafy Sea Dragon that is showing signs that she may be ready to reproduce.  She has actually spurted eggs twice, but has missed the male’s tail both times, leaving the eggs to fall to the bottom of the tank, unattended.  The biologists at Ocean Rider are working towards having the first successful captive breeding pair of these amazing animals.  Here is a picture from the internet, if you don’t know what they look like.  We weren’t allowed to take photos of the Leafy Sea Dragons we actually saw as they were quite skittish.

Stacy and I bought a few trinkets, left a few tips for our guide and donations to the organization, and then got back into the vehicle to head to our next stop.  By this point, I was definitely feeling a caffeine withdrawal headache coming on… so it was a very happy time for us to do a coffee farm tour.  This was something I had expressed an interest in doing while I was here.  I mean, if you know me, you certainly must know that I am a fan of coffee.  How could I be in the heart of this amazing coffee-growing area for two months without learning more about it?  Stacy wanted to do the Hula Daddy tour as this is where she sends many of her guests interested in a similar experience, and she had not yet seen this farm.

We arrived at an adorable country-style building, complete with clock tower.  I can’t believe I completely forgot to get a picture of the building, but I did.  We walked inside, and it was a modern but cozy store and office with a beautiful view.

Stacy and I drank a few coffee samples while our tour guide, who is also in charge of marketing for the organization, chatted away about coffee and everything to do with it.  We hit it off well with our guide, whose name was also Stacy, so we ended up enjoying an extremely leisurely and informative tour.  We walked down to the coffee plants and tasted coffee cherry, then went to the roasting room to watch as one lady had the job of roasting, taste testing, and packaging every single bag of Hula Daddy Coffee.

Hula Daddy is a boutique coffee farm in that they specialize in putting out an amazing product, but not necessarily mass producing it. The focus is on putting out the best product that they possibly can, and that has paid off – a few Hula Daddy coffees are among some of the the highest rated in the world.  The Hula Daddy “Kona Sweet” is rated as a 97, which is extremely high on the coffee rating scale, for those of you that have no idea what this means.  In fact, no coffee in the world has been given higher than 97, and there are only a handful that have achieved this rating.

On the Big Island, the coffee growing season runs from February to July, and the harvest goes from August to January.  For those of you that know anything about farming, a 6 month long harvest is ridiculous!  They have pickers at work every single day during the harvest season.  Hula Daddy does things differently from many coffee farms in that they actually hand sort the coffee cherry after it is picked.  Any cherry that is over-ripe or under-ripe is discarded and actually sold to another company.  The defective cherry is still 100% Kona coffee, it just isn’t necessarily something Hula Daddy would put their name on.  This means that every Hula Daddy coffee bean is roasted evenly and to perfection.

Coffee cherry
Beans roasted to different levels. We watched a batch roasted to 420 degrees.
Coffee roaster
Mmm… freshly roasted coffee beans, cooling before packaging

Kanane – A game the ancient Hawaiians used to play.
The royal canoe landing… if a commoner set foot here, the penalty was death!

The wall surrounding the Place of Refuge – it didn’t have a pathway through it when this area was in use. Warriors would stand on top of the wall to protect the area.
An ancient canoe

After we were finished wandering around the Place of Refuge, we went to a popular snorkelling spot near there and got into the water.  Despite the fact that it was “cold” out (Stacy’s word, not mine), it was lovely in the water.  There were lots of fish and the water was quite warm, especially around all the coral.  This was a beautiful spot to snorkel.  Here is a view of the Place of Refuge from this area.

After we were done in the water, we got back into the car and made a stop on Ali’i Drive for a drink on the way home.  This was the view we were treated to at the bar.  What a way to end the day!

There were so many amazing things about today, but I think my favourite part of it all was how very educational it all was – and I love how much I was able to regurgitate in this blog post!  I learned so many interesting things and heard so many captivating stories that I am happy I was able to share at least some of this knowledge with all of you.

Love KG

“Let me know when you’re drowning…”

I have just a week left here in Hawaii, so Stacy and I have a ton of activities planned for the next little while.  It helps that she is off work as well!  I’m excited about all the cool activities I will get to cross off my “To-Do” list in the next bit, but I think it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to Hawaii.

The last couple days have been fairly mellow.  On Friday I drove Stacy to work and had her vehicle for the day.  I spent a bit of time shopping at Target in Kona, mostly just to buy a suitcase to haul all my Christmas presents back in.  As it was Black Friday, shopping was just a little bit intimidating after all the bad press that this crazy day gets – there were even police officers roaming the store!

On the way back to the Kohala Coast, I stopped at the Kaloko-Honokohau Park and snapped a few photos of all the surrounding lava rock.  I wish I had hiking gear with me… I would’ve loved to have wandered around there.

As it was, I soon hopped back into the vehicle and decided to head to Starbucks at the Queen’s Shops with my laptop to wait for Stacy to be done work.  I had a productive afternoon there, and ended up being able to meet Stacy a little bit early so that I could see the floor she manages at the hotel.  It took a bit longer than usual for her to get out of there as this was her last day of work before her vacation.

I spent pretty much the entire evening practicing my guitar.  I’ve come to the realization that I only have a week of instruction left, and I’m on my own after that.  I’m really hoping to be at a somewhat self-sufficient point by the time I leave here.  Leilani’s friend Lola and her mom Leah were over that evening.  They were actually the ones that connected me with my guitar instructor as Lola takes lessons from him as well.  She and I spent a bit of time talking about guitar and teaching each other.

On Saturday Stacy and I took the kids in to Kona early for gymnastics, but it turned out that class was cancelled.  We went shopping instead, hit up a park for the kids for a bit, and met Leah and Lola at a Thai place for lunch.  We had originally talked about heading to Makalawena Beach that afternoon, which you need to off-road into, but it turned out that it was far too windy and just not an ideal day to do that, so we have postponed that trip to next weekend.  Instead, we spent the day at the pier in Kona.

We relaxed on the beach, rented a paddle board from a charming beach boy, and got in the way of a wedding .  Well… we didn’t really get in the way, we were politely “asked” to move, as the organizer was not really able to tell us to leave a public beach.  We moved over a few feet to (hopefully) make our way out of the happy couple’s wedding album.

I got to play around with stand-up paddling for the first time.  I got a quick lesson from the guy running the rental shack, and away I went.  We all took turns on the board – I really enjoyed it.  Stacy was the only one, along with a couple of the kids, that flipped the board.  I didn’t go far out into the ocean.  I mostly stayed close, but every once in awhile would make my way around the corner and into the waves, then promptly get scared and turn back around to ride the waves in.

I hope we do get to make our way to Makalawena Beach next week, but this turned out to be a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

Love KG

The Big Island and the Yukon: Too Similar to Ignore

During my time on the Big Island of Hawaii, many similarities to my home territory of the Yukon have come to my attention.  I know what you are thinking right now – “you’re crazy” and “I can’t think of two places that have less in common”,  but hear me out.  I thought the same thing coming here, but I’ve seen too many similarities to ignore.

Yes, the Big Island is an island, while the Yukon is surrounded mostly by land (but for a few exceptions).  The Big Island is a year-round paradise, while the Yukon is thought by many to be a desolate land of ice and snow (though this is not the case all the time).  The similarities I see are more in the lifestyle and the people than anything.

Both of these places are quite isolated and have that everyone-knows-everyone feeling as far as residents are concerned.  Both of these places also thrive on tourism.  Though the Big Island is a bit more of a tourist destination than the Yukon, many people looking for excitement and adventure tend to head to the Yukon, or Alaska via the Yukon, so we get quite the crew of interesting characters there as well.  Tourism is one of the largest industries in the territory.

In the Yukon, it is not uncommon to meet residents that traveled there once and decided to stay, or to meet tourists that keep returning again and again.  Everyone has a story about how they ended up in the Yukon for good.  I will never forget about my high school history teacher and how he ended up there, or at least the story he told us about it.  He had just graduated from the University of Alberta and was married to a girl.  One summer, he took a motorcycle trip through the Yukon to Alaska and just absolutely fell for the Yukon.  He vowed that he would return there to live.  When he arrived back to his wife in Alberta, she flatly refused to move somewhere as far away and desolate as the Yukon.  Not long later, they got a divorce and he moved up north.  Many years later, he was happily married to someone else and teaching high school students in Whitehorse, never regretting his decision.  My own parents arrived in the Yukon planning to stay only a year or two, when I was two years old.  I ended up spending my entire childhood there.   The Yukon is full of stories like this, but I have found that the Big Island is as well.  Many people just have a feeling that “this is where they belong”.  People leave behind perfectly good lives on the mainland to come and struggle to make ends meet here in Hawaii, but they stick to the idea that this is where they are supposed to be.  Some come to visit once, and then decide to move to the Big Island.  People are attracted from all over the world to settle in both of these places, and I find that amazing.

The inherent culture of the Hawaiians is very central and obvious here, and I found the same thing with Native culture growing up in Whitehorse.  My elementary school used to have “Native Culture Days”, where we would eat bannock and make Native crafts, or learn how to snare a rabbit.  Hawaiian culture is apparent everywhere here, and I know that the schools teach children Hawaiian Culture classes, as this is probably the favourite of my 6-year-old cousin.  I think that tourists enjoy the injection of culture at both of these locations.

There are a few small ideas that hilariously carry over between the two places.  In Hawaii, there is this idea of “Hawaiian Time”, or always being fashionably late.  More than that, I think it is being a little bit zen and living in the moment, and if you end up being late for something, well, so be it.  I grew up learning of “Yukon Time”.  In the Yukon, things never begin on-time and people are rarely expected to be on-time.  In the Yukon, we also have this idea of “Yukon Formal”.  Events rarely have a strict dress code, and this idea is merely one that reflects that.  It is the idea that whatever you are wearing is fine for wherever you are going.  Don’t get me wrong, we often have events where the majority of people are dressed up nicely, but you always have to arrive in boots and a winter jacket.  Not to mention, that old guy in the plaid shirt and huge winter boots with no change of clothes always shows up fashionably on “Yukon Time”.  It’s the Yukon – you can’t expect to change people.  I bring this idea up because here on the Big Island, the trend seems to be “You’re in Hawaii – no one cares what you’re wearing”.  There is no appropriate level of dressiness for almost anything here, or so it seems from my experience.  Even on the resorts, the staff are dressed rather casually compared to upscale hotels on the mainland.  In fact, I often feel silly spending too much time on my hair or clothes here, much like I do in Whitehorse.

The final reason that I see so much in common between these two places is the connection with the outdoors and all the activities it affords.  Yes, in Hawaii, many of these activities are on the ocean – but in the Yukon we do many similar things, just on lakes and rivers instead.  The Big Island has many beautiful hikes that tourists and locals alike flock to, and this is true of the Yukon as well.  During my day off-roading all over Waipio Valley, it hit me that this was probably the biggest reason that I felt these places had so much in common.  That day was totally something that a group of people would have done in the Yukon, it just would have been a different type of location.  Overall, both of these places have an amazing attachment to the land that they exist on, and the people make full use of that.

This is a topic I never would have considered writing about when I first arrived here, as it had never occurred to me that this could be possible.  I have found two places that just feel incredibly similar to me, more so than any other two places I have been in my life. I find it amazing that two places that really are so different have so many inherent similarities.

I don’t mean to take away from either of these amazing, unique places.  The similarities that I see don’t make either of these places ordinary – in fact, I really do think that they are both extraordinary locations.  There are still many things that make each special, but it is in parts of the people and the lifestyle that they feel the same.  Maybe this is why I have had such an easy time adjusting to life here in Hawaii.

Love KG

A Time to Give Thanks

Today I celebrated my very first American Thanksgiving.  I woke this morning to find that Lei and La’a had prepared a breakfast feast for the family.  They had laid all our places and set fruit on the table, as well as some lunch meat (because you need to have some kind of meat at Thanksgiving).  It was adorable.

That evening, the whole family attended a dinner at a neighbour’s house, which much of the neighbourhood was invited to.  It was a lot of fun, even though my timeline feels completely off right now.  I am glad that I was able to stay here in Hawaii long enough to celebrate this holiday, as I was here for the Canadian version and therefore missed out.  Why is it that Canada and the US celebrate Thanksgiving at different times?

We had a delicious dinner with a bunch of amazing people, and rounded out the evening with some musical entertainment.  I was even pursuaded to play my extremely basic version of Wonderwall on the guitar, accompanied by a much more accomplished musician on a baritone ukelele.   Our gathering had a great feeling of companionship, and we all just enjoyed each other’s company.

I am thankful for many things in my life.  I am thankful for my health and my happiness.  I am thankful that I had the means to obtain a university degree, and to better myself along the way.  I am thankful for my family and friends – all the amazing people in my life make it special.  I am thankful that I was able to come and spend this time in Hawaii, and to get to know my young cousins and my Hawaiian family.  I am thankful to have so many places that my life exists in – I always felt that was difficult, but now I realize that it just means I have more than one place that I call home, and isn’t that special?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Love KG

My irrational fears get the best of me

On Saturday I joined Stacy and the kids, just running a bunch of errands in Kona.  We hit up Kmart, Macy’s, Target, and Costco.  Pretty productive afternoon, if I do say so myself.  That evening we laid out some pupus (appetizers), pulled out a few drinks, and had some people over.  It was a nice evening, and the kids had a blast running around and playing.

On Sunday we had struck up a bit of a group to hit the beach together.  We went to 69 again.  Leilani immediately found a rope swing to play on and spent most of the afternoon there.  I went out to do some snorkeling with Sean and we saw a few squid!  He said that he has never seen squid in water that shallow, so that was kinda neat.  I spent the majority of the day reading and relaxing in the sunshine.

That evening, when we got home, Stacy and I looked outside at the bunny cage to find Smoky (Daddy Bunny) hanging out all alone outside the cage that his whole family was in, looking incredibly pathetic.  Some (but not all) literature Stacy had read in the past had said that he may harm the bunnies when they are little, so not to keep them together.  He just looked so sad and lonely, though, that we decided to do a test run of having him in the cage.  Not to mention, the babies are getting a little older now, so we figured it would probably be fine.  Stacy slowly walked over to him, and he didn’t make much of an effort to get away, so a few minutes later he was inside.  It wasn’t long before they were all hanging out together.  Smoky was cleaning one of the babies, and they were all cuddled together on the top level of the cage looking all happy and family-like.  Adorable.

The next day, I woke in the morning and did some work on my blog.  Sean took La’a and went to Waimea, so I was at the house alone.  Now, if you know me,  you probably know about my irrational fear of spiders.  I’ve done pretty well on this trip so far avoiding them, except for a couple cases, but nothing horrible.

I went into the kitchen to make some coffee, and as I was leaving, something caught my eye on the floor.  It was a huge spider, lurking underneath the counter.  I had never seen one that big before, and it looked kinda reddish.  I went back to my computer, sat down, and brainstormed ways to kill it.  It was huge, and a little bit reddish.  Could it be poisonous?  I looked around for something long to squish it with, but then got scared when thinking about the fact that if I missed, it could climb along whatever implement I came up with, and come right at me.  I thought more about ways to squish it that didn’t involve me being attached to the other end of the squishing object, but then thought about how quickly little spiders move and realized I had no desire to see how quickly a big spider could move.  I didn’t get close to it… I just looked at it from a distance and couldn’t bring myself to do anything else about it.

So, I went the obvious route and avoided dealing with it.  Hands shaking, I got dressed, packed all my stuff up, and hopped into Sitka to head to Kona.  When I was safely in the car, I texted Stacy:

“Was home alone and saw as huge spider in the house. Plotted ways to kill it.  Burst into tears and left to Kona instead.  how pathetic is that?”

I had a nice day in Kona.  I loitered for awhile at the Starbucks in Target, then went to Costco to pick up a couple Christmas surprises Stacy wanted to get for the kids.  I spent a couple hours wandering the Kona International Market, shopping for a few more gifts and souvenirs.  By the time I was ready to head back to Waikoloa, Stacy still wouldn’t be home from work and I was too scared to confront the horrible spider by myself, so I decided to stop at the Queen’s Shops at Waikoloa Beach and loiter at the Starbucks there.  I spent a couple hours catching up on emails and blog posts, and made it back home around 6:30.

“No sign of a terrifying spider?” I asked hesitantly as I walked in the door.  I wasn’t sure what response I wanted – that Stacy had seen it, or that she hadn’t.  Slowly I got comfortable being in the house again, despite my earlier episode.  Finally I walked into the kitchen, looked over, and the spider was still exactly where it was when I had left that morning!  I pointed it out to Stacy, and she picked it up and laughed at me.  Apparently my horrible spider was nothing but a toy spider ring.

In all fairness, it was in shadows under the counter, so it looked a vaguely reddish black.  And I never did get close enough to actually look at it or make it move.  And I’m in Hawaii… I have been expecting to see an absolutely terrifying spider at some point, so my mind jumped to conclusions.  But I still realize that I was being just a little ridiculous…

Stacy threatened to share this story with everyone she could possibly get in touch with, so I figured I may as well do so myself and laugh at how ridiculous I am when it comes to spiders.  I also think that in exchange, I get to share a small story about Stacy that I had previously left out of my posts… I’ll think about it and perhaps insert it in a later post.

Love KG