Kauai, Hawaii 2011 – Day 3

Day 3, Monday.  We planned a big outing for Monday! This island is just so beautiful, that we can’t stay at our hotel the entire time, even as pretty as it is right here! On Sunday we thought through all of the places we want to go this week, and decided to lay out our plan based on the weather – the air is supposed to be clearest the first few days of the week – and will be getting progressively more “hazy” as the humidity builds back up following the cold front. So, outing #1 is to the Waimea Canyon.  The Waimea Canyon is a spectacular gorge which is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The canyon is 10 miles long, 1 mile wide, and 3,600 feet deep. The trip up to the top of the canyon area from the town of Waimea is a 40-mile round trip with a 4,000 foot elevation rise. The temperatures are generally 10-15 degrees cooler at the top. So, a clear view and lots of sun are highly desired when visiting this beautiful area.

We managed to get a good, early start to the day.  First on our list was the feeding of the koi at the hotel. They have huge ponds in the open area off of the lobby and conference area, and the ponds are filled with koi, black-necked swans, and ducks. The 9:00 am koi feeding is a tradition here at the Kauai Marriott, and the crowds include folks of all ages. We helped feed the fish and took some great photos. The fish literally swim up out of the water on top of one another to get to the food. It was really fun to watch! Mike the koi-lover really enjoyed it! Then we finally took off on the outing.  We dropped by a restaurant which had been recommended (The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook) for breakfast – Kalaheo Cafe & Coffee Co – had an wonderful and too filling breakfast special.  Then we headed out for the mountains.  We drove up Waimea Canyon Drive, one of two routes up into the area.  As we ascended, Mike mentioned that it was strange to have the rear view mirror completely filled with a view of the Pacific Ocean – I turned around to look and WOW was he right. Can you imagine seeing an ocean in the distance, everywhere you look?  That was our view, and we know how lucky we are to be here…  We climbed up to 4,000 feet with ears regularly popping, and stopped numerous times to take pictures – The Waimea Canyon looks very like the Grand Canyon, just a smaller area.  We stopped at “lookouts”, and we stopped many times at tiny pullouts – with me screaming, “stop here, quick!”  Bless Mike, he managed it every time, even with I was fretting that he could have stopped 15 feet earlier.  We got some terrific pictures.  BTW – per our driving experiences in Panama (if you will recall), I have learned to be MORE decisive. So, I got pretty forceful with the “stop here, quick” messages.  🙂

OK. So we got to the top… At the final lookout, Pu’u o Kila, we hiked a little ways down the trail at the end of the road, and got more wonderful pictures. How to describe the views? Overwhelmingly beautiful. Just wish we had the skills to hike all over the place and experience the land up close. The lookout had views of the Kalalau Valley, which is the largest valley on the Na Pali coast. (Note: It was inhabited until 1919, and is accessible only by an 11 mile hike or by kayak. Can’t imagine living there!). We aslo had a birds-eye view of Wai’ale’ale, one of the wettest spots on the planet, with an elevation of 5,148 ft. It receives an average ot 428 inches of rain per year! But we lucked out – not a cloud in the sky and we could fully enjoy the views of the Na Pali valley, the mountain, and the views back towards the interior of the island as well.

One the way back down, we stopped at the Koke’e Museum and Lodge where we wandered through the tiny museum, saw a lot of roosters and chicken families, and had a glass of chardonnay. By the time we headed down the mountain, we had spent the better part of the day. Terrific experience, and the weather was picture perfect. We headed back to the hotel and closed out the day with a nice dinner at Duke’s overlooking the beach and harbor! Can’t wait for tomorrow…

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Kauai, Hawaii 2011 – Day 2

Day 2, Sunday.  We managed to get a good night’s sleep, and feel adjusted to the time change.  Our “apartment” (timeshare) at the Kauai Marriott is great – should work out nicely for the week for the 2 of us. Our views from the room are amazing – we have 2 balconies, off of the living room as well as the bedroom. Started the day sitting out on the balcony enjoying the amazing view.  The air was quite cool as a “cold front” blew in last night. The air was sparkling clear, and started out so cool that we had to wait a while before heading out to the pool.

We were pretty darned lazy today! We spent most of the day out by the pool. We grabbed 2 chairs out on the grass overlooking the beach and the bay. Swam in the “largest pool in Hawaii”, walked along the water on the beach, watched people, took a nap, and watched chickens.  There are chickens everywhere on this island! We watched roosters, females, and babies – they are clustered into little families and go everywhere together. One of the larger female chicks apparently was snoozing when her entire family wandered off. She woke up, started looking around, and then started calling out – it was SO funny! Both her mom and dad started making noises back and we watched them all look for each other. Once they sighted each other, they all rushed back together and then wandered on their way. Absolutely too funny to watch… And the roosters crow all of the time, getting one another going – has absolutely nothing to do with the sunrise.  Obviously we had a pretty “tough” day when we can be so entertained by the chickens.

While sitting at the beach, we started talking to a couple sitting near us (actually Mike and the guy started talking), and we found out that they are here from Canada for a several week visit. We have learned that there are a lot of retired and older folks here at this time of year, enjoying long escapes from the cold northern climate on the mainland in North America. Having grown up in South Texas, I am accustomed to the “snow birds” coming to the Texas coast in the winter, but clearly these snow birds prefer flying to the Hawaiian islands, and do so for extended periods every year.  We hope we can do that when we retire!

We had lunch overlooking the beach at Duke’s Canoe Club – we are accustomed to having pigeons around when eating outside, but chickens on the floor looking for food under the tables is a new experience. I made some new “friends” amongst the restaurant guests as I followed chickens around trying to get pictures of the little chicks. Mike was very impressed by my ability to make friends so easily! 🙂

We had a lovely dinner at the Kalapaki Grill overlooking the pool, beach, and bay. It was cool enough that we even got too cool and were glad to get back to our room!!!  Saved some fish from our dinners for the cat – as we walked back to our room, there was the fluffy black cat from last night, as well as a little friend with white paws (this cat was more shy). They thoroughly enjoyed the snack we shared with them! We headed back to the room, had a cocktail out on the lanaii, and then watched a little TV before crashing for the night. What a GREAT day!

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Kauai, Hawaii 2011 – Day 1

Day 1 – Saturday. Tamara and Asa came over for dinner on Friday night, since we hadn’t seen much of Tamara recently due to her trip to Norway. Had some pizza and wine, and got our final preparations completed. Was in bed by 9:30, ready to get up and head out early. Well, not too surprisingly, I was so excited about this trip that I couldn’t sleep.  I gave up and got up at 3:15, even though the alarm was set for 4:30. We headed out for our 9:30 flight about 6:30, stopped at McDonald’s for a breakfast of champions, and headed to The Parking Spot at IAH. Got through security without incident, and headed to the President’s Club.  We found out that our flight was delayed about 45 minutes due to a late inbound aircraft. We downed a couple of screwdrivers, and relaxed.

After the wait, our plane was loaded pretty effectively, and we settled into our comfy Business First seats.  We had paid dearly with points to get those seats, and were determined to enjoy every minute of the 8.5 hour flight to Honolulu. Frankly, as the day progressed, we remembered why we so avidly dislike 8+ hour flights!  Even with lots of luxuries, it is just plain a LONG, LONG, LONG time, in a small place.  We pretty much watched movies and ate for the entire trip – I managed to get in a 2-hour nap (thank goodness!).  First, we had a 4-course lunch – and it was excellent.  Then, hours later, before we were hungry again, a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie was delivered (it arrived during my nap…). Then, before we landed, yet another meal – a hot sandwich, fruit, and chocolates. As I said before, we were determined to enjoy – so we ate yet again.  Then, we were circling Honolulu, and we landed!  HURRAY! 

We found our gate, then a nearby bar – and celebrated our arrival in the incredible state of Hawaii. About an hour later, we boarded Hawaiian Airlines for the 25 minute hop to Kauai – our absolutely favorite place in Hawaii. Once we landed, we grabbed our bags, and got our Enterprise rental car. We got completely organized, and made the very, very long 5 minute trip to our hotel.

We are staying at the Marriott Kauai Beach Club. We are using our Marriott timeshare points, and had booked what turned out to be an incredible 1 bedroom apartment with an ocean view.  We checked in, and headed to the room.  Unpacked in about 5 minutes, stowed the bags, changed into tropical attire, and headed downstairs.  As one might imagine, we headed to the bar!  🙂  We found a comfy spot on a couch at the bar overlooking the largest pool in Hawaii – listened to the live music, had a snack (yes, eating again), and started the process of relaxing and settling in.  After a couple of hours, we headed to the local gift/sundry shop, bought snacks, diet coke, wine, and liquor. Then we headed back to our room – had been up 22 hours. On the way, we met a resident cat that was cute beyond words. It’s like he was sitting right by the pathway wanting to meet everyone.  Guess we have a new friend!  Got to the room, poured one more drink, and finished the evening sitting on the lanai overlooking the huge property.  We absolutely cannot wait for tomorrow!

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Panama 2010 – Day 14

Day 14 – Friday.  Our last day of our first trip to Panama. We are both sad to see this wonderful trip come to an end! We have seen the wonder of the Panama Canal, the beauty of the beaches and the mountains, the gorgeous interior of the country, and the very awesome Panama City. We have met so many nice people – many in passing, including the people working in the airport, hotels, restaurants, and shops.  But the time we got to spend with the various people living in Panama was truly a treasure.

Hans, his father, and his staff at the awesome Hotel Villa Romana in Pedasi were such a pleasure – we got to hear about the building of the family compound which is now being run as an inn by Hans, we had a blast watching the eclipse of the moon with Hans at 3am in the morning, and ate incredible food at every single meal while overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I can only say WOW about the experience.

And sharing the Christmas holiday with our hosts, Avril and Derek, their cat, Scupper, and their friends at the Seagull Cove Lodge was a treat that far exceeded our hopes. The lodge is beautiful, the food was terrific, and the company was truly a pleasure. We had a tough time leaving.

Our time in Boquete was such an unforgettable experience.  Our host at the Villa Marita was terrific, and we really enjoyed talking with him – we loved the inn, and our view was awesome. But the real treat that made the trip unique was spending time with our new friends, Ellie and Jeff Simon. Again, the people made the difference.  In spite of much lousy weather and Mike getting a bit sick, we still had a GREAT time, and loved spending the time with Ellie and Jeff, and getting to meet their beautiful dogs. Can’t wait to see them again.

But, back to leaving. We dragged our luggage back downstairs at the Marriott, and loaded the car one more time. We had managed to learn our way around Panama City pretty well while in town, and were able to find our way back to the airport with no problems. We were dreading turning the rental car back in at the airport, but were highly surprised when the company didn’t charge us a penny for the lost hubcap. That must happen a lot!!! We climbed aboard the Continental jet, not believing the this trip was already over. As we took off, we strained for a last look at Panama, and then settled back for the flight back to Houston.

Once we landed in Houston, we made our way through customs (which was a breeze due to our new clearances from the Global Entry System), and trekked back to our car which was patiently waiting at The Parking Spot.  As we drove home through Houston on Friday afternoon, we were quickly reminded about the huge size of the city, the immense number of cars, and the crazy drivers. But, you know what? We felt right at home with the crazy drivers! Mike had gotten some excellent training during our cross-country travels in Panama.

We began to realize and comprehend what a fabulous vacation we were returning from, and talked about what a fun time we had.  A truly unforgettable trip.  Once we got back to the house, we dragged in all of our luggage, unpacked most stuff, and changed clothes to head out to join our close friends for an evening of revelry for New Year’s Eve.  Back to reality!

Can’t wait to go back to Panama!

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Panama 2010 – Day 13

Day 13 – Thursday. This last day in Boquete started off VERY early for me. It was one of those nights when I wake up at 3am, unable to sleep. And let me tell you, being in a small, 2-room mountain cabin wide awake when everyone else is asleep is NOT good. There is nothing to do whatsoever. After about 30 minutes of tossing and turning, I finally got up and found my tiny emergency flashlight (yes I took one – remember that I was a Girl Scout!). I paced around in the dark, and finally realized that there was NO WIND outside – extremely unusual. I cautiously stepped out onto our back porch and could not believe my eyes. I could see lights all down through the valley. I had not seen that the previous 3 nights – it was not only NOT raining, it was CLEAR! I looked up at Volcan Baru, and not only could I see the entire mountain, but the stars in the sky were vividly shining above it. Calling it beautiful is not nearly enough. I was SO excited that I wanted to take pictures, and thought about waking Mike up. Fortunately, I realized it was only about 3:45 am, and my camera isn’t fancy enough to capture night shots like that, and Mike would NOT have been nice had I raced in there to share the great news. So, I made myself go back to bed, and crossed fingers and toes that the sun would be shining in the morning. Wasn’t sure he would believe my night experience with no proof.  (p.s. Mike made me add this part – he claims he would have been his usual, sweet self at 3:45 am!)

We had planned to leave at 9am, so got up at about 7:30 to get ready to depart. I was hoping that we could take a few minutes to run by Ellie and Jeff’s to tell them goodbye. I was showered and dressed, and Mike was getting cleaned up by 8am. I grabbed my makeup, and went to the little couch with my 3×3” mirror to try to throw on some makeup (NO room in the tiny bathroom). As I started the daily ritual, I was startled by a HUGE pounding on the door of the cabin.

“POLICIA! Open the door! POLICIA!”

I cannot even begin to describe my instant level of panic. I must be in better condition than I thought because I didn’t have an immediate heart attack. A zillion thoughts raced through my mind, and honestly I couldn’t imagine a single reason a policeman would be at our door in Panama. But what if our Tourist paperwork had gotten messed up and some sort of warning went through the network to the police in Boquete? Yeah, my mind went a bit crazy.  I sucked it up (remember, Mike was in the shower), threw down my stuff, and bravely opened the door.

And there stood JEFF! Laughing his @#% off. When I finally caught my breath, I made very un-ladylike signs with both middle fingers, slugged him on the shoulder, and then laughed my @#% off. I could have KILLED HIM! But it was SO funny! Too bad he didn’t have someone there to record my reaction. Would have been priceless on UTube. He and Ellie had decided to come have a farewell breakfast with us at the inn. What great (new) friends!

The four of us spent about an hour on the balcony of the inn’s main house – had a lovely breakfast and talked the time away. As we had breakfast, the no-seeums first attacked Jeff, and then apparently got Mike, too (which we discovered hours later). One of the owner’s beautiful birds decided to make a beeline for the bird-feeding area on the porch and literally flew across Mike’s and my heads. Check out the attached pictures. And yes, the sun was definitely out. The sky was that beautiful blue, there were only scattered clouds, and it was a perfect day to spend in Boquete. Except that we were leaving! Rats! We said our goodbyes, and packed up the car. We took lots of photos, and then headed out. We stopped in multiple places in Boquete and took more photos, and then started our road trip back to Panama City. One the road to David from Boquete, we experienced the pains of the road-widening construction – watching them clear a huge fallen tree from the road.

To make a long story short, we trekked back across the country for about 6-1/2 hours, with stops at Kentucky Fried Chicken (David) and McDonalds (Santiago). We went through several rain showers, traveled through mountains, rolling hills, farmland, and lots of small towns. Experienced great roads, terrible roads, potholes, newly paved roads – all on the same road.  Crazy drivers, lousy drivers, slow drivers, cabs everywhere – even in the middle of nowhere, drove around cowboys who had roped a steer from horseback on the side of the road and were trying to drive it back to the right field (he was NOT cooperating). Fast HUGE buses, little slow buses stopping at the million tiny bus stops. Worked our way around several major accidents – a huge piece of machinery that had slid off of the trailer (photo attached), a terrible accident with an 18-wheeler on its side (I couldn’t even figure out where the cab was), a family car that had run off of the road (people were standing around in shock, but looked ok), another car that was scrunched. We think that the patch of bad road (locals know where) on the Pan American Highway combined with the intermittent rain probably caused the accidents. And then by 5pm everyone in sight seemed to be heading to bars, restaurants, package stores – is Thursday pay day? – and we passed through lots of tiny towns. What else was strange? As we neared Panama City, there were dozens and dozens of huge trucks parked alongside of the road – apparently during rush hour traffic they cannot come into the city – that was strange looking! We made it back into town with no trouble, navigated the city towards our hotel, and then guess what. Yes, we got lost yet again. And in the DARK! No road signs. After totally stressing, we finally found our hotel, dragged in our bags, shared our thanks for making the trip back safely, and hit the bar in the concierge lounge. We head home tomorrow! We have had a fantastic and totally unique experience in this vacation. We are ready to see family, friends, and our Kimba! What a fabulous 2 weeks!

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Panama 2010 – Day 12

Day 12, Wednesday.  The first thing that I did this morning was to step outside and check the weather. Couldn’t believe my eyes! Although it was misting early this morning, the wind was calm and the sun was coming out.  HURRAY! I immediately started thinking of all of the things I wanted to do today. Got cleaned up, headed to the main room of the inn and had breakfast, and let Mike sleep in. I figured he needed his energy and probably hadn’t slept too well since he is sick. Unfortunately, I was right about that! He definitely still does NOT feel good today. With the promising views of sunlight shining upon everything outside, he was persuaded to get dressed, have coffee and breakfast, and take me out for the day.

We drove back to see some properties that we had both liked (lots, not houses – not big enough for the “compound” either!), and enjoyed the dry weather and fairly decent views of the mountains. I got a few great pictures! Then we headed to the Pharmacia to get a refill of our over-the-counter meds for Mike. Fortunately, that process was simple.  I think that we are reading Spanish pretty well now! (NOT!)

Afterwards we decided to visit the public garden “Mi Jardin es Su Jardin”, which is free to everyone (it once was a private property – cannot imagine as it is HUGE). Of course, what happened when we went there?  It started raining again! Just a very light mist, but steady enough that I needed my umbrella the entire time and Mike wore a jacket and hat – fortunately we had no high winds. As we had heard, the gardens are indeed beautiful. Even in spite of the rain, the colors are so vibrant that my photos turned out quite nicely. Mike held up well, and trudged around the entire grounds with me.  We saw numerous koi ponds, all connected together – as my friends and family know, Mike loves koi, so we checked out the entire setup. On the other hand, I was trying to figure out how one would handle the billions of weeds growing beneath everything (as you all can imagine, Mike had to hold me back from pulling a few weeds).  I realized that labor is so cheap here that I could have lovely plants and pay someone to pull the weeds for me.  I really like that idea!  We finally got tired of the rain, and headed back to the car. But what a beautiful place!

I think that Mike would have preferred to head back to the room, but I talked him into heading to the Panamonte Inn for a light, late lunch. Yes, as usual, I was hungry again. We went to their casual room/bar, and shared their delicious Club Sandwich (recommended to us by Ellie & Jeff), and had some Chardonnay. We talked about our experiences over the past week, and discussed that researching options and making decisions around retirement has got to be a high-level priority for us over the next months. It is not going to be a simple process or decision.

We headed back to our inn, and Mike spent the remainder of the afternoon resting.  As you can all imagine, I went stir-crazy in a very short period of time. I tried to access the internet, but had only intermittent success. I downloaded photos to my computer, and edited them. I walked outside numerous time to see if the rain had stopped (please, please!) – but, NO! Of course not! I packed all of our bags for our departure tomorrow. I finished off the last half-bottle of Chardonnay in the fridge over the 3 hours or so while I worked on everything I could find to do (Mike was watching THE TV and semi-napping).

Eventually, it got dark, and I finally convinced Mike that I had to go get dinner. It’s not like we could call our favorite Chinese food for delivery (as we usually do on rainy nights!), and I wasn’t heading out alone. J As he usually is, Mike was kind enough to agree to take me to dinner even though he felt lousy. We decided upon an Italian restaurant “up” the hill, and headed out into the rainy night armed with a map and an approximate understanding of the location. We were SO proud when we found it up the very dark mountain road – it was very charming, and sat beside a beautiful stream (actually a raging flow due to the rain). We went inside only to find that we had an hour wait, and there was no bar area – picked the perfectly wrong time to show up at the tiny restaurant. As you can imagine, we bailed and headed into town. Went to the highly recommended pizza place, and had some delicious pasta. Well, I did.  Mike ate about 4 bites, and had a little wine. We then headed back and I put him to bed filled with meds. Tomorrow is our last chance to see this place before we drive out to Panama City.  My fingers are crossed for good weather tomorrow!

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Panama 2010 – Day 11

Day 11, Tuesday. We had BIG plans for this day. We wanted to see all kinds of real estate options (lots, houses, small acreage tracts), see the local public gardens, perhaps tread a short way into the forests on a trail, and eat, drink, and be merry. So, what was the reality? Two big negatives: we woke up to rain. Yes, more rain (although it was a light rain, with limited wind. Thank goodness!) But still cannot see the views from my wonderful back porch overlooking Volcan Baru and the entire valley. And Mike is now definitely feeling terrible. He caught my cold or whatever, and I miraculously feel absolutely great today! Go figure. So, the day didn’t work out as hoped for.

We grabbed some breakfast here at Villa Marita – we were very lazy as Mike was feeling lousy, and got a late start.  We did some driving up into the higher elevations – actually found ourselves VERY high into the mountains, and not clear on our destination. Technically we weren’t lost, but we didn’t know where the road was going and as we were on a very high ridge overlooking coffee fields with pretty much a cliff on one side of the 1-lane road, we thought we should head back the way we had come from!  Boy, was it absolutely gorgeous up there! We headed back into town, and met with Steve, a real-estate guy.

Steve took us to see some lots, subdivisions, and houses in areas we hadn’t yet seen. We went inside a couple of houses, and were able to get an idea of how a view could be framed in the house. We had a terrific time with him, as he was very open and shared his thoughts on Boquette, and some of his experiences.

Afterwards, we stopped off at a small restaurant on a river (picture from the deck is attached), and shared a sandwich.  Then we headed back (through the rain) to our place so Mike could rest up for the evening, but then Mike pretty much went down for the count. I had hoped that with a nap he would be able to go with me to Ellie and Jeff’s home for dinner, but he developed a fever and simply snuggled down into bed. So, I headed out to their house alone – it is all of 1 block from our inn! The three of us had such an enjoyable dinner – they had made a Butterball turkey, and yummy sides. We had a great visit, and I gained some interesting insights into their lives here (like how Ellie’s book club reading selections have to be planned well in advance – there aren’t 8 copies of each book sitting here in town!) I also got to spend some quality time with Ellie & Jeff’s 3 dogs – they are Shelties, and are all amazing. Got to feed them turkey treats – was definitely trying to bribe them to like me.  Emma is very friendly, and warmed up to us in our first meeting.  Check the photos of these gorgeous “kids”! Ellie & Jeff sent me home with a to-go package for Mike, which he actually managed to eat and thoroughly enjoyed! Another great time spent with the Simons. J

We had so much misty rain everywhere that we weren’t able to get any good additional photos on this day. And we clearly didn’t get to spend the day as we had hoped, even though we had a pretty good day. We have been pretty hampered by rain most of the time we have been here, and Mike’s being sick certainly doesn’t propel him out the door to explore in the rain! Too bad one cannot preorder excellent weather for one’s vacation outings! We are hoping for better weather tomorrow!

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