Working in Hawaii

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 3:03 pm

One of the great perks of my job is the occasional trip to Hawaii. Although I usually spend far more time in a meeting room than on the beach, I sometimes manage to tack on a day or two of vacation – which is what I did last weekend. Armed with Lars’s hi-def camera rig again, I flew out to Kona on Saturday morning for a weekend of Hawaiian leisure before starting our meeting on Monday.

I didn’t have any firm plans for Saturday; my plane landed at noon, leaving me with quite a lot of time to kill, and I was a little worried that it would be a lonely and boring afternoon without the company of Jeff. I should have known better: Hawaiians are far too friendly a bunch to leave a traveler feeling alone. I nabbed lunch at Lulu’s, where my server struck up a conversation. Then I spent a while wandering around downtown chatting up random homeless guys and tourists.

As I wandered back towards my hotel, it struck me that I still had several hours left until sunset – why not hop in the car and drive down to Place of Refuge? I’d read that turtles tend to hang out there nibbling on algae in the late afternoon, and that sounded like a pretty good video opportunity.

When I reached Place of Refuge, there were just a handful of tourists left snorkeling off the rocks. The tide was high, giving turtles lots of room for their snacking in the tidepools. Their antics attracted a small crowd, oohing and aahing appreciatively when a turtle got knocked over by an especially high wave, or managed to hold his ground as the water flowed back out to the sea.

As the last tourists packed up to go home, the locals started setting up for the evening. Across the harbor, a large group of hula dancers in Hawaiian dress practiced on the beach. Next to the boat ramp, a guy started playing ukulele and signing in Hawaiian, to an appreciative audience of his friends (and me). Behind where my car was parked, a group of older guys hung out by their pickup truck, and I insinuated myself into their group by virtue of being a fellow smoker. Some were white guys who’d moved to the island years ago and stayed, integrating themselves into local culture; others were Hawaiian born and bred. All wanted to talk about how there was too much development going on, and too many rich people moving in and creating a society separate from the locals. They all welcomed newcomers, but wished it didn’t feel so much like this new community was the one deciding the future of the island. I couldn’t help but sympathize; my flight in afforded an excellent view of the huge tracts of land currently being turned into condominiums all along the coast. According to these folks, it was just as bad down south.

Of course, part of me is dying to be one of those rich people who move to Hawaii. But I’d like to think I’d be the sort to join the local community – they’re certainly friendly enough.

When I got tired of turning down beers (or marriage offers from tipsy Hawaiians), I headed back up to Kona for sunset-watching, complete with more chatting up of random Hawaiians. After dinner and a mai tai, I was ready for bed by 8pm. A small cockroach materialized out from under the fridge in my room, and I vigorously stomped him. I can’t plan to live in Hawaii one day and continue being a weenie about roaches…

Sunday morning I was wide awake by 6am, and didn’t need to be at the harbor until 9. I took my time packing up and strolling around the hotel grounds, chasing lizards with my hi-def camera. Next to the Royal Kona is a beach bar, which turns into a coffee shop in the mornings, so I headed there for breakfast. My previous visits had familiarized me with the overly-aggressive birds, who will sweep down onto your table the instant you walk away from your muffin. But I was surprised by just how fearless they’d gotten; as I toasted my bagel up on the bar, a dove wandered across the bagel cutting boards (mm, healthy) and right up to my hands. Sheesh.

It was a gorgeous day for diving: sunny, no wind, and flat seas. I was thrilled to discover Captain Roger was driving the boat today, and I knew one of the divemasters from previous trips as well. I quickly made friends with the other divers in my group, including a couple from Alaska who mostly dive the cold water up there, and a photographer from the east coast who was on a vacation with his (non-diving) wife. There were about 12 divers on the boat total, including a brand new 10-year-old scuba diver and her dad, who’d just gotten certified together.

We had an auspicious start, coming across a playful pod of spinner dolphins on our way out of the harbor. We didn’t go far; just hung a right and zipped over to Lone Tree Arch, a little bit north of the harbor. On the first dive, our group of six divers followed the divemaster down to about a hundred feet, looking for interesting fish in the rubble that covered the bottom. Heading shallower, we swam through some mostly-open lava tubes. On our way into the first one, we got a close look at a pregnant white-tipped reef shark lying on the sand. After getting sucked out the other side of the tube, we took our time moseying back over to the moored boat. I spotted lots of juvenile coris wrasses, as well as their adult counterparts, a mating pair of surgeonfish, and – briefly – a turtle in the distance.

During lunch, we scarfed down sandwiches while Roger took us out to look for “Easter pilot whales.” No luck there, but it’s still about as pleasant a way to spend an hour as I can imagine – bouncing across the nearly-flat Pacific in the Hawaiian sun, geeking out with other divers.

Our second dive wasn’t too far from the first, at Golden Arches. This site has several nice archways you can swim through (or just hang out in, insinuating yourself into the schools of fish that are doing likewise). In between are large rubbly areas where I always see lots of rock-moving action by coris and rockmover wrasses, and today was no exception. I found one large yellowtail coris in particular who turned out to be a great video subject; after his initial wariness, he let me put the camera practically right next to him while he turned over enormous rocks and blew away sand in search of food.

We also spotted quite a few moray eels on this dive, though none were feeling very perky. There was even a large zebra moray, although we only saw his midsection – the head and tail were buried in a coral head.

During a long safety stop near the boat, I was thrilled to discover two rockmover wrasses who appeared to be mating. They’d sort of poof up their dorsal fins (until this, I’d never realized their dorsal fins were poofable) and twirl around each other before spinning away. Like the coris wrasse, they let me get surprisingly close, but it wasn’t long before they worked their way into shallower, surgier water than I felt like dealing with.

It was a short ride back to the harbor after our two dives, and alas, that was it for my mini-vacation. I met up with my Bruce (my boss) and David (project scientist), and we headed up to Waimea to check into our hotel.

We stayed at the Jacaranda Inn, a lovely, romantic bed and breakfast. Felt a little weird for a work trip. My room was enormous, with a four-poster bed all carved and painted with tropical birds. The shower was impressive. The boys each had a bedroom in a separate cottage, which came with a hot tub.

Interestingly, the rooms did not have televisions. Or telephones. Or wireless, though it claimed to; nor did this self-proclaimed “bed and breakfast” serve breakfast anymore. My room didn’t have an alarm clock, either, so I relied on wake-up calls from David or Bruce (who did have them). It did, however, have mosquitoes – in spades. I sat down to read for five minutes, and got as many bites, so I high-tailed it over to the cottage (which for some reason was mosquito-free) until it was time for dinner. When we got back, I high-tailed it under the covers and didn’t give them any chance to bite!

The second night there was even more exciting bug-wise. First I got to practice my cockroach-crunching some more in the bathroom (this one actually went CRACK when I stepped on it – ugh). I headed towards the bed, carefully NOT examining any dark corners for roaches, but made the mistake of glancing up… and spotted an enormous daddy long-legs dangling from the top railing of the four poster bed. Then I repeated the mistake by looking to the left, and spotted another one up towards the headboard. I briefly considered attempting to squash them, but decided that they’d most likely escape, and then I’d be even more freaked out about where they might be. Plus, if I looked any closer, I might find MORE of them. So I just went to bed and pretended there weren’t spiders two feet from my head.

I won’t bother blogging about work, since it’s pretty boring. That’s why it’s work. Still, cockroach-intensive though my trip was this time around, I was extremely sorry to leave. I like the big island a little more every time I go.


  1. Did you hear that? It was the sound of my jaw hitting the table. YOU squishing COCKROACHES???? What alternate universe am I in? Do you have a goatee beard??? Good for you though. How come you didn’t write about getting me that HR glass? And did you have the alcohol that they usually come with???

    Comment by Cookie — 4/12/2007 @ 3:34 am

  2. I’m duly impressed with your non-fear of bugs. Nice diving stories, too! :)

    My trip to the pool yesterday was successful — I haven’t forgotten anything and Ben gave me the thumbs-up. However, I felt uncomfortable; my ears hurt (in a 13′ pool!), and I would occasionally get “vertigo” where everything wobbled. (I didn’t explain that very well, but it’s the kind of thing my therapists kept asking me about; I can’t tell where the horizon is.) I didn’t get worried, though; I could breathe, and it was kind of fun to figure out “which way was up”.

    Comment by Kathy Brantley — 4/12/2007 @ 8:02 am

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