Hawaii April 11th to 23rd 2007
This trip is a combination of work and vacation. It is very rare for Karen and I to add a vacation to one of my business trips, either the trip is not where we would not want to vacation, or for various reasons she cannot take time off of work. We had our vacation planned to the Turks and Caicos islands, for a little later in the month, but the problem with that was Karen was going to miss a business trip, so when this trip came up on the radar we cashed the frequent flier miles back in and booked tickets to Hawaii. Shortly after we get back from vacation Karen will go to San Francisco and I will join her- two vacations for the price of one so to speak. Luckily I was able to use frequent flier miles for that ticket.
I was a little worried about getting out of Minneapolis this morning, despite the fact it is April 11th it snowed last night. My flight was at 9:20 am, but I decided to err on the side of safety and get up at 6:00 AM. The roads where not that bad this morning, I probably could have slept in a little later, but I would rather be early than miss my flight. We had gotten about ¼ inch of snow and the roads were wet but not sloppy.
I used off site parking because I am going to pick up the second week of parking. For a change no one on the bus needed to go to Humphrey terminal so we went directly to Lindberg. The airport was amazingly quiet. It was semi busy but nothing like a Monday morning. Even though the airport was quiet, it still took me 15 minutes to make it past security. My flight departed on time.
There was a young man on the flight I had noticed him going through security, he looked like he just did not fit. He had a baseball cap with the name of a heavy metal band on the front of it, he was probably nineteen or twenty. Later when we were taxiing he got up and sprinted to the bathroom. If you have flown you know this is not acceptable behavior. The flight attendant was doing a sudoku puzzle and she just missed him as he entered the bathroom. You get that feeling in the pit of you stomach, is this some deranged nut? What could he possible be doing in the bathroom now that could not wait until after we took off? He did look a little scraggly, could he be another shoe bomber that lost his nerve could not wait for the plane to take off? He was puking in the bathroom. Eventually the flight attendant went to the door to tell him to sit down immediately. He actually seemed very nice and little sheepish about the situation. As he went back to his seat he explained that he gotten nervous at take off. The flight attendant was insistent that he use an air sick bag. Unfortunately he was in the row directly behind me but I am reasonable sure he was fine for the rest of the flight.
Flight 217 flies from Minneapolis to Portland and then on to Honolulu. We had to deplane in Portland. We had an hour on the ground, just enough time to grab lunch- an unsavory bowl of chicken noodle soup and a bland roast beef sandwich, then back on the plane. The Minneapolis to Portland portion of the flight was packed, I don't think there was an empty seat. The Portland to Honolulu flight was wide open. I had paid an extra $15 to get exit row seating.
On the Honolulu leg I not only had exit row seating I had the whole row to myself. I used the tray table next to me to put the one free soda on, it is the only thing that Northwest give you on the flight. I put my magazines and Oreo cookies in the seat next to me, my back pack on the floor in front of the vacant seat along side of me. This is flying, it should always be this good! The one down side of getting exit row seating on this model of plane (I am nor sure what it was) is that the exit rows are right next to the bathroom. I never realized it but during take off the doors to the rest rooms slide open, I was a little worried that some of the wintergreen fresh water was going to splash out of the open door. Every time the restroom door was opened during the flight I either go a blast of wintergreen fresh air or some barn yard like odors.
The drive from the airport to the hotel took forever, H1 was backed up, if my GPS had me take Nimitz rather than H1 I would have been at the hotel much sooner. Even though my GPS failed me at the trip to the hotel, I really did appreciate having my in Honolulu.
I was staying at the Doubletree Honolulu, nice hotel for the money. I was able to get a room for $150per night plus $20 per night for parking.
I setup and did one PM on Wednesday, the PM did not go smooth. I started later than I wanted, and I had to pull the manifold to replace the manifold plugs and the conductivity sensor block, something that Mike, Tony and I did not think of. I knew it would take me a while to round up the parts and tools that I had shipped and I was right. I am glad that I did do the PM on Wednesday morning, we were there until 9:00 PM on Sunday doing the rest of the PMs and one more would have been just to many.
Class on Friday and Saturday were OK, but things were a little disorganized because the training room was upstairs and the Renatrons were downstairs. The first day was good, they were a good group of guys. The only problem on the second day was one of the students did not show up. This has never happened before so I wasn't really sure what I was going to do with his certificate. I talked to his boss and told him I was not going to give the person their certificate and he was fine with that. It just did not seem fair to give him a certificate because everyone else showed up on Saturday and he did not.
Sunday was a long day, we were at the clinic by 8:30 AM. It took a while to round up all of the tools, parts etc... I was able to bang out two PM before anyone else finished despite having to answer questions find tools and miscellaneous parts. The experience was not a good one for Ron and Jeff, it was disorganized because we had four people in the room, and we were under a fair amount of pressure to get the machines done as fast as we could. We finally completed the PMs about 6:00 PM, I decided to run the machines several more time, this is something I usually try to do, you never know if everything went well unless you can get some consistency from the machines. One of the machine that Jeff worked on was giving us erratic volumes and intermittent add chems and pressure fails. I had Jeff inspect the new jet pump and the machine worked fine for a while. I decided to check all of the valves after Jeff left and I did not find a problem. We also had two other machines that gave us erratic volumes. I did not inspect all of the valves but I could not find any problems that would cause the erratic volumes. While I was troubleshooting the machines Mike set up the computer, I was hoping to help him, but I was not satisfied with how the machines were running, so he ended setting up the entire system himself. About 9:00 PM we finally called it a day and went to get something to eat and we made it back to the hotel about 10:30 PM. I mistakenly called Karen about 9:30 PM to see if she wanted to go to dinner, I should have known, she was sleeping and I woke her up. The following day Mike was in the reuse room when Jibosh started reprocessing dialyzers and he was getting erratic volumes. I was going into the reuse room as much as I could and Jibosh also told me about the volume problems. The only thing I noticed was that the reprocessing connectors were leaking, they were brand new so they should not leak. I asked Jibosh to change the connectors and that took care of the problem. The machine that was giving intermittent add chems and pressure fails worked fine all day.
One of the people in the second class told me that Ron and Jeff did not think that they would have been able to do the PMs if Mike and I were not there. I feel bad, the PMs are relatively easy, but because we were doing the Renalin 100 upgrades, PMs, and were under a deadline I and sure this did not make fore ideal learning conditions.
The first class was younger people, they did not ask many questions, they just took notes. The second class was mostly older technicians, they talked and asked a lot more questions. The second class went well. The first day went as expected, but for some reason I felt like a truck hit me the second day of class. I woke up with a headache and could not shake it all day, I was the walking dead by the end of the day. Karen felt as bad as I did. I suspect a combination of jet lag and just being tired from all of the work caught up with me. Despite myself, I got compliments at the end of the class. As I thought, Mike stayed around and helped me pack up. Not all of the salespeople would have done that.
Karen and I went to diner with Mike on Monday, we had a drink at one of the local hotels, on the lanai, with a beautiful view of the ocean and sunset. After we walked the streets or Honolulu and finally decided on a seafood restaurant for dinner. It was mediocre at best. We were deep in the tourist zone so the possibility of good food was not on our side.
Karen and Yvonne (our brother inlaw's mother) met for lunch on Monday at Neimen Marcus, Karen got to see the two murals that Yvonne did for the store. Afterward they went to Yvonne's apartment then to her studio. Karen had a nice afternoon with her. On Tuesday Karen had wanted to decompress and just hang out, it has been a brutal three to four months at work for Karen. I finished about 4:00 PM on Tuesday and picked Karen up at the hotel. It was a long drive to the airport because of rush hour traffic, plus I had to stop and get gas. We had dinner at the airport, it was literally the worst Mahi sandwich I have ever had, I could not finish it. We ran into Owen from class, I was so tired we just spoke briefly then I had to go sit down.
The flight from Honolulu to Kona was brief, about forty minutes. Both of us remembered the Kona airport from when we were here in 1999 for Tony and Lori's wedding. We got our luggage and caught the Dollar rental car shuttle to get our car. Our car was part of the pack
age with the Royal Kona Hotel so I was a little afraid we were going to get a Kia or some sub-sub compact. We got a Dodge Caliber, kind of ugly from the outside, it slightly resembles a WWII halftrack, but it is actually a pretty decent car, it's roomy and comfortable inside. It must be a popular rental in Kona the streets were dotted with white Calibers just like ours.
The woman at the rental counter of Dollar was delighted when I asked for directions to the hotel (seriously). She gave us perfect directions to the Royal Kona. That time of night it was a short drive from the airport, about fifteen minutes. Did not even feel the need to fire up my laptop and us my GPS.
I was tired and grouchy when we checked in, the girl at the desk said something that rubbed me the wrong way, so I brought up the fact that we had to pay an extra thirty dollar fee to Dollar rental car. And as I was hoping she upgraded us to a “partial ocean view” room. Unfortunately it had two double beds, and we wanted a king. We went back to the front desk and got another concierge who booked us into a garden view room (unfortunately) with a king.
When we had gone back and forth when we booked the hotel, do we stay at the Royal Kona, or do we book a condo. We had wanted to stay close to downtown so we could walk to dinner and explore the town. The Royal Kona was a known, we had stayed there in 1999 and though it was OK. I also noticed a package that they advertised on their web site, you got a room and car for $175 per night. It seemed like a good deal, but we had also looked at the Hale Kona Kai that is located right next to the Royal Kona. The Hale Kona Kai is a condominium so we would have gotten a 1 bedroom apartment rather than a hotel room. We finally just tossed a coin and decided to stay at the Royal Kona, our room was in the renovated part of the hotel so I was hoping that the room was going to be really nice. As it turned out it was just OK. Everything was freshly painted and redecorated, but the room was average sized and the bathroom was a little on the small side, for a one week stay. Of course it is not setup for the business traveler- no desk to setup my laptop on. The small (very small) refrigerator held several beers, some yogurt, soda and water, but that was about it. Our lanai was large enough for two chairs and a small table, and it overlooked the parking lot, we sat on it for breakfast and if we were reading during the middle of the day. Since the lanai faced the parking lot we also got the parking lot noise, most nights it was quiet except for Saturday night, people were arguing in the middle of the night. Also on Sunday there was an older couple arguing and a homeless person was arguing with someone just under our lanai. If we had gone with the Hale Kona Kai we would have had an ocean facing lanai, which when we were booking the room did not seem like that big of a deal, but once we were there we definitely wished we had done that.
The main reason we came to Kona was to dive with the mantas. We dove Friday as a warm up for the night dive on Saturday night. The Friday dive was good, the water temperature was a little cooler that we are use to in the Caribbean, seventy six versus about eighty degrees. The dive shop had been recommended to Karen from someone she works with. They were great, possibly the best shop we ever dove with. Keller was one of the dive masters, he was hilarious, he was constantly telling jokes but he was also extremely knowledgeable. Roger (a retired navy man) was one of the dive masters on the first day of diving and the captain on the second day of diving. Mary was our captain on our first day of diving (did not look old enough to captain a boat, but a good captain), and Eli was the other dive master on the second day of diving. Apparently he had a PHD in philosophy. Both of the dives on the first day were good, we did an average of about sixty feet, so not to deep. The coral in Hawaii was amazing, it is not half dead like in the Caribbean. We saw turtles, spotted eagle rays and many eels.
The second dive on the second day of diving was suppose to be our manta dive, they had seen mantas every night for the last six days. The first dive is done at the manta site (which is just out side of the airport) during daylight, so we could become familiar with the dive site. It was a good dive, we saw all of the usual sea creatures. In between dives they fed us sandwiches and we waited for the sun to set. The water was cold, I was a little chilled after the first dive and did not warm up for the second dive. Karen had froze on the first day of diving so she had rented a six mil wet suit for the second dive and had purchased a hood.
At the end of the first dive they set up four lights on the sea floor, the lights will attract the plankton and the plankton will attract the mantas, each of us also had a flashlight. We were briefed on our dive and we entered the water at dusk. It was dark when we got to the the bottom. We all sat in a circle around the four lights that were shining upwards from the ocean bottom. Keller was to my left and Karen was on my right. Both Karen and I had problems sitting on the ocean floor, your air tank extends about a foot below your butt so it makes it hard to sit We both finally figured out that we just had to grab on to one of the rocks at the bottom and hang on. We pointed our flashlights towards the surface and waited.
After several minutes Keller shot to the other side of the circle and sat there. When we surfaced we found out that Kelled felt something touch his ear, he swatted it and it turned out to be an eel. He told us that this is common and has plenty of footage of people sitting waiting for the mantas while there is an eel floating next to their head. One of the people that we dove with had done the manta dive the previous night and he had an eel swim around his neck.
We waited and waited but no mantas showed, there just were not enough plankton in the water. After about ten minutes Keller lead us out to do some exploring. We saw slipper lobsters, they were easy to find, you could see their little red eyes glowing from inside a crevice in the coral when the light hit them. We also saw eels and other fishes, but no octopus as I had hoped.
The plan they had worked out when we started the night dive was everyone in Kenner's group had yellow glow sticks on the top of their tanks and Kenner had two so we would know who the dive master was. Other groups had different colors. Once we left the manta site it was pitch black and no one in our group was far from Kenner. I have been sucking air on the dives for the last year, I am not sure why but it is probably related to the fact that I am so slow at running. Anyway, when I had 500 psi left I swam up to Karen and motioned that I was going to the boat. I was a little amazed, usually she come up with me, but she indicated that she was going to stay in the water. I surfaced and boarded the boat. Several other divers came up and still no Karen. I was getting a little worried. If I had another tank I would have went back down. Finally Karen surfaced followed by Keller. She had decided to wait on the bottom for a last chance to see the mantas. Luckily, Keller and Eli were near her, Karen for some reason had decided to follow another group of divers (different color light), Eli signaled to Keller when he saw her take off and Kenner chased he down and brought her back to the boat! Karen does not know why she decided to follow the other divers, other than she was alone and did not see Kenner and Eli.
The following day we decided to go to the volcano. We had gotten some bad advice from a lady from Canada. She told us that if we went the northern route it would only take us an hour and a half to reach the volcano. She was wrong, it took us three hours. When we reached the volcano it was cold and raining and it was nearly sunset. Despite all of the issues it was worth the drive. We could see the crater with steam coming out, we stopped to look at steam vents and I nearly burned my toe. We also saw a lava tube which was very cool.
The drive home was a little crazy, highway 11 is a two lane road that winds through the hills and along the ocean cliffs, I was doing sixty mph most of the time and I was getting passed by the locals in their little twenty year old Honda Civics. It turned out to be a very long day that despite being awed by the volcano we would have rather spent at the beach.
The next day we decided to explore two of the big islands other beaches. This did not turn out well for us. Both beaches were south of town, so if we did not like the first beach we would go to the second one. We also wanted to visit one of the coffee plantations that was along the way. The first beach was basically just a harbor, no sand to lay on and there were two seedy looking gentlemen that were hanging around the car lot pretending to pick up trash, and as we left they started to work their way toward our car. We decided to leave post haste. We found a couple of Coffee plantations on the way down but they were closed because it was Sunday. We went to the second beach, which was all lava no sand, not very inviting. There was a state park next to the beach, logic would have it that the park would have a beach, not so, it was a historical park depicting the life of the early Hawaiians, which normally would have been very interesting to tour, but we had spent the previous day in the car, so all we wanted to do was find a beach, read and snorkel.
We decided to just head back to the hotel and read by the pool. This turned out to be a less than stellar idea, because it rained the rest of the afternoon. We eventually went to Borders so I could get a Linux magazine for the plane. We also picked up some munchies for the plane since Northwest does not give us any food on the flight home.
The restaurants were hit and miss, mostly miss. We ate at Rios one night and we both had fish. It was a little spendy for what we got and the food was not that good. Our best meals were the fish tacos we had at the snack shop on Hapuna beach, dinner and lunch we had at Lava Java, and we ate at the Hard Rock after our night dive and the food was actually pretty good. Lava Java was a great location, on the main drag facing the ocean. Our morning coffee shop was Java on the Rocks, great coffee. They had a band that played almost every night so we stopped in and had a beer, or desert and coffee and listened. We also had dinner there one night, salad and chicken pizza, the pizza was so-so. The band was phenomenal. J.T., he was a big New Zealander, he had different people playing with him every time we saw him. He was amazing, he had a great voice and was a great guitar player.
Kona has changed a lot since 1999, the traffic is horrendous. There are a lot of new houses built on Alii drive. Many of the shops have changed hands, the terrible Italian restaurant that we ate at in 1999 was now a Hooters. They also had an Outback Steakhouse. Up the hill from Alii they built a Lowes (we noticed the patio furniture we got at Lowes was also in Lava Java), Boarders, Supermarket, and an organic food store.
Our last day was exactly as we had planned to spend it. We got late check out. I bet Karen we would have to pay for late check out since they had dinged us on everything else. I lost. They gave us a 1:00 pm checkout which was perfect. We woke up, and I went for a run and Karen went for a walk. We went to Java on the Rocks to get our last cup of Kona coffee, then came back and packed, grabbed our books and went to the pool to read and relax. We showered and went to the airport. A near perfect day.