The Kamuela Inn in Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii

There’s really no place like Kamuela and Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Once home to the largest cattle ranch in the USA and still the fifth largest – this town is famous for rodeos, tropical fruit, and horseback riding.

Sadly, because we were traveling in a time of travel lockdown amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and a hurricane threatening – much of Waimea was either shut down or inaccessible to us – but having been there before, I can tell you three things that I love about the town – it’s an artsy little community, it has multiple amazing farmers markets, and the Parker Ranch is a must see.

On this trip, I discovered a fourth thing I love in Waimea – The Kamuela Inn. As their website says Upcountry Hospitality and Timeless Charm. It’s not just a couple of phrases. They live it. I’d also add that there is a level of comfort and luxury that is missing from nearly all hotels and inns these days. Here’s one example – the bedding.

My wife and I have stayed in a lot of hotels all over the world. Never in all the years we have travelled together have we ever looked to find the tags on the sheets and pillows – until this trip! These were the most comfortable sheets and pillows either of us had ever slept on and when we found the tags and looked to acquire some for ourselves – we discovered why – the sheets, duvet, and pillows on our king size bed added up to nearly $1000! I’m not talking about the bed here – I’m talking about the sheets, pillows and blankets on the bed.

That wasn’t the only detail. The shower was magnificent and the overall design of western wood design, and luxury western decor really worked. There are multiple outdoor areas where guests can lounge or even barbecue. Unfortunately, as mentioned these were secured because of the pending hurricane while we were there.

Our room was outfitted with a kitchenette where we were able to cook for ourselves and the breakfast in the morning was very generous. Due to the pandemic the regular breakfast buffet was shut down but the staff has adapted to the situation by giving guests the chance to order breakfast the night before  with generous portions of hot local breakfast (Portuguese sausage, eggs, and rice), cereal, yogurt, bagels, juice, and coffee.

Kamuela Inn is close to parks and shopping centers and when there isn’t a pandemic, one of Hawaii’s best restaurants Merriman’s is right next door. Our favorite restaurant in Waimea though is Dan-0’s Doner. We lived in Turkey and love a good doner. This is the German style served in bread with a variety of sauces and the best falafel that either my wife or I have ever tasted. Their fries too are amazing!

Edlyn, the manager of the Kamuela Inn was an amazing source for information while we were there. She and the staff were incredibly approachable and informative. Since the ranch activities we had been planning on were closed she let us know about some of the locals only deals going on – one of which fulfilled a dream for both my wife and daughter. That was our trip over to Dolphin Quest. Due to the pandemic – there was a significant discount offered to Hawaii residents. It was a great suggestion and since it was on the dry side of the island – it was open even with the hurricane approaching.

Some of the best reasons for visiting Waimea (Kamuela) are to explore the restaurants, shops, and galleries – this unfortunately was something we weren’t able to do this time – but we did make it out to a couple of the farmers markets where I bought some special Big Island treats. Not just the heavenly mangoes and papaya but also very reasonably priced and perfectly roasted coffees from Makua Coffees, our favorite amazing mamaki tea from Waimea Herb Company, and some really great beef jerky that I forgot the name of and will have to go back for!

There are multiple farmer’s markets in Waimea. Go to LoveBigIsland.com where they have detailed each of them and where I lifted the names and dates from below. 

  1. The Waimea Town market, open Saturday between 7:30 a.m. and noon.
  2. The Waimea Homestead farmers market, open Saturday between 7 a.m. and noon.
  3. The Waimea mid-week market, open Wednesday between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 pm.
  4. The Kamuela Farmers Market, open Saturday between 7:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
  5. You can also buy farm-fresh produce at the Kekela farm market.

So, even though there was a hurricane threatening, a pandemic raging, and we even had a 4.8 earthquake one morning, we really enjoyed our trip to the Big Island. I would say most of that was because of Kamuela Inn and our new friend Edlyn. We will be back! Thank you for making us part of your Ohana!

Kamuela Inn  65-1300 Kawaihae Rd,
Kamuela, HI 96743

PHONE: 808-885-4243
TOLL-FREE: 800-555-8968
EMAIL: kamuelainn@gmail.com

 

 

Big Island of Hawaii During a Pandemic and Hurricane Douglas with an Earthquake

Let me start out by saying that these are not my ideal conditions for travel, but that being said – it’s sort of nice to be able to wander around the Big Island without the crowds so we came back for a second trip before tourism is scheduled to re-open. We spent an afternoon at the Mauna Kea Beach Resort which has one of the most beautiful crescent sand beaches on the island and there was only one other family there.

The downside is that a lot of what we wanted to do was closed either because of the pandemic or because of the impending hurricane (which thankfully bypassed us completely). We look forward to dining at Merriman’s in Waimea and horseback riding in the Waipio Valley – but those will have to wait.

Our trip this time was super low key – I met with a couple of friends in Waimea, we explored some amazing backroads, and we swam with dolphins. Yes, you read that right! We swam with dolphins. This is usually something that is far outside of our budget but our daughter’s 9th birthday is in a few days and we had a great recommendation from our friends at the Kamuela Inn (highly recommended as your base while you are here – see my full post on Waimea/Kamuela for details ) that because of the pandemic, the rates for a swim with Dolphin Quest had been slashed for kama’aina (residents of Hawaii). We were able to do a 30 minute family swim with the dolphins and a trainer for right around $400 (usually $1600). It was awesome and an amazing pre-birthday present. I’ll write about it in a separate post. On the day we swam with dolphins, Hurricane Douglas was possibly going to hit Hawaii but as mentioned, it passed us by. Locals say it is the power of Mauna Kea that pushes the hurricanes away and meteorologists agree but for different reasons – but really, does that even matter?

On our last day in Kamuela, we even got to wake up to a 4.4 earthquake! The fun never stops on the Big Island! Pandemic! Hurricane! Earthquake! (thankfully the hurricane missed and there was no tsunami from the quake!)

We didn’t plan to come during a hurricane and Southwest Airlines cancelled our flight and extended our stay by a couple of days – which was a bit of a big expense we hadn’t anticipated. So, we rented a car for an additional two days and got an AirBnB near Hilo for the last two (unexpected) days of our last trip of the summer.

 

 

Big Island of Hawaii Travel During COVID-19

As 2019 drew to a close, I told myself that 2020 would be the year that I started doing serious travel again. I booked a trip to Australia and Tasmania for February and March and was actively looking for other island destinations to visit over the course of the year. Some ideas were Cuba, Iceland, Bali, New Zealand – but as we all know – the pandemic came and the world changed. Things were starting to look iffy in February but I opted to take my trip to Australia and Tasmania because there were only single digit cases in Hawaii or Australia at that point. I’m very glad I took the trip.

When I got home, things got more serious with the virus, in fact, it looked like the world was going to crash. My daughter started Spring Break and we were pretty sure she wouldn’t be going back to school in 2020. That’s most likely how it played out. We went into lockdown mode from March through June in our little Honolulu apartment – and after months of the three of us in there – we were feeling stir crazy. When Hawaii opened up the beaches, we began to take some cautious trips to our favorite places. When restaurants re-opened with new limitations in place – we visited two of our favorites Cholos in Haleiwa and Nico’s Pier 38 – granted both experiences were nerve inducing and weird with servers and cooks wearing masks and strange new policies (please wait in your car, we’ll phone you when your table is ready!)

In mid-June when the state dropped the mandatory 14-day quarantine for travel between islands, we decided it was time for a scenery change. We booked a cottage for the 4th of July weekend on the Big Island of Hawaii, rented a car, and booked our flights. Vacation rentals on Oahu are still closed down but on the Big Island they have been open for a while.

The first part of the trip was the most stress inducing – we took a Lyft from our apartment to the airport. We wore our masks and the driver wore his mask – but it was still a bit freaky to be in a strangers car and not know who else had been in it. It was a ten minute ride. At the airport we filled out all the new forms, had our temperatures taken, and waited the appropriate distance behind all the other brave (or foolish) people taking a chance at travel. We sat and kept social distance before boarding the plane – onboard were around 114 people – and socially distancing on a plane is not really an option at all.

Arriving in Hilo, we traversed the airport and waited in another manicured line to pick up our rental car – which had a note inside that said it had been professionally sterilized by Daryl.

We drove to our remote and isolated vacation rental – one of a group of cottages in the country. Only one of the other cottages was occupied – by a young family of Ukranian Yoga instructors who had come from the mainland and had quarantined for 12 days so far. I appreciated the fact that they were honoring the local regulation to self-quarantine for the full 14 days. We said hello – from a distance and relaxed to the sound of coqui frogs and distant views of the Pacific Ocean.

Travel during a pandemic is strange to begin with but when you arrive at your destination, you realize that everything is different. Tours and attractions are shut down. Restaurants are mostly open for take out only and only for very specific hours. As we drove through towns that I remembered as being bustling little places, the empty shops and boarded up restaurants bear stark witness to the cost of this pandemic in terms of small businesses here. Those that relied on tourism are either in trouble or gone. Towns that seemed decrepit with agricultural businesses barely hanging on now show far more life than those that bustled with tourists before.

The attempts to survive and create a safe environment are many. People haven’t given up – but the struggle is real. We met up with a friend and visited an empty National Park with him one day – he had quarantined and we had been exposed to the world – but we opted to take our chances – a calculated risk to enjoy some camaraderie with an old friend. Friendship and hanging out being another one of those things we used to take for granted….

Driving through the empty resort towns and seeing the closed luxury resorts and timeshares, visiting once packed beaches, and enjoying the blissful lack of mainland and international tourists…those have been the highlights. Tourists are starting to show up here – we locals all recognize them driving in their rented jeeps and mustangs – living their island fantasy – that is mostly not the way that anyone actually lives here (the jeeps and mustangs are almost all tourist or military vehicles – definitely not locals).

The locals I’ve met here – they don’t miss the tourists. They don’t miss the tourism industry. They don’t miss the busloads of tourists at every scenic stop, beach, or historic point of interest. I don’t miss them either. In fact, this aspect of things will probably be fondly remembered by all of us who live here – this ability to enjoy this place we sacrifice to live without being crowded out by people who sacrifice to visit.

The tourists are coming back though – the jeeps and mustangs are increasing in number. The floodgates will open in August when the state will allow people to come as long as they’ve tested negative for COVID-19 within 3 days of their flight. I’m afraid of what that will mean – in terms of people bringing more cases of the virus to us, in terms of the roads getting crowded again with tour buses, tour vans, jeeps, and mustangs, and in terms of losing this ability to have space, to enjoy Hawaii, and to feel even a little bit secure in going out to eat, swim, or play.

This trip has been wonderful. Completely different, but completely wonderful. So much so, that we’ve booked another trip back in a couple of weeks – before the tourism floodgates open again and hide the amazing beauty of this place beneath the crass and disgusting capitalism of mass tourism.

Vagobond Travel Museum – Hiking Videos on Oahu, Hawaii

These are a real flashback to the past. One of the best things about these videos is the ever changing shape of my facial hair. I was in still in college when we made these. Cameras and computers were not nearly as good or easy as they are today.

If you thought that Oahu is ‘the city island’ of Hawaii just because it is home to Honolulu and nearly half of the state’s inhabitants – think again. Oahu is filled with nature, rural life, history, and plenty of surprises.

There were many more hikes, but these were the ones I made videos of. Thankfully, I’ve learned my lesson – at least for now.

KokoHead #1

Kaena Point

Manoa Falls

Kuliouou Ridge Trail

Kokohead Rim Trail #2

Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail

Waimano Falls

Kealia, Oahu’s North Shore

There are some astounding hikes on Oahu. This one is considered to be mediocre unless you happen across the Wallabies which actually do exist.

Ka’au Crater is a fantastic hike with some dangerous points, plenty of waterfalls, and lots of birds. Count on spending 5 hours minimum.

Waianai Kai is a surprise and you won’t find a lot of other people there despite the stunning beauty all around you as you hike.

Mount Olo’mana near Kailua offers three peaks and plenty of challenges plus a stunning payout in terms of the view. Unfortunately, I was getting a bit too arty and trying to use aspiring musicians for the soundtracks.
[Embed]http://www.youtube.com/embed/puAK32vYJV0[/embed]

Okay, this last one — it’s just weird. Easter at Pu’u Pia, an easy hike in Manoa.

How Not To Enjoy World Travel – Part 2

world travel tipsThis is the second part in an ongoing series about how to have the worst time possible during your world travels. Here is the link to part 1.

http://www.vagobond.com/how-not-to-enjoy-world-travel-part-1/

4. Don’t Read
To me, reading is an essential part of travel. As far as I’m concerned, if you are one of those people who ‘doesn’t like to read’ than you are one of those people who should stay home and not travel.

Don’t read anything about the country of place you are going to. That way you won’t understand the culture, the traditions, the history, the climate, or anything else. You will be able to have a completely one dimensional experience. If you should read, for example, about how it is rude to point the bottoms of your feet at someone in Thailand, then you’ll miss out on the ass kicking that results when the kick-boxer tells you to stop pointing your feet at him and you continue to do it. You wouldn’t want to miss that.

Or if you read, you might feel compelled to go fifteen kilometers out of your way on the way between Seattle, Washingon and Vancouver, British Columbia and visit the remote and gorgeous Scenic Hot Springs. Wouldn’t that suck?

Don’t read on your trip. Don’t discover that Mark Twain stayed in the same hotel you are visiting in Honolulu (The Moana Surfrider) or that the lovely looking picnic spot in Cebu, Philippines is where Lapu Lapu ate a famous explorer. Who needs to know details like that?

Don’t read when you are stuck at the airport. It’s much better to just sit and get angry at the workers or eat overpriced food. Don’t read at the beach because it’s much better to sit there wondering what to do now that you are done swimming.

Yes, if you don’t want to enjoy world travel, it is essential that you not read.

world travel tips5) Don’t talk to anyone unless you have to

If you want to have horrible and meaningless travels, don’t talk to anyone unless you have to. Don’t talk to the man next to you on the airplane or bus, he might be a Chinese businessman who would invite you to visit his home and stay with his family.

Don’t talk to the guy who works at the hotel unless you need towels or directions. If he thinks “Hey, this is a nice person” he might actually tell you someplace that he doesn’t recommend to every other rude tourist. You might end up going to a tiny temple in Penang, Malaysia instead of going to the big one that has eighteen tourist buses outside it.

Don’t talk to people in the street. They might try to sell you something. They might want to practice English with you. They might want to share a bit of their culture or learn something about yours. Wow, wouldn’t it be a bummer if that Indonesian guy learned that the USA is not just like Bay Watch and Jerry Springer? Don’t talk to him.

If you want to NOT enjoy your travels, do not talk unless you need something.

world travel tips6) Don’t learn any of the local language

Finally, if you want to be absolutely certain that you don’t enjoy your world travel, pretend your a British Colonist and refuse to speak the local language.

Don’t say Tarima Kasih in Indonesia, don’t ask where to get the gonggongcheecha in China, don’t say Yvet in Turkey, don’t show the grocer in Barcelona you can understand the uno, dos, tres, don’t speak French in Paris (I found Parisians to be very gracious about my bad French), don’t say shukran in Morocco, kapcun kap in Thailand, daijobu in Japan, bollacks in England, dude in California, wienerschnitzel in Germany, or Mahalo in Hawaii.

Speaking the language encourages people to learn about you, to teach about their culture, to make friends, to have relationships, to even fall in love. There is nothing miserable about any of that. So if you want to Not enjoy the world of travel…don’t speak the local language.
Got more tips about how to NOT enjoy world travel, why not leave a comment below or send your tips to me using the contact form.

5 Rainforest Hikes Near Honolulu, Hawaii on Oahu

Most people travel to Hawaii for the beaches but there is plenty to see when you head into the rain forests and mountains of Hawaii too. If you want to sample wild tropical fruit, explore the rain forest, swim in beautiful falls, and see indigenous Hawaiian birds – here are five hikes on Oahu you don’t have to go far from Honolulu for.

Maunawili falls

Maunawili Falls – If you drive twenty minutes out of Honolulu towards the mountains, you will reach the other side of the island near Kailua. To get there you have to pass over the Ko’olau Mountains and go to the Pali Lookout. From there the trail winds downwards to scenic windward views, through gorgeous rain forest, and finally to one of the best swimming waterfalls in Hawaii. A friend tells me the Obamas were there not long ago!

Manoa Falls

Manaoa Falls – Even closer to Honolulu, just head up Manoa Road past the University of Hawaii to the top of the valley. The road forks at Lyon Arboretum and stay right. You may need to park further down the valley if it’s a sunny day. A short hike with the beautiful 100 ft Manoa Falls as the payoff.

Aihualama Trail

Aihualama Trail – For those looking for more challenges, about 100 yards before Manoa Falls, the Aihualama trail veers off to the left. This is a rain forest ridge hike that will take you through wild bananas, lush bamboo, and more. Watch for the Hawaiian Honey Creepers!

Lyon Arboretum

Lyon Arboretum – If you go left where the road forks to Lyon Arboretum you will find yourself among more than 8000 tropical plants, extensive botanical gardens, and numerous hiking trails. This is one of the most rewarding rain forest hiking areas near Honolulu because of the incredible diversity.

Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail

Hawaiiloa Ridge – This is the most challenging hike in our list and recommended only for those who are experienced and confident. The trail is not maintained and will require you to drive to the trailhead. Drive towards Aina Haina and go left on Puuikena Drive. Park near the water tank and then enjoy this moderate hike to the summit for astounding views. Expect to pull yourself up some inclines with the help of ropes that friendly hikers have left behind.

When you’re done with your hike, why not head to the beach and jump in the warm Hawaiian waters to wash off the dirt and sweat! You deserve it!

5 Free Things to do in Hawaii that Should Cost a Fortune

5 Free Things to do in Hawaii that Should Cost a Fortune

They say that in life the best things are free, but we all know that usually is a crock of malarky. Food, housing, travel, clothing, family, medicine, eductaion – all of these things cost money. The thing is, though, sometimes you find that there is some truth to that old saying after all. Here are five things in Hawaii that are free to do but should cost a fortune.

Going to the Beach

Going to the beach in Hawaii

The beaches in Hawaii are among the best in the world. That’s the reason people are so surprised when they come to Hawaii and find that public beach access is a right that is protected by law. You don’t have to pay to go to any beach in Hawaii. They are all free and everyone is welcome.

Hiking in the Rainforest

Rainforest Hawaii

You can pay for a guide if you want to, but the truth is that you can find plenty of information online about where to hike in Hawaii and it won’t cost you a cent. You can hike all day in public rainforest with no entrance fees, no charge for the guavas, and no charge for the bird watching.

Swimming in a Tropical Waterfall

Hawaii Rainforest Hike

You need to pay atteintion to the signs and learn about Leptosporosis, but while you’re sweating on that hike in the tropical rainforests of Hawaii, don’t be surprised to come across a waterfall in the jungle. Falls like Mauawili and Manoa falls are fantastic for swimming and wading. Let the warm water wash over you and imagine yourself in a soap opera.

Seeing Giant Sea Turtles and Hawaiian Monk Seals on the Beach

Giant Sea Turtle Hawaii

Nobody will charge you to see the wild life in Hawaii, but if you harrass the animals you will get charged a hefty fine so remember not to approach too close to the sea turtles or Hawaiian Monk Seals while they are lazing on the shoreline.

Watching the Sunrise and the Sunset over the Pacific Ocean

Sunrise

Because the islands aren’t very big, you can watch the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean as if you are in Japan and then watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean as if you are in California. My favorite spot to watch the sunrise is from the bunker in Lanikai on  Oahu’s Windward side. My favorite sunset spot is from Sunset Beach – it’s called that for a reason.

World Travel for Almost Nothing #2

Makapu'u PointThe biggest ripoff of modern times wasn’t the mere stealing of billions by Bernie Madoff, it was convincing most of the people on the planet that they need anything the modern world provides.

In fact, you were born with everything you need and whether you believe it or not you will keep getting everything you need until the day you die. Included in that isn’t shampoo, peanut butter, a new car, a great job, breast implants, or a college degree. I fell for it too…but the truth is all you need is the desire to move to the next second in this life and you already have it or else you’d already be dead.

World Travel Tip #2

Modern nation states are built on a simple lie. That lie tells you that unless you can pay for new goods and services your life won’t be worth anything. It’s complete and total crap.

A look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows what you actually need. Food, sleep, air, defecation, and a sense of who you are. That’s it. The rest is luxury and as such is not necessary. In fact, it often gets in the way.

Nobody is charging you to breathe. Water can be found for free just about everywhere on the planet (though it may take a little umm…digestive adjustment), if there isn’t a free toilet, you can probably defecate on the ground, and if you don’t know who you are, isn’t it time you found out? You don’t need a therapist to tell you, you just need to take the time to ask yourself and listen for an answer. In addition companionship, love, self esteem, and even security can be found for little to nothing.

Step outside and start a conversation with a stranger and I can promise you that if you are looking for food or shelter, you will find them, maybe not with the first person you talk with but certainly with someone. Contrary to popular belief, people are GOOD and they want to help each other. Unless you are a real ass, you’ll find people take joy in being a part of your life and that includes food and shelter.

Tomorrow: Adjusting your pace

How Not To Enjoy World Travel – Part 1

Here’s an oldie but goodie I first published back in 2009!

There has been a lot written about how to enjoy world travel or how to increase the ways that world travel can fulfill you. What I haven’t seen is a lot about how to have a miserable time when you are on the road.

Having lived in quite a few tourist destinations, run hostels, and interacted with literally thousands of travelers, tourists, nomads, vagabonds, and gypsies over the years I’ve seen more than a few people who are making themselves as miserable as possible. In fact, I’ve done it a time or two myself.

So, I dedicate this post to all the miserable wretches who thought they were going on the adventure of a lifetime but ended up having the worst time of their lives.

Across Canada1) Get drunk all the time. Party like a miserable suicidal rock star.
Sure, it’s nice to have some drinks now and then. It’s even nice to sometimes throw caution to the wind and just get blotto and see if you wake up in the morning with a beautiful stranger (or a stranger you thought was beautiful when you were hammered), but the truth of the matter is that alcohol is a depressant.

Alcohol used to excess has a negative impact on our bodies, our minds, and our emotions. While it is easy to shake off a hangover now and then (easier for some than others), no matter how fit you are if you are getting soused every night your mind and emotional state are going to suffer.

Not only will you miss those glorious early morning walks when people all over the world are getting ready for work and starting their day but you are putting yourself in a position where you won’t be able to clearly see the things that make foreign cultures beautiful. And you will spend a lot. With a few exceptions (like the Philippines), booze is also one of the most expensive things you can buy. Drinking will sap your budget and sap your spirits. As an example, an average night of drinking in Turkey will cost you anywhere from 30 to 100 lira. For 20 lira you can take a boat tour in Kaciegiez including lunch and visit the mud baths, and go to the beach, and drink a beer and eat an ice cream. So, one night drinking or a boat trip?

2) Don’t leave the resort or tourist areas.
I know that being in a foreign culture can be difficult, but if you only eat in the McDonalds, use the hotel facilities, stay in the backpacker ghetto area, or stick to the guidebook than you are missing out on what life is really about in whatever place you are in. Would you rather sit by a pool meeting other vacationers or perhaps meet Chinese villagers who are celebrating a local holiday?

When I ran a hostel in Waikiki, I noticed that some guests never left Waikiki and they usually wrote things in the comment book like “Hawaii is just like Miami but more expensive”, but for those who ventured out into little towns like Kailua or who visited local spots in Honolulu, the comments would usually read something like this “Aloha is real! I love Hawaii!”
Which comment would you rather leave?

Valencia, Spain3) Compare everything negatively with somewhere else.
I’ve heard plenty of tourists in Fez, Morocco say things like “The clubs here aren’t as good as the ones in Barcelona” or “The cafes here aren’t as good as the one’s in Paris”. They are right, but the problem is that by comparing things in a negative way they are missing what is good or interesting about the clubs in Fez.

A better way is to say something like “The cafe’s in Fez are different from those in Paris because they are filled with only men. That’s interesting, I wonder why?” and then to ask someone about it. Sure, you may not like it as much, but explore the diversity instead of just harshing about it.

If you want to know more ways to not enjoy world travel, stay tuned. More are coming soon.

In the meantime, what do you recommend for those who want to be miserable?

Smooth Living Rule #5 – Brownies on the Table

I present the following with no commentary:

If there are brownies on the table, ask if they contain drugs even if the host has said to help yourself. 

Makawao – Maui’s Artsy Cowboy Town

Makawao Maui HawaiiMost of the time, I don’t write about the locations I love the most. I may write about cities, islands, countries, or towns – but I rarely give away the places I plan on going to again and again. Today, I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite places though – because frankly, the word is already out and I don’t plan on going back anytime soon.

Makawao on the island of Maui in the state of Hawaii is one of those places. Everyone who goes to Maui goes to Lahaina, drives the Road to Hana, or visits the hippie town of Pa’ia – but Makawao has stayed off the beaten path. You can go to the little cafe in the morning and not have to wait in line behind a bunch of other tourists or visitors – just the locals. The general store is a great place to grab some local produce or craft beers. The tiny Mexican restaurant has amazing food and great margaritas. You’ll find mostly locals hanging out there. The little Middle Eastern food truck is spectacular.

No, I’m not giving you the names of those places. You’ll find them. Just go to Makawao. Find an AirBnB nearby. Hang out and enjoy the farmers market and the cool upcountry vibe. It’s one of those places that hasn’t been spoiled yet – but in talking with the locals – it sounds like development and more gentrification are coming – so don’t take to long to see it for what it is today.

Makawao Maui Hawaii

Makawao sits on the slope of Haleakala, the 10,000 foot dormant volcano that dominates Maui’s view. It is a town known for cowboys, farmers, and a laid back vibe. If you add the elevation to the population – you’ll come close to another 10,000. There’s a big rodeo every year in Makawao and you will find some amazing little galleries tucked away there too. The  Makawao Rodeo happens July 4th – 7th. That’s when the parade happens too – but anytime is a good time to be in Makawao.

 

Lahaina – Maui’s Nantucket

Lahaina Maui HawaiiIf you’re looking for a classic beach resort town with all the shops, restaurants, perfect weather, and great beaches nearby – Lahaina on the island of Maui is perhaps your best choice. This little town exudes country tourism charm. Be warned though – during the peak season this little village swells from a population of about 12,000 to nearly 40,000! That’s not even including the nearby resorts of Ka’anapali and Kapalua.

Still, Lahaina is a fun place to go and offers something for everyone. However, if you are looking to buy a slice of Hawaiian paradise, this may not be the place for you. Lahaina has some of Hawaii’s most expensive real estate with homes that can cost as much as $5 million dollars.

There’s a reason for those prices. Prior to contact, Lahaina was the capitol of the Maui Kingdom. It was also the capitol of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820-1845 under King Kamehameha III – he preferred it to Honolulu. There are still vestiges of that legacy there. Front Street, the bustling main drag of Lahaina dates back to that period. While some guides will tell you that the big banyan tree at Banyan Court Park was planted by Kamehameha III’s queen, it’s not true. It was planted by William Owen Smith in 1873 to celebrate 50 yeas of missionary work. There is no larger banyan tree in the United States. Nearby are the reconstructed bulwarks of Fort Lahaina.

Lahaina Maui Hawaii

It’s a sunny spot which is reflected in the Hawaiian name – meaning ‘cruel sun’. It’s dry most of the time but gets a bit of rain in the winter months. Lahaina was an important center of the whaling industry in the 1800s and the conflict between conservative missionaries and horny sailors was the stuff of legends. Fort Lahaina was actually built to protect the town against rioting sailors! The whaling has stopped but Lahaina is still a heavily used port for whale watching cruises from November to May.
There is no shortage of historical or tourist attractions in Lahaina. Among them the Bailey Museum, the Lahaina Courthouse, and the Prison. Walking maps are available at the Baldwin House Museum for a couple of dollars. There are a huge number of restaurants, bars, and shops on Front Street.
Lahaina Maui HawaiiThe biggest celebration in Lahaina every year is Halloween with huge crowds walking up and down the main street. It’s not exactly kid friendly after dark because of the many drunks staggering around.  Mardii Gras of the Pacific is what I’ve heard it called, but I think that overstates things by quite a bit.
It’s a fun town. I recommend it.

Places I’ve Lived Ranked from Best to Worst with Top 10

Vagobond MapThis is actually, a very hard list to order – mainly because the particular time and experience I had in each place weighs just as heavily as the place itself. I didn’t realize that ranking these would be so difficult. Not only is it hard to rank the best from the places I’ve lived – it’s equally hard to rank the worst.  In the middle, each place had positive and negative qualities that would change the ranking. Perhaps the only way to do this is to rank these places based on whether I would want to move there again with all other things being equal.

After getting started, I’ve realized that it only makes sense to rank the Top-10. As for the others, I’ve  put them in an approximate order – but in general aside from general top and bottom of the list groupings – it’s pretty hard to juggle or rank them.

Looking at this list – it’s interesting to see that I’ve lived in six countries and seven U.S. States. My top 4 all have more than 1-million people. I’ve lived in four state capitals and nine cities of 500,000 population or more. I’ve lived in the largest cities in Turkey, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. In my top-10 are cities in Turkey, Hawaii, Washington State, Oregon, and Indonesia. I’m surprised that California isn’t in that group. The bottom line is that I like living in large cities next to the ocean, preferably with a Mediterranean or tropical climate, plenty of diversity, and at least one university and plenty of public transit options.

#1 – Izmir, Turkey

Izmir is a special place. It’s a port city on the Aegean and the gateway to the Turkish and Greek Aegean Islands. Izmir is cosmopolitan, modern, ancient, and laid back all at the same time. Izmir literally has it all. The caveat, of course, is that since I was last there in 2012 – a lot has happened. The Syrian civil war changed the population dynamic and the heavy hand of Erdogan and his process of re-Islamization may have drastically changed Izmir from my memories. Certainly it has changed, I’m just not certain how much.

Istanbul, Turkey

No matter if Istanbul has changed or not – there is no place like it in the world. There are two places that I consider to be the center of the world. Istanbul is one of them and see below for the other. The entirety of human history and civilization meets in the crossroads of the planet. This astounding place with so many stories, so many traditions, and so many people. Istanbul contradicts itself. It is both East and West, a land city and a water city, secular and religious, expensive and cheap, easy and difficult. Every big city is a masterpiece – but Istanbul – it is more.

#3 Honolulu (and Oahu), HI

Honolulu is the other city I consider to be a center of the world. If you were to poke a straight hole through the globe, you could almost run it straight from Istanbul to Honolulu. Much smaller than Istanbul, much less history, and much less important in terms of human culture and politics – and yet – Honolulu is where the entire world dreams of going and you can meet anyone from anywhere on Oahu. It truly is ‘The Gathering Place’. Oahu is expensive, crowded, and remote – but the weather is beautiful, the people are generally peaceful and kind, and while very small in comparison to the world- it has an outsized place in the imaginations and dreams of humanity. At number three is living pretty much anywhere on Oahu including Honolulu, Lanikai and Kailua, the North Shore, etc.

#4 London, UK

I didn’t like the weather very much during my time in London, but the museums, the access to Europe, the ease of finding something to do made it rank high on my list.

#5 Bellingham, WA

Bellingham will always be a place that I hold dearly in my heart. The sheer magnitude of outdoor beauty from Mt. Baker to the San Juan Islands. Sitting between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. The terminus for the Alaska Ferry. The great beer, the hippie/environmental vibe combined with a great university. It’s just a cool place. I made a great decision when I decided to live there.

#6 Seattle, WA

Like Bellingham but bigger and with a more robust tech industry, amazing museums, great architecture, and instead of being between Seattle and Vancouver, it’s between Vancouver, Bellingham, and Portland. Great music and art, lots of cool neighborhoods, amazing restaurants.

#7 Fez, Morocco

I enjoyed living in Fez. It’s an exotic city with a lot of the amenities of the West and great markets, food, entertainment, and a robust community of expats and educated locals. Fez is the only place in my Top-10 that isn’t a water city.

#8 Kapa’a, HI

Kapa’a is one of only two small towns that made it onto my top-10 list – the main reason is because I lived right next to the beach there for a couple of years. Kapa’a itself had a pretty great selection of restaurants and diversity of cultures for such a small town – but really it was waking up and going for a swim every day.

#9 Parapat, Sumatra, Indonesia

Parapat is the other small town that made it to my list. I’m sure it is a totally different experience now – but swimming in Lake Toba, taking the trip to Samosir Island, drinking that coconut wine and playing guitars with the Batak men in the evenings, hiking into the jungle and finding giant fruit bats and orangutang – these were high points in my life.

#10 Portland, OR

Portland is a cool place but I’d never live there again. It’s gotten too expensive, too big, too weirdly politically correct. I love the food, the quirky neighborhoods, the music, the markets, Powell’s books – but I wouldn’t live there again. I will be happy to visit over and over again though…

Florence, Oregon

The following are the cities that I would live in again – if there were no other choices available. They are good places.

Tacoma, WA

Tacoma seems like it just might be cool. I need more information but if I had to choose one town from all of those not in the Top-10, Tacoma would probably be it because of proximity to Seattle, Portland, Canada, the Pacific and the universities, art, music, and culture.

Mazatlan, Mexico

I didn’t really live in Mazatlan long enough to be able to judge it. I was a child and not there all that long. I think I would like it if I were to go back.

Mendocino, CA

Mendocino is beautiful and honestly, I would consider living there – but it suffers from the same issues as a lot of towns on the bottom of this list – too far from a city, not close enough to warm oceans.

Juneau, AK

Alaska is amazing. I would never want to live there because the winters in Southeast are wet and long and dark. I want to go back to visit. If I had to live there, I don’t think it would be too bad.

Manisa, Turkey

Manisa was exotic and cool but the summers were sweltering and the real attraction was being close to Izmir. Three things I did love about Manisa – the hiking, the wild horses in Niobe, and the Messer Festival.

Sacramento, CA

I liked Sacramento but it just got too hot. A big house with air conditioning would probably make it livable but there are better choices nearby.

Big Bear Lake, CA

I feel lucky to have grown up in Big Bear Lake. I also recognize how limiting that was. It’s a beautiful place. If I were to live in Southern California again, however, I would be more towards the San Diego area.

Sefrou, Morocco

I liked Sefrou but it’s a bit too big and a bit too small. If I were to go back to Morocco, I would pick a city or town on the coast that was either bigger or smaller. The biggest draw to Sefrou for me would be friends and family who are there.

Florence, OR

Florence is cool but the ocean is so cold you can’t really swim in it. Florence needs a university.

Raleigh, NC

Raleigh was another city I appreciated and enjoyed.  Simply too far from the beach and the whole Southern approach to history including confederate monuments etc gets under my skin.

Myrtle Creek

As for these last places (below), I guess I’ve said all I needed to say about them. I have no desire to visit or live in any of these places again. Reedsport is the only one that I ever loved – but it broke my heart and I have no desire to ever go back. I also loved being a farm kid in Myrtle Creek, I loved our property but not all that went with it, not the community, not the people, not the horror of my experience there.

Reedsport, OR

Jacksonville, NC

Millington, TN

Redding, CA

Canyonville, OR

Myrtle Creek, OR

 

 

Places I’ve Lived #18 – Hawaii including Waikiki, Manoa, Windward Oahu and Kapa’a, Kauai

Polynesian Hostel Beach ClubWhen I moved to Hawaii – I had $100. I booked a dorm bed into the Polynesian Beach Club Hostel in Waikiki for seven nights and bought some rice and cheap veggies in Chinatown. During the next week, I ate rice and beat the streets looking for a job. I found a job painting houses and then moved into a longer term hostel down the road called the Beachside Hostel. I got a discount for waking up early and cleaning up the common areas.

Painting houses wasn’t very fun and while the owner of the hostel I was in was giving me a discount, she wasn’t a particularly nice woman – so my life wasn’t the Hawaii dream I’d been expecting. I’d made friends with some of the people who worked at the Polynesian Beach Club Hostel and was down there when the owner came in and told everyone that the manager had stolen a bunch of cash and left the island. I’d talked with the owner a few times in the past and had a friendly relationship – I volunteered to be her new manager. She agreed. I quit the painting job and moved into the manager’s apartment. My Hawaii dream life was taking shape.

Polynesian Hostel Beach ClubA little over a year after I started, she took a month long vacation and left me to handle everything. It all went good except I’d gotten a dog while she was gone. She told me to get rid of it. I’d grown attached and honestly, I don’t respond well to orders. During her absence a shady character who was opening a new hostel on the windward side had been trying to recruit me to come help him build his place. She gave me the ultimatum about the dog and I resigned and moved to the new hostel “Countryside Cabins” in Punalu’u.

Punalu’u was AWESOME. We built this amazing country Hawaiian hostel where our guests regularly decided to skip their flights home and stay longer. We had bonfires every night, we had an outdoor kitchen we cooked communal meals in every night, we integrated with the local Hawaiian community and they taught us how to cook in an imu, spearfish, hunt pigs, catch prawns, and much more. It was like a Hawaiian dream. Then it became a little like ‘The Beach’. The owner was older and single and all of us young guys were regularly hooking up with our guests and he wasn’t. He started drinking more, getting sort of abusive to the staff, and frankly, being a dick. People stopped staying longer. It was unpleasant. Some of the locals had developed some heavy ice habits (smoking meth) and there were a couple of scary incidents. The owner kept driving away our guests and then when I took issue with it – he drove me away. We’d made a gentleman’s agreement – I would come, help him build, recruit a staff, and set up tours and activities. I would be paid a salary and the tour revenue would be mine. He renegged. When I complained he said “What are you going to do? You have a dog and you don’t have anywhere to go?”

I gave my dog to a local guy who liked him and I put my things in a storage locker at Kailua Mini Storage. Then I bought a ticket to Kauai where I hiked out the 22 mile trail to Kalalau where I set up a camp in the jungle and stayed in solitude for a couple of weeks before I met some of the other outlaws out there and began to take part in the Spiritual Pizza parties, pakalolo sharing, and heavenly communal living in the valley.

Polynesian Hostel Beach ClubWhen I finally hiked out of Kalalau, I was in love with Kauai. I got a job at the Blue Lagoon Hostel in Kapa’a and then got hired as a kayak river guide at Paradise Kayaks. I bought a VW van and lived on the beach in Kapa’a next to the Kayak shop. For the next two years, I was a river guide – then I fell for a flight attendant and went to Portland where I published Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond before coming back to my senses and returning to Kauai. After that I took a trip to the Philippines and when I returned I decided to live in Kailua on Oahu and write a novel. I bought another van (I’d sold the one on Kauai) and wrote my first novel,  Slackville Road. When the book was finished I was ready to do something else. I got a job as a tour guide and limo driver and rented a studio in Kailua. It was one of the best places I’ve ever lived. I began blogging and creating an online used bookstore and everything empire. I was the Chairman of the Fukn Bored and CEO of Fukn Books, Fukn Records, and Fukn Clothing. I met an amazing woman, we fell in love, we got engaged, and she went to Africa to help the people of Sierra Leone. Then we mutually fucked everything up. For the next couple of years we tried to fix things but were unable. We lived in Lanikai and then on the Punchbowl. Finally, I enrolled at University of Hawaii and rented a studio in Manoa. Our relationship never recovered – which is a pretty huge bummer. She was one of the most awesome people I’ve ever known – and today, we’re not even in contact. I miss her friendship.

Polynesian Hostel Beach ClubAnyway, I did my best to make myself important but school took all of my energy and the Fukn Empire began to fall apart. I put my energy in becoming the managing editor of Ka Leo,  the University of Hawaii student newspaper, the president of the Honor Student Organization, an Osher Scholar, the President of the UH Sierra Club Chapter, and a dozen other things. I made student films, wrote an undergrad thesis, and graduated with honors. That was December of 2008 and the economy was fucked. So I gathered what money I could, sold all of my possessions, and decided to take trains across the USA and then go travel the world – that’s when Vagobond.com was born.

Kapa’a, Kauai

Kapa’a is a small town on the East side of the island of Kauai. It’s beautiful and not really a big tourist destination – at least it wasn’t when I lived there, mainly because there were few hotels there. The population is about 10,000 today – to the south is the Wailua River and the once famous Wailua Beach – home to the destroyed Coco Palms Hotel that was  devastated by the 1992 Hurricane Iniki. The Coco Palms was where Elvis loved to stay in Hawaii, many movies were made there. Frank Sinatra stayed there too. The Wailua River is a popular kayaking destination. There are waterfalls, a Hindu Temple, some surprisingly tasty restaurants, and large empty stretches of beach nearby.

Thoughts of a Suicidal Diver – Skydiving On Oahu’s North Shore

This was my first post on Vagobond back in 2005. Hard to believe how long it’s already been. I’ve added the short story I wrote to the end of the post but I can’t seem to find the picture of me and my friend Lena who took the dive together on Oahu’s North Shore. This day has been on my mind a lot recently because of the tragic plane crash a few days ago that took the lives of eleven people.

Man…that was so cool. It hardly feels real. The climb to altitude in the Cessna. The moment of going out the door of the plane. The freefall..man oh man…the freefall was awesome. Below is the link to the company I went with. Totally fukn cool man. I highly recommend it and I will definitely go again. Hawaii Sky Diving. 

Skydive Oahu
I wrote the little blurb below about the experience but I didn’t include it in the original post….my tandem diver told me how depressed he was before we jumped. I’ve never figured out if he was just messing with me or if I narrowly dodged a bullet. The night before had been his 50th birthday and he was unhappy at the turns of his life. Still single, no kids, and generally unhappy. He smelled like alcohol still. We were the last out of the plane and the first on the ground – meaning we pulled the rip cord way after everyone else….

 

 

A Suicidal Skydive Instructor’s Stream of Consciousness

That’s crazy. I would never do that. Somewhat disturbing to think about what it would be like to do it though. It wouldn’t really be hard. I mean, it wouldn’t haunt me because I would be dead. Right? I mean, that’s what it is.

But to not pull the cord. The strength it will take to not pull the ripcord. To not choose life at the last moment. There really can’t be much more difficult than that. I have my doubts about whether I could really do it.

Fuck, I’m late. Fuck it, today will be my 1000th dive. Cool. Shit. Gotta go. I’m sick of working. Sick of having to be anywhere. I’m fifty and I don’t have anyone who gives a shit about me. No wife, no family, no kids. My life will only get worse from here on .

It’s a cool job though. I do have that going. I’ve got to be there, but it’s pretty cool. I just hate strapping myself to strangers and pretending to feel the thrill of their first airplane jump as if it is my first time too. Life is most difficult when you are insincere. Suddenly the world begins to appear as full of shit as you are. I really wonder if I could do it.

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