Thursday, October 2, 2008

Aloha from Hawaii

We're now one week into this cruising business, and life is good!

We left Los Angeles on time at 5 pm Sept. 25, and quickly left the continent behind us.

We hit fog almost immediately, but it lifted as we passed Catalina Island just after sunset. Even before that we had our mandatory lifeboat drill,
which went smoothly, and explored the ship
finding wonders like this touch-screen display that shows where the ship is at any moment.

Day one on the Volendam was actually a rough adjustment for Louise, who spent a lot of it in our stateroom eating crackers and green apples, the advised diet. But day two and since have seen her joining Jeff in exploring the boat and its great food.
She even felt up to a tour of the kitchen on day 2, where we saw these quiche being baked. It was a well-equipped and spotless place.
The food has been nutritious and delicious, and most breakfasts and lunches have been at or not far from a window. For dinner we've been at tables for 6, 8 or 10, and we've had pleasant companions every time. The food could be a little spicier and more ethnic, but those are mild complaints given the very high quality.

Our stateroom is extremely comfortable and the queen-sized bed exquisite.
We worried a little about being in a windowless inside room, but it has been a bonus, allowing us to sleep like babes. We've woken up at a more-or-less reasonable time each day.

Our bike actually fits in the closet! We get an 8-page version of the NY Times delivered to our door each day, which we can read on the sofa in our room. Each day there's a new daily sudoku in the library,
which is like a comfortable living room. We've already borrowed, read and enjoyed one book from their collection, Freakonomics.

We've found several cozy places around the boat to hang out for reading or knitting, and Louise finished this lovely sweater with mitten-shaped pockets for Issei to use this winter, and is already started on an identical one for Tyler, which we'll hand-deliver to him next May in Tokyo.

We've stayed active with 5 - 8 miles of walking each day on the boat, some of it on the 3.5 laps-to-the-mile promenade deck seen here, and a bit more on each of our 3 port calls in Hawaii. We also put on a few "miles" on the exercise bikes in the gym. It's on deck 8 at the front of the boat, or you can watch CNN via satellite as you work out.
With desserts like this chocolate mousse in a dark chocolate teardrop, we need to keep active! We also have tv in the stateroom, but CNN and a movie channel are all we've looked at, or are likely to -- it's a mightly thin list of stations.
There is internet in the library, but at 75 cents a minute we've preferred to wait for port. Got on at 20 cents a minute in Honolulu, and this blog entry is being written at 8 cents a minute in Lahaina.

There are various activities on board, many of which are of no interest to us such as the gambling, bridge, cooking classes, disco dancing, and this golf putting competition.
We have been to a few of the shows and to some interesting lectures by an emeritus professor about the history and geography of Hawaii. We've listened to this quartet a few times,
but they need to practice a bit more to fully satisfy. Jeff has also joined the daily trivial pursuit game, and his teams have come in third out of about twenty 4-person teams a few times.
We've actually had less time to sit and read or knit than we thought we'd have, but we're about to have 5 days at sea before our next port, Pago Pago, so we might finally settle down to some serious reading this coming week.

Honolulu, the first of our three Hawaiian ports, was mostly shopping and internet, since we've both seen most of the sights before. We did get these shots of Diamond Head coming in and then on land from Ala Moana Park, and
this nighttime view from the 9th deck just before sailing.
Good thing we checked the finances that day, as someone from Africa used one of our credit cards last week and we think we've caught it before serious harm is done. Unnerving, however. Fortunately we have 3 other cards we can use, as we won't have any way easy way of getting the replacement cards for that account for now.

Today we're having a low-key day walking around our third stop, Lahaina,

which appears to exist primarily to sell aloha shirts. There is an amazing banyan tree right in the center of town, perhaps the most interesting thing in town.
We did get to experience the adventure of "tendering" ashore here, i.e. taking one of the lifeboats from the ship to a wharf in the shallow harbor. A little bouncy and hot, but otherwise OK.

Yesterday on the big island, however, was magical, one of those days we will remember for a long, long time. The rainbow just before we landed was a good sign of a great day. Alan, another passenger at our dinner table a few nights ago, invited us and another couple from England to join him in a rental car he had lined up.
We were met at the pier by someone from Dollar Rent A Car and taken a mile to the Hilo airport, where we picked up a car and off we whizzed to Volcanoe National Park. We were at 4,000' above sea level, well below the almost-14,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea, but at one of the most amazing spots in Hawaii. Across the immense caldera from us was a smaller caldera with steam rising all day in a majestic plume.

We walked a few miles in the park, past steam vents,

sulphur deposits and sulphur crystals,
and even through a lava tube,
the remnant of a river of lava from ages past.

We didn't only see devastation and bleakness. Look closely at those lava fields and you will see vegetation starting to inch out into the moonscape. Along our hiking route the trail was sometimes jungle-like, with tropical flowers here and there.

Then, just before leaving, we saw a smaller caldera with a hiking path across it
(click on the photo to enlarge it and you should be able to see the ant-sized people down there!). This was a lake of lava in 1959! We didn't have time to walk it, but did hike nearby past these interesting flowers
growing in a field of volcanic cinders
spewed out 49 years ago. By the time we climbed back on board the Volendam, we had some special memories to treasure!

Now to see if we can navigate past all the shops to the tender, without an aloha shirt attaching itself to us and our wallet! Talk to you next from the other side of the equator!

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