Saturday, August 6, 2011

Twenty Three – Grinding to a Halt

I’d only booked 4 days on Maui, as I was considering the cruise on the Pride Of America, but what I read online put me off. It’s the exact opposite of the QM2. The ship sails at night and spends every day moored off an island. So it doesn’t sound like a good way to see the islands, instead it’s a quick way to get around, and cheap – unless you’re a solo traveller, then they’ll charge you for two!
So I decide to give it a miss, and finish the week in Maui. Extending the hotel stay was only a question of rates – the manager said it was normally 240 a day(!), but she could offer me the “owner’s rate” of 148 a day. I’d found it for 121 a day online. The manager couldn’t offer that rate, but was happy for me to go back to my room, book online, and let her know so I could keep my room!
Meanwhile, Alamo had run out of cars, so I had to return their Jeep, then wander across to Avis and collect my new machine. Although I was pleased to have mastered the Jeep roof, I still wasn’t comfortable leaving my stuff in a tent on the high street so I figured I’d just get a runabout. (Like that was ever going to happen)
But for 5 bucks more than the crummy runabout I could get a “premium fullsize” car. So I ended up with a Chevy Malibu. I christened it “The Fridge” because it was big, white, and after the airy Jeep it felt like I’d been sealed inside! Typically American it was big and smooth, and wonderful to waft back to the hotel in comfort. It also had a decent stereo and I began to re-evaluate my car criteria – instead of “wow” to look at or drive, is it OK if it makes you say “Ahhhh”?
On Sunday morning I made another attempt at the ascent of Haleakala. (Pronounced Helly Ackerler) Again there was a lot of traffic trudging up the hill, but this time it was a sunny day and I could enjoy the view from my comfy seat. There were still clouds around the mountain, but as I climbed, I found myself above the clouds (…or “taken by the sky” as Stevie Nicks was singing) and the view was like looking out of an airplane.
The highest Alpine pass is 2810 metres, but this road tops out at 3030 metres, with a climb that starts at sea level! I was full of respect for the cyclists who were battling their way up, trying to pull oxygen out of thin air.
Haleakala is not a classic cone volcano, so there’s no distinct bowl to look into, (nowhere to hide your evil lair!) instead the entire far side of the mountain has been worn away by lava. It’s been extinct since 1738, but the result is still an incredible array of colours and textures. Well worth the climb.

As I descended I was beginning to feel a bit drained. Then I realised my mistake. After protecting myself so well in three convertibles, I’d left my bonce exposed in a saloon with a sunroof! By now I’ve got a decent tan, so I wasn’t burning, but with no hair up there it’s easy to get overheated and a touch of sunstroke. So I had to take it easy on Sunday and didn’t take up the invitation to re-join Gray and Danny at the bikers’ club.
Most of Monday was spent online. With the rest of my trip requiring flights and hotels I needed to spend a lot of time booking. It’s not easy cobbling together several weeks travelling whilst you’re on the road, but somehow I managed (Frequent breaks in the pool helped) – until I was rudely interrupted by the Tsunami alarm.
Er, should I be running for the hills? Is this a test?
Amazingly, I’d read the welcome pack so I knew where our meeting point was, but I don’t recall a test schedule. So I did what any normal person does in these situations… I looked to see what everyone else was doing. Of course, what they were doing was sitting with puzzled expressions, looking around to see what everyone else was doing. One guy got up and started wandering towards reception, then the sirens stopped. Phew. I found out four days later that the first of the month is test day – well, thanks for the warning guys!
Finally I’d booked practically the entire journey home, so I headed to another sports bar, but it was pretty quiet. The main entertainment was Wii Bowling, and the regulars were worryingly good at it.
Tuesday was time for leaving, on a jet plane, heading to Hawaii. Helpfully, in Hawaii, there’s an island called Hawaii, which is the biggest island in Hawaii, but not the most populated and doesn’t hold the capital, it’s known as “The Big Island”
Unhelpfully, it was cloudy and very grey as I picked up my convertible. However, if there’s one thing I learned from the Jeep encounter, it’s check the operation of the roof before you leave the rental place. But they’d given me a Sebring, not a Jeep – you just hold a button down, that can’t go wrong can it?
The roof stuck halfway!
So I called the “greeter” back over and he tutted:
“What have you done? That’s going to be expensive!”
I see we have a comedian. Just what you need after a flight. Lucky for him it was a short flight!
Turns out the previous renter had divided the trunk divider inappropriately, and Alamo hadn’t bothered to check, or clean it!
(At least they insured it. Other companies like Avis wait until you’re good to go, then announce that you’re liable for anything that happens to the car, up to its full value, and the insurance will be 30 bucks a day – a small price for peace of mind, they say. Oh yeah? How many people would pay ten grand a year car insurance? “But my credit card has Mastercover for that” will get you a scare story about how much hassle it will be. I usually say no, and I’m 540 dollars ahead of the fear peddlers on this trip, but we’ll see!)
I’m staying at the magnificent Keahou Beach Resort. It’s right over the water, with some incredibly important historic stuff next to it that I’m ignoring. I’ve an ocean view, and can watch the sun set from the bar each evening. The only thing missing is a damn beach!
Having resurrected my running in Maui, I’m disappointed to find all the beaches around here are about 50 yards long. Enough to snorkel from, but sod all use to a runner!
With a Big Island to explore it’s time for a mini road trip. Actually, with a lap of about 250 miles and lots of 30 mph zones it’s not so mini, but I am returning whence I started. There’s some great scenery across the island, then a “4 mile scenic drive” down into the soggy city of Hilo. Kona, on the West gets a bit of cloud in the afternoon, Hilo gets all the rain – that was lucky! Although Hilo does have a nice park to run in, d’oh!
Onwards to the Volcano National Park and I escape the crowds to find a lovely quiet spot, with a fantastic view across the moon-like crater of the Kilauea Caldera. This is an active volcano, with clouds of sulphur spewing into the air. Sitting their alone, staring at one of the great sights of the world, all I can think is… “meh” (an expression of abject ambivalence).
Maybe I’ve seen too much. Is there a limit to how much amazement you can take in? Eventually does the extraordinary just become, well, ordinary?
The volcanoes are particularly active today, a knock on from the earthquake that hit Japan months ago. Unfortunately the result is that a large part of the park is shut! Bloomin’ Health and Safety types spoiling our fun just to keep us alive.
As I complete the loop of the island I’m diverted around a forest fire, which rages against the road, and up to a beach where the sand is completely black.
“Meh. What do you expect at “black sand beach”?”
For several miles the road cuts through lava flows from years gone by. Acres of black countryside. It’s an incredible landscape, a reminder of the fleeting nature of human existence against the epic timescales of geological advances and… are we there yet?
The next day I do some more local exploring, and find a jogging track. I also find the Kona brewery, where they make the ubiquitous Island Lager “Longboard”. (They drink it on Five-0!). I’m missing the Great British Beer Festival for the first time in ten years so I have my own festival and acquire a Kona pint glass to fill the hole in my collection – hope it survives seven flights!
I hope I survive too as the car brakes are making a scraping, grinding sound as I head down the steep hill to the hotel.
I ate a Kona pizza (Hawaiian, of course) and  don’t need to eat for 18 hours so it’s a quiet night in, but I make it to the track for a dawn run.
Breakfast is like a Hitchcock movie. The predators circle us, waiting for a chance to swoop for the kill. A mother turns her back on a young girl and they seize their chance. In a flash it’s too late. The birds have ravaged her breakfast.
At first it’s charming, but it soon gets silly. The breakfast area is open to the elements, so you can appreciate the wonderful sea views, but the birds appreciate the free food more. Still, there’s plenty to go around!
After brekkie I’m invited to listen to the Expedia Rep peddle some boring tours. I’d rather explore for myself, but I toddle along and discover I’m wrong. Amanda’s very enthusiastic and knowledgable, and provides lots of handy tips, many I’ve learnt the hard way – like “don’t attempt to lap the island in one day”.
But despite her enthusiasm I’m struggling to summon up the desire to do anything. It’s a real effort to sign up for a helicopter flight tomorrow, despite her claims that right now the lava is as “amazing as you’ll ever see!” and “don’t wait ‘til Kauai”. I spend two hours in my room trying to have a decent skype chat with my friends Craig and Kat but once again we’ve technical problems. However, by the end we’ve solved the problems, and gone from not being able to complete a sentence, to being able to watch TV together, across half the world.
There’s something else I need to fix. My ear’s been driving me crazy. It started itching weeks ago, but I’ve been hoping it’d sort itself out. I know what it is, it’s just inflammation caused by staying damp at so many swimming pools, but the cure requires a prescription. All I need is a small bottle of drops, but it means finding a doctor, probably paying a fortune, then trying to claim it back. ..and how to get an appointment when you’re on the move?
But there’s an “urgent care facility” at the shopping centre, and for a mere 165 bucks and a 30 minute wait I get my prescription. The drops are a not astronomical 29.50 and I have the cure!
The car brakes still seem to be scraping so I arrange a swap at the airport after my chopper flight.
Tomorrow I can begin to fix my ear, get my sense of wonder back on the chopper ride, and get my car swapped. Maybe then I’ll stop grinding to a halt.


  1. Yes, that skype chat was rather entertaining! Still welcome to "drop in" for the grand prix if you can't find somewhere local. It's Spa, so should be really good :-)

    Hope the ear gets better soon. Looking forward to seeing some piccies of the lava!

  2. Thanks Kat. I can't post the pics til after chapter 24. Don't want to spoil the story!