And Now for Something Completely Different

And Now for Something Completely Different

I often thought of writing those words, though, it seemed we would find something completely different almost every time we’d crossed a border. But now we’ve put a hold on rambling for another lifestyle, settling in with a wonderful host family in Medellin Columbia and returning to school to learn Spanish. This certainly is completely different. We even took on different names that are more phonetically appropriate since pronunciations are different in Spanish; Bill is usually, “Beel” and Cindy is, “Ceendy”. Here, they call us Chucho and Sofia.

I’ve wanted to learn Spanish for a long time. Growing up in NYC I had many Latino friends and enjoyed living alongside the culture, the music and the language. We had family friends that were from Spain, too. We’ve traveled to Latin American often and it’s so invitingly close for more trips, learning Spanish seemed like a useful, fun and interesting thing to do. Colombia is proving an excellent place as the people are always appreciative when you try the native tongue and so very friendly and helpful in learning the language. It’s a truly rich experience being immersed in another culture. And we’re loving that there are very few tourists.

Medellin is cradled in the Aburra Valley

Medellin is cradled in the Aburra Valley

Our class time is pretty intensive. We’re attending Universidad Pontifica Bolivariana for 4 hours of daily class room instruction plus one hour of free grad-student-mediated club time (culture/grammar/conversation) about 3 times per week. It feels strange being back in school sitting at a desk, putting on the ol’ thinking cap and using whatever side of the brain language learning resides. Admittedly, learning the language is more challenging than I’d anticipated. There are so many ways to say so many things, irregular verbs, cognates, false-cognates….I wish I had done this when I went to school as a child. I find it fascinating that even though it has been over 40 years since 3 years of French instruction in school, I still understand quite a bit of it; far more than Spanish, but of course, that may be too much to expect for only 3 weeks of instruction. It’s strange how the mind works, especially when it comes to learning a foreign language.

Reputations die hard, as is the case with Medellin. Aside from some hiccups, the city has been on the upswing since a roof-top chase ended in the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993. Ironically, that initiated the tempering of the city’s violent past, where today, Medellin is a modern, western-style world class city. Known as “The eternal city of spring”, it’s set deep into the gorgeous Aburra Valley with a micro climate that accounts for pleasant year-round temperatures. Looking up from almost any place in Medellin, it’s impossible not to notice the soaring mountains that cradle the city. This metropolis has an efficient, clean, secure metro, a cadre of inexpensive intra-city bus routes, a modern cable car system and potable tap water. It’s impossible to hold back when describing the friendly, helpful people who smile sweetly when you stumble your way through buying tickets or ordering food. Medellin has even been written about positively in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Still, “life in the big city” rules apply as caution is a daily watchword.

During our first free weekend in Medellin, we took a school field trip to Parque Arvi, an ecological reserve set high in the mountains above the eastern slope of the Aburra Valley. We started with an easy to navigate public metro system which took us right to the metrocable.

The metrocable carried us way up the eastern slopes of the valley

The metrocable carried us way up the eastern slopes of the valley

And then a chiva took us to the park entrance….

A chiva

A chiva

We toured the insect and butterfly houses in the reserve.

Looking outside the insect house at Parque Arvi

Looking outside the insect house

A transparent butterfly at Parque Arvi

These guys had transparent wings

Parque Arvi

Parque Arvi

Advertisements
Oahu and the Aloha spirit

Oahu and the Aloha spirit

Pearl Harbor is close to the airport so we decided to tour it just after we landed and picked up our rental car. Valor in the Pacific National Park is an extremely well done park containing artifacts and thorough explanations of local and world events that occurred before, during and after the attack. The exhibits didn’t appear to whitewash any historical facts including the racist internment of loyal American citizens of Japanese descent.

The USS Arizona Memorial

The USS Arizona Memorial

Our digs on Oahu were perched high above the city with an amazing view of downtown as well as Diamond Head.

view from freds  place

We savored our terrific night-time views as well.

honolulu at night

Oahu is the most populous island. On it resides Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital and its most populated city; a vibrant metropolis replete with rush hour traffic and an occasional aggressive driver. None of this detracted from the stunning beauty of this tropical paradise island. Topographically, it is dominated by two volcanic mountain chains that run parallel along the northwest orientation of the tectonic plate’s path, an alluvial plain saddled in between.

Diamond Head crater

Diamond Head crater

The iconic Diamond Head, symbol of Hawaii and Waikiki beach, turned out to be a big surprise. It’s actually a crater of a dormant volcano.

View from the top of Diamond Head.

View from the top of Diamond Head.

To get to the summit requires driving through a tunnel in the side of the crater and parking in the caldera. The hike goes up the inside of the highest point of the crater which, from the outside, makes up the famous image seen from Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach.

cindy in front of diamond head

Being back in the US meant some comfortability in being a citizen and knowing the lay and law of the land. But I recognized some things that I was uncomfortable with, as well.

Public restrooms are typically dirty and not well maintained. If there is toilet paper in the restroom, it may be as trash strewn across the floor; and the seats are often very dirty.

While driving on the road, there are scenic outlooks with a chance to pull over and stop but despite an abundance of fantastic scenery, I sometimes found that I’d pulled off the highway to find an obstructed view or a scene that was just not that pretty.

States like Hawaii draw a lot of people who move there for the wonderful weather and then find that it’s incredibly difficult to make a living wage. Only hundreds of yards from stores like Louis Vuitton and Coach sits Waikiki Beach where there are people who set up mattresses to sleep at nighttime. Near the same spot on Waikiki, I saw a guy pull an ice cream cup out of the garbage, look inside, take a whiff and then start eating what was left over. The ice cream cup probably smelled better than him. To be fair, comparisons only make sense in the context of other developed western nations so these were my points of reference or comparison as I returned home.

Hanauma Bay is without question the premier place to snorkel on Oahu. The bay features a beautiful white sand beach and a reef filled with one of the most diverse environments. It was also a volcano tens of thousands of years ago, the southeast wall eroding over time thereby creating the bay.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay

We went for a hike to Manoa Falls. It was unexpectedly crowded perhaps because it was one of President Obama’s favorite hikes when he lived there.

On Manoa Falls trail

On Manoa Falls trail

After we reaching the falls we continued on another trail which took us up to a ridge where we were able to catch a great view.

view from pahoa trail, manoa falls hike

There’s political tension I noticed while on the Big Island. Hawaii was an internationally recognized monarchy until deposed by a coup that was engineered by American business interests and backed by the American government in 1893. This led to the annexation of Hawaii five years later and statehood in 1959. (I think it can be said that the natives were royally screwed–or screwed royalty). There is a faction of Hawaiians who want this reversed, though, unlike their New Zealand Maori cousins, there is no consensus or even much political agreement within the native community to move with solidarity. I was surprised to learn that Hawaiians don’t possess the same status as Native Americans. This is at least a partial result of enough Hawaiians not thinking of themselves as Americans but rather descendents of the former monarchy. Perhaps this is also complicated by the lack of documented blood lines and contributed by the historical decimation of about 90% of the original Hawaiian population by diseases brought by foreigners.

There is a spirit in Hawaii that generates a truly exceptional friendliness: the Aloha spirit. It is one of the things that makes Hawaii so special. The most common meanings of Aloha are a greeting, a farewell or a salutation. It’s also commonly used to mean love. Literally, it means “divine breath” and is an acknowledgment of a divine presence that resides inside and outside of people.

Cindy continues to hula even as we wait for our plane to board

Cindy continues to hula even as we wait for our plane to board

We planned our trip so that it was flexible enough to come and go when we felt like we were ready. That wasn’t always possible and we left Hawaii wishing we’d spent more time there.

Aloha!

The big Big Island

The big Big Island

We spent two weeks on Hawaii, The Big Island, called so because it is so. We spent a fair amount of time in the car trying to see and do as much as possible.

One of activities that caught a lot of our time and attention was snorkeling. We were prepared for this as the only extra ‘luxury’ items we brought with us were snorkel and mask. It really paid off here since there were so many wonderful snorkeling sights and we didn’t have to worry about renting and proper sizing.

We went to the Kopoho tide pools twice. It was difficult to maneuver around some of the shallow areas so we made sure our return trip was at high tide. Still, at one point I was about to skim over a shallow area and noticed a juvenile spotted moray eel in front of me just in time to put the brakes on. It probably would have sunk back in its crack but they look so fearsome, I chose to swim around it.

The Kopoho tide pools had some of the most pristine and colorful coral

The Kopoho tide pools had some of the most pristine and colorful coral

At Manini Beach I spotted an octopus as we were returning to shore. What a treat! They are one of the most interesting creatures as they can change color and texture instantaneously. We watched it for about 5-10 minutes hovering far enough away so it wasn’t spooked by us.

Manini Beach

Hawaii has a lot of green sea turtles. Black Sand Beach/Punalu’u, is one of the best places to see them on land as well as in the water. It’s beautiful to watch them swim so gracefully, not caring the least about the presence of humans. I’m told by locals that they were not so common years ago (turtle soup was a delicacy) but now they’re protected and abundant in numbers.

We found this guy lazing on Punalu'u, or Black Sand Beach

We found this guy lazing on Black Sand Beach/Punalu’u

This one was in a tidal pool at a snorkel site called, "Two-step"

This turtle was in a tiny tidal pool at a snorkel site called, “Two-step”

South Point is the southern most point in the U.S.A.. Essentially, a very windy plateau that ends at dramatic cliffs which drop off into the deep turquoise ocean below.

tree at south point

It is also a very cool place to jump off a 25-30 foot cliff into beautiful turquoise water.

It was so irresistible I jumped twice

It was so irresistible, I jumped twice

From South Point, there was a hike across golden brown sands and jeep tracks to a gem of The Big Island: Green Sand Beach.

Green Sand Beach

Green Sand Beach

Before being abolished in the early 19th century, Hawaii had many sacred societal Kapus or taboos such as men and women not being allowed to dine together. Violating Kapu meant an immediate death sentence. But around the islands there were “Places of Refuge”, where, if you could out-run warriors and swim to a place of refuge, you could be blessed by a shaman and eventually return home. Pu’uhonua was one of those places.

bill at place of refuge

It was a very difficult task to make it to a place of refuge. Of course, if you did get there it wasn’t a good idea to taunt the warriors who had been chasing you.

We attended a traditional (read: tourist) Hawaiian Luau. We saw a variety of Hawaiian dances in addition to some from other countries where Polynesians migrated like Samoa and New Zealand.

luau danced

Cindy learning the hula

Cindy learns the hula. Go Cindy!

While at the luau, we saw whales off shore in the distance.

The Big Island Rocks On

The Big Island Rocks On

At one time, there was nothing here, not even an island. Created by magma-spewing hot spots in the ocean floor, the isolated archipelago of Hawaii evolved island by island eventually drifting northeast in its current configuration due to the movement of tectonic plates. Looking at the barren lava fields it’s almost unimaginable how anything at all came to grow, but a few million years does wonders to the scenery.

Onema Bay

Onema Bay

Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls streams 442 feet straight down

We really enjoyed the Lyman Museum in Hilo. For a small museum it was extremely well done, containing exhibits on natural history, Hawaiian cultural history, immigration and an extensive collection of crystals from around the world. The house was built by David Lyman who was one of the first missionaries on the Big Island. Originally from Connecticut, he arrived in 1832. We toured his house which was constructed in a style that is very familiar to us.

Lyman House

Lyman House

Hilo featured the Palace Theater where we caught a show called, “Hawaiiana” consisting of a husband and wife team who story-told, chanted, sang and played the essence of the Hawaiian spirit.

palace theatre hilo

We drove to the north end of the island to hike into Waipi’o Valley. There was no hiking trail so we had to walk on the road. With a 25 degree toe-jamming pitch, it was restricted to hikers and 4-wheel vehicles.

The Wipi'o Valley meets the Pacific Ocean in a dramatic locale

The Waipi’o Valley meets the Pacific Ocean in a dramatic vista

Cindy crosses the Waipi'o River where it meets the ocean

Cindy crosses the Waipi’o River

We took a doors-off helicopter ride skimming about 500 feet over Kilauea Volcano. It is one of the most active volcanos in the world and has been continuously erupting since 1983.

Molten hot lava flows on Kilauea (bottom right)

Molten lava flows (bottom right) on Kilauea