Friday, December 31, 2010

Hawaii - Sharks, Dolphins and Turtles!

Our Christmas trip to Hawaii has come to an end. We had an action-packed nine days and really enjoyed (and appreciated) Ron and Sharon's hospitality. The weather was off and on, but it didn't really stop us from exploring the island and having a good time. Plus, it cleared up for our last couple of days so we had some great sunshine to end with. Elise especially enjoyed luxuriating in the Plumb's apartment. A big screen TV for cartoons, pancakes for breakfast every morning and your own private Dora chair - what more could you ask for?

On Christmas Day, we hiked to Monao Falls, a short, but lush hike in a canyon above Honolulu. We met lots of happy tourists and enjoyed the nice flora along the route. It was a bit muddy, but NOTHING like a trail we would hike later that week. Afterward, we went to the Diamond Head beach and snorkeled, beach-combed and relaxed. Sharon served a great dinner and we enjoyed socializing. It was a nice day.

As the weather looked foul for the next couple of days, we opted to do some hiking on the eastern tip of the island, which is the driest location. The first hike we did was up the ridge above Makapu. It's a rarely-travelled trail so it feels a bit adventurous, but it offers some great views of the coastline. The next day, we hiked to the lighthouse on the opposite side and had the great pleasure of watching a humpback whale breach right in front of us on the rocks below the hike. We sat for about twenty minutes and enjoyed watching it move around, surface and blow. Elise was excited and enjoyed attempting to take pictures with our new point-and-shoot camera. She actually blew off a few passable images. She's improving.

When the threat of heavy rain finally subsided, we decided to do a hike on the rainy side of the island. Our chosen route was well off the tourist path and we kind of got in over our heads. We expected mud, but what started as a moist vegetated trail eventually turned into a mud-lined chute complete with clouds of mosquitoes. The foliage was literally hanging onto the trail and we got soaked both from sweat and humidity. It was actually a pretty cool experience - we really explored a true jungle and Elise chattered in my ear the entire way, despite the nastiness of the situation. We literally couldn't stop for a drink of water - the mosquitoes were that bad. We were glad to finally make it out to the service road after an hour and have a relatively calm journey back to the car. A swim in the ocean felt wonderful after the sweat and mud. Note Elise is striking her "beach pose" in the swimming photo.

The zoo was another pleasant rainy afternoon adventure. I'd not been to the Honolulu zoo before and was really impressed with the variety of animals. Elise raced around for THREE HOURS. I really don't know where she gets her energy. She also enjoyed making a necklace out of a red flower. It was pretty creative, actually.

As the week neared it's end, we planned a couple of more "engaging" activities. First off was my trip. I stumbled upon an Internet ad for a company that offered shark tours on the North Shore and this immediately grabbed my interest. After a day of oscillation, I finally decided to go for it. I've always been curious about sharks and wondered if I'd ever get another opportunity. We drove 15 minutes offshore in a motor boat and then took turns snorkeling in a shark cage floating in about 200 feet of water. The sharks are attracted to the sound of the boats (old habits from feeding off fishermen's waste). As soon as we arrived and set anchor, I saw a dark shadow slide under the boat, then another, then another. Needless to say, there were no shortage of sharks and I was really psyched to get in the water and float eye-to-eye with an 8-foot Galapagos reef shark. It's an experience I'll not soon forget. Too bad I got a bit seasick near the end, but that's another story...

After my shark encounter, we hiked to the end of Kaena Point on the North Shore and saw two endangered Hawaiian monk seals. That was a real treat. We also saw some bonafide Hawaiian rednecks with their truck sunk up to the tailgate in the muck. A red-letter day! Afterward, we swam at the beautiful Mokuleai beach and enjoyed playing in the small waves near shore. Elise actually went in! She's normally petrified of even the smallest waves...

Our final day dawned sunny and clear. We booked a special trip for us all. It involved a catamaran ride out around the Diamond Head volcano and then an open-water snorkel with sea turtles. Well, their advertised features did not disappoint. The sail was beautiful and rough. The waves crashed over the bow soaking us all. Elise cowered under a towel (she doesn't like big waves), but came out as soon as Pam spotted a DOLPHIN!!! In fact, we saw a number playing in the water and some sailed clear out of the water, just like at an aquarium show. This would have been the trip highlight, until we all jumped in the water and swam with green sea turtles. Elise was very proud because, of the 20-or-so people, she saw the first one in about 30 feet of water. The second mate looked at her and said, "you really are a professional snorkeler". This comment came after Elise donned her wetsuit and fins - she looked very experienced! Elise and I followed the turtle and it surfaced about 3 feet in front of us before diving again. Amazing... We then had lunch on deck and enjoyed the return journey. It was a great experience and a nice way to spend New Year's Eve.

We've had a really nice time enjoying the warmth, but reality is just around the corner. We get home late on the night of the 1st and will be preparing for a transition back to winter. We hope you've all had a nice holiday.

Happy New Year!
Marc, Pam and Elise

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas From Hawaii

Merry Christmas All!

Here are a few images from our first couple of days in Hawaii. As you can plainly see, Elise is having a wonderful time.

Letting Santa know she's hoping for a Tiana Polly Pocket. That is a genuine smile.

She got more than just the Tiana Polly Pocket. Santa sure is generous!

Look at all those princesses!

Spotting surfers from Ron and Sharnon's deck on Christmas morning.

Swimming at Hanauma Bay.

Heading out for a major snorkelling expedition with Dad at Hanauma Bay.

Hike up Koko Head crater near Hanauama Bay.

Enjoy your day eveybody!

Marc, Pam and Elise

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Turkey 7 - Watch What You Wish For

Our final days in Turkey have arrived, and so has winter's fury. Weeks ago I believed it never got very cold in this area - how wrong I was. Yesterday, a storm swept down from the north and what started as an overcast, mild day turned downright frigid in an hour or less. First came the thunder, then a ferocious hail storm, which soon turned to pelting rain. Then the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. We were climbing during this maelstrom and stayed under the overhangs to keep dry, but when the lightning started ripping the sky directly above the cliff, I got a tad nervous about hanging off the wall covered in metal carabiners. The incredible claps of thunder left a lasting impression on Elise, who was hunkered inside her tent. We endured until 2:00 pm (the only other climbers out there were Brits, go figure), but we just got too cold and couldn't take it any longer. We went to the campground restaurant (Josito's) and had hot chocolate around the wood burning stove and played with the cats, much to Elise's delight. The temperature on the car's dashboard read 3 degrees and I could see fresh snow on the ridges about 500 feet above us. So much for my complaints about the heat.

Snowline above Josito's...

Hike on a sunny day before the storm.

Pam and Elise on an alpine ridge hear the ski area, Saklikent. There was no trail, but the terrain was excellent for off-trail hiking. We saw fossils in the limestone and Elise placed a stone in the cairn on the ridge top.

The climbing area (Geyikbayiri) from the highway above.

Jeff and Josie have gone home and so will we in three days. We really enjoyed our time with them and finished our visit with a great dinner at another yummy Turkish restaurant (we've found a few). It's hard to believe, but only 6 days ago we spent a nice afternoon on the beach snorkelling with them before heading to the tombs of Myra for the evening. How quickly the conditions can change! We also enjoyed touring the Karain cave, about 15 km north of Antalya. This cave is apparently the oldest one on earth that has seen continual human habitation since the early Palaeolithic era and its been heavily excavated. Again, we really enjoyed Geoff and Josies' company on this outing and Elise was especially sad to see Geoff go home at the end of their trip. She really bonded with him.

Karain Cave

Elise with pottery shards. She loves collecting things.

Tombs and ruins around the ancient city of Myra.

Most recently, we toured the Antalya museum (without our friends). It was recommended in the Lonely Planet guidebook and it was well worth the visit. The displays or Turkish and Roman artifacts (complete with the artifacts from the Karain cave) were truly incredible and Elise stayed fully engaged for over an hour, until we were suddenly informed that the museum was about to close and we had to leave. Surprise! We were really disappointed because we were only halfway through. Try complaining to a museum director that only speaks Turkish. Trust me, it doesn't work very well - we were sent on our way with a stern look and nothing else.

On the climbing front, my shoulder has improved somewhat and I've climbed for the past week. Maybe the rest I took was helpful - it's hard to say. The joint is certainly not 100%, but it seems to be allowing me to push a bit, and that's more than I was expecting at this point. I'm glad I got to do some more climbs. I was starting to prepare for the worst. Elise and Pam remain healthy, and both have continued to climb (Elise on climbs she has named herself, her favourite being "Lemon Jewel Frog".

We spent an afternoon at the carnival. We did this activity with Geoff and Josie and Elise had a GREAT time. She especially loved doing the bumper cars with Geoff and I. We couldn't believe what a beating she was taking, but she just cackled and screeched with glee evertime Geoff slammed into us. No kidding. This would not have been allowed in North America, I'm sure.

When we fly home, we have to lay over in Istanbul for one night and have made preparations to stay at our previous hotel, the Best Nobel. The airport hotels were just too expensive so we've opted to take a train into the city for our final night. At least we know the area so we won't feel so lost. We have to get up at 3:00 am to catch our flight, though. There's going to be nothing pleasant about that. We arrive home on the afternoon of the 16th (if all goes well) and are preparing for more wintery weather.

We will miss the fruit. It grows everywhere, is excellent and is free for the taking.

How was the trip? It's been nothing short of interesting. The climbing didn't quite live up to my expectations, but getting hurt halfway through has tainted my ability to be objective, I think. We've seen the most amazing ruins and artifacts - more so than on any other trip - and that's been a real highlight. The mountain terrain is beautiful, but hard to explore because the country is just not set up for adventure tourism. Most of our hikes have been off-trail or on logging roads, but fun, nonetheless. The beaches were very nice and I really enjoyed snorkelling (for real) with Elise. We had some grand water adventures. We also had some grand adventures driving in this country. The Turks are the worst drivers I've ever experienced, and that's no joke. I just hope we get the car back to the airport without getting into an accident. There have been too many close calls. The food was great, the service was so-so and the pushy vendors were just too much after awhile. It will be interesting to see what we all remember in the years to come.

Fishing boats at the Kaleci marina.

Two more days of climbing (one sunny and one stormy) and then we head out. We hope you are all well and look forward to re-connecting.