Friday, February 1, 2008

Day 1-2: I'm HOME!

Day One:
Some people know this, others do not: my family all lives in Hawaii (mom, dad, 3 sisters). I haven't been home for a year and a half (since August of 2006!), so I was ECSTATIC when my 'day job' said I could go for a work-related thing to Maui - and that since it was actually cheaper than flying direct to Kahului, they would pay for my fare to the Big Island to visit for a few days! I left Thursday morning, and spent most of the day flying (the headwinds must have been insane, because it took 6 hours to get from SD to Honolulu, then a 2 hour layover, then another hour flight to Hilo).

My mom picked me up, and we had a lovely dinner at the Hilo Bay Cafe. As I downed my delicious fresh Ahi, I suddenly realized how relaxed I was - even more so than on my week long vacation, and I had only been there for an hour! Its just something about Hawaii, something about being around my family and being home - even though I didn't grow up there, I firmly believe that home is where your family is. And even though i'm married and all growed up, this is still true.

Day Two:
I woke up early the next morning, and went on a lovely 2 1/2 mile walk with my sister through the lush rainforest surrounding their home, from the house they are renting to the house they are building. They live in a small city called Kea'au (and really on the outskirts of that), in a place that has minimum one acre lots that (until recently) HAD to be used in part for agriculture if you wanted to build a home on the lot. Since the city removed this restriction, house have been springing up all over the place - but compared to big city living, its deserted.

After spending the morning running errands, my mom and I rented a 4 wheel drive car, and began the trek up Mauna Kea - nearly 14,000 feet above sea level - to go see the sunset (something i've always wanted to do). When measured from the base, Mauna Kea is actually over 28,000 feet tall - the highest mountain in the world (but with 14,000 feet being under sea level, it tends to get left out of those highest mountain discussions). A big storm had come through the week before and dumped tons of snow on the mountain! So I literally went from ocean breezes to snow in the period of 2 hours.
(taken from the car at 50 mph):

During the hour 'acclimation' period at 9,000 feet, we walked around the chilly visitors center. The views were amazing - even at only 9,000 ft, we were so high that we were above the clouds. When we got to the top, we walked around again (slowly - it was REALLY cold plus you get 40% less oxygen up at the summit). The snow had melted into icicles of sorts:

And apparently, silly people would consider going offroading in it:
Observatories are scattered around the top of the mountain - Mauna Kea is considered the best stargazing in the world (no air pollution or light pollution to deal with, and it's relatively warm considering the altitude). They have two observatories there that actually capture better pictures of space than the Hubble! Four on the mountaintop in the distance:
As the sun set to the west, it cast a giant perfect shadow of the mountain to the east:
My mom and I nibbled on sandwiches (in the car with the heater on, of course) and drank massive quantities of water to stay well-hydrated as we waited for the sun to descend in the sky. And finally, sunset! As the sun set, the observatories opened up for their nightly stargazing. I had never seen an observatory open before, and watched awestruck as pieces of the giant building turned, windows opened, the roof retracted, and the people within the building prepared to view the heavens.
On the way down, we stopped at the visitor's center again for a quick snack, bathroom break and a 'stargazing party'. The stars were incredible, scattered across the clear sky and too numerous to ever think about counting. The volunteer guide pointed out constellations I could never see from the mainland. Writing about this now, capturing these memories, makes me long for home even though I just left. Even though my husband and his family lives here in San Diego, I hope a day can come where we can move to my home and live the peaceful and relaxed life of the islands.

The rest of my trip to follow...


david & kimi baxter said...

these are insane! beautifully done julia.

Melissa Koehler said...

Wow, what gorgeous photos!!

Abigail said...

unbelievably amazing!!!!!!!! :)

brenda said...

I really had no idea it snowed in Hawaii. I've always wanted to go there, but wow! now i would like to go there even more and see the contrasts of oceans and mountain snow. is the snow on the ground only in winter or is it so high up that it's all year?

i've been jumping around from photoblog to photoblog and came across yours.

your work is beautiful!