On April 15th, the day after Washington DC, Bruna and the two of us went back to New York in order to celebrate Barbara’s birthday that was coming up. We wandered around the East Village, got a few drinks and went to a nice Sushi restaurant for dinner. Afterwards, we made our way down to Greenwich Village and had a couple more drinks, until it was time to cheer because Barbara’s age count just clocked up by one. By then we were in a pretty good mood. When the bartender started to become really friendly we figured it was time to call it a night.
In the late morning, we went to Junior’s near Times Square for brunch. The aim was to get a nice piece of Cheesecake for dessert but nobody managed to eat another bite after the mains, even though Bruna and Barbara shared theirs.
From there, Bruna had to catch a bus back to Baltimore. Barbara had a special thing planned for the rest of our day: We would take a train and head up to Chappaqua in Westchester County to visit her host-family from when she was an au pair. They were so kind and invited us to their home. After eleven years, it was quite a reunion, especially when Barbara got to see Evan, the once two-year-old she took care of and who is now in his prime teenage years.
Ira and Alyzza prepared champagne, fingerfood and even a birthday cake. They were so lovely that even though Barbara had not seen them in such a long time and I had just met them, we felt extremely welcome and had a great afternoon and evening together. We even received wedding presents. Additionally, we also got to meet the family’s good friend Alan, a renowned painter and quite a character.
The extended aperitif was followed by a first-class barbecue. Time passed way too quickly and if we had the chance, we would have loved to chat well into the night. But unfortunately, we needed to head back to New York.
On our last day in NYC, Barbara and I had some time to ourselves again. We went our own ways for the day, did some sightseeing and some much needed shopping – I really needed some new boxers and a pair of trainers as the sole started peeling off my old ones. And of course there was some more sightseeing.
In the evening we packed the bags for our flight to Vietnam the next day and thanks to Alyzza and Ira we had a pretty classy champagne dinner in our hotel room. Southeast Asia might be slightly different from New York…
I don’t know for how many years Barbara wanted us to go visit her cousin Bruna in Baltimore, Maryland. Now this time, it just seemed perfect and after a few days in New York, we sat in a Greyhound bus for three hours and drove down there. It was late when we got to their place, but early enough for a few beers with Bruna and her husband Berke.
The next day, I went out on my own to explore the centre of Baltimore on foot. Honestly, I had no expectations and was positively surprised by what I saw. A calm harbour area with shops, restaurants and several bars surrounded by a busier office and financial district. Walking around Federal Hill, close to where Bruna lives, was very nice, too. It was high time for me to get a haircut as I had my last one in Brazil a few months ago, and so I walked into a mom and pop’s barber shop where two elderly Chinese ladies served their clientele.
In the evening, Bruna took us downtown and we went for drinks in The Horse You Came In On, the bar where Edgar Allan Poe was seen for the last time before he was found delirious and brought to a hospital where he died a mysterious death the same night.
The morning after, we took a train to Washington DC. As a House Of Cards fan, I was excited to see all the buildings shown in the opening credits of the show. Barbara has seen it before, but I guess the National Mall with all its government buildings, museums and memorials never fails to impress.
On April 8th, we packed our bags for the last time in South America. A long trip awaited us. Three flights and about thirty hours later we reached our destination, New York. We had ten eventful days in front of us: Surprise our friends Daniela and Christopher from Zurich who were in the city and had no idea that we would be coming, visit Barbara’s cousin Bruna in Baltimore, drop by Washington DC, celebrate Barbara’s birthday and last but not least, visit Barbara’s host family from back when she was an au pair twelve years ago.
Let’s start at the beginning. From lively chatting on Whatsapp, we knew that Daniela and Christopher were in New York since several days, together with Christopher’s mom. We also knew that they had planned to go on a walking tour in Harlem the next morning. I did some research online and although there were several tours, I had a good feeling that we picked the right one. So, Barbara and I grabbed a coffee and headed up north to Harlem. Exiting the metro, we already saw the walking tour group assembled at a street corner and luckily, our friends were standing right there with the group. We walked up on them from the back, tapped their shoulders simultaneously and once they turned around we asked in English “Is this the Harlem walking tour?”. Not recognising us immediately Christopher answered “Yes, it is” when they finally caught on to what just happened. I guess it’s fair to say that the surprise worked out perfectly.
Christopher and I went on to follow the walking tour together with his mother. The girls were too excited about the reunion and couldn’t focus on the guide, so they abandoned the tour and went for a coffee to chat away.
Later we had a lovely lunch in Maison Harlem. Christopher and I had no other choice than to try their burger. In the late afternoon, we enjoyed a drink 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar with a great view over midtown Manhattan. When hunger stroke, the ladies felt that a salad would be the right thing for them. The boys disagreed. Clearly, the right thing was steak, a really good steak. I took Christopher to Gallagher’s Steakhouse. And sure enough, it didn’t disappoint.
The next day, our friends flew back to Zurich. It was so good to see them, even if it was only for one and a half days.
Barbara and I had a Greyhound to Baltimore scheduled in the evening of the day after, so we had a little time to stroll around the city, revisit some of our favourite spots and go on a river cruise around Manhattan.
There are people saying they have no regrets. I am not one of them. For one thing, I absolutely regret not having planned more days on Kauai. Deep, I know.
Straight after picking up our rental car at Lihue Airport we drove up to the Wailua Falls. The curvey road leads right up to them and there is no hiking required. An easy introduction to the island that should already give you an idea of its beauty.
It might not look like it on the picture, but our hotel, Mokihana Palace, was simple and for sure had seen better days. Nevertheless, the view was pretty amazing. We relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and prepared ourselves for the exertion to come the next day: hiking part of the Napali Coast.
We got up early and made our way to Ke’e Beach, the beginning of the almost 18km long Kalalau trail. Doing the whole trail and back would obviously be a multi-day adventure and also requires a permit. We neither had multiple days nor did we plan months ahead to get the usually sold out permits. The alternative wasn’t any less strenous though. We hiked along the Kalalau trail for about 3.5km until we reached Hanakapi’ai Beach. After a short break we decided to go further up the mountains and hike until Hanakapi’ai Falls. We took this decision rather lightly after we completed the first part of the trail in only an hour and fifteen minutes when the suggested time was about two to three hours. The way was steep, muddy and full of sometimes easy and other times difficult stream crossings.
When we finally reached the falls, the sight of it was not only a relief but also stunningly gorgeous. The water falling down 91 meters is cold and offers a more than welcome refreshment after several hours of hiking and climbing.
We enjoyed our sandwiches, rested and took in the views before we started our descent. With the motivation of seeing the waterfall gone and only very little water left, the way back seemed even longer.
Driving back to our hotel we stopped in Hanalei, a cute little surfer town for a delicious burger at Bubba’s and at the Kilauea Lighthouse.
After the endeavor of the day before, we were happy to have a much more relaxed plan for day number three: a Napali Coast sailing tour on one of Captain Andy’s catamarans. Cruising along the coast we got company of dozens of dolphins who enjoyed surfing the bow waves of our boat and even a few spinning out of the water and through the air. And besides the beautiful views of cliffs, mountains, sea arches and pristine beaches we were treated to food and drinks. Only very few things can beat a cold beer on a hot day cruising the ocean.
About half way into the tour we stopped for snorkeling. The water was so clear you could see for several dozen meters. We saw a sea turtle and literally swam through schools of fishes of different kinds.
After getting back to shore we decided to check out Waimea Canyon. While only half as deep as the Grand Canyon, the colours are far more intense and the views are astonishing. There are a few hiking trails but access by car is pretty easy with several lookouts along the way. It’s one of these places where a picture can do the scenery only partly justice.
For our last day on Kauai and actually on all of Hawaii, we booked a kayaking tour along Wailua River with a short hike (approx. 30 minutes) to some waterfalls. Our guide Dantes was easy going and new what he was doing. Paddling up against the stream for about an hour took some effort, but the views along the way were well worth it.
That was our last adventure on Hawaii and our 89th day on US territory by the rules of the visa waiver program. So while this meant that we had to leave our island paradise, we will definitely never forget it and hopefully come back one day.
Getting to the airport we concluded this beautiful chapter of our trip and opened a new one which should start with an incredibly long trip to Barranquilla, Colombia.
Mahalo for keeping up with our travels! We’ll be back with news from Southamerica soon.
Maui was a quick visit for us, we only had two days to see what we wanted. Clearly, that’s not enough time to do The Valley Isle justice. We tried anyway. On the day of our arrival we drove up the westcoast and paid a rather quick visit to the Maui Outlets and then made our way along Kahekili Highway. The super narrow street, at many times only one lane, is a fun and gorgeous drive along the coast featuring valleys, steep cliffs, the Nakelele Blowhole and more. Oh yeah, and of course you need a sweet ride for all that.
For dinner we stopped in Paia, a small town with a few streets full of shops, bars and restaurants. We were happy to get out of Kahului, a less than nice place hard to imagine on an island like Maui. Our bellies filled with gluten free Pizzas and ice cream we strolled along the closing businesses. Coming along what’s depicted below, we couldn’t help thinking about a TV series that has quickly become a classic. Anyone?
Prices on Maui are no joke and we decided to spend the two nights there in a hostel. Bunk beds don’t quite offer a lot of room for personal belongings and so we decided to leave our stuff in the car and take just a new set of clothes, the toothbrush and the cellphone chargers into our dorms.
For the second day, the Road to Hana was the obvious choice for a one day adventure that should allow us to explore some of the island’s most beautiful spots. This scenic drive takes you from Kahului to Hana and offers about a thousand and one opportunities to stop and take in incredible views, walk to pristine beaches or hike to see waterfalls. So we knew it was gonna be a long day and we got an early rise. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t share our idea of the perfect day and clouds and rain were on and off for the whole afternoon. While Hana itself is somewhat of a disappointment after you spent the last five hours or so driving there, the road doesn’t actually end there and it’s totally worth driving the other 105km and finish the loop. Before the landscape changes completely from lush tropical forests to barren valleys and lowlands, there are still a bunch of beaches and waterfalls that are well worth a stop. I swear I could bore you with the names and explanations of all the places but there are better websites for that, just go check them out if you crave for more information on a specific spot.
Without having to do a lot of packing we headed to the airport on day three and eagerly awaited our flight to Kauai. The weather forecast was very poor with thick clouds and a lot of rain, but let’s see how it turns out…
From Honolulu Barbara and I flew to Hawai’i, also known as Big Island, the largest and youngest of the islands. It’s best known for its active volcano called Kilauea, but is a natural phenomenon in many perspectives. Four of the worlds five major climate zones (and eight of the thirteen sub categories) can be found on this 10km² spanning piece of volcanic rock. That is one reason it is important to choose the place you want to stay wisely. While Kona on the westside is comparatively dry, the island’s main city Hilo in the east is statistically the rainiest city in the US. We made Kailua-Kona our base for the island’s exploration. We rented a Jeep Wrangler with a removable top to get around, a good choice as the next lines will proof.
Kilauea, one of the volcanoes located in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the one responsible for the island’s continuous growth due to constant lava flows has been increasingly active in the months and weeks before our arrival. That’s why we booked a helicopter tour to get up close to Kilauea. Our pilot Kyle from Safari Tours Hilo was excellent and we got the two front row seats. Besides the fact that we have never seen anything like it before, it was also Barbara’s first helicopter flight and she loved it!
Seeing the actual lava in the crater, then flowing below the surface visible only through cracks and wholes and finally coming to a rest in the sea was a once in a lifetime experience.
On the way back from Hilo to Kona we decided to drive up the steep gravel road to Mauna Kea, with 4’207m the highest peak of Hawaii and himself an extinct volcano. Only 4WD vehicles are allowed and some warm clothing is recommended as the 35°C from the beach turn into 5°C at the top. Due to its location and the low light pollution, some of the worlds most powerful telescopes are located there. We stayed for the spectacular sunset and on the way down we gazed at the stars and the Milky Way.
The next day we started at Mauna Kea Beach. Its fine white sand and the cristal clear water make this a place we won’t forget anytime soon.
We relaxed there for a while and then headed across the island to Waipi’o Valley. An extremely steep and narrow road in bad conditions led us down into the valley to two waterfalls at the valley’s one end and a black sand beach at the other. Man was that a fun ride! Again a 4WD was mandatory and there is no way you could make it without one. At one point the four wheels were practically under water and the next moment we drove over steep steps of rocks. The black sand beach itself was a beautiful and unusual place.
In the evening we visited the Kekaha Kai State Park, basically a rocky road through a black lava desert. There is no wildlife nor special vegetation (at least we didn’t see any) but for sure that is one strange landscape.
On our last day on Big Island we made a scenic drive along the coast south of a small town called Captain Cook. In a few days the Ironman triathlon would take place here, which is why we saw hundreds of athletes cycling or running up and down the hills in preparation for the big day. I did a little snorkeling at one of the beaches and back in Kailua-Kona we made a new friend while having a beer.
Big Island is a very special place and it was well worth the visit. We hope our next island, Maui, also has something to show for.
As you would expect of Hawaii, there are tons of beaches. If you are looking to surf, bodysurf, kitesurf, snorkel, jump off a rock or just relax, O’ahu has a beach for you. We will just show a few spots we got to know while on the island but obviously there would still be more to be discovered.
Let’s start with the surfing. Northshore has numerous world famous spots which during wintertime, when the swell peaks, are mostly the playground of professional surfers and locals. During the calmer summer months and in fall (we were there in September) some of these spots become surfable for the mortals, too. We tried only small number of those, mainly because we didn’t want to risk conflicts with local surfers and because we were not too keen on getting our bodies smashed on a shallow reef. Other than that, we enjoyed Waimea Beach Park a few times. A lovely place to hang out and dare a jump off the rock at the end of the beach. On the Southside of the island we surfed on Waikiki Beach (of course!) and Lighthouse, a fun spot right below Diamond Head volcano crater.
Here an example where we didn’t dare going in. Yokohama Beach on the island’s westcoast was firing that day and a few locals rocked that huge, fast and hollow right which was way out of our league. The steady offshore wind did the rest and let this summer day look like one of the Northshore’s winter breaks. Therefore, we just had some fun with the shorebreak and let the others do the surfing. Check this out!
Maybe some of the island’s most beautiful beaches can be found in the south and southeast. One of them is Hanauma Bay State Park, a snorkeling paradise during the summer and a marine wildlife refugee in the winter. But there are others, many others.
That would be it for O’ahu. A laidback month comes to an end and so does our travel companionship with Marco and Olesya. South America is a big place and interests diverge. We therefore decided to split up for the time being and hope that we can organize a reunion in some other place soon.
For Barbara and me, island hopping is up next. We will spend some time on Hawai’i (Big Island), Maui and Kauai. Stay tuned…
We kept our hiking activity rather low but of course we went for a few strolls. Nothing too crazy, but always very rewarding with a beautiful finish. There are hundreds of other trails you could explore on Oahu.
Hike #1 – Wakelele Falls: Our first and most demanding trail. As you walk through private land, a permit is required. Starting in La’ie it led us through Papaya and Banana plantations and up through a lush forest along a small river which we had to cross several times climbing, jumping and brachiating through branches. After about one and a half hour we reached the top; a small cascading waterfall with a pool, perfect to jump in and refresh.
Hike #2 – Diamond Head: While Wakelele Falls is definitely not a touristic trail, Diamond Head is the opposite. The hikeable volcano crater rim above Honolulu is basically a highway on foot. Hundreds of tourists walk the trail and climb up the stairs at any given time. While definitely no place for your romantic getaway, the views from the top are still stunning.
Hike #3 – Ka’ena Point: We took our time to drive along Oahu’s westcoast and enjoy some of the beaches there during the day. We stopped in Makaha and also on Yokohama Beach right before the trailhead (see next post). In the evening, we finally made our way to Ka’ena point, the most northern and most western tip of the island. We timed it so that we would be able to enjoy the sunset at the end. See for yourself how that worked out.
All that travelling and driving around in a motorhome is quite exhausting and made us really tired. I’m just kidding, it was awesome! But still, we were looking forward to stick around the same place for some time. The first two nights we spent in Waikiki, a generous wedding gift of our fellow travelers Marco and Olesya. As we were still travelling together, the four of us rented a small flat up on Northshore, O’ahu for one month.
We had everything we needed; a lovely beach just a few meters from the house, the very laid back surfer town Haleiwa a seven minutes drive away, waves to surf and a very nice Brazilian neighbour who lent us some candles during a two hour blackout.
My days generally looked like this: getting up at 6.30am, putting on boardshorts, grab something to eat and off to some surf.
About three hours later I would come back home finding wife and friends getting up and preparing breakfast. The rest of the day we usually spent exploring the island or hanging out on different beaches. Sounds relaxed? You bet’cha!
Let me show you some of the island’s highlights. In order not to risk losing your attention along the way (as if that didn’t happen yet…), I am going to split those into several posts, each dedicated to a different topic or activity.
If you have never been to Hawai’i before, visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center in La’ie including a Luau (Hawaiian buffet dinner with a traditionally earth-oven cooked pig and a Hula show) is a must. The park features villages for each of the polynesian islands with presentations and activities to learn more about the different cultures.
On O’ahu there is no way around Honolulu. The biggest city on Hawai’i has to offer more than just Waikiki Beach. Downtown is full with shopping opportunities ranging from Ross to Gucci and eateries and bars in the same variety. If you are interested in a decent breakfast buffet in Waikiki right at the beach for a moderate price, we recommend Duke’s ($ 17).
Around 20-30 minutes of dense traffic on an idyllic-island-imagination shattering six lane (!) highway takes you to the historical site of Pearl Harbor with its museums and memorials (incl. the sunken USS Arizona) of the Japanese attack that led to the US involvement in WWII. Definitely worth a visit, even if you don’t take all the submarine, battleship and what have y0u tours.
Another place which we visited was the Dole pineapple plantation. Besides a little train tour that takes you around part of the actual pinaleapple fields, the plantation attracts visitors with a large shop where you can buy pineapple in every imaginable form (ice cream, jewelry, cotton candy, normal candy, plush toys, mobile covers etc.), a maze and a guided plantation tour. We did the narrated train ride, which was not worth the ticket price, and largely resisted all the other commercial temptations except the ice cream. If pineapple is your favourite fruit in the world or you just have time to kill, why not, otherwise don’t bother.
For some stories on hiking trails please check out post #12 and #13 if you want to see some pictures of a few of the beaches we explored on the island.
As you know from the last post, we have explored some places along the Alaskan coastline. Now it was time to get out into the wilderness. But let’s start from the beginning. So we picked up our RV in Anchorage at Great Alaskan Holidays. Our vehicle was a 2016, 33 feet (10 meter) long Winnebago Minnie Winnie and it looked like this:
The size of that monster demands a bit of time to get accustomed to but after a few kilometers things start go get easier. Operating all the features the RV has to offer, such as the waste water system, the slide out to enlarge the interior etc, is mostly straightforward and with a little help of the user manual we were able to handle it. Our first stop was at Walmart where we shopped for groceries for the next days. After that, we headed to Talkeetna where we met Jake, our friend from blog post #9 for dinner.
He suggested the Denali Brewpub, a place with local beer and good pub food. After a fun evening we parked our RV at a rest area on the side of the road and enjoyed the first night in our new home. Except within the bigger cities, Alaska is very laidback when it comes to overnight camping. You can basically stop wherever you want and as long as you don’t need an electricity and/or freshwater hookup there is no need to spend the money for a campground or RV park.
The next morning Barbara and I woke up to an unpleasant surprise. Somehow water came into the front cabin above the driverseat and drenched our mattress. Apparently, Great Alaskan Holidays, the company renting our RV, didn’t do a very good job at inspecting the vehicle beforehand. They asked us to go and try to dry the mattress and bring the RV to a garage in Fairbanks. As we could only get an appointment at the garage the next day we made our way to Chena Hotsprings, a natural hot spring around 90 km to the northeast of Fairbanks. On the way there we made a short detour to stop at the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline Viewpoint, where people get to see Alaska’s oil pipeline up close as it runs above ground here. It’s visible in other places as well, but I guess that’s one of the few points where you can get close to it so easily.
The Chena Hot Springs Resort is a nice little place with several hiking trails around, a small airstrip and of course the hot springs. So after a rather short hike and some posing in front of an apparently retired airplane we relaxed in the cozy hot outdoor pool.
The day after we got our RV fixed and continued our road trip. During the day the weather got better but we were still not sure if we could proceed with our plan to drive the 220 km long Denali Highway from Paxson (not a town, just a point on the map) to Cantwell as most of it is gravel road and it has been raining heavily in the last few days. With less than half a tank of gas and some uncertainty regarding the road conditions we decided to do it anyway. It was the right decision. Somewhere on the road we found the tiniest gas station I have ever seen and soon after a beautiful campground at the Tangle Lakes. Here we stayed for the night, celebrated Marco’s birthday and we went fishing with great success (well…).
After breakfast we took on the main part of Denali Highway and we soon realized why it was recommended to have enough time for it. Firstly, the road conditions are not always optimal and secondly, it’s just a gorgeous scenery that demands frequent stops.
We got shaken pretty thouroughly and it took us a long time to get to Cantwell but it was absolutely worth it.
As you might have noticed, our plan to circumvent the bad weather had worked out almost perfectly and now that the sun was back it was time for Denali National Park, the highlight of our Alaska trip. We reserved two nights in Riley Creek Campground which is located right at the entrance of the park and one night in Savage River Campground around 20 km inward. A few facts about the Park and Denali before we look at the pictures: Denali National Park covers a little under 25’000 square kilometers (as a comparison, Switzerland has 16’000 square km) and there is only one road which leads from the park entrance 150 km into the park. This road is only accessible to the shuttle buses provided by the park and park service vehicles. If you ever go there book one of the shuttle buses and not the narrated tours. The shuttle buses take you to the same places and you also stop on several occasions for good views and wildlife but it only costs a fracture of the tour tickets which are mainly intended for cruise ship passengers who have one day to see Denali National Park.
It was an incredible experience. On the first day we went hiking on one of the few marked trails. Due to its size, most of the park is real, untouched wilderness and people are encouraged to “just go out and discover” (obviously always respecting nature and the wildlife).
On the second day we took a shuttle bus to Wonder Lake deep inside the park. There and back would take us around eleven hours, a full day program. As you could see on the pictures above, the day before it was still cloudy and therefore there was no chance to see Denali (former Mt. McKinley, North Americas highest mountain). But we are some really lucky bastards and the weather couldn’t have been much better. Also, wildlife was abundant and active, so we got to see mountain goats, willow ptarmigans (Alaska’s state bird), several grizzly bears, a wolf, moose and caribous.
And then there was Denali itself. Words and pictures can only partly describe the impression that the sight of this majestic mountain leaves behind. And for once, the peak which is usually tightly wrapped in clouds wasn’t shy at all and showed off all his beauty.
After so much luck we made our way back to Anchorage with a good feeling. We spent a night on a campground outside town and the next day went on to check out the city which we had not seen so far. It’s the biggest city of the state but really hasn’t that much to offer besides a few shops and restaurants. Be sure to check out 49th State Brewing Company in Downtown if you get hungry or thirsty for some local beer.
So, that was it. Our RV adventure came to an end and honestly, we were not sad to give it back. It was a nice experience and we definitely had fun on the road but it wasn’t hassle-free. We were looking forward to our six hour flight from Anchorage to Honolulu, Hawaii. Aloha!