Saturday, March 28, 2015

"We're not dead, we're resting!"

I have lost track of how many times I've said this in the last week. I've also lost track of how many times I've said "Yes, we are in Maryland - but no, we are not 'back' and no, we are not 'done'."

Many long-term travelers take an extended break in familiar territory (often known as "their parents' guest room") at some point during their travels. Reasons vary - weddings, funerals, graduations, general road weariness, health issues, unexpected $0 balances in their bank accounts... The length of the extended break also varies traveler to traveler.

Here's our version: In August 2013 we left Patrick's car with an east coast friend, so returning to Maryland at some point was always part of the plan. At some point in the last year my parents decided it was time for them to relocate, so we thought it would be cool if we could return somewhere around their estimated time frame for moving so that we could help out. About four months ago we realized we couldn't afford to travel for much longer without some sort of income, and Spring 2015 was coincidentally my parents' estimated move time frame, so the plan to return to Maryland was officially formed.


We're pausing for a few weeks to help my parents with packing and minor house repairs. We've temporarily unpacked our meager bags and boxes and I'm enjoying one last stay in my childhood house and neighborhood, both of which I will probably never see again. We also plan to visit new places while we're here to keep our adventurous momentum going.

That's all well and good. It really is.

because I get to see stuff like this

and this

and this

And that's been kind of fun. It's also been fun to use our purging experience to help my parents. (Looking to downsize? HIRE US!) And I'm happy to be able to see old friends and housesit for a week at my BFF's place.


In all honesty, THIS is the culture shock we were mentally preparing for, and I've probably said the statements above more to myself over the last week than to anyone else. I've done this Maryland trip so often over the last 15 years that it's almost like I'm just taking two weeks off my corporate cube job to help my parents get some boxes together in between rushing around to see old friends, not returning from a two year adventure. I keep feeling the dread that the vacation will be over soon, that "Monday" will be here before I know it.

Patrick and I felt this way when we were leaving Hawaii too, probably because we were both headed to familiar places (me to my parents' home and him to Oregon to take care of some things before joining me in Maryland). Just over two weeks ago we sat on the beach, ate our last papaya, and tried to fight those post-vacation blues. It was weird, it was frustrating, it was annoying - because WE ARE NOT DONE.


Sometime in early May, we're hitting the road again - this time for a national parks road trip across the south/southwest.

And sometime in late June we'll be back in Portland to housesit for two months.

And then...? No idea.

We feel very lucky because our version of "hitting pause" was pretty much under our control. We'll get going again and we'll figure out our next step along the way... or we'll just keep going. Either way, the adventure continues. Because what was true in Sasquatch Provincial Park, Kent, British Columbia, Canada almost two years ago is still true today:

May 2013 -> infinity

Monday, March 23, 2015

The universal language of "stop" - yeah, it's a thing.

Back in the summer of 2013 we drove into the province of Quebec for our Nubian goat WWOOF gig and saw our first "ARRÊT" sign.

(au nom de l'amour)

"Arrêt" and "pamplemousse" are two of the few words I remembered from five years of French lessons more than 20 years ago. I knew that "arrêt" meant stop, and I knew that the official language of Quebec is French, so this sign seemed perfectly normal to me. (Honestly, I was much more amused by the Loblaw signs everywhere. I did admire Quebec's creative method of indicating a four-way "ARRÊT" though.)

We spent two weeks in Wakefield, Quebec, where one street featured the sign below... I smiled every time we drove past it.

Wakefield is the new Portland

It might sound silly but at the time, I didn't realize that stop signs were universal (at least in our journey's universe) - the shape and color were the same in every country we visited. Most traffic signs were easily recognizable too.

Now, I know that it's due to the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals and has been enforced since 1978, along with many other universal traffic signs and laws.

But I didn't know about this agreement while we were traveling. So I naïvely marveled at the common shape and color everywhere we went. From this miraculous revelation (!), I went on to notice that many countries we visited displayed the word "STOP" on their stop signs, no matter what their native language.

(I should note that many countries we visited didn't actually employ the use of stop signs, especially in rural or underdeveloped places where we were simply left to our own devices to get across the street or drive into zipping traffic. But in developed areas of Central Europe, Western Europe and Vietnam, even when the majority of the population did not speak English, the stop signs all said "STOP.")

So then, of course, I started noticing when "STOP" wasn't "STOP." Turns out there are quite a few exceptions, but here are just a few that we saw in our international travels...





Cambodia (the only bilingual stop sign we saw -
also, possibly the only stop sign we saw in all of Cambodia)

Even the Aussies change up the stop sign now and then. Here's a reminder on the Perth train to reserve the seats near the doors for families:

this sign kinda freaked Patrick out

Universal stop signs and other traffic indicators certainly make driving internationally a lot safer and easier.

They also make this big giant world feel a lot smaller.

And I mean that in a good way...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Three months in Hawaii on $27/person/day.

One housesitting gig and two HelpX farmstays later, we managed to spend 86 days in Hawaii without totally breaking the bank. We still spent a lot of money, but not as much as we would have visiting New Zealand and getting back to the mainland - and that was the whole point.

Well, almost the whole point. The other point was to have fun! This was our last "overseas" stay before hitting the mainland, after all. So perhaps we indulged a bit. Whatever. We're okay with that.

Here's the lowdown...

Initial budget: as little as humanly possible
Actual cost: 86 days at $4637 ($54/day, $27/person/day)

  • Lodging: $334 - one night in Hilo and three AirB&B nights in the southernmost US city, otherwise we spent 70 nights on farms and 12 nights housesitting
  • Transportation: $2066 - includes our flights from Melbourne to Honolulu and Honolulu to Kona, plus 7 days of car rentals on the Big Island
  • Groceries: $826 - groceries in Hawaii are EXPENSIVE! one third of this accounted for food costs not provided at our second farmstay and we bought all food for the initial housesitting gig
  • Meals: $249 - one unfortunate meal at Zippy's, one awesome meal at Tanioka's, two delicious meals at Puka Puka Kitchen, and various snacks from food carts and farmer stands on the Big Island (meals on the islands are also EXPENSIVE!)
  • Tours: $458 - Big Island manta ray night dive (EXPENSIVE but soooooo worth it!), annual national parks pass, plus a few dollars here and there for other tourist attractions
  • Alcohol: $506 - because there's nothing like a cold beer after a hard day at the farm... especially when all you want to do is cry your eyes out because your 2-year around-the-world trip is coming to what appears to be an end

for the record, this beer is delicious
(and hoppy!)

and this beer is alright too

and a few of these were pretty good

and we were thrilled to have these options again

but we couldn't even bring ourselves to purchase this one
  • Gear: $10 - running shorts for Jen because Hawaii is hot
  • Miscellaneous: $189 - gifts for various hosts, renewing our HelpX membership, an ill-advised NYE viewing of The Hobbit Part Three, a GroupOn wine tasting on Oahu, mailing unneeded items home, various other bits and pieces

Other fun Hawaii facts...
  • Islands visited: 2 (Oahu, the Big Island)
  • Sea turtles viewed while snorkeling: 1
  • Gallons of Kona coffee consumed: too many
  • Pounds of fresh papaya, palmelo, lemon, avocado, bananas, and organic veggies and herbs consumed: one hundred billion
  • National parks/historic sites visited: 1 (Volcanoes National Park) but with only 2 national parks on the islands, we can claim 50% on this one
  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited: 1 (Volcanoes National Park)
  • Level of sadness that our international travel has ended, on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being saddest: 593

I would bet that most people probably spend $4600 per person on a single week in Hawaii, so I would definitely call this a success.

And now the mainland... with whatever that brings. We're trying to get excited about it. Really, we are...

but does the mainland have this?

or this?

or how about this?

We don't think so...

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Our Big Island "vacation" - part three (Volcanoes National Park).

Hopefully you've already read and enjoyed part one and part two of our Big Island "vacation." Now we're going to give some proper attention to Volcanoes National Park, where we spent two days during part two.

In four words: we LOVED this park. In a lot more words: we hope we can properly convey our love through a handful of pictures and just a bit of blah blah blah, and if you aren't ready to hop on a plane to Kona after reading this, we will send you $5... (Just kidding, we won't really send you $5 but we'll be very, very sad. And you don't want that, do you?)

Anyway. Volcanoes National Park is small but extensive - and like everything on the Big Island, driving distances and hikes take longer than you might expect. Here's a play-by-play of how we maximized our two days.

Day One, 8:00am: we purchased a National Parks annual pass in prep for our southern road trip this spring/summer.

(note to selves: don't lose this)

Quick aside - hey, America! Did you know that just $80 gets your car and up to four people in your car into any National Park for an entire year? Thanks for nothing, expensive Canadian National Parks pass! (Just kidding, you know we loved you too.)

Day One, 8:15am: we stopped by the visitor center to get recommendations on hikes for the day but realized they don't open until 9:00am, so we headed to the Volcano House (a really posh hotel overlooking the crater) to check out the views.

and what views they were

Hawaii's islands were formed from volcanoes over the last 70 million years and the lava is still flowing today. They've recently discovered that a new island is forming under the ocean. Crazy!

Pictured above is Kilauea Volcano and the Halema'uma'u Crater, where daily activity includes fluctuating lava levels and occasional small explosive events. This is what causes the "vog" (volcanic smog) that makes those beautiful hazy sunsets - and causes respiratory issues.

We stood there for a while and took it all in, leaving only when we couldn't stand the background noise from a kid's Frogger game anymore.  (Guess active volcanoes aren't that exciting to some 7-year-olds?)

Day One, 9:00am: we barraged the ranger as soon as the visitor center opened and got our marching orders for the day. First stop was the Mauna Ulu parking lot so that we could hike the Napau Trail to Makaopuhi Crater. This 10-mile return hike along 1973 and 1974 lava flows gave us awesome perspective on the vastness of the park. We passed steam vents, walked over lumpy terrain, and admired a variety of foliage trying to make a comeback.

sitting in a lava lake

ohi'a lehua

slow regrowth

abundant succulents

standing in a former lava flow

admiring Makaopuhi Crater

mind the gap

It was a really nice hike, flat most of the way, and we only saw four people the entire time.  Ranger recommendation for the win!

Day One, 1:45pm: on the way back, we walked through a rainforest to climb the short trail to Pu'u Huluhulu, a 400-year-old cinder cone. The views were not that great that day but on a clear day you can see Kilauea, Mauna Ulu, Pu'u O'o, the Pacific Ocean, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.

we saw fiddleheads

Day One, 2:15pm: we stopped by the fissure right near the Mauna Ulu trailhead.

green where lava once spurted

look for Patrick for perspective

Day One, 3:00pm: we took the 20-minute drive down to the southernmost point of the park. (I'd seen the petroglyphs when I was here in January so we skipped that and headed straight to the arch, but I do recommend that short walk if you have time.)

Holei Sea Arch

The sea arch was impressive... if you've never seen a sea arch before. We've had our fill over the last few years so we didn't stay long.

the sea-carved caves by the arch lookout were cool though

Day One, 4:30pm: we stopped at a few more viewpoints on the way up, then hiked the quick 1-mile-return Devastation Trail to see Pu'u Pua'i (formed in 1959 by the highest recorded lava foundation eruption in Kilauea's history) and called it a day.

the hill in the background = Pu'u Pua'i

Day Two, 8:00am: we headed straight for the Kilauea Iki trailhead and descended through lush rainforest into the Kilauea Iki lava lake, formed in 1959. (This is one of the most popular trails in the park but we got there early enough that we only started to see crowds as we were nearing the end.)


still steaming after all these years

lumpy lava

I said mind the gap!
opposite end view

Day Two, 9:45am: we took a stroll along the Byron Ledge Trail and admired the ginormous fiddleheads. (The pulu - also known as "golden wool" - keeps the plants from drying out; soft pulu can also be used as a dressing for wounds.)

but can you eat them?

Then we returned to the trailhead parking lot via Crater Rim Trail and stopped a hundred billion times for photo ops of Kilauea Caldera and Kilauea Iki Crater.

Kilauea Caldera from Crater Rim Trail

Kilauea Iki Crater from the Crater Rim Trail

Day Two, 11:00am: we walked through the Thurston Lava Tube. (It's pretty dark so our pictures didn't turn out, and this is one spot everyone definitely visits, but you kinda have to do it.)

Day Two, 11:45am: we stopped back by the visitor center for a picnic lunch, then went inside to watch the two free 20-minute movies. One was a little cheesy but it gave some insight into some of the native beliefs about island gods/goddesses and respect for the land. The other gave an update on the Pu'u O'o lava flow, currently inching its way toward Pahao.

Day Two, 1:00pm: we took a break from the hoardes of tour buses and schoolchildren by visiting Kipukapuaulu across the highway. This "hot spot of biological diversity" has more native tree species per acre than any other forest in the park. It also supposedly has tons of birds and butterflies, but the day was pretty cold and overcast so we didn't see much wildlife at all. (We also drove up to the Mauna Loa lookout but there was absolutely no view... bet it's great on a clear day though!)

Kipukapuaulu awesome tree #1
(for #2 and #3 go here and here)

"tree molds" near Kipukapuaulu
(where lava flowed past trees and the tree burned out)

Day Two, 4:00pm: we headed back into the park and stopped by the "steaming bluffs" on the way to Jagger Museum.

it's like a sauna in here

After checking out the museum we ate a picnic dinner, then claimed our spot for the big show...

take a really good camera and a tripod

So glad we stuck around to watch the evening glow. We hung out next to some 7-year-olds who were thankfully not playing Frogger, and I was pretty amused to listen to their amazed questions and comments about the park and the lava glow.

So there you have it, two jam-packed days and no regrets. Are you ready to hop on that plane yet?


Really looking forward to our road trip to see if any of the mainland parks come close to topping this one...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Our Big Island "vacation" - part two.

Hopefully you've already read and enjoyed part one of our Big Island "vacation," where our photos told the story of our first 28 hours in beautiful brand-new territory.

Part two includes a few things we did during our farmstays and how we spent our last few days on the Big Island. As with part one, many of you have done these things too, so descriptions are minimal and links are provided for anyone who wants more information on any of the places or activities.

First up, what we were able to do on our farmstay days off...

Manuka State Park nature trail

Kahuku (a new part of Volcanoes National Park)

snorkeling at Two Step

Captain Cook monument
(where he "discovered" Hawaii and "fell" to his death... riiiiight)

snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay
(where we did see a turtle and a few octopus, as well as tons of fish)

dolphins near the manta ray night dive
(where we saw 10 manta rays!)

And then... freedom!  For four whole days!  Two of those days were spent at Volcanoes National Park, which deserves its own post.  The other two were spent ignoring the "slowly" thing again...

pueo (found only in Hawaii) 
at Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens (the only rainforest zoo in the US)

our second chicken katsu and ahi don at Puka Puka Kitchen
(told you we ate it twice!)

Mauna Loa from Mauna Kea lookout

last papaya, last beach view

not a bad sendoff

I didn't get to jump off the tip of South Point (Patrick had already jumped back in January) - the weather was not in our favor for that. We'll just call that our reason to go back someday! Otherwise I'd say we crammed in quite a bit before, during, and after our farm work.

I have to be honest - I wasn't thrilled about spending 3 months in Hawaii (I know it's probably your dream come true, but I'm soooooo not an island girl). I just thought it would be better than spending a snowmageddon-riddled winter in Maryland. I ended up appreciating the landscapes, underwater scenes and sunsets more than I would've expected, and I'd definitely recommend the Big Island as a destination for anyone who loves natural beauty. After 10 weeks I also really started to understand the local attitude - and at this point, I can't say I blame them.

Next up: Volcanoes National Park, a place that everyone should put on their bucket list...