It’s all about the emphasis

Isn’t it odd how, when for all your reasoning life, you’ve heard a word pronounced in one way, and then you hear it, from a native-speaker, pronounced another? And it sounds better? Since I first visited the Canary Islands back in the mid-1980s, they’ve been the Canary Islands – CaNARY. And yet today, all day, I’ve been hearing CANary.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria harbour

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria harbour

I’m on Gran Canaria for a few days because a man in the know suggested that it would be good for me to be here at 8.39pm on 2 February. We will see. [It’s a little like a stop-over to something great – just like when the sailors of old would stop here before crossing the Atlantic, a tradition first started over 500 years ago when Christopher Columbus himself inaugurated it.] I say that lest you think it was my holiday destination of choice. It wasn’t and would never feature on my list of top 20 places to go.

Playa de las Canteras

Playa de las Canteras

My first ever sun holiday to Playa del Ingés (another town on the island of Gran Canaria) lasted two weeks; the novelty of being away from home  and in the sun wore off on Day 6 when boredom set in. It was my last sun holiday, too. It’s not the sun I object to (although I’m not a huge fan); it’s the packaging. The whole package tour thing. This time, like last time, the same chap has appeared in my vicinty for dinner two nights in a row. Last time can be explained. This time, it’s a little irritating. If I see him again tomorrow night, I’ll really begin to wonder. But it’s an island so this might be expected – but so odd that we’re on the same culinary cycle, don’t you think?

Sardines by the sea

Sardines by the sea

I’m staying in Las Palmas, in the north-east corner of the island and it’s buzzing. Or it was, last night, when Las Palmas played Roma. Tapas is the food of choice and obviously they know what they’re doing. I need to stop trying to order in Hungarian though as it’s confusing the locals. Should the man in the know not be so knowing after all, at least the food is worth the trip!

View from the dinner table

View from the dinner table

For all its nasty packaging, it’s a great place for self-affirmation. To see women with cellulitic thighs braving the streets in shorter-than-short shorts has me thinking ‘Way to go, sister’. But I draw the line at middle-aged men in thong speedos. That’s the stuff nightmares are made of. At least, tomorrow, when I hit the beach, I’ll be lost amidst the hundreds of others soaking up the 25 degree sun. It promises to be an experience in personal space.

2013 Grateful 49

Eons ago, in another life, the lovely MC et moi would go on a regular ‘posh night out’ in London. This usually consisted of frocking up, and booking a table at one of London’s fine dining establishments having first explored a suitable cocktail venue. I have fond recollections of cosmos at the Ritz, and roast lamb at Simpsons. Having found in VP a kindred posh-frock, white-tablecloth, silver-service spirit, this tradition has been revived, in Budapest, for 2013. And this weekend marked our first venture forth.

When we turfed up at Baraka, the restaurant at MaMaison on Andrássy, we were a little surprised to find we had the place to ourselves, but immediately reckoned that this would have a knock-on effect of attentive service and deep and meaningfuls with the sommelier and the waiter. Initially tempted by the degustation – a five-course tasting from the menu, with wine – actually having our minds made up for us, while tempting, wasn’t quite what either of us wanted.

When asked, the waiter assured us that he knew how to make a cosmopolitan and indeed could make a good, if not a great cosmo. When you think of the specific ingredients that make up this nectar of the gods – vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice, and lime – you have to wonder how it is possible to screw it up. Ever since those heady days in London in 2002/2003, I’ve been in search of the perfect cosmo and the highest I’ve rated any in Budapest is 8. Suffice to say that it was topped this night. And, the secret – according to our amateur mixologist – is to go a little light on the cranberry.

We discussed the wine. Or rather VP showed her extensive knowledge of all things grape-related while I dealt in the more perfunctory ‘white, dry, no berries’. Wine is definitely not my forte. Gyergy knew this stuff, though, and pretty soon had shown he had that rare ability in a man to anticipate just what it is I want when I don’t even know myself –  a glass of Szászi Endre Szent György-hegyi Muscat Ottonel 2012 (now on my list of favourite Hungarian wines). VP opted for a Landlord Chardonnay from Légli pince – a little too oakey for me. (Am impressing myself!)

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I started with Langoustine roasted with piment d’espelette, beef cheek, confit croquette, cauliflower, red pepper coulis, and arugula pesto. And, admittedly, after I got over the fear of having to leave a restaurant hungry, I did something I don’t often do – I ate slowly and savoured every morsel. VP enjoyed a gingered pumpkin soup with duck confit-canelli bean tartlette, with mango balsamic espuma.

Then the wine change. The part I dread. I know there’s nothing to say that I can’t keep drinking the same stuff throughout a meal, but those in the know say a wine should complement your meal. What to do? I simply don’t like red wine yet I’d ordered meat. After some more discussion, our man hit on a Dörgicsei Rozé Cuvée from Pántlika Pincészet. In my limited experience with sommeliers, I have found the vast majority to be a tad condescending, particularly, as is usually the case with me, it’s patently obviously that I’m clueless. Yet with VP holding her own in the bouquet stakes, I was actually getting an education. And knowing what she liked, her choice of a 2009 Merlot from Takler Pince in Szekszárd was a choice born from experience.

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For my main, I ordered mangalica: walnut crusted loin, braised cheek, glazed belly with wasabi potato, celery and pearl barley. Beautifully presented, my immediate thought was ‘this wouldn’t feed a pidgeon’. Again, I ate slowly, savouring each bite, enjoying my wine and the conversation  – which was by now becoming quite philosophical. VP was daintily devouring her date-crusted venison loin, red cabbage purée, onion confit, gratin potato french fries, Brussel spouts and cocoa sauce. A couple of more tables had filled up but this didn’t in any way diminish the discreet attentiveness of our waiters.

At this stage, I was surprised to find myself almost pleasantly full. Yet having seen the portions and recalibrated my perspective, I was confident I could fit in dessert.

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My New York cheesecake with cranberry, almond and caramel, was a perfect accompaniment to a glass of Vissy László Tokaji  Peres Furmint. We were the first to arrive and the last to leave and easily the most interesting guests that evening. So at Gyergy’s suggestion we tried a chocolate-flavoured digestif – and it was our undoing. Too thin, I thought. And I wisely left mine alone. Ye gods – could it be that I am finally growing up?

I’ve been to breakfast meetings in the States where the food was piled six inches high on the plate. I’ve been to Hungarian restaurants where you wonder if there’s a plate there at all. And I’ve had this type of haute cuisine where you can count the slivers of carrots on one hand (one other Hungarian experience still haunts me). Baraka has it all though – great food, excellent service, nice atmosphere, good-humoured staff, and portions that while they  may cause some initial concern, actually do what they are designed to do – satisfy.

You could do a lot worse in Budapest if you’re looking for somewhere to entertain a client or celebrate a special occasion.  If you’re watching your forints, it’s worth saving for….you certainly get value for your money.

This week, I’m grateful that I’ve finally learned to eat slowly, to really savour my food, and to put my portions in perspective. And I’m grateful for the revival of an old but not forgotten tradition. Thanks VP.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Woman-power on the up and up

There’s something about a new year unfolding that brings out wants and wishes in people, be they a new job, a new partner, or a new life – or perhaps a better job, a better partner, or a better life – or simply a job, a partner, or a life.

I’ve had a number of conversations recently with de wimmen – a phrase I use to collectively refer to my female friends, those whose honesty, advice, and pragmatism I value; those whose humour, wisdom, and experience I cherish; and those who I know would stump up bail money or at least keep vigil outside the jail were I ever to be incarcerated simply for being me.

Variations on a theme

These conversations have varied on a theme. We might have discussed how little men understand the workings of a woman’s mind. We might have spoken about how easy we (the gracious gender) are to please… really. We might have wondered collectively why so many of us are still single, while every man we know who can put on his socks unsupervised is happily hooked up. Or … we might just have swapped recipes, considered Hilary Clinton’s strategy for her presidential campaign, or debated the truth of Coco Chanel’s claim that ‘the most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.’

We might have philosophised about the joys of being part of a sisterhood that is at times self-deprecating, frequently hilarious, and rarely at a loss for words. We might have congratulated ourselves on being sassy, solvent, and self-sufficient. We might even have dissected the relationships of those in our kingdom who have been discovered by (or indeed have discovered) men who deserve them and wondered where the other worthies are hiding. Or… we might just have bemoaned the glass ceiling, decried the gender imbalance in the EU parliament, or debated the truth and relativity of Marjorie Kinnan’s reflection that ‘a woman has got to love a bad man once or twice in her life, to be thankful for a good one.’

Woman on the move

In this, the 14th baktun, I am meeting more and more intelligent, attractive women who can hold their own. I’m seeing more and more public and private initiatives thought up by and realised by women. I’m seeing more and more woman-power in action and I’m waiting with bated breath to see the fall-out. As Maya Angelou so beautifully put it: ‘I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.’

vector-of-a-cartoon-courting-man-holding-flowers-and-a-gift-outlined-coloring-page-by-ron-leishman-19166Gone are the days when women sat in drawing-rooms, flirting with fans, making polite shallow conversation in an effort to disguise a cleverness that might just be a tad off-putting to the less discerning male. And while I personally might long for a return to more traditional roles between the sexes (as long as I get to walk on the inside of the street, have the door opened for me, and my chair pulled out by someone who will also value my opinion) and want to see courtship and the art of wooing enjoy a massive revival, I have to admit that progress and the transit of the centuries have shifted the balance of power. But interestingly, not in the direction that one might imagine.

When I think of the strong-minded, capable, intelligent women I know, when I add up what we have to offer to partners, to businesses, to the community, as mothers, managers, and motivators, I question the fear that seems to be holding some of us back.

I came across the first verse of this poem by Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?

And on reflection, I have come to realise the answer to that often-asked series question ‘should I tone done my natural enthusiasm, be less forward in offering my opinion, be a little more of what it seems I’m expected to be’ – the answer is simple. No.

Forewarned, forearmed

Men of the world, beware. 2013 is taking shape and the rules have changed. Over the course of the coming months, if you find yourself being asked your opinion on anything from duck down or goose feather, to paperback or kindle, from the Chinese mission to Mars to the survival instincts of the penguin, answer at your peril.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of comments about your appearance (e.g. it would be a lovely shirt, were it ironed); if your witty remarks are eliciting more (or less) than the usual level of (non)appreciative laughter; if your advice is being given due consideration instead of the usual flippant dismissal, be cautioned that your reactions may be being noted. This year, methinks, that women will stand up and be counted, be the choosers rather than the chosen, and have a thing or three to say about the state of the nation.

First published in the Budapest Times 25 January 2013

This beach was made for walkin’…

‘So how many beaches do you think there are on Hawaii’, I asked. After a few seconds of mental arithmetic, she said ‘I can count 25 off the top of my head, not including the secret places that only Hawaiians go to.’ Foreigners on the islands are known as haoles (howlies) and interestingly, the word itself is older than the arrival of Captain Cook, who is usually trotted out as the first westerner the Hawaiians met. It was first associated with non-Hawaiians around 1820 and gradually became quite contemptuous in nature. And today, haoles  simply don’t know of, or don’t get to go to, certain beaches.

IMG_1986 (800x589)Ho`okena Beach Park is the historical site of one of the last fishing villages on the island of Hawaii (and is one of the top ten beaches in all the islands). A blend of fine gray coral and white sand make it particularly pretty and it has to be the hottest sand I’ve set foot on this year. It’s quite popular with the locals and we haoles were definitely outnumbered. From my vantage point, all I can say is that Hawaiians certainly know how to enjoy themselves. The biggest birthday party you’ll have is your first (even though you’re really not ‘getting it’). It’s as big a deal as, say, a 21st is in Ireland, when all the stops are pulled out. Everything from candyfloss machines to roasted pigs.

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I can’t for a minute imagine how these kids could survive living, in say, New York, or Tokyo. Living without sand, sea, and the ocean is difficult at the best of times, but if you’re brought up on the water, by the beach, in the sunshine, how could you weather anything else? And yes, by all accounts, many can’t wait to get off the island. Island fever or a question of the grass always being greener somewhere else? My mother is fond of saying that happiness is knowing how to be content with what you have… I wish I’d started listening to her years ago.

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When the first steamships arrived to the islands in 1836, the fishing village of Ho`okena became a busy trade centre.  This commercial success would last until the mid-1930s when steamships went out of fashion, replaced by trucks and lorries.  In recent years, the local community has taken things back into their own hands and now Friends of Ho’okena Beach Park (FOHBP), a non-profit organisation, is focused on the preservation of cultural and natural resources and culturally sensitive economic development in Ho’okena.

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The only nod to modernisation that I could see were the kindles that have replaced the more traditional paper novels as beach reads. The rest was good, clean, old-fashioned fun, with a surfboard or two thrown in for good measure. It was as if all troubles had been parked in the car park and once you set your feet down on the hot sand and tiptoed to your spot, all that mattered was you, your friends, your family, and the fun you’d all have.

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And no, that’s not me in the kayak (if that even is a kayak). I spent my time chatting to whoever popped up next to me in the water. A young girl from LA who explained the difference between surf boards and fat boards. A woman from Santa Cruz whose husband didn’t understand her hot flashes. Another from Lake Tahoe whose husband wouldn’t come out of his hotel room. A man from India, now retired in Alaska and travelling the world. When he next visits Budapest, he’s promised to take me to dinner. Well, stranger things have happened!

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Five-star dentistry

IMG_1196 (600x800)‘Sweet mother of Divine Jesus! It’s going to cost how much?

Never backward about coming forward when it comes to saying it as it is, I was lucky I was sitting down when I saw the estimate for the work I need done on my teeth. Yet it’s not like it was really a surprise. I’ve been expecting some dentist or other to give me the bad news for a few years now, but none seemed brave enough to venture anywhere closer than ‘you’ll need those looked at … at some stage’.

Back in 1994, hospitalised with a metal allergy, I had all my amalgam fillings replaced with porcelain. I was told then that I might (might!) get 10 years out of them before they needed to be replaced again. Do the math. It’s now 2013. Since I’ve moved to Budapest, I’ve been dentist-hopping, going on recommendations, looking for that elusive pain-free experience. I’ve even fallen for one of them (a gorgeous man with a lovely smile – maybe I should have asked who his dentist was!); been to another’s clinic/apartment where he showed me all sorts of gold fillings, advising that I invest in my mouth instead of the stock market; and woke up with a mouthful of unnecessary work in a third.

I’m one of the most reasonable women you’ll ever meet. I don’t ask for much.

  1. I don’t want to be kept waiting. If I have a 9.30 appointment, I want to be in that chair by 9.33 latest (I’ve adapted SAY’s seven-minute rule to three minutes). I have no desire to sit in a waiting room waiting for my name to be called as my morning dwindles away to lunchtime and into early afternoon.
  2. I want undivided attention. The dentist is one occasion when it is all about me. I don’t want my dentist running back and forth between patients, working up a sweat, taking an all-too-obvious brief moment to acquaint himself with the job in hand each time he pops back into my mouth. I want him there all the time: focused, calm and reassuring… with his powder dry.
  3. I want to know what’s being done and why. And I want it in simple English. Don’t show me an x-ray – I’m not trained to read them. Take a colour photograph that even I can understand.
  4. I want to know, up front, what this is all going to cost. None of this ‘at least… ‘ or ‘in the region of … ‘ I want an itemised inventory of everything from the fluoride treatment to the cost of the porcelain itself and any possible extras. Give me the worst-case scenario and let me get the heart attack over with before you drug me.
  5. I want some empathy. I HATE going to the dentist and while, yes, I’m supposedly an adult and mature enough to take the pain and the stress and the whatever that comes with having a drill bit rotating at a 1000 rpm just inches from my nostrils, I want someone to feel my angst, to understand my concerns, and to be at one with the terrified child within.
  6. And most of all, I don’t want to feel one teeny, tiny twinge. I don’t even want to feel the needle that injects the anaesthetic. No pain. I can do the mild discomfort that comes with opening wide and tilting back so that all the blood rushes to my head, but no pain. None. I want pain-free dentistry.

Now, is that really too much to ask? Well, you’d think I was asking to be Queen of England or to fit into Sarah Jessica Parker’s cast-offs. How far does one have to travel in a city that has more dentists per capita that any other city in the world? [Don’t quote me on that – I made it up – it just seems like it could be true!]

Well, now that I’ve found my dream dentist, I can either get a metro and a bus, or a tram, or a tram and a bus.  And yes, I do have to cross the river. But that’s a small price to pay, considering.

  1. Open from 7am til 1pm, they take 4 or 5 patients a day so no waiting (and I got a locker for my stuff with my own key!).
  2. Only one patient is treated at any given time so I got undivided attention.
  3. The colour photos were gross – but they did  the job – and the talk though each procedure was clear and concise.
  4. The bill was itemised to the nth degree (option to pay in euro or forint).
  5. My child within survived.
  6. No pain… not even the tiniest little bit. Nothing!

Dr Mohos Dental, District XII.  Szendi utca. No. 16. +36 30 430 8552

Hungarian, German, English, and Irish spoken 🙂

My new house

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to where I’d move, if I had to move. The political situation in Hungary is getting a triffle sticky and the next election in 2014 will tell all. The results will most likely make up my mind for me. In the meantime, like any good scout, I’m getting prepared. If I were to change my address, this one wouldn’t be a bad one to have:

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IMG_1806 (599x800)While in Hawaii, I kept an eye out for places I might consider. I was looking for a bargain. This site apparently dropped from 1.5 million and what the fine print reportedly says is that most of the 71 acres are burial sites and the one lot that you can build on is at the very top, near the road, far from the water. But seeting as my bank account would haven’t that much in it, in forints, burial sites or not, that oceanfront property ain’t for me. The 180-acre lot wouldn’t do either as IMG_1805 (599x800)contrary to what the sign implies, you can’t own a beach in Hawaii. Undaunted, I continued looking, even though I could never live in Hawaii year-round. I’m a cold-weather girl and too much sun would do my head in, literally. Not having a winter wardrobe would drive me mad. I like the cold. I embrace it. And it’s all based on the premise that there’s a limit to what you can take off, but no limit at all to what you can put on.

But to come on holiday for a couple of months every year… that’s not beyond the bounds of reason. Not out the question at all.

IMG_1941 (800x595)I quite liked this one – it sits right on the edge of the beach and if I could get used to having a global beach population traipsing across my line of sight, then perhaps I could consider it. But I think it might play to the latent voyeur in me, the one that’s been held at bay by my not having a television and not being subjected to reality TV. Most of the houses here are built ‘post and pier’ so that the bugs don’t get in and the house has a little more sway.

IMG_1945 (800x600)This one is more in my line – partially hidden from view, I could pretend that the beach populace wasn’t there. But then, who knows what’s hiding in those bushes and trees. Mind you, with my new, refurbished 2013 luck, it could well be a modern man who can hunt and fish and still hold open the door for me all the while listening to my valuable contribution to conversation. Not much to ask for is it?

IMG_1823 (800x600)For views though, this one has them all beat. With a west-facing lanai (balcony), this is where I sat, each evening, and watch the sun go down. I don’t think I could ever get tired of the view. Yes, you have to come down the hill in first gear and while walking down to Ili’ili beach would be fine, getting back up again would give me calves only a cow could love. But the view… the view…

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2013 Grateful 50

IMG_1521 (615x800)Driving around the biggest of the six Hawaiian islands is like reading a book of fascinating and at times, amusing, roadsigns. You’d think they’d be the same all over the world – just in a different language, but the signs on the island of Hawaii give pause for thought. In Alaska, I’ve seen signs to be aware that you might run into a moose; in Ireland, we get the occasional deer or cattle sign, but this humpback whale collision was a first for meIMG_1750 (800x582).

We’ve all seen the signs about  road debris, gravel, and possible falling rocks. But flying rocks? And a sign warning of flying rocks with an actual rock tied to it, in case there are a few disbelievers on the road? How’s that for innovation and creativity and a reason to put up your window.

IMG_1751 (600x800)I’ve seen reserved parking signs but never before come across one quite as specific as this one. When I asked whether it was meant as a joke, no one laughed. Apparently this particular part of the island – Waipi’o valley – is home to the some of the oldest families in Hawaii, many of whom are leaders and elders. Tourists, with their self-appointed righteousnesses have been known to walk straight through a Hawaiian ceremony in search of the waterfall. In showing such little regard for the how the locals live, it’s no wonder that signs such as these are dotted along the roadside. The ‘no spraying’ plea is a request to the state not to spray insecticide.

IMG_1749 (600x800)I’ve heard of rules of engagement, but rules of enjoyment? And what exactly is ‘inappropriate behavior’? Given my own prudish nature, I might be a little less tolerant than most but still, I’m curious. Surely if we have rules for enjoyment, there should also be demarcations for propriety.

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And this stop sign made me laugh out loud. It’s just outside the Parker Ranch over near Waimea. Church signs have long been a source of amusement for many across the States, and I know I’ve used some as examples of unintentional messages that appear by virtue of the absence of puncuation. But this one rings true.

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Down on Punalu’u beach, I spotted this one, written just for me. For the ten or so years I spent in the USA, I could never get the hang of my compass points. Go south on Sepulveda? Go east on 11th?  Give me right or left, straight on or back IMG_1903 (800x600)any day. On that same beach, I had to wonder at the intelligence of people using the facilities. I mean would you? Would you use shampoo so close to the ocean and the turtles? The mind boggles. Mind you, signposts that said to stay 15 feet from the turtles, writing in both English and Japanese, were also ignored. But then, not everyone has a zoom lens.

These signs though are all pretty concrete. Easy to see. Easy to read. Easy to understand. The signs that direct us through life are a little more ephemeral. A little less obvious. And all too often, they are not as easy to understand. We rely heavily on intuition  – what Einstein describes as the only real valuable thing. Ingrid Bergman suggests we  train our intution –  trust the small voice inside you which tells you exactly what to say, what to decide. Easier said than done, though. Alan Alda (remember him? Hawkeye from M*A*S*H?) has it sorted. He reckons that You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.

Not yet fully recovered from jet lag, I’m back in Budapest. The beach has been replaced by snow. The sun has lost its heat. And I’m as tired as I have been in a long, long time. But it’s a good tiredness, a productive tiredness. My (de)fences are low, my brain is less focused on shoulds and shouldn’ts, and my intuition is taking over. This week, I’m grateful to see signs that are pointing towards some fundamental change in how I live my life. I can see them but I’ve no clue what they’re telling me. Let the year unfold and let the path reveal itself. In the meantime, I  need to unpack, do laundry, and get ready for my next venture into the wilderness.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Mark Twain’s monkeypod

Mark Twain visited the Hawaiian islands back in 1866 and took copious notes of what he encountered. He had a particular fondness for trees, as one of his despatches to the Sacramention Union noted:

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There are many species of beautiful trees in Kona – noble forests of them – and we had numberless opportunities of contrasting the orange with them. The verdict rested with the orange. Among the varied and handsome foliage of the Kou, Koa, Kukui, breadfruit, mango, guava, peach, citron, ohia and other fine trees, its dark, rich green cone was sure to arrest the eye and compel constant exclamations of admiration. So dark a green is its foliage, that at a distance of a quarter of a mile the orange tree looks almost black.

IMG_1833 (600x800)It was while he was travelling on the big island of Hawaii, going to see the volcano that he supposedly stopped in Waiohinu and planted a monkeypod tree. The tree blew down in 1957, but a shoot was replanted and is still clearly marked today as Mark Twain’s tree – albeith the second generation.

Writing from Waiohinu, Twain had this to say: Speaking of trees reminds me that a species of large-bodied tree grows along the road below Waiohinu whose crotch is said to contain tanks of fresh water at all times; the natives suck it out through a hollow weed, which always grows near. As no other water exists in that wild neighborhood, within a space of some miles in circumference, it is considered to be a special invention of Providence for the behoof of the natives. I would rather accept the story than the deduction, because the latter is so manifestly but hastily conceived and erroneous. If the happiness of the natives had been the object, the tanks would have been filled with whisky.

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IMG_2057 (800x598)Probably one of the most amazing things about travelling this island is the abundance of fruit. You can literally help yourself to oranges, lemons, mangos, breadfruit, guava, and avocados that are bigger than your foot. The rule is, is that if there is no sign saying not to, then you can pick what you like from the side of the road. When I think of what I pay for an avo in Budapest, I cringe. I’ve eaten so many now, that at night, I take on a peculiar Hulkish glow. The roads are lined with fruit stands, many of which are set up on an honour system – you leave the money in a box or  bag and miracles of miracles, no one runs away with it. This level of honesty takes getting used to  and the ample supply of free fruit puts subsistence living at a whole new level.

My only faux pas so far was mixing up my cherries!

Spewing forth

Volcanoes are monuments to Earth’s origin, evidence that its primordial forces are still at work. So read the opening lines of the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park website. And, if you know your volcanoes, you’d know that unlike the explosive continental volcanoes,  the more fluid and less gaseous eruptions of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa produce fiery fountains and rivers of molden lava.

IMG_1953 (800x591)As you drive in to the park, the first hint you get of some volcanic activity is the myriad steam vents. It’s like a low-hanging fog, but it’s coming up from the ground rather than dropping down from the air.

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From the distance, just before dark, you can see the plumes of smoke coming from the Halema’uma’u crater in the Kīlauea volcano. The crater became active again in March 2008 and now is a regular stopping point on the Big Island tourist trail.

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The crater can best be seen from the Jaggar Museum overlook, although you can’t get too close – for obvious reasons. Sometimes, the lava is close enough to the rim to see it bubble. But not today. Sulfur ratings show how dangerous it is to breathe (or not). Over on the other side of the mountain, a good few years ago now, I got to see the lava flowing off the mountain right into the ocean. As it began to get dark, trails of molten lava flowed down the side of the mountain, inching their way to the sea. It was like being on the set of a SciFi movie. This time though, the glow came from the crater itself. Pretty amazing stuff.

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The park is about 30 miles from Hilo on Highway 11 (a 45-minute drive); and from Kailua-Kona: 96 miles on the same highway (2 to 2 1/2 hour drive). Worth a stop. Get there about an hour before nightfall to see it it both its glories.

When Mark Twain visited the island back in 1866, he had this to say:

At four o’clock in the afternoon we were winding down a mountain of dreary and desolate lava to the sea, and closing our pleasant land journey. This lava is the accumulation of ages; one torrent of fire after another has rolled down here in old times, and built up the island structure higher and higher. Underneath, it is honey combed with caves; it would be of no use to dig wells in such a place; they would not hold water – you would not find any for them to hold, for that matter. Consequently, the planters depend upon cisterns.

The last lava flow occurred here so long ago that there are none now living who witnessed it. In one place it inclosed and burned down a grove of cocoa-nut trees, and the holes in the lava where the trunks stood are still visible; their sides retain the impression of the bark; the trees fell upon the burning river, and becoming partly submerged, left in it the perfect counterfeit of every knot and branch and leaf, and even nut, for curiosity seekers of a long distant day to gaze upon and wonder at.

There were doubtless plenty of Kanaka sentinels on guard hereabouts at that time, but they did not leave casts of their figures in the lava as the Roman sentinels at Herculaneum and Pompeii did. It is a pity it is so, because such things are so interesting, but so it is. They probably went away. They went away early, perhaps. It was very bad. However, they had their merits – the Romans exhibited the higher pluck, but the Kanakas showed the sounder judgment.

As usual, Brown loaded his unhappy horse with fifteen or twenty pounds of “specimens,” to be cursed and worried over for a time, and then discarded for new toys of a similar nature. He is like most people who visit these Is lands; they are always collecting specimens, with a wild enthusiasm, but they never get home with any of them.

Today, people taking home pieces of lava rock as souvenirs end up mailing them back to Hawaii. Bad luck follows. It’s a little like reports of tourists taking rock from the Rock of Cashel, in Ireland, being beset by bad luck once they arrived home, and the posting back the rocks. I’ve better things to be doing with my 23kg baggage allowance.

Turtles and black sand

Down on Punalu’u beach, the sand is black. Very black. Hence the name – black sand beach. It sits between Pāhala and Nāʻālehu on the island of Hawaii. The sand is created by lava flowing into the ocean: when hot meets cold, the lava explodes and cools and ends up on the beach.

IMG_1933 (800x598)Home to the endangered Green Turtle, Punalu’u’s only detraction is the busloads of tourists that stop off on their way to  to see the volcano. The name Punalu’u comes from lu’u (diving) and puna (spring). Back in the day, tradition had it that people would dive to the bottom of the bay with empty containers to fill them from the fresh spring water coming from the bay floor.

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There’s something magical about turtles. There’s a local legend that features a sea turtle names Kauila. Kauila was born on the beach at Punalu’ku. Her mother, Honupo’okea came out of the water to give birth. She buried her egg in the sand where the sun would keep it warm until it was ready to hatch. When the egg cracked open, a lovely dark baby appeared, looking for all the world like a piece of Kauila wood…no guessing where the name came from then! Kauila stayed at Punalu’u and spent a lot of time at the bottom of a freshwater pond her dad had dug for her. When she breathed, air bubbles would come to the surface and keep the local kids of Ka’u amused. Sometimes, Kauila would change herself into a little girl so that she could play with the local kids and watch over them. Not only did the local people have fresh drinking water, they also had a regular babysitter!


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IMG_1907 (800x584)The Hawaiian Honu can live until its 80s and, fully grown, has a shell 4-5 feet in diameter. It can weigh around 350-400 pounds. They’re slow growers, though, and some don’t have kids of their own until they’re 50. It’s pretty much impossible to say if they’re male or female until they reach sexual maturity. Lots of time there to think about things! The males grow very long tails, while the female tail stays short and stubby.  They can hold their breath from 2 to 4 hours, and if their heads are cut off, they cry. Actual tears.

Once an endangered species, they seem to be making a comeback and with that, there’s a move to allow turtle harvesting for sacred sacrificial ceremonies. Just wait for the furor that will greet that! Yet before the western culture arrived, green turtles were a source of food, tools, and ornamentation for early Hawaiians.

IMG_1921 (800x600) Having lived in Alaska and seen the sense with which the State culls the various herds, and the respect shown to the rights of Alaska Natives, I can only hope that should turtle harvesting be allowed once again that it’s controlled, traditional, and doesn’t result in wholesale massacre.

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