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5 Hawaiian Surprises

May 23rd was a day full of surprises.

First, my sunburn was healing faster than I expected, so I was able to do a short hike up a mountain nicknamed The Sleeping Giant.

The Sleeping Giant overlooking Wailua River

Second, I found some guys kitesurfing – I had to stop and take a couple photos for my buddy Marius. To the dude I talked to on the beach (also named Dave), hope your shoulder’s OK. If you want a full res photo just let me know.

Kitesurfing near Lihue, Kauai

Kitesurfing near Lihue, Kauai

On my way between The Sleeping Giant and Waimea Canyon, I stopped for an ice cream at a gelato stand that was featured in a magazine article. Papalani Gelato did not disappoint! POG (Papaya, Orange, Guava) is one of the best ice creams I’ve ever tasted, and Kauai Crunch is up there too.

Papalani Gelato in Poipu, Kauai

When I arrived at Camp Sloggett, I was the only person there. A huge bunkhouse and several lodges were all empty. I felt a wee bit of that “Evil Dead” vibe, but I survived it. By the way, I now have a chainsaw mounted on the stump of one arm.

Bunkhouse at Camp Sloggett in the Waimea Canyon

Finally, I had a nice dinner of Bush’s Grillin’ Beans and Hormel Beef Tamales. I was surprised that eating from a can could taste so good. A touch of Blair’s Salsa de la Muerte didn’t hurt, either. Since a photo of canned food isn’t so exciting, I’ll just throw in the sunset from Kalalau Lookout near the top of Waimea Canyon instead.

Sunset from Kalalau Lookout in Waimea Canyon, Hawaii

That’s all for today! Hope you can make it to Kauai to experience all this yourself sometime…

Posted 12 years, 4 months ago at 3:15 pm.


Kauai by Helicopter

Going to Hawaii? I hope you will visit Kauai, known as “The Garden Island.”

It’s perhaps the most beautiful place on earth.

Great, you’re visiting Kauai? You have to go on a helicopter tour. Seeing the entire island by helicopter is a must, even if it means saving for another month or two before making your trip.

Island Helicopters - maintaining the aircraft between every flight, polishing the HUGE windows

Now… you’ve found out there are a dozen helicopter tour operators. Which one to choose? Take my advice, because as a skydiver, I have a lot of small aircraft experience. I’m very safety-oriented, and you should be, too. So don’t go for the cheapest tour (that often means cutting corners to cut costs!).

After my experience this week, I can recommend 100% that you fly with Island Helicopters. Their prices are very reasonable, considering you are flying with one of the safest operators on the island. You will fly in a well-maintained aircraft piloted by the best, and it’s all organized very professionally.

Island Helicopters - photo of my flight crew :-)

Thanks to the whole staff, especially my pilot Isaac! Even with a bit of turbulence, I felt completely safe with him at the controls.

Now, what will you see? Everything. The tour circles the entire island! Many of the areas are inaccessible by car, and would take days of tough hiking to reach by foot (if possible to reach at all). I did manage to duplicate one of the helicopter views while hiking – it was 11 miles on foot and nearly a whole day. There were dozens of views like this in under an hour on the heli tour!

Here are a few key vistas that really struck me, although you might have a different favorite spot.

The archway that James Bond flew through in “The Man with the Golden Gun,” on the nearly-inaccessible Na Pali coast:

"The Man with the Golden Gun" plane-through-tunnel scene

Manawaiopuna Falls, a private waterfall used in the beginning of “Jurassic Park”:

Manawaiopuna Falls on Kauai, also known as Jurassic Falls

You can also take a helicopter tour that lands at Jurassic Falls, and have your picture taken there. This tour is only available through Island Helicopters, as they have an exclusive deal with the private landowner!

The tour with the landing costs (as of this writing) $299 on Spring Special, as opposed to $178 for the standard 50-60min “Deluxe Tour.” But if you’re a movie buff, waterfall fan, or just want to do something special – this waterfall landing tour is for you!

Here’s another unreal coastline view:

Amazing coastline view on Kauai, Hawaii

And in case you need more convincing, here’s Wailua Falls. I had driven there the day before. The view from the lookout (where you see the road in this photo) was really disappointing, so I was thrilled to have this amazing view from the helicopter!

Wailua Falls on Kauai, Hawaii

Why do I recommend a helicopter tour? Because it’s the most amazing thing I’ve done on the islands so far!

Why fly with Island Helicopters? Their excellent safety record. A fantastic helicopter with the biggest windows. Custom left-side pilot seat so you get a better view (flying clockwise around the island). Their focus on safety throughout the trip. Friendly and professional staff. BOSE noise cancelling headsets with pilot narration. Exclusive Jurassic Falls landing. Did I mention great safety record?

There must be a reason that this company has been hired to fly camera for movies such as Jurassic Park, Tropic Thunder, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Six Days/Seven Nights, and many more. Good enough for feature films = an awesome tour for your digital SLR! Note, all the pictures in this article were taken by me on the tour with my Nikon D90 / 18-200mm VR. So with a bit of care, you can really get some great shots.

If you do go to Kauai and try a helicopter tour, please let me know how you liked it! I hope you’ll have the same amazing experience that I did with Island Helicopters.


Disclaimer: this article is a promotion for Island Helicopters. However, all my opinions of the flight and the operation are unbiased judgments based on my experience.

Posted 12 years, 4 months ago at 3:48 pm.


The Green Flash

No, it’s not a superhero. It’s a phenomenon.

When it comes to the green flash, there are four groups of people.

  1. 1. Those who have never heard of the green flash
  2. 2. A few who know what it is, but never saw it themselves
  3. 3. Fewer still who have seen it and recognized it
  4. 4. A tiny handful who have photographed the green flash

For readers in group one, you’re about to join the esteemed second group! What is the green flash? When the sun sets over the ocean, just as the disc disappears completely below the horizon, you can sometimes see a green flash. It depends on the right conditions, and usually requires a rather clear sky. Kind of like this Hanalei Bay sunset from May 22nd, though I was worried the clouds would mess it up:

Sailboat Sunset over Hanalei Bay, Kauai

I noticed as I was photographing the sunset that the green moment (one second, really) had arrived, and held down the camera shutter button. The first two or three photos actually have a bit of green visible! You really have to zoom in, but here it is:

Green Flash over Hanalei Bay, Kauai

This photo is highly cropped, but has no color adjustments of any kind.

So now you know about the green flash. The next time you’re viewing a clear sunset over the ocean, watch for it! If you have a D-SLR, try to catch it in pixels. Just hold down the shutter in high-speed-shooting mode, and look at your pics later to see if the rim of the sun looks green as it disappears underwater.

What else did I do this lovely day besides join the ranks of green flash photographers? I rode a helicopter around Kauai with Island Helicopters! This outfit is fantastic, and I wouldn’t have changed a single moment of the tour. A truly impressive (and safety oriented) operation. I’ll be writing a full article about the tour shortly, but here are a few teaser pics to get you drooling.

Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific:

Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

The Na Pali coast, inaccessible by roads:

Kauai's Na Pali Coast

I would say a helicopter tour is a MUST for anyone visiting Kauai, provided you can afford it. And remember, there are a few areas where you never want the “cheapest available” – medical services, used cars, and small aircraft flights. I’d spend the extra few dollars for a safety-oriented, professional tour operator like Island Helicopters.

As I’m writing this, I’m feeling rather isolated as the only person in Camp Sloggett, a cool but currently empty campground near the top of Waimea Canyon. That story, however, must wait for another day.

Posted 12 years, 4 months ago at 3:41 pm.


The Garden Island

Kauai is known for its beautiful, green nature. Compared to Oahu, it’s virtually deserted – which is just fine by me. Food is less expensive (in restaurants as well as supermarkets), and the vibe is much more local than touristy Waikiki.

About May 21st: I’m not going to lie. It was all about the sunburn, which is by far the worst I’ve had in my life. Every movement was painful, and I probably looked like an 80-year-old each time I stepped out of the car.

That said, I made an effort to get out there and see a few driveable sights. I visited two waterfalls, but need to HDR the pics due to the lighting. So I’ll go with a few shots from the historic 1930’s Kilohana sugar plantation.

Free rum tasting at Koloa rum shop – the dark rum is fantastic, and the gold is not bad either. The rum fudge sauce was fantastic, though a bit pricey at (what was it?) $15 per small bottle.

Koloa Kauai Gold Hawaiian Rum

Interesting art at Sea Reflections. I saw this and immediately thought of a German friend of mine who has chickens, to get her own fresh eggs. One turned out to be a rooster!

Roosters at Sea Reflections at Kilohana

For the artsy among you, there is a Clayworks at Kilohana. Here’s the proprietor making mugs:

Making mugs at Clayworks at Kilohana

Attaching the clay mug's handle

Tasty local meals of the day: Kalua Pig (similar to pulled pork BBQ, but in this case with rice and eggs). Dani’s restaurant has realistic prices for anywhere, and is quite the price-value find for Hawaii, though the atmosphere is nothing special. The Kalua Pig comes with free Kona coffee!

Kalua Pig at Dani's in Lihue

A perfect end to the evening: seared sushi-grade ahi fish tacos with fresh tortilla chips and a Negro Modela. Mmm! I highly recommend Monicos Taqueria.

Ahi fish tacos in Kauai, Hawaii

Tomorrow, weather permitting, I’ll go on a helicopter tour of Kauai! Subscribe by RSS or email (orange buttons in the left sidebar) to hear more about the ‘copter tour!

Posted 12 years, 4 months ago at 3:30 pm.

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Surfing Sunsets and Hula Dancing

I’ve surfed once before, in Portugal. After several hours, I had a total of about 30 seconds standing/kneeling on the board. Surfing is tough!

After a few beers yesterday evening with surfing mates I met in the hostel, I decided to try surfing again in Waikiki today (May 20th).

So… I slathered my body with SPF50, rented a longboard for $20 (6 hours), and headed out with Dan. The first break was very crowded with people, and I was constantly in the way. But I did get a couple of rides and stood up in a mid-crouch for at least one of them.

After lunch (takoyaki) I went back for a second round, with more SPF50 on my back. We paddled to a far-away break where there weren’t so many people. But the break was quite narrow, so in the end it was just as crowded as the morning’s break, as everyone converged on the same spot. I got about three rides, and headed in when my arms felt like they were about to give out from paddling.

In the evening we checked out a free Hula show on the beach. I didn’t know that the primary dancers are the men, not the women (though in this show they were equally featured).

Hula Dancing and Hawaiian Music at Waikiki Beach

My heart is officially melting from the wonderful Aloha…

Hula Dancer on Waikiki Beach

And I caught a few good sunset shots.

Beautiful Sunset at Waikiki Beach

Viele Grüße to the Germans I met in the hostel! I hope we can meet again at Oktoberfest, when I have more time and am less sunburned.

Fellow Travelers from Germany

Dave’s Surfing Tips

I’m no expert, but please, learn from my experiences (and mistakes)!

  • You have to see where the good (big & steep) waves are breaking, and go there. Probably others will be there as well.
  • Check with locals (or the surf shop) to find out the currents, dangerous/rocky areas, etc. before going out.
  • If you’re waiting for a wave, and someone’s already on it when it comes to you, get out of their way and don’t try to catch the wave as well. You’d be stealing their space, and you might get run over.
  • In case someone wipes out on a wave coming toward you (e.g. when you’re trying to paddle back out), duck under the wave and cover your head with your arms just in case the person or their board hits you.
  • Paddle, paddle, paddle with the wave you want to catch. If you’re not fast enough, the wave will pass you. If it’s not close enough to breaking (not steep enough yet), the wave will pass you. If you are lazy and don’t give 100% paddling, the wave will laugh at you as it passes. I swear I heard this a few times toward the end.
  • I don’t recommend paddling out to really far breaks unless you have seriously toned arms. I did make it back, but a lot of people might have a challenging time if they paddle out too far from shore.
  • Last, and most important: Non-tanned white people cannot surf in full sun without a wetsuit for 4 hours. Even with SPF50, reapplied halfway through, the melanin-challenged will be miserable lobsters the next day. It’s easier to list parts of me that are NOT burned: face, belly, palms, and the front of my legs. One of my ankles is so bad it’s even a wee bit swollen.

I’ll leave you with this beautiful silhouette. I’m sure she surfs way better than I do – hah.

Waikiki Surfing Girl Silhouette

Posted 12 years, 4 months ago at 3:24 pm.

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Crater Hiking

Diamond Head, Oahu is a massive crater formed by the explosion of a shield volcano. You can walk up it: a decent hike of 0.8 miles involving quite a few stairs near the end.

I don’t recommend walking from Waikiki to the entrance of Diamond Head, it takes 40 minutes or more and isn’t that exciting. Take TheBus, which has a stop right in front of the park entrance for Diamond Head. Here’s the view of the crater from the top:

View of Diamond Head crater on Oahu

You can see a great panorama of Oahu’s beaches and towns, including great views of Honolulu and (pictured here) Waikiki Beach:

Waikiki Beach from Diamond Head

Tips for hiking Diamond Head:

  • Go very early to avoid the crowds of tourists. I believe the park is open at 6 or 7am? If you have jet lag from points east, this would be a perfect first-day activity.
  • Bring a hat sunscreen, and water. It’s a short hike, but a decent amount of vertical and quite hot.
  • Take a bus or car to get there. As mentioned above, it’s a long and somewhat boring walk from Waikiki.

Next I headed to downtown Honolulu. It’s a small city, but with quite a lot to see – most people could easily spend a day there. I took TheBus and got off at Punchbowl Street, where I walked through the town admin buildings to the former Hawaiian King’s palace:

Palace in Honolulu

I opted not to take the tour, because it was pretty expensive ($12 or so?), but then again, everything in Hawaii seems ridiculously expensive to me.

If you want a nice overview of the city from up high, go to the (free) Aloha Tower in the shopping complex of the same name. You can ride up to the 10th floor and see great sights:

Honolulu as seen from the Aloha Tower

For a great cup of 100% Kona coffee (I had an iced latte), try out Island Vintage Coffee in that same shopping center. They have a cool promo video that explains what Kona coffee is all about.

Island Vintage Coffee in the Aloha Tower Marketplace

My last stop in Honolulu was a church I wandered by, St. Andrew’s Episcopal. They have a very impressive stained glass window.

Stained Glass Window at St. Andrew's in Honolulu

That’s all for today, May 19th. Tomorrow: a bit about my surfing adventure in Waikiki (few pics as I was on the water!), and hula dancing!

Posted 12 years, 4 months ago at 3:21 pm.

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Waikiki: Playground of the Rich

This surf-obsessed beach lined with expensive shops (and probably Hawaii’s most expensive restaurants) is definitely a haven for lovers of posh hotels and convertibles. When I arrived on May 18th I saw a lot of Mustangs, so I guess that’s the preferred rental cabrio of Oahu.

As I’d been traveling for 24 hours, I didn’t do much upon my late-afternoon arrival. But I did head to Waikiki Beach, five minutes’ walk from my hostel, to take in the sunset:

Sunset at Waikiki Beach on Oahu, Hawaii

There was a free hula show going on with native Hawaiian music, but I’ll have more about that in two days.

For dinner I checked out a delicious Japanese restaurant, which has branches in Waikiki and Tokyo: Jinroku Pacific, a Teppan Grill & Bar (2427 Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki). My longtime readers might remember another post about okonomiyaki, a large Japanese savory pancake:

Okonomyaki being cooked at Jinroku Pacific

And the tasty final product, topped with an egg, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, seaweed flakes, and fish flakes:

Okonomyaki at Jinroku Pacific in Waikiki

Here’s another Japanese “fast food” specialty, takoyaki. I tried the takoyaki for lunch another day. Mine was a little undercooked, but still good. There’s truly an art form to shaping these round octopus dumplings.

Cooking takoyaki at Jinroku Pacific in Waikiki

Let’s just say I slept well this night, after 24h of travel and a good Japanese meal. Though I did wake up early the next day due to 5h of jet lag. Tune in tomorrow to see Diamond Head crater and Honolulu!

Posted 12 years, 4 months ago at 3:17 pm.


The Lost City

Machu Picchu is often nicknamed the Lost City of the Incas. Due to its isolation, the existence of the ruins was unknown to all but a few local farmers until the late 1800’s.

Recently, Machu Picchu was voted one of the new [read: still existing] Seven Wonders of the Modern World in an internet voting contest. Sure, most of the winning sites were probably influenced due to marketing campaigns by their countries’ governments. But either way, Machu Picchu definitely deserves to be on the new list. Just look at it:

Machu Picchu, taken from Wayna Picchu

You can see from the location and beauty of the city why it was a sacred place to the ancient Incas. Here’s a close-up of one section of the ruins at Machu Picchu:

Close-up of one section of Machu Picchu

The guardhouse, perched high among the terraces, stands watch even now.

Machu Picchu Guardhouse (with CPL filter)

Can you imagine this view from your vegetable garden? The Incas didn’t have to… they actually farmed on the terraces of Machu Picchu. Alpaca still graze on a few of the terraces.

View over Machu Picchu ruins to Wayna Picchu on the left

Here’s the Intihuatana Stone, the ritual sacred stone of Machu Picchu. Even today it is recognized as one of the most important artifacts at the site. A warning to all camera boom operators: if you smuggle gear into the site for a commercial, then accidentally crash the boom and chip a piece off this stone during filming, you will go to jail. Yep, that happened about 10 years ago.

Sacred ritual stone of Machu Picchu

If these scenes from the ruins and the photos of the beautiful Tambopata jungle reserve haven’t convinced you to visit Peru, I don’t know what will. Maybe the surfing and paragliding? The delicious food and friendly locals? The adrenaline-pumping taxi rides? Just be careful with your wallet & passport, and you too could have the experience of a lifetime.

I recommend a minimum of two weeks for your trip to Peru – 10 days was just too short, and even a month wouldn’t be enough to experience Peru to its fullest!

Posted 12 years, 4 months ago at 3:40 pm.


Why do Mannequins need Nipples?

At the risk of offending some, here’s my question: why is every mannequin in Miraflores either smuggling raisins, or (in one case that I was too shy to photograph) having a “wardrobe malfunction?”

Storefront Mannequin Smuggling Raisins in Miraflores

I thought this was funny. I’d be embarrassed if this were my shop, but apparently Peruvian fashion-store owners aren’t worried about showing a little nip.

Besides being shocked by the storefront windows on May 17th, I met some surfers down by the beach and talked with them for a while. Here’s a relaxed photo of Herman surfing with excellent style:

Herman surfing in Miraflores

Okay, on to some delicious foods you should try if in Peru. Ceviche (raw seafood marinated in lemon or lime juice) at Mama Olla’s (restaurant suggested by Tim, thanks man!):

Ceviche at Mama Olla's in Miraflores

Maracuja Pisco Sour at Mama Olla’s. I discovered the ingredient that froths up the Pisco Sour: egg whites!

Maracuja Pisco Sour at Mama Olla's

Suave Crema de Lucuma dessert at Las Brujas de Cachiche. Whatever this orange-colored cream is, the flavor mixes better with dark chocolate than almost anything I’ve ever tasted. Fantastic! Anise liqueur in the background…

Suave Crema de Lucuma dessert at Las Brujas de Cachiche

After all this, I boarded what would be the first of two flights to Hawaii. Strike that, three flights… I volunteered to lose a couple of hours for a $250 voucher when the flight was full. Let’s see what else tomorrow brings!

Posted 12 years, 4 months ago at 3:34 pm.


Leaving Tambopata – For Now

I’m not a sentimental one, especially when on holidays. But I felt a special connection with the wildlife and the people at Explorer’s Inn, so I was a bit disappointed to leave after just two days (May 16th). I even slept like a baby on the second night there, despite the jungle noises & howler monkeys.

Leaving Puerto Maldonado

I have a feeling that I’ll be back to Explorer’s Inn sooner rather than later. And there will definitely be a few more articles coming up about the Tambopata Reserve.

The rest of the day was travel: boat, bus, two plane flights, and a taxi ride. In Miraflores I discovered that a lot of restaurants are closed Sundays. Dying of hunger after walking for hours, I tried a tasty local dessert, the turron – a crumbly almost-crunchy cake filled with some kind of fruit jam.

Turrones in Lima

Afterward I found a restaurant that was supposedly Arabic, and tried out an interesting dish:

Arabic fare in Miraflores - Chorizo and Salsa with Hummus?

The hummus was good, along with the chorizo and salsa, though the latter were definitely not authentic Arabic fare. Cusqueno Malto (a dark beer) is fantastic!

Tomorrow I’ll be continuing the “weird sexual imagery in foreign countries” theme. Stay tuned.

Posted 12 years, 4 months ago at 3:26 pm.

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