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Friday, November 1, 2013

The Rocks Ghost Tour (Sydney, Australia)

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA -- Had the opportunity to explore some of the oldest haunted sites in this port city with the Rocks Ghost Tour the evening of Friday, Oct. 11! Between expert guide Lachlan McWilliam, the horrifying stories of the community's early years, and the genuinely haunted nature of many of the sites it was an exciting and enjoyable night and a great way to kick off the Halloween season. Following is a taste of what we experienced, which I will discuss in greater detail in my next appearance on the Psi-Fi Radio Network and in a more detailed report to come. 
Above, tour guide McWilliam on Observatory Hill, possibly the most haunted spot in Sydney. Yes, that is a convergence of orbs! My images up until and after this point were completely clear with just one exception and it was only here, at the site of an old fort and a place used for hangings, that we detected anomalies of this sort. 

Above left, tour goers peer into a basement formerly used by an undertaker; center, the creepy and cluttered basement of the Hero of Waterloo, the oldest pub in Sydney (and where we had a few glasses of Guinness at the end of the tour); right, a glimpse into a home with a well into which bodies from animal fights were thrown. 

Above left, McWilliam near a home where a cuckolded husband killed his slatternly wife and where her spirit has been seen walking -- and where we picked up a faint orb, in the upper right corner of the image; right, an apartment building built on stilts to preserve an archaeology site where thousands or artifacts and numerous sets of bones have been found. 

Ghosts aside, one of the things that impressed me most about the Rocks Ghost Tour was the number of sites it had access to, which far exceeded anything I have experienced on a similar activity in the United States. So, all things considered, when you are in Sydney there are not too many better ways to spend an evening in a fascinating historic quarter of the city -- all the more so if you have the opportunity to do so this most haunted time of the year! 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Radiance of the Seas Cruise Log, Day 14 (October 7/Monday)

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND -- Arrived in port here c. 10 a.m. Cold and windy and I am still under the weather; slept OK, but had weird dreams as with last several nights and woke up a number of times coughing. 

Breakfast in Windjammer; had congie, vegetable fried rice, scrambled egg, coffee. 

Finished reading The Bounty! Did not get read as many of the articles on regional matters I brought with me, mainly because I have also been trying to write, but have overall done a pretty good job with my reading list (especially when one considers how many other things we have been doing and how slowly I read). 

Visited the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand and viewed exhibits on natural history and Maori culture, the whare, or huts, and greenstone weapons being high points for me. 

Discovered that food is, indeed, very expensive here; had lunch at a nice but relatively modest cafe across from the visitor's bureau and city hall called the Lido and had a dish of lamb stew, a bowl of soup, and a glass of wine, which came to NZ$41. 

Boarded bus for 2:30 tour of Lord of the Rings filming sites in and around Wellington, especially in the Mount Victoria parks. Then went to Weta Studios and got a behind the scenes look at things it has done and has in the works, its prop and model creation methods, etc. Wellington Movie Tours owner/guide Ted Guise did great job and graciously drove tour attendees directly back to port instead of just visitor center. (See "On the Trail of 'The Lord of the Rings'" for more details and photos!) 

Dinner in Windjammer; nice coconut curry shrimp, Indian vegetables, OK Manhattan clam chowder, sugar-free/taste-free rice pudding. Ordered bottle of Charles Krug Merlot, thanks to recommendation from Kevin Furness and had one glass each (and am having another as I write this). Furnesses and John Robson came in while we were eating and joined us. John and Kevin each told a joke and I followed up with a hilarious one about CIA agent trainees that I think I first heard from Scott O'Connell. 

Agreed to meet K. and J3 Furness and J. Robson at Champagne Bar at 6 p.m. and to bring our bottle of champagne. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Radiance of the Seas Cruise Log, Day 13 (October 6/Sunday)

At sea heading west en route to Wellington, New Zealand. Cold and wet and we are regretting that we packed for French Polynesia and not the colder spots that would follow. 

Woke up feeling under the weather. Had a couple of cups of coffee in room while getting ready for "Xena, Hercules, and the Lord of the Rings," my presentation on the New Zealand Fantasy film industry. Some sort of tour of the theater was still going on when my presentation was scheduled to start at 11:15 and I went on about 15 minutes late. Had also been announced and listed in the daily newsletter as being about Wellington, so I clarified before beginning for benefit of anyone who was there for shopping tips or the like; some left after this sank in but we still had good turnout and response. 

Lunch in Windjammer; absolutely packed and nothing was made easier by rough seas, me being dizzy, or the significant minority of passengers who cut in line, stood in common areas eating their food instead of going to tables, etc. 

Attended John Robson's lecture on "Tasman and the Dutch Explorers in the Pacific." Learned some interesting things, especially re. how powerful and oppressive the Dutch East India Company (VOC) were in the 17th and 18th centuries, and how the Dutch named many places throughout the Pacific that the subsequently exerted no interest in (e.g., New Holland/Australia, New Zealand, Van Diemen's Land/Tasmania). 

At 16:30 met Kevin and J3 Furness and fellow lecturer John Robson for Progressive Trivia, Part 2, in the Colony Club. Scored 32 points, coming in behind the lead team with 33, out of about 20 teams playing! Categories for one part were "Where would you find it" (geography), which we had selected for our double point scoring, and "Spelling Bee"; we got ALL of the geography questions correct and eight of the spelling ones for 22 points, plus 10 of the 12 art ones (and we second guessed ourselves on the two we got wrong; as Diane said, "we were smarter than we gave ourselves credit for"). John had brilliant and correct answers to a number of questions we would not otherwise have gotten and Kevin and I dubbed him our "secret weapon"; I proposed calling him "V-2" and Kevin suggested "Exocet," which was better, so we went with that. Drank a dirty vodka martini during the game (no one else had anything). 

Had drinks afterward w. Kevin and J3; Pernod for me, and I told story of my first experience w. Absinthe, and we all followed w. interesting drinking and/or prescription drug anecdotes. Broke to change for dinner and then met up at Cascades c. 7:25 to eat. 

Tried to finish reading The Bounty but passed out w. four pages to go. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Radiance of the Seas Cruise Log, Day 12 (October 5/Saturday)

At sea westbound en route to Wellington, New Zealand. 

At 16:30 did Progressive Trivia, Part 1, with Kevin and J3 Furness in the Colony Club. Categories for one part were things that were Green and Mood Music, eight questions for each, and for other part was identifying 20 celebrities, politicians, etc., whose faces had been warped with Photoshop. Scored 11 points on questions and seven on the celebrities, 18 total (versus 25 for the winning team -- who, it bears mentioning, got double points for each correct answer in one of their categories). 

Met Kevin and J3 Furness and John Robson for drinks at Champagne Bar ahead of dinner at Samba Grill. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Radiance of the Seas Cruise Log, Day — (October 4/Friday)

We had no Friday, October 4, 2013, aboard Radiance of the Seas, and lost this day in its entirety as a result of crossing the International Date Line! Presumably an effect applauded by the persistent old gods of this pleasantly benighted region ... 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Radiance of the Seas Cruise Log, Day 9 (October 1/Tuesday)

In port at Moorea, French Polynesia. (This is the first of four days that, for various reasons, I did not keep up with my cruise log! A relevant thing to bear in mind is that one is virtually never able or inclined to go back and reconstruct these things ... We did spend half of this day at a beach on Moorea and get some fun pictures there.)

This is me swimming with some gregarious blackpoint sharks and manta rays! Isn't the way they are circling me fun? 

Still being inspired by Gauguin at this point, I decided to call this one "Spirit of the Beach."

Not being inclined to spend too much time on beaches myself, I went inland to explore the jungle a little bit and get a better sense for what the interior of a French Polynesian island looks like. 

After departing Moorea we passed this para-sailor while many miles out to sea and were unsure if things were going as planned for him or had gotten terrifyingly out of control ... We hope he made it back to shore but make no assumptions. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Radiance of the Seas Cruise Log, Day 8 (September 30/Monday)

In port at Papeete, French Polynesia.

Breakfast and coffee and some upper deck shoots of Papeete from back outside section of Windjammer.

Walked around town for brief overview and photographs of historic sites, including tree reputed to have once had a bar amongst its limbs and where Gauguin supposedly drank Absinthe (below). Briefly met w. academic consultant Pierre Blanchard, a 37-year resident of Papeete, and spoke with him about Tahitian language, native religion, etc. Continued on to Paofai Park near the harbor and met with another couple from the ship, Steve and Dee Blackburn of Denver, Colorado.

Lunch in Windjammer of small roast chicken thigh, mashed potatoes w. cheese sauce, cauliflower, iced tea. 

Spent big part of afternoon, most of it pleasant, drinking wine in Star Studio, a cafe across from the port and from which I could see our ship. Diane felt neglected and, after intimating this in some detail, returned to ship alone while I took the opportunity to post first three days of this log to my TravelBlogue, post a couple of items to d-Infinity Online, etc. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

'Radiance of the Seas' Cruise Log, Day 7 (September 29/Sunday)

In port at Bora Bora, French Polynesia, in town of Vaitape. 

Walked about three miles to the Bloody Mary's bar and restaurant, which is all the rage w. the tourists and popular for its T-shirts. Ordered a local Tabu beer at the bar and was promptly handed a pre-poured Heinekin by the barmaid, who clearly assumed we were on the bus tour that had just plowed into the place and would only accept cash; we found out after we had already paid that we could have used credit if we had ordered a couple of more beers and gladly would have done so if we had known. Many famous people have eaten and drank this place since it opened in 1979 and it did have a very nice, semi-open air dining area. Would not likely go out of my way, however, to come back here myself.

We had hiked out under the incorrect presumption that we would walk past a beach but did not. Could have gotten a shuttle to Matira Beach for $5 and should have; had seven hours left by the time we made it back to Vaitape and discovered all this but Diane decided to just go back to the ship and hang out at the pool. I hiked another couple miles up the road toward Faanui looking for a WWII gun emplacement marked on a large map at the port but could not find it and so just took some pictures and then came back.

Prior to dinner made good progress on "Opal" and like what I am accomplishing with it. Also read a little from the old Gygax "Sagard the Barbarian Gamebook #1: The Ice Dragon" and had some fun with it.

Had dinner at Izumi specialty restaurant. Had Pearl Sake Martini, miso soup, octopus carpaccio, Dragon Eel Roll with shrimp tempura and unagi/freshwater eel. Desert combination w. mixed tropical fruit, green tea mousse (ick!), flan, dumpling stuffed w. strawberry ice cream. Told Diane the lichi nut she was eating was a panda testicle. 

Heat, exertion, and alcohol took their toll and after dinner we staggered back to the room, read a little (The Bounty), and then passed out. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

'Radiance of the Seas' Cruise Log, Day 6 (September 28/Saturday)

At sea, bearing south by southeast en route to Bora Bora. Had room service breakfast of milk, juice, and coffee, finished reviewing and slightly expanding lecture w. quote from Gauguin about marae (see "The Polynesian Theogony of Paul Gauguin"), and read some more from Rovings

Gave lecture on "Mysteries of Moorea" at 11:15 in Aurora and had very good turnout, w. many people sitting in front half of theater. John Robson had no lecture today.

Lunch in Windjammer.

Did about two miles around Promenade Deck; parts of it were blocked and we had to keep doubling back, so it was hard to get a good count.

Light snack in Windjammer.

Began work on "Opal," codename for a literary and gaming project the nature of which or who I am working on it with I cannot yet reveal.

Dinner at Cascades. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

'Radiance of the Seas' Cruise Log, Day 5 (September 27/Friday)

At sea, bearing south by southeast en route to Bora Bora.

Woke up little before 9 a.m. and spent couple of hours reviewing, editing, and expanding next presentation, reading Rovings, getting cleaned and dressed, and drinking coffee. Diane got my first cup at Windjammer and then I collected a second from crew mess when I went to the crew store to see if I could get her some throat lozenges; it was closed and I will have to go by later.

Gave lecture on "The History of Bora Bora"; went about 30 minutes plus 10-15 minutes Q&A, which included some exacting and irritating questions some of the askers already knew the answers to or would not believe my answers to. Will do a little research tonight and lead tomorrow's talk with expanded answers (Departments, Collectivities, and Communes of France, vis group names like Society Islands and Marquesas from Jim; currencies accepted and languages spoken in French Polynesia; dates and locations of French nuclear testing in the region). Somewhere between 100 and 200 attendees (hard to tell how many people are in upper Deck 6 balcony).

Lunch in Windjammer of sausages, mashed redskin potatoes w. butter and gravy, braised cabbage w. caraway seeds, banana rice pudding w. vanilla sauce, iced tea. Skipped deckside barbecue or eating outside at all as it was hot and noisy and I was still in my lecture clothes.

Attended John Robson's excellent lecture on "Bougainville and La Perouse," about French 18th century exploration of the Pacific. Perhaps as many as 50 attendees, as poor John is having to compete w. lunch! But, as I often say, it is the one who comes that counts.

Back in room to meet Diane for walk around the deck but she is on third day of a cold and sick in bed to I decided to read Rovings and update daily log and drink lemon tea from crew mess; crew store out of throat lozenges and directed me to passenger giftshop.

Physical activity of seven turns/2.1 miles around Promenade Deck (below), and then 15 minutes each in sauna and steamroom. 

Afternoon snack in Windjammer of hot dog, french fries, and small chicken thigh. OK, but too much and too heavy for that time of day!

Dinner in Cascades. Prawn appetizer and leftover wine from yesterday, Singapore noodles entree and Peroni beer, pecan tart and vanilla ice cream desert w. coffee. Chatted w. gentleman we passed walking the promenade deck and an Australian couple, Ron and Michelle.

After dinner drinks (Sandeman Port for me) at Schooner Bar. Chatted with an Australian couple, Terry and Pam; she was descended from convicts and very knowledgeable about history. Both complimented me for mentioning the WWII Japanese attacks on mainland Australia/Darwin. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

'Radiance of the Seas' Cruise Log, Day 4 (September 26/Thursday)

At sea, bearing south by southeast en route to Bora Bora.

Woken "a little before 9" a.m. by Diane. Got up little after nine, put on trunks, went to find her at pool, but it was gloomy, windy, and drizzly and she was not there or at Solarium, and I found her at the Windjammer.

Breakfast there of poached egg on English muffin w. Hollandaise sauce, ham, and coffee.

Crossing the Equator Ceremony at 11:15! Our captain played the part of King Neptune and our Cruise Program Administrator JulieAnne Slade played his Queen. Everyone who decided to participate was divided into either Group 1 -- all women or un-resilient looking men -- or Group 2, of which I was part and who were told to come when called sans shirts, sunglasses, etc., and be prepared to "have some fun." Group 1 came forward, bowed before King Neptune, and were forced to kiss a giant fish (probably a tuna). Group 2 then came forward, knelt, and first had eggs crushed on their heads and then were pelted with spaghetti, tomato sauce, and parmesan cheese by crew dressed as pirates and ruffians.

Lunch in windjammer of beef schnitzel w. gorgonzola sauce, mashed potatoes and au jus, sauteed zucchini, iced tea, etc.

Went to HRC to see if I needed to respond to passenger letter about going to present passport to French Polynesian Immigration Authorities.

Ordered tumbler of Pyrat rum on the rocks and then drank while attending John Robson's lecture on "The Polynesian Diaspora" at 13:15 and chatted w. him and passenger Jim from L.A. a little afterward. Learned some interesting things during main body of presentation and Q&A (e.g., jumping off point for Polynesian expansion probably Taiwan, how Polynesians probably sent systematic scouting expeditions in search of new habitable islands before following w. colonists).

Got coffee at crew mess and then went back to room to update log and read Rovings in the Pacific until Diane comes back from pool.

Spent about 15 minutes each in dry sauna and steam room w. cold showers after each. Picked up cup of green tea in Solarium to drunk in room while reading a bit more from Rovings and preparing for my presentation tomorrow. Did not get enough sun or exercise today and will have to do better tomorrow!

Dress code for dinner was casual/Country Western! Idiotic. We opted for tropical instead and hope not to see anyone in cowboy hats, dusters, etc.

Dinner at Chops specialty restaurant; excellent mushroom soup, 18-ounce in-bone porthouse steak cooked rare, crimini mushrooms w. leeks, mashed potatoes. Finished good "Phoenix" cabernet sauvignon and ordered "Aussieres" French cabernet sauvignon from Domaines Baron Rothschild that was very dry but had almost no body (but which did improve a bit upon breathing). 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

'Radiance of the Seas' Cruise Log, Day 3 (September 25/Wednesday)

At sea, headed south by southeast en route to Bora Bora.

Woke a little before 9 a.m.

Breakfast in room of milk and coffee while I reviewed my lecture on Paul Gauguin.

Gave "Painter of Papeete" lecture on Paul Gauguin in Aurora Theater. Ran about 30 minutes plus 10 minutes Q&A; need to expand 10-15 minutes (e.g., w. quotes from Gauguin, additional art, notes about his children).

Lunch in Windjammer. Mostly Indian specialties, including dal/lentils, rice pudding.

Attended John Dobson's lecture on European exploration of the Pacific and left at beginning of Q&A.

Rushed up to art auction and chatted w. auctioneer Wayne and fiance Lianna. Accepted bottle of champagne as thanks for mentioning art auction during my presentation. (Displayed painting, ostensibly by Dali and titled "Mount of Geryon," showing two downward-facing clasped hands, which Diane and I both believed was mislabled -- checked later, however, and confirmed that we were wrong!)

Second lunch in Windjammer. Spaghetti w. creamy pesto sauce and black olives; then, hot dog w. sauteed onions, macaroni and cheese.

Exercise consisting of seven turns around the Promenade Deck/Deck 5 (2.1 miles).

Evening before dinner read for a few hours, including the balance of Noa Noa and a chapter from The Teaching of Buddha; drank Earl Grey and black tea.

Dinner in Windjammer; Oriental noodle soup that you cook yourself in a pot, Kirin Light beer, Bami Goreng (not enough noodles/too many vegetables) w. peanut sauce, curried lamb, curried eggplant. Chatted afterward w. one of the Australian couples from our first day dinner; discussed immigration policy and Australia's Christmas Island, etc. 

Went to crew Internet cafe; kitchen staffer from India named kindly Pinto taught me how to set up my account and told me that rates dropped from 75 cents a minute to 12 cents a minute after 11 p.m. Was not able to log in either there or in stateroom w. laptop but got on at crew terminal for just 6 cents a minute and responded to couple of messages, birthday wishes, etc. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

'Radiance of the Seas' Cruise Log, Day 2 (September 24/Tuesday)

At sea, headed south by southeast toward Bora Bora.

Woken by Diane 8 a.m. 

Finished in-processing at HRC. Was pleased to hear that $100 was generously loaded onto my crew ID! Will probably use for Internet access (but later discovered that this was simply $100 worth of credit).

Breakfast in Windjammer Cafe (lox, tomato, cucumber, capers, lemon, 1/2 bagel w. butter and cream cheese).

Lunch in Windjammer consisting of two pieces Beef Kofta and Indian specialties, including beet Masala that tasted better than it looked, white rice, and crispy bread, coffee creme brulet w. vanilla sauce.

Discovered that I forgot to pack my laser pointer!

Physical activity consisting of four turns around the Promenade Deck/Deck 5 (1.2 miles), two climbs up the climbing wall on Deck 12, and then some time in the steamroom and dry sauna. Met and chatted in sauna w. ship's magician Matt Fallon, from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Beautiful, big, newish facility, w. cedar-planked sauna, and tiled steam room w. ceiling painted like a starry sky.

Attended Captain's Reception in Colony Club lounge, met Captain in receiving line, and had glass of champagne; seated near back and could not see much of the introduction of officers, etc.

Dinner in Cascades. Felt increasingly tired and rundown during dinner. Ordered bottle of red wine, had one glass each. Diane prompted me to order two entrees, beef tenderloin and lobster ravioli, so that she could pick at them. Ate half the beef, which was good, and then decided to skip desert and head back to room. Passed out as soon as I could get undressed (and slept about 11 hours).

* Create a checklist of critical items! There are some you won't remember.

* Bring a highlighter to mark up the cruise newsletter for activities and other things pertinent to you! 

Monday, September 23, 2013

'Radiance of the Seas' Cruise Log, Day 1 (September 23/Monday)

Boarded ship in Honolulu after taking cab from Hale Koa. We had told the cab driver that the cruise terminal was near the Aloha Tower and then, even after we could physically see our ship at the terminal before that he tried to take us to the wrong ship and went where we needed him to only upon our firm insistence. Diane watched me tip him $3 above what he claimed for the fare and then, after he drove off, told me he had already padded the fare by $5.

Arrived at port c. 15:15 and finally made it onto ship c. 16:45; ground crew unsure what to do with us and seated us on a bench for what we were concerned would be an indefinite period. Discovered we could have boarded as early as noon despite 10 p.m. departure.

In-processed at crew human resources office (HRC); could not complete everything and told to come back next day between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Went to hour-long crew safety training.

Dinner in Cascades, the main dining room. Bought 12-bottle wine package and ordered bottle of Spy Valley 2011 Pinot Noir (Marlborough, New Zealand). Asian seafood soup appetizer, seafood spaghetti entree, slice blue cheese and lowfat mango pudding desert). Sat w. three couples from Australia, including Terry and Pam and Kevin and Jen-Jenny-Jennifer (J3) Furness (all of which we have bumped into and chatted with subsequently).

Mandatory passenger lifeboat drill 9:45. Walked around deck afterward and took pictures of Honolulu, Aloha Tower. 

Read a third of Noa Noa and a chapter from The Teachings of Buddha.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Random Images (Hawaii)

Following are some more-or-less random images from around Waikiki! First is from a restaurant at the International Market, second is an Art Deco-style bridge from historic Alamoana Park, and third is from the shopping district along busy Kalakaua Avenue. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Going Off the Beaten Path in Hawaii

For many people, the idea of a vacation in Hawaii evokes images of resort hotels in Waikiki, surfing lessons, and luaus. There is certainly nothing wrong with those things, but if they are not of interest to you — or you already got your fill of them during a previous visit to the islands — then there are plenty of other fun and interesting way you can spend your stay on Oahu, the Hawaiian island on which Honolulu is located.

Just getting out of the resort and urban areas and hitting the road can be a great way to discover and then explore new places but, while it is my preferred method much of the time, it can also be kind of hit or miss. For those with time constraints or less of an adventurous streak, finding a reliable local guide can be a good shortcut to discovering the best of what the islands have to offer outside of the most touristy areas.

Back in 2002, during my first trip to Oahu, that guide ended up being the friend of a friend who was a fan of the classic Hawaii Five-O television series. She knew where all the locations that had been used in the show were located and it was a lot of fun having her point out buildings that appeared in the opening credits and talking about the episodes that had been filmed at picturesque sites like the Diamondhead volcanic crater.

During my last trip to Oahu, in March 2011, my guide was Lopaka Kapanui, proprietor of the Mysteries of Honolulu tour company, which specializes in visits to haunted places and those associated with the royalty, culture, and legends of old Hawaii. The time I spent with Kapanui also emphasized another advantage of having a knowledgeable local guide, namely that they are going to know things about sites that go way beyond the information available in guidebooks and on historical markers.

Suffice it to say, Kapanui recommends that visitors get out of the cities and into the heart of the islands.

“Once you get outside of Waikiki, there are things only a few people know about,” Kapanui says. “You may never look at paradise the same way again.”

The first place Kapanui took me and my wife and friends was the ruins of the summer palace of Kamehameha III (1813-1854), located in the wooded highlands above Honolulu and the only remaining structure associated with the famous monarch. Kamehameha used the isolated home — which was poetically known as Kaniakapupu, “the singing of the land shells” — as a retreat from the pressures of the throne, especially those brought by foreign businessmen and diplomats. It was also used for lavish entertainments.
“Completed in 1845, it was the scene of entertainment of foreign celebrities and the feasting of chiefs and commoners,” reads a plaque at the site, its bronze surface green with damp and age. “The greatest of these occasions was a luau attended by an estimated ten thousand people celebrating Hawaiian restoration day in 1847.”

Kaniakapupu is largely hidden today and would not be likely be found by many visitors, certainly not by those unaware of its existence. Turning off the Pali Highway, a major thoroughfare across the island, Kapanui led us up into the hills along Nuuanu Pali Drive, a winding road completely enclosed in an overhanging canopy of trees. We pulled off to the side of the road, at spot that was not marked in any way, and then followed our guide on foot up a narrow path into a bamboo forest that led further into the hills (shown at the top of this page). 

Coming out into a hilltop clearing, we saw spread before us the ruins of the palace complex, the main feature of which was the crumbling walls of the main hall. Kapanui explained to us that the place was kapu, or very sacred, and asked us to wait while he sang a prayer to the spirits that guarded it. As he uttered the final syllable of the brief ritual, the heavens opened up and rain began to pour down on us and he told us it was OK to go ahead and explore it, which we proceeded to do.

Our next stop took us over the mountains to the eastern end of the island and the town of Kailua, where I was somewhat surprised to have Kapanui pull into the unassuming parking lot of a YMCA. We walked a short distance, however, and there, tucked into a little valley just a few hundred yards from the main thoroughfare of Kailua Road, we were stunned to see the remains of a massive, black stone pyramidal structure!
Ulupo Heiau is a thousand-year-old sacrificial temple said to have been built in one night by the menehunes, a mythical race of little people similar to the fairies and dwarves of European folklore. The remains of this massive structure are still an impressive 30 feet tall and 140 feet wide, pointing to impressive architectural capabilities. While we were there, Kapanui told us some of the stories associated with the place — including one about a reptile woman who preys upon young men and is said to dwell in a nearby sacred grove — and explained the significance of some votive offerings that had been placed on a makeshift altar.

A few days later, a friend of mine and I went on our own to visit what may very well be one of the most beautiful places on Oahu, the Byodo-In Buddhist temple, located at the back of the Valley of the Temples memorial park. Completed in 1968, it is a half-sized replica of a 10th century temple in Japan and is located in a lush valley, enclosed by the cliffs of the Ko’olau Mountains and surrounded by gardens and koi ponds. Features of the temple include the central Phoenix Hall, the focus of which is the immense, nine-foot tall golden Amida Buddha, the largest such statue outside of Japan; a bell house containing a five-foot-tall, three-ton bronze bell, which visitors can strike for good luck; and a meditation pavilion that visitors can use for private prayer and reflection. We spent a relaxing afternoon at the site, feeding the resident fish and birds, meditating in the sanctuary, and even participating in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony (a first for me and an unexpected treat!).
Other sites we visited during our stay on Oahu include Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau, a ruined mountaintop temple on the North Shore, and an ancient fertility site that royal women used for birthing, both as part of a nighttime tour with Mysteries of Honolulu; the idyllic Waimea Valley, which we stopped at during a drive along the North Shore; and Bellows Beach Park, a gorgeous shoreline located on a military base that is frequently much less crowded than other public beaches.
Those are just a handful of the many off-the-beaten path sites on Oahu, not to mention the “Big Island” of Hawaii, Maui, or any of the others. If you go, they and many others will be there for you to explore yourself.

The Big Island
A good way to get off the beaten path on the “Big Island” of Hawaii is to hit the notorious Saddle Road, Hawaii Route 200, the mountain highway that runs between the looming peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. This isolated road connects the western and eastern ends of the island, running from the intersection with Highway 190 north of Kona to Hilo, and is a dramatic alternative to the coast roads the predominate on the island.
For years, Saddle Road was one of the most dangerous roads in the state, with many sharp curves, poorly-paved stretches, and crossings over one-lane bridges, and many rental car companies flat-out refused to let people take their vehicles onto it. Major renovations on the road began in 2009 and, by 2010, one of the worst segments had been bypassed and replaced and overall it had been upgraded to the point where it was a good as any other rural highway. Rental car companies still discourage customers from driving on it but there is now no legitimate basis for this and to some extent this is just a matter of them needing to update their maps and literature.

From its western end, Saddle Road passes first through parts of the sprawling Parker Ranch and then past the Pohakuloa Training Area — which includes an artillery and bombing range — and Bradshaw Army Airfield, ultimately ascending to about 6,500 feet above sea level. Then, about midway along its length, it intersects with two smaller, rougher roads.

The first, Mauna Kea Summit Road, goes north up the mountain for which it is named to 9,300 feet and the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, a support center for the Mauna Kea Observatory, located another 4,500 feet up at the summit. Sightseers can drive most vehicles up to the first site, which includes a visitor center, but four-wheel-drive vehicles are needed to continue to the mountaintop, and some people opt to simply hitch a ride the rest of the way.

The other road, the unmarked Mauna Loa Observatory Road, goes south and winds its way through immense blackened lava fields and up the slopes of its namesake mountain. It is rough but paved for about the first quarter of its 17 miles and then very rough and hazardous after that, making it accessible only to people with four-wheel-drive vehicles and sufficient nerve.
I opted to visit the atmospheric observatory on Mauna Loa and, having no similar desire, my wife and friends dropped me off at the southbound road to make the rest of the way up on my own. After about three miles I was able to hitch a ride with a Navy technician from Maryland who, along with his wife, was heading up to check his instruments at the observatory, something he did just once a year and which I was fortunate to have coincide with my own visit. Once there, I met with site administrator John Barnes, who gave me a tour of the facility and talked to me about its mission. Then, the couple from Maryland graciously gave me a ride back to the western end of the island and dropped me off, back on the beaten track, at a spot where my own wife and friends could pick me up.

If You Go
When To Go: Anytime! April through May and September through October are considered optimum but are commensurately more crowded and expensive.

Where To Stay: On Oahu, anywhere but Honolulu and Waikiki if you want to get off the beaten path. Located at the eastern end of the island, the town of Kailua allows easy access to many great sites throughout Oahu and has many amenities and places to stay, including timeshares and vacation-rentals-by-owner.

What To Eat: Be sure to have one meal at a traditional luau! Zippy’s is a family-style restaurant chain similar to Denny’s that specializes in Hawaiian cuisine. Bento boxes at takeout places and convenience stores can be a fun option for lunch and typically include little cakes of rice and spam wrapped with seaweed, macaroni salad, and bean sprouts. Pok√© is the Hawaiian answer to sushi and many varieties can be found in shops and grocery stores everywhere. And casual shrimp eateries are a feature of the North Shore of Oahu.

Climate: Tropical. June through August can be hot and muggy and November through March is the rainy season.

Language: As a U.S. state, English is official language, but key Hawaiian words it does not hurt to know are aloha for “hello” and mahalo for “thank you.” 

Going Off the Beaten Path: Having a car is probably the easiest way to get off the beaten path on Oahu and make the most of the time you have there, although for the more adventurous public buses are available. Mysteries of Honolulu, a tour company that specializes in sites associated with the culture and legends of Hawaii, has many day and nighttime options available. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Yes, We Have No Lamb Today (Kumo Asian Bistro)

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA — I just had lunch at an elegant little place at the intersection of Manchester Boulevard and Beulah Road called Kumo Asian Bistro. The service was good, quick, and polite, and my waitress had the improbable but delightful name Mango; my food was hot and delicious; and even the restrooms had upscale little touches like basin sinks. So, it bears mentioning that I was disappointed not at what I found, only at what I didn't find, and that I have nothing but good things to say about Kumo.

What I did not find was the little Chinese place that I ate lunch at off-and-on for 18 years. It was not elegant and, if it had a name at all, did not have one that was particularly interesting or relevant. You ordered your food at a counter and then either picked it up or had it brought to your formica table. The bathroom was always kind of grungy, and you often had to compete with the kitchen crew to even get into it. The waitstaff was perpetually exhausted and always bordering on surly.

After a point, however, the waitstaff, particularly the woman the front counter, recognized me every time I came in — even if it hadn't been for a long time — and even made a point of chatting with me. They even started automatically giving me chopsticks and stopped giving me grief over asking for extra napkins. And, perhaps more relevant than any of that, they served one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten: Kung Pao Lamb. I have never found this delicacy anywhere else and, for the last several years I ate at the place, never ordered anything else, because I knew I would just be disappointed. Even their Mongolian Lamb could not compare to the mass of greasy lamb slices, broccoli, and bamboo shoots in Kung Pao sauce, which I would further enhance with chili-infused oil from a little container on the table. Hot tea and cold water were available in two huge urns and you could have as much of either as you wanted for the price of getting up and serving yourself.

The clientele was special, too, and I was cognizant of being one among a number of distinct regulars. One of my favorites was a guy who looked exactly like Dick Cheney, except that he had a long ponytail and was typically attired in a tropical shirt and straw hat; it could actually have been Dick Cheney in a rudimentary costume, and I always liked to imagine it was his non-evil twin. The other co-diner I remember was a horrible looking little Asian guy, about four feet tall and with a face like a toad; I think he even might have had one leg shorter than the other. But he was always surrounded by three or four hot Asian chicks and smiling from ear-to-ear (as befits a hideous guy lucky enough to be accompanied by a bevy of hotties). I always imagined he was their pimp and a colorful player in the seedy Franconia underworld but actually think that they worked at the post office down the street.

Sadly, I found none of that today. But, you can't eat nostalgia, and if you find yourself between the Springfield Mall and Kingstowne Plaza you probably won't do better than Kumo. But you won't find Kung Pao Lamb there.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Colonial Beach Blues Festival 2013

For the last two years I have regretted not being able to make it out to the Colonial Beach Blues Festival and was excited to be able to attend in its third great year! This terrific event takes place on the banks of the Potomac River in historic Colonial Beach, about an hour south of Washington, D.C., at the High Tides bar and restaurant and the Black Pearl Tiki Bar(205 Taylor Street, Colonial Beach, VA 22443; (804) 224-8433), and was held this year Friday-Sunday, June 21-23. And it was not just a great time, it was a great cause, as all proceeds from the event went to benefit the Organization for Autism Research.

The Colonial Beach Blues Festival was organized by my close friends Dominick and Charlene Salemi, proprietors of hip book and memorabilia store Populuxe Fredericksburg, and I was glad to have finally been able to avail myself of their generous offer to come check out their big event of the year. They had some fantastic acts lined up for this year, and fans of the Blues or even just live music in general were not disappointed. There were also numerous vendors selling everything from food to hip clothing and jewelry.

MC for the festival was everyone's favorite Jay Jenc of Jumpin' Jupiter (who rumor has it once killed a man, possibly in Memphis or Kansas City, in true Blues fashion!). He is shown here with festival organizer Charlene Salemi.

Friday's lineup featured three great acts, the Andy Poxon Band, Moonshine Society, and Anthony "Swamp Dog" Clark (shown in that order, below). All of them had a lot of energy and their own unique styles and put on a great show for the crowd.

Saturday was even bigger and a full seven bands took the stage for the hundreds of Blues fans that started showing up and claiming tables from well before the first group came on sometime after noon. The lineup kicked off with the entertaining Big Money Band and continued with Retro Deluxe, Clarence "The Blues Man" Turner, Jumpin' Jupiter, the Night Kings (with their fans from the Karb Kings can club in the foreground), Cathy Ponton King, and former heavy metal shredder Bobby Messano, who was accompanied by special guest Deanna Bogart on saxophone. People in the audience also enjoyed illusions by magician Vick (shown below in Steampunk/Goth top hat while chatting with festival organizer Dominick Salemi).

Sunday stayed strong with five great music combos, including Blues Flash (not shown), Piedmont Blues Plus accompanied by Fiddlin' "Big Al" Chidester (who drove 2,500 from Moscow, Idaho, to play at the Colonial Beach Blues Festival), Scott Ramminger & his CrawStickers (accompanied by Andy Poxon), Michael Tash & Bad Influence, and the ever-popular Nighthawks, which brought a crowd of their own fans.

Sponsors for this year's great event included NSWC Federal Credit Union, Community Bank of Tri-County, Tides Inn & Tides Inn Market, Karb Kings Va Car Club, High Tides on the Potomac, Populuxe, Brutarian Music & Magazine, and the Colonial Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Nearly a thousand people turned out during the course of the three-day event and it would be fair to say that fun was had by all. Shown here in order are one of the Nighthawk's cutest fans; their self-proclaimed oldest fans; a couple of chicks who came down for the Blues festival; a couple more chicks who came down for it; Toby and Paul, two of the tireless volunteers who helped out throughout the weekend; and people dancing on the sand to one of the bands on Friday night.

For more information about the Colonial Beach Blues Festival and how you can attend or participate in it in 2014, contact the Colonial Beach Blues Society via phone at (804) 214-0312 or (804) 214-0883, or via email at