Archive for the ‘Trips’ Category


Back in Germany.

In Status,Trips on June 29, 2012 by Tamás

We are home, but will wrap our trip up with posts about LA, SF, NO and more. Stay tuned.


Excursion with the Baby Boomers: A Tour to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

In Sina's Posts,Tamás' Posts,Trips on June 20, 2012 by SN

Tamás and I are both fascinated by volcanoes – not just since the Iceland volcano canceled our weekend trip to Istanbul in 2010. Therefore, we decided to attend a tour that examines this fascinating geological phenomenon. After all, Big Island is one of few islands in the world where  volcanoes are still active. Kilauea is one of the five volcanoes at the southern tip of the island which has been erupting since 1983 – the longest running eruption so far and the reason why Big Island is still growing.

Our tour guide Jimmy picked us up in the morning. The van was already packed with a girl from the military and four couples who spend their retirement in Florida. They booked a tour of three islands Maui, Honolulu and Big Island was their last. They were in a good mood and cracked funny jokes. We were sure: This would be a fun trip.

Yet, the tour turned out a bit different from what we expected. We thought we would drive directly to the volcano and do smaller hikes around the caldera. Jimmy actually took us not only to the volcanoes, but took a little detour to the Eastern city of Hilo via the mountaintop road Saddle Road between the volcanoes Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. We stopped at Rainbow Falls near Hilo and continued our trip south in the Puna district. At a macadamia nut farm we had a deli-style lunch. Macadamia nuts are indigenous to Hawai’i, but Hershey’s bought the last working macadamia nut farm and shut it down. The farm we had lunch on was privately owned and allowed us to crack our own nuts. Around 2 pm, we went onto lava for the first time, a bit late if you consider that we had been in the car since 9 am.

Rainbow Falls, Hilo. One of the Additional Destinations.

Our first volcano walk in Kalapana area lead us to a lava field which was created from a 1991 lava stream. It is one of the few ones that are younger than Tamás and I are. Imagine that the lava field formed when the Soviet Union collapsed, Germany struggled with its post-reunification crisis, and Euro Dance dominated the charts. The stream poured onto the Kalapana shore and filled this cute little bay with thick black pahoehoe lava, the smooth flowing lava. Besides filling up the bay, it also overflowed the Kalapana village which is now buried under a thick layer of black molten rock. We walked on this lava field all the way to the new coast line which was rough, choppy, and cracky. We were stunned by the sheer size of the stream even though we just walked the very tip of this mile-long stream.

Kalapana Bay: Former Shoreline (left), 1991 Lava Stream Poured into the Bay.

Pahoehoe Lava.

New Shoreline. Ocean Breaking Up Lava.

After exploring one of the most recent streams, we drove up the Kilauea caldera where we were finally able to see the Halema’uma’u crater. Halema’uma’u is a smaller crater within the larger Kilauea volcano crater which has re-entered an active phase last year. Because of this, parts of the streets and hiking trails were closed for the public. From the Jagger Volcano Museum viewing platform Halema’uma’u looks like a huge steaming soup bowl. Only the slow ascending white clouds hint at the volcano’s activity inside the big round hole in the earth. Only at sunset, the true dimension of the caldera becomes visible: The crater starts to glow in countless shades of orange and red like the abyss of hell, but the entire scenery is very peaceful and quiet. No tremor, no rumble, not shakes.

Not Your Average Nissin Cup: Halema’uma’u Crater.

Halema’uma’u at Night.

This was also the only possibility to see the glowing volcano. We did not see lava flowing down the hill or entering into the sea. This indeed is a very rare and dangerous occasion. We could see former lava flows, so-called lava tubes, that formed underground channels. We hiked down the Thurston Lava Tube which was created more than 400 years ago and looked like a cave.

Inside a 400-year Old Lava Stream. Thurston Lava Tube.

We enjoyed the volcano tour and liked especially the Kalapana lava hike and the lookout over Halema’uma’u. However, despite fact that the tour was advertised as one of the Hawai’i highlights, we both had a bit a different opinion about the tour. We thought we would see more of the area in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park itself, going down the Chain of Craters Road, hiking down the Kilauea Iki Crater or driving on the Crater Rim Drive. We mostly spent the day in the van learning much about Big Island and Volcanoes, but we felt that the best parts had been kept from us. Instead we stopped at Hilo and Rainbow Falls which was nice, but a bit unnecessary for our taste. We felt that we could have done this volcano tour also with a car and the maps given at the National Park entrance. If we come back to Big Island, we might as well do that.

For more pictures on our volcano tour, please visit Tamás’ Flickr page.


Flying Out IV

In Sina's Posts,Status,Tamás' Posts,Trips,Uncategorized on June 14, 2012 by SN

Flying Out IV: A Weekend in the Big Easy.


Big Island, Wrong Name.

In Sina's Posts,Tamás' Posts,Trips on June 12, 2012 by SN

We decided to get an overview over Big Island and rented a car for the day to explore its northern part. After checking the distances we found that the island’s name should involve the adjective huge and refrained from our initial idea to drive around the island because we do not want to spend our vacation in the car.

When we rented the car, we met Jordan. His is just one of the many stories of Hawaii we encountered. Originally from San Francisco, he moved to Kona because he and his girlfriend could not afford to live in the Northern California city anymore. His student loan played a role in that. He has been living on the island with his girlfriend at their parents’ home for seven years now. We also met another employee at the car rental agency who was born on the island. We were surprised when she told us that her first language is English just like the language of many other Hawaiians. She explained that the native language had been prohibited in the first part of the 20th century in order to speed up the Americanization of the Hawaiian territories.

Road to the Top on Lava Fields.

Driving the Kaloko Drive up the Hualalai Volcano, one of the five volcanoes on Big Island, we were stunned by the rich variety of vegetation and climate zones. We drove through rain forest, saw Alaskan fire grass, African monkey pod trees, passed the temperate climate zone or as my geography teacher would remind me, „die gemäßigte Klimazone“, and of course tropical climate. Sometimes those changes occurred even within 5 minutes of driving. Incredible.

The Island of Orange-Colored Tree Stems.

Mr. Lava Lava: Tamás on 1801 Lava Stream.

From Hualalai, we went along the top of the mountains to Waimea, where we had lunch at the Hawaiian Style Café. Tamás had a Hawaiian Plate, which, as we later realized, checked off 4 of 5 items from Lonely Planet’s list of essential Hawaiian dishes at once. Waimea reminded us of the Irish hills and dales with its ranches and grassy treeless landscapes. It is also known as the home of the Hawaiian cowboys, and feels very different from life at the shore.

Incredible Views: Mauna Kea Volcano with Observatories on Big Island.

Desert, Big Island.

We took the scenic but very windy Kohala Mountain Road from Waimea down to Kapa’au near the northern tip of Big Island. A drive that yet again lead us through lava wasteland one minute, and sceneries that reminded us of home five minutes later. We stopped frequently, but literally had trouble opening our car doors due to strong winds. Having arrived in Kapa’au, we headed a bit further east, to the end of that road, to see the stunning cliffs of the Pololu Valley, a set of cliffs which drop vertically more than 100 meters down into the ocean. The bottom of the Valley has a great black sand beach, but we did not hike all the way down. It reminded us of one of those valleys from Jurassic Park. As it turns out, that movie was shot on the island of Kauaʻi, another of the Hawaiian Isles, so the comparison is pretty accurate.

Windy Hills and Dales: Big Island Green and Sister Island Maui in the Background.

Stunning Cliffs: Pololu Valley.

Returning along the northwestern shoreline, we had a coffee break in Hawi at the cute Kohala Coffee Mill, which, of course, serves the locally grown Kona coffee. They had 100% Kona brew, compared to the cheaper 10% blend (meaning 90% are ‘regular’ coffee beans). Despite being local, pure Kona coffee is far from cheap. At the supermarket, 10% blend costs about the same as any other coffee, while pure Kona starts at around $20 per pound.

We then stopped one more time, to see the sunset at A Beach in Waikoloa (a common nickname, because no one can pronounce the original name ‘Anaeho ‘omalu Beach) and drove back over lava fields from several outbreaks in the 19th century.

Sunset, Sina, and Plumeria.

For more pictures, please visit Tamás’ Flickr page.


Aloha Kona!

In Sina's Posts,Tamás' Posts,Trips on May 29, 2012 by SN

Many people told us that Hawai‘i is beautiful: Colleagues, TV shows or films, and vintage postcards, etc. But they were all wrong. Hawai‘i is simply STUNNING!

The flight from Los Angeles LAX over the Pacific took 5,5 hours. The only color combination we saw during the flight was blue-white-blue, ocean-clouds-ocean. Flying to a random island in the Pacific Ocean is indeed a bit different from flying from continent to continent. Our first sign of Big Island was the dark blue top of the Mauna Kea, the highest mountain and volcano of our destination. The mountain top throned majestically above a sea of water and clouds in the yellow afternoon sky. As we got closer, Mauna Kea revealed its real brown color and we got a clear view of the observatories on its summit. We flew around the island to see fresh green grass, waving palm trees, and dark lava fields from the early 1800s eruption until we landed at the airport which is a mere agglomeration of tropical pavilions.

Tropical Paradise by the Sea: Kona Magic Sands Resort

Our crib Kona Magic Sands is located right next to the Magic Sands Beach with its own swimming pool and palm-tree lined terrace. It is as close to the ocean as you can get, as you can see. In fact, we heard this complex could not have been build as it is today, because new tsunami-related construction rules supposedly exist. At least we have tsunami sirens and the hills are right behind us ;)

Almost to Ourselves, Especially During the Week.

The Pacific waves are very prominent at this ocean-front condo, they put us to sleep at night and wake us up in the morning. Alice, our landlord provided us with everything we need: spices for meals, snorkel gear for the beach, and even a medium-sized library with all things Hawaiian. The first book we both read was Mark Twain in Hawaii: RoughingItIntheSandwichIslands, a collection of newspaper essays he wrote during his stay on the islands in 1866. Even the fridge was filled with two beers and sparkling wine. Whoever claimed „Es gibt kein Bier auf Hawaii“ was just fundamentally wrong and did not know what he was talking about. Our crib is absolutely fabulous and upon entering the condo, I already thought about when and how I could get back here in the future.

The Adjacent Magic Sands Beach at Night.

Kona Magic Sands on Dwellable


La Frontera/Borderlands: Observations in El Paso, TX.

In Sina's Posts,Trips on May 27, 2012 by SN

Before we post more on our Hawai’ian dream getaway, let me quickly wrap up the last stop on my Texas Trail. El Paso is the Western-most part of Texas, squeezed between the cactus-littered Franklin Mountains, the state of New Mexico, and the country of Mexico. Poor El Paso! Indeed, the 650,000 people city does not really feel like Texas or at times even the United States for that matter. The landscape looks like it was taken from a Western movie, the language and the street signs are predominantly Spanish, and almost all of the residents are Hispanics. The desert city is certainly a lot different from the Metroplex Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, but also San Antonio.

“Western Landscape”: Franklin Mountains.

The border was the most defining spacial marker during my stay in this sprawling desert city. When I met up with my dear friend Beth’s brother Kevin and his wife Vicky for dinner in the northwestern part, the bus drove on the I-10, which runs along the cute Rio Bravo/Rio Grande, the river that marks the U.S.-Mexican border. It is amazing to see how close the border is while it keeps people apart at the same time. The 1.3-million city Cuidad Juárez right across the border basically forms the other half of this giant sprawling ocean of low-rise houses sparkling in the sun.

Borderlands: El Paso (lower left) and Ciudad Juárez (upper right) Divided By the Concrete Channel of the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande.

El Paso and Ciudad Juárez are like urban desert twins separated by a huge concrete channel aka. the border. Although they appear to be from the same family, they are radically different in their characters: The former is one of the safest cities in the United States, the latter is one of the most violent and dangerous cities in Mexico.

Highrises of Downtown El Paso, Ciudad Juárez in the Background.

The drug war, which has violently erupted in 2008 after newly elected Mexican President Calderón had declared to fight the drug cartels, has pretty much put an end to the endless flows across the border. While in early 2000s, the border constituted this constant ebb and flow of locals, workers, military personnel, and tourists going back and forth between the two countries, this stream has pretty much dried out in the wake of the drug war.

Crossing Over? Friendship Bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.

Nobody I spoke to prior to my trip recommended me to go there. In fact, one of the business men I met on the airplane to ELP even urged me: “I REQUIRE you not to go across the border.” My Austin host Ariam explained it would be difficult for me as a White person going over because of the kidnapping industry in addition to the countless shootings and senseless killings. The Border Patrol which can be distinguished from other police cars by its signature white and green-colored SUVs is lined up every hundred meters on the border to ensure that the drug war does not spill over to the U.S. It is shocking to see what happened to the great country that I traveled to in 2002.

Border Patrol SUVs at Good Neighbor International Bridge, El Paso.

Although I could not cross the border, Mexico was everywhere in El Paso: In the shops that sell Mexican soccer shirts, on the streets where the dusty and rusty cars have predominantly Mexican license plates, and at the El Paso Museum of Art which had an exhibit on Mexican Modernism. Reading on the recent U.S. Census in the Dallas Morning News which announced the historic shift that White births are in the minority for the first time in U.S. history, El Paso already foreshadows how the US will continue to transform towards the latter part of the 21st century.


View From our Condo.

Just Another Regular Kona Sunset

on May 25, 2012 by Tamás