Saturday, September 12, 2015

New York

I knew it was going to suck going from Hawaii to NY before I even left Australia. It involved an overnight flight to LA and then a day flight to NY. But there were two good things:

1) I had two hot guys in their 20s sitting beside me from from LA to NY. One of them had even studied in Brisbane for a semester in his uni days.

2) I knew about this ALL VEGAN place in the American Airlines terminal at LAX and was very excited to try it out.




It was about eight in the morning or something when we got to LAX so I got to have breakfast here and then buy some lunch for the plane since I knew I wouldn't be buying anything on board. As you'd expect it was not cheap. But it's an airport and this is the best vegan food you will find in any airport. Ever. So you need to suck it up and enjoy not having to eat five Clif Bars for lunch, which is your alternative basically.

My sister and her friend were flying in from Vegas so this was the first trip I've done in probably 10 years that has not been on my own and/or with strangers I've met along the way.

I have to say, it's really weird going on holidays with people you know. I'm not sure I would make a habit of it. Not cos I have anything against Patti or Nat but I really like travelling alone. It's just so good. Everyone should try it.

This was my third time in NY. The first time was in 1999 in winter (shit). The second time was in 2004 in early spring (still shit). But this time it was mid August and the weather was perfect--about 30C every day and no humidity. If you're thinking of going, wait til it's summer.

We did the usual touristy things starting with the Staten Island ferry.







The World Trade Centre area was new again for me. The first time I was here I went up the World Trade Centre. The second time it was a mess still and there was a lot of visible 9/11 damage.

Here is a photo I took in 2004 of a building next to one of the Twin Tower sites. It was pretty sad then.


It's still pretty sad now.

There's a couple of memorial museums (including the main one) where you can go and see things from the explosions and thousands of photos of people who died. It's emotionally overwhelming and not the most fun thing you will do in NY.







The new One World Trade Centre is cool though.







And the observation deck is really good. They have these ipads which have some cityscape thing that moves as you do. You can zoom in on buildings or whatever you're looking at out the window and it will tell you what they are. It's about $15 to rent them which is above my maximum willingness to pay. But I like the idea. It's really cool.






It is also well organised. You buy your tickets for a certain time to minimise lining up. This was in contrast to 2004 when my friend Heather and I went up the Empire State Building and it took fucking hours of lining up and not knowing how much longer we had to wait.

Here's me in 2004.


Eating vegan in NY is easy. There's vegan options everywhere so I didn't really take notice of specific places. I even got vegan cream cheese bagels without even trying. They were just there. And you can always go to Wholefoods. NY is good!

One place I did seek out was the V spot near Washington Square Park. It has a latino theme, which was exactly what I wanted at the time. It was really good. Then across the road was a new place that opened that day which basically sold coffee, some vegan desserts and Brooklyn organic chocolate made with hemp seeds. I was talking to a guy in there that had come over from Brooklyn just to buy this chocolate. He invited me to an anti Starbucks rally (to protest against all the dairy they use) the next day but I was flying out. It was quite a big event though cos one of the vegan YouTube channels I watch covered the protest in Toronto. See that's what social media does. Coordinates people.


Anyway, the Hemp Bar was doing free samples so I sampled. This was the best one, which I bought cos I felt guilty about having eaten so much free chocolate.


You'd never get hemp chocolate in Australia cos of our stupid regulations banning hemp seeds as a food product. That said, I eat hemp seeds all the time cos you can buy them in any health food store. They are just not allowed to be used as an ingredient in anything or sold as a food. Although, I think there are some vegan places in Melbourne that make and sell hemp foods. I'm sure I've read that on the internet. Good on them for ignoring clueless bureaucrats. We should all do that.

Anyway to get around the regs we have bullshit labels like this stuck on every packet telling you to make face cream out of it or feed them to your dog. It's so stupid (well not for your dog) considering they are one of the most nutritious foods ever. Google it if you don't know this and then get some in your belly!



Brooklyn.







Times Square.




USA! USA!


One of the places you can go for a drink in Times Square is the View revolving bar and restaurant. It takes an hour to do one full rotation. It's not cheap but the view is good and if you go early enough you don't have to pay a cover charge.

I also had dinner at this place. Oh. My. God. Vegan fast food at it's best. I had the seitan philly cheese steak and it tasted amazing. It was so delicious. Since I try to stick to an 80/10/10 style diet (but not fully raw) these days, eating this was a massive fail.



The Empire State building.



One of the things we did which I'd not done before is the High Line walk. I don't know if this was open the other times I was here, but it's really nice. Although probably a bit shit in winter.






Some lego building thing you could participate in was going on.



Another thing I hadn't done before was the Sex and the City tour. The other two really wanted to do this so we did. It was good. It was basically a guide talking about the show and then pointing out something from the bus window then showing you a clip from the show/movie showing you what we just passed. We did get out at a few places.

Like Carrie's apartment which appears to be undergoing some renos.






Steve and Aidan's bar, where we had a cosmopolitan (not included in the tour price).



The place where Big and Carrie had the wedding reception or something (I can't remember).






The New York City library with a leather--not vegan friendly--door. Seriously, who makes a leather door? Pointless. 

I think Carrie got married here. Or dumped here. I love the show but it's been a few years since I watched it.






In the spirit of Carrie Bradshaw, I actually did a reasonable amount of shopping in NY as well. Normally I don't buy stuff when I'm travelling cos then I'll have to carry it around, which I don't like. This is why I pretty much wear the same clothes in all my blog posts. I know what works for minimisation purposes and I leave everything else at home. However, this was the end of my trip which also changes things. I picked up some new work clothes from Zara which I was happy about. Sigh, I wish we had Zara in Brisbane. Apparently it's coming but I've been hearing that for years. In the meantime, it's an excuse to go to Sydney for the weekend I guess. I also went to Nike and bought some exercise pants (like bike pants but without the stupid padded bit that looks like a nappy). I was excited about this since I've been looking for some for SO LONG and there aren't any at the length I want that I've seen in Australia. I love Nike even though they've had some questionable labour practices in the past. Their stuff is just so good and it lasts forever. I am still wearing Nike clothes I bought from when I lived in London! Nothing else even comes close so I bought two pairs of the pants I wanted. Since I have two pairs, theoretically I should be good for another 20 years assuming I don't grow a massive arse.

Speaking of shopping, these statues are in the shopping centre where Wholefoods is at Columbus Circle.






I love Botero. He is that artist from my favourite city in Colombia--Medellin! Ah South America. I wish I was I still backpacking. Work is so much less fun. Then again, most jobs are fleeting these days so I'm sure my next round of unemployment isn't too far away. I should probably start saving for it.

I'll end on that. NY is such a good city and I love going there. However, it's a long way from Australia. To get home we left early Sunday evening NY time and got back Tuesday morning Oz time. We actually spoke to a guy who said he'd like to visit Australia but he just couldn't be bothered travelling that far. It's a fair point since we skipped an entire day. On the plus side, the rest of the week back at work went super quick.

Until next time.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hawaii

Aloha! 

Long time no holiday. Mostly cos I've been on fixed term contracts since I rejoined the ranks of the employed. I was saving all my annual leave for when my current contract ends to give me an income buffer until I get the next job. However, I now have a contract until 30/06/16 so I could safely take three weeks off and escape some crappy winter weather. Hooray!

O'ahu

The first thing to know about Hawaii is it's 20 hours behind Australia's east coast. That's like nearly a full day. So when I was there, I was getting emails from tomorrow and I felt like I was stuck in the past. It was really weird. Hawaii is literally at the arse end of the time zone. Like more than the rest of the US. On the plus side I gained about half day just by going there. Left Saturday night, got there Saturday midday.


Unlike everywhere else that's not Asia or New Zealand, Hawaii is actually pretty easy to get to. There are direct flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and they are not that expensive. Annoyingly the Aussie dollar is dropping like a stone at the moment, but that's another story.


I arrived in Honolulu. Despite having a job now, I went straight back to backpacker mode. Pff! As if I'm going to pay $30 or whatever for a taxi when I can get the bus for $2.50. So I wait. It's fucking hot. Some buses come along. None of them go to Waikiki. Then finally the right bus comes along and the crowd that has built up scrambles to get on.


Now in Australia, towards the front of the bus over the wheels there's a bit for luggage and bags. It's the same in Hawaii, however the sign says you can't put any bags there. Righto. That's a bit stupid and a waste of perfectly good storage space. Also, there is an unnecessary amount space taken up by the driver cabin bit. The seating is also weird and there's much less but without really providing a whole lot of extra standing room. Overall this means the bus gets crowded more quickly than necessary. I don't know who came up with such an inefficient internal layout but they should probably get fired. Also you can't take suitcases on the bus. Only carry on bags and backpacks. 
Apparently you can wank on the bus though. Some Irish girls told me they were on a bus (not the airport one) and some teenage boy was sitting up the back wanking while watching some Japanese girls who were also on the bus. And they totally busted him but he kept going anyway. 

Eew. 

Lol. 

Gross.

On the plus side of Hawaii's public transport system, the drivers are all super helpful mostly because they have to deal with idiot tourists all day who don't have a clue about where they need to get off. They also have real time bus information which is helpful cos the scheduled times are not the best and some routes only go once or twice an hour.


I stayed at this hostel. I liked it although I wished it had a pool. 


I liked that the door to the room was just a screen door. That says it never gets cold. I wish I lived somewhere that only needed a screen door.


Sigh. One day...




On my first day after arriving I didn't do much. Did some yoga stretches since the plane was shit and went for a walk around Waikiki to see the sights and find food. It was Saturday so there were some farmers markets happening. Lots of fruit was available except it's all weighed in pounds so I had no idea whether it's a good price or not.


Also, what is the deal with the pounds abbreviation? Like, if you abbreviate kilograms it's kg. Logical. Makes sense. But pounds gets shortened to lb. Where the fuck does the 'l' and the 'b' come from? I know I could google it but it's still stupid. Just like the whole non-metric system. 


Cue the StonecuttersLol! It's still catchy.

The next day I made some friends and went to the beach. 


As expected, it's very nice.










Later in the day we went to Dukes on the beach for a cocktail. Unfortunately Erika was underage again cos of the US's dumb drinking laws so she had to get a mocktail.




We also visited my old friend Jimmy Choo for a bit of a look around. This is Cinderella's slipper. Of course she would have worn Jimmy Choos to the ball. That makes so much sense. And she would have been totally pissed off she lost one of them. We're talking about $500+ shoes after all. 




These girls also talked me into going skydiving. Erika's video did look pretty awesome, which is what half sold me on the idea. Then Kerrie's like "come on, I'm booking it".


Skydiving was never on my bucket list but in the space of about 24 hours it went on and got ticked off.




This was the most exciting and terrifying thing I've ever done. Jumping out of a plane at 4,200m is ridiculous. My video is here. My tandem guy was good though. I liked him, except when he spun me around after we started parachuting down. That just made me motion sick for the next half an hour. When I got to the ground I felt like vomiting. That aside, it was awesome. I liked it.

I liked my camera guy too. He is a younger and hotter version of Justin Timberlake. (Guy on the right in the blue).





My jump.






 



These people are responsible for our safety. Repacking the chutes after each jump is what they do. They are also very flexible. When the plane was up in the air, they would start doing yoga and acrobatics.



It's quite scary as well cos you have to sign about eight pages of legal waiver in which the word 'death' appears many times.


Since no one died, the next day a group of us decided to do the Diamond Head walk. 




This is it from the air (with Waikiki to the left)




You can get the bus to the entrance (kind of) from Waikiki. This was a classic example of bus drivers dealing with idiot tourists. About half the bus was going here but for some reason one person got off a stop too soon and the rest of us followed. Then the bus driver had to usher us all back on to the bus. But she was really good about it. Not like if it was in a regular city where they'd just drive off.

The views are spectacular.












It was so hot and the walk is not easy if you're unfit. You need to take water with you. On our way back down, some woman (I think she was Aussie) was sitting down on the path (which is super narrow so pedestrian traffic was getting backed up). By the time we got to the bottom she'd been rescued. Since this is America, it involved:


- One fire truck

- One search and rescue vehicle (even though everyone knew where she was so the search part was redundant)
- Two ambulances
- One helicopter.

Really??? Did she need all that??? She was probably just dehydrated. Half an hour with a drip in her arm and she would have been fine.


I sincerely hope she had travel insurance. Although anyone coming to the US without it as an idiot since this is the kind of shit that happens.


Since we were hot, we decided to go to Manoa Falls in the afternoon to swim in some fresh water. This is another place you can get the bus to from Waikiki.


I also made the amazing discovery that if you plot your journey on google maps with wifi it just uses your phone's GPS after if you don't close it down. You don't need data!


Life. Changing.


Although google maps did lie. It said we only had to walk about 600m from the bus stop to the falls. In reality that was to the car park and then it was about another 2km to the falls.


But it was a nice walk. And it's rainforest so it's not that hot.


I can't tell if this is a lantana infestation or if it's native. I think it's lantana.








Someone said they do a lot of bikini shoots here. Here's mine. I expect I'll be getting a call from a modelling agency any day now. Lol!




Now, you'd think that Waikiki would be where all the good veggie restaurants are but not so. The only good one within walking distance that I tried was this. The food was pretty good. I wish I'd gone there more. I also bought a lot of acai bowls from Jamba Juice. I've discussed my love of acai bowls on several occasions so I won't go into that again. One day when I was waiting for my order some meat head comes in and orders a smoothie and he's like "what protein shots can you add?, I need my protein. Gotta have more protein". Blah, blah, blah.


Mate, you don't. 


For a start you're fat so clearly you're eating too much animal protein


Second, plants have all the protein you need (what a shock!) and supplements are not necessary for anyone who lives somewhere where there is enough food.


Seriously, when will all this BULLSHIT about protein end? Bah!!!


Anyway, here's some Hawaiian hula dancing which they put on for free a couple of nights a week. Obviously we did not get there early.




The Big Island

The next morning I flew into Hilo on the Big Island. I stayed in this hostel. I didn't love it but they do offer free airport pickups so that sold me over the other hostel. The security is shit. No lockers and someone in one of the other rooms did get robbed while I was staying there cos basically anyone can walk in off the street. 

Breakfast was free which is a plus. However, everyday I would have a bit of a headache later on. Then one morning I looked at the jam ingredients and noticed it contained high fructose corn syrup. Yep, that would do it! I didn't even think it would be in jam since I na├»vely 
assumed it would contain normal sugar. Stupid me. I should have taken some vegemite over with me.

Also, what the fuck is this creamer shit Americans put in their coffee?  Look at these ingredients. It's not even food!






Moving on. Hilo is much better for vegans than Waikiki. While the town is a bit run down and there's not much happening, it is a bit of a hippy place so it does have a lot of veggie food and yoga classes (which I did). For that reason I liked it. The fruit and veg farmers market runs Wed and Sat and some guy with a stall bakes heaps of vegan goodies to sell there. Check him out. His food is good. He can also tell you which restaurants to go to.


They have these strawberry papayas in Hawaii, which I've not had anywhere else. They are so yum. I like them better than normal papayas. I also liked the local apple bananas. I got into a long discussion with some Irish people about this. They basically thought there's only one kind of banana and this must be some kind of genetically modified mutant fruit. It's not. It's still a banana. It's just that their flavour isn't as strong as say a normal cavendish. They are SO nice. I ate heaps of them. We should grow them in Australia, especially if Panama disease is going to wipe out all the cavendish bananas.

This place was also good. The vegan burrito was awesome. It's a good place to stock up on food before heading out for the day since you won't get much at the tourist places, especially at the volcano.


I met up with Vanessa from the Waikiki hostel/skydiving and her friend that didn't come to Waikiki. We rented a car and went to Akaka Falls. You can't go swimming at this one.




I like these weird trees. The one on the left looks like a dog.





It's only a five minute walk from the carpark so you can quickly tick it off on the way to other places--like Waipio Valley where Jurassic Park was filmed.


It's beautiful.









You can hike down to the beach but the ranger told us you can't swim there or you'll get sucked out into the Pacific and die basically. So it seemed pointless walking all the way down there, especially given how hot it was and how steep it is.


So afterwards we went to a safe beach (I think its Beach 69 just south of Hapuna Beach) and spent the afternoon there.





In the evening we went down to Kona for a night snorkel with manta rays. We had time for a drink before we got on the boat.


Hmm, I'm intrigued by what a Foster's oil can is (although not enough to order it). I have never heard it called that. I also wouldn't pay $6 for Fosters.




I really don't give a shit about sunsets but I was on the boat. It was there.




There were lots of army planes taking off about every 10 minutes.



Then when it's dark (which doesn't take long cos twilight doesn't really exist the closer you are to the equator. A fun fact if you live somewhere highly north or south and didn't know this) you jump in the water and basically hold one of these surfboards turned into a well-lit raft for the next hour.



I highly recommend wearing a wetsuit cos even though the water is warm, after an hour of being in the water and not really moving (you aren't allowed to swim around) you get cold.

I don't have any photos of the manta rays, but this video shows what you see. They do come right up under you and then turn multiple times. It's awesome. I loved it. There were four manta rays here this evening. One was huge. It was about 2m wide and doing multiple turns right under you. Some of them even graze you if you're lucky (they can touch you but you can't touch them. Like in strip clubs).


The place you go is next to Kona airport. Basically the plankton are attracted to the airport lights and the manta rays come in to feed on the plankton. So they are there 95% of the time apparently.


The next day I picked up a car to go to the volcano with an English couple that were too young to rent a vehicle. Aw! This is one of the reasons I wanted to stay in a hostel so I could find people to rent cars with. If this is you, do it cos you'll definitely find people. Public transport is basically non-existent on the Big Island. In fact, the bus system on O'ahu is pretty unreliable if you want to get anywhere outside of Honolulu so if I had that time over again, I would definitely rent one there too. This is a good website for deals.


This was my first time driving on the right. I was scared but I managed to not to crash into anyone and no one crashed into me. Success! 

Actually I think the Big Island is the perfect place to practice driving on the right. The traffic is pretty light and drivers are really courteous. The only weird thing is they have intersections with four stop signs. They really confused me. I had no idea who had right of way and who to give way to. I don't know why they don't just have roundabouts. It's so much simpler. I don't know if this is a Hawaiian thing or an American thing but I didn't like it.


The volcano is cool. It rained a lot during the night thanks to some hurricane off the coast so there was steam everywhere.





This is a huge crater with steam coming out. It's the most active volcano in the world apparently, although no lava was flowing when I visited.





The park is massive. You can spend at least a day there if you go on the walks and stuff. You also need to take warm clothes with you cos it can get cold here, especially at night.









It looks like when you take brownies out of the oven.



Lava tunnels.







About 40km down the road (still in the park) you get to the sea. The views are spectacular.






Hieroglyphics. Aka really old graffiti. I wonder how many years it takes before defacing nature turns into something that people feel should be protected? Hmm...




At the end of the road you get to a natural arch. If you take enough photos you eventually get one with the waves crashing into it.



Again there's no swimming here. If you look about 200m or so out to sea you can see where rock just drops into very deep water and the under currents would suck you out and you would die. It's so deep and dangerous here. You've basically got no chance of getting rescued.

Although there was no lava flowing, you do get to see the glow once the sun goes down. It's pretty cool although we had to leave at about 7.15pm to get the car back to the rental place before it shut.





The next day I left Hilo to go to Kona. The bus goes about twice a day and costs $2.50. It's a bargain but it takes about three hours cos it goes across the top of the island. 


This was my first airbnb experience since the one hostel in Kona doesn't get great reviews. I stayed with a gay vegetarian couple who were basically vegan and they even made me breakfast and dinner when I was there. So good! I liked staying with them. They were really nice. I liked their friend that came over one night too. He lived on some property nearby with lots of fruit trees.

Kona is a lot different to Hilo. It feels like a touristy place. It's where lots of the big hotels are.

This sign is weird and quite specific about meat products.



Here's a resort pool I snuck into everyday.




Vegan food is not hard to get here. I highly recommend stocking up at this place before you head off each day, which incidentally, is where one of my airbnb hosts works.

There's also a market in town near the church which seems to be on everyday. There are a few good fruit and veg stalls there. I ate some mangoes from here but they weren't that great. I think it's nearing the end of the season. Still, ours doesn't start for another few months so average mango was better than no mango.

I also had the vegan banana/macadamia nut bread from here and it was delicious. Get it. I really wanted to try the pizza from Get Sum, which is next door, but I ran out of meal times.

There is a trolley bus that goes along the main tourist street down to Kailua. On my fist day in Kona I caught it down to Kahalu'u Beach, which has good snorkelling according to Lonely Planet. 




The beach is a bit average but the snorkelling is good. Lots of tropical fish. The problem is there's like a thing of rocks in the water that you have to climb over to get out and it's really slippery plus waves are trying to knock you down. I cut my arse coming back in cos I fell over, although I think I came in in the worst spot. Still I was pleased to have made use of my retro Jacques Cousteau style snorkel that I bought for $10 in Tulum (one of my all time favourite beaches).



The next day I rented a car and drove up to Hapuna Beach. According to Conde Nest it's one of the world's nicest beaches. 

Yep. There's definitely worse places.

There's some good snorkelling here too over near the rocks.






After spending a few hours here I continued north to Pololu Valley, which is the other side of Waipio Valley. It's also beautiful.


You can do a helicopter ride over the entire valley. I don't know how much it costs but you pass the place if you're heading there from pretty much any direction.






This time I walked down to the beach. People were swimming here so it's obviously safer than the other beach at Waipio Valley.




Just don't trip on the way down!



I also passed a wind farm in the north of the island. According to two idiots running our country (Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey) wind farms are an eyesore so these two are doing everything they can to undermine renewable energy in Australia. You know, cos open cut coal mines and regular power plants bellowing steam and smoke are so attractive. And obviously coal is good for humanity so why fight it?

Yeah, what a horrible landscape. And those cows look so distraught! 





Then I headed back to Waimea to park outside Maccas to use the free wifi to see if the Maunakea Observatory was open (since a hurricane was on track to hit the Big Island the next day). You should check it anyway especially in winter cos snow--yes in Hawaii--can fuck up your plans and you'll waste 4-6 hours in driving time. You also need to go when there's no moon to maximise the number of stars you can see.

The roads were open so I google mapped my route, changed into warm clothes (since it was about 6C up there according the website) and off I went. The landscape along the way is spectacular.






This is the mountain I was heading up (in the clearing)



Here's a Hawaiian goose (actual bird).




Here's a mongoose (not a bird).




I'd never seen a mongoose before. Like most times when humans fuck around with natural ecosystems, these animals were introduced at some point and now they are a pest to native wildlife, including the Hawaiian goose.

The Observatory is really cool. At the top of the mountain you are above the clouds and there's no risk of rain and there's no wind either. It's very clear and still. 



Setting up the telescopes.



I've done stargazing in Colombia and Chile, but this one was the best. It's the highest one in the world, there's virtually no light pollution cos you're on an island in middle of the Pacific, and you can see 100% of the Northern Hemisphere stars and about 85% (I think) of the Southern Hemisphere stars due to the latitude. Although obviously you can't see everything at once, cos stars and planets rise at different times in the night. My favourite nerdy fact that I learnt is to do with the Northern Star. Apparently its position in the sky is based on your latitude. So on the Big Island, which is about 19
° north of the equator, the Northern Star is at a 19° angle in the sky. At the equator, it sits on the horizon at 0°. This means if you take one step back into the Southern Hemisphere you can't see it anymore. How cool is that?

So yeah, the Observatory. Good.

Although the stargazing wraps up at 9.00-9.30pm it's about a 2.5 hour drive back to Kona (Hilo is closer). So it was pretty late by the time I got home. It's a good thing I didn't crash considering I was tired and driving down a mountain at night on the wrong side of the road!

The next day was my last day in Hawaii. I really wanted to see the Captain Cook monument, since he discovered Australia (well after the Dutch went there and dismissed it). Apparently, he was in Hawaii doing whatever and restocking his ship. Then he left but had to come back cos of bad weather or something. Anyway, the native Hawaiians didn't like him coming back and things turned hostile and there was a big fight between them and his boat dudes and he was killed. It was a shock to both sides apparently so at some point someone built a monument. As you do.

It's the thing in the middle of this photo in the distance.



Unfortunately you have to get a boat or kayak out to it. There's no way to get there by land. I would like to have done that but I couldn't work out how you would get a kayak there from the rental places since you can't really shove it in the back of a car and drive down to the water. I guess you could do tours but that wasn't obvious either. 

Anyway, it wasn't meant to be so this was as close as I got.

After one last stealth swim in the resort pool it was time to fly out of Kona for New York. Here's one last sunset out the plane window during take off.



I really liked Hawaii. Some of it is really rundown, especially on O'ahu but it's still good. I highly recommend the Big Island. It's a really interesting place with lots to offer. Go there.