Kona, Hawaii

This year has been all about what I like to call “hobo life.” After a year in lockdowns and discovering local, Bay Area hiking trails, lakes, camping, and road trips, I wanted to get as far away as possible from all of that. Time to move on to something new!

Besides the few months spent on the mountain during the winter time, I wanted to get away and experience a very different scene, and fast.

I mostly wanted to get away because I was stuck at home and worked at home. My apartment used to be a place where I’d relax and sleep and cook delicious things. After the lockdowns, it morphed into my office and I found myself wanting to get outside and go somewhere more than I normally do.

I’m not an island person

In normal times, flying to Hawaii was never really my thing. Sure, every single beach and mountain you encounter are postcard-worthy, but I don’t surf or do a lot of water activities, so it was never my jam.

But with COVID and massive travel restrictions, I thought, why not. My sister lives there so I’d have a free place to stay, and it’s so incredibly beautiful. Flights were reasonable. Vaccines rolled out. So, Hawaii it was.

The pool at the Marriott.

Back in May, I flew from Oakland to Kona for the first time. My sister kept saying she liked the Big Island, plus inter-island flights are so convenient.

We met up at the Marriott in Kona for a relaxing, one-weekish trip and I absolutely had a blast. I know I had fun because I always start wondering how much it would cost to buy a place here. Maybe I can live in Hawaii.

Reasons I love Kona

Let me first preface this with saying Honolulu (where my sister lives) is big city livin’ on a small island. She lives near Ala Moana Mall and it’s a highly congested, high-rise-friendly area with lots of tourists and residents alike. When she first moved into her building a few years back, she had a wonderful sunrise/sunset view.

Today, it’s completely blocked by a glassy behemoth of a building. Coming to an island and experiencing more traffic and people than I did in Oakland isn’t ideal for yours truly.

Kona, on the other hand, was exactly what I want Oahu to be like. Quiet, traffic-free, and with a limited amount of Starbucks. Kona doesn’t even have highways.

One of my favorite things we did on this trip was drive around the entire island in a few hours. After all, it’s the size of Connecticut, minus the deer ticks.

The volcanoes also tricked my brain into thinking we were on Mars. Expansive, black rocks with actual shrubs and trees growing out of them. Woot!

At one point, we attempted to do a hike on the island’s National Park, but after taking a few steps onto the expansive rocky blackness and not understanding where the actual trail was, we changed our minds and walked back to the car. Plus, it was way too windy.

My favorite things to do in Kona

  1. Rent a car and drive around the entire island while listening to calming Hawaii reggae music. (So many cover songs, slowed down to perfectly match that catchy reggae beat. Somehow, it just works!)
  2. Drive around or do a few hikes in the National Park.

3. Do any hike! We did a 2-mile, black sand beach hike that descends down to the beach. We saw two Millennials dancing on top of one of the hills in their bikinis. Normally this wouldn’t be odd, but they danced in silence. Weird.

4. Go into town and check out a farmer’s market and stock up on apple bananas.

Nighttime manta rays boat trip

As you can see, this was not listed in my above “favorite things to do” because it was my least favorite part of the trip. I learned three big lessons here.

  1. If your gut says nah, that doesn’t sound that fun because you tend to get seasick AF, trust it.
  2. I never need to be on another boat as long as I live.
  3. Ginger candy really helps with motion sickness.

But we were on vacation, damnit. We wanted to do something vacationy, so an evening with some manta rays? Here we come.

It was a four-hour boat trip where Captain Dan navigated the choppy waters to a particular spot in the ocean. We watched the sunset. Despite the nausea, I enjoyed this part.

Then you get in a wetsuit and jump into the deep, black abyss. Did I mention I’m terrified of swimming in the ocean during the day??

We saw manta rays (these are gentle, plankton-eating cows of the sea and sans the poisonous tail that killed Steve Irwin) doing loop-de-loops inches away from our faces while we held on for dear life on the makeshift surfboard with purple luminescent lighting.

My goggles kept fogging up and each time I lifted my head out of the water, the boat captain would scold me because I was “missing the experience.” I was starting to get cold but refused to be the first person to quit. We still had another 40 minutes (also known as an eternity) before we wrapped up and headed back to shore.

It looks like we’re in a giant swimming pool, but that is the ocean!

The muscles in my arms stung with fatigue as I held on for dear life. The rolling motion of the water made me seasick and the ocean whipped us around. Then, I heard the already-seasick guy from Valencia, CA raise his hand and say he wanted to get back on the boat. (After three hours, you get to know people on the boat.)

Cue my exit. After he got back on the boat, I immediately raised my hand and one of the boat helpers guided me back safely. As soon as my skin hit the sea air, I was covered in goosebumps. The captain hosed me down with warm water. Then I dried off and sat down and miserably waited for everyone else to get back on the boat. I couldn’t tell if being in the ocean or being on the boat made me more seasick. I popped more ginger candy into my mouth and noticed the bag was emptying out. I grabbed a handful and stuck them in my pocket for the ride back.

If you think my experience was bad, my poor sister was even worse! The fact that she never really experienced seasickness made this manta rays excursion an unexpected doozie. At one point on the boat I looked over at her in the corner—her head leaned into one of the metal railings and her eyes were closed, looking very much like the barfing green emoji.

Besides this nightmarish experience, Kona was absolutely perfect.

I would love to go back and spend more time getting to know the island, go on more hikes, and eat more of the local cuisine.

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