This job has its perks! (Tropical Travels – Part 2)

January 20, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Mark and I had one day to ourselves on my working trip to Honolulu this winter, and we decided to spend it on an afternoon boat trip to see Pacific Humpback whales. These whales travel thousands of miles each year from the northern pacific to Hawaii in the winter where they birth and care for their young calves. Mark and I saw distant whales on our previous trip the the islands, but I was hoping to get a little closer this time, and we weren’t disappointed!

Views of the west (dry) coast of Oahu

I made reservations for an afternoon with Ocean Joy Cruises about two weeks before the date. Their pictures and description of their unique and lovely catamaran-style yacht really hooked us. Plus, they offered pick-up from near our hotel in Waikiki, and were very reasonably priced.

Our very nice speed-boat/catamaran the Kai Oli Oli!

We had a really nice afternoon to get out on the water and cruise around looking for whales and dolphins. In the morning, we got great views of a huge pod of Spinner Dolphins, who lazily surfed the swells in clear tropical water.

This was a big pod (~50) of Spinner Dolphins

Our cruise complied with “Dolphin Smart” by NOAA, so we cut power to the engines when the dolphins were sighted, and drifted along in their wake for close to an hour. Eventually, some of the curious guys came up to our boat to check us out and we got a really great view!

My camera gets sprayed by a dolphin!

We had a few sea turtle sightings and then headed over to reef for about an hour of snorkeling. This reef was deeper and less exciting than some we saw in Thailand, but Mark and I still had a great time swimming through the huge schools of tropical fish. And this time, I did not end up with sea urchin spikes in my fingers.

Sea Turtle surfing the little swell

After snorkeling, the boat headed out to deeper waters for the whales, and the crew pulled out a pretty nice hot buffet lunch. I was eating a pile of kalua pork and fresh pineapple when we found two whales, an adult and a calf. We watched as they rose slowly through the surface, taking huge breaths of air and enjoying the sun for a bit. I didn’t grab my camera right away because I was so hungry, and I got exactly one shot before they disappeared below the surface, not to be seen again.

Pacific Humpback Whales

One last thing, at the port where Kai’Oli’Oli was moored, there was a big industrial-looking area full of weird boats. Turns out, it was a construction area for movie ships, and the Black Pearl was sitting there, out in the Hawaiian sun, slowly being deconstructed.

The Black Pearl was anchored nearby

So, it was a really nice day, in all. Mark and I both managed to escape sunburn, and were back in Waikiki around dinner-time. We watched the sunset on the ocean one more time, had fantastic udon noodles for dinner, and then caught a red-eye flight back to cold, snowy, Colorado.

This job has its perks! (Tropical Travels – Part 1)

January 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Yes, grad school is rough. It’s stressful and competitive and overwhelming even if you haven’t had a baby recently. But, I have to admit, studying tropical climate and weather has some nice perks – like the occasional working trip to Hawaii.

Tropical Afternoon

This year, I went to the University of Hawaii in Honolulu for a 3 day workshop on Tropical Atmospheric and Oceanic dynamics. Mark had enough miles left over from our trip to Thailand a few years ago to get his ticket for free, so he tagged along with me. My parents even agreed to come out to Colorado and watch the kiddo for us, so we had a baby-free trip to Hawaii! I spent three days in a conference room talking about atmospheric waves, coupled convective oscillations, models and observations, while Mark ran amok in the city of Honolulu.

Coco Puff from Liliha Bakery

On his first day in town, Mark spent the day on the Hole-in-the-Wall Food Tour, where his guides drove him all over the city to taste the unique flavors of Honolulu. Mark said of the tour:

Our hosts were Matthew Gray and Kiera. Matthew used to be a celebrity cook (cook for celebrities) and Kiera is his fiancee and a local who knows everything so you get a good deal of personal knowledge of Honolulu as well as some good food history and cute stories.

Local-boy plate: Spam musubi, ahi poke, and pineapple!

The Hole-In-The-Wall Food tour was a great way to start off the trip. The tour was a great way to get familiar with the city while eating lots of interesting treats and learning a great deal about all the people and cultures that Honolulu grew from. Note that the tour wasn’t native Hawaiian food, that would only take a few minutes (eat a pineapple, turn your nose up at some poi and then scarf down some Kalua Pork). These foods are the unique foods of the city. Often it is the food of another culture that has been tweaked by the local Hawaiian influence. We had a wide range of foods from many cultures. If I had to pick a favorite of the day it would be the “five layers of heaven roast pork” (see picture). The first layer of heaven was layer of fat fried so crispy as to essentially be a fried pork rind followed by meat/fat/meat/fat to create deliriousness. On the sweet side, the chocolate cream puff was certainly the winner. We had bizarre fruits, a tasty cocktail, lots of snacking and even of a tour of one of the last by-hand rice noodle factories left in the world. It was a great day out.

Five layers of Heaven roast pork in Chinatown

He spent the next two days wandering around Honolulu. After learning basic navigation from the food tour, he was able to take busses around the city to the giant flee market at the Aloha Stadium and back to Chinatown in search of more layered pork heaven. He even found a CrossFit box in Waikiki and participated in one of their workouts.

Mark doing L-Hangs at CrossFit Waikiki

After my last day of meetings and conference work on Thursday, we got in an hour or two of beach time together, and I was finally able to unwind. While some people might accomplish this with alcohol and napping in the sun, I rented a paddlebaord and went out on to the water for a couple of hours.

Kate on the paddleboard

I have tried regular surfing a few times, but this was my first time on a paddle board, and I really enjoyed it. The board was huge, and easy enough to sit on, but standing was tricky for me. I eventually found the rhythm and was able to stand-up, paddle and catch a few little waves! At one point, a giant sea turtle swam right under my board, and scared me so bad I nearly dropped the paddle!

Kate standing up and paddling!

In all, it was a great trip. I got to participate in a lot of great science, and Mark got to enjoy Honolulu from every angle. We had one day free on Friday before our red-eye flight out of town, and spent it on a whale-watching tour that was fantastic. But I’ll leave that for another post…

Sledding in the Rockies

January 7, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Sometimes it seems like winter in Colorado is all about extreme sports. On Monday mornings, I hear all about weekends at the terrain park, back country powder and ice climbing shenanigans. Mark and I have never been big skiers, so we usually spend the winter months in a gym or commuting to a desert crag. This year, there has been no escape to the desert, and the gym is getting old. The mountains are calling.

Warning sign

Warning sign

We pack up our warmest winter clothes and a couple of sleds we found at a garage sale a few years ago, and head up to Rocky Mountain National Park. The old Hidden Valley Ski Area has been turned into a “Snow Play” area, and my internet research leads me to believe that the sledding is excellent here.

Unfortunately, the ranger at the park entrance tells us that conditions are “Very Poor” at Hidden Valley. We drive in anyway, and find a hillside covered in hard-packed wind-blown snow. From what I hear, this is similar to what people are finding all over Colorado this year.

We stop to chat with two rangers at the bottom of the hill, before heading up to attempt sledding. They tell us that the area has seen several inches of snow this winter, but that it all blew away. Seems sad, somehow, and part of me wonders which mountain gathered all of that blown snow on its flanks?

No snow in the snow play area :(

No snow in the snow play area :(

We put the sled down, and find that there is enough of a surface for a few good runs. G really seems to be confused by the whole process. He is completely silent, wide-eyed and amazed during each ride down. He doesn’t wine or complain or cry, but doesn’t seem to understand what is going on or why. After a few sledding runs on the hard, bumpy snow, we give up on trying to get him to enjoy it and let him play in some snow drifts at the base of the hill. He giggles as he stomps around in his snow boots, and loves digging holes in the powdery white stuff.

G in the Mountains

G in the Mountains

I’m not going to lie, at this point, Mark and I take turns sledding on our own. It’s been probably 25 years since I went sledding, and even though the snow was awful, I have a righteous ball flinging myself down that hillside over and over again!

We play in the drifts and the hills until snow starts falling heavily around us. Then it’s time to go check out the Ranger station at the base of the hill. For a winter facility in RoMo, this place is luxurious. There are heated bathrooms, with flushing toilets! There is also a warming room with lots of benches, and photos and signs showing off 60 years of snow play in the area.

Mark and G demonstrate the correct usage of a Warming Room

Mark and G demonstrate the correct usage of a Warming Room

The consensus at the end of the day is that we should definitely return when conditions are better. The area was not crowded, the hills not too steep for our kiddo, and the facilities were very nice. It was a great way to go play in the mountains without having to do anything too epic or extreme.