Exploring the Big Island of Hawaii

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Have you ever had the pleasure of visiting the Island of Hawaii? Also known as the Big Island, Hawaii Island is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, falling south easternmost in the chain.

Not to be confused with Oahu (where the state capitol Honolulu is located), Big Island is far from metropolitan – in fact, you can’t even drive around the island in one day.

Big Island is my favorite Hawaiian Island due to its sheer enormity. Its varied landscapes are home to not only 2 active volcanoes, Kilauea and Moana Loa, but also a myriad of enchanting, unspoiled places. Word to the wise: Rent a 4×4 vehicle if you ever visit.

Just returning from a 3-day trip, my boyfriend and I had the pleasure of exploring the east side of Hawaii, or Hilo side. Hilo is a city on the bay and a jumping-off point for pleasures ranging from exploring the active volcano, hot springs, black sand beaches, a beautiful coastal drive and more.

Here are some highlights from our recent trip:

Exploring Volcanoes National Park:

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Kilauea Caldera. Do you see the lava in the crater’s rim?

This National Park is not to be missed. Have you ever seen a live, active volcano? Kilauea is actively erupting, and luckily enough for us, a trip to the visitor’s center was enough to see the active lava spurting from the Earth.

Usually, a trip to see the lava flow is an 8 mile round-trip hike through treacherous lava fields, but the day we visited was our lucky day: The lava was spewing from Kilauea Caldera, nearby the visitor’s Center!

After getting our fill of watching red hot lava, we exploring a cavernous lava tube and basked in the mists of volcanic steam vents around the park.

Tips: Stop in the visitor’s center to find out pro tips from the park rangers, and pack a raincoat…it always rains on the east side!

Traversing Lower Puna (including Volcanic Hot Springs):

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Ahalanui’s volcanic hot springs are tucked alongside Puna’s rugged coast. Photo courtesy: Ehren Meinecke

Puna district is southeast of Kilauea volcano, and its proximity to an active volcano can be felt in all senses of the word: Wild, untouched rain forest, volcanic hot springs, funky people, and plenty of room to play.

For a relaxing afternoon, we visited Ahalanui Beach Park, a volcanic hot spring which is about 88 degrees. It’s perfect for taking a relaxing swim and enjoying the rugged coastline it’s nestled up against.

Tips: Bring your snorkeling mask! There’s plenty of fish to observe in the warm pond. Also, stay out if you have any open cuts – a staph infection could easily ruin your trip.

Finding a hidden black sand beach and hunting for opihi:

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These opihi were plucked from a very dicey-looking coastline.

Some places are just meant to be kept for the locals, and Secret Beach is one of them. We were lucky enough to meet up with my friend Matt who showed us an incredible secluded black sand beach.

Around dusk, we all hunted for shells and opihi: a snail delicacy found exclusively on seaside rocks in hard-to-reach places. Wild quantities are a pipe dream on Oahu, and sell for an expensive buck ($18/pound). It was such a treat to harvest and enjoy our own fresh opihi!

Tips: Respect the land. Just because you find an open road doesn’t mean you have the right to travel down it. There is a LOT of private land, much of it ancient and spiritual. When in doubt, “Kapu,” or keep out!

Visiting Hilo’s Farmers Market:

Imagine a place where 200+ vendors gather to sell farm-fresh produce, baked goods, bento lunches, Kona coffee, artisan breads, jams, and handmade jewelry, clothing, and house goods. Enter Hilo’s farmers market!

The farmers market technically takes place daily in downtown Hilo, but for a really good display of goods, we went on a Saturday. We were able to sample all sorts of local treats: from Ka’u district coffee, to taro chips, to roast pork and more, your buck goes far at  Hilo’s farmers market!

Tips: Visit on a Saturday between 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. to really enjoy the full spread of vendors. Bring cash and an open mind for sampling local goodies!

Driving the Hamakua Coast:

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Just one of the many waterfalls on Big Island’s Hamakua Coast Drive- Akaka Falls State Park

Just north of Hilo begins a drive that’s full of lush greenery, waterfalls, valleys, and scenic ocean views. We drove it roughly 40 miles west to reach Waipio Valley, our destination. In the interim, we couldn’t believe how gorgeous the views were.

This relaxing stretch of driving fed our lust for a road trip with epic eye candy all along the way.

Tips: Fill up on gas before you go, pack snacks and turn up the radio. Also: Don’t expect to be able to drive around the entire island in a single day…it’s too big!

Exploring an ancient valley of the gods:

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An incredibly steep and dangerous 4×4 road will lead you to Waipio Valley’s floor.

Waipio Valley is a glimpse into Old Hawaii. Two-thousand foot cliff walls encompass a lush, green valley with taro fields and wild horses. A black sand beach spans the entirety of the valley, and giant waterfalls cascade from the mountains’ sides. Interested yet? Read on:

A trip down to the valley floor means:

  1. A treacherous 2 mile hike down a very steep road you must share with vehicles
  2. Paying around $60/person to jump in a tour van; or
  3. Driving down the 4-wheel drive road on your own and braving the elements.

We opted for choice number 3. It was not easy! The grade is EXTREMELY steep and the road is so narrow, only one car can pass in either direction at a time. We even had to BACK UP the road along the cliff edge to let people pass!

Once at the bottom, you have to ride through several giant mud puddles. Finally on the valley floor, we were rewarded with dipping our toes in the water and observed wild horses in awe. We felt immense respect for a place that used to be only for ali’i – or Hawaiian royalty.

Tips: All visitors can enjoy the lookout for a scenic vantage point and photo opp above the valley. Brave soldiers can take a 4×4 (That means 4-wheel drive ONLY!) down, observing the local “law” of yielding to traffic going up. Take nothing in and leave nothing behind!

Overall, a trip to the Big Island is for the adventurous-at-heart. Pack your best slippahs, hiking shoes, rain coat, and bathing suit, and get ready for whatever adventure heads your way!

 

Why Helpx Still Excites Me 4 Years Later

It’s been 4 years since I’ve traveled full-time using Helpx.net, but after curiously poking around on their site again, it looks like things have only grown and gotten better and better for them – and for the travelers who use their site.

You might remember this throwback post: Workaway vs. Helpx: Which do you use when planning a working holiday?  This post is actually my most popular to date, and it’s easy to imagine why: Who wouldn’t want to live in and work in paradise (From Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Austria, France, the U.S. and more) for a nice family/farm in exchange for somewhere to stay…all while having the time and money to explore?

 

 

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Check out all of these thousands of listings in Australia.

 

 

I’ve used Helpx twice and had the best experiences of my life.

In Australia, I stayed with a family in Ipswich, Queensland, not a far train ride from Brisbane. For two weeks, I had my own room, was fed gourmet meals (the dad was a chef!), was taken to locals-only swimming holes, parks, and beaches. I had the time of my life. All I did was work 4 hours a day/a few days a week, and I had the richest, most local experience ever. I remember one day, while relaxing on their outdoor porch, seeing a flock of wild cockatoos fly by. I’ll never forget it!

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This is one of my favorite shots taken near the Gold Coast in Australia. Who took me there? You guessed it: My host family!

Then there was Hawaii, a Helpx experience I loved so much, I still live in the state 4 years later! I lived and worked at a eco-hostel on the Big Island. I picked fruit, built trails, planted trees, but best of all, made amazing lifelong friendships and one-of-a-kind memories. I had free WiFi, and it was under the thatched roof my dwelling I published some of my first travel stories. My time at Hedonisia Hawaii will go down as some of my best memories to date.

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Wild tropical flowers foraged from around the property – perfect for Ikebana! Look at those rare orchids! (Left)

If anyone is on the fence about a Helpx experience, I highly recommend you go for it. Pay the membership fee: it’s totally worth it. Weigh the following options:

  • Proximity to a city
  • Transportation
  • Accommodations (Plenty of places offer private rooms and even private bathrooms!)
  • Are meals included? My stay in Australia had meals included, but I was on my own in Hawaii. There were always plenty of shared meals, though.
  • Responsiveness/helpfulness of host
  • Will there be other travelers there to meet?
  • Is there WiFi? Many places have it.
  • How long are they looking for you to stay? Many hosts actually prefer longer guests.

With all the talk nowadays of being a digital nomad, Helpx is certainly a viable way to achieve that. If my lifestyle hadn’t shifted and I was still on the road, I’d do Helpx again in a heartbeat. Please use it and travel deeply!

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This post was not sponsored, nor am I getting compensated for it. I really just love Helpx and the memories it helped me create.

 

29 Things I learned in my 20s

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I’m in the last week of my 20s, and the impending 3-0 has been on my mind constantly. In between dreading leaving part of my youth behind, I’ve been contemplating what my 20s were all about. Some days I’m filled with regret and sorrow, but most days, I feel proud and accomplished.

In my 20s, I earned a college degree, had numerous relationships, got my heart badly broken, and admittedly broke a few hearts; I traveled the world and the country extensively and became a travel journalist; I moved to Hawaii, and I’m beginning to settle down. It’s amazing what can happen in a decade. Here’s just 29 lessons I learned from my 20s:

  1. Wash your face every night before bed – No longer can I abuse my face by going to bed with it caked on with makeup. I can tell the difference between my skin now and then. Now I have a whole skincare routine which includes wearing SPF 50 on my face every day and of course, removing my makeup every night before bed.
  1. Some people really are crazy – That’s okay. A writing mentor once told me that back in the 60s and 70s, it was more acceptable to be crazy in an insane world. Do with them what you will. I usually tent to ignore politely.
  1. Don’t let crazy people ruin the good within you – Sometimes you fall in love with, or are really close friends with, what turn out to be crazy people. That’s okay. The best thing about crazy people is that they are often filled with wild, fun ideas and have a great sense of humor. When they start challenging your core values or legitimately don’t want to help themselves, know when to walk.
  1. Talk to the stranger next to you – Life’s too short not to make friends with the everyday people walking this Earth with you. Whether you’re in line at the bank, on a bus on the way to Bondi Beach in Australia, or having a drink at the bar, lean over and get to know your neighbor.
  1. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams – The time is now, not when you’re old, beat up, or saddled down by a career and family. Chase that dream even if it takes you the edges of the world and back. You’ll never regret going there. You’ll only regret NOT going there.
  1. You don’t always have to be the life of the party – This was a hard lesson for me to learn. The first, say, seven years of my 20s was exactly that: a big party. I was moving from place to place, drinking, doing other questionable things…until I realized, I didn’t ALWAYS have to be the life of the party. The party would always be there when and if I want it. It doesn’t need to be a lifestyle (Thank God! It’s exhausting!)
  1. Make the best out of any situation you’re in – Man, I found myself in some hairy situations in my 20s. Perhaps the time I mistakenly took a ride from a local drunk on the Big Island is a good example. Or the time, while living in a camper, we blew out a tire in the middle of nowhere when it was 100 degrees. These shitty situations happen. Make the most of them. They’re not forever (and thank you, guardian angels for never letting anything bad happen to me in the thick of it!)
  1. Dream big – Even if you don’t accomplish all of your dreams, if you don’t set the bar high, you’ll never get there. Make a list, buy a ticket, and make it happen. Sign up for that class. Go on that date. Just say yes.
  1. Trust in the inherent good in people – Remember those strangers you end up meeting? 99% of the time, they’re the ones giving you a ride to the airport, giving you a place to sleep, offering you tidbits of insider information, taking you the doctor when you fall ill. Even those crazy people, in their crazy ways, want good in life, believe it or not. Please don’t believe the media. Yes, rotten people and scary people exist, but good people outnumber them exponentially.
  1. Take care of your body – Women especially. Please don’t fall for ever suitor and every temptation. You will likely pay for it later. Stop drinking so much. Drink plenty of water and exercise. Don’t have unprotected sex unless you’re in a long-term, trusting relationship. Take care of your temple.
  1. Money isn’t everything – but it helps. I’ve had the most amazing memories when I wasn’t working or didn’t have much money at all. What I realized, though, is that those times don’t last. Find something you love doing, a job where you can be utilized to do those things you love doing (even if it’s not your dream job), and make money. Work. Travel. Volunteer. Save. You’ll be happier by the end of your 20s when you have a little money in the bank.
  1. Don’t settle for less than you deserve – It sounds cliché, but it’s true. Don’t settle for wondering if someone is thinking about you. Don’t settle for missing someone without having a plan to see them. Never be someone’s plan B. You’ll suffer, but if you must settle for something less than you deserve (as we all do at some point), learn the valuable lessons from it so you can spot really good when it comes at you later. At that point, you’ll be able to fully, wholly, lusciously appreciate it.
  1. Live with less – Repurpose old things into new things. Don’t buy new clothes for 2 years. Live with 3 pairs of shoes for a while. Live out of a backpack. Own less. See how it changes your world.
  1. Listen to your parents – Their advice is usually right. It might not always be right for that exact moment that they give it to you, but it’s right. Write it down and make it a goal later. They want what’s best for you and they love you. You’re lucky to have them.
  1. Learn to forgive – Forgive yourself for making mistakes. Forgive others for hurting you. In forgiveness, you’ll find peace and happiness. It won’t be easy, but you’ll get there.
  1. Learn to say goodbye – Get good at letting people come and go in and out of your life. Friendships, lovers, family members, etc. It will make you strong to meet many people, and it will make you stronger still to know when to say goodbye and “I’ll see you later.” You’ll learn to survive the next storm.
  1. Do what the locals do – Whether you’re a traveler or not, just DO IT. Hear about a new restaurant opening? A festival? Farmer’s Market? Just go. Do it. Bonus points if you’re a stranger in a strange land and you do what the local’s recommend. You’ll have a more rich experience.
  1. Keep your friends close – Your close friends might change over the years. That’s okay. It’s normal and healthy for people to grow close to others and further from others. Keep a handful of tried and true best friends you can call in the middle of the night when you’re sick, depressed, dumped. Make sure you have people you can rely on in this life. Make sure you love them deeply and they know it.
  1. Exclaim when things are good – When something is delicious, moan with pleasure! Tell your significant other how much you love them regularly. Jump in and out of rain puddles with friends while exclaiming, “This is really living!” Let life invigorate you.
  1. Work with your hands – There’s something extremely gratifying about working with your hands. Don’t do it forever if you can help it, but the lessons you learn will get you very far in any career down the line. After all, who else could say they planted a banana tree, took care of 35 customers at once, or built a lava rock trail in volcanic crater? Make those memories.
  1. Find time to believe in something and practice it – Whether it’s organized religion, prayer, intentions, yoga, mindfulness – find something that regularly connects you to positivity and the divine and practice it.
  1. You always have a choice – If you feel trapped, lonely, bored, abused, etc. Remember: you always have a choice. “Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.”
  1. Things will work out – I’ve been in situations where a lot of odds seemed stacked up against me: where I was worried about my journey, paying bills, and other general crazy things that come at you at life. Somehow, though, it always seemed to work out.
  1. Trust your intuition – It’s never wrong. And when you find out news you’ve been dreading and you’re in the position to get out, be brave enough, and strong enough, to do it.
  1. Protect yourself – Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. It’s good to have a giving personality to those in need, but think twice before you lend out your big heart to those you hardly know and those who may not deserve you.
  1. Learn from your mistakes – You’ll undoubtedly make mistakes in your 20s. I did, and I’m trying not to beat myself up from them as I approach 30. I’m making peace with the crazy shit I’ve done, and I’ve also learned my lessons, as you see them listed out here. The point is this: I can’t say don’t make mistakes, because you absolutely will. Somehow, what seemed like a good or fun idea at the time turns out to be a stupid thing you’ve done. That’s fine, we’ve all been there. The real work is not repeating that stupid mistake. Learn from it. Grow. Now you’ll be better equipped to make wiser decisions in the future.
  1. Find ways to love yourself – Exude confidence. Love your body. Love your mind. Find little ways to pamper yourself and to build yourself up. This is an extremely useful way to not only enjoy your life, but to excel in it.
  1. Cherish the bittersweet transitional moment from youth to adult – It might not be an exact moment like mine, but you’ll likely have a moment where you feel a shift from feeble kid to responsible adult. For me, it was when my grandmother passed away and I was a pallbearer at her funeral. My whole life as a kid, I thought the world was such a mystery and adults had a magical power to orchestrate and understand the world. Then, at 27, I realized the roles had shifted and life was simple. My grandmother, who helped raise me, now needed help from me being laid to rest. She trusted me with that gargantuan and touching act. When I walked her down the aisle of the church, I knew the mystery was solved: there was nothing more to being an adult than taking care of someone else when they needed it.
  1. Set limits and be grateful for what you have – In your 20s, the sky’s the limit, and you’ll try to get there. Maybe you will. By the time your late 20s roll around, if you’re like me, you’ll crave a little normalcy. Set limits on the things you want to become in your life, but still have goals. Be grateful for what you have. And show loving compassion for the life you’ve worked to create.

I was published – AGAIN – in Mabuhay Magazine!

I’ve been blessed these past few months with my freelance travel writing. If I said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times: Hard work and dedication really do pay off.

This is the June feature on Honolulu for Mabuhay Magazine, the Philippine Airlines in-flight magazine. “Honolulu: Land of the Happy” is meant to convey how happy life in Hawaii really is.

For the full readable PDF, click here.

Enjoy!

I was published in Mabuhay Magazine!

Great news! I was published in the Philippine Airlines in-flight publication, Mabuhay Magazine! This March 2016’s feature about Hawaii explores why the best things to do in and around Honolulu come with a view!

Please enjoy this spread. I’m proud of this accomplishment, and I know this a testament to the fact that hard work really does pay off!

Enjoy.

5 Must-Eat Cuisines in Hawaii

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They don’t call it paradise for nothing. Hawaii is well-known for it’s incredible year-round weather, scenic beaches, nice people and aloha spirit. But when it comes to food, Hawaii has some of the most diverse and delicious cuisines from all over the world. Because Hawaii’s population is made up of settlers from the east- China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines and from the west, a rich local food tradition was born. Without further ado, here’s my list of the 5 must-eat cuisines in Hawaii:

1.

CHINESE (1)Perhaps no cuisine ups the ante more than Chinese food in Honolulu. Forget about your greasy neighborhood Egg Fu Young joint. Honolulu serves up some of the tastiest Chinese dishes, from chow fun, lobster prepared your way (I prefer black bean sauce), minute chicken with cake noodle (only found in Hawaii) and dim sum that rivals Hong Kong. Leave your preconceived notions of what Chinese food is at the door, because Hawaii’s Chinese food will definitely impress you.

2.

JAPANESEIf you thought Japanese food is synonymous with sushi, you’re only half right. There are so many other amazing dishes and concepts that comprise Japanese cuisine. Pictured above is a Japanese-style hot pot- a mouth-watering amalgamation of tender meats and fresh veggies slowly simmering in a spicy broth. Pair it with some beer, and now you know why this popular and fun way to eat makes for lines out the doors. Hawaii also has udon (thick hot or cold noodle) restaurants, places for yakitori (grilled meat skewers), sukiyaki (another version of hot pot cooking) and butter yaki (similar to cooking in a hot pot, but everything is cooked in butter instead). Of course the sushi quality in Hawaii rivals that of Japan, so don’t forget to indulge in raw fish while in Hawaii.

3.

HAWAIIAN

You would think this would go without saying, but you must try Hawaiian food in Hawaii! So many people come here and don’t even know what Hawaiian food is. They are missing out. Here’s a list of some popular Hawaiian dishes: Chicken long rice, haupia (congealed coconut custard), lau-lau (pork wrapped in taro leaves and steamed), kalua pork (cooked underground), lomi lomi salmon (cubed raw salmon salad), pipikaula (dried, seasoned beef like beef jerky only tastier) and poi (pounded taro root pudding). You might find some variations of the aforementioned items at different fast-food or even sit-down restaurants, but nothing beats an old Hawaiian grandmother serving you her recipes in a traditional Hawaiian restaurant. Try Ono Hawaiian Foods on Kapahulu Avenue in Honolulu. 

4.

-POPThink you know a thing or two about good BBQ? Unless you’re talking about Korean BBQ, you don’t. Korean food is my favorite cuisine and here’s why: there are innumerable flavor combinations possible from one simple sit down meal. A typical Korean dinner entails several different types of meat you grill on the table yourself (social and fun) and never-ending bon chon, or side dishes. Picture kimchee (fermented cabbage), salad, daikon radish kimchee, boiled potatoes, gochujang (fermented spicy/delicious bean paste), sprouts, noodles, rice, fish cake, cabbage…the list is literally never-ending. Pictured above is a Korean BBQ plate lunch consisting of barbecue chicken, beef and kalbi (the king of meats, also the tastiest), a variety of veggies, white rice and mac salad. Believe me, you have to have Korean food in Hawaii. They know what they’re doing.

5.

Local

Local style is a term for anything locals like to do. That’s no exception to food. Local style food can be pretty much anything the locals like to eat, from ahi salad with mango salsa (pictured above), to spam musubi (spam on top of rice wrapped in nori), hot dogs, saimin (noodle soup) fried chicken, li hing mui (Chinese salted dry plum) candy, mochi, and shave ice. When in Rome!