Beauties in the Middle of Nowhere

After Grand Canyon we were heading north eastwards to Page, a small town near two famous sights called Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. We used it as our base to do day trips and camped there at Walmart for the next two nights (we just didn’t see the point of spending 50usd a night for one of those cramped campgrounds offering facilities we don’t need. Though we met two funny Frenchies sleeping in their car and an American guy called Mat from the South of Arizona travelling in his self-made campervan for six weeks). Besides the two famous sights the manmade Lake Powell was also a sight worth seeing. It took the people a few years to build the dam, and 17 years for the water to fill at Glen Canyon Dam which forms the lake. On one hand a good thing to have clean energy, but one the other hand we also learnt that most of the water was used for agricultural purposes. To produce an egg, for example, needs shocking 140liters of water! We wonder how long the Earth’s resources can last (we are not good examples of course with our flying-around-the-world but at least aware of it trying to do our share by not washing our car weekly, showering longer than 5mins etc etc.).

As Antelope Canyon is only accessible with tours, we had to book a tour for the resized_IMG_6557following day, hoping that it is at a good time. Tours at noon with good lights shining through the canyon are more popular so they sell out faster (and are more expensive).  We had some trouble getting a tour at such short notice but luckily after an hour of calling we managed to book two seats. We went with a Native American owned company which also did a short dance performance before the tour. It is indeed one of the most beautiful places we have visited, but one of the worst tours we have had as well. It was crowded with 1’800 tourists visiting the place daily and the tour companies had a tight schedule to adhere resized_IMG_6562to so it was quite a rush. We were driven to the place was in an open 4WD truck, the ride over dirt road bumpy and very very dusty. We were not so lucky and got a really, really lousy tour guide. He was a middle aged Indian man who only knew exactly how to walk into your photos while you try to take photos without any person, or who shouted “come over here” a gazillion times throughout the 1.5hour tour. Despite the sad fact that this place is overly commercialized and overpriced, we still thought this place is insanely beautiful. Nature must be a good artist to be able to carve such patterns onto the rocks. See for yourself.

Another famous sight in the region is the horseshoe bend, which earned its name as the Colorado River carved a 180degrees turn around a big rock, looking like a horseshoe. It must be a truly huge horse to have that size of a horseshoe;) it is a nice place to visit if you are not afraid of heights, because there is no fence and you are basically standing at edge of cliffs. We survived it! Once again it was hot. Even the short 2miles hike at 5pm nearly grilled us. As we had sort of enough of this heat where not even the wind brings relief (the gusts are so hot and dry that it burns on your skin at resized_IMG_6762dries our eyes out) and the dusty air (Roman produced some nice allergic reactions to it) we planned to find some cool down in higher altitudes in the east: Monument Valley. We did, almost by coincidence, meet one of Romans study friends, Marco, for dinner. It was good fun and we were a bit envious about the agile muscle car he had for his trip.

As we faced the setting sun on our visit to the horseshoe bend the evening before we decided to go back there again before driving towards Monument Valley. The light was resized_IMG_6773much better and worth the extra move, which we definitely did not regret later as we sat in the car for a few hours later on. We expected to drive to Monument Valley to be a leisurely 1.5hrs ride. In the end it took us almost double the time. As we entered the valley shortly after Kayenta more and more towering rock formations opened up around us. The park itself lies within the Navajo State (a land area given to the local Indian tribes by contract) and was operated by their own people so unfortunately our National Park Pass was not valid and we had to pay entrance fee (not too bad we thought – support the locals). The first glance at the famous red rock piles standing emerald within the valley was breathtaking and instantly let you feel like in one of those epic western movies. The only RV campsite (a simple line up of parallel parking lots at the rim overlooking the valley with a table for each slot, nothing more) cost us another 45USD. It started to get suspicious. As we wanted to drive down the valley to discover the park resized_IMG_6826late afternoon we started to plan our itinerary. We got informed that RVs are not allowed to drive on the dirt road in the park but the park operates tours. Being told that 1.5hr guided drives to the valley on open 10-people trucks start at a bottom rate of 75USD per person we got a bit upset. It seemed like the Indians here wanted to make easy money out of their visitors without bothering much about what services they provide. It was the same for Antelope Canyon. We decided not to take any of these tours and to try our luck by stopping one of the cars (normal size cars are allowed to drive on the dirt road) entering the area and promptly got two friendly Dutch guys who took us with them. After driving around in the valley with Tom and Nik for almost tworesized_IMG_6864 hours it was time for sunset magic. We took our chairs and watched the rocks gluing and their shadows growing. Roman liked the place that much that he even set his alarm to 5:45 to go and watch the sunrise the other morning (which of course was a jaw dropper but sleeping Yin Ru said she finds it not very special according to the photos shown…whatever…).

The place of Monument Valley marked the eastern most point of our loop. As we were unsure whether places like Arches-, Canyonlands or Capitol Reef National Park were worth the extra few hundred miles detour to the north east and there were not many roads to shortcut or get back in this area we decided to drive back the same way to reach our next bold agenda point: Bryce Canyon. Yin Ru did her share of driving for more than 2hrs that day which means that she drove more hours on this motorhome than on any other vehicles together on our round the world trip. The day was also father’s day with many family’s spending some time at Lake Powell to have fun with their dads. We found it interesting that the only fresh water source for ten thousands of acres was open for hundreds of boresized_IMG_6875ats to play. We also saw a huge coal power plant hidden behind the dam. We were wondering how honest these stories about the green way of this country is sold at the Dam’s visitor center we heard a few days before and how people are going to compensate the emissions caused by their play boats which easily burn 200 liters of diesel in an hour…

Since Bryce Canyon is an incredibly popular spot this time of the year and we didn’t reserve a campsite, our strategy was the same as the one we had for Grand Canyon: Drive as close to the Park as possible, stay the night before at a nice spot outside the park, get up early and grab one of the first come first served spots in the park in the morning. So we had a long driving day and ended up camping just 10miles out of Bryce at a neat place within Red Canyon Forest Park grilling steaks, corn and veggies on wood fire. Our strategy worked out well once again and we got to choose one of the better spots the next morning on Sunset Campground in Bryce Canyon National Park for the next two nights.

We then did the scenic drive in the park in the afternoon. And wow, wow, wow was the first reaction whenever we stopped at a lookout point. Simply amazing. Hundreds of thousands of “hoodoos” (the rock formations), each one unique. Halfway during the self-drive we got our own self-drive guided tour by following tour buses and listen to resized_IMG_7053their guide. At sunset we had a short walk into the canyon which was like an appetizer for our hike the next day. The main hike the next day was one of the best hikes ever: though not as strenuous as we imagined, the view was beyond imagination. We basically hiked through wonderland. We did not find Alice but hundreds of thousands of Hoodoos. We were amazed by how fast landscape changed and how wonderful it felt to walk through all the pillars: from deep red hoodoos with white toppings to orange colored cliffs and brown sands. It is a different sensation than just looking at it from the top (which was nice too) as you walk around them. We had wood fire BBQ again because with sun setting at 9pm, you have plenty of time to grill and spend time outside. During our stay at Bryce Canyon we had a funny young couple as neighbors in camp. We were pretty entertained by them: first eresized_IMG_7056vening we wondered why they were not talking to each other at all, and the second evening their car keys were locked IN the car so rangers had to come and rescue the keys. So now we know how to unlock a car without keys, watch out everyone! We left Bryce Canyon after a lovely 2night stay with beautiful memories.

Our initial plan was to visit the Zion National Park after the Bryce. As we realized we might have more time than we needed, we thought why not do something different? So we decided to do the scenic By-Way 12 before going to Zion. We knew nothing about it resized_IMG_7336before, but now we would definitely recommend it to everyone. It was a beautiful drive through Canyons, bushland, riverwashes and in the end a 11’000ft high mountain (beautiful view, but not beautiful for our elephant motorhome to climb uphill). We camped at a small campsite with 5 capacity called Pleasant Creek at over 9’000ft elevation where deer shouted goodnight around 9pm. We grilled (again!) some beef for dinner, and ironically we saw cows walking just 10meters away from us (we did say thank you to the cows for the meat though). The scenic drive continues all the way to the Capitol Reef National Park, a less renowned National Park compared to its cousins aka Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion etc. We were happy that we came here not knowing what to expect. It was less crowded (but hotter) and one could do a resized_IMG_7526scenic drive in the park itself. We also noticed that honestly we have been looking at rocks/soil/land since we started the road trip: Grand Canyon was like a big crack in the land, Bryce the Rock formations were popping out of earth (actually made of cliffs) and Capitol Reef again spectacular cliffs. We are not geologists so those were just our impressions. After Capitol Reef National Park we drove in the direction of Zion National Park and stayed somewhere at a rest area on highway. We were uncertain if we should stay overnight there but a truck driver told us it is totally fine and later an elderly pair came to join us at rest area to sleep overnight. Yinru slept really well despite the highway noise but poor Roman not.

We got up early today so that we could get a campsite at Zion National Park. Being a RV Monster, we had to pay an extra 15 USD fee to be “escorted” through the tunnel in the Zion. As the tunnel was built in the 20s when large vehicles were less common, the tunnel was rather small and monster cars like ours need clearance to be able to go through. All the cars on the other side of traffic had to be stopped so that we could drive in the middle of the tunnel (two way traffic would not work). We put the blame on the RV that was in front of us anyways (we were ONLY 22ft and theirs was definitely like 35ft). resized_IMG_7533The drive into the park itself was already scenic enough. We went to both campgrounds only to our disappointment to be told that they were both fully booked. At 10am! We were like “but it is first come first served, and we are here at 10am when the other people are checking out!”. The ranger told us that people came here at 8am to get a spot…ok apparently we were not early enough. We have not encountered this problem in Grand Canyon or Bryce so it was a little bit surprising for us that Zion is so much more popular. We had to go to private campground nearby which charged 50 USD (!) for a night. We paid the 50bucks for the “parking” space (with water and electricity, but not more) because they were the only campground in the vicinity. Oh well….It was hot so it was our first time using our AC the whole afternoon! The AC was not even enough to cool us down so we went to cool ourselves down in the river. Oh gosh, we were thankful that we are not living here permanently or we would be grilled! Sun at 6pm still hurts your skin. Roman left his sandals outside of the motorhome for an hour and the edges MELTED. Melted sandals. Imagine that? We visited the park in the evening when it was less hot. We did realize why this park is popular: its breathtaking beauty. See for yourself.

Each National Park we have visited is unique so we would not say this is the best, but definitely one of the top 5 (we have only visited 5 to date anyways haha). The best way to explore the park was to hike it. We heard about the Angels Landing Hike a lot and decided to give it a try. This legendary yet scary hike is so difficult that only angels could land on it (some parts you need to hold onto the chain as there were cliffs on both side). We knew we were no angels and knowing our own limits being afraid of heights, we would be happy if we made it to the Scouts resized_IMG_7694landing, the lookout point before the scary cliff part. Due to the extreme heat during the day, the best time to do a hike would be early in the morning so we dragged ourselves out of bed at 630am. We started our hike at about 815am and there were already quite some people on the trail. As we hiked we realized that we have physically improved a bit and we were feeling fit even though it was going uphill all the time. The cool climate in the morning did help us a lot (worth it to get up so early). We made it to the overlook without much difficulties though we had to use the chain for the last 10minutes or so. The inner debate if we should attempt to hike to the top ended with a clear “No” after seeing the trail with our own eyes. Nope, we can’t be angels this time. There was so much traffic (human) as everyone holds on to the only chain making the two wayresized_IMG_7618 traffic a bit congested. And the sheer cliffs on both sides at 1400ft make your legs shake just by looking at it. So we enjoyed the view of the canyon (and the people climbing to the top) for some time before making our way down. Going downhill was easy as usual, we were also entertained by many different techniques people use to reduce impact on knees and toes: run, jog, and even backward walking. As we walked down at 1030am it was getting warm already and we saw many people hiking up. Some of them looked red already after the first 0.5mile (it is 5.4mile return) so we were glad that we got up early to hike. The Virgin River that shapes the Zion National Park is still working its magic in the park, and it also does wonder with cooling down. We bathed a bit in the cool 15 degrees river and felt alive again!

Welcome to American America

Here we go, the last chapter of this amazing trip: 6 weeks road trip in South Western US mainland. It’s going to be summer, hot, packed with tourists but big fun with lots of camping, beautiful national parks and thousands of miles on the road to discover – this is what we expected before we started. Our intention was to pick up (and later drop off) a motor home in Los Angeles to discover some of the world’s most famous national parks in the south west by driving a huge (about 4’000miles long) loop and then hire a car for the last two weeks to get all the way from Los Angeles to San Francisco from where we will be heading back home in the end of July.

LA didn’t welcome us with open arms. After touching down at LAX we waited 50mins in the airplane taxing for our gate, another hour for the luggage delivery and in the end again an hour for our complimentary shuttle service to the hotel that never arrived (we took at taxi at our expenses in the end). It got pretty late that night so we had a short 4hrs sleep before (and this time the shuttle arrived) our rental company picked us up to get the motorhome. One of the few things we pre-booked more than six months ago was our recreational vehicle (or simply called RV) for the first 4 weeks. What appeared to be ridiculously distant when we booked it last winter is now standing in front of us: an 8meter long, 5.6 tons heavy motorhome powered by a huge V8 5.6l Ford engine (which consumes approx.. 30l per 100km – 3-4 times more than our car back home) with all the amenities one could imagine: shower and toilet, electricity generator, AC, a wifi-hotspot and, the coolest thing ever: an expendable living room that slides sideways resized_IMG_5963out of the vehicle. After camping with campervans in Australia and New Zealand this vehicle comes with all the trimmings and feels more like a hotel on wheels than a motorhome…and guess what: this was the smallest available RV for rent. Appears more like a house on wheels than the smallest available camper but yeah: if in American do as the Americans right? We were actually told by our rental company that Americans don’t like this kind of small RVs…of course…

After shopping all the necessities to camp for the next few weeks (which was kind of a headache since catering for two seems to be really difficult here. They mainly sell one kilo+ packages of meat or 8 packs of breads) we hit LA’s freeways. It was ridiculous. 6, 7 oh wait this one’s got 8 lanes in one direction. Their streets are just massive…and…still way too busy. The avalanche of cars, trucks and buses came to a stop every now and then. No wonder it took us more than 2hrs to cover the first 50miles westbound (and we were not even driving through the city center and it was Saturday morning. We really don’t want to know how bad their weekday’s rush hours are). We just wanted to get out there. We parked our car at a Walmart parking lot in a suburb at the western end of LA to sleep. Temperatures were comfortable…yet… Walmart seems to be a good place to park overnight actually, as opposed to what we initially thought. This Walmart is open 24/7, so that means there is security all the time and we could use their restroom all the time if we wanted to.

After sleeping in our own comfy bed for the first night, we got up feeling refreshed and ready for the big road trip. Our schedule today was to go to Joshua Tree National Park. It is a desert-ish park with various types of plants and animals that have adapted to the hot, dry weather in the presized_IMG_5982ark. It is amazing to think of how the plants and animals could survive under these hard conditions. We arrived there at around noon time which shouts: hot hot hot! It was so hot that you would practically seek for shades every 5 seconds you’re walking somewhere…but too bad we are in the desert where there are not that many shaded places. Obviously there was no way that we could hike or do anything outdoor for a longer time at that time unless you want to be grilled. Temperatures were well above the 100 degrees (40degrees Celsius) line. We visited a few spots that offered beautiful views of rocks, Joshua Trees and the desert. The heat was worst here at 2.30pm as informed by the park ranger, so we did not do resized_IMG_6036much in the late afternoon. Roman was brave and went out of the car sometimes for photo shooting. 5minutes later he would come back looking like a cooked shrimp. We stayed for a night at a camp site in the park called Jumbo Rock. As the name suggests, the campsite was surrounded by huge rocks, each one unique. At sunset, the heat became more bearable and we could even walk around the park and enjoyed the sunset. Lights reflecting on rocks made them looked orangey and pretty. Eventually some rabbits, birds and lizards started to show up. As the sky got darker an endless blanket of stars opened up above us. Just lying on outdoor picnic table we could see uncountable stars and occasionally shooting stars. Simply the beauty of nature that one could see here…

One of the most famous national parks in USA would probably be Yosemite and Grand Canyon, both of which we plan to visit. We were awaken as it started to get sauna-ish in the motorhome with sunlighresized_IMG_6090t (at 8am). After having breakfast in the shades outside of our motorhome we hit the road again in the direction of Grand Canyon. What seems close by on map can be deceiving, the distances between the parks are just huge. From Joshua Tree to Grand Canyon would take us at least 5-6hours. And as we were told there’s really nothing much that’s particularly worth seeing between this two places. Hence we ended up driving the whole day to get to Grand Canyon. As we drove, the landscape changed from desert (where it was 43 degrees and the wind hurt your skin and eyes) to savannah within the first two hours and then later dense needle tree forests at the higher altitude of the Colorado Plateau. Though driving can be tiring, driving on American highways was sort of entertaining too. We wonder where all the pick-ups are heading to as we saw them in the middle of the desert with their boats on the back trailers. Though passenger trains were not so common here, we did see many freight transportation trains. One of the trains that we saw was over 1.2miles long with four locomotives in front to pull it. Well even with that it did not move fast… one of the “sceneries” on the highway was how long certain vehicle (not trucks) can be: we saw a truck which was transporting three other trucks or a huge motorhome (length of a bus) towing another Jeep (which we assume is for day-tripping). We love the comfort of this spacious motorhome but driving such a vehicle also means that you become a more resized_IMG_6468and more welcomed investor at petrol stations. We got sort of a bad deal by refueling 2/3 of our gasoline for 160 USD shortly before crossing the California to Arizona state boarder. And then 15mins later, we realized that the gas price in Arizona was much cheaper, almost 50% lower (but yeah. We didn’t know about it and didn’t want to risk driving further in this almost abandoned area not knowing when the next service station is available). After having spent so much on gas, we decided that for this night we would not spend another 50 USD for a campsite in small touristy town of Williams. So we ended up camping for free in a forest about an hours’ drive away from Grand Canyon south rim. At an altitude of more than 2’000m it chilled fast in the evening (what a nice contrast to the sweat the last night).

Camping in America in this season is absolutely lovely, nice weather (though it can be real hot) almost guaranteed. And obviously we are not the only ones doing it, there are thousands of other tourists on the road at this time of the year visiting the famous Parks resized_IMG_6378and sights, which means: campsites might be booked out well in advance. We could not plan our stay at all the attractions months in advance to make campsite reservations as we have been “busy traveling” for more than 4 months. Grand Canyon is one of the spots that we were worried not getting any campsite for a night. So we set an alarm to get up early and started making phone calls to various campsites in the National Park itself: our worry was confirmed. None of the campsites in the park had vacancies. After an hour of effort, we finally found a reasonably priced campsite for the night, just outside of the town Tusayan in Kaibab National Forest. We got here at 10am and got our campsite for the night reserved. Yeay! In the afternoon, the big thing was up: Grand Canyon. The 80 USD annual National Park pass we purchased in Hawaii proved to be worthy as the entrance to Grand Canyon costs 30 USD. GRAND Canyon is indeed GRAND. 446km long, up to 29km wide, and 1.6km deep, this canyon was breathtakingly beautiful. After walking along the rim for some time we took a shuttle bus to enjoy the sunset a less touristy lookout. The shades of the setting sun playing with the rock formations was gorgeous.

As the campsite was so peaceful and convenient so we decided to extend another night here whilst we had the whole day to do some household and motorhome servicing. We have not had any campsite with full hook-ups (water, dump, electricity) since we received the car four days ago so it was time to get our motorhome cleaned up! It was our first time having a motorhome with a toilet so we were curios how it will be removing our own waste. Came prepared with rubber hand gloves, we disposed of the waste tanks at the National Park successfully. We realized that waste dumping was not as scary as we imagined. Luckily! Laundry, charging of laptop at McD, etc were also done. What an eventful day J Our day ended with a wonderful BBQ wood fire dinner (of course lighted the Swiss pathfinder style with only one newspaper and no chemicals) by sunset. Good company, food and wine, what more can one ask for in life!resized_IMG_6112


Volcanoes, Beaches and Jet-Set in Maui

We arrived in Maui after a short 45 minute flight and picked up another Avis car again. We got a non-American car this time. Frist impression of Maui: Hot hot hot! Our plan for the next and last week in Hawaii was to spend the first two days in different locations to drive to far far away Hana (well, it is actually only about 80 miles but yeah, far for this tiny island) and then the following 5 days at one location for day tripping on shorter resized_IMG_4682distances again. We spent the first evening in a home stay more on the country side and only had to share the place with two other guest. One Indian guy who couldn’t even say “hi” and a very odd old lady with drug and alcohol addiction. She told us weird stories about her not being able to stay at her house anymore due to a court decision, supremacies about MH370 flight that “hijacked by ISIS and the plane being hidden somewhere to be used to attack America in the future…” we guess she was hallucinating. In the morning she called Yinru in panic while we were having breakfast and asked her to get ice cubes to take medication. We wonder what the government can do to help people like her, although it is none of our business actually.

We left the place early in the morning to drive all the way on the Road to Hana to theresized_IMG_4655 eastern tip of Maui. The scenic drive lead us through lush rainforests with uncountable one lane bridges, waterfalls and, of course, tons of tourists. We took breaks for a few hours to either hike not very spectacular rainforest trails, cool down by swimming in one of the rivers (which was wonderfully refreshing) or to have lunch at Bradda Hutts BBQ place (a local food truck serving classics from the grill accompanied by famous mac and cheese salads). Since we pre-booked our night at Joe’s place there was no hassle about finding a bed this night. We have to say Maui is horribly expensive comparatively to Oahu or Kauai. Our place was by far the cheapest for 50 USD a night. Prices for accommodation in Maui usually start at a rate of 200 USD per night for a decent hotel which is the reason why we booked an Airbnb for the next five nights (which was still 100 USD a night).

The next day we planned to drive all the way back to the center of Maui…so so impressed with what we hresized_IMG_4793ave seen (the road to Hana was beautiful but not as spectacular as we expected – ok, we might be spoilt from other islands but hey, in Samoa it looked like that everywhere) we went to visit another state park. Luckily we did! It was the most beautiful and special black sand beach we have ever seen. The lava formations and especially the truly black sand (which is, unsurprisingly, very very hot) where a true jaw dropper. We both had a refreshing bath in a small cave nearby before heading back to civilization and finding a proper seafood lunch at Pai’a. Half an hour drive to the south in Kihei was where we would stay for the rest of our time in Maui…if we would ever find it. After having some troubles and not being able to call anyone we found our host Garret. He and his Polish fiancé Ewa warmly welcomed us to their apartment. After a brief welcome we wanted to resized_IMG_4806attend a local Hula performance at sunset on the beach but unfortunately it has been rained out by bad weather and was cancelled. We ended up enjoying the sunset on another beach further north. What sounds weird is reality on those islands (it was the same for Oahu and Kauai): all these islands have very distinctive micro climates. So it is possible to have one place raining the entire day while a 30mins drive away there’s plenty of sunshine. This is one of the reasons why Hawaiis’ landscape is so amazing to drive through. One can literally see dessert, savannah and rainforest within one day here.

The next few days were spent discovering some of Maui’s uncountable beautiful beaches and it’s tempting turquoise waters. We spent hours snorkeling in various places observing thousands of colorful fish and swam with dozens of, sometimes huge, green sea turtles. Our stay with two locals also gave us the opportunity to gain some insights in how life’s like here in Maui. We expected the aloha-spirit to be a bit more relaxing than what we know from Singapore or Switzerland but not that laid back. Rush hour on the streets was usually around 4pm. Our hosts (well one of them was unemployed) left home for work around 9am and was back by 3pm. How laid back is that?

While beaching wouldn’t fully resized_IMG_5263entertain us every day (maybe we are just the type of hyper active travelers that cannot just settle for a week in an all-inclusive hotel) we added some contrast to our program. The visit and short hikes in Iao Valley, a place on west Maui where rainfall is abundant and lush rainforest dominates the scene was  rather unspectacular again. Our afternoon trip the Haleakala National Park and Mauis’ highest peak, the crater summit at an altitude of over 10’000 ft (3’055m) was a unique experience. As on all other island with high peaks moisture usually gets stuck on either side of the mountain creating clouds and lots of rainfall. Since the summit was higher than the inversion weather layer once weresized_IMG_5275 2 reached the very top we were indeed above the clouds. Temperatures plummeted well down to about 15 degrees and the winds were biting. Luckily we had some appropriate attire from New Zealand with us, but wow, we were wondering how all those ladies up there with their hotpants and goosebumps all over the body must have felt…brrr. We stayed at the summit for a while and witnessed a magical sun diving into a sea of clouds at sunset. Around 45mins later an endless sky of millions of clearly visible stars opened up on our way back home around 9pm.

Maui has beautiful beaches and landscape to offer, besides some really good food too. We had lots of seafood (is there anywhere better to get seafood?) throughout our trip. We tried Cajun fish at Paia fish market, coconut shrimp at Coconut restaurant etc. Even Poke (raw fish with marinade) from supermarket were really good. One highlight dish was hot and spicy shrimp from Geste food truck. It was just a very ordinary food truck parked at road side that serves extraordinary shrimps. As our travel guides suggests, it is “to die for”. Yinru also met her old friend, Judy whom she has not met since Taiwan in 2010. It was a good reunion and we would probably meet again in LA in July.

We have been asked numerous times which of the Hawaiian Islands we like most. Well we have to disappoint you and tell you that we can’t choose one because we like all of them (diplomatic but true). Every island has its own characteristic so it is really hard to pick our favorite island. Oahu has the city vibe, glamour and welcomed us for the very first time. Kauai is more laid back and family oriented scoring with untouched nature while Maui offered a mix of both with impressive sights of the remnants of the creators of all the islands: volcanoes. We left Hawaii with mixed feelings: sad having to leave, happy having created all the memories and knowing that there’s a huge road trip coming up in the west of mainland US for the next, and last chapter of this trip, six weeks. Luckily we made one big mistake while planning our trip to Hawaii: we didn’t visit Big Island – which means: We’ll have to come back one day J until then: Mahalo and Aloha Hawaii.resized_IMG_4823

Kauai, Hawaii’s garden island

The flight to Kauai was looong: about 45minutes. The scheduled flight spent longer time taxing and boarding than actually flying in the air (20mins). We were not seated together so that we had some privacy (Hawaiian Airlines thought so apparently). Yinru spent some time playing candy crush and Roman was busy talking to a blondie sitting next to him. I bet he bribed Hawaiian Airlines to make such seat arrangement…

After arriving at Kauai Airport we were taken by car rental shuttle to collect our car for the following 7days. We had to queue up for one hour to get our car! We got a very American rental car Buick. (mumbles… who would buy that other then Americans? You rarely see it in Europe or Asia at least). As usual the car rental tried to sell us all insurances possible but we did not fall for it. We have Allianz Travel Insurance anyways (really a good product, and we are not saying that because Roman works for them).

Kauai is a little bit easier to explore than Oahu – it is smaller, more laid back and does not have so many streets. You basically have to know to go left or right and then you resized_IMG_4275are on the right track! We chose to stay at Kapa’a for our entire stay because it is sort of located in the middle of the one and only loop highway around the island which makes it strategic to explore the whole island. We arrived at our Hostel which is managed by the owners family who also lives on the same compound. The hostel was pretty much made up of a dated building from the 60s in classical American wooden and another house which is built after the hurricane in 1992. The houses look fragile but cozy and family style. Many of the houses in Kauai survived the major hurricanes in 1982 and 1992, but some did not. Kapa’a was a historic town itself as it has several old buildings which survived the hurricanes. The owner jokingly said the buildings built back then were more solid because they used more cement and materials than needed as they have just experienced hurricane prior to building the buildings. Well we don’t know if that is true, but one thing we know is that if hurricane hits during our visit, we should stay in this top solid 60s building!

Our first day trip in Kauai was to explore the north shore of Kauai. We stopped at a lookout point which overlookresized_IMG_4386ed the valley and the traditional taro plantations the Polynesians once brought to this islands. Then came an old hippie lady (in her 60s maybe) who asked us if we smoke weed. After rejecting her weed offer, she came to us 5minutes later to ask for a lift. As kind as we were, of course we did (hoping that she would offer some free weed and smoking it in the car). It is not difficult to understand why Kauai is called the garden island, along the way there was just beautiful garden island scenery with lots of hills, mountains and greens everywhere (although this is only true for one side of the island which enjoys rainfall – the south west is dry and almost deserts like. At the north shore we got to see how locals enjoy their weekend at the beach with bbq grill, floating plastic castles for the kids and heaps of food: pizzas, chips, ice cream, steaks… Oh boy one had a full box of different chips and Yinru was so jealous! As we were in the resized_IMG_4148neighborhood already we decided to do a detour to the Na Pali Coast even though the weather was bad. No wonder, being one of wettest places on earth with annual rainfall of 12m (10x the amount of where we live in Switzerland), Na Pali coast just has lots of rain. We wanted to check out the condition to hike. When we were there we saw many hikers who came back from their hike looking muddy and completely soaked from the rain. We were quite unsure if we should do it just in case if it rains during the hike it could be very dangerous as it becomes slippery and flash floods could occur. But we will see…

Having explored the northern part from Kapa’a seen, on Sunday we decided to do the resized_IMG_4177other direction, the southern part of the island. We gave some Canadian girls a lift to a beach and we were quite surprised by how “influent” their English is. In Quebec, Canada, French is spoken and English is rather a foreign language for them. After dropping the ladies off, we visited Lawai International Center. It offered some interesting insights into Japanese/Buddhist beliefs and the spiritual place. Some of the volunteers there were Christians or of other beliefs, but they all worked hard together to keep this placresized_IMG_4217e alive and even spent one whole year building a temple there. If only everyone in this world puts their differences aside and work for the better of the world, our planet would be a much lovelier place. We chilled out at Poi’pu beach afterwards. This place was so sunny whilst the other part of the island were just cloudy. We saw a turtle just at beach feeding and a monk seal drying on the shore.

Being a Swiss, Roman has a habit of checking the weather. Sometimes it is good that we can plan our activities accordingly but sometimes Yinru would like to be more spontaneous. In Kauai Roman’s habit has proved to be a good one once again. On resized_IMG_4306Monday when the weather was bad it was a day for laundry, some shopping and short visit to soso spectacular waterfalls. We decided to keep the exciting Na Pali Coast hike for Tuesday, when the weather was forecasted to be good. The wait for good weather was worth it. The weather conditions were perfect (though hot) to hike at Na Pali coast. We arrived at the park and had difficulties to find a free parking spot around 10am. There were so many people there to either hike or to visit the Ke’e beach! After finally parking our car at some odd but legal spot, we started to hike along this rugged and beautiful coastline. The target: a hike to waterfalls that is 8 Mile return (about 13km). That was one of the most challenging hike ever due to the trail setting that cuts through rough jungle with numerous stream crossings. For the last half a mile we literally had to half climb. The view at waterfalls was rewarding. We had a refreshing bath at these gigantic, over 100m tall falls. It was a resized_IMG_4383tough but worthy hike, especially when you are constantly entertained by good (butt) views as some teenies were hiking in underwear. Well, why not? The hike cost us our last energy on the way back in the evening sun. In total we spent more than 5hrs walking, crawling and climbing covering over 13km and 800m in height.

Our last two days on Kauai were well spent. We had a day trip to Waimea Canyon, which is also known as the Grand Canyon of pacific and a famous movie scene from Jurassic Parc. The Canyon offers stunning views in all colors. We had to stop multiresized_IMG_4416ple times on the way simply because it was so beautiful. However we were not so lucky with the view on Na Pali coast from this side of the island. The view at lookouts on 4’000ft coastal viewpoints were all covered in clouds. Well maybe next time we will come back again when the clouds are nicer to us. Our last day on Kauai was spent on beach on north shore. We had a snorkeling day at tunnels beach with one of the highlights of the trip: snorkeling with dozens of turtles! We felt like we won the lottery when we saw so many turtles while snorkeling! They were feeding on the planets between the rocks and were not shy when human swam a little closer.

After spending one week on Kauai, we are heading to the next island, Maui. The airport at Kauai was not worth mentioning at all other than their chaotic, inefficient check-in process… Kauai had been really nice to us. Let’s stay tuned and see what the next island, Maui has to offer!DCIM100GOPRO

Back to civilization: Aloha Hawai’i

Our flight to Honolulu with Fiji Airways was delayed by 4hrs. Luckily we were informed by our travel agency about the late departure in advance so we didn’t have to linger around at Faleolo Airport (with its only-3-gates infrastructure, it reminds you more of a kiosk than a proper international airport. Just a comparison: Zurich Airport has 67 Gates). When we finally boarded, everyone seated and ready to take off, the captain announced a further delay. The ground staff had to unload some cargo before we could depart because the plane exceeded its maximum take-off weight (what’s going on here eh?). Anyway, we arrived Honolulu after a smooth flight at 5 c’clock in the morning instead of midnight but we didn’t worry too resized_IMG_3721much about that: We departed Samoa on Friday night, but since we have crossed the date line during our flight, when we arrived at Hawaii it was again Friday the 22nd of May 2015 early morning so we got the entire day back J. As we sat in the cab to get to our hostel in Waikiki dawn has broken and the sky started to brighten. We didn’t bother much about the two guys sleeping in our 4-share room and went for a short nap until 9am.

Tresized_IMG_3165he next day we got up and met our room mate. He introduced himself and Roman asked immediately “are you from Germany or Switzerland?” – his name was Hans, a more common name in German speaking region. Yeap, the other side of the world and the Swiss reunited J the next few days we basically spent time around Waikiki area. This place does live up to its reputation with long beaches, big waves for lots surfers and many Asian tourists, mainly Japanese. Inresized_IMG_3740 Waikiki or Honolulu you can get Japanese food everywhere, probably even more than burgers! A hike up to the Diamond Head which allows an overview of Waikiki and Honolulu is a must when you are in Oahu. Oh boy, was the view amazing! We also explored Honolulu downtown and Chinatown, which were not that spectacular. The food in Chinatown of course did not disappoint us, but you could tell that this place used to be much busier than it is now. The Foster botanic garden near Chinatown was a highlight though. Besides some of the plants being native to Hawaii and can’t be found elsewhere on earth, this garden also houses some special orchids.

The hostel that we were staying at is called Waikiki Beachside Hostel. It was exactly what we needed: quality accommodation at affordable price at the beachfront of Waikiki. We have a little more privacy and space because it is a semi-private room built in a resized_IMG_3824dorm. It means when you enter the room, you will first see two single beds, then kitchenette and bathroom. When you walk past these two beds you will come to another room with our beds inside. So we share the kitchen and toilet with 2 other people but have our own little room at the same time, paying only a few dollars more. We would highly recommend this hostel to anyone who want some budget-but-good accommodation with the possibility to get to know some other people without feeling too much like being in a big animal stall.

As said, one of the good things about staying in hostel is meeting other interesting people. An Indian living in San Francisco stayed with us for the first three nights. Sid’s (You might not want to know his full Indian name) a very funny guy. All four of us (we, Hans and Sid) once went to dine at a famous udon noodles place. Initially Sid said he just ate so he is only getting a beer. In the end he ended with the most food on his plate. We also went snorkeling with him on self-drive day tour to Hanauma Bay. He was taking selfies every 15 minutes (ok maybe not that often), being excited as it was his “virgin snorkel”. After Sid left, a Columbian who is in his 40s came to join us. South Americans are maybe very different from us, not better or worse, just different. Rico was very hospitable and also funny in a way. Yinru once bought him a coffee and Rico was so touched that he told Roman what a wonderful girl Yinru is (it is really just a coffee, but he kept repeating how good his day is because of it). He also invited us to visit him in Columbia and he will make us a good cup of coffee. But we weren’t the only ones Rico has invited to have coffee at his hometown: As we went to have dinner together once and there was a good looking Brazilian waitresresized_IMG_3840s. Rico invited her to visit Columbia when she goes back to Brazil and that he would make a coffee for her. He also asked her to dance with us after our dinner. So random. We also spent a lot of time with Hans, visiting Pearl Harbor and North Shore together. Pearl Harbor was a touching experience, and an amazing one too when we were lucky enough to witness a military aircraft carrier, Carl Vinson, docking and all the staff lining up on the top deck of the vessel. We rented a Mustang convertible to explore the North Shoreresized_IMG_3916 together with Hans. Despite all the hassle about insurances and finding a good car hire deal for we were most amazed about American law and their issues with liability when least expected: When hiring snorkeling gear. Hans hired a set of snorkel gear (We bought our own back in New Zealand so we don’t need to), the company listed a full page of liability exclusion which had to be signed and requested a credit card imprint if anything is lost, broken or not returned. So hiring snorkel gear is more troublesome than hiring a Mustang in the USA. North Shore offered one of the nicest spots to snorkel at a place called Sharks Cove. The sharks were shy that day so unfortunately we did not see any of them but many many beautiful unique fish as well as a turtle made up for that.

One week at Oahu felt so short! Soon our first week in Hawaii came to an end. We enjoyed our first Hawaiian Aloha experience a lot, for its perfect weather, beautiful beaches and waters, and its convenience of being able to talk to people, taking a bus to everywhere and find more than one choice of what to eat or where to go (different than in Samoa). Obviously one week was rather short for what Oahu has to offer but we are both convinced that this won’t be our last visit to Hawaii. Next stop: “Garden-Island” Kauai!