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Yesterday was my birthday – I am 27.  I figured it would be a good time to ponder a bit both about this past year as well as the one ahead of me.

This past year has been pretty incredible.

Sean and I have done some amazing stuff.

 

-We went to Hawaii with friends on the vacation of a lifetime – it’s not uncommon for us to turn to each other and say “man, we need to go to Hawaii”. I was always resistant to Hawaii vacations, as I am to anything that seems even vaguely cliche…but man, what a time it was.

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-We completed our first Olympic-length triathlon.

It hurt, but was totally worth it.

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-We went to Ethiopia on a medical missions trip. This trip was my first foray into Africa and way out of my comfort zone. It has brought up a lot of questions about who I am and what I want to do with my life. Questions I’m still wrestling with, and probably will be for many years to come.

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-My sister Anya and I traveled to Chicago and St. Louis to visit friends over Thanksgiving – an intense weekend of much needed sister and friend time. My love for the midwest has not waned.

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-December and January found Sean and I in San Diego for Christmas and Las Vegas for New Years. The Las Vegas strip New Years experience was decidedly more pleasant than I was anticipating.

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-Sean and I moved yet again, into an adorable duplex with lots of storage space. We’re still working on home-ifying it, but it’s slowly coming together.

 

-We visited Denver – a city I’d never been to before. Plus, we got to explore an abandoned mining town, which was a super cool experience.

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-Spring marked the start of wedding season – I booked 10 weddings this year. A decent amount for only my second year of being a professional photographer.

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-We made another dent in our plan to bike the entire west coast by biking from Monterey to San Luis Obispo. 140 miles over 4 days – best bike trip to date!

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-In May Sean and I kicked butt at a sprint tri in Moragn Hill – I beat my previous time by a full half hour!

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-Sean and I traveled to Houston to visit Anya and co., and even made a trip to New Orleans. I LOVED NOLA and hope to return there again some day.

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-July found us gathering with my whole family in San Diego for my grandpa’s 87th birthday. It just now dawns on me that he’s almost exactly 60 years older than me.

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WHAT A YEAR!

Man, we did a lot of traveling –

I didn’t even realize how much it was until I wrote it out!



…So now what?

Well, here’s a bit of what I’m hoping for / planning on for this next year:



-Another full length tri: I want to beat my time on the Santa Cruz tri!

-Complete a half-marathon

-Visit Tahoe

-Visit Boise

-Book more weddings! (I’d love 20…)

-Bike San Luis Obispo to Mexico! 400 miles of glorious California coast :0)

-Complete a full-size stained glass window

-Start painting again!

-FINALLY visit Russia with my hubby :0)

-I really want to start volunteering in some capacity

….and I guess we’ll just see what lies in store!

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On the very last day of our trip, we decided not to do anything spectacular. We woke up, packed, checked out of the hotel, turned in the underwater camera. Then we went back to the lovely breakfast place we tried the day before. This time we got brunch (fish tacos) and fresh squeezed orange juice and our last fresh Kona coffee.

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Last Kona Coffee

We sat outside, and the weather was perfect, and we looked out at the water. There was a guy with a ukelele (no joke) singing peacefully right in front of us, and it was all downright lovely. We reflected on the trip, and decided we’d come back again in a heartbeat. What a wonderful, peaceful place.

We also spent a bit of time reading about the iron man triathlon which happens in Kona every year. For those not in the know, the Iron Man is a triathlon made up of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run.  The original iron man triathlon happened there 30ish years ago, and that was the birth of not only the iron man, but the whole triathlon sport. I have to admit, we got a bit of a glint in our eyes as we pondered the possibility of one day tackling that feat.

And after breakfast, there was a rooster in a parking lot

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And then we got on a plane :0)

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I have to say that all of my negative assumptions about Hawaii were pretty much wrong. I had assumed that all of it was boring and touristy and yuppie. Perhaps that is the case on some of the other islands, but Kona was really quite a treat. There was so much to explore, and do, and yet you didn’t feel guilty just taking a day to relax and sip mai tais and watch the sunset. All in all, a very successful vacation :0)

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We started day 7, our last full day in Hawaii, by walking into town (which was easy, because we were technically already *in* town…) and going to a lovely place called Lava Java for breakfast. There I ordered an enormous eggs Benedict (on croissants!) while Sean enjoyed a local treat of waffle with fresh macadamia nuts and bananas. What a way to start the day! It was delicious.

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Breakfast

On the walk back to the hotel, we shopped for some souvenirs. We saw a man sitting by the sidewalk weaving hats and bowls out of palm fronds, and we couldn’t resist getting a hat :0)

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Lizard in the Banyan Tree

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Though it looks a bit silly, it’s kind of awesome to have a hand-woven hat. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by a snorkeling store and rented an underwater camera  – something we should have done at the beginning of the trip. After dropping our souvenirs off at the hotel, we changed and headed back out to the little cove from which you could see the captain cook monument in the distance.

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This pic is from when we were there a few days before, and if you squint you can almost see a teenie tiny white speck, directly behind the canoe in the water. That’s the Captain Cook monument. It’s about 1.2 miles away, by water. So, naturally, we thought we could swim it. We put on our suits and snorkel gear, grabbed our underwater camera, and jumped in.

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There are a bunch of small reefs all around that area, and for a while we meandered in the general direction of the monument while looking around at the fishies and the urchins. Sean took pictures, I just looked.

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We actually swam a good ways out – but we found it was only a quarter of the way to the monument. We weren’t tired, and could have probably made it, except I started thinking. You can’t tell in the pictures, but the further we swam, the more I realized just how far from shore we were. And just how far down it was. And because of the clear water, you could actually see all the way down, all 40 or 50 feet of the way down to the sea floor. After a while, there were no more reefs, just sand. I started thinking about sharks, and storms, and the fact that we were going to be pretty tired by the time we got there…and I decided we had had enough adventure. So we turned around. Kind of anticlimactic, I suppose, but definitely better then getting eaten by sharks.

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It took a while to get back, and be the time we finally scrambled onto the precarious beach and got changed, we were pretty tired and overall glad we decided to turn around. Especially when we realized that swimming there and back would have been the equivalent of an ironman swimming distance – something we’re not quite ready for. Yet. :0)

We drove back to the hotel, took showers and recuperated. It was afternoon, so of course, our next course of action was clear: time for Huggos.

On the way to the restaurant, we saw these guys:

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Crabs

And a couple of these guys (bleh…)

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And then we just settled in for snacking on fries, drinking fruity beverages, playing cards and watching the sunset.

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Once the sun was almost done setting, we figured it was time for dinner. We could have stayed at Huggos, but being as-ever on a quest for something new, we instead ventured into town towards a local popular diner. This place wasn’t particularly interesting on the outside or inside, but you could tell it was a favorite for those who lived there – it was absolutely PACKED. We ordered something called a “super loco moco”. What this is is an absolutely enormous quantity of heart-stopping, artery-clogging, stomach-filling deliciousness. More specifically, it’s a pile of rice, pulled pork, sausage, fried shrimp, and two eggs – all completely smothered in about a gallon of gravy.

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It was a daunting task, but I’m (sortof) proud to say we made it through about 3/4 of it before giving up. We shuffled back to the hotel and, as was our custom, fell asleep early.

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Day 6, Friday, started off a bit slow. Everyone but Sean and I were heading back home, and we all had to move out of the condo. We tidied, and packed, and hussled the others over to the airport. After a brief costco lunch, Sean and I decided to visit the highest point on the island – the top of Mauna Kea, at about 13,800 feet.

It was a long, beautiful ride through vast fields of volcanic rock – such an eerie, surreal landscape.

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When we got to the visitor’s center, we got out and walked around for a bit to acclimate to the elevation (9,000ish feet) and read some of the info about the observatories at the top. This was our favorite of the many warning signs:

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After the visitor’s center, it was mostly off-roading, with nothing but crazy drops and clouds on all sides.

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Going Up
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13,000 feet!
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Sky
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Keck Observatory

A moment of commentary about being at almost 14,000 feet: you do feel it. There is less oxygen, and your head swims, and you get little stars in your eyes if you exert yourself too much. It is so empty, and vast, and all you see below are clouds.

We wanted to walk along this little path to the tippy top, and even so we had to stop to breathe a couple of times, just to walk the couple hundred feet.

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To the Top

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But it was worth the walk.

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The feeling of being up there is indescribable. It is SO QUIET. Just gusts of icy wind, and this alien landscape and you in the clouds.

We looked at all the observatories and satellites, and then headed back down for the looong drive back into town.

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On the way down the mountain, we drove into some of the clouds we saw from above. Instantly, the scenery and the feeling changed. It was like driving into the past – I expected to see shadows of dinosaurs roaming in the fields of volcanic rock.

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Out of curiosity, we took a turn off of the main road, and drove for a while into this utterly empty wasteland. We drove for a long time and the landscape didn’t change. Eventually, we had to turn around since we didn’t want to end up on the other side of the island. Or in Narnia, or the Land of the Lost. All of which seemed to be very real possibilities.

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Finally, we drove out of the fog and the cool, back into humid Hawaii. Which, for all the world, looked very much like California.

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By this point we were starving, in spite of the myriad of snacks we had had with us. Our adventure had taken many hours. We went back to Costco and bought 1 pound of Poke – a special type of seasoned, raw Ahi tuna. Pound of raw fish in tow, we went to check into our hotel which would be our home for the next two nights. Sean got a great priceline deal, so we ended up staying in a nice downtown hotel called King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach hotel.  Lets just say we got a steal.

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We ate an inordinate amount of raw fish with chips and beer, and promptly passed out at some absurdly early hour.

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Day 5 was much like day 3 – recuperation from the activities of the previous day. In the morning, we decided to go snorkeling, which I hadn’t gotten to do yet (but the others had gone before I got there). We found a great spot nearby (only a couple miles away). I napped on the beach for a bit, and then gave in and went in the water. It was so beautiful! I’m really bummed we didn’t rent an underwater camera to capture the crazy multi-colored fishies. They were all sorts of florescent colors, in stripes and spots, of all sizes from a couple inches to almost a foot long!

The fish were all pretty amazing, and the water was so shallow that they swam right before my eyes. There were also tons of black spikey sea urchins, which I didn’t like nearly as much. Every time you put your foot down, you run the risk of being stabbed with their evil spines. I got cut at least a couple times, and the cuts hurt for many days afterwords.

The most amazing part, and one of the highlights of my trip, was that I got to see a real live sea turtle! Even cooler, I got to pet it’s giant shell and even shake it’s flipper/paw in greeting. He was about a food in diameter, and didn’t seem to mind me at all. I watched him for several minutes as he munched his lunch only inches from me. I was SO kicking myself for not renting a camera!

After we had our fill of foot-stabbing urchins and awesome sea turtles, we headed back to the condo for lunch. Sean and Cody were soon grilling steak and having a beer drinking contest (I stayed far away from that one) while I went for a quick run at the gym. Training on vacation is nearly impossible, and I quit after only a mile. Lunch was delicious and filling, and afterwords we whiled away the afternoon chatting and drinking wine on the porch.

After several hours of chilling, we decided to head back to our new favorite place, Huggos, for their amazing happy hour. More eating and drinking transpired :0)

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umbrella collection

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Sunset at Huggos

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Sunset at Huggos

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After having some beverages and a snack of fries, we decided it was time for real food. We wanted to check out some place new, so we went to a local Asian fusion place for dinner. I saw this guy on one of the walls – he was staring right at me! Geckos are everywhere on the Big Island.

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Gecko!

 

After dinner, we took our time wandering around looking into little shops, and even stopped to get some ice cream. Afterwords we just lounged at home, digesting and relaxing. Some of us played dinosaur  (ahemcoughjess) :0) and that was that.

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Having had our relaxation fill the previous day, 5 of us were ready for more exploring. Eric and Dee stayed behind, but the rest of us piled into one car to check out the other “city” on the island, Hilo. It’s on the exact opposite side of the island, and we chose to drive north to get to it. As always, it wasn’t a direct route, and we weren’t in any particular sort of hurry, so we stopped many times along the way to take pictures and explore interesting spots.

First we passed by some fields of volcanic rock…

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Volcanic Rock

And then Sean saw a sign for a park, so we pulled off the main road to check it out…

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Then there was this crazy Eucalyptus forest…

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Eucalyptus Forest

 

Then, we came across a tiny Hawaiian railroad museum. There was a railroad on Hawaii? Who knew? All that was in the museum was a couple of old rail cars and a little house with some info, but it was kind of fun to walk around.

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Huh?

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In the Old Train Car

 

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In the Old Train Car

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In the Old Train Car

We continued driving along, and from the highway was saw this amazing bridge:

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Fern Gully :0)

So, of course, we had to go investigate. This was one of my favorite parts of the day, as it seemed we stumbled upon a real, un-fabricated Hawaiian paradise. This was the first place that really looked like what I imagined Hawaii to look like – lush, green, overflowing with flowers and vines.

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Crazy Jumanji-like vines!

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Sean Tries to Collect a Wild Coconut

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The Lizard

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The Lizard Tries to Nab a Banana

 

This is hilarious. We managed another group shot where no one was yawning, but I think I prefer this one where Cody looks like a disgruntled bear :0)

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Ha!

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Bridge from the Bottom

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Once we had frolicked to our hearts’ content, we continued on to our first planned destination: the famed Akaka Falls State Park. This place was amazing, but unlike the last place, it was *very* touristy. Truthfully, this was the first touristy spot we’d seen on this island. There were bus-loads of tourists, and a narrow, paved trail to the waterfall viewing spot.

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More Vines

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Bamboo

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Incredible Banyan Tree

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Fuzzy Bamboo!

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More Banyan Trees

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Another Banyan

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The Walk to the Waterfall

 

The crowdedness and overall “civilized” quality of the park was  bit of a turn off for us, but the place itself was breathtakingly beautiful. So I understand why so many people want to see it.

Nothin like a 400 ft waterfall in the jungle :0) The scale of this thing really doesn’t come across in photos…

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Akaka Falls

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Jess and Cody

By the time we left the park we were decidedly hungry, and skidaddled through the rest of the way to Hilo to get lunch (early dinner? hard to tell). Hilo was *not* what I expected. Obviously the non-touristy side of the island, it looked like a ghost town in limbo between 19th century wild west and mid-80s island culture. A lot of the buildings were actually from the 19th century, and the architecture had a decidedly western quality to it. Incidentally, it also looked abandoned and unloved, so much so that not once did we feel compelled to take a photo. Here’s a link, if you want to know more about it.

We wandered around looking for food, only to find that most places served some sort of bizarre combination (Thai, pizza AND burritos??) and/or were closed for the mid-day lull. Finally we came upon a place which seemed to have good reviews and settled in for lunch. Sean and I ordered an Ahi salad (we made it a point to order fresh fish almost everywhere we went. I mean, when you’re on an island, its practically sacrilege not to) and the seafood curry special. It was abso-freaken-lutely delicious. Especially the seafood special. Having had a couple of unfortunate food/service experiences, we were glad to be in a place that had great food and good service. We topped off the meal by ordering an amazing apple crisp topped with a macadamia nut crust and a giant scoop of ice cream. I always tell Sean, girls have a separate stomach for deserts :0)

You might think we’d had enough adventure for the day, but no – we were just getting warmed up! It was getting close to 5, though, so we had to knock a few things off our list of plans and focus on just the main ones. Next – a hot spring pool. This place was awesome. A natural tide pool heated by an underground hot spring and fed by fresh ocean waves, it was the perfect temperature. It was walled off from the ocean and looked mostly like a small human-made lake. Apparently, it’s a popular spot, as there were a bunch of people swimming around when we got there at sunset.

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Palms at the Hot Spring

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Watch Out for Falling Coconuts :0)

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The Hot Pool

After flip flopping around in the hot water for a while, it had gotten dark and we decided to get a move on. We were on the opposite side of the island from where we were staying, so we knew we had at least a 2 hour drive ahead, if we drove straight back. Which, of course, we didn’t. We decided we wanted to stop by a lighthouse Sean had found on the map….and the proceeded to drive around in a huge 30 mile circle until we found it. The roads on this island are incredible, especially the ones that go through the island (vs the big one that goes around the perimeter). No lights, no civilization…just a narrow, 1 lane road with jungle on either side. We careened wildly in our SUV, bounding through the jungle like some sort of wild boar :0) It was so fun!

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Finally, after probably an hour of this random driving, trying to find the right roads, we cam back to the hot springs and realized we’d driven in a huge triangle….and then we finally found the right road and got to the lighthouse. It was at the end of a 1.5 mile stretch of unpaved, uneven road, all alone on a small peninsula. All around was complete and utter emptiness – nothing but the sound of crashing waves and the cacophony of a night time jungle. And then, this beautiful orange moon rose.

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Moon Rise

It was magical :0)

Finally, it was time to head home. The drive home took 2.5 hours, and I slept through most of it. It was another amazing and exhausting day, full to the brim with experience.

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Moon Rise

 

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So you may have noticed that the previous day was kind of epic – full of car rides and blue bums and green sand. What I didn’t mention was the dinner debacle: we all just ended up going to Outback Steakhouse (because it was easy)….and my table had the most ridiculous dining experience. Namely because the restaurant was mostly empty and still it took them OVER AN HOUR to bring us our food. Including appetizer, which was actually forgotten altogether. We had to remind the waitress to bring it. At that point, we hadn’t had a meal in many hours, and we were quite peeved. Plus, two of the orders were wrong. The other table in our group got there before we did, got their order, ate, and left to go back to the condo before we even got our food. o_0 We ended up going home, showering, and promptly passing out.

So, all that to say, that the following day we were very interested in not doing anything that took any effort whatsoever. The only thing on our “agenda” was a tour of the Kona Brewing company at 3pm. We woke up late, ate a delicious breakfast (prepared by Sean, who actually made breakfast for everyone almost every day we’ve been here), sat around, went swimming in the pool, sat in the hot tub, drank some beer, ate some lunch, then sat around some more.  Somehow, we were still running late when we left the house for the tour, and got to the brewery at exactly 3pm. At which point we were informed that the tour was full. No biggie, Sean and I decided to buy a jug of their brown ale, and we thought we’d stop in the restaurant for a snack. (you may notice a theme here – a large portion of this vacation has revolved around getting a snack and a drink).

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The Local Brewing Company

Lo and behold, apparently our restaurant curse hadn’t lifted, because we sat there for 20 minutes without even getting drink orders. We all just gave up and walked out before even meeting our waiter. Clearly the Outback experience traumatized us. We wandered about town for a bit looking at some little shops, then we stopped in a local “everything” type store where we got to pick a pearl oyster out of a bowl (for 7 bucks), and keep the pearl inside. Sean picked one for me that had a black pearl in it, which he will make into a necklace :0).

After the wandering, we decided we still wanted that snack and drink (or, at this point, an early dinner). Sean did a search and we came upon a highly rated place called Huggos.

 

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It was a great spot; really laid back, with chairs on the sand and a great view of the sunset. Even better, we made it there in time for their killer happy hour – $4 Mai Tais, margaritas and Hawaiian rainbows. Needless to say, we stayed for a while.

 

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Hangin at Huggo's

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Jess admires her beverage

Sean and I finally got to taste Poké – A Hawaiian-style raw Ahi tuna. We ordered a “Poké Pie” (fish on top, avocado in the middle, crispy wontons on the bottom….). It won our hearts instantly, and we ended up ordering more.

 

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Poké Pie

We stayed there at Huggos for hours, soaking in the relaxation :0)

 

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the lizard

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chillaxin

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View at Huggos

View at Huggos

View at Huggos

 

By the time we got home, we were all ready for more pool time.

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getting ready to swim

ha.

this picture makes me laugh

 

We frolicked in the pool and hung out at the hot tub until exhaustion set it. It was a great way to offset the previous day. By the next morning, most of us were ready for more adventure…

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