Rain, long johns, and four papayas for $1 ... Galfromdownunder in Hawaii

Galfromdownunder in Hawaii 2006


The Gal's Hilo Photo Gallery

First week in Hilo (5 Mb Quicktime movie)

Biking Hilo's Old Scenic Highway (8 Mb Quicktime movie)

Sorry to rain on your mental image of Hawaii ...

Gray skies.
Rain every ten minutes.
I'm wearing a pair of long johns.

A-ROH-HA! (as my Shanghainese father would say).

I hallucinate that I never got on a plane at all, that I'm still in 34 degree Eugene, Oregon, about to put on five layers of hi-tech thermals to go check the mail.

No wait ... the windows here are wide open. All eight of them. I'm mincing around in a floaty islandy dress I splurged on just yesterday (30% off – how could I refuse).There's a cacophonous bleating of small, rubbery critters - coqui frogs, I'm told - coming from the bowels of the jungle outside my window. I'm scratching a moonscape raised welts on my arms and legs despite the fly screens and my chemical warfare repellent.

I am on Hilo, on the east side of the Big Island, the rainiest place in Hawaii. I like it. It reminds me of Panama. It has all the ramshackle of the second or third world - a daily fruit market manned by little old ladies, flaking paint and shacky stores - yet because this is 'merica, there's a subtle infrastructure - the internet, a good health food store selling wholemealier-than-thou products and Barbara's Cheese Puffs for $1.69, and a free round-the-island bus. And traffic.

Through the open window comes an incessant roar of fat tires on wet pavement regardless of the hour. About 5 times a day there's a screeeeeeeeeech as a 'slippah' (flip-flop) slams an accelerator and the thump of subsonic car stereos. You combat “island fever” using fossil fuel, noise and crystal meth apparently – I have yet to see first hand evidence of the latter.

Ah, a change from Goretex and fleece!

I'm a modestly paying guest of Charles DiBella http://www.dibella.biz/cycle, local bike, recycling, arts and all-round activist who advertised for a low-maintenance ad-hoc lodger on the Hawaii Craigslist http://www.craigslist.org . I responded with my Gal Across America http://www.bikefriday.com/bf/galacrossamerica plan. His rented condo is on a jungly but busy road, 5 minutes bike ride from town. He spends most of the day working on his websites in his living room which is set up as a networked office. I am somehow managing to slurp some juice from a wireless connection on the floor below. A PHP programmer employee swans in between construction jobs on the latest $7.5m private residence with infinity pool.

Hilo was the scrappiest part of HI for the longest time, but now, the money is moving in, especially after Donald Trump crowed on Oprah about the great real estate deals in the lava-threatened region just a few miles south of here. Oprah apparently went ahead and bought a big chunk of Kauai for her own private use because 'God's not making beachfront land anymore.' As I said before, why a women with a footprint no bigger than the average human, and who expounds the virtues of sharing and caring needs to hijack such a large piece of the earth when millions are waging war over displacement, beats me. That'll never get my book in her book club but frankly, I don't care. I say, walk your talk, live your line.

Now about that rain. Every time I go to reach for my bike helmet a sheet of hard, driving rain miraculously appears, knocks itself out for about ten minutes then, just as I take off my bike shoes, disappears. This means I have been glued to my laptop and gotten all kinds of work done since I landed here, including make galleries and movies for the new Bike Friday recumbent – take a look: www.bikefriday.com/bf/newsatrday
Winter in HI is looking like a great time to write my next book, as long as it doesn't short out in the rain.

My enduring memory of Hilo has always been 'four papayas for $1.00' back when I first visited in 2002. It's still that price. Thank Bhudda for that. I eat one a day and would move to HI for that reason alone, if I could find someone willing to join me for the long haul.

Speaking of food, my host just happens to have the one kitchen gadget I fully endorse – a Vitamix! So it's organic carrot, apple celery and ginger juice every morning as I have done for the past year. If someone could invent a camping Vitamix with a motor that can power a laptop, camera, cellphone, 3W LED light and even the bike itself on an impossible hill, Thomas Ford and Edison would have to move over in their respective Halls of Fame. How about a handlebar mounted one that presents you with a smoothie after reaching the bottom of the Alpe d'Huez? (Can't remember how you spell that).

Other than this, I have splurged and eaten at two places so far: Ocean Deli Sushi is the bargain of the decade: $2.50 up for 6 pieces of sushi, and not just the minimalist kind with a lone piece of cucumber in the middle – it's stuffed with ahi, mahi mahi, and unagi (swoon, my favorite) – whatever you like on their menu the size of Hilo's telephone book. The other is a Nuang Mai Thai, very smart little hole in the wall 'the best in Hilo' said the waitress. Methinks their success might have gone to their craniums like double strength wasabi air freshener – I am use to taking home a box of leftovers in America for a $7.95 dish – here, the serve was so small I ate the whole darn plate.

You can tell how committed a town is to bicycles by the size of the bike rack - outside Hilo's biggest supermarket.

The local supermarket is KTA, where one can find sulfurous-colored baked goods no doubt bursting with trans fats, and on a more healthy note, slippahs (flip flops or thongs) in colors to match your mumu for $2.99. Around the corner a groovy surfshop sells something similar with shells superglued to the straps and a cool name like 'Reef' for $25+. The higher price comes with staff with nice sightly flat stomachs. I always wondered if non-surfing beach babes actually had to work out to get a flat stomach, or if lying for hours on the sand naturally pushed all the womanly flab inside. I'll never know, I ride a bike which probably promotes a nice pot belly due to the bent over position. KTA has the tiniest bike rack I have ever seen, probably designed to chain your chihuahua to. Take a look in the gallery to see it.

On the 6th day, the sun rose and I decided to tear myself away from the internet. I met with Bike Friday tandem owners JB and Katie Friday – yes, that is their real last name. They own a Family Tandem, New World Tourist and Pocket Llama. We rode out on the Scenic Byway – part of the Old Highway. The new Highway 19 is a fast, noisy freeway that encircles the island. The idyllic old highway snakes in and around old plantation houses, townships, sugar fields, plunging down to rivers and surf spots – and can easily be ridden with some forays onto the the new one.

The Friday family are forestry researchers, and have what would have to be the dream job – investigating which plants are invasive and non-native, and devising schemes to make sure they are kept off the island. They also travel to Micronesia a lot for work, and have taken their bikes there to scoot along atoll necklaces and the like ...

The Friday family living the life in Hilo ...

“Australia is way more advanced – they don't let you bring anything in unless it's been thoroughly tested,” said JB. “And did you macadamia nuts are really from Australia? See, that's a pest ... ” He pointed to a rather lovely plant with a purple underside. I wanted to venture that if we want to things back to nature perhaps we humans should careful exterminate ourselves and our SUVs, if we can find a way to not take the rest of the living world down with us. Their daughter Hilda was a little surly until I brought Robinson http://www.bikefriday.com/bf/robinson, Bike Friday's Adventurous Otter out to rub leis with her adventurous Owl. Stuffed toys rule!

We zipped past the Hawaii Botanic Garden, which, with its carefully cultivated and manicured progeny, was of little interest to my guides. On the way back I ventured in buy was chased out by mosquitoes, the $15 entry fee and the white-sneaker brigade. What happens to ordinary active people that they suddenly develop a fetish for sensible white leather sneakers, blue rinse hair, bone shorts, and long white socks? I mean they were wearing other stuff ten years prior. Is that going to happen to us? My techno-music loving mother is 67 and she hasn't succumbed. In fact, she sent me a note recently that said, 'if it's too loud, you're too old.' Scroll down to see my mum: http://www.galfromdownunder.com/aboutme.html

OK OK, this is what you REALLY wanted to see, right? ... Honoli'i Beach just outside of Hilo

I stopped to walk down the Onomea trail, part of the statewide system of public access nature trails, and found that it connected with the Botanic Gardens trail – where it suddenly turned to pavement and chain linked fences. It might as well be a red carpet.

That's the whole problem with the world. Excess pavement, chain linked fences and gates, which say, “this is my piece of the planet, f@#$ off.” I hear Oprah's piece of God's shoreline was once freely accessible for people to roam on, now it is fenced off and guarded by her human dobermans.

If I think about this too much, I despair.

Tomorrow I will ride to Pahoa as a guest of off-the-gridder Ann Kobsa whose story appears under www.bikefriday.com/bf/carfree
Then on Christmas Day, I will fly to Kauai and ride 40 miles to Haena to serve on a ten-day Vipassana http://www.dhamma.org course.

After that ... we'll see. Email me or post a comment below (either way I get it).

Photos and movies shot with my new Panasonic Lumix FX9 camera with anti-shake! http://www.dcresource.com/reviews/panasonic/dmc_fx9-review/.
I bought it from the fast talkers at http://www.butterflyphoto.com. Thanks John Allen for putting me onto it.


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