I just turned 42 years old, can you believe it? I can’t! Ha-ha! I suddenly feel younger, I swear it! I just got back from my very first solo vacation. I haven’t traveled in many years, at least not air travel. Road trips are usually my best option, but a work pal insisted one day, “You can’t take it with you so you better just go do it!” and so I did! I can’t believe that I did it! Seriously! Pretty much every single step of this felt like the most wild and ridiculous thing ever. From buying the plane tickets to booking my first air bnb, my visit to the Big Island at first seemed like I was merely writing a tale of fiction. After all, I’ve been assigned to build a complicated foreign travel itinerary as a job application more than once in the past. This was none of that, but you can see how it felt unreal and like it wouldn’t happen because of that. Ha-ha!
I researched, I planned, I prepared. I spoke to a travel expert at my local AAA office for free and they gave me fantastic advice! It completely changed how I was going to do this whole vacation. They suggested I split my time by lodging on both sides of the island. In Hilo, I stayed in a sweet cottage surrounded by lush and serene tropical greenery and wildlife. On the Kona side, I was right on the coast and could hear the ocean waves at night (and see them from the balcony). I had no idea how different, and how enjoyable both sides would be. I had no idea what it would even be like to travel and vacation like this on my own. I knew I was good on my own in the usual day to day sort of ways, but this seemed like a mountain that I wasn’t sure I was ready to climb.
When I told folks about my plans their reactions were equal parts excitement and shock. Men seemed more positive/excited, women seemed more concerned, but would still cheer me on. And I get it! I’m an incredibly anxious person even when I’m at home in my pajamas. However, in my odd type of wisdom, I know that I need to push myself out of my comfort zone in order to learn and grow. If I’m learning and growing I feel more connected to the world and myself. But a vacation? Like, to relax? Way outside my comfort zone! I have that old Irish work ethic that just won’t quit, though depression sure fucks with me/it whenever it feels like it. Such is life. The real mind fuck for me was also financial. I had struggled so much for so long, that to have even a lil’ something set aside for this specifically, well, it felt very guilty and shameful. I was even able to buy my lil’ bro a bed a few weeks ago, so it’s not like I was hurting. Growing up poor fucks with you forever, what can ya do?! Pro-tip: if you buy your ticket 54 days before departure, it’s supposed to be the cheapest, period. I’ve done it a few time now.
I had visited Hawaii previously, and stayed in Hana on Maui, and it was what I call the only relaxing vacation I’d ever had. I was married then, and it was a blissful time there as well, but just the air there and nature really captured my heart and healed my soul. Going back there felt safe, but I knew exactly where I had to go. There is a seahorse preserve called Ocean Rider in Kona on the Big Island that I saw in Via (AAA) magazine over ten years ago. It was instantly at the top of my bucket list. When my work pal pushed me to take a break for myself, I had to see if I could make this happen!
The last time I was on an airplane was my birthday 2013 and it was for just one night in Minneapolis. I had a whimsy-embracing boyfriend who was enamored with American malls, so they took us to the Mall of America, I found it charming and hilarious, whatever. Air travel for any person of size is nerve-wracking. Even when you follow all of the rules and jump through every possible hoop you can still be subjected to inhumane treatment from shitty people. It’s a fact. I have 62″ hips and DD boobs, but not all airplane seats are created equal. Most are shrinking! I booked on Alaska because I always had good experiences with them when I used to travel for a previous career, and they had the best direct flights from the San Jose, CA airport. I checked into my flight the day before and noticed that the middle seat of my row was empty and tried to book it, but it wouldn’t let me. It said it was reserved in case a disabled person needed it. When I got to the gate they said the flight was pretty full and would offer a free checked bag to the first ten volunteers. I took the opportunity and asked some questions about that middle seat. They suggested I buy it but I was worried about not getting a refund if the flight did, in fact, sell out (per their customer of size policy). It was $328 for the seat but I was terrified of getting kicked off by some dickhead for being too fat if I didn’t buy it. I was handed the phone to reservations and they booked it for me and the gate agent was able to print a boarding pass for that seat.
I was so nervous!
I boarded the flight the flight without issue. I worked in retail for over ten years, so when I’m already anxious and in a crowded or public space, I try to turn that customer service version of myself on as a sort of armor. It usually works, but nothing is foolproof. Any time I step onto a place I make eye contact with the flight crew and give a big smile and thank them, and then immediately say, “May I borrow a seatbelt extender? I’m in 23F.” Which usually gets a quick response, but this one required my having to flag down the attendant at the other end of the plane per the first attendant’s instructions. I found my seat, with no luggage to place overhead for this leg, and turned around and the attendant saw me so I smiled and mouthed “extender” and gestured as though putting on a seatbelt. It worked! No questions asked!
Now I was pretty nervous, but I was also giddy-excited! “How could this even be real?” I kept thinking to myself. And then as the flight was about to take off I noticed the guy sitting on the aisle of my row had stored his bag beneath the middle seat. No biggie, I have short legs, and I’m far from fussy. So I minded my business and read my little tarot booklet I had brought with me to read until I could turn on my Kindle. Soon they announced our meal options and all of that. I quickly perused the menu and was delighted to see a simple breakfast sandwich since it had been awhile since my morning coffee and the flight was just shy of 6 hours. Aisle-guy didn’t order anything, but soon pulled out a large sweaty bag of smelly food. It was likely very delicious, but the smell of certain foods does overpower even the most enthusiastic of foodies when it comes to being stuck on an airplane. I was sort of WTF about it but also just trying to be chill so as not to get myself riled up and penalized for telling someone off. Ha-ha! Then aisle-guy gets up and I go back to my book (I was rereading Persuasion by Jane Austen, PBS is airing a new version in January and I wanted to be fresh).
Soon enough though, aisle-wife appears! She sits in the middle seat that I paid for and tells me, “We’re only going to share food, so it’s okay” I smile in return, but let her know, “I paid for that seat though” and she just smiled back and pointed to her food. I repeat it again, but she ignores me. I try to see if any of the flight attendants might be able to help, but there are none to be found. I take a deep breath and hope that it is just a quick meal break and I’ll have that seat back. Truth be told, I didn’t actually need that middle seat. I don’t know the measurements, but Alaska’s seat fit my ass perfectly! None of that hip pinching torture I’ve had elsewhere. I’ve had major issues with other seats where a leg will go numb or a pinch will cause a leg cramp/spasm, it’s really awful. I did think to snap a couple of stealthy photos of the happy couple as they were elbow deep in their vittles, but I didn’t need to in the end. Aisle-wife didn’t just stay for a quick meal, but for a few hours of a nearly 6 hour flight. By the time I saw an attendant again they were only picking up trash and seemed unwilling to take notice of me at all (I did not hit the call button, I just couldn’t!). I try to let it go and promise myself to call customer care and ask for my refund as soon as I can.
We landed in Kona and it felt great to not have to worry about getting my overhead luggage down, it’s such a scary moment for klutzy-me! I’m terrified of losing control of my bag or grabbing it so awkwardly that I give someone permanent brain damage (not all fears are rational). Once I get off the plane the warmth and scent of the Kona air enveloped me. I find that I can’t stop smiling, or squinting, as it’s just noon and the sun is high and hot overhead. I put on my “vacation shades” and head to baggage claim. I wait all of 3 minutes and grab my suitcase (Samsonite, silver, simple roller style – $40 at Ross!) and head where it seems everyone is heading. I soon realize that where most folks are heading isn’t where I need to be. Ugh! The Kona airport is almost entirely outside, even the gates. There was nowhere for me to get out of the sun (had not yet applied sunscreen) and heat unless I crossed the street to what looked like a little snack bar or lunch area. I really just needed to get my bearings but a cold ginger ale was a nice treat! So I enjoyed myself, took my time, figured out where I needed to be, but then still checked with the cashier to be sure it was the correct shuttle stop I was about to walk to. I recycled my can and off I went to pickup my rental car.
My happy ass at the snack bar before getting my rental car for the week
Once I was in my lil’ car (Honda Accord), I was ready to hit the road! I love to drive, especially on scenic roads. I’ve driven in Ireland on the opposite side of the road as well, only took me a minute to get the hang of it. In Hawaii the two things I really noticed what that the highways are really just regular roads with nicer paving, and that the speed limit changes more often than any I’ve seen ever. Ha-ha! Luckily the rental car had one of those digital speedometers that show your exact speed, so I was able to keep it steady, mostly. It was thrilling, to say the least, to see the lush green landscape rise up before me as I headed toward the east coast of the island. At one point what little traffic there was slowed for what at first looked like a farmer’s market or shanty town but more political. I soon realized it was likely a basecamp for the protesters trying to prevent the construction of an unwanted and unneeded observatory. The ground there was mostly black and massive chunks sort of plunked here and there, which I realized soon after was old lava flow. In total I drove about 2 hours to my lodging, though a wrong turn added about ten minutes to that as it became incredibly rural very quick and I had to backtrack to get out.
Sign at the driveway of my Air BNB
Once I reached my lodging point I was greeted by Sharon & Mark, the hosts of my first ever Air BNB experience. They are an older couple and very friendly and warm. When I complimented the artwork in the cottage I was staying in Sharon insisted upon showing me her entire house and art collection. I was delighted! Big, old, gorgeous Polynesian carved pieces of wood, stone, some oil paintings, beautiful pieces of furniture, I was blown away. Sharon said if I was into art she’d love to show me some of her favorite spots in the area if I had time and didn’t mind some driving. So we hopped into my rental and she showed me her favorite nature spots and even this huge yard with these massive modern sculptures all over! It was breathtaking, all of it! I mean, I was truly awed and speechless!
Cacao tree just yards from my lil’ cottage in Hilo
While driving, I asked Sharon about how she ended up on the big island, as I did most white people I encountered there. I know I visited and vacationed there as a tourist, I have a lot of conflicting feelings about that. I am a firm believer that the people of Hawaii should be given their land and country back under their own control entirely. I also understand what colonizers have done to their land and culture and economy and there is a lot I don’t understand as well, and I wanted to be respectful of that. I visited the Big Island in part due to the commitment to preserve all of the natural life there and healing the environmental impacts of humans on our planet. Sharon and I talked about this and she shared that the locals call white people Haole (pronounced Howl-y) and that the locals have their own schools in order to preserve their language and culture. Sharon also shared stories of her youth and how she met her current husband of over forty years. Her life stories were incredible! She spoke very matter of factly about the hardships she endured without any bitterness or fear in her eyes. She was 19 or so and alone and living in Greenwich Village in New York in 1963! Whatta wild time! She talked of being homeless, getting robbed and raped many times around that time. I wanna say she had already been married and divorced once by that point, too. She spun yarns as I drove the windy roads around Hilo, captivated by both the contents of her tales and the beauty that is natural Hawaii!
This was Sharon’s favorite spot on the island. She has found solace and signs from above at this bay and I am grateful to have seen it.
When we got back from our drive, of nearly 2 hours, I was still in that giddy-excited mode but definitely felt the need to wind down and let Sharon know that I would likely stay in for the night. She was kind enough to warn me about the frogs, they are very vocal and loud, but make the cutest boPEEEP sound. She had gifted me a massive avocado and a huge lemon, as well as a slice of cheesecake with fresh strawberries on top. As she handed it to me she apologized that the tip of the slice had broken off but assured me it was still there, just not intact. She gets it! Ha-ha! Later on she came to get me so I could see the big cruise ship all lit up in the bay, it was a pretty sight to behold. I cannot even explain to another human how touched and blown away I was by their generosity and warm welcome. I took this time to unpack a bit and think about what I might do the next day.
Sharon took me to this artists’ land to see their sculptures. They let me know that they design them here in miniature and have them created overseas and shipped back at heights of over twelve feet!
This was just outside a chocolate company that does tours and has a fabulous gift shop
Cottage in Hilo
View from the Cottage in Hilo
Great lil’ patio spot just outside the Cottage in Hilo
Gorgeous fresh flowers from my hosts in the Cottage in Hilo
Very large lemon beside a monstrously large avocado.
Gorgeous gold budha statue in the garden beside the Cottage in Hilo
You see, I had tickets for the last two days of my trip, but the first two were wide open. Sharon had suggested I visit the volcano and surrounding crater areas, and then told me how best to get there and what to look for and how to avoid the crowds. I had thought not to go to the volcano, but she really convinced me. My lil’ cottage was just that and just steps from the main house. It reminded me of my last apartment that was an in-law studio. The cottage was breezy and light and surrounded by nature. Sharon & Mark had these gorgeous golden Buddha statues throughout the garden. I was captivated! When I was finally ready to get some sleep is just about when I realized that the frogs wouldn’t be taking a break any time soon. Ha-ha! It seems this species, though I never saw them in the flesh, was nocturnal through and through. The air smelled so lovely and lush and green, and the breeze was gentle enough to leave the windows open. I struggled to fall asleep and finally fished out my ear plugs (linked to my faves) for that purpose. I slept.
Surf Break Cafe, Hilo
Downtown Hilo seen on a construction wall
This rad mural in downtown Hilo just made me smile!
Gorgeous mural downtown Hilo
When I awoke the next day I assumed it had only been a couple of hours, but I felt…something entirely new that I am not sure I had ever felt before. I felt refreshed! I sincerely thought that whole waking of revived and refreshed was a fucking myth! I’ve had insomnia since I was 12. **Shrug** I got up and called the airline about that refund, they didn’t even want the pics I’d taken, they were genuinely upset on my behalf about the aisle-couple abusing my paid for seat. Ha-ha! My flight also wasn’t 100% sold out, so either way I was getting that refund, yay! With that off my mind I quickly got dressed and headed into downtown Hilo for my first morning’s espresso! Now, any true barista will tell you, it’s not easy to find a good proper cup of the good stuff when you travel. We all have our own little eccentricities and tricks, if you will, and you get used to that and kind of quiver when you can’t have your thing. So I did some research the day before and had sussed out a hopefully good place. The Surf Break Cafe welcomed me without pretense or judgement, just a couple of screen doors and some solid espresso! The surfer-bodied woman who served me was curt, but when they heard my order gave me a look of respect. My order? Four shots of espresso with honey and 2% milk. I have it every single day, that is my baseline (if you’re shocked, you don’t know much about coffee or caffeine, but I do). Once I sat down with my cup I perused my facebook and what not and the barista asked if everything was okay and I let them know that I was very happy. I soon left to stroll along the other shops that lined the shoreline.
I wandered into this boutique that had these gorgeous wooden sculptures in the window along with some batik clothing. When I walked in the woman at the counter greeted me immediately, “Good morning! I saw you at the cafe but didn’t want to disturb you. I love your dress, where did you get it? I love that you have it belted, you’re doing that whole Queen Latifah thing I love it!” Friends, by “The Queen Latifah Thing” she meant embracing and not hiding my figure, so by belting my dress (that came with a belt, though not the one I wore that day) I was letting her know that I was feeling good about my body, or so she explained. Cool! “Well, she is definitely my queen!” I replied and offered to write down eShakti for her. She then sheepishly asked, “I would really love to show you some things, would you mind?” “Oh I would love that, thank you!” I responded, politely but without expectation. I’m a big fat lady in a foreign place, I know better than to expect let alone believe that a random shop would have my size in anything. At first I was shown some tops that were very much not my size and I calmly said so and also implied that I wasn’t afraid of a bold print (I was wearing a bright red dress with giant flowers on it after all). She took my hint and showed me some absolutely gorgeous mumus/kaftans (I’m not sure of the distinction) on the far wall and I fell in love with one immediately. She set me up in a fitting room but I honestly just threw it over my dress as my only concern was the length. It fit perfectly, length too, and I bought it. She asked where I was from, when I said San Jose she exclaimed, “I’m from Los Gatos!” a neighboring town, though now very much upscale. It is a small world, friends. My new friend Georgia left Los Gatos just 2 days before the big earthquake of ’89 and said her rent back then was all of $250 a month. I told her it would break her heart if she knew what I paid for a one bedroom in San Jose. She agreed. Ha-ha!
With my new kaftan in hand, though very lovingly wrapped and bagged, I popped into a couple of other shops but ended up heading back to my cottage to check in with my hosts. Sharon had insisted I check in with them before heading to the volcano because they had a book and binoculars they wanted me to borrow for this purpose. They really thought of everything! Mark even sat down and went over the maps with me and showed me where the roads are still closed from last year’s eruptions. And with that I headed out on the road to the Volcanoes National Park! The drive there was uneventful and parking was easy, $25 to park but it’s the only way to get access to the Chain of Craters Road, which was where I was really headed. I stopped in the visitor’s center to watch the videos Mark had told me about, though I found his description far more interesting. I also found some awesome postcards to send to some friends back on the mainland. I also ventured across the way to the historic Volcano House which had a lush and fern-filled path that gave me a moment to take a happy af selfie or ten! Ha-ha! I was blissed out already and had no idea how much I would see soon after. Since the eruption last year, that happened mostly underground, the crater itself has drained, so there’s not much to see even in the best spots. I was more interested in what the lava had done anyway, so I headed to Chain of Craters Road.
Mark had told me that I would be driving along like normal, not even thinking or expecting a thing, when suddenly the landscape would change and turn post apocalyptic. He was not wrong! It was incredible! Though even the otherwise regular bits were lovely with trees and ferns, I have such a revived love of ferns! Once everything turned black and chaotic looking I became enrapt! Mouth agape, both hands on the steering wheel, eyes as wide as they could go, I was in absolute awe! I was alone, mind you, but couldn’t keep myself from exclaiming often, “OHMIGOSH!” “HOW IS THIS REAL?!” ” THIS IS AMAZING!” “FUCK YOU HOW IS THIS EVEN REAL?!” and “WOOOOW!” about a million times, for sure. I pulled over often to snap some photos, but honestly it is the being there that has the impact. You cannot fathom what it feels like to be surrounded by the craggy, dark, relentless old lava flow. And these were not very old at all, mere months really. When I reached as far as I could go, due to closures from last years flows, I headed back and was a little bummed as it was getting dark sooner than I had expected. Really I was out on that drive for far longer than I realized, but I was determined to make it to this local’s haunt at sunset where Sharon & Mark had insisted I had the best timing in the world to make it to.
Old lava flow
I kept seeing “Nene Crossing” signs but hadn’t peeped one until the Volcanoes, it’s a native Goose species, full of attitude, too!
Amongst the ferns on the path to the historic Volcano House
Old lava flows, mesmerizing!
In Volcano House I was really taken by this hearthstone carving, I believe it was Pele the goddess of fire/lava/volcanoes
It was a race against the sun and as always, I lost. Still, I had to get to “Uncle Robert’s” or I’d regret it, or so I was told by my hosts’ friends on my way out earlier that day. Part farmer’s market, part locals party, I saw all walks of life that warm October evening. I was a bit overwhelmed, okay very, but soon I chose to wander rather than be encumbered by a beverage straight away (I thought maybe a cocktail would loosen me up, but I didn’t imbibe). There were many locals, but lots of young Haole too, mostly of the blond dreadlock wearing sort. There was an exotic mixture of aromas in the air that took me straight back to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury in the 90’s, in my teens, rebelliously exploring drug culture and befriending the houseless veterans there. It gave me a quick smile but also reminded me that I’m a visitor and I needed to be mindful of that. I needed to eat so I picked an asian food vendor that offered many items for a fixed price, though they seemed disappointed that my appetite didn’t match my body size. Ha-ha! I headed to the picnic tables to sit down to eat, but even the few moments I sat was met with a lot of unsteadiness of the table when people would get up or sit down that made me decide to wait. In need of a refreshing beverage and in want of something sweet, I hit up the smoothie booth before heading back to my car.
There was a live Hawaiian band that kicked all kinds of asses, I mean they played songs I hadn’t heard since I was a kid (Elvira, by the Oakridge Boys! WHAT?!), along with Hawaiian language classics. There was a dance floor filled with drunken baby boomers tripping the light fantastic without a care in the world, I was only slightly envious. At one point I discovered a poet, dressed as a classic turn of the 20th century poet might, hammering away at an old typewriter with a sign, “Poetry! Any price, any topic!” The writer in me swooned! I wanted to see what this youth could produce in his fancy dress and vintage typewriter. Ha-ha! But I soon discovered that as the hipster goes, so does the…is it wrong to call them Coachella bitches?! They were the type of young women that take up all of the space in the room (tent in this case) with their shallow judgements marinated in allllllll of the white privilege of ones so blond, so well-off, and so tan. Awash in my own disgust, I walked away and wandered around the other vendor booths hoping they’d leave and I could swoop in with my odd writerly request. I had wanted to request a poem of the beauty of solitude. Ha! Once I got change to pay for the poetry I was hoping to purchase, I wound my way back to his booth but he was gone and an odd young couple sat sharing his very small chair eating a meal on their laps, sitting back to back. I found the whole thing quite off putting but let it go. I bought some small stones for luck (rose quartz, tiger eye, and others) and made my way back into the darkness and to my car.
It was very very dark! They don’t have streetlights along the side of the road on the Big Island, at least not on the south Hilo side. It made the drive a lil’ spooky, which I was very much into. I was concerned about finding my way back to the cottage but I had the route down pretty well by then and had no trouble at all. I made it back about 9:30 pm Island time, which is 3 hours earlier than my usual California (PST) time. I reheated my plate and having finished my smoothie on the way, grabbed an apple and watched the new Jenny Slate standup on Netflix. Yep, even in paradise, they had Netflix! Ha-ha! Yes, the frogs were singing their love songs outside, as I was attempting my second Hawaiian slumber…earplugs are very much recommended! Ha!
The next morning I had to set out a lil’ early to make it to my seahorse preserve tour on the Kona side at noon. This was what I had come for! I said my quick but sad goodbye to Mark as Sharon was out on some business that morning. Then I popped into the Surf Break Cafe once again and the barista remembered my drink, perfectly! I complimented her skills and her shop and then minded my own damned business like you should in a coffee shop! Ha-ha! Just me? Wev! I hit the road pretty quickly and got to the preserve about 30 minutes before the tour began. I perused the gift shop and awkwardly hung out as it was super hot and the sun extra bright that day. There was a lot less trees and foliage on the Kona side of the Big Island, so much less shade. I had fared well with my new mineral sunscreen the day before at the volcanoes, but was nervous about the seahorse tour because they make you wash up to your elbows and I didn’t know if we’d be in direct sun or not for the tour itself. I had one thing on my mind SEAHORSES!
Just before my tour, so anxious!
The sign out front of the preserve.
My tour group consisted of about thirty people of varying age and size, but all were excited to be there. First they showed us this pit of nasty looking water where they breed a specific type of tiny shrimp for the seahorses. Next we walked into this canopied area outside with these big covered vats. The vats were filled with varying stages of nutrient enriched water or growing seahorses. They shared a lot about their diet, habitat and what the preserve is doing to give nature an assist since they shared that seahorses will be extinct in the next ten years. TEN YEARS?! Had I put off this trip would I have ever been able to even experience this?! Who knows?! But I can honestly say that no one was as excited to be there as I was, seriously! Even the 3 year old who was too small to hold a seahorse was not as excited as I was. We got to feed them and when I poured the cup of tiny shrimp into the vat and saw those gorgeous orangey-golden little heads pook up above the water and actually look at me?!?! I wept! It was so beautiful! They can see 10 feet out of the water, and they were really giving me a lot of attention!
At the end of the outdoor portion of the tour we lined up to hold one. I was trembling! This was what I had been dreaming of for over ten years! When it was nearly my turn the rad fatty (IMO, IDK how they self identify) beside me offered to take pics with my phone, I wept with gratitude. When it was my turn the tour leader said very loudly, “Wow you’re shaking…I didn’t realize I was making someone’s dreams come true today!” and he laughed, but he did make my dreams come true that day. I held a seahorse, or rather, a beautiful seahorse held my finger for an extended period of time that felt like time stopped and it was incredible! After this he took it away and we were lead into the aquarium room which held many different species of seahorse! The cashier of the gift shop had given me a tip to look for “Dot” the white seahorse with blush on her cheeks. Um…Hello Femme! YES! So when I saw her I loudly exclaimed, “There you are Dot!” and the entire room looked hella confused. Ha-ha! I turned very red and apologized and then explained to no one in particular and went back to visiting with those precious creatures. Yes, I was the last one to leave, did you have to ask? Ha! I bought a few magnets for my fridge in the gift shop but that experience was everything! I needed to decompress a bit after the tour and headed out to the beach that is literally at the edge of the parking lot and snapped some pics. BLISS!
Yep! That’s my chubby lil’ hands with a beautiful seahorse curled around a finger!
This is Dot, she has albinism which is why she is mostly white. Love that blush though, femme!
Those lil’ eyes are telescopic and can see 10ft above the water’s surface!
The gift shop cashier was so kind to me and even insisted on snapping my pic
Fresh off the seahorse tour and full of emotions!
Next on my agenda was finding my second air bnb for the week. It was only 2.5 miles from the preserve! Perfect! I popped into a taco bell drive thru and hit up the condo I’d be staying in. It was plush! Very modern, with nice island touches in the decor. The balcony was big and the view of the pool and trees and ocean were lovely! I ate my food and sort of just chilled for a bit. Once I realized that the pool was in fact completely empty and it was only 3:30 pm I got my swimsuit on and headed down.
I had not been swimming in about 4 years, maybe more. To have a big swimming pool all to myself seemed unreal! The water was perfect and clean and completely clear. I had zero thoughts about my looks or giant ass being seen by the hundreds of condos whose windows and balconies faced the pool. ZERO! I had no hesitations about jumping in, either! Ha! It was marvelous! I did all the things I’ve wanted to do in a pool for ages. Just silly and fun and for no reason at all other than to do it. Somersaults and twists, funny front strokes and allllll the floating. Such serene floating as I have not experienced before! As I went to the shallow end for a bit of a break, I saw something in the water but it didn’t register what at first. When I scooped it up I realized it was a teeeeeny-tiny frog! There was chlorine in the water and I was certain the lil’ frog wouldn’t survive, but it did and it clung to my hand a good long time. I figured it might think I’d eat it so I gently coaxed it off my hand and onto the stones beside the pool. It chilled there way too long and I felt responsible for it so, eventually, after more swimming, I picked the frog back up and placed it in a moist spot beside some ferns and moss. It seemed good with that and leapt right in. I then laid out on a lounge chair to drip dry and bask in the afternoon’s not yet faded memories.
The pool from above
View from the condo’s balcony at sunset
That evening, after a delightful shower in the walk-in, rainfall type shower in the condo, I poured myself some prosecco and orange juice and just hung out on the balcony writing postcards until it was too dark. I text some fun selfies to friends, “Wish you were here!” and then relaxed inside the rest of the night. It was the first moment I had wished I wasn’t alone on vacation. It would have been nice to having someone to laugh with is all, I wasn’t necessarily feeling lonely. Eventually I had a snack and watched a movie and went to bed. I had a helluva time figuring out the remote controls for everything there. It was kind of hilarious until it was just plain old annoying. Oh well.
goofy selfie with my prosecco & orange juice, living it up in Kona
The following morning was my birthday. I had no plans until that night, but I had wanted to try to see some sea turtles as they are popular attractions on that part of the island. I grabbed my morning cuppa in town, at Kona Coffee & Tea (2nd place winner for their Kona Coffee), and though the owner gave me props on my order, “I respect your straightforward nature” their shots were on the sharp side for my taste, but the caramel sauce I ordered made it all go down smoothly. I hit the road to seek out some turtles! I visited 3 known spots and saw zero turtles. In fact at one scenic lookout point, as I was taking a selfie and texting a friend, this family came up and were just way too “All American” for me and I got the hell outta there. I’m not sure why, but I felt triggered. I popped into some roadside thrift shops on the way and bought nothing. There was something in the pit of my stomach that was not happy and it had nothing to do with appetite. I ignored that feeling until it made me miserable. I started to cry in the car on my way back to the condo. I didn’t know why and even now I can’t say for certain. I was just hit with this massive wave of terrible sadness. So I went back to the condo to try to calm down. That didn’t work so I made an appointment for a massage. That mostly worked. Ha-ha! I was still a little tense and a lot nervous about my plans for that evening. So I decided to plan my swim gear and what to take with me that night, hoping that would alleviate some of my tension and anxiety.
Stopped at a scenic spot after failing to find sea turtles, this was mere moments before that All American family arrived
Donkey Balls Chocolate Shop I didn’t venture in but couldn’t resist getting a pic of the sign
I had originally thought that I would get to dine in all these neat places on my vacation, but the truth of it is I wasn’t hungry for most of the trip. My first day I stopped at a grocery store and bought some apples, orange juice, and that bottle of prosecco. I had an apple a day, and coffee of course, sometimes a little snack but honestly I didn’t want much. I’m glad that I could acknowledge that and move on and continue to enjoy myself. I know that if I was with someone that would have been a very different situation all together. As I have a history of not eating when I’m stressed, I was able to check in with myself without troubling others or having to over explain what was going on. I just went about my days without a care and that was awesome! None of it was intentional, and when I was hungry I just ate. Radical! Ha-ha!
So, for the evening of my birthday, while some would go out with a bang and paint the town red, I chose to snorkel, for the very first time, in the moonlight, with manta rays. I was most nervous about the snorkeling part. I can swim, not necessarily a strong swimmer in the surfer sense of it, but I do okay. I had never worn a wet suit and had never used or even tried snorkel gear. In my mind I was in the hands of professionals and everything would be okay until it wasn’t and I could just opt out if miserable. I honestly didn’t know what the fuck to expect at all. I could only think about what an experience it would be and how wild it all seemed. Even on my way there nothing seemed real, but I had had a rough mental health day, so that was surely shaping my perspective at the time.
I got to the docks and see a group by the restrooms. I parked in a weird spot a bit far off, but figured central is better than nothing. I shyly approach some folks and a guy with a clipboard shouts at me a company name I’d never heard. I was instantly horrified. (I’m actually pretty darn shy, y’all!) He then asked my last name and found me on his list and instructed me to get my gear over by the boat a few yards away. While in line behind some others I heard a remark from the woman in front of me, “Great I’m the fattest person here, I hope they have a suit that will even fit me!” without stopping to think, and likely because I was so nervous, I instantly exclaimed, “Grrrrl! Please! Look around before saying that!” she was shocked and took a step back and sheepishly apologized and I assured her I was good with my body but any comments like that could actually harm someone. She agreed and apologized again. The guys handing out the gear were your classic surfer hardbody looking type, but I soon found out they were also just super dorks and really chill. I did not believe that they would have a wetsuit top to fit me as I was about 3 times the size of that lady in front of me. The first one they handed me did not zip. I asked, quite incredulously, “Is this your biggest size?” the guys were so nonchalant about everything I swear and were just like, “No way, we got you!” and handed me another…that did zip! Though it was snug, they assured me that it should be tight but not restrictive. They even had prescription goggles! I was impressed!
My anxious face as we were waiting to get on the boat for the snorkeling adventure
When it was time to get on the boat they had us line up on the dock and throw our shoes in a big tub. For some reason this made me more nervous. Ha-ha! Like where was I gonna go anyway?! (That’s C-PTSD brain for ya!) We get on the boat and a very nice woman sits beside me as her mother and young son sit in the seats in front of us. We begin chatting a little before we leave the dock and I find out she’s from the same town I work in. We became fast friends, though we never asked each other’s names. Once the boat got going it was a bit like an amusement park ride, only no safety bars! That thing caught air and would then splash back down onto the surface, it was exhilarating! We both kept squealing and laughing when we would hit a particularly big one. It took about thirty minutes to get where the rays hang out. The crew, the same guys as before, were great and really made everyone feel more relaxed. They handed out lots of snacks and drinks, “Best all you can eat buffet on the water!” and explained what would happen next. My nerves started to calm down and I got super stoked instead!
First they pick a spot (I guess), and then they put this big board with LED lights all over the bottom of it out on the water’s surface. This board has a handrail all the way around it, that was for us to hang onto. Once enough plankton was attracted to the lights and the rays were in view, they instructed us on how to hold on and what to expect once we were in the water. It’s essentially planking for an hour with snorkel gear on your face, too. You have to stay flat on the water’s surface or the rays won’t come all the way up to us. Those who couldn’t float on their own were provided pool noodles to keep their limbs up on the surface. I was the last to get in the water. I’m not entirely sure why, I just sort of hung back and made sure everything was fine? I don’t know. The lady beside me and her son did not know how to swim, so they had someone in the water to take them to the board from the boat. I thought that was pretty darn cool and it gave me a lil’ boost of confidence, too. However, I hate those little pool/boat ladders! I got one good footing and then just said fuck it and plunked my whole self right into the water, making the crew a bit nervous (I think they thought I lost my grip and fell in, but I assure you it was an intentional action).
First of all, the water was incredible! It was so clear and warm and just perfection! There was some struggling on my part at first because I didn’t realize that the boat was now pulling us out a bit further, but I was unaware and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t stay afloat on my own. I was one of the only people who did not need to pre-inflate their life vest, as I am truly very floaty on my own. I float without trying! It’s rad! Anyway, we finally get to a stopping point and they tell us to get ready, which means get flattened out on the water’s surface. I do, but as I am also figuring out this snorkel gear for the first time I am hella struggling. I did not take into account how a face mask and breathing tube would be a trigger for my claustrophobia. So when I say I struggled, I mean I choked and gasped and swallowed water and did it all again and some more. That was not fun. In one of my more successful attempts though I was able to see a couple of rays coming towards us. That was when I became determined to make the whole snorkel thing work! Turns out it really was a mind over matter type of thing. I discovered that if I manually plugged my nose with my hand that I was perfectly fine under the water! This is only odd because my nose was covered by the mask, the bit over my nose though was silicone and thus flexible enough to pinch with my fingers. If I didn’t have my nose plugged I would get water in my mask, the guy assisting folks in the water on my side of the board insisted it’s because I’m trying to breath through my nose. I did keep struggling, but I also got to see some of the most incredible creatures in our oceans!
We were just off shore from the Sheraton on the Kona side of the Big Island. The water there is about 15 feet deep. The crew shared the origin story of snorkeling with manta rays and said that back in the 70’s the Sheraton had these two spotlights on the water at night which illuminated their patio but also drew plankton to the area. Pretty soon a smart female manta ray discovered an easy meal ticket and kept visiting in the evenings where the lights were on the water. They were iffy on the timing but let’s just say a year later other female manta rays caught on and it soon became a known spot for them to get their grub on. Well where there are cool creatures humans will surely follow, and so the whole thing began. For that I am truly grateful. The female manta rays we saw had a wingspan of about 10 feet, but can get up to 18 feet or so in places like the Maldives. Female manta rays are much larger than the males, and in the location we were only females are known to visit. They said they are almost entirely muscle and cartilage and that for every foot of wingspan it would weigh 100 pounds. So a 10 foot manta ray is basically a flattened out cow, well, at least in my head that is how I measure it. Ha-ha!
Beneath the surface of the water, through my goggles, was like watching a virtual reality version of the show Blue Planet! There was coral, though not much and I did notice that a lot of it was white which isn’t a good sign. But there were different schools of fish going hither and tither, and honestly just that part got me very excited, breathing underwater and all. And when I first spotted a manta ray I really just saw it’s mouth, a dark oval shape, slowly and almost gracefully getting wider, and coming right towards me! I picked my head up out of the water and ripped off my snorkel gear and just gasped with excitement until I caught my breath and went right back in. They had told us not to get our hopes up, but the manta rays do backflips/barrel rolls (underwater) to swoop up more plankton if they are feeling safe and very comfortable. When we saw one do a barrel roll right beneath us we were all captivated and felt very special, lemme tell ya. But then, much to my infinite delight, not one but two huge manta rays came right up under me and did two, double, barrel rolls!!! It was magical! They are so elegant and graceful in their movements. I felt very much blessed and chosen in a way to have the privilege of witnessing this natural wonder. A couple of them came up to not even 12 inches from my face at the surface. I began to tremble, it was all a lot to take in. When they calmed down a bit I took a break from the snorkeling gear.
It was right about this time that we hit a very cold patch of fresh water where it mixes with the sea. My trembling soon went from mere excitement to actual shivering, but we were still snorkeling and hanging onto that board. I had to get myself together, so to speak – in a mental way anyway, because I felt that a panic could soon arrive in such conditions. Luckily we were very nearly done and I powered through just fine. Not only that after seeing my sweet moves (not really) the guys picked me as a “strong independent swimmer” to get back to the boat on my own with the first two people. So cool! I was soon faced with that dreaded tiny ladder but surprisingly didn’t have trouble with it at all! I hate that gravity pull feeling when you first get back on land, but I didn’t even have much of that, so all was gravy. Until they asked for the wetsuit back before I got to my seat. You see, I had left ALL of my gear in my car, clipped the car key to my bikini top, and zipped the wet suit over it. When I unzipped the wet suit and realized how little I had on underneath (and to be honest, massively poppin’ cleavage! Ha-ha!), I quickly pleaded with the guy to let me keep it on until we hit the dock. He was cool with it and so I did not die of hypothermia. Yay!
The ride back to the dock was less exciting though not without incident. Well you see, I mentioned I left all my belongings in the car, well that included my towel and zippy jacket. So, while I had the wetsuit top on to keep me insulated, the wind was whipping right through the boat (it had a soft canopy but otherwise open air) and I was already cold from hitting that fresh water before re-boarding. My seat mate had also left their belongings behind and had borrowed a towel from the crew (their last one). They very kindly offered to share with me and we just sort of huddled together trying to keep the wind off our wet selves. We giggled nervously but I think we were both quite miserable and tired by this point. We were offered more from “The best all you can eat buffet on the water!” and I foolishly grabbed an ice cold bottle of water. D’oh! I sipped it at first but realizing there was nowhere to set it down I chugged it instead. Did not help my temperature situation, but swallowing sea water is thirty business after all. When we reached the dock I was instantly relieved as I saw that I had parked literally right beside our dock, fortuitous indeed! That is, until I stood up to unzip my wet suit and realized that I would not be able to remove it on my own so I stayed back so others could get by. Then I hit up one of the crew, “Uhh, would you mind giving me a hand? I just need you to peel the arms off, I got the rest. Ha-ha!” and they helped without hesitation, though without word or eye contact either so whatever. I rushed to the trunk of my car to get out of my wet swimwear (I had bought a capri-style rash guard bottom on Amazon
that was perfect for this adventure! I will say that I cut out the tummy liner in it as it made it not fit right) and into something warm and dry. Not wanting to linger in the near-pitch darkness, I opted for a dress and my zippy jacket
and let my bottom half be free. It felt delightfully naughty!
On my way back to the condo I hit up the first drive-thru I could find since it was now about 10 pm on the island and this birthday bitch was huuungry! I so rarely hit up drive-thrus at home anymore so it felt a bit novel, too. I don’t like anything else they serve, but McDonald’s sausage mcmuffins make me fuckin’ happy sometimes, yo! That drive-thru was hoppin’ though, so it took me about twenty minutes or more to get said mcmuffins, but they went down so good! I went back to the condo still giddy from that evening’s adventures. I’ve never been one to go about my day without undies on, so even though I was just in the car and only had to walk from the parking garage to the lobby of the condos, I felt scandalously naughty doing it! Ha-ha! I had the last glass of prosecco with some orange juice after my food and just sort of basked in what I was feeling at the time. Then I took a long shower and went to bed, I was so tired.
The following morning, my last on the island, I packed and cleaned up and looked up a breakfast spot nearby. That part of Kona is very touristy and there’s this long stretch of road along the shore where the speed limit is 15 mph, but it’s mostly due to people just walking to and from the beach and all of the little shops and restaurants there too. I didn’t really venture out on that side, though it was literally under my condo, I’m not into touristy sort of things usually. I didn’t need knick knacks or souvenirs, and crowds are just not my thing ever. So I just headed over to the breakfast spot after grabbing espresso at Kona Coffee & Tea and enjoyed a simple meal of sweet french toast (pink hued Hawaiian sweet bread, but french toast style) with bacon and eggs. I was slightly underwhelmed by the french toast, just not very substantial, but the bacon and eggs were so good I didn’t even care. Then I paid my bill and headed to the airport to return my rental car and wait for my flight.
Obligatory photo of food on a plate
The security line at the Kona airport is also outside and it was hot. My flight was to leave at noon so I gave myself plenty of time just in case and it was a good thing, that line was long! And then when I finally get up to the conveyor belt and get my things on it properly (they really need to give more belt space for this as it’s such a terrible scramble and it makes my heart race every time! UGH!), two unexpected things occurred. One, when I tried to move my suitcase from the table portion onto the actual rubber conveyor belt, the plastic folding table moved with it, and the security guy made a huge fucking joke about how drunk I must be (not cool). And then the military douchebag behind me kicked his entire fucking bag into the back of my right calf and it thrust me forward from the impact, I said “OW!” loudly and looked behind me but he didn’t fucking say a damned word to me! He said sorry to his piece of shit girlfriend and they can both fuck off five-ever! (I’m sure there are decent military folks in the world but I have never met one. And I’ve had shit like this go down with them before and it’s usually worse.) Unfortunately, they were also on my flight but luckily not near my row.
Once done with security, and you know I ALWAYS get the extra special fuckery-filled pat down, I was desperate for water. It wasn’t just hot but also humid af! I go to the water fountain to fill my bottle (cause you know you have to empty that shit to go through security), and they barely let out a trickle. Hesitant but desperate I hit up the vending machines and swallowed some pride as I fish out a fiver from my bag for a $3 bottle of dumbass Aquafina (I hate that shit)…but the machine wasn’t accepting bills. I started cursing under my breath, I am not ashamed, and one of the airport janitorial crew let me know that the little convenience store in the airport was also the owner of the vending machine. I let them know about the machine but they didn’t give a shit at all and I just bought a cheaper bottle of water in their store and grouchily headed to my gate. Then I chugged half that bottle and dumped the rest into my smaller bottle in my bag and decided it was a good time to use the restroom. As I entered I encountered a woman who was a lil’ older than myself and she was uncertain of how best to be comfortable as she had on several layers which boggled my mind. She asked what I thought, and as she was about my size but taller, I encouraged her to strip off until comfy now and worry about adding layers later. She enthusiastically agreed and seemed to only need a little encouraging and started giggling as she took off her first two layers. By the time I got back to the gate it was time to board, nice!
This time I did not buy the middle seat, though I checked to see that it was empty a couple of times. I boarded the plane without issue, this time no free checked bag so I was on my own, but honestly didn’t have much trouble at all. Though my suitcase was heavy, it’s not big, so I just sort of swung it up into the overhead bin and scooched it into place. I was worried about getting it down again though. I got into my seat and was provided a seatbelt extender without issue. My row-mate was very polite and asked if it would bother me to place something on the middle seat for a bit. Of course I was fine with it and even asked if they minded if I used the center seat’s tray for my food/drink (since the tray doesn’t go all the way down because of my belly) and he said sure and said he would like to put a cup on there too if that was okay. Seriously the nicest dude and his wife was just across the aisle from him. I had a small concern about that part since my previous flight involved a couple using the middle seat, but my fears were relieved quickly. We kept to ourselves but exchanged niceties. I read and watched some movies, and he worked and ate some food. As we were landing and we started to chat some more I felt more comfortable and asked if he would do me an odd favor. I explained my fear about hitting someone while trying to retrieve my overhead bag and he was happy to oblige and did so very quickly and seemingly easily. Soon we were all chatting in our row and it was a lively and fun conversation until we were allowed to exit.
As I got off the plane and back into ole SJC it was after 10 pm and my head was abuzz with all that I’d seen and done that week on the Big Island. I checked my phone and my ex-husband, who was taking care of my puggo, said he’d drop him off the next morning as he wasn’t ready to give him up just yet. That was fine by me as I was not quite ready to not be on my own. That’s one thing I really took away from this experience was just how much I focus on and worry about others. How much “noise”, so to speak, invades my headspace, too. After arguing with an aggressive taxi driver (I was just reading their sign but they demanded to know why I wouldn’t hire them, it got ugly and I told them off and hustled my bustle away quickly), I got a Lyft home and the driver and other rider were super cool. In fact I was supposed to be dropped off a block from my house because I chose a super saver option I didn’t know existed, but both dudes in the car wanted to be sure I got home safe and insisted I be dropped at my building. That was unexpected and nice. Once I got into my apartment the world just didn’t seem real. I went to the bathroom and just couldn’t stop smiling. I was happy. It was quiet and I didn’t have to worry about a thing but my damned self! So, I had some peanut butter and chocolate ice cream and went to bed. Ha-ha!
Once my lil’ puggo was back home life seemed real again, but not in a bad way. I missed my lil’ guy! We’d never been apart that long before. We made a day of it by snuggling on the couch and I was real glad that I had thought to do a full clean before leaving for the Big Island. I really needed to get away and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a blissful and refreshing break in my life. (I won’t tell you how truly terrible that following Monday was, it was the worst stress ever, but I got through.) I am only now, a few weeks later, able to get my energy back to start nesting again at home. I will never forget the sound of those frogs at night in Hilo, or that swimming pool in Kona that I had all to myself. Sharon & Mark’s stories and tips will be shared until my days are done. And I was so worried about a heat mark my burrito left on the coffee table at the condo, but the owners told me not to worry about it all. What a relief! Ha-ha! It was so worth it and I still cannot believe I did it! I may come across as an extrovert or adventurer, and while I do things to scare myself a few times a year, this was waaaaaay outside of anything I ever imagined doing on my own. Allowing myself to just be with myself on this trip was everything. I highly suggest going on your own solo adventure, no matter what that might look like for you. I kept thinking I would just do a lil’ road trip with the puggo on a weekend but never found the motivation. I hope this recent fling with adventuring turns out to be so much more than that. I hope it gives me the courage to push through my internal barriers to getting “out there” and all of that. If not, I know what I am capable of and that alone is a very good thing!
Thank you for reading!
I’m here for realness and sincerity, honesty and vulnerability, I’m here for the good and juicy bits of life that shine for me when I know I’m heading in the right direction.
Rad Fatty Love to ALL,
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