Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Travel Review / 2012 Outlook

The end of 2011 marks 4 ½ years of being on the road full time. We continue to be in awe of the many wonderful places we have had the chance to visit, the sights we have seen and the many friends and family members we get to spend time with while traveling. We stayed in 46 places, a new yearly low, as we had three extended stays which resulted in the lowest cost for campgrounds we have had in our time on the road. Our travels took us from South Florida to Arizona with many northern locations in between. We stopped in 20 states while putting 8,348 miles on Opus and 11,386 on the CRV. We stayed in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii for the first time which means we have stayed in 49 states since July 2007. We added 20 National Park Service sites to our passport and continue to feel that these national treasures are one of our country's greatest legacies.

We are so happy we had the chance to start the new year with Jack and Mary Lou in Jupiter as Jack passed away this summer after a valiant struggle with cancer. We then moved on to the Florida Keys where we enjoyed the warm weather and spent time with Joe and Marcia. During a week in Fort Meyers we watched the Steelers win a big game at a Steelers bar on Sanibel Island with a former colleague, Janet Scariot Murry. We then stayed at the SKP park in Bushnell where we saw Wanda and Wallace, Charlie and Sherri and Joe and Marcia. It was then on to Betty's in Abbeville, LA for seven weeks of fun, including many Mardi Gras events. We enjoyed time there with many old RV friends and made many new ones, including a group of over twenty who were there for the whole month of fun activities. While there we got together with Valerie and Richard and had a personal mail delivery from Tom and Georgie. As always, it was great to once again see the Louisiana friends we have made during our many visits. On our way to WashPA we did some diamond mining in Arkansas (no luck), were emotionally moved by the Oklahoma City Memorial, visited the homes of Presidents Lincoln, Truman and Clinton and soared to the top of the Gateway Arch. Luckily we were able to dodge the severe weather that pummeled the South and Midwest this past spring. A stop at Spartan Motors did bring some bad news as we needed new ball joints and tie rods. Oh well, just like a stix and brix a house on wheels needs a lot of maintenance. We spent six weeks in WashPA catching up with family and friends while doing doctor and dentist visits .

Our first stop as we headed west was a few days of fishing with Mike and Sherri at Pymatuning where I CAUGHT FOUR VERY LARGE WALLEYE. It was then a stop at Camp Newmar to have a few maintenance issues taken care of. In Michigan we visited Tony and MaryBeth then explored the US side of the Soo in the U.P. In Wisconsin we visited George and CeCe, tried to see my old classmate Barry Alvarez and got our fix of Frank Lloyd Wright in Madison and Taliesin. We zipped across Minnesota and North Dakota to Roosevelt National Park where we met up with 07 mates Mark and Renita. After a week of exploring the Black Hills of South Dakota, it was on to the Escapade where we volunteered and got to spend time with many RV friends and 07 mates. It was then on to Cody and Yellowstone where we had a wonderful week long visit with Mike and Sherri as part of their road trip through the West. While there we saw grizzle bears, buffalo, eagles, a Peregrine Falcon and got to watch a pack of wolves trying to run down three elk in a fascinating display of nature that few people have ever seen. We had a small hitch in our plans upon leaving Yellowstone as we had to be towed to Idaho for an RV repair that turned out costing “only” $300 which, when it comes to repairs of a diesel, is not too bad. We then sprinted to Albuquerque for the balloon fiesta with the Escapees Boomers. We had a chance to see friends Larry and Amy and were rewarded for a week of balloon crewing with our first ever hot air balloon ride. WOW!!!!

We finished the year with our longest stay in one spot (90 days) in Mesa. Here we spent time with RV friends Alan and Sharon, an old school colleague Linda and her mate Mike and made many new friends in the park. We had visits with 07 mates Mark and Renita, Joe and Marcia, Ron and Linda, Steve and Sandy, Mike and Sandy, as well as, Dan and Merlene. While here we did more ballooning with Mike and T and were invited to their home for a great Christmas Eve dinner with their family. After Christmas my brother Rick and his wife Denise flew out and stayed with us for a few days during which we drove to Sedona to see Nanc's sister Michelle and her husband Keith who were vacationing there. All these visits made for a great holiday. Meeting so many people and making so many new friends is the best part of the fulltime lifestyle. That said, while being with friends and family is fantastic, the high point of the last part of 2011 was our two week trip to Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii. We can now say when people ask what are you planning to do when you no longer travel that our plan is to retire in Hawaii. Just remember what I always say about our plans.

As 2012 begins we are planning to spend January in Arizona, including some time in Quartzite getting together with many of our class of 07 mates for a five year reunion. We were going to stay out West for the rest of the winter but we learned that Betty is going to be inducted as a Living Legend in the Acadian Museum so we are off to Louisiana for February and March. Isn't it great having a house on wheels? We are then going WAY up North to visit Alaska and the Canadian prairie provinces. We will return to WashPA near the end of summer for our annual visit and hope to do a month on the Outer Banks on our way to Florida where we will spend next winter. As always, these plans are written in sand and may change with the rising tide.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Aloha IV & Mele Kalikimaka

We continued to explore the Big Island and collected a couple more National Park Service stamps in our passport book. We visited more of the windward, rainy, side of the island and literally stood on top of the highest mountain in the world and saw more stars than we have ever seen.

The Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park (top) shows how the Hawaiians built fish traps and pens to hold them so they were available as they needed them. There were also raised planters where they grew crops of gourds, taro and sweet potatoes on the lava flats. (Bottom) Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historical Site on the Hill of the Whale is where King Kamehameha I built a heiau, temple, that was the last sacred structure built before outside influences altered traditional life. The rocks for the temple where brought from 20 miles away by a human chain passing each one hand to hand. When the heiau was complete Kamehamaha invited his cousin and rival Keoua Kuahu'ula for the dedication. His cousin and most of his followers were killed giving Kamehameha control of all the Hawaiian islands as the first king.

Bottom is one of many lava tubes that can be found here. Top is an example of Hawaiian graffiti. It is not painted, it is white coral on the black lava. This graffiti started in the 1980's when people did the first ones as encouragement for participants of the Ironman Triathlon that takes place here each October.
A few of the many birds we saw. There were many more but they were too quick for us to capture a picture. The colors and variety were fantastic.

Another must do on our list was to go to the top of 13,796 foot Mauna Kea. We were disappointed on Monday when we got a call that the tour was cancelled because of a winter storm at the summit. On our trip around the island the clouds cleared and we got to see why the trip had to be rescheduled for Wednesday. Click on the picture and look closely, you can see the road and a couple of the observatories.

The tour departed Kailua-Kona at sea level at 1PM. The first one hour stop was at the visitors center at 9000 feet to give everyone a chance to adjust to the elevation change and have dinner. This telescope was looking at the sun. On the way back down, our tour took us off the road for a chance to see the stars and planets through their 11 inch scopes. We got fantastic looks at binary stars, Jupiter and its moons, Venus and the Orion Nebula as well as several shooting stars.


What Hawaiians have to do if they want a white Christmas. We saw a couple of people taking truck loads of s**w off the mountain.

In case I have not mentioned it before, the weather in Hawaii is the absolute best we have ever experienced. This was the only day we had to wear long pants during our two week stay. The tour included winter parkas as it was very windy and in the 30's at the top. I guess they have the reflective strips so they can find you if the clouds roll in. You can see four of the 13 observatories from several countries that are at the summit. The Big Island has the nations strictest light pollution laws to keep the night skies clear for the astronomers.

One thing the tour promotes is the sunset at the top. Ours was just OK as there was one big cloud that blocked the sun from the top of the clouds we were looking down on. It was still great being on top of the highest mountain on Earth as measured from its base on the ocean floor and raising over 32,000 feet.

I am hanging loose at the highest spot in Polynesia. It is Hawaii so it is always t-shirt weather. You can see in the background how much of the s**w had already melted. When the s**w accumulates you can ski down the mountain about 2 1/2 miles.

Beautiful 442 foot Akaka Falls, one of many on the windward, rainy, side of the island. There was a neat little path through the rain forest to get to the falls.

Just a few of the many beautiful flowers we saw along the path to the falls. I don't know what they are but I still loved seeing such a great variety in such a small area.

One of the most unusual was the flower on the banana tree. All the fruit we had was wonderful. It was all the sweetest we have ever eaten.

A small falls at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, another windward side attraction that is a great place to see native flora. The garden is in a steep, stream carved valley that runs down to the ocean. The water level was high with all the rain they have been getting.

WOW what a giant leaf. Many of the green plants were the peace lilies, zebra plants, philodendron and many others that we had as house plants in our stix and brix. The impatiens grown on the island like weeds.

A really high point was the orchid garden. The variety of colors in these beautiful flowers was unbelievable. The botanical garden should be on your must do list when you get to the Big Island.

People often ask what we are going to do when we stop full timing and so far we have always said we do not have an exit plan. That may have changed with this trip. If weather is a big part of our decision on what we will do, then Hawaii would be a great place to settle down some time in the future.

Finally, to all our family and friends a big Hawaiian

Mele Kalikimaka!!!!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Aloha III

After a wonderful week on the island of Oahu we flew to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island, Hawaii. From the moment you arrive you can tell this is a different place than Waikiki, as you walk down steps and across the tarmac to get into the terminal rather than walk through a Jetway.

We were greeted with live flower leis as we missed this in Honolulu because we had been bumped and arrived late. This picture is "inside" the airport that has no roof except for a few areas of the waiting rooms. The weather here is very different than Oahu. Because of the high mountains it became overcast almost every afternoon, but the temperatures where still perfectly warm.

This is the main area of Kailua-Kona with the Royal Kona, our hotel, on the far right. The church steeple is one of the oldest on the island and the yellow building with the green roof was the summer home of the king. The town was a neat mix of shops, bars and restaurants to cater to all the tourists. We arrived the day the Steelers were playing and we found a neat place to sit outside to watch the game while over looking the beautiful Pacific and an incredible sunset. A big down note is I lost a cap and had to go to the dentist who said the tooth was too far gone to replace the cap. Bad news, but it caused me no discomfort so I can wait until we return to the mainland to deal with it.

Readers know I have this thing about driving to the "end of the road" and on this island there are many places you can do that. This wind blown tree is at South Point, the most Southern spot in the USA. Nearby was a green sand beach which turned out to be a much farther walk than we were prepared for (we were in sandals) so we only got to see a little bit that had blown off the beach.

Some of the animals we saw. Bottom is a green sea turtle and one of many goats that roam free on the island. Top is an Hawaiian monk seal and a huge barracuda that the guy caught deep sea fishing from the top of the cliff at South Point. The fish was almost five feet long.

This is typical of much of the coast on the Big Island. There are very few natural sand beaches as the island is so young compared to those to the north. The monument marks the spot where a crewman from Captain Cook's ship was buried in 1779. Cook is credited with "discovering" the islands and was eventually killed by those he discovered.

Looking down into Pololu Valley. The weather here was very different than Oahu. The island is dominated by high volcanic mountains and there are all of the worlds 13 climate zones, except Arctic and Sahara Desert, within just a few miles. We drove to the windward side and were greeted with a tropical rain like we have never seen. They get over 200 inches of rain each year. We sat in the car for a half hour waiting for the rain to slow enough so we could get this picture. Most of the time we could not even see out of the window. All this rain makes for a thick tropical forest with many flowers.

The lava from the volcanoes has created new land all over the island. Here you can see the black land where the lava flowed into the ocean. There are many places on the leeward side of the island where the land is just the black remains of the flows that have happened in the last few hundred years. This side of the island only gets about 6 inches of rain a year so it takes many, many years for anything to grow on the new land. You don't see this on the other side because with all the rain vegetation quickly covers the new land.

There are three National Park Service Historical sites on the island devoted to the history of the native Polynesians. We visited Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park the site of a compound for the ali'i, royal chiefs, that was know as the place of refuge. It was a place where no blood could be shed and where a person who violated Kapu, the scared law, could get a second chance if you could make it there before being captured. In our travels we always like to explore the history of the local area.

Just a few scenes from around the hotel. The fish pond was in the center of our building. There where always many different kinds of boats including a couple of big cruise ships that visited for a day. One morning we had breakfast on the lanai including mimosas we made with our complimentary bottle of champagne. While we explored a lot we did just kick back a couple of days to enjoy the beautiful weather. We really indulged ourselves one day with a couples massage compliments of a gift certificate from from Rick and Denise. Here on the Kona Coast even cold blooded Nanc never wore anything except shorts for the entire stay.

We did not attend a luau here because we had done one on Oahu, but we did get to see them cooking a pig from start to finish. Top is the pit and the rocks being heated up. (They cheated and used propane.) Bottom is the pig with the hot rocks stuffed inside and covered with huge leaves. Finally, it is all covered with wet burlap, buried in dirt and cooked for several hours. While I did not get to taste this one, the pork I did have was wonderful.

We even set the alarm for 4AM so we could get up and watch the lunar eclipse. It was really neat seeing the moon turn red and then start to come out of the shadow of the Earth. The Big Island is a great place to see the stars because they have strict light pollution laws to ensure that the observatories on Mauna Kea have a great view of the universe.

This is Panalu'u Black Sand Beach. It is a very strange sight to see the black sand and the clear blue water. The black sand is the result of the lava that has eroded over many years. There will be more black beaches many, many years from now as more of the lave flows are pounded into sand by the waves.

The steaming Kilauea Caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. One big thing we wanted to see was the lave flows of this volcano. You can see the glow of the lava here at night, but most of the flow is in an area that is now outside the park. We scheduled a helicopter ride where we would fly over the flows and be able to see them during the day. Unfortunately, the weather on the windward side of the island did not cooperate so this was all we got to see. We did not even spend much time here because we were in a hurry to get to the airport only to learn the flight was cancelled. This was the only real disappointment so far in what has been a fabulous trip.

We did take a short hike in the park including walking through an old lava tube. There are old lava tubes all over the island, but this one is lighted. This is the only time Nanc had to wear a light coat because it was chilly inside the tube. Hawaii is a wonderful place to see how the real power of nature is shaping the land and environment.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Aloha II

We continue to have a grand time in Hawaii. The scenery and weather are fantastic with the clouds and sometime even the rain adding to the beauty. When it has rained it has only lasted for a short time and has created beautiful rainbows. We have been trying to strike a balance between sightseeing and just relaxing and enjoying ourselves. It is hard when you are in a place with so much to see and may never get back to. By the way, here is a link to the YouTube interview I did when we were at Pearl Harbor that I talked about in the last entry.

Here is a look at Diamond Head and Waikiki from the air. I think the clouds add to the variety of colors of the water. It is a spectacular sight.
We walked from our hotel to the top of Diamond Head and the view was great. The trail was built by the army when the crater was used as a natural fort for coastal defense. Because of the high crater walls it is very dry and hot, but the view makes the climb worth it. Unfortunately, the day we visited there were thousands of kids from bands all over the US who were here for the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor activities. They were not bad, but it was very crowded. We even met someone from Burgettstown at the top, small world.

The one tour we did while on Oahu was to the Polynesian Cultural Center on the north side of the island. The center has presentations on the cultures of Samoa, Fiji, Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga and Aotearoa (New Zealand). Above were demonstrations with drums, climbing for coconuts, cooking and of course hula, which was originally only performed by men. They were all very well done and informative.

They had several audience participation activities. We got to try poi :( and Hoa, our guide, taught the basic moves of hula.

There was a parade of canoes with each culture doing their traditional dances. For dinner we had a luau with many performers and the evening was topped off with a lively play telling a story of a Polynesian king. It was a great day and a fun way to learn the cultures of the Pacific island people.

Another day we rented a car and drove around the island. (Less than 100 miles.) We started with a few sites in Honolulu. Above is Iolani Palace, the only royal palace on US soil and a statue of King Kamehameha I, who unified the Hawaiian Islands under one rule. In Hawaii even Santa Claus knows how to "hang loose". All these pictures were taken within ten minutes of each other including the background shot with the pouring rain.

We did a short Obama tour. This is the street where he lived as a child after he WAS BORN IN THE USA. The buildings on the right are where he went to school and the picture was when he visited after being elected president. There is talk of having the high rise where he lived declared a national historical landmark.

One of the beautiful beaches we stopped at on our drive.

On the windward side of the island the scene changes dramatically with dense jungle and more clouds. There are great views around every turn.

It was windy the day we took the drive so the waves where up on the North Shore. This is the famous Bonsai Pipeline. There is a surfing championship going on all month. There is one event that they only hold when the waves are over 20 feet. It has not been held for several years because the waves have not been big enough. I can't image as these 10 to 12 footers looked scary enough to me.

Top in the pic is someone wiping out and on the bottom you can see the front of a board of a surfer who is in the pipeline. This is another of those places I have always wanted to visit and I was not disappointed. Maybe if I had been here fifty years ago I would have given it a try.

The islands are the location of many movies and TV shows. On our way out to Ka'ena Point we came across several police cars and emergency vehicles, but instead of being a crime scene it was the shooting of Hawaii 50. Here a truck comes around the corner as part of the show.

More movie and TV locales. Top is the truck we saw and the house used as McGarrett's in the show. Middle is the valley where Jurassic Park was filmed, they say you can still see the dinosaur footprints. Bottom left is the church from Karate Kid and right is where Lost was filmed. It was neat seeing these spots even if we did not get to hear McGarrett say "Book 'em Danno."

Another great thing has been the food, especially the fresh fruit. We stopped at this little roadside stand for some Hawaiian grown bananas, mangoes and papayas. A must do on our list was eating at Giovanni's Shrimp Truck. There are many shrimp trucks along the North Shore today, but this is the original and we were not disappointed. They only offer four items, three shrimp plates and a hot dog. Nanc had the garlic shrimp and I opted for the hot and spicy, which came with the warning "NO REFUNDS". They were both fantastic. If you get to the North Shore make sure you stop at Giovanni's.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


We had accumulated enough travel points on our credit card to pay for our airfare and some of the hotel costs and we had a good place to leave the rig at Sun Life in Mesa, so we planned (always written in sand) to go to Hawaii for two weeks. Even though it sounds like we are always on vacation, we still have the same daily chores everyone does in a regular house; cleaning, cooking, maintenance. We thought it would be nice to go somewhere and let someone else do all those things for a short while, thus, the trip to Hawaii. Upon arriving at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix for our direct flight we learned we were going to get bumped off that flight. The bad news, we had to fly through LA with a delay. The good news, we got two $500 comp tickets that we must use during the next year. The change in plans meant we did not arrive until 10:30 PM rather than 4:00 in the afternoon, so it was not that big a deal. This is the 49th state we have visited since we retired in 2007.When we awoke early (5:00 AM as we are still on Arizona time) and stepped out on to the lanai we were greeted with this view of Diamond Head. Is this fantastic or what?

Looking the other direction we could see Waikiki Beach and several of the hotels. It is really beautiful almost beyond description. The first morning we went to a "free" breakfast to hear about all the tours they offer. We only opted for the Polynesian Cultural Center. (More on that to follow.) On Saturday we had a "free" lunch and $100 off our cultural center tour for listening to a timeshare presentation. Both turned out fine but we can say for sure, nothing is "free" in Waikiki.

In addition to the beaches and high rise hotels, Waikiki is a mix of the high end shops like those on Rodeo Drive, the cheesy junque stores of Gatlinburg and the wild, over the top street performers of Key West. Nanc wanted to go into Prada since I would not stop at the one in Marfa, Texas. We walked the streets just looking and people watching for the most part. Of course, we did do the beach and for the first time were able to swim in the Pacific. Along the west coast of the mainland it is way to cold.

Sunset from our room. The weather has been unbelievable. Everyday the high temp has been 82 with a low of 71. The couple of times it did rain the shower was over in five minutes and was not enough to drive us inside. Even Nanc has not had on anything but short sleeves the whole time. We have slept with the lanai door open so we can hear the ocean.

On Sunday we went to the USS Arizona Memorial that is part of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. We had originally planned to go on December 7th, but learned the tours would be very limited that day and we did not want to miss getting out to the memorial. Even getting there by 9:30 we had to wait until 1:00 for our boat ride out. There was plenty to do while we waited. The memorial, which is built above the ship, is the final resting place for many of the 1,177 crewmen killed that day. The design on the left of the memorial is the Tree of Life.

Because it is the 70th anniversary there are many survivors here. We got to meet and thank Edward F. Borucki, left and Delton E. Walling. How great it is to get this chance to meet these true heroes as their number is declining daily. The flag at the memorial is attached to the ship.

Being on the memorial is a very solemn experience that for us was similar to visiting the three 9/11 sites. The wall has the names of those who gave their last full measure that day. Several who survived that day have chosen to be interred there. There are only 18 Arizona survivors remaining. You can see the ship below you with only the remains of a front gun turret being above the water. The sheen on the water is oil that is still leaking 70 years later.

This is a memorial to the 429 men of the Oklahoma who died that day. Its loss was second only to the Arizona. We did not have time to see the Pacific Aviation Museum that is another part of the site.

Another part of the memorial is the USS Bowfish and a memorial to the 52 submarines and over 5300 crewmen lost during WWII.

The USS Missouri, on which the Japanese surrender was signed in Tokyo harbor in 1945, is now anchored near the Arizona, thus marking this as the site of both the beginning and end of WWII. The plaque marks the spot where the signing took place. Some of the signers and the documents are also pictured. President Truman wanted the surrender signed on the Mighty Mo because Missouri was his home state and his daughter Margaret had christened the ship.

Mighty Mo was the last battleship built and the last to be decommissioned in 1992 after serving in Desert Storm. Most of the WWII guns were replaced with modern missiles, but the big guns were fired over 200 times on its last mission.

Here I am being interviewed by two sailors about my thoughts on the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. They said it would be on YouTube so I will have to keep an eye out for it.

Just a few of the many beautiful flowers we have seen here. We are looking forward to seeing many more during our stay.

Just strolling along the beach we have enjoyed a couple hula performances and were even invited on stage to dance at one. Here is Nanc moving so fast she is a bit blurred. I was so quick that my picture was totally fuzzy. The Hawaiians really know how to have a fun time.