Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | January 5, 2012

Solo in Kona: My Hawaiian Adventure Day #8 (Plus Day #9 Bonus!)

Well, after all that worry and kerfuffle, I am back in Canada, where it is much colder than Hawaii but not as cold as I expected.  In Wetaskiwin, it is above the freezing mark.  What luck! I thought I’d be coming back to -20C, and this is a much nicer transition.

A last beautiful day in Kona

I always have trouble sleeping the day I fly out, and Wednesday night was no exception.  I woke up at three in the morning and was able to get back to sleep until six, but only on and off again.  I finally got up, showered, finished packing, checked my email, and basically got ready for the day.  My stomach was still in knots, but I was determined to proceed with the whale watching.  By 8:30, I figured I might as well check out before the rush and have breakfast.  I hauled my bags down and stored them, then made my way to Bongo Ben’s one last time.  I had the papaya with yogurt and granola with a biscuit and my Kona coffee, and was mostly able to finish despite the nerves.  I then made my way to the pier, having nothing better to do.

Now, I didn’t check the temperature, but I’m fairly certain that my last day in Hawaii was the hottest one yet. I really wish I had stayed another day; it would have been perfect to sit by the pool and read until I couldn’t stand it, dive in, and then start all over when I was dry.  Instead, since carting home a wet bathing suit wasn’t an option, I had to seek air conditioned stores and then shade while I waited for my whale watch check in.  It didn’t help that the shirt I had for the airplane, while comfortable enough to pass for the pyjamas it had to be while on the overnight flight, was a dark colour. Needless to say, I was sweaty and gross by the time my check-in was ready at 11:30.

Though I didn't get the greatest photos (I have to work on my timing!) I did manage to get a few shots of our whale sightings!

Because I am a crazy person, I double checked at the check-in and got reassurance again that we’d get in at about 2:30, as indicated on the pamphlet.  With that note, I finally was able to relax a little. Our whale watching boat was only about a third full, which was a nice sized crowd – it made it easier to move from side to side on the ship which in turn meant it was easier to get up and cross the boat if a whale was to be spotted.  The Blue Sea Cruise staff were friendly and engaging, and very knowledgeable about marine life, chatting over the intercom so we could learn about what we would be seeing.  I sat with Charlotte, a Marketing and Statistics professor in a college in a small Texas town (that is still twice the size of Yellowknife), as we were both single travellers.  She’s travelling a few days ahead of a group of friends, so as better to do the things they aren’t interested in (like whale watching).  An “overlap” trip is an idea I may just have to try out some time!

So here’s something I didn’t know about the whale watching tour that would have saved me a love of nerves – we actually didn’t go that far out.  It turns out the humpback whales were were watching for like to rise up a lot closer to the coast than I’d imagined.  In fact, I could see the shoreline the whole time.  My visions of being out in the middle of the ocean, unable to get back to the dock because of huge swells?  Totally unfounded.

A playful school of dolphins. I only caught a few here, but there was a lot of them in and out of the waves!

The whale watch was extremely pleasant, and even with all my worrying, I’m glad I went.  It was nice to sit mostly in the shade, looking at the ocean, sipping a complimentary Mai Tai or two (okay, it definitely was two), hoping a humpback whale would surface but being okay if they didn’t.  But luck was with us, and we did see one whale multiple times, and possibly two – it looked a little smaller than the first, but it was hard to tell, and when they do dive together, they can mirror each other, so when we suspected two might have been diving and surfacing together, it might have just been one doing the rising and sinking.  We were a bit far away, on our way home, so it is difficult to tell.

All in all, we had four showings. which is pretty remarkable and, using the hydrophone, we were able to hear some whale singing, the first of the season! We were also treated to a school of dolphins, about twenty of them, popping up near our boat from time to time.  I’m not sure how my pictures turned out (my camera is charging) but I think I got at least one nice dolphin photo.  As for the whales, you can’t drive your boat more than a hundred yards toward them, and though our whale did seem to hear my thoughts to come up one last time to say goodbye, he didn’t listen to the ones asking him to come a little closer, so there’s only so my tiny Lumix can do in terms of zooming.

Diving below. I came very close to getting a nice shot of the fluke - but not quite!

We made it back to shore at 2:30 on the nose, so I walked back to my hotel and got my luggage.  I zipped my daypack to the backpack luggage it is part of, changed out my flats for the hiking boots I’d need for the colder climes of Canada, and then sat in the shade to wait for my cab. We made fairly quick work of getting to the airport, and so I was three hours ahead of my flight.  More than enough time!

Checking through in Hawaii is a little different.  I could only get a boarding pass as far as Honolulu, since I flew on Hawaiian Airlines, a subsidiary of United but as of yet unable to print passes on their behalf.  This would have made me nervous again, except my Honolulu layover was also about three hours, more than enough time to sort things out.  I checked my bags through the Agriculture check (which was new to me) after some prompting by the agent, since I didn’t know you had to do this first (she was awesome about it – pointed me in the right direction and waved me back over without making me stand in line again when I was done).  After I’d paid my bag check fee ($17/piece, not the $25 I’d anticipated!), I dropped my bags at TSA, checked through to Edmonton (because the agent could  do luggage if not boarding passes, and I made my way through security. Once through, I found a seat in the shade and puttered on the computer and on my Kindle while I waited for my flight, which was a quick hour.

The Kona airport: an outdoor airport!

Once in Honolulu, I couldn’t find my gate listed anywhere, and I had no boarding pass.  A desk agent for Hawaiian helpfully pointed me the way of the Wiki Wiki Shuttle, and there the helpful shuttle staff was even able to tell me my gate, though it wasn’t showing on the screens in that part of the airport.  Once at my gate, I went to the kiosk where I tried to check in.  The screens weren’t on, but there were telephones, so I thought maybe you called and they were activated from a far. No such luck.  I had to find a desk agent. As I was so much ahead, there was no one at my gate, so I found another gate that I thought was United. Once again, I was not in luck; it was a Continental Airline, now also part of United but still not able to access their system.  So I went to pick myself up something to eat and change from shorts into comfy sweatpants, as I planned to try to sleep on the plane.  With my dinner in a bag and ready to go, I saw there was someone just firing up the desk and no one in line.  The agent was a little brusque (I don’t see why handing you my itinerary deserves a sour face when I can’t read minds to know your hand out means you need my passport) but she got the job done and I now had boarding passes for the rest of the legs of my journey.

I ate dinner and read while waiting on my flight, when left at 10:00 at night.  As boarding commenced for First Class, etc (I was in the group to board last of all), I took my melatonin to help myself get to sleep. The plane was the biggest one I’d been in since Scotland – three rows of chairs, with five seats in the middle row.  I wrapped the complimentary blanket around myself and draped my jacket over my legs, tucked my little travel pillow around my neck, took off my glasses and went to sleep.  It was not a restful sleep, and was very interrupted as I kept having to shift to try to get comfortable, but I slept nearly the length of the flight.  It was 5:00 in San Francisco, and I’d had barely 4 and a half hours of sleep, but that was much better than the nothing I usually get on planes.

Heading back to shore, to the hotel, to Canada... (Not a great photo of me, but one of the few I have.)

I had breakfast near my gate, with loads of coffee. It was probably very delicious, but I was eating more for the the sake of doing so while I could; I was correctly assuming there wouldn’t be much in the way of food on the plane.  After a few hours (and a lot of coffee), I was finally able to board and head to Edmonton.  I sadly didn’t see much out the window, not even a pass over the Golden Gate Bridge, but the plane ride was uneventful, and by noon was touching down in Edmonton.  I thought customs would be insane, but it was empty (afternoon flights are apparently the way to go), so all I had to do was wait for my grandparents, who came to get me and my rental car from the airport, since I hadn’t been sure I would be in any condition to drive (and probably wasn’t). The kind lady at National waved the second driver fee for my grandfather and also gave me a beauty of a car – a black Mazda 3. I can’t wait to drive her tomorrow.

And so, after all that, my journey continues with the Alberta segment, which will just be friends and family and so thus my journalling about it ends.  Pictures will be up later today, once my camera is charged. I next travel for my 30th birthday in April.  I hope you’ll check in then!

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