Welcome ...

One day I was contemplating the advice I had been sharing with hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years. I decided it was time to put my experiences into the written word and hope that you find as much pleasure in my adventures as I have ... and maybe, just maybe, if your travels cross some of the same places that mine have, perhaps my words of wisdom will make your journey that much more fun and exciting.

So whether it's local restaurants or exotic destinations ... as my Uncle Jim described me, I am the "intrepid traveler", always ready for an adventure, whether traveling solo or leading the way ... you never know what will pop into my head and come out on the keyboard.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mauna Kea Stargazing - The Planning, Part 1

"To be a star, you must shine your own light, follow your own path, and don't worry about the darkness, for that is when the stars shine the brightest."

Before heading to Hawaii for Chris and Nikki's wedding, I decided to Google the top 10 things to see and do in Kona, comparing my list of what I had accomplished in the past, when I was in Hawaii with Holland America Line.

The list included:

  1. Volcano national park and helicopter ride
  2. Rainbow Falls
  3. Banyan Tree
  4. Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory
  5. Swim with the dolphins
  6. Sunset at the telescopes on Mauna Kea

Out of curiosity, I went looking for the telescopes and found an ad for the Mauna Kea Summit Adventures, see paraphrased description:  

While acclimatizing and dining at the Mauna Kea, home to the world's largest telescopes, visitors center, we issue parkas and gloves (the warmest available) and engage our four wheel drive for the steep 1/2 hour drive to the summit area.

On the summit, see the observatories as they begin to open and rotate into position. Learn about famous observatories such as Keck, Subaru and Gemini. There is plenty of time for photos while the sunset transforms the area into a beautiful and quite unearthly spectacle. When the best of the color has passed, we descend to mid-mountain, where the sky is equally clear but the climate and air density is much more comfortable for stargazing using high power telescopes. 

and decided THIS sounded interesting! The opportunity to see stars from 14,000 (approx.) feet sounded like an awesome opportunity! Throughout the years of working on ships and spending long nights at sea, I've had the blessing of doing some amazing star gazing, even seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska a couple of times! As a side-bar, it's a very humbling experience to be under a blanket of stars with no land in sight for hundreds of miles.  It makes you realize how small your problems really are, in the scheme of things and also how brave the sailors were who set forth towards a horizon which others said they would fall off of.

When I worked in South America for Sun Line Cruises, we had an astronomer on board who would have the Bridge turn off the deck lights at night and we would watch for shooting stars, chart constellations ... and it was the first time I saw the Southern Cross. I remember the magic of laying up on deck at night, above the Bridge where it was the darkest, listening to classical music, watching the stars dance across the sky, and smelling the baking bread from the galley below (the air vents from the ovens disbursed the heat and delicious smell way up there). 

Disappointingly today, due to all of the ambient light from the city lights, stars are getting harder and harder to see ... not because they are no longer there or that they are moving away from our planet, but because we as human beings are moving away from wishing on stars or just taking moments in the night, to gaze up at galaxies we can never imagine to touch. With cruise ships, due to liabilities, they no longer turn the lights off at night, even for brief segments of time! You have to try and find a dark corner on deck - a true challenge these days (and that alone can lead to another story).

Hands down, Mauna Kea and the observatories beckoned. I was so excited about the prospect of watching the sunset from the mountain as well as having the high altitude to star-gaze from, that when I phoned to make my reservation, you can imagine how crushed I was when they told me they were sold out until the day after I was leaving to return to Nashville! I thought desperately, hanging onto any thread of hope ... so I threw it out there ... what if someone canceled? Did they have a cancellation list (thank my lucky stars for having been a Shore Excursion Manager at one time and remembering our lists ) and if so, could I give them my name and cell number to phone me, even at the last minute? Yes, they had a list but the likelihood of having just ONE seat cancelled was slim to none.  

Now you may be wondering why I only wanted one seat? As an only child, I was raised to tackle adventure and decided early on, that I wouldn't wait for adventure to come to me, nor wait for a fearless companion to co-pilot my adventures with.  Oh horrors! That could mean waiting months, or even years, or worse yet, a lifetime to do the things I wanted to do. And I don't want to wake up at 80 and say "I wish I would have ...". Never fear, I'd make friends along the way, even when traveling solo. No one else in our wedding party had expressed an interest in going, and I assure you, that was NOT a deterrent. 

Driving Saddle Road with the slopes of Mauna Kea
So, I gave the operator my name and phone number and hung up, saying a prayer to Pele, that if I was meant to go, then my phone would ring.  In my mind, I pictured the moment when my phone ring with the good news and wouldn't you know it, on the adventurous drive with Uncle Jim back from Hilo, taking a shortcut across Saddle Road (another story), they called!  One seat had come available and did I want it?  I could have shouted to the rooftops!  Whoopie, I was on my way.  I told the operator where I was, to which she instructed me to hang up immediately and phone her when I got safely back to the resort.  If any of you have ever driven Saddle Road, you will understand why. As I found out later, it's known as the most haunted road on the island ... but again, another story for another day.

In the meantime, check out the Mauna Kea website and part 2 will continue.

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