Monday, September 28, 2009

This Week: Maui, Hawaii

Chasing Waterfalls

Technically, it was illegal to hike to Twin Falls. According to my Maui guidebook, Twin Falls was on private property, a tropical farm that harvested exotic flowers to be exact, so to hike it was considered trespassing. However, the guidebook also said this hike was so popular with tourists that the owners wouldn’t prosecute unless you wandered off the marked path and into the crops. With that knowledge, we drove past the surf town of Pa’ia until Highway 36 inexplicably turned into Highway 360 and the mile markers start over at 0. At Mile Marker 2, the guidebook told us to pull off the highway and park the car. If it weren’t for the three other cars parked along the barbwire fence and the juice cart off to the side, I wouldn’t have had any idea something worth pursuing was here. My mother and I locked our purses in the trunk, got a juice from the pretty juice cart girl and climbed over the locked farm gate onto the well-worn path that the guidebook said was the way to Twin Falls.

At first we were unsure of the path. The rows of tropical flowers and exotic fruits gave us no indication. Then under some crop branches we saw the first sign. It was a hand painted wooden sign that said “waterfalls” with an arrow. We walked in the direction of the arrow a little more confident we were going the right way. As we walked the crops gave way to a lush forest. We walked through two wide, but shallow streams of flowing water, my mother a little nervous at getting her shoes wet. Suddenly we heard it; the sound of rushing water. Lots of it. It couldn’t be that easy, could it? A branch of the path veered into the woods and we followed it toward the sound. Voices could also be heard. Abruptly the path ended above a raging river with a short, wide, gushing waterfall. This was the first twin. Four other people were already here taking photos and talking. They told us that there was a big rainstorm on the mountain above the night before and it was all running down toward the ocean today. The runoff from the mountain made the water brown.

“Take a picture of me in front of it,” my mother said. She wanted proof that she had found a hidden waterfall. We then followed the other group back to the main trail, but they were going down and we were going up. Again we were alone and I wondered how many people were on the trail. As soon as I had that thought, a family of three came down upon us, laughing and soaking wet.

“You’re gonna love it,” said a young, shirtless and extremely blonde boy still laughing. “You’re gonna get wet!” he shouted. His laugh had an almost ominous tone. He left my mother a bit worried because she wasn’t prepared for a swim. I was, but I only expected to get damp.

We came to another sign, this one simply a smooth stone with a drawing of a waterfall and another arrow pointing the way. Here the path turned and became a little steeper and muddier. After a few more minutes of walking the trail opened up a bit and a drainage ditch stopped us. On our left a retaining wall held the drainage ditch water, which presumably ran down to the crops below. The ditch was so full that water was overflowing the wall and tumbling down the hill through the trees. My mom and I walked on top of the wall to a small clearing surrounded by water. Now what? We didn’t know which way to go. All we could see was a swamp with lots of trees and very muddy. So muddy you couldn’t see how deep it was. We sat down on some rocks and looked around. Through our silence, we could just barely hear it; another rush of water traveling through the air and hitting more water below. The sound was in front of us, but the trees were so thick we couldn’t see anything.

“Do we have to go through that?” my mother asked. I didn’t know, but I was going to find out. I had my swim suit on under my clothes so I took off my t-shirt and slowly waded into the water. I left my shoes on as I walked across the bumpy swamp bottom in case there were any sharp rocks to cut me or tree roots that could twist my ankles, but there weren’t. The water came up to my knees, then my waist and then my chest. I wished I had brought my waterproof camera as I held my regular one over my head. Just when I thought I was going to have to swim for it, the water level diminished. Several yards away, I climbed out of the water and over some muddy tree roots and I could just barely see it: The second twin.

“Is it there?” Mom yelled. Yes it was. This fall was much taller than the first and the water broke into many large droplets as it landed into the circular pool below. It wasn’t exactly the crystal blue pool you see in the movies. It was brown with runoff. The shining green branches from the trees above provided all the color as they hung low, almost touching the pool. I brushed away some branches as I walked closer and saw a honeymoon couple had already beaten me there and were frolicking in the pool. I hoped I wasn’t interrupting anything. I cleared my throat and when they saw me they asked me to take a picture of them standing under the fall. As I took the picture, they kissed and it made me miss my boyfriend back on the mainland. After the picture they left and I was alone with the waterfall. I took pictures of the fall from all angles until I ran out of film.

I didn’t want to keep my mother waiting much longer so I waded back and told her about the fall. She thought about wading through the swamp in her jeans to see for herself, but the idea of spending the rest of the car ride in wet clothes didn’t appeal much to her. We had to get going because we still had a few more hours to Hana in front of us. I put my dry t-shirt on over my wet swim suit. The rest of me was going to have to air dry in the rented convertible. Just then two couples walked along the retaining wall to where we stood.

“Is that the way to the fall?” one of the men asked us pointing toward the ditch full of water.
“Yes, it is.”
“I hope everyone can swim,” the other guy said only half joking.

My mother and I made our way back across the retaining wall as the two couples stripped down to their swimsuits ready to take the plunge. We turned around when we heard one of the women squealing like a child at the dentist. I was 5’4” and the water came up to my chest. This woman was even shorter than I and the water approached her neck. Her squeals soon turned into laughter as we continued on our way. We passed a few more people making their way to Twin Falls and now I know what that blonde boy felt when he was laughing his way past us.

Mom was still a little mad at herself for not taking the plunge and seeing the second fall, but the twisting Hana Highway would prove to be surrounded by waterfalls, most of which we didn’t have to hike to. As for myself, I thought the trail was quite an adventure, hiking across swift rivers and wading in deep water just to see something very few people get to see. Maui had lots waterfalls for us to look at, but this one I enjoyed the most because I had to work for it. The chase was far more rewarding than the capture.
For more information: The Westin Maui

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This Week: Sydney, Australia

I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever

I had arrived in Sydney the previous morning, but was so jet lagged, I didn’t really enjoy it. I spent the most of day sleeping at Manly Beach. The few hours I was awake, I had a horrible headache and everything looked blurry. Unable to stay awake any more, I fell asleep at my hotel before dinner and slept straight through until the following morning.

Feeling much better, I spent the cool autumn morning putting lots of money into the Australia economy at The Rocks Farmers’ Market. Although it’s called a “farmer’s market,” the main produce on display was crafts and souvenirs for tourists and collectors. The market was only three city blocks, but it was full of vendors with all sorts of crafts ranging from the expected, like hand-painted Aboriginal boomerangs, to the artfully useful, such the hand-sewn photo album and scrapbook I purchased. Also present were hand-carved wooden picture frames and many, many works of art, from water colors to charcoal sketches. There were some food vendors, selling hand made jams, sauces and candies, but since you couldn’t take any food product out of the country, I couldn’t buy any to take back with me.

After spending most of my cash, I strolled around Sydney Harbor on the bridge side. I was at the traffic circle I’d seen on web cam, the one surrounded by flag poles with no flags. The brick steps curve around the harbor toward a series of four restaurants before changing to a wooden boardwalk in front the Park Hyatt Hotel. The Hyatt was curved to fit in to its unique spot on the harbor. It didn’t look all that large a hotel; it looked more like expensive condos, which is what I thought they were when I first saw them on the web cam. The green space at the tip of the hotel’s peninsula was a public park and several people, in couples or small families, lay about soaking up sunshine and salt air. The park was surrounded by a stately wrought iron fence that had far more detailing and care put it than it should have, but these details make Sydney Harbor so special.

As I walked back down the Hyatt’s boardwalk, a woman in a black pantsuit and jet black hair leaned on her hotel balcony smoking a cigarette. I had heard that the Park Hyatt was the most expensive hotel in Sydney, if not all of Australia. I wondered, why was she there? Was it an anniversary, birthday? Secret affair? Or just business?

As I walked back around to the traffic circle women with baby strollers and couples holding hands began to take up spots along the brick steps. The restaurants that lined the old building were now open and seating guests. Families were taking photos of their kids running around the plaza. Although the fall air was cool, the sun kept me warm. The locals wore long sleeve tops and jackets while I was in my short sleeve t-shirt, my jacket tied around my waist.

What attracted me to Doyle’s Café was the crisp white umbrellas that shaded the bright blue tablecloths that covered the patio tables. I had walked all around the old warehouse that had been converted into modern dining establishments and none of them had the appeal or the envious location on the end of the quay, like Doyle’s. While waiting for the hostess I read the menu posted on the wall. This was not going to be cheap, but how often do I get to eat lunch in Sydney Harbor? The hostess asked if I wanted to sit outside to which I replied, “Please.”

I was seated in the middle of the patio, not under an umbrella, which was OK. After two straight meals of fish and chips, I wanted to eat something that was not breaded and fried so I browsed the menu carefully and there were many expensive dishes, almost all them seafood. That’s when a disturbing thought hit me. I had not brought my VISA card and didn’t know if the café took American Express. I had spent almost all of my cash at the Farmers’ Market only having about $26 AUD left. I was just about to panic when something on the menu caught my eye, Pasta and Prawns for $23. It even came with garlic bread.

My waitress was a young, friendly Asian woman with shiny dark hair. She told me they had iced tea when I asked, something I had trouble finding at other Sydney restaurants. After ordering I looked around and looming in front of me was the Sydney Opera House. That’s when it hit me…I was in Australia!!!!!!! It took me twenty years to get here and I wanted to jump up on top of the table and scream at the top of my lungs. I had to grab the edges of my chair to keep from doing so. I smiled and decided I had to share this moment with someone so I pulled out my phone and began texting everyone I knew. The time on my cell phone, stuck in the Pacific Time Zone, reminded me it was 2 a.m. in the states. I didn’t care and sent a message anyway. It said, “Having lunch across from the opera house. Miss you.” Figuring everyone would be asleep, I didn’t expect any replies, however, I did receive a reply from my brother, Chad, in Oklahoma. It said he was cleaning up after a party and he’d get back to me later. Hmmm.

I managed to calm down enough to take in the view around me. The opera house just towered over everything. Also in front of me was a harbor walk that ended in a corner that overlooked the entire harbor, prime spot for photo opportunities and many, many people took advantage of it. Checking my surroundings, at the table on my left sat a man, a woman and a younger woman (daughter perhaps?). A wine bucket with a half empty bottle was between the women. Further away on my right one woman with perfectly coifed gray hair sat at a table set for six. She appeared to be giving instructions I couldn’t hear to the waiter, pointing her fingers around the table as she sat down. Next to them, a table with two Asian girls was receiving their meal. One of the girls had a huge plate of seafood set in front of her, enough to feed a half dozen people. It was beautifully arranged with strange fire engine red shellfish. Stacked vertically, as if standing up, were what looked like a giant prawns complete with heads and antennae, on top of some leafy green things. Mussels were circled around the red and green shrine. Instead of eating it, they took photos. Then they giggled as she began to pick at the dish, not sure where to start. On my far left at the edge of the patio a young couple sipped from tea cups and talked leaning in close to each other.

Just as I was beginning to wonder where my own lunch was, my waitress returned with a large white bowl filled with pasta and the largest prawns I had ever seen. I was so hungry and lunch was sooooo gooooood, I had to force myself to eat slowly. The dish was simple, six gigantic prawns grilled in garlic butter. Underneath was pasta, (a type somewhere between spaghetti and angel hair, not too thick, but not skinny either) with sprinkles of herbs and drizzled in more garlic butter. I did my best to savor the melting, velvety, buttery, garlicky, wish-it-were-bottomless dish. I was trying to remember the lyrics to a Jimmy Buffet song, I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever. Although the song was actually about Paris, I felt some of it applied here. The lone woman at the table of six was joined by five more people, one of whom was a gentleman with a booming British accent and he held up a guidebook of Sydney to show everyone at the table. When I had finished the pasta and prawns, I didn’t want to leave just yet, so I requested another glass of iced tea, even though it was starting to get chilly with the sun disappearing behind some clouds. Lingering as long as I could, I drank every last drop of tea. Although it seemed only minutes had past, it was a little before two o’clock in the afternoon. I had managed to while away two whole hours.

As I requested my check, I asked the waitress if Doyle’s took American Express. Of course, they didn’t. I had no choice, but to use what was left of my cash. I lingered a few more seconds putting on my jacket and slowly made my way to the patio exit, which looked across the harbor to the opera house. I had finally made it to Sydney.

I wish lunch could last forever
Make the whole day one big afternoon
We’ll begin with dessert, a little coconut tart
Tastes as sweet as a piece of your heart --J. Buffett

Update – Before putting this article on the internet, I wanted to see if anything had changed in the three years since I’ve been there (as any good journalist would do). After some internet research, I discovered the restaurant was now called Peter Doyle @ the Quay and, wouldn’t you know, they took American Express. I checked the menu on the website and the closest dish I can find to what I had was simply called “Pasta” under Main Courses. It listed red capsicum linguini with prawns, garlic, chilli and cream for $29.50 (AUD).

In other information, website doesn’t seem to work anymore. The web cam was awesome!!! Real time views of Sydney Harbor with a camera you could control for two minutes at a time. I used to pull it up as soon as I got to work to see the night time skyline and watch tomorrow’s sun rise over the harbor later in the day. The web cam went down shortly after I returned to the states (back in June 2006) and then the website itself disappeared some time after that. The link still appears on Yahoo web searches, but the browser can’t display anything. For more information on The Rocks Farmer’s Market, try this link:

Monday, September 7, 2009

This Week: Remembering Snickers, My South Dakota Cat

My cat, Snickers, was put to sleep today. He had been sick for over a month. His illness was liver cancer. His liver just couldn’t metabolize food anymore and his body began metabolizing his own fat and muscles, only weighing 4.5 lbs. at the end. His weight was what convinced me it was time to let him go. He had been on a series of drugs to fight the tumor and supplements to help his liver, but they weren’t enough. Dehydration was a worse enemy. Although he drank water constantly, his body just couldn’t absorb it well enough to keep him going. Dehydration made him weak, unable to stand. Every other week, we gave him subcutaneous fluid shots and they would help for a few days. We knew the condition was terminal, but we also thought we’d get three more months with the drugs and care. Sadly, it was not to be.

I first saw Snickers in Hot Springs, South Dakota, in June of 1993. My first husband and I were visiting his brother. Snickers was on the roof of a porch across the street from my then brother-in-law’s fiancé’s house. There were actually three cats on that roof, all exactly alike. It was the ex-brother-in-law who first suggested we take one home. At dinner the next night, the fiancé said she talked to her neighbor and the cats were available for adoption. However, it wasn’t until the morning we left that I asked if we could bring one home. On the way out of town, we stopped at the house and knocked on the door. A sixteen-year-old boy answered. Apparently the fiancé had mentioned to the neighbor that we were interested so the boy wasn’t surprised to see us. I don’t remember the kid’s name, but my ex-husband, a high school basketball coach, asked him his age and if he played ball. The kid took us to the detached half barn/half garage behind the house. That’s where the momma cat was set up in a large cardboard box with blankets and where the kittens were born. Momma looked nothing like her babies; she was gray with long hair. The kittens, all orange short-haired tabbies, hovered around their mother and our feet while we stood there. The boy told us the kittens were six months old and that there were six all together, but three others had already been given away. The three remaining cats were perfect copies of each other, all male and they checked us out while we checked them out. I picked one up and asked his name. The kid told us they called him “Peeve.” Then he said that this one was the runt of the litter. Although I didn’t think he looked like a runt, the kid’s comment solidified my decision to take him. We thanked the kid and then got back in the car with the cat on my lap. The cat seemed OK with this whole situation. We then stopped at a grocery store to get some cat food, a box of cat litter and a cardboard box to put him in. We also got a couple of Snickers bars to snack on during the eight hour trip back to Omaha and that was when I said we should name him Snickers. With his new name decided, we drove home while the kitten slept in a box in the back seat.

Snickers was a skinny kitten, but he didn’t stay that way. I actually had a vet tell me Snickers wasn’t fat, he was just “big boned.” Snicky was tall with very long legs, but he also weighed 15 lbs at his heaviest, five pounds too much really. He would be on a diet for the next few years, but never seemed to shed those extra pounds while living in Nebraska.

When I divorced, Snickers came with me. The place I was living in at the time didn’t allow pets so I had to move to keep him. It took quite a dent in my meager salary to do so. The strange thing about divorce is people you have known for years, people you call friends, suddenly stop calling you. It was during this time that I sat on the floor of my apartment, since I didn’t have a couch, and Snicky would curl up in my lap. I was too poor for cable so we would watch network shows on Saturday night (Remember the Pretender and the Profiler? That was a typical Saturday night for us.). Of course, with time, things eventually got better. I got a couch; it was a nice one too, with room for both Snicky and I to take naps together. Even after I found a new set of friends to hang out with on weekends, Snicky was still a huge part of my life. He slept at my feet every night, his purr letting me know things were good and he told me when it was time to get up and feed him in the morning by biting my toes through the blankets.

In 1998, I uprooted Snicky for the second time in his life to move to Denver, Colorado. He meowed all the way to North Platte before settling down. Once we got here, he loved it. I have moved six times since arriving (three before and three after getting remarried) and Snicky took each one in stride. Well, that may not have been completely true since there was a bit of spitefulness when I moved in with my husband and introduced Snicky to his big black Lab, Jasmine. Jasmine, to her credit, figured out fairly quick to leave Snicky alone because Snicky made it clear he was the boss, even if Jasmine was bigger. He ate Jasmine’s food and slept in her giant bed, but Jasmine respected her elders and let Snicky do what he wanted.

Snicky had the best purr. I never realized how loud it was until we found our second cat, Morgan. While Morgan’s purr was so tiny, you could barely hear it, Snicky’s purr was the rumble of a diesel engine. It kept my husband awake at night. To me it was the sweetest sound because it told me that all was right with the world. As his illness progressed, Snicky’s purr grew less and less until he stopped altogether.

Snickers was also a cat of many nick-names: Snicky, which I’ve used here, Snickerdoodle, Snickercat, Booger, Snicky-snoo, and since I thought he looked a lot like Supermascot Rocky (NBA, Denver Nuggets), I called him Rocky or Little Puma.

Snicky’s last vet appointment was Saturday, September 5, at 10:30 a.m. He spent his last night lying in the crook of my arm. Around 9 a.m. that morning, I wrapped him in a towel and took him outside on our back deck to sit in the sun. They say that owners and their pets have a lot in common and that was true of Snicky and I. We both liked to sun bathe. We had two sunroof windows in our family room and Snicky would curl up on the floor below them. As the sun moved across the sky, Snicky would move across the room to stay in that rectangle of light. On this morning, both of us basked the sunlight of a beautiful fall day in Colorado. We watched birds and insects buzz past and the occasional dog walker on the trail below. It was most precious hour of my life.

I was only two years out of college when I got Snicky. My entire adult life has revolved around him and now there is this huge void. I just hope that in the time we spent together, he understood how much he meant to me. I know Snicky lived a long life and that he was well cared for. I know that Jasmine and Morgan are here and still need my love and attention, but that doesn’t make it hurt less. Don’t doubt for a second that Snicky couldn’t be ornery, running out the back door when I was already late for work, jumping on the kitchen counter, knocking over glasses of milk, and peeing in my husband’s suitcase. At the end of the day, Snicky would sit in our laps and purr while we watched TV and sometimes when he slept he would put his paw over his head to hide his face. I will miss my Little Puma.

I would like to take this time to ask anyone reading this that you take a second or two to think about the animals in your life and to give a gift in your pet’s name or Snickers’ name to your local animal shelter to help those creatures that need it the most, or to make an even bigger commitment and bring one of those little creatures home to share your life. You will not regret it. For those of you in the Denver area, I ask that you support the Table Mountain Animal Center with your money, your time or your home because they are overwhelmed right now with dogs and cats that need help. Thank you.

Table Mountain Animal Center