Hawaii May 2021, Day 1: the flight over and arrival in Hawaii!

Normally I would just start a blog post with my arrival in a place, but the flight to Hawaii was an experience in and of itself, so I’ll talk a little bit about it. Skies were clear flying west out of Texas, giving spectacular views of the mountains of West Texas, southern New Mexico, and eastern Arizona. I had camped in the Guadalupe Mountains years before, and it was interesting to see them again from the air.

El Capitan, the “signature peak” of West Texas, and Guadalupe Peak, the highest in Texas. Looks like a forest fire over on the right there.
The Rio Grande and Las Cruces, NM, with the Organ Mountains and White Sands National Park in the background

I had a 3.5-hour layover in Phoenix, and I have an aunt and uncle there I hadn’t seen since pre-COVID, so I was delighted to be able to meet them for lunch while I was there.

Back in the Phoenix airport, it felt surreal to be waiting at a gate that said “Kona, HI.” This was really happening, I was really going!

After taking off, we headed west over California and I saw the Salton Sea for the first time. It’s below sea level and was created by accident; read up about it, it’s a strange story.

As we crossed the coastline at San Diego, a strange feeling came over me. I had never been beyond the Pacific Coast of North America, but off we went, into the unknown!

Hours later, I caught my first glimpses of Hawaii!

You can’t really see much, but this is the Hamakua coast northwest of Hilo. You can kind of make out Mauna Kea sticking up and a little bit of the flank of Mauna Loa in the background.

Some of the dry, desert-like North Kona Coast
Coming around to land with Healakala on Maui visible in the background at far left

At long last, we landed, and I stepped out and tasted the salty, humid Hawaiian air for the first time. I was in a new world! Kona International Airport is possibly the strangest airport I’ve ever been in, in that there is no main “building” – it’s all just open-air kiosk-type areas. But that’s great for COVID purposes, and getting through the COVID vaccine-and-test screening was easy and efficient, so that’s fine! I had heard horror stories of rental car shortages, exorbitant prices, and long lines, but I had found one in advance for a reasonable price and did not experience anything unusual at the car agency. Less than an hour after touching down I was pulling out of the airport and driving down Hawaii Belt Road to my AirBnb in Kailua-Kona.

Being the foodie I am, of course I had a list of local Hawaiian dishes I wanted to try while I was there. I swung by Pine Tree Cafe (very close to the airport) and picked up some loco moco, a heavy, salty combination of hamburger patties, fried egg, rice, and brown gravy. It might not sound appetizing, but it’s amazing 😛

I cannot emphasize enough how novel everything was. You might think it’s ridiculous for me to say “I was in a new world,” when technically I hadn’t even left the country. But everything – every tree, every flowering bush, every bird, the smell and feel of the air, the black volcanic rocks everywhere, the huge volcanos looming above me, the soft golden haze of the light – was new to me. Heck, instead of squirrels running across the road, they have mongooses! I literally felt like I had been transported to a different planet – but bizarrely, one where everyone speaks English and they still have Office Depot and Starbucks (not that I went, pff).


After gorging myself on loco moco and making the unpleasant realization that my AirBnb didn’t have air conditioning, I strolled about 10 minutes down to the beachfront for a drink overlooking the water. I tried to imagine what I would have said if, on February 25, someone had told me, “Three months from tonight, you’ll be sitting on a beach in Hawaii.” I was so thankful to be there and couldn’t wait to begin my adventures the next day!

Tomorrow: cocoa orchards and coffee plantations!


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