September 2004


I touched a sea slug yesterday. Yuck! Most sea creatures are hard – like rocks. Not this guy.

9/28/2004

Maui – Day 6

We had this day off and we kind of found ourselves wondering what to do. I'm not much of a swimmer but I decided I'd try snorkeling anyway. The guy down at the pool rental shack told me that although the cruises out to various places are fun, you can do just as much snorkeling just along the shore here at the hotel so I borrowed some snorkeling gear from the hotel's pool shack, grabbed some fish food, and headed down to the beach. There was already a number of people down there doing the same thing. You can tell who are the hotel guests because all our towels look exactly alike. It took a bit of getting used to for me. I had a little difficulty since I have hair on my face which prevents the mask from getting a perfect seal and some water leaked in but nothing that kept me from going forward. It was a little scary at first but after paddling around for awhile in the shallow water and seeing nothing but sand, I headed out towards the rocks where the pool guy told me I'd find fish and stuff.

He was right. As you get closer to rocks and stuff, you discover that's where the fish hang out although I did see a flounder flapping around in the sand underneath me. I heard a kid yelling at his dad that he had seen a ray of some sort but I didn't see it. As I got up near the rocks, I began to see fish all over the place; fish of all sorts. I hadn't really expected to see this sort of show but this was like being at the aquarium at the doctor's office except you were in the water with them and they were all hovering around you wondering if you had food. They were not dissappointed. I opend the little plastic tube which was full of little teeny pellets of some kind. As I squeezed the tube (kind of like squeezing a toothpaste tube), more fish came out of nowhere and began to swarn all around the slowly sinking cloud of fishfood pellets. There were the usual yellow, disk-shaped fish but there were also these long, thin silver fish with long thin snouts. They looked like the gar fish that we used to have in Arkansas but these were only about a foot long and seemed not to have any teeth. They certainly darted around and snared the fish food. I reached out and touched a few of them – the other fish would have none of that.

There were also corals attached to the rocks which feel just like rocks themselves. I also saw lots of those spiky things whose names I forgot. Some sort of sea urchins I think.

All in all, it was pretty interesting. I tired out pretty quickly though – it's tough work paddling with those big flippers and I was always on the lookout for other swimmers. I tried to avoid collisions since I didn't want my or anyone else's mask to get knocked off.

I called Andy when I got back and offered the gear to him but he wasn't too inclined to try it. Too bad – he should have.

I decided to read the paper in the late morning so I headed down the the shore where the hotel has lots of beach chairs and found myself a nice spot in the shade of a palm tree and read the comics. Yes, I read the front page too but, true to form, I just skimmed the rest. You could have guessed, eh?

Andy is keen to find himself a pineapple plantation so I imagine we'll head out this afternoon in search of one. I was going to play golf but it's so darned hot in the afternoons that I'm not sure I'm up to it. Plus, golf is golf after all and the only advantage I can think of is the chance to say: “OOh! Golfing on Maui!”. So I just left off that idea when Andy expressed an interest in going to the aquarium. We've always done what I wanted to do so that's only fair. Their aquarium is only aquarium – I kept thinking “saw it live this morning” or “I saw this in Monterey” but it was cool inside.

After that, it was getting a bit late but we headed up towards another state park on one of the mountains. On the way was the Tedeschi winery which was free so we stopped to check it out. Yes, they sold wine made from pinapples. They had the normal kind too but pineapple was their gimicky wine that got people to pull over and top at their little shop. I had a small taste and it was pretty good. If you like wine, that is. Then we went on towards the park but it turned out to be at the top of another windy, steep, one-lane road so I just said 'forget it' and we went on back to the hotel. It was dark by the time we got there anyway so we made the right decision. On the way down the hill though, we stumbled across – cue the music please! – a pinapple farm! I would have been tempted to hop the fence and take one but there was a crew cultivating nearby and I didn't want to be quite that obvious. Cool fact about pineapple plants – they smell like pinapples. The whole field smells good like that. I was in such a hurry to get a photo (not sure why – sometimes I just get like that) that I think I photographed a row of plants that had already been harvested. They look like yucca plants except that instead of having a central stalk where the blooms are, there are several stalks with pineapples on the ends. I heard “one plant, one fruit” but it looked to me like some plants had more than one.

Upon returning to my room, I discovered to my surprise that they had set the little table with linen and silverware and left me a complimentary fruit plate. Woo Hoo! Dinner! It had been a long time since lunch so that was a welcome relief.

Funny thing about meals: I've been drinking so much water that when I finally ordered a diet coke, it burned my mouth and throat unexpectedly. Hmmm…. I hope I haven't lost my ability to have good old Oklahoma barbecue.

Well, tomorrow is mission day; we have to go in at about 4:00am locally to be there when the aircraft takes off and we'll be there all day and then some so I may not have anything to report. Furthermore, the next day is when we leave and I won't have a chance to email you so I guess this may be the last note you get from me. At this point, I'm really ready to come home and I've still got two days yet. I'll see you all when I get back.

Love,

Dad

9/27/2004

Maui – Day 5

Big day today: I took a helicopter ride around the island and got the scariest, white-knuckled, e-ticket ride of my life. But that doesn't refer to the helicopter ride though. I'll get to that later.

Since we had today off, we got up early (big surprise) and looked into a helicopter ride. These are pretty expensive but I wanted to do it. I've never been in a helicopter before and this scenery can be pretty spectacular from the right vantage point. So I went. We opted for the one hour ride around the bigger, eastern half of the island which includes the Haleakala crater (that we had driven up yesterday), and around the back side of the island where not too many people make it around. It was a cool little business with a tiny office/waiting area showing videos on the walls. These videos were taken during the previous flights so you could see what you were getting into. Our helicopter seated six and we kind of had to cram in but that's typical with any aircraft. They're so expensive to operate that you cram as many paying customers in as the law allows. They had little cameras mounted inside the cabin, under the nose, and several other places to record the wholel thing and we get to keep this video as part of our ride. I opted to pay another $10 and get the DVD and have them ship it to me later on this week. That's one more thing I don't have to worry about packing and not crushing.

The flight itself was exceedingly fun. As I mentioned earlier, I have never been on a helicopter before and it's pretty cool how they can move in any direction they want. I'm pretty sure that none of my photos are going to look all that great since I could barely move and there were reflections on the windows but they're better than nothing. He showed us beaches with white sand, brown sand, black sand, and red sand. He showed us lava-flow tubes where water from the rainforest finds its way down to the sea. We saw unbelievably steep ridges covered in rainforest. We saw steep cliffs. We saw the place where they filmed the helicopter scenes from Jurassic Park. Then he showed us the estates of the celebreties like Carol Burnett and the late George Harrison. He pointed out “Gomer Pyle's” macadamia plantation. It was all over too quickly.

Since it was not even 10:30 am yet, we drove over to the other side of the island – “West Maui”. There is a huge slot canyon going through that mountain and I wanted to see how far we could get into it. Lo and behold, the is the Iao state park (or something like that – I can't remember the name exactly). We stopped and wandered around in the rainforest there for awhile and then decided to drive around the north side of the island towards Kapalua. This is where it got interesting.

Neither half of the island has a good road that goes all the away around it for some reason. In the case of west Maui, the road becomes one lane for a rather long stretch. As we drove along, it kept getting narrower and narrower until it was indeed only one lane wide. It is not one-way either so you occasionally encounter cars coming the other direction. At times one or the other of us had to just back up until we came to a place where we could pass each other. Then there is the matter of the cliffs that are along one side of the road. At times, these cliffs are really high and there are no guardrails on the road and no shoulder on the road either. It was extremely nerve racking for me and by the time we were halfway along it, I was praying for it to end. But that's the point of no return. We kept going and very much later, we came to a two lane section again. I may have nightmares about that stretch of road for awhile. Finally we drove into Kapalua and I was about two hours past my lunchtime so we stopped at the first place we came to and I had, of all things, chili. It was more like sloppy joe stuff but at that point, anything was good.

Kapalua is, for the most part, a golfing town. Everything there seems to center around golf so it didn't take us long to decide to just drive on through. Golf there starts at $179.

We drove on down into LaHaina which we had been to the last time we were hear but this time, it was daytime and we could see things. We parked the car along the seawall and walked around for quite awhile. There was a cruise ship just offshore and a number of other cool looking boats coming and going. I got extremely hot while there for some reason and so stopped for a shaved ice which helped immensely.

There was something called an “international market” just off the highway in LaHaina which turned out to be a flea market with lots of junk for sale underneath tents. That was pretty interesting since it showed more local stuff – lots of jewelry, sea shells, and whatnot. There was one guy selling Kona coffee and he was just like those guys selling Ginsu knives at the home shows and state fairs. He just kept on talking and talking about how much better his coffee was than anything else you'll find anywhere and how the free stuff in your hotel is 10% Kona and 90% Folgers and 'here smell this and just savor that aroma', and on and on. He was quite entertaining – those guys usually are and I enjoyed his sales pitch. His coffee was indeed cheaper than anything else I'd seen so when I judged he'd worked hard enough to earn $10 dollars, I put my hand in my pocket and he took that as the signal. The transaction was soon completed and he focused on the next passing customer. The coffee does indeed smell good and whether it is indeed hand picked from a plantation on the big island or some trashy blend, I'll just enjoy it anyway. We'll invite the PJs over and brew it up and talk.

Following that, we just drove back to the hotel.

The highway from LaHaina to Kihea and Wailea goes right along the ocean and I do mean right along. For a large part of the way, you are no more than a few feet from it. The car is covered in salt spray at this point from the waves breaking against the rocks and spraying us. It does go up and down a bit so there is a nice observation point about halfway along.

When I got back, I was just so hot and sweaty that I immediately thought of the pool. But I realized that you guys were probably still up or just getting ready for bed so that's when I called you to talk. But immediately after that, I stipped off my sweaty clothes and headed straight for the pool. When you're hot and can't get cooled off, nothing beats jumping into the pool.

When I got out, I realized that if I wanted to play golf, I would need balls. There is a golf course nearby so I went for a walk along the cart paths but I only found one stray ball so that's not enough for me to play on. Perhaps we'll try snorkeling tomorrow instead.

9/26/2004

Maui – Day 4

Greetings,

It seems the hotel comes into your room in the late afternoon or early evening and turns down your bed for you. I'm seldom in the room at this time so this came as a surprise to me. They leave three little chocolate coins on the pillow. Pretty fancy, eh? I haven't eaten any of them so I'll just bring them home.

Erin can now rest easy – I found a little hula girl doll. They had a shelf of them in a store with a sign that said “Dashboard Hula Girls”. I've been looking for a sticker for Evan's guitar case that says 'Maui' or some-such but haven't found one yet. I found some banks that were carved out of a coconut to look like a monkey but they were huge. Those might make a nice souviner if they weren't so big. Things are pretty tight in the old suitcase.

Today, we weren't sure when the mission dress rehearsal was until about midday. Then we found out that our portion of it required us to go in at around 3:00pm so we couldn't actually do much that was fun. Since it's Sunday, I just layed around and took it easy. I went down to the beach where there are some big rocks out into the water. I climbed out on these to investigate the little pools of water that collect there. I recall from my old days in elementary school how you can find all sorts of sea creatures in these things and now, finally, I could see them for myself. Sure enough, there were all sorts of things there and all of them run like crazy at the sight of a human. Even the little fish jump right out of the little puddles and over to the next until they make it back to the ocean. The crabs just ran off. If I sat still for long enough, they would come back though. Some things like sea urchins were there but they are like rocks; hard and rough and even with a stick, I couldn't pry one off the rock. It was pretty interesting. Those rocks were so porous that when a wave hit them on the seaward side, you could hear air hissing from various places on the landward side where I was standing. Many of the puddles filled with bubbles as air was forced through the rocks and came out in a puddle.

But it was really, really hot down there. I came back to the room drenched with sweat. I've finally figured out that you just wear your swimsuit around all the time here and after I started doing that, I stay a lot cooler. I just jump into the pool and climb out and I stay cool for quite awhile. I also lazed around the pool for awhile just floating around. The hotel is really big so there's a lot of walking around you can do to explore things. There are many gardens and I sat in a rocking chair at the edge of one of these to eat my snacks for lunch. I think the trees are called banyans but they are really weird looking with occasional trunks coming out of the branches and going straight down from there. In other words, the trees have more than one trunk. Very strange.

At certain times of day, the breeze seems to blow more than others. In the mid-morning, there is no breeze at all but at certain other times of day, there is a nice breeze. Around five o'clock, it gets downright windy. So, with a little planning, I can manage to stay cool.

Our test went uneventfully but it took quite awhile and it was dark when we got out. We went and found a sit-down restaurant to have some dinner. I had the nachos but even though I ordered the ones without fish on them, they had a distincly fishy aspect to them. They were supposed to have bits of chicken on them but I wonder if that got switched. That's just nachos in Hawaii I guess. I think when I get back home, I'm gonna have to have barbecue or chili. I have a craving that is probably due to my eating so much fruit and other healthy things. I need real mexican food or something.

Tomorrow we're going to get up early (actually, both of us are still just waking up really early without an alarm) and check into taking a helicopter ride. They advertise this thing that has a chopper ride, a horseback ride, and dinner.

We have the next two days off so I won't have access to the internet from the MHPCC – therefore you'll be getting this and two more reports all at once. Just pretend your following along with me.

Love,

Dad

Maui – Day 3

9/25/2004

I got up this morning really early and took a walk along the beach. It's kinda weird – the sand on the beach is really fluffy and your feet sink into it just like you were walking in the snow. At some places, I sunk into it up to my ankles. Some people were out early to fish with those long poles. I found some bits of coral washed up on the beach.

Then we headed into work. That didn't take too long and we decided to try again to drive up to the summit of Haleakala. We made it this time but it took a lot longer than I thought it would. The sign said 38 miles but that's 38 miles plus 10,000 vertical feet and I guess that just takes awhile. It's kind of like the Grand Canyon – you can take all the photos you want but you can't really convey the sense of scale that you feel when you're at the top looking down. As the wind blows over the mountain, it goes up the northern slope and as it goes over the top, clouds form so that you're always seeing these mists blowing just overhead or just along the ground. They come and go and it's pretty cool to watch. So, it's alternatively foggy and sunny up there all the time. It's pretty cold up there but it felt good to me. We got in behind a semi truck hauling drinking water up to the observatory so it was slow going. We had stopped at Safeway and gotten some sandwiches from the deli and so we ate up there at the summit. The sun is extremely intense up there – I suspect you could get sunburned really quickly up there. Especially if you're in shorts and a T-shirt as I was. There are also these cool-looking plants up there called Silverswords. They look like a miniature yucca except that they're silver colored. If you let the light catch it just right, they look like chrome-plated plants. That's about all that grows at the summit and even they are endangered.

We drove back down and I felt really tired but we kept going, past Wailea (where our hotel is) and kept doing around the southern end of the island to see what we could see. We seem to have found some primo real estate where the better class of locals live. There are also lots of public access places down there so we encountered a lot of locals fishing and snorkeling. Not at the same beaches by the way. It seems a bad idea to be throwing hooks into the water while others are swimming in it. We stopped at a state park called “Big Beach” and it was aptly named. I walked around for awhile but I was pretty tired so I drove us back to the hotel to just lay around for awhile. I was told by Jay that there is a “Little Beach” nearby that is “clothing optional” but I didn't see any sign nor did I even see any access to any other beach nearby. Of course, I didn't look too hard.

I felt pretty hot and dusty for some reason so I took a short nap and then got up and took another walk along the beach. They have chairs all along the waterfront for you to sit and watch the sun go down. That was pretty cool. I swam in one of the pools and then came back to the room to snack on some stuff and watch The Matrix on TNT. I don't know where Andy was after we got back – we made no plans to meet up for dinner or anything else so I'm not sure when we're supposed to go back into the office tomorrow. I guess he was tired too.

It doesn't sound too interesting but it was pretty adventurous going up to the top of the volcano. You remember how it was driving up to the top of Mt. Hamilton out in California – twisty, turny, narrow roads that if you drove off the edge, you'd fall off the face of the earth. Same thing.

It just occurred to me that Jay put Kim Possible into my briefcase before I left but I've forgotten to take any photos of her. I'll have to do that. Now, we have some decisions to make: while we're not working, what do we do? My choices are to go snorkeling, take a helicopter ride, and play golf. Each of these could run into money but I've been eating on the cheap since I got here and so the per diem should cover most of my spending. We haven't yet eaten at a real sit-down restaurant, the mountaintop was a National Park and didn't cost much, and I've only filled the gas tank once so I think things will pretty much even out.

Our little Pontiac GrandAm is a nice enough car but it's certainly non-decript looking. I have to push the “lock” button on the key fob to make the horn beep just so I can find it in a parking lot. I think that if you wanted to go undercover and hide, you'd want to do it in a grey GrandAm.

My favorite sign so far: a bumper sticker that said: “Slow down – this ain't the mainland!”

More tomorrow.

Love,
Dad

Maui – Day 2

Hey guys!

Well, it's happened. I figured it would – I woke up at 6:00am – Tulsa time that is. That's 1:00am locally. But, I figured I would treat it like a Saturday and so I was able to lay around until about 3:00 but finally got up and watched TV. I should not be surprised to find that CNN and whatnot are still on east coast time so it was TV as usual. It's 4:30am now and I finally gave up and made coffee. Now I'm eating my breakfast of bananas and a croissant and watching Fairly Odd Parents on Nick – just to share some common ground with you since I figure that's what Evan and Erin are doing right now.

The beds, like beds in every hotel in America, have a sheet, a blanket, another sheet, and a comforter. Did nobody stop to think that this is Hawaii and that nobody on this island should have to ever even LOOK at a blanket? I stripped off all that cover and finally felt cool enough. Erin would love it here since nothing much is air conditioned except the rooms. There is a TV channel in the hotel that just advertises fun stuff to do around here – lots of snorkeling expeditions and diving classes.

I came to the unfortunate realization last night that I had left my reading glasses at home. I have the case; just no glasses so I bought a pair just like them at the Safeway.

There's a banana tree just outside with little green 'nanners on it which is cool.

Today, we have to go to the MHPCC, meet with some people from MIT Lincoln Labs, and put all our equipment together. There may be a flight test that we have to support but I'm not sure.

…… later on……

OK, we just got back in. We went to the computer center this morning to get set up. They called us from the airplane which was making a test flight out of Kwaj and so got to get some real-world stuff to test with. But the people from MIT that we're working with want to have another test tomorrow morning so we'll be there again. As frequently happens, somebody had made a change to the network configuration without telling anybody so we had to figure that out. By the time we did, the plane was landing.

We got out of there around noon and tried to drive up to the top of the Haleakala crater but didn't have time. We almost made it though. We had stopped at the concierge and bought tickets to tonight's luau and had to get back in time to get a good seat. Andy and I were about the only ones there who weren't newlyweds or extended families and so I felt a bit out of place – wishing you guys were here. It was just about as I had imagined it would be: lots of food, hula dancing, and a guy twirling burning sticks. I'm trivializing it though; it was a three-hour party. They had roasted a pig in a big hole in the ground and I watched them haul it out and get ready to carve it up. It didn't look very appetizing but after it was on my plate it looked tasty enough.

I finally had some poi and I can definitively state that it tastes (and looks) like wallpaper paste. How do I know what wallpaper paste tastes like you may well ask? Well, I spattered some on my face once and some got into my mouth. I also remember from first grade when we had that crummy paste that came in the little plastic jar that the stupid kids would eat. I tasted some of that too way back when and it tasted the same. Poi – paste – it's the same thing. Except poi is kind of purple. I can imagine the Hawaiians years ago saying to each other: “Hey, let's see if we can get those white guys to eat this wallpaper paste!” Then they all had a big laugh. I guess they're still laughing.

I also had a Hawaiian sweet potato which was really good but which was also bright purple. I hesitate to eat anything as brightly colored as that but I did anyway and it was pretty good. They also had a huge pile of dessert – about ten different types; mostly cakes and brownies but they had fruit also. That reminds me – I bought a mango for breakfast and I don't have a knife to cut it with. I'm not too sure what to do about that except go buy a knife. The breakfast buffet here at the hotel is over $20 so I'm glad I went to the store and bought my own goodies. After that luau tonight, I don't really need to eat for quite awhile. It was kind of like Thanksgiving back home.

That's all for today, I'll write more tomorrow. Time will tell if I will be able to email you though – I have to quickly do it from the MHPCC when I'm there using somebody else's connection. They're pretty nice about it though.

Love,

Dad

Greetings from Maui – Day 1

Dear Mel, Evan, and Erin,

Hey guys! We made it (obviously).

It's 7:15pm now but my body thinks it's midnight so I'm turning in pretty soon but I'll write this note first.

The flight from Tulsa to DFW was uneventful as it always is. The flight from there to Maui was 8 hours long but they showed “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkahban” so that was nice. I also brought a book and very nearly finished it – you can do that when you can just sit and read for eight hours at a time. Erin can relate.

I don't know what happened up in first class, but several of the flight attendants looked up there with concern at one point followed soon after by one of them asking me if anyone was using the two blankets in the seat next to mine. She said only that “we have an emergency up front”. I don't know if somebody spilled something or somebody threw up. Either way, when we got to Maui one of the flight attendants was holding a blanket by the very tips of her fingers saying “watch out, coming through” so whatever it was, it was nasty.

There was one guy on the plane that, from behind, looked just like Geoff. He wasn't carrying a guitar though. I did see one guy with a guitar though – a Baby Taylor which I've seen Geoff carry one of around at church a few times.

We got the teeniest little excuse for a meal you could imagine – it was smaller than a lunchable. Then later on, we got a snack which said “La Petite Fromage” on the side. That's French for “The little cheese” and it was indeed little. It also had some fruit snacks and almonds plus a little Milky Way but it was smaller than those little ones we buy for halloween. It was less than an inch on each side. Anyway…

We got our car – a Pontiac GrandAm – and headed for the Maui High Performance Computing Center where we were met by friendly people and given badges. We met a bunch of folks, forgot all their names, and headed for the hotel. That's not entirely true; I remember the woman who gave us our badges because her name is Ku'ulei which is pronounced like “Kool-A” like Koolaid without the 'd'. That's kinda hard to forget.

I discovered that my deodorant had squirted out of its bottle due to pressure changes in the airplane. No big emergency; just kind of interesting – like those puffin' muffins when we were in Colorado. I thought I was being clever to pack the laptop inside all my clothing in my checked bag to keep it safe but someone from the Homeland Security folks pulled it out to check on it and just put it back on top of everything so it wasn't all that protected I guess. It's kinda creepy to open your bag and find your underwear someplace else than where you left it. It almost makes me want to do laundry. Almost. They also zip-tied my bag zippers shut and ,without my pocket knife, I had a bit of a challenge to get it open.

We're in the Marriott Wailea which I thought was on the beach but isn't really. It's on the ocean but it's one of those rocky volcanic ocean places. I can see a beach nearby though. This time, we weren't in such a hurry so we just found a fast food place (The Maui Kitchen – which has a weird collection of things on the menu from spagetti and meatballs to teriaki chicken), went to Safeway to stock up on some breakfast stuff and headed back here to the hotel. When we got out of the car, the valet guy put these little necklaces around our necks that were made of little shells. Interesting but not my style you know.

I called ahead and asked the hotel if they had internet access and they said that some rooms did so I filled out our travel request and asked our travel gal to get us a room with internet access but she didn't. Apparently on the rooms with ocean views have that and they're another $60 a night so that explains my lack of internet access.

I finally asked the hotel lady what those flowers were that they all have in their hair and that grow everywhere and that they make the leis out of: plumeria. Now we know. They also have these strange-looking birds running around on the ground. They look like a cross between a pheasant and a chicken and apparently they don't fly; they just run.

Anyhow, that's about it for my day. I'm off to bed and will report back tomorrow. Perhaps, when I'm rested, I can tell a more interesting story.

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