Saturday, February 1, 2014

Hawaii: Bad Luck and Sharks

My aunt Bernadette and I have a long running inside joke about sharks. When she and my cousin Anna went to Tonga in 2003 or so, they had an opportunity to go snorkeling. My aunt refused to go in the water for fear that she would be eaten by sharks. My cousin jumped right in and loved it. Ever since then, I have taken upon myself the mission of desensitizing my aunt from sharks. The best way to do this is by exposing her to sharks every chance I get. Thankfully she is a good sport about the torture. Here are a few snippets of pictures I have text her over the years to help, out of the goodness of my heart. 

As you can see, there is always a positive message about how great sharks are! (Hehe!) Before I left for Australia I bought her the movie Sharknado. We sat on the couch and laughed so hard we nearly cried. It turns out that Bernadette is fantastic at predicting ways that sharks can attack from the sky. When I arrived in Honolulu, naturally, I began researching shark encounters. There was one that I really liked; it was called North Shore Shark Adventures. With my magical powers of persuasion, I got her to agree! It was just too perfect after all the years of work I had done to help her out of this phobia. 

The evening before we scheduled our cage dive, we went to pick up a rental car. While there isn't much daily need for a car, it really helps to have one when driving back and forth across the island. The North Shore is the north western side of the island, well know for it's surfing and food trucks. We arrived in Haleiwa at 10:30am for our 11am tour and proptly got lost. Bernadette called the company for directions. Sadly, due to 50 foot waves caused by a storm north of the island, the tour had to be canceled. I dealt with it well on the outside, but on the inside my heart was crushed. I had gotten myself excited like a kid on Christmas Eve, only to awake to a house robbed by the grinch. 

Bernadette and I decided to look around the North Shore for a bit since we were already there. It was a windy, but pleasant day. The surf didn't look anywhere near 50 feet to me. Nevertheless, there were warning signs everywhere. Watch out for currents, high waves, etc, etc. There were at least five signs. Each sign ended with the words "die" or "drown". It reminded me of my mom warning me of dangerous things with an emphasis on the possiblity of death. Despite this, people were still surfing. 

Instead of chancing the waves of death, we continued down the street. Chickens ran loose all around us. We were hungry, so began looking for a place to eat. The first place we came to was an open tent in a parking lot. Over a charcoal flame turned dozens of chickens, sliced in half and flattened. I imagined the owners of the place just grabbing the loose chickens as they walked by. There were certainly enough loose to do so! I decided against that place. The next one we came to was a small store front turned into an outdoor restaurant named Spaghettini. I chose to eat there purely because the name made me think of a little, tiny version of spaghetti. The meal was average sized, but still quite good. 

Down the street a vendor was selling items made out of shells. Bernadette bought me a beautiful lampshade/wind chime of small, spiraled shells, as well as one to give to Anna. For buying an item, I was also given a free magnet of my choosing. I chose a wooden turtle with "Hawaii" and a flower painted on it's back. Shop owners often give out free things. It's such an odd feeling to me, I have to remind myself that it's not stealing if they give it to you. 

Anna's seashell chime

My seashell chime

My free gift

Before leaving the North Shore, we decided to share a popular shaved ice. There were dozens of favors to choose from. Bernadette was being indecisive, so she let me pick all three flavors. Her only request was that we got it with beans, which she had heard was good. It was on the list of additives so I didn't object, despite the unappetizing thought of it. I chose the flavors mango, piña colada, and strawberry cream. The process was quite interesting as we watched them literally shave down ice, only to pack it back up into tight spheres. I've seen snow cones before, but not the process of making the ice in this way. The piña colada flavor did not make it onto the cone, but it wasn't worth waiting through the long line again to get it. The mango and strawberry cream flavors were surprisingly bold and rich. I let Bernadette try the part with the beans. Her expression of amused disgust affirmed by original opinion on the combination. 

We decided to get back in the car and stop at the Dole Plantation on the way to Hanauma Bay, a popular snorkeling spot. The Dole Plantation is made for tourists. The main building is a gift shop filled with sales people politely pressuring you to buy an array of items you never knew you needed. We resisted and somehow made it back outdoors with our wallets intact. On our way to the plantation, Bernadette and I had discussed how we assumed pineapple grew. Neither of us had paid much attention to it in the past. My assumption was that pineapples grew like carrots, underground. Bernadette thought that the pineapple was the base of the plant growing out from the ground. We were both wrong. Instead of struggling through a detailed description, I decided to use my artistic talent and draw a picture.

While we weren't willing to spend the time and money on an educational tour, we learned what we could from signs posted around the plantation. Pineapples can be traced back to Paraguay since the 15th century. They soon after began popping up around the world as a rare delicacy. The volcanic soil in Hawaii is red with oxidized iron, making it great for pineapple growing. Captain John Kidwell was the first to actively grow pineapples within Hawaii in the 1880s. Jim Dole, a Boston native, came to the island of O'ahu in 1899 and began fine tuning pineapple production to what it is today. There are over 28,000 pineapples per acre, though I'm not sure how many acres there are. Each one is planted and harvested by hand. 

As we walked out of the main garden area, we passed the Dole maze. While it looked fun and quite challenging, but we didn't have enough time to go through and still make it to the bay. We passed by the gift shop quickly and continued our journey.

The view down to the bay was beautiful. One side was shadowed by steep, grassy hills, while the other side went down to a sandy and bright beach. The gate to the bay was open and welcoming, but there was a closed sign next to it. I argued that there must have just been a sign mix up. The next plain closed sign had the word "jellyfish" taped across the bottom. A sign after that was an actual warning sign, showing a stick figure with legs entangled in tentacles. The parking lot entrance booth had information signs about the dangers of jellyfish. The lady inside the booth appoligized and said that the beach was completely closed off. Thirty people had been stung by box jellyfish that morning and it was just too much to control the beach safely. The two things I wanted to do the most were both canceled in the same day. We decided it was probably best that we were being spared from 50 foot waves in shark infested waters and box jellyfish stings. It was still sad.

There are two box jellyfish in this jar. This is how translucent they are in the water.

While we were there, we went ahead and looked around at the views and animals. Birds, mongooses, chickens, and one feral cat surrounded us along the pathways. The cat was very friendly so I picked her up for a quick pet and let her back down when she wanted. This made the employees there very nervous. Lesson learned: it is not okay to hold cats at the bay. Looking out toward the ocean, we saw a small puff of water letting us know the presence of a whale, though it never came out of the water more than that. 

Hanauma Bay

The next day we tried to go back to Hanauma Bay, with confirmation that the jellyfish were no longer there. It started raining. I didn't think it would matter since we were going to be in water anyway, so we headed out. After walking down a long hill in rain to the beach, we discovered that they had just closed snorkel rental. So there we were, standing in the rain, snorekel-less, and cold. We turned around and went home.

To make up for our failed weekend activities, we began plotting for the next weekend. We decided to fly over to Hawaii island to see volcanoes. I had everything researched for the trip, but the night we were to buy tickets Bernadette came home with bad news. There was no viewable lava. Bernadette decided that the trip wasn't worth making without lava.

At that point, all of our big plans had been canceled. I swear I did not walk under a ladder or break a mirror. We decided just to say home for a few days instead of pushing our bad luck any more. While reading the last couple chapters of Divergent on the balcony one afternoon, a ladybug flew by me. I'm not terribly superstitious, however, it gave me a good feeling about making more plans. I called the Shark Encounters company and was about to line up a dive the very next morning! We rented another car and set out for a repeat adventure exactly a week after the first attempt. 

I don't like mornings, especially when it is still dark as your eyes open. This morning was worth it! We easily found the correct spot on this second try. There were two tours scheduled to leave at 7:30. One was for whale watching and the other was for cage diving. For some reason, the whale tour was packed, but there were only five of us for the cage dive. We could all easily fit in the same cage with plenty of room. This was the first time I have ever been on a boat going into the sea. I've been on one slow glass bottom boat in Puerto Rico and a couple small lake boats as a child, but nothing like this. I completely expected to hate it. In fact, I loved it! The speed of the boat was exciting and the sway of the boat was relaxing, like a rocking chair which rocks in unexpected, but nevertheless calming, directions. When I stood, I bent my legs with the sways to remain upright. This gave the feeling that I was controlling the boats movement in some way. I'm sure I found much more amusement in this than most people would. 

The cage was a permanent fixture planted in the middle of a fishing area a few miles from shore. The tour before us was just leaving as we approached. Each of the five of us were fitted with a mask and snorkel, and were politely reminded that they were not responsible should we chose to pet the sharks. The boat was tied snuggly to the side of the cage for easy entry. The small crew helped all of us into the cage, threw some fishing scraps into the water, and stayed close enough to monitor us, but far enough not to disturb the sharks. I expected the water to be ice cold, but it was more like sinking into a warm bath. Above the water, it was a beautiful day! The waves were smoothly rounded, with no sign of anything below. It may seem naive, but I did always imagine to I would see a fin sticking out of the water with a shark nearby. I think the scariest part of the whole experience is realizing that there are no signs of sharks at all from above the water. Underneath, they frenzied! 

I had never worn a snorkel before. It seems pretty simple. You just breathe through your mouth. I now know that would be like putting someone in a car and expecting them to drive. As soon as I attempted my first underwater breath, my body instantly began hyperventilating. I lifted my head out of the water and was perfectly fine. Every time it went underwater, my body violently fought against the snorkel. I would have never guessed I would react that way. Later Bernadette said she experienced that same thing. After a few minutes, I figured out that if I stayed underwater long enough, the hyperventilating would morph into a more normal breathing pattern. Keep in mind that this was all before I saw the sharks. In addition to hyperventilating, I kept laughing! Snorkels look funny and feel funny. My stress response is laughter. While I felt quite safe from the sharks, it does give you quite the kick of adrenaline to realize that you are miles in sea, in a cage, surrounded by sharks bigger than yourself. Every time I so much as smiled, salt water would come rushing into my mouth.

Me wearing a snorkel and mask

Bernadette wearing a snorkel and mask

The next challenge was sinking. My body was floating like a buoy, with legs and arms flailing out in all directions. Not only did I worry about the embarrassment of possibly kicking a fellow cage member with a stray leg, I also was mindful that a limb out of the cage was fair game for sharks. My first method was diving down a bit and tucking my feet under a bar, but in front of the plexiglass window. The cage was mostly just bars in water, but there were a few pieces of plexiglass to give us a larger viewing space. Bernadette was a little more risky with her toes, but I was too fond of mine to hook them on a lower bar without plexiglass. My way seemed less comfortable, keeping me in a scrunched up position, but at least I would be guaranteed all my digits. About halfway through the experience, I learned that if I kept my legs crossed and one arm firmly pushing on the rail, I had enough weight to sink in a somewhat normal looking position. 

Bernadette's method

My method

Once I got a chance to properly look around me, I realized something I had already known in the back of my head; I was completely surrounded by real, wild sharks! Most were slightly larger than me. I would estimate that the smallest was 4 feet, while the largest was 6.5 feet. It may not sound like much, but when you are inches away from a predator that is equal to your size, looking into their eyes, and completely out of your element, it is big! There was no way to count the number of sharks. They were all swimming around us in circles, occasionally disappearing into the deep blue depths. I only know there were definately more than five because that was the largest number I got in one photograph. I often resurfaced to confirm that there were truly no sign of them from above. 

My five shark picture

The moment when you make absolutely sure every part of you is inside that cage

Why are you looking at me like that, Mr. Shark?

This one has a couple hitchhikers on those gills

No filters. It really did look like this.

Bernadette with a shark

Me with a shark. This was before I mastered sinking. My bathing suit was secure the whole time. I'm just in a super awkward position. Shark selfies are hard... 

I took a total of 224 pictures underwater, but only a handful turned out. The rest are evenly split between side rippingly bad pictures of Bernadette and me, and pictures of shark tails. Sharks are remarkably fast swimmers.  After a little over 40 minutes of shark watching, the boat came back to bring us all ashore. We got window clings stating that we swam with sharks and got to take our pictures next to the boat sign.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing on the beach of Turtle Bay Resort. Bernadette seemed to really need the recovery time, so I read and enjoyed the afternoon in the sun while she hid from it in a snooze.

The next day we gave Hanauma Bay a third try. We rented quality snorkel equipment from Snorkel Bobs, as we weren't going to chance their rentals being closed again. This time the weather was beautiful, with no jellyfish in sight. After watching a short video telling obvious things like "don't touch the coral" we headed down to the beach. With our rental came flippers. I tried to wear them... I watched other people put their flippers on in the water. It looked so easy and graceful. Let me tell you, balancing on ever moving sand, being hit with waves, while putting on awkwardly shaped flippers is not an easy task. I plummeted into the water several times and gave up after succeeding to humiliate myself in getting on a single flipper. Instead I wore some simple water shoes. The bottom of the bay was very rocky. If you had to step down, you needed to wear shoes. Thankfully my hyperventilating reflex had disappeared. Unfortunately, my desire to laugh had increased greatly. We floundered around the water, very frequently having to stop due to one problem or another. I shamefully crashed into coral more than a couple times. I'm sure all of the lifeguards pegged us as the most likely to drown that day. We only saw a few fish, but decided we would return again once we had practiced swimming and snorkeling a bit more. Maybe with lifejackets on as well.

-Bonus Pictures-

Bernadette found Spam flavored macadamia nuts. Very thankfully, she decided not to buy them.

 All of the Japanese desserts have this weird gell layer on top. It's mostly flavorless, but greatly modifies the texture.

Chinese New Year celebration in the mall. We could hear the drums from all the way inside Bernadette's apartment. Shopping while surrounded by Chinese lions and dragons was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. I love seeing them, but getting around them was impossible.