June 27th:

Today was an early day, but not quite as early as I wanted it to be. Today was my Grand Circle Island tour of Hawai'i (the big island), and the tour company had my pickup set at 3:50 am (at least it was at my hotel). With some trepidation, I went to bed at about 9pm and set my alarm clock for 2:40 am. Unfortunately, the thing only turns its radio on as its alarm, and I had the station set to a classical station. I woke myself up at 3:20 am and dashed out of bed and through my morning ablutions in record time. I went downstairs at about 3:40 am. I expected the lobby to be empty and dark, but it was bright and noisy and full of people. Actually, the Sand Bar was full of people, which doesn't close until 4am. That sure was strange - I'm just struggling to wake up, and there's a bar full of people who haven't gone to bed yet.

I sat and waited until my bus came - it was late (4am), and the Sand Bar had closed down. The bus took me a few blocks down Ala Wai (the road next to the canal), where we all moved to another bus with a bunch of people on it already. This bus took us to the airport, where we got our tickets on Aloha Airlines and then waited for about 40 minutes for the plane to leave. I got some breakfast, then went to the gate. Apparently these island-hoppers don't have assigned seats, but they do have preferred boarding for their various frequent flyer club levels. The advantage of this became clear when the gate opened and about twice as many people as were in 'general boarding' got on the plane, grabbing all the good seats. I managed to get a seat on the aisle - there were no window seats. The plane was full to Kona, so every single seat - all six per row (three and three) had a person in them. Luckily, the flight was only about half an hour, so it wasn't terribly unconfortable. They also emptied the plane from both the front and rear doors, since Kona doesn't have jetways (they barely have terminals - it's all open air!).

We met our next tour operator in the baggage claim area, where we lined up for another bus. We got a little mini-tour of Kona while picking up a few more people, then we stopped at a resort to wait for our real tour bus, which had been busy picking up still more people. Eventually, at about 7:30 or so, we got on our big bus and started off.

Our driver/tour guide was Cousin Dennis, and he, like the others, had a good line of patter, not only about the landmarks and such, but about history and the language, and all kinds of good stuff (no surfing, though). The tour itself was nice - it lasted for about 12 hours, and we ended up traveling 260 miles or so right around the island. We stopped at 11 places, including several at the Kilauea Caldera. The one complaint I would have, though, is that out of those 11 stops, a full 5 were at stores/businesses (make it 6 for the lunch stop, which did have a nice view of the caldera but was mostly for buying stuff, including a horribly overpriced buffet with a horribly limited selection). It's pretty obvious that the tour isn't financed fully by whatever crazy amount of money we spent for it if half of the stops are commercial opportunities!

The big island may be big but it isn't very well developed. O'ahu is far more built up, far more 'big city' (at least in Honolulu) - neither of the "big" cities on Hawai'i is more than a small town. It has some very varried scenery, from near desert, to barren lava fields, to rain forests, to sprawling ranchland. Five volcanos make up the island, and while only one is currently erupting, there is one (Hualalai) that is 4 years overdue for its 200-year cycle (and it's the one right by the Kona airport).

We got back to the airport with plenty of time to spare, and finally arrived back in Honolulu at 9:04 pm. Apparently they had a couple of busses taking people back to their hotels, because the bus I was on only had a few people on it. We took the back way into Waikiki (bypassing the interstate), and dropped people at about 5 different places. I was last, and it turned out that the bus driver was new to the island and didn't know where my hotel was. Fortunately I had wandered around some by then, so I was able to direct him competently. He dropped me off at about 9:45pm. Now that's a long tour!

I had dinner in Keolani, the restaurant at Ohana East - I had steak, and it was nice but not spectacular. Rather low-key and no-frills, really (you had to pay extra for a baked potato as opposed to mashed). Good enough, and fast, which was a good thing. I came back to the room after, downloaded and labeled my 77 pictures, and wrote this. It's 12:15 am, and once again time for bed. Fortunately the Duck Tour tomorrow doesn't pick up until 8:15 am. I'm either going to find a rock station to listen to, or use my watch to get me up at about 7. See ya'll tomorrow.

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