It was about 3:00 a.m.  on Saturday.  I was sound asleep in my bed, after falling dead asleep before 10:00 the night before.  As an insomniac, that was a fairly amazing thing.  However, the frantic pace of the week before pretty much ensured that I would be exhausted.  And ready. For. A Vacation.

We’d set the alarm for 5 a.m.  I had not packed, and although I pack fast, I wanted to make sure we were out the door before 6 a.m. for the hour long drive to the airport.

But Tom woke up at 3 a.m.  He turned on the TV.  And then he began to pack.  Half asleep, I heard questions directed towards climate, activities, dress code.  Shorts, t-shirts, short-sleeved shirts.  One jacket and one pair long pants.  No, you won’t need dress shoes.  I have TSA approved sunscreen.  I bought you a TSA approved shaving stick.  “Boy!  I have so much room in my suitcase!”

Tom’s a small man.  He always under-packs.  He also usually brings things that are not completely climate appropriate.  In this case, he’d had a check up for skin cancer, and he wanted to avoid aggravating his ever-present patches of cancerous cells.

We’re going to the Big Island of Hawaii.  Everyone thinks of Hawaii as the land of endless sun.  There is sun here, almost always in the morning.  In the afternoon, clouds fueled by Kilauea’s eruption come to the western Kona coast, and the village of Kailua-Kona cools off just a bit with the clouds.   There is also snow here, and assuming that the bronchitis I had last week clears up, we hope to travel to the top of Mauna Kea to see the observatory.  That will have to wait until Friday, and it might not happen if I’m still using my inhaler, since we’ve been advised that people with asthma find the altitude challenging.

Still, the Big Island is home to the southern-most point in the United States, and it would be a mistake to misjudge the power of the sun here. Hawaii is a mere 1,470 miles north of the equator.  It is also the farthest place on earth from another place on earth.  So, it is not exaggerating to say that Tom and I are headed to the farthest reaches of the earth.

It’s 4:00, and Tom has come back to bed, having packed.   I fall asleep, only to wake what seems like a few seconds later with the alarm.  I instantly wish I had packed the night before.  Still, I had a packing list.  I knew what I was bringing.

Four casual dresses, one pair shorts, two knit skirts, two pair capris, four t-shirts, two sweaters, bathing suit, underwear, beach shoes, sandals and red heels (because a girl is nothing without the shoes).  IPad, kindle, and cell phone with chargers.  Brush, makeup, TSA-approved sunscreen, lip-balm, moisturizer, razor, tweezers, toothpaste, cameras and charger. Medications, including benedryl (more on this later).  Skip the shampoo and hairdryer.  The hotel will have it.  Empty my purse’s contents into my camera backpack and put the purse into my suitcase.  We’re not checking luggage, so I can’t carry both my purse and my backpack.

Did you catch what I left behind?

We were only fifteen minutes late leaving for the airport.  There was no traffic, and the drive was quick.  We rolled into the airport parking lot at about 6:50, and jumped into the courtesy van.

When I was younger, part of my life was making sure my parents had a ride to the airport.  My brother refused to do it after that time, in 1979, that we drove my parents across the old Mendota Bridge to the airport for a trip to Las Vegas.  Just as we arrived, my father realized he’d forgotten his briefcase.   We had to turn around and make a mad dash back, in rush hour traffic, to retrieve it.  I waited in the car as my brother ran the briefcase into the terminal, past security to my father, who was anxiously waiting for the last call to board.

Now, 32 years later, my parents are gone, and Tom and I live so far out of town that we really can’t take a cab to the airport.  We refuse to impose upon friends.  Tom’s daughter is not as willing as I was to make the trip to the airport.  So, we use park ‘n fly.

Our courtesy van driver asks us to bring him back a hula girl.  Tom asks, “An inflatable one?”  He laughs.  I point out that inflatable girls don’t talk back.  He drops us off, and Tom and I gather our luggage to go into the terminal.

It is then that I realize that I’ve forgotten my toothbrush.  Tom looks at me, and says that he’s forgotten to lock the car.  Once again, I’m outclassed.  We agree to meet at the gate.

I find airports stressful.  As much as I love travel, I’m still a leisure traveler.  I know that there are naked body scanners and invasive pat-downs.   The travel blogs I read are full of stories about senseless and ever-changing policies which are enforced erratically and sometimes incorrectly.  I constantly wonder if I’m going to be arrested if I forget to put my lip-balm in a sandwich baggie or if somehow forget to take a corkscrew out of my purse.  Then, there’s the fear that I’ll get bumped from an oversold flight, or get put on the no-fly list by taking a picture of an airline employee’s name tag.

Early Saturday morning flights are generally fairly easy.  The airport is quiet, and business travelers don’t usually fly on Saturdays.  This day was no different.  There was virtually no line at security, and there was also no naked body scanner!  As I was clearing security, there was a TSA agent searching a couple’s carry-on bags, lecturing them about the liquids policy.  I called Tom’s cell phone to let him know that security was a little tight.  He informed me that the parking company was locking our car for us.

I got some breakfast, and Tom met me at the gate.   We had an hour to kill before boarding.  I charged my cell phone at the charge station. Remembering that the last time I was at the airport, I’d had to search for an outlet, I was impressed.

Our flight was called.  The first leg of our trip would take us to Los Angeles.  A couple hours later, we’d board a flight to Kona.  These would be two long flights, punctuated by a horrible airport.  LAX is a nightmare. It is poorly designed.  My father, who got his Master’s in civil engineering at Berkeley, wrote his thesis on airport design.  He hated multiple terminal designs.  From a civil engineering standpoint, they don’t make sense, since each terminal serves different airlines, with separate and redundant infrastructure.  Inter-terminal transportation is often poorly designed, and passengers are inconvenienced when they have to change terminals due to a code-sharing connection, leading to multiple security checks.  See, Dad?  I was listening.

LAX has NINE operating terminals.  We’re flying Delta, which operates out of Terminal Five.  When we arrive, we discover that our next flight is leaving from the same gate, for which much thanks.  We head to California Pizza Kitchen, after standing in line for the bathroom facilities. It’s airport food, and the pizza is nowhere near as good as our local fast pizza company, Solo.  I had a salad.  Tom had his go-to travel yogurt parfait and pepperoni pizza.  We fought our way to a table, and ate.  After a while, Tom went to walk off the flight, and I read my mystery novel.

Our flight was called, and we found our way to the plane.  We weren’t seated together for this flight.  Nor was anyone else, it seemed.  We tried to get re-seated, but we were 10th on the list.  Tom couldn’t even get out of the middle seat he’d been assigned.  At least I had a window seat.

The truth about economy travel is that it is better than it was ten years ago.  The seats actually have more room.  You are less likely to have knee damage from recline.  There is better in-flight entertainment, and it is cheaper.  There are more food options, but on Delta, they’re cold, and you have to pay for it.   I skip the food, as well as most of the beverage service, which, I have discovered just annoys me.  I hate the beverage cart.  I hate the fact that I usually have to ask for the whole can of soda.

This is a long flight.  Five hours.  The people next to me barely talk.  The people behind me talk a LOT.  I hear all about being a lawyer in the Wells Fargo trust department and selling pharmaceuticals.  I hear about the joys of golf, and the joys of police procedural tv series.   I didn’t quite hear their opinions about Michelle Bachman, but I had a feeling that my opinion as one of her constituents would not be welcome.

I’d finished my mystery novel and was starting a romance.  Tom realized you can’t access the internet on a trans-pacific flight, and asked to borrow my kindle.  I took the iPad and played Collapse!  The five hours seemed like five days.  Every bone hurt, and I could not sleep.  The movie was one I had no interest in seeing.

Finally, I glanced out the window, and I saw mountain tops.  More specifically, I saw two volcano tops.  Mauna Kea and Kilauea.  I was amazed how tall these mountains were.  As the plane descended from the cloud base, I saw miles of brand new land made of black lava that transitioned to amazingly green hills.  On the north side of the island, it was sunny, but it became overcast as we traveled south.  I realized just how exotic this place was.

The Kona airport is small.  It is made out of a series of grass roofed huts, and most of the facilities are outdoors.  You leave the plane via stairs, something I have not done since I was in Little Rock many years ago.  From the gate, we took a courtesy van to pick up our rental car, and we were pleasantly surprised when we were upgraded to an SUV.

I used the TripIt iPad application to guide us to our hotel, and then we were there.  Vacation had arrived.  We were exhausted.  It was 5:00 p.m. Kona time, which was 10:00 p.m. Minneapolis time.  We hadn’t eaten since Los Angeles, and we’d been up since 5:00 a.m. (3:00 a.m. for Tom) that morning.  It was a long day.  We found our way to our room and unpacked.

Tom asked for a recommendation for a local dinner, and we were directed to Quinn’s Almost By the Sea, across the street from our hotel. Tom had a short-rib pupus, and I had a fresh fish sandwich.  We ate in a garden-like setting, and I tried to nurse my pounding headache with a glass of water.  It probably wouldn’t be fair to review the restaurant, but the tartar sauce was to die for.

There was a foursome sitting two tables over, dominated by a local lady in a mu-mu, with a flower in her hair.  She told stories about her cats and her coworkers.  There was a light drizzle, and I felt like I was in this curious mash up of the Caribbean and West Virginia.  It was a surreal moment.

After dinner, we found a toothbrush.  And then, we crashed.

In my next post, I review our hotel, and discuss our adventures at the Kokua Kailua Village Stroll.