Quarantine Chronicles vol. 11

Welcome to Day 70 of quarantine Maui style.  Yesterday marked the celebration of Memorial Day and fortunately atleast on Maui beaches are once again open to relax on if it’s a group of 10 or less and there’s no camping or grilling.  Beaches everywhere were stockpiled full of families out enjoying the beautiful weather and water which was really heartwarming to see.

In other news, Hawaii News Now aired a live broadcast today with several local sources included a representative from the Department of Labor.  He said that Hawaii’s unemployed numbers total 242,000 and the majority of those are tied to the visitor industry.  The Department of Labor anticipates that less than half of these numbers will be able to return to work due to job loss or business shutdown.  Further they stated that “if we are lucky” we’ll be able to bring back 35% of workers by the end of the year.  Using their figures that means that as 2020 nears an end 157,300 people will still be without a job.  Hawaii currently stands at having the second highest unemployment rates in the nation and the state is anticipating that it will be 5 years before the number of visitors entering the islands returns to normal.

Meanwhile it’s the third day in a row with no new cases, over 90% of our total cases have recovered and the government is still unwilling to commit to a date when interisland travel will be permitted.  Perhaps mid-June they say.  As to travelers entering the state it is being proposed that Japan, New Zealand and Australia residents be permitted to travel to Hawaii first after we enter into treaties with those countries.  Our Lt. Governor said it’s much harder to coordinate when travel from the mainland will be allowed without the mandatory 14 day quarantine and that visitor arrivals aren’t anticipated to open up at all until the end of September.

Moving on from that doom and gloom, I figure now is as good of a time as any to continue on with talk of that one time when I could easily leave my rock to hop on a plane to Africa.  The last time I ventured over to Africa it was to take a trip to South Africa to do a wee bit of sightseeing and spend 2 weeks volunteering at a very large privately owned game reserve focused heavily on conservation.  Right up my alley.  The flights getting there and back were fairly dreadful and it took me a couple years to wrap my mind around over 30 hours of travel again.  Lucky for me this time it actually wasn’t horrible and I just used the 2 layovers as an excuse to pace in circles and give my poor legs a break from sitting 8-10 hours per flight in those cramped planes.  The flights did have an usually good movie selection this time around.  It’s the little things.

We flew into Kigali, the capital of Rwanda at 7pm on a Saturday night and had splurged for a really nice hotel for 3 nights not knowing what the other accommodations would be like.  The hotel sent a driver to pick us up and he was right on time, but asked if we could wait at the car because he was also picking up another guest.  No problem right?  Well he returned shortly with the other guest who apparently went back and forth from France a lot on some sort of business I didn’t quite understand.  His English was exceptional. So much so that within the 15 minutes from the airport to the hotel somehow the conversation got diverted to hookers and some sort of African bugs they have in Rwanda that burrow into your skin without you realizing it.  I guess he took one home.  The bug, not the hooker.  We were very excited to hit the eject button as soon as we reached the hotel!

The first day was a “do nothing on purpose” day so we could get our wits about us and eat a lot.  Those Rwandans eat well I’ll tell you that.  The food there was absolutely amazing.  Fresh vegetables, very healthy options and delicious coffee and desert.  Just stay away from their cucumber smoothies – it basically tasted like firewater and made you question your will to live.

Day 2 in Rwanda we had set up a full day safari using Go Kigali Tours to visit Akagera National Park and try to find some lions and elephants ideally.  You have to leave the city at 5am and estimated return time is around 6:00pm but we didn’t end up getting home until 8:30pm because of an elephant delay then a major traffic snafu.  Our guide was honestly the nicest person we met while in the city.  He was born in Rwanda, but then had to flee to Uganda during the genocide with his family only to return years later.  Akagera Park was expansive and had tons of ungulates throughout and a troop of baboons not far from the visitor center.  The herd of elephants we had our heart set on was at the opposite side of a very marshy plain, but our guide talked two other tour operators into traversing it together so if any of the vehicles got stuck there would be enough people to rock it back and forth until it was freed.  I wasn’t super keen on pushing Land Rovers in the bush so fortunately it never came to that.

Day 3 in Rwanda began our departure from the city with Ronald and Kajie Safaris.  We spent the morning in the genocide memorial which although it was quite a lot to process I’m very glad I did.  It took nearly 3 hours to get through all of the information they offered and all I will say is that not only is it incomprehensible what transpired, it’s even more disturbing that this information was never broadcast in full to the outside world.  In layman’s terms it’s really not okay.  After finishing the morning at the memorial and having a nice lunch we started the drive north to Volcanoes National Park and had one night at the Hotel Muhabura which is famous for housing Dian Fossey over several years.  A word to the wise – watch what you eat in their restaurant…. I’ll just leave it at that.  (And you’re welcome!)

Volcanoes National Park is very beautiful and is home to both the Mountain Gorilla and the Golden Monkey.  Your trek experience will vary greatly depending on what group you are assigned to and that is dependent on 1) luck 2) age 3) physical endurance and 4) any special requests you may have.  I had been hiking here very regularly to get in shape before the trip so I was in hindsight overly optimistic about the lack of physical exertion really required.  That all went out the window as I’m sweating crisscrossing through crops and wheezing scaling up the side of a mountain.  Rule #1 = bamboo is your friend.  I would grab and hold onto the stocks of that stuff for dear life more than once knowing it’s nearly impossible to uproot it and it was really helpful for not falling down a mountain or falling into a gorilla.

Everyone starts the morning at one general meeting area where they have free coffee and beverages and try to make you feel very welcome.  They also have western toilets which you should take advantage of because you’re definitely not going to see one the rest of the day.  This meeting spot is where the guides haggle over what guests get to see which group of gorillas and groups are limited to 8 humans per family of gorillas for a maximum of 1 hour.  We got herded around and matched up with our guide who was very exuberant and excited to tell us all about the family of 23 gorillas we were about to journey to find.

The first alarm bells should have gone off when I noticed we were paired with a professional athlete and his equally in shape wife.  I mean I’m an active girl and all, but there’s realistic measurements to everything and I’m not about to meet the pro athlete meter any time soon.  The only reassuring part of this was that he was gassed going up that damn mountain too.  So ha!  It wasn’t just me.

You have a guide who is on the phone with trackers to guide us to where the gorillas are that day.  The trackers basically stay with the gorillas 24×7 to ensure their safety from poachers, alert veterinarians in case of emergency and to help tourists reach the gorillas in the most seamless manner possible.  You also have the option of hiring a porter to carry your lunch, your camera gear and quite frankly YOU up and down the mountain in one piece.  Best $15USD ever spent. Once you get to within a few minutes of where the gorillas are everyone stops and takes out their cameras and prepares to leave our porter (otherwise known as our new bff) to traverse up and over bushes, bamboo and mud to where the gorillas are having breakfast.

I had two cameras on me with different focal length lenses which I wouldn’t recommend doing and I gave up the second camera after the second gorilla trek and just used my 100-400mm lens which I thought was perfect.  I also had a handheld Sony camera for shooting video clips.  Listen, at $1,500 per permit for all of 60 minutes time with the gorillas I was going to record every last second I could.  For such large animals, the gorillas cram themselves in some small spaces!  You are pretty limited to where you can stand without sliding down the hill to someplace you don’t want to be so be prepared to bend and turn in some really weird positions and be happy about it.

We trekked with the Amahoro group which means Peace and was named after the dominant silverback because he has such a peaceful demeanor.  I was taking photos of him tucked away in the bamboo all of 10 feet away when the trackers insisted that we move up and around the corner.  Reluctantly we followed to then be shown a brand spanking new 2020 model little gorilla asleep on it’s mother’s chest in a beautiful nest overlooking the valley.  It had just been born the night before and the rangers only stumbled upon it once we had arrived.  So just like that the family of 23 grew to 24.

The rangers and guides in Volcanoes National Park were very friendly and very laid back compared to other parks we later visited.  We had young gorillas bumping into us while moseying up the trail, poking at our pant legs and coming to play with each other just a few feet away.  We were allowed to record and photograph all of this without any issue whereas in other parks it was strictly forbidden to document close encounters such as when a silverback came within a foot or two of my head.  There are strict laws that you are not allowed to come within 15 feet of the gorillas, but just as with whales, often the animals have other ideas.

I really loved the time in this park, but I personally won’t go back because the cost of the permit is over double what is charged at the other parks and honestly I just am far more partial to Uganda than Rwanda.  I am so grateful though that it all worked out, and especially to be able to have such the lovely surprise of finding the brand new baby.  The jungle backdrop with clouds blowing in and out and the experience of being touched and poked by gorillas will likely be burned into my brain for a very, very long time.

The remainder of day 4 was spent crossing the border from Rwanda to Uganda which has to be done on foot.  No joke.  You have to get out of the car, walk over to a little shed with a person to fill out a bunch of paperwork on the Rwanda side, then they give you the nod to walk past a guardrail to the other side of the dirt street where there were 3 more little stations on the Uganda side to fill out more paperwork and answer lots of the same questions over and over again.  You also had to pass through a plastic quarantine tent where you must wash your hands for 30 seconds (no soap available) then have your temperature taken and report any recent travel or sicknesses.  I would have taken photos but that was forbidden and I really wasn’t trying to test my luck.  We arrived in no time at the next hotel (the Travelers Rest Hotel) where we had a cold (because it wasn’t an option) shower and I started wrapping myself in KT Tape like I was a little mummy.  If you don’t know what it is google it – it’ll save your life some day!

For day 5 it was another pre-dawn start to eat breakfast, pack a lunch and go find more gorillas……

To be continued.

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Quarantine Chronicles vol. 10

Day 68 of quarantine has come and nearly gone.  I can’t lie, every time I write one of these little “dear diary” welcome to quarantine in Maui blogs I just shake my head at how many days have passed.  And with that I can’t believe it’s ONLY been 60+ days because it kind of feels like half a life.  But I digress.

Long story short beaches were opened for a trial period of 2 weeks and we’ve been told that we must behave or the privilege will be revoked.  Tourists are being posted all over the news and social media for violating quarantine so the police can go round them up and ship them home.  It was announced that the FAA has approved we can require COVID testing as a condition to enter the state (unless they want to be locked in a room for 14 days upon entry) and Hertz filed for bankruptcy.  Some small businesses have opened, but mostly Front Street in Lahaina remains a boarded up ghost town.  I hear restaurants are opening to dine in on June 5th, but you must wear a mask at all times except when you’re actually eating.  That’s it in a nutshell.

I did talk to a neighbor today who works for the airline industry and they said that all the outbound flights leaving Maui are at capacity.  That meaning the new capacity standards set forth to accommodate social distancing and a large portion of those people flying out are people who are moving off the island.  Super sad.  This has been a rough experience on everyone in some way or another.

Speaking of experiences, I’m so thankful that I was able to travel to Rwanda and Uganda before the world hit the pause button!  I began researching a trip to photograph gorillas several years ago and had originally been planning to go to Virunga National Park in the DRC.  It’s a dangerous place to travel to, but I was able to communicate extensively with the park to plan the safest route to enter the country then be escorted by armed guards into the Virunga Mountains.  Unfortunately before I could make that happen there was a kidnapping of several tourists and although they were released, rangers were killed in the ambush and the park was closed for a year.  It then opened again, but only briefly before 12 more rangers were killed by rebel groups about a month ago.  It’s a really volatile and sad situation that hopefully will calm down sooner rather than later.

So instead of visiting the DRC I spent several months planning a trip to visit both Rwanda and Uganda.  I wanted my experience to be diverse in that it involved safaris and gorillas trekking in the three national parks – Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. I wasn’t entirely sure how the itinerary would realistically look, but I had a vague idea so I set out to find a tour company that offered a similar schedule that didn’t make me have to take out a second mortgage.  I submitted inquiries to a few companies and the one that came closest to having what I was looking for was Kajie Safaris in Uganda.

Ronald, the owner, was fabulous from the very beginning and we traded literally hundreds of emails along the way making changes here and there, adding things, deleting things and shaping it into a vacation I was so excited about!  I went with a fellow photographer and great friend of mine who lives in Montana and we were able to arrange our flights so we met in Seattle and traveled the rest of the way together.  Super fun!

When we arrived in Rwanda there was a quarantine station set up by the WHO screening all arrivals before you even got to customs.  I was so tired it barely registered, but now it sure does!  I can’t even count the times we were interrogated at both the Rwanda and Uganda custom stations on where we’d recently traveled, if we’d been sick, etc. etc. etc.  I remember asking Ronald near the end of our trip if people were still talking about “that COVID thing” because I hadn’t been on the internet or seen a TV in two weeks and I honestly thought it’d all surely be old news by then.

The gorillas were incredible, and actually the chimps were too even if I was slightly terrified of them going into it.  I thought that perhaps the reviews on TripAdvisor were being a bit overdramatic when talking about how strenuous the climb up the mountain was to see gorillas, including people slipping, rolling and falling down the slope after walking for hours.  I can now officially verify that they weren’t lying.  The hike we did in Rwanda we were told was a 3,000 foot elevation gain in a mile.  Mind you part of it was pulling yourself up the side of the hill where there was no trail and you were counting on bamboo to be your savior.  That and your porter.  Man, I need a porter for everyday life I tell you – they rock.

The gorilla family we visited in Rwanda had a brand spanking new 2020 model baby gorilla that the rangers just found while our group was there taking photos of the silverback.  So crazy!  Such a little wrinkly, hairy, sleepy itsy bitsy gorilla.  The juveniles of this group were also really fun because they were quite cheeky and kept walking right up and grabbing our pant legs and bumping into us on the trail as they went by like they thought it was funny. The chimps are much more stoic and will sit peacefully, but mostly avoid direct eye contact whereas the gorillas are very interactive and seem to play funny games to get your attention like hiding in foliage and peeking out, or rolling around on the ground and grinning at you.  It makes me laugh every time I try to describe it and I’m sure I don’t do it justice.

My favorite park was Mgahinga Park in Uganda.  I had read so much about Rwanda prior to visiting so I was very much looking forward to learning more.  It is promoted as the safest country in Africa and also the cleanest.  It was exceptionally clean, especially for the mindboggling amount of people who live there.  Their structure of community involvement and personal responsibility for your own community and country was really cool as well as a lot of the environmentally friendly regulations put in place after the genocide.  However, on the down side, although the people were polite and soft-spoken I can’t say I ever felt welcomed.  There seemed to be an undercurrent of resentment for whatever reason and I definitely would not have felt safe venturing out and about on foot by myself.  Which is saying something because I’m one to pretty much go explore anywhere without too much concern.

Uganda however was amazing.  It’s a much more rural country and the rolling hillsides are covered in a wide variety crops.  There are many beautiful lakes there also and the accommodations were some of the most stunningly rustic I’ve ever personally been too.  Traveling within the country is very affordable and the people were quite sweet.  We loved it.  It was a night and day difference having just come from Rwanda. I would not even attempt it without a guide though because the roads are rural more often than not and have no sign posts or stoplights and sometimes are prone to flooding  so if you were trying to venture any kind of distance on your own I really don’t know how you’d find your way.

We trekked with gorillas all in all 4 times in 3 different national parks and also spent a day on safari in Akagera National Park in Rwanda and also 2 days on safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.  Ronald highly recommended taking a boat ride down the Kazinga Channel which was a fabulous tip.  We were able to secure a private boat which allowed for extra time photographing the hippos and kingfishers and even a resident herd of elephants that came down to the water’s edge for a later afternoon drink.

I’ll write detailed accounts of each gorilla trek and experience in blogs to come, but this will have to do for a summary in the meantime.  It’s seriously mind blowing to me that I was just able to travel freely and explore these wonderful other parts of the world as little as 3 months ago because it seriously feels like a lifetime.  I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that humans can sort out their “stuff” in short order so I can get back to taking pretty pictures of remote places and being able to document some truly remarkable wildlife.

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Quarantine Chronicles – Underwater Adventures vol. 9

Hard to believe it, but here I am still writing about quarantine (kind of) on big day SIX OH.  Why does time always seem to go at its own speed? Sometimes a day fees like an hour and sometimes 60 days feels like 10 years.  My brain has completely failed to process that only 90 days ago I was on a plane returning from Uganda with boots covered in the same mud gorillas sat in just 10 feet away.  And then the world closed down the hatch.  How quickly things can change.  I guess it’s good to always keep that tucked in the back of one’s mind somewhere.

Here on Maui our Mayor decided that we’d be granted the extra provisionary privilege of being able to sit still on beaches during the day AND for sunset.  I think people were ready to start dancing in the streets!  Of course that’s definitely not allowed yet so it didn’t actually happen, but hypothetically it could have.  Meanwhile day 1 of being allowed out of the house lead to countless car accidents along our small two lane roadways.  There are a lot of wonderful things I can say about living in South Maui but the quality of driving skills isn’t one of them.  Let’s just keep all fingers and paws crossed that the population doesn’t get grounded again because people still can’t figure out how to stay in their lane.

Since I stayed home to work on making a video, refining my website and dealing with insurance stuff for the water intrusion issue this story will be of a time not long ago.

Rays.  The Manta Rays and I kind of have this special thing going on.  Probably 7 years ago I saw my first ray while paddling.  It sort of scared the crap out of me and fascinated me at the same time.  Their wings look so strong and when they get aggravated they’ll whack with them – very hard – and I’m pretty sure if you got hit (or your board got hit) it could do some damage.  For as graceful as they are, they’re heavy, powerful creatures.

I’ve always had an above average appreciation for both the pelagic and reef rays because they’re difficult.  I feel like getting to know them is like trying to date.  You really have to move slow, kind of feel each other out, maintain appropriate distances and let the ray figure out you mean no harm.  Then you have to watch and see what their pattern of feeding is so that instead of chasing them around you can just hold tight and wait in the middle of their area and let them come to you instead.  They like this.  If you try to move in too quickly or get too excitable they run away.  Just like when pushy people try to date.  haha It never works out well.

It took me a very long time to try to understand the reef mantas.  I tried so hard to get them to like me and be able to interact in the water with them.  On the board it was a piece of cake, but off the board it was an entirely different story.  Fast forward to 5 years ago and I lost a dear friend very unexpectedly the night before and all I could think to do was go to the water.  He and I had talked loads about the sea creatures and a lot about rays – he’d never seen them either and thought they were such beautiful creatures.  So after a night of basically no sleep I drug myself down to my favorite launching spot and started paddling.

It didn’t take long before very unexpectedly two rays showed up seemingly out of nowhere.  I didn’t bring my underwater gear that day so I was just sitting on my board watching them when a random stranger showed up in a kayak and asked if I wanted to borrow his mask.  I jumped at the chance and hopped in the water and sure enough this was the very first time in all of my attempts that the rays finally swam with and around me and didn’t swim away.  I was literally bawling (which by the way isn’t overly productive when you’re underwater in a mask!).

So ever since that day the rays have been really special to me and as time goes on and we get to spend more time together it’s easy to start recognizing the same ones via their markings, behaviors and/or broken tails or fins.  And over time I’ve had a few that have become so comfortable they’ll regularly come within a foot or two away, even brushing their fins on my arms as they swim past eating their plankton.  I’m so eternally grateful each time they show trust in me.

What I’ve also started to notice is that they blow bubbles!  I’ve tried googling this behavior and the only thing I could find it mentioned was during a study of self-recognition using mirrors to see if the manta ray was able to identify itself.  During these experiments the rays were seen to start blowing bubbles in front of the mirrors and this behavior was not observed by the researchers any other time.  When I’ve seen them do it, the bubbles are coming out of little vents on the top if it’s head behind the eye called spiracles.  I’ve watched them blowing very light streams of bubbles where you hardly see it, and very forceful streams.  I have not seen this when there are several rays around, I have only seen it when I am one on one.  So I still don’t know what it means – either they are trying to communicate and/or interact or they are telling me to get the hell away from them.  That’s what I have it narrowed down to.  Hopefully it’s option 1.

Perhaps someday soon I’ll be sharing more real time ray adventures, but in the meantime I leave you with this little video I put together of some of my favorite ray moments over the past month.  I call them the angels of the sea, hopefully they’ll bring some smiles across the distance to you as well.


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Quarantine Chronicles – Underwater Adventures vol. 8

Well, I have officially conquered day 58 of quarantine.  As far as I know the only water in my life today was the water in the ocean I went to play in.  Whooohooooo.  Minor miracles.

The first bit of good news is that I saw an announcement from our Maui Mayor that we will be allowed to sunbathe and watch the sunset from May 16-30th.  Two whole weeks!  Can you imagine?  Today was yet another day of zero COVID cases in the islands, we’ve had a very long stretch now of basically zero cases on any islands and the curve was said to have flattened about a month ago.  Not to be outdone by the Mayor’s offer of goodwill, our Governor announced that the Stay At Home order will extend through the end of June as will the interisland travel ban. But hey, we can stop and watch a sunset without getting a $5,000 fine so that’s progress – and tonights was a stunner!

In other good news the massive drying machines went back where they came from so my bathrooms and kitchen are no longer 150 degrees and the equivalent of walking through the Sahara in full sun mid-summer every time I try to enter. Now they are a much more tolerable 100 degrees, but I could pull the plastic seal off my kitchen counters so now I can use the sink AND reach plates in the cupboards.  The stove and fridge still reside in their respective spots on the back lanai but having a counter and sink was probably all the excitement I can handle for the day anyway.

This morning I woke up earlier than I’d have preferred, but it was to sunrise instead of to the screaming of the resident feral rooster.  I haven’t been graced with his squawk for a few days now so I’m thinking the awful feral cat living behind my fence must have decided to take measures into her own paws.  I still don’t like the cat even 1% more, but I will admit to being grateful that it has made short work of the 5am outdoor alarm clock.  Small victories.

I drug myself out of bed and down to the beach hoping to find dolphins because the water was glassy as could be, but unfortunately none came through that I could find.  Although the ocean was still saturated with plankton in some bays the manta rays have already moved on to other reef buffets. (insert sad face here) Luckily the green sea turtles were ready to step up their game.  I spent almost all my time with a young female turtle I’m super fond of.  I’ve decided I should probably give them my own nicknames otherwise I’m just going to keep writing about this friendly turtle or that friendly turtle and it basically all sounds redundant.  So today’s episode features a little girl I’ll call Holly.  Seems like a good sea turtle name (shrug).

I first met Holly 3-4 years ago when she was just a wee little turtle and quite shy.  It’s rare I see really tiny honu so I was so excited when she turned up one day and was only about 10 inches long.  I’d always find her in the same area of reef and she’d duck below the surface and eye my board suspiciously before diving to the bottom to hide.  Through the years she’s really developed such a fun personality and is easy to identify not only because she’s so spunky, but also because she has a silver dollar sized blemish on the back of her shell.

Today she popped up for a minute then dove down to take a nap in a ledge of the reef about 10 feet below.  I decided it was as good of a time as any to practice clearing my ears and diving so down I went down to her cave over and over as she sat on her rock shelf watching probably wondering why I was so inept and kept floating to the surface.

This went on for maybe 20 minutes and then another turtle surfaced behind me so I swam over to it for a quick minute.  After swimming back to Holly I saw her watching from the shelf and as I got right above her she scooted out little by little and craned her neck looking up and watching me then all of 90 seconds later came swimming straight up at me like a slow motion turtle bullet.  I’m not sure if she’s curious about me in general or maybe she can see a reflection in my camera?  But she gets so close that it’s impossible to take photos because she’s only about a foot away.  She’ll swim up and down and circle around me checking me out and doing really cute little turtle poses.  At this point she’s done it so religiously I have to believe she knows exactly what she’s doing.  It’s completely adorable.

All the photos in this blog are of Holly being her cute little self and striking perfect honu poses.  If only she’d teach the other sea creatures how to be such good underwater models.

Until the next time … stay safe, shine bright.

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Quarantine Chronicles – Underwater Adventures vol. 7

And just like that day 57 of quarantine has passed us by.  Another one for the books.  Sadly I have no updates on new rules, no rules or more confusing rules because I decided I need to mimic an ostrich for a hot minute and bury my head in the sand (or sea).

Keeping with the water theme, last night as I was getting ready to put myself and the dogs to bed I noticed a sizable puddle of water coming from the bottom of my fridge which now sits in my living room ever since the neighbor of the year flooded out my bathrooms and kitchen.  After further inspection it had completely saturated a large part of my area rug and there was more water pooling under the couch.  I called the contractor faster than the speed of light and bless his heart he came right over and along with the help of one of my good neighbors, the fridge was banished to my back lanai.  Apparently there’s a crack in the condensation pan (we’re assuming) blah blah blah so I was lucky enough to give 3 hours of my life to Lowe’s today while trying to accomplish a 20 minute task of buying 2 new bathroom vanities and a new fridge.

The good news is that there was no damage to my floors (hallelujah) and at this point I think I’ve effectively eliminated any water sources in or around my house (knock on wood).  So tomorrow promises to be a better day.

In other good news the surf forecasters didn’t lie and the water was actually stunning this morning and calm as a lake.  The clarity had improved significantly from yesterday and there were cute little honu popping their heads up all over the place.  There is one in particular that I see often and her shell is only about a foot long and really pretty.  She is also easy to identify because of her personality.  She is very, very curious and it’s absolutely adorable.

She will come up for a little breath then swim in very, very slow circles all around me about 4-5 feet away and 2-3 feet below the surface.  So I’m slowing turning in circles and following her who’s swimming in circles to stare at me.  It’s so funny and she’ll keep doing it over and over and over again.  Today was unique in that I guess she got extra brave and she dove down a tiny bit further, then came swimming directly up and at me and head-butted my shin on the way by.  I laughed.  I think she actually startled herself.  Silly turtle games.

On the way back to my launch spot I found one lone lingering manta ray who was having quite the feast in a small little area still rich in plankton.  I tried several times to make friends, but it was taking this social distancing thing very seriously and wanted no part of it.  Maybe next time.  Atleast the honu have missed the memo and are more than willing to come out to play.

With aloha until the next time ~ Stay safe.  Stay well.  Stay inspired.

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Quarantine Chronicles – Underwater Adventures vol. 6

Welcome to wonderful day 56 of quarantine here in Maui. We’ve had no more than single digit cases for 2 weeks now and actually had zero new cases this weekend.  That’s good.  The mainstream news outlets finally started covering the severe nature of ongoing and expanding restrictions here in the islands. Within a day of that our Lt. Governor announced a plan to allow for tourists to enter Hawaii and bypass the 14 day quarantine if they have a negative rapid turnaround COVID test result within 72 hours of travel. It’s called the “Travel With Aloha” Program and exact implementation details aren’t sorted out but atleast it’s a glimmer of hope. Meanwhile the actual Governor announces shortly after the Lt. Governor’s announcement that he’s considering mandatory photos of all incoming visitors so that if photos are then captured of them violating the 14 quarantine they can be more quickly identified and shipped back to where they came from along with a $5,000 fine and possible jail sentence. Nope, unfortunately still not kidding.

In other news, the water was still trying to come into my house from my lovely neighbor who continued to shower (and flood my place) even after being made aware of the situation. Yesterday some of my kitchen walls and cabinets were cut out as well as several walls and cabinets in my bathrooms. Fortunately my tub/shower survived which is a relief after having it all remodeled not that long ago. Today both of my favorite neighbors  bathrooms were gutted as well. I have massive fans everywhere that sort of sound like you’re standing in front of an airplane propeller. It’s a good thing the dogs and I love each other because otherwise all the upheaval would be extra annoying. The chameleon seems unfazed. He sits in his tree eating his mealworms and watching all of the rest of us pace around in very small circles and curse.

Per usual, I’ve saved the best for last which is to say that THE RAYS HAVE ARRIVED. Right on time and just as the winds have promised to die. Yesterday we found two mantas very early in the morning but the waters were absurdly choppy and the winds gusting so it was more like holding onto an inner tube behind a speed boat than a relaxing snorkel. Today however was actually really nice! There were between 6-8 mantas in the same location as yesterday.  The water was very cloudy and filled with plankton and coral blooms so they were in manta heaven.

Yesterday was the first time I was able to see a ray breach out of the water just a few feet in front of me. Super exciting! I’ve seen them breach occasionally from shore or on my board, but I was in the water trying to photograph one swimming at me yesterday when it cruised beside me feeding and then did a quick sideways turn and swam down deeper. All of the sudden it started flapping it’s little wings super hard and shot straight up and out of the water by a couple feet only to splash back down and resume feeding again. So cool! It’s only taken 13 years to see face to fin – well worth the wait.

Today was super special because of the density of the manta rays in one location. This spring in particular has been incredible this way. I’ve never in all my years here seen so many rays concentrated in such small areas – even when the food supply was overflowing. I was out with two other friends and we were all just thrilled. I think in total we were able to spend three hours paddling and swimming and being our best version of manta paparazzi before the clouds filled in and the rays moved on to another ocean restaurant.

Fingers are crossed I can steal a few more special moments with them tomorrow, but in the meantime I’ve included a few of my favorite shots.

Sending warm aloha and Maui ocean vibes for whoever needs them….

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Quarantine Chronicles – Above Water Adventures vol. 5

Welcome to island quarantine day number 53.  If you wonder how I even keep track at this point I can assure you it’s not an uncomplicated task.  So let’s see, what’s new in Hawaii news….. today an article was published laying out the governor’s plans to increase restrictions on visitors to mean that they are not allowed to rent a car, they are not allowed to have a key to their hotel room other than for a one time entry and even legal Air B&B’s or vacation rentals are considered illegal to operate for the foreseeable future.  Oh, and there’s also the GPS phone app to monitor your location 24/7 and a hotline set up to report anyone you see that you feel might be breaking these rules.  No I’m not kidding.  You can read more by clicking here.

Moving on.  It’s ironic that such a large majority of my life has revolved around water lately because on Friday night I discovered that water loves me SO much it found a way into my condo by way of common walls.  Nope, not kidding about this either.  I thought it must be coming from upstairs because that seemed like the most reasonable conclusion.  I did all the standard protocol, completely freak out, attack with bleach, stare at the ceiling while trying to fall asleep, report to my insurance and finally call out a remediation specialist.

I spent all morning running around down south exercising and rock hopping again with my camera to take my mind of the water invasion currently underway in the one place deemed a “safe zone” in all this craziness.  I started out early down in LaPerouse Bay but with a large south swell and a parking lot absolutely overflowing with cars I made it a very quick stop and instead traveled back the way I came to Makena State Park.  All the parking lots are closed still, but the beach is open for exercise.  Just be prepared for a good trek is all I’ll say if you park at the first entrance.

I stopped at thirds (if you know you know) and walked to seconds then back to my car at thirds.  Then I decided to just suck it up and parked down at the first entrance and wandered in.  There are signs posted by the trail to Little Beach stating that Makena State Park is open.  Also that Black Sand Beach is open.  However Oneloa (Little Beach) is closed.  They also have installed a metal chain link gate at the path leading down to Little Beach now.  FYI the overlook at Makena State park is apparently also closed although the signs I think are unclear on that.  However DNLR is not unclear.  So after a 20 minute conversation with two officers now you know.  You’re welcome.  (sigh)

Back to view the water in my house I went after my informative, unscheduled meeting with DNLR.  Island Restoration showed up in no time at all with their thermal water detector and I’ll just make it short to say that it’s a mess.  Low and behold it isn’t coming from upstairs, it’s actually coming from my neighbor next door. This neighbor moved in about a year ago and it’s been less than pleasant with their lack of cleanliness permeating into my house.  Short of having a stroke there’s really nothing else I can try to make it stop.  Until today.

I went over with Ryder from Island Restoration who may quickly become my BFF only to discover that the idiots have a HUGE hole and crack that’s rusted out in the bathtub so that every time they take a shower it’s been not only flooding their place, but flooding into my walls and cabinets as well.  They will have to have both bathrooms gutted, I have to have several cabinets in my bathrooms and kitchen ripped out and we are hoping that the water & mold can be dealt with from their side so that only the small drying holes need to be cut into my walls.  We shall see.  I’m not exactly sure how the rationalize running gallons of water straight down into the floor of a building for months on end and doing nothing about it, but I guess some people have special skills like that.

On the bright side if the surf forecasters are being honest this week this wind is supposed to be very light and calm so hopefully tomorrow I can get back on the water and find some sea creatures to follow around and photograph.

Until the next time.  Stay dry and live free. 😉

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