Thursday, 26 December 2013

Further sea trials (or Watch out ducks !)

It was time for another set of sea trials of the aircraft carrier of the Navy of the Republic of East Vancouver.  Trials had to be interrupted and underwear had to be wet on the last occasion, when the ship's engineer (Conrad) discovered that installing that tiny screw that holds the drive shaft together could have made it unnecessary to wade into the lake to recover the boat.  The tiny screw now has been installed properly and Captain Mika sends the ship into the trials with a new colour scheme.

For all those people who own a dog for the explicit reason to facilitate meeting people (be they other dog owners or dog admirers):  A remote controlled aircraft carrier works even better !

Sea gulls have been seen approaching the ship in an aggressive posture, but they are smart enough to realize that this silvery thing is not a fish and none has tried having the ship for lunch yet.

This being Trout Lake, it is almost certain that there is not a single living trout in it (Hey, this is Vancouver; it's all make-belief ;-) but there are many ducks and sea gulls found on the surface (probably something about trout not able to live in concentrated duck shit).  So the Admiral's (Conrad again) next plan is to improve the steering capability of the ship (e.g. installing the rudder in-axis with the propeller ;-) to be able to chase ducks.

My suggestion of mounting a spring-loaded butterfly net to the flight deck that could be released by remote control to 'net' the ducks only earned some 'is he for real?' animal-loving looks ;-)

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The streets of Manhattan (well, almost: An educated Rant ;-)

No, neither am I in New York, nor have I ever been there.h

Vancouver driver paralyzed in front of an ambulance

But I fall asleep and wake up to traffic noise and aggravated HONKING. I think the only time drivers refrain from honking is when they hear the siren of an emergency vehicle approaching and are too busy to get out of the way or stare at it in the rear view mirror utterly PARALYZED by the Fight-or-Flight response (you have seen them: both hands strangling their steering wheel, foot FIRMLY on the brake pedal, and the eyes unable to look away from the flashing lights in their rear-view mirror) , as a result of which the car of the driver in question does not move AT ALL, causing the emergency vehicle to engage its own ULTRA annoying SUPER HONK, which apparently kicks the delinquent driver's nervous system out of the paralysis and allows them to move again.

Of course, the amount of honking and emergency vehicle sirens can increase even further as a function of traffic volume.  In harsh words:  If you are in Vancouver during the week of the frantic pre-Christmas worship of the new Whore of Babylon (BUYING) get earplugs.  You know the type of buying:  You're gonna CRY if you don't BUY ! Click on this LINK to hear an AMAZING recent song (Lorde: Royals) putting all that BUYING into perspective.  

On a related note:  Could it be that the people who complain or snicker loudest about China's CO2 emissions and smog problems are the same people who take their SUV (with the China-made Reindeer antlers stuck to the doors) downtown or to Metrotown and BUY all the same stuff as Christmas presents that was manufactured in China earlier and caused all those CO2 emissions to begin with ?
And on another related note:  Ever noticed how people depicted in Christmas shopping ads are always young, pretty, and HAPPY ?  (So guess what happens to you if you DON'T SHOP ? ;-)
Definitely NOT my picture
You better watch out
You better not cry
better pull the wallet out
you better GO BUY

 because mass hysteria is in town

Let there be light (or Hope at the end of a DARK tunnel)

Fear not. The days are no longer getting shorter.  The sun at noon soon might rise high enough above the horizon for its rays to make it over your local neighbourhood trees to actually illuminate and warm a freezing face.  For me that is the best thing about Winter:  The days are getting longer again.   And in only about 180 days, we get to enjoy summer again with that one sad side-effect: shortening days.
Not my picture
I briefly considered going to Stonehenge to celebrate the winter solstice, but then realized that Stonehenge is 2 degrees further North than Vancouver, so that the day would be even shorter than Vancouver's  8 hours and 11 minutes.
not my picture
Unfortunately one can't speed up the Universe, so the day tomorrow in Vancouver will only have 3 seconds more of daylight than today. 180 days is a long time when sitting in the dark !  What to do if one NEEDS more sunlight, like for example more than 12 hours of it?  There is something called the Southern Hemisphere. And it is summer there now (Careful: The days are getting shorter there now).
14.5 Hours of daylight in Buenos Aires today (not my picture)

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A few tropical remnants

On our last day the check-out time of the hotel was noon and our plane would leave at 11 pm.  That would have been 11 hours of being homeless.  So we paid for a late check-out time that would let us stay in the room until 6pm. Attempts to offset the cost of the late check-out against the water leak in the kitchen, which we had to live with for a week, were answered by the receptionist in one word: "Negative".  Boooh!

But the late check-out time was perfect timing to let us watch yet another sunset from the Lanai ;-)

After waiting one hour for the West Jet counter to open we waited another 2.5 hours for boarding time. Some of that time was spent in the restaurant of the international departure lounge of Kona Airport, which looks simple but serves yummy food.
The rest was spent in the terminal, which can't be classified as a regular airport terminal building, as this picture indicates: 
View from within the terminal 'building'

Monday, 16 December 2013

Time to re-join reality (or from 28 C to 5 C)

Still rising early before 5 am, in particular today, when a double full moon casts its water-reflected light over my sleeping self (It's bloody BRIGHT), I realize that this is the last time this will happen in a while.

Last day waking up with a horizon visible from my bed.
Last day falling asleep under a rotating ceiling fan 
Last day sleeping with only screen doors between me and the ocean.
Last day sleeping with the thundering surf drowning out any other noise, except maybe the occasional crazy motorcyclist.
Last day with a luxurious 10 hours 57 minutes between SUNrise and SUNset, which tomorrow will be reduced to 8 hours and 11 minutes of wet gloom.

Last day going for my pre-sunrise bike ride.

Last day being the first one to walk on a beach in the morning

Last day of seeing those pink illuminated morning cumulus rising over the other islands

Last day to see other crazy people out before sunrise.

Last day to see these shades of blue go through their changes.

Last day to see the sun rise over Mauna Loa or whatever that range is.

Last morning to cycle right into the sun on the way back to the hotel.

not my pic
Last day on which anything squirreling across the street will be a mongoose and not a squirrel.

Writing the first bits of this post at 6 am, it dawns on me (literally ;-) just how much I am going to miss this.
But try not to be misled. The real Hawaii is far from the paradise many think it is. That illusion quickly evaporates after breathing one's daily Vog, which according to a geologist creates the worst air quality anywhere in the US; after seeing the homeless and destitute stumble out of dry bushy areas, from beaches or lawns, where they spent the night; after noticing how many people pay with food stamps in supermarkets, after counting the number of ex-soldiers with missing limbs, or after trying to guess which individuals have to choose between food and a visit to the doctor.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Moby Dick,where art thou ? (Whale-searching II on day 12)

Since no humpback whales were sighted two days ago, I get to go on another whale-searching excursion for free, as this voucher indicates:

After flying over a much larger expanse of ocean just yesterday and not spotting a single whale, I don't expect to see any from the boat today, which has a much smaller range.  But I'm looking forward to another leisurely boat ride  !

On the other hand, after the morning's bike ride ...
Under the Volcano ...
 I was finally able to catch those VERY SHY red-headed birds in action on the balcony.  The left-out breakfast plate must have distracted them since they usually are gone the moment anything moves inside the apartment.

Then it's time to head to the harbour

As soon as the ship is under way; a shaky spinner dolphin ;-(

Some kind of operation catering to the 'My fish is bigger than your fish' crowd.

Speaking of crowds: Everyone is looking for a whale.

Now what is that? Something blowing right in front of the boat (that fuzzy bit on the bottom right)

 Now, exhaale deeeply, please.

While I am embarrassed to have to admit that I can't tell whether there is one humpback whale in the above picture or two (I suspect that the thing on the right is the tail), I am absolutely unanimous in the statement that there is 1 whale to be seen above the surface in the picture below.  When you look at this, think of an 18-wheeler steadily steaming below, because that's how big these are. 90,000 pounds of Blubber.

To celebrate the whale sighting and my free second trip I decide to go for a Mai-Tai. At first they want $7 but after I point out that on Friday they had been advertised at $5.50, the bartender quickly caves in by saying "That must have been a special. I'll give you a special."  Oh, come on guys, I don't have fleas, so there is no reason to try to fleece me !

Yummy AND Pretty

An old lava flow down the flank of Hualalai. The airport is built on that ;-)

All these house owners must be of the optimistic type.  Hualalai has not erupted since 1801, but apparently the US Geological Survey reports that it has been 'swelling' lately.

Back in the harbour: more Spinner Dolphins

 On some level I always felt that cruise ships evoke a sense of freedom and lack of boundaries.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Go check out a cruise ship itinerary and how much time they give in any particular port of call to get away from those horrible tourist shops.  Then subtract the time needed to get onto a tender boat to take you to land.  As if that wasn't bad enough, you have to line up again before getting back on board, just to run the gauntlet of a security check  (just LOOK at that lineup!)  How about having two or three or four people doing the security check to reduce that lineup? On the other hand, that would mean more time in the tacky tourist shops ;-)

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Tropical paradise ? (Maybe not)

What HERESY is that?
What could be wrong with never ever needing a heating system, socks, or a tuque again?
What's wrong with FRESH pineapple, papaya, and Mahi Mahi?
What's wrong with an endless horizon, appallingly blue water, and all kinds of wildlife right in front of the balcony?
What's wrong with tanned, toned people running around in shorts?

Nothing whatsoever.  I was not looking into getting some property on this island for no reason ;-)
Then I take the trip up to Mauna Kea and our guide & bus driver is a Geologist.
And he tells me that the air quality in Kona is actually the worst of any cities in the US.  Call it Vog or Volcano farts ;-)

But the straw that broke the camel's back came out of an entirely different direction.  I haven't eaten any chocolate in a while, so at the local KTA market I pick up something typical Hawaiian and yummy. Macadamia nuts covered in chocolate.  Only at home do I discover the additional writing on the package. SUGAR FREE.  Sugar free chocolate?  What HERESY is that?  Some Satan mixed Sucralose into the mixture.
I can't live in a country like that !

Go fly a kite ! ( No, Really, SOARING on day 11)

I must admit that looking at the flying lawnmower circling over Kona, a tiny bit of fear of flying got mixed in with the excitement.  But I overcame that fear and sent an e-mail last night to Jefferey, the person flying those devices.  A reply is waiting in my inbox when  I wake up at 4 am (too excited ;-) this morning.  'Call me on my cell @ 555 FEA RNOT and be @ the airport at 9am.'
 I feel a little as if I'm going to meet a posse of men dressed in long coats at the OK Corral !

I'm at the airport at 8:20 am, and manage to snap a few pictures of the 'flying lawnmower' at first landing, then starting again and going overhead with another student.

At 8:45, Jefferey meets me at a wire-mesh gate of the grounds of KOA (Kona international airport), just 20 meters away from the ''aircraft'. The idea of leisurely sitting back and taking pictures during the flight dies right away. Nothing is allowed in my pockets or hands that could hit the propeller behind me. Then  for 5 minutes he starts explaining to me how to steer on the ground and in the air, how to gain and loose altitude, etc etc.  I start wondering why I need to know all this and get a slightly queasy feeling in my stomach.  Then we hope into the aircraft, he starts the engine, and tells me to use the foot pedals to taxi along the yellow line to runway
not my pic
A. Ah well, I can do that.  I have already forgotten his comment "You are going to fly this aircraft".  When I have taxied the thing into the right spot, he briefly takes over to take off in a manner that makes me grab the kite's triangular bar FIRMLY.  Not a good idea, because as soon as we are in the air, Jefferey lets go of all controls and tells me to apply everything he told me on the ground. WHAT?  R U CRAZY? DO YOU THINK I REMEMBER ANY OF WHAT U SAID?
Manta Ray (not my pic)
Summary:  He doesn't touch the handle bar or the gas pedals again for another hour. I'm FLYING the darned thing.  While at first every muscle cramps up and I just want to shout "YOU DO IT !", I actually seem to manage to steer the thing the way he tells me to go.  Once we are over the water (I am wearing a life vest ;-), things get even easier, because all this darned thermal turbulence (the land below heating up) suddenly stops. After 20 minutes it's like riding a bicycle and I even have time to look at the gorgeous land and seascape below.  At first I followed his finger pointing out the HUGE MANTA RAYS  in the BLUE water below us. Later I was so used to handle the lawnmower that I had time to look down at turquoise waves ending up as white foam on the black lava rocks and when I discovered a school of dolphins I could point them out to him.  Then he directs me to fly over land as we approach Captain Cook and Kealakekua Bay. Since i was there already last year I am prepared for what is coming. This is the view from the other side:
Not my pic
Imagine flying over land and then seeing the land drop away below you in an instant, flying over water clear enough to see every coral reef on the bottom.  This is followed by a 360 degree loop combined with a drop in altitude to 550 feet. WOW !!!!

Cumulus cloud (not my pic)
Approaching the airport which is sitting under a dark Cumulus cloud takes all the tiny bit of skill I have accumulated during the last hour.
 That cumulus cloud is a sign that the land below it is heating up quite a bit and is sending hot turbulent air upwards. And I'm flying through that turbulent air on a lawnmower ! 
Finally he takes over the controls for a quick landing, which was SCARY (You don't sit in a metal tube with windows high above the ground; You RAPIDLY approach the ground in a LAWN CHAIR !)
A bit more taxiing (My job again) and we're back to the hangar. When I get out of the aircraft, both arms and legs are WOBBLY !

Then it's time to take off my loaned gear: swim-vest, sweatshirt, and aviator glasses ;-)  Jefferey and a student are looking after refueling and checking bits and pieces, while I am still speechless. That was NICE !

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