Friday, August 22, 2008

The end is nigh; almost home

A few more American States: Washington and Hawaii

We took a side trip to Mt St Helens, Mt Rainier and Seattle during the week in Portland. The travel up in the Mustang was smooth and the drive through the National Monument parks was lovely, with timber of pine and spruce, river beds carved by massive spring floods carrying loads of white stones and pretty waterfalls.

Waterfall and bridge, Mt Rainier National Monument

In places the spring floods obviously carve away bits of the road which then has to be rebuilt. Many of the roads are closed for more than six months a year.


Mt Rainier

Clear weather led to a really good view of Mt Rainier which turned out to be quite a worrying volcano, liable to have its layers slide over each other at any moment, giving rise to mud slides that rush down creek valleys at about 50mph with little or no warning. The only hope of survival is to get to higher ground and it is possible such slides would reach as far as Tahoma. The B&B had evacuation information in the bed rooms which was cheery!

Alexander's B&B Mt Rainier

Mt St Helens, photographed on the western side shows the result of silt flows after the disastrous explosion and slides 28 years ago, when timber was blasted flat and the valley was drowned in mud.

Mt St Helens and silted river

You can see it still, with the old road disappearing under it and really very little natural regrowth of vegetation in that time.

Old road covered by silt and new river

It was a most instructive drive up to the point where you could see across the valley to the new dome forming in the crater of the old one. Initially I wondered why the road was so good, then realised the old one had been wiped out.

Mt St Helens, still little vegetation

New dome forming in crater

However, wildflowers are beginning to regrow and some wild life just hangs around posing, hoping for a feed. They have to put up signs saying the wildlife will die in winter if people feed them. This very cute chipmunk followed us back to the car.

Our one evening in Seattle was fun. We went down the Pike Place markets and saw the fish market where they made the motivational video “Fish”. Unfortunately it was late in the day and there was no fish buying or throwing going on, just hordes of tourists waiting for it to happen.

Pike Place Fish Market

We caught the monorail to the Space Needle and photographed it and the Experience Music Project, a Frank Gehry design of twisted reflecting metal plates. There was lovely late afternoon light and beautiful reflections so I got a bit carried away photographing the Gehry place.

Space Needle

Space needle reflection

Fun fair reflection

Shades of blue and gold

Then we sought a place for dinner. Not finding anything mentioned in the tourist guide to be open, we retraced our steps to a place where we had seen lots of people disappearing into a pink door with a sign saying “Come in, we are out on the deck”. Turned out to be the Pink Door restaurant, a lively place with a band playing and a deck looking out on Puget Sound where we dined very well on lovely, authentic Italian food. Well worth a visit if you can find it.

Deck of the Pink Door

The B&B too, was lovely, a mansion on millionaires’ row called the Shafer Baillie mansion, beautifully restored by the current owners in 2004, full of gorgeous wood panelling, grand staircases and leadlight windows and a sumptuous bed room with dressing room and separate bathroom, still with many of the original features.

Shafer Baillie Mansion

Back in Portland we packed for the penultimate leg of the journey to Hawaii and said our farewells to Cam and Christine. It will be ages till we see them again. This flight at least had the reclining seats and a general video screen should you want to sleep or watch anything. I began reading “We have to talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver which was both riveting and horrible. The pilot gave a very good commentary as we came in to land at Honolulu which I always like but which you don’t get very often. Then a quick taxi ride to the Ala Moana hotel at Waikiki where we were upgraded to a suite at no extra cost. A lovely meal at their rooftop restaurant before crashing with exhaustion.

Blue Hawaii from the catamaran

We took a catamaran ride out onto the Pacific, getting soaking wet but loving every minute. As it was called the Mai Ta'i, we drank a MaiTai while sailing out past Diamond Head and into the waves.

Our catamaran

We spent a day at the Polynesian village seeing cultural exhibits and dancers from six Polynesian areas including New Zealand. While it was a bit touristy “Now all say Aloha” it was also interesting. A lot of money has been spent by the Mormons to build these villages and students from Polynesia can come to study at Brigham Young University next door, working at the village as a way to earn money to pay for their studies. A “dry” campus too! It offers students a chance for qualifications they would not otherwise have and then they take their knowledge back to their home country.

Dancer on canoe

Coconut tree climbing

The luau food was less exciting than I would have expected, but the show in the specially built ampitheatre was stunning, with great costumes, traditional dancing and singing and finishing with a fire twirling and throwing act that looked perilous next to grass skirts. It was highly professional and great entertainment.
Most of the dancers were students at the university.

A view of the stage and ampitheatre

Fire Dancer

We finished our short stay by visiting the Halekulani hotel. They have a great bar area out the back with a view out over the ocean and Diamond Head. Called the House with no Key, after a Charlie Chan book of that name which was set here, it offered pleasant rattan chairs and cocktails while a Hawaiian band played and a beautiful woman danced the traditional, storytelling hula. Afterwards we walked next door to the original house, and had dinner on the terrace of Orchids, still listening to the band, cooled by the Tradewinds and watching twilight steal over the scene. Impeccable service and lovely seafood and a beautiful way to end the holiday.

The next morning we were back on Qantas for the 12 hour flight with the comforts we have very quickly become accustomed to; express checks through security and customs, a business class lounge, adjustable seats, our own video screen, lots of room to stretch out including fully adjustable beds (though the bloke in front still tipped back into my space) and surprisingly edible food and drink. I think we are permanently spoiled for economy travel!
A great holiday but very glad to be home. The cat is ignoring us.