The Mongrel Dogs at Sea (3): Kona

Today we stopped at Kona, which is also on the Big Island. Although I got just as little impression of this town as I did of Hilo, I think I prefer it. It seemed smaller and more relaxed. Although, the hilly terrain would probably spell the death of me.

The Kona Highlights tour lived up to its name, in that we were shuffled from site to site with very little time (about 15 minutes) at each. Actually, I liked it that way. I am not a tourist, as could be attested to by anyone who’s traveled with me. I don’t like to dawdle and I don’t sightsee all that gracefully. So hitting the high points briefly is probably the best way for me to do it. In principle, were I to return to Kona, I now know I’d be happier spending time at, say, the City of Refuge instead of the Royal Coffee plantation. I wouldn’t have been sure without sampling both.

I’ll admit, my positive impressions of this tour compared to yesterday probably owes a bit to the much more comfortable motorcoach as opposed to squirrelly converted van. Although, on the other side of the scale, this bus had more than its fair share of annoying children. I know I’m turning into a grinch on the matter but I really wish more of these activities had been explicitly labeled “kid friendly” or, more to the point, “kid-unfriendly”.

More below the fold.

The Highlights tour hit the Painted Church, the Royal Coffee Plantation, and the City of Refuge. The last is a beautiful oceanfront site with an amazing sea wall and even a bay full of turtles. I was put off a little bit learning about all the rules the great Kamehameha instituted for royalty, once he had conquered just about all of Hawai’i. For example, the following merited death sentences: Touching a royal; looking a royal in the eye; letting yourself be touched by the shadow of a royal. I guess I’m a dyed-in-the-wool republican but I can’t stand things designed to set one class of people off as intrinsically superior to another. And I totally get the argument that this was the culture of the Hawaiians and I’m not to judge them. But hey – egalitarianism is my culture, and why should it be any less worthy of respect just because it happens to be mine? (Ah, the central puzzle of multiculturalism.)

After the highlights tour, the next activity was shopping. 🙂 The driver of the bus let a bunch of us off at Hilo Hattie’s, which is nominally “world-famous” for its Hawaiian goods. I did some souvenir shopping, mostly Hawaiian prints, and had it shipped home – an expensive but very convenient option.

I spent the last bit of the afternoon on a glass-bottomed boat tour of the coral reef near the island. It was not as visually stunning as I’d hoped. The reef is very pretty and we saw lots of fish. But it’s about twenty feet down on average, and by the time sunlight has pierced down to the coral and back up to us, it’s been leached of almost all color. It was pretty amazing to see the difference that even a few feet in depth made in terms of how much color came through. I also felt the design of the boat was non-optimal. The “glass bottom” was actually six windows set into the hull (which is fine), but each was at the bottom of a sort of well. You peered over the side and hoped you didn’t drop your camera in. I’m not sure how I’d improve it, but I know it’s not the design I’d choose.

Also – and this isn’t the fault of the operators, really – the boat rocked back and forth a lot. After a long day in the Kona sun, I wasn’t really at the top of my game, so I had to look away and catch my balance quite a lot. I probably spent about half the tour looking at the horizon rather than the depths.

As happened yesterday at Hilo, by the time I made it back to the ship, I was pretty much wiped out – doubly so today, because we had to alight by tender. (Ooh, don’t I sound nautical!) I had feared the tender would be one of those little dinghies you see in bad 1970s sitcoms (as if there were any other type of 1970s sitcoms), but in fact these were serious little powerhouses. To take a Trek analogy, they were much more like runabouts than shuttles. Nonetheless, they tossed a lot in the bay and the crossing, while uneventful, was a bit draining.