Thursday, August 19, 2021

Hawaii is Up and Running, or is it? July 18 through 30, 2021

Throughout the COVID 19 pandemic, the beloved vacation destination Hawaiian islands caused frustration for would be tourists.  In the first days of the pandemic, Hawaiian governor David Ige subjected all travelers from the mainland as well as from other Hawaiian islands to a mandatory 14 day quarantine (at your expense my friends) once arriving on the islands.  This decree was promised to be lifted by June 30th initially but was cruelly extended over and over, thwarting the summer plans of hopeful visitors.  It wasn't until October 15th that a plan was enacted by which a visitor to Hawaii could present a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of arrival on the islands to avoid the quarantine.  Within a month this was changed to within 72 hours of departure, but the results had to be uploaded to a special site and then an approval was generated by the site and sent to you by email.  Also within a month the mayor of the county of Kauai requested that visitors to this island still be required to quarantine, a request Ige approved.  This nonsense went on another arduous seven months, until at long last, Hawaii announced that as of July 8, 2021, fully vaccinated individuals could travel to Hawaii (all islands, at some point Kauai got on board) with proof of vaccination, also uploaded to the Hawaii Safe Travels sight, in pdf form to be sure, and approval from said site.  Today, nearly 18 months after the onset of the pandemic, you still cannot travel to Hawaii without restrictions, but it is easier.  Frankly, I do not think the Hawaiian tourist industry could survive another summer like 2020.  It has been stated that once a certain percentage of Hawaiian residents are vaccinated, the restrictions could be lifted altogether, but poor Hawaii is not getting closer to this goal with any speed.

We cancelled out trip last summer and sat in wait to see the restrictions in Hawaii finally lift.  We all scheduled our COVID tests we didn't have to take. We uploaded our vaccine cards and were ready to go back to the Hawaii we had known and loved all these years.  Well, not so fast.  It's different now.  Hawaii is still in pandemic mode, so there are a few things you should be aware of before you head out to the islands.


Right now the first thing you have to book once you have decided on your dates is your rental car. You have to have a car on the islands, there is just no getting around it! There is a nationwide shortage of rental cars which is particularly bad on the Hawaiian islands.  All the major carriers sold off large portions of their fleets and have yet to be able to rebuild at the rate of customer demand.  This has led to prices at least double that of previous years.  It is not unheard of to hear about people renting Uhaul trucks to get around on the islands, though many just have to settle with more (or less) car than they need.  On Kauai fate delivered this huge Ford Expedition.  Gotta confess, nice to stretch out.  All told we spent about 1200 on the rental car for 12 days, but I think we were lucky.  It is easy to book a car and then cancel it if need be, as most rental companies do not require payment in advance, so just do it and get it over with.


Yea and while we are talking about reserving things, good luck making that dinner reservation.  Many restaurants on the islands we visited were not operating at capacity, had significantly reduced hours, or were just plain closed.  Though this week (August 15) Hawaii tightened its restrictions on restaurants, bars and indoor gatherings, I believe when we were there capacity was at 75%.  However, many restaurants claimed that they could not open more tables because they were just understaffed, creating long waits and an underavailability of seating.  Many businesses claimed that it was difficult to get people to work, either because of the generosity of unemployment benefits and eviction moratoriums, or just simply because young adults who came to Hawaii for an adventure had to return to the mainland when the work opportunities dried up on the islands.

Though I called Mamas Fish House more than two months in advance, I could not get a table.  Bubba's Burgers on Kauai (Kikuiula location) closed at 4 on Tuesday and Wednesdays.  Gaylord's was not serving Sunday Brunch.  Wrangler's Steakhouse had reduced hours (better now I see).  And wow, restaurant after restaurant gone, just gone.  Aloha Mixed Plate, Bubba Gump's, Bubba's Burgers Hanalei, Poipu Tropical Burger, Kalapaki Beach Hut, Ono-Char Burger, JJ's Broiler-all GONE!

That's food. Should mention that retail sales not going much better.  The happening upscale Kikuiula Shopping Village is shut down by 7 pm.  Shops at Kilohana closed earlier.  There was no Hanapepe art night and stores there such as the beloved Talk Story Bookstore and the Banana Patch Studio closed early-like 4 pm--or at least earlier than we could get to them.  Banana Patch was closed Saturday and Sunday.  

And watch websites for activity hours too.  Kauai Mini Golf was only open Friday Saturday and Sunday.  Koloa Rum Company was closed Sunday and Monday and the last tasting was at four. 

Gotta say, for a family that spends all day outdoors and returns to the room by 5 to get ready for a night of strolling and relaxed eating, these early closures were a mess.  It was more like hurry up and shower because such and such place is going to close in 5 minutes.


In order to minimize crowds during the pandemic, which I believe is going to turn into permanently in order to minimize crowds, both the islands of Maui and Kauai have limited access to State and National Parks.  In true Hawaiian fashion there is no uniformity, so you better be on top of your game so you are not left out in the cold so to speak.

On Maui you are required to make a reservation to watch the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala (entrance between 3 and 7am), but entrance at other times can be made without a reservation.  This can be done 60 days in advance using the national parks website. The Kipahulu district can be entered without a reservation, but is only open 9-5.  To enter Waianapanapa State Park off the Hana Highway, you also must make a reservation, and this can be done 14 days in advance using this link.

On Kauai you now must pay a day use parking fee and a day use entrance fee per person for Kokee State park, but this does not need to be done in advance.  The price to park is $10 for a non-commercial vehicle and $5 per person in your car, plus tax.  Though I seem to remember getting some kind of ticket to put on the dashboard, the per person fee seems to be pretty much on the honors system.  None the less, we were honorable and paid a bit over $36 to park and hike in Kokee.

On the other side of the island, it cost us over 50$ to park at and enter Haena State Park (why you would want to park and somehow not enter is unbeknownst to me).  Now granted, Haena State Park used to be a zoo, no joke.  People crammed into unmarked potholed parking spaces that generally filled by 8 am.  The latecomers would park illegally on both sides of the road and then walk down the middle of the highway, heavy laden with chairs, coolers, .....and children.  It was a meter maid's paradise..don't even get me started on the tow truck driver!  

Anyway, that's all gone now.  Kauai took advantage of a north shore 2018 landslide and flooding that virtually ended north shore access to make a few changes down there at Haena.   There are now 75 parking spaces available at Haena (25 additional are reserved for locals).  You have to pay an entry fee per person plus a parking fee for a designated time slot, basically morning, afternoon or sunset.  If ya think your activity, say like, walking 8 miles on the Kalalau trail, might take longer than the morning slot allows you, you need to reserve the afternoon slot too.  There is a cheerful lady there bright and early (the first parking slot opens at 6:30 am) to make sure you have a QR code printed out. Reservations can be made 30 days in advance.  The website makes this pretty friendly but you'd better hurry.  Reservations open at midnight on the dot 30 days in advance, which most painfully is 3am in California.  The first morning I didn't have my fastest fingers and missed the boat, as the passes were gone by 3:03am, no kidding.  I was faster the next bleary eyed morning and got the passes.

If you miss out on the parking the North Shore Shuttle began operation on July 11.  The shuttle carts visitors from a point a little beyond Hanalei (the Waipa Park and Ride to be exact) to the Haena parking lot.  $35 round trip for one person which includes entry. Sooooo, basically my way $50 for five people, that way $175, a substantial difference. 

Now regardless if you take the shuttle OR decide to get up in the middle of the night to reserve your parking, you still have to coordinate getting over the Hanalei Bridge which on weekdays is only open (an one lane at a time at that) 5:30 to 7:45 am, 1 to 2:30pm and 5:30 to 11pm because of the road repairs and construction at the site of the aforementioned landslide.  Saturdays are different.  Sundays and holidays it's open all day.  Oh, and Wednesdays during the school year are different.  Oy.

Getting the picture when I say we are not quite wide open??


One thing ya gotta remember is that in Hawaii you still have to wear a mask indoors.  In Hawaii's humid environment and frequently open air retail, this is very uncomfortable.  It deterred me from shopping for sure.


And OMG the airport.  Remember that thing where businesses can't get people to work? Well, this applies to TSA apparently as well.  We dutifully arrived at the Lihue, Kauai airport for our interisland flight over one hour before our flight left and lined up for security.  There were three security checkpoints and each one progressed an an insufferable snail's pace.  Each person was checked and rechecked by the same two staff members, every single person with their several pieces of carry on luggage, loading and unloading and unpacking and repacking and taking off shoes and jackets and hats and jewelry.  There was no mercy whatsoever for anyone whose flight might be boarding.  By the time we arrived at our gate, my shoes in one hand and my boarding pass in the other, our flight bound for Maui was on the tarmac.

We had learned our lesson when boarding our flight from Maui to the mainland and arrived at the airport over two and a half hours before our flight.  Security took an hour and wrapped around the entire airport to the baggage claim area.  It was a long walk to the gate and we only arrived a few minutes before our flight boarded.   

Was Hawaii fabulous?  Yes.  Can I wait to go again?  No.  So was all the hassle worth it?  Yes it was.  Everything about Hawaii makes it all worth it.

Thank you for reading this post.  And now for some pictures to remind you how beautiful this place is!!

Hanakapiai Beach from the Kalalau Trail

Kauai's East Shore from the bike path

Sunset off Lahaina

Off the Kaanapali Shore

Oh yeah, and we are beautiful too...
Shipwreck Beach in Kauai

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Skiing Sun Valley, ID during the COVID pandemic February 16-22, 2021

Good morning, Mt. Baldy!
 It is strange that in the midst of a pandemic that has seemed to prevent any type of opportunity,  our worst enemy coronavirus made it possible for us to take a trip we could not have taken otherwise.  Last year we had figured would be the last we could destination ski over the February break.  We would have two children away at college who would not have a break in their school schedules and the third would be starting his first varsity baseball season.  Well, with NONE of my kids actually attending live classes and baseball practice nowhere on the immediate horizon, we had an opportunity and we grabbed it.  Not only were the four of us that live at home going back to Sun Valley, our oldest daughter, who had not been able to join us the previous two years, was coming from San Diego to ski with us in Idaho.

Visibility for days!
I really needed this trip.  I was really done with all the COVID crap in California and even worse, Santa Clara County.  There was nothing that was going to stop me.  In the weeks and months preceding, it seemed like we got bad news after more bad news.  There were times however I wondered if this vacation was actually going to happen.  About one month prior, Alaska changed all our flights around, making it virtually impossible for all of us to meet up at the Boise airport.  We were able to fix things, but now the flying was not so easy.  About ten days before the trip, I had my family on lockdown, trying to prevent any unnecessary exposure, but lo and behold, my son managed to get exposed to COVID anyway at baseball conditioning, literally 8 days before we were to leave.  I knew he wasn't going to get it, but a 10 day quarantine was the rule, negative tests or not.  There was no way we were not going but getting on a plane was pretty blatant, so we drove.  We cancelled the flights, packed the car, bought groceries, changed the oil, made a hotel reservation in Reno, left a day early, and drove 12.5 hours to Sun Valley, ID.


The Ski Area itself....

Honestly, I have to say that between the weather, the snow conditions, the location and the company, these were the three best days of skiing we ever had in our lives.  Now for me to say that, we must have been very minimally impacted by COVID restrictions. There were restrictions in place, but they did not seem to have the same oppressive nature experienced in other walks of life.

It was my understanding that they were limiting the number of tickets being sold daily, but you did not have to make a reservation.  I bought my tickets about a week in advance.

Probably the biggest accommodation made for COVID came in the form of lift operations.  Instead of packing the empty seats with singles and awkwardly putting people who don't know each other on a painful ten minute ride up the mountain, it was no longer permitted to ride with some one you did not know.  As the chairs are mostly quads, we were forced into a group of three and a group of two.  Two separate household singles could ride together but at opposite ends of the chair.  Though the gondola seats 8, you could not ride with someone you didn't know.  All this spacing did effectively make the lift lines a bit longer, especially the Saturday the gondola was closed, but it was still nothing like what I used to experience during ski week in California.  Face masks were required while in line and this was enforced.  I think there was some weak effort at keeping people six feet apart in line, but this was not enforced.

You did not have to wear your mask while skiing or while riding the lift, but quite frankly, when ya get up to a good speed you really do want that thing on or risk freezing your face.  You do have to wear it outdoors on the grounds and inside the lodge in the bathrooms and when not seated at your table.  Another nice thing is that everyone is just wearing those tube neck gaiters anyway, not those awful blue medical masks, so it's almost just part of your ski gear.

There are far fewer tables in the lodge.  There are signs encouraging you to limit your time at the table.  You can no longer toss your bag in a corner (now people just toss them outside).  No more free cubbies, but there is a very easily accessible bag check ($7 per day).  No more water glasses and water cooler. No live music. There is a fairly lively bar scene set up outside with some of the coolest space heaters I have ever seen.  You can still eat food brought from home in the lodge and no one bugs you about it.

And otherwise:

A big big thank you to Snowcreek Apartments (where we stayed for the third time) who decided adults could be intelligent enough to follow some simple rules and allowed the hot tub to be open!  The hot tub was limited to 8 adults and this was self enforced.  Two nights we had only one other couple join us,  The third night there were 8 adults already there when we got there, so we turned around and went back to the apartment and enjoyed hot showers instead.  Go figure!

Another item worth mentioning is that our decision to drive required us to spend the night in Reno Nevada where we went once again for a great INDOOR meal.  When we crossed the border into Nevada from California I literally fist pumped.  So sick of all the restrictions here.  Obviously, both Idaho and Nevada have shown that in fact you can be indoors during a pandemic and not get sick.


Warmer weather!!

Though the past two years had left us believing that Sun Valley, ID was the next best thing to Siberia, this year we actually saw double digit temperatures!! Though the first day hovered at about 20, the second and third days hovered around 30!  The first day I didn't make it two hours before shedding a T shirt which I wound up carrying until lunch AND my glove liners, which I never wore again.  The second day I braved shedding yet another layer and by the third afternoon, I, dare I say it, shed my fleece sweater as well.  You still had to wear a lot of clothes, 4 layers at the minimum instead of 7, but it was nice not feeling so much like a stuffed turkey AND not having numb fingers and toes.

Sunrise Expansion of 380 acres and a new lift:

Sunrise expansion from
 the Broadway chair
Since last winter, Sun Valley has completed the Sunrise Expansion, which is the biggest expansion of terrain on Mount Baldy in two decades.  The expansion, which officially opened on February 3, 2021,just two weeks before we arrived, added 380 acres, or an additional 20% of skiable terrain.  It is largely considered to be an advanced/expert area, including open bowls and steep chutes.  We stayed out of that stuff, but most noteworthy for us was the replacement of the dilapidated 2 seater Cold Springs chair (circa 1970) with the slick detachable high speed Broadway Express Quad Chair. The chair drops you at mostly the same place as the Cold Springs chair did, but begins over a 1000 feet farther down the mountain.  The new chair reminds us of Peter Pan in the way it whips you into position and then shoots you off into flight.


About a month ago I was turned on to this cool little app while trying to find a GPS type tracking system for my hikes, walks and rides completed during my daily exercise.  The super cool thing about Strava is that can track all sorts of activity, including in line skating, canoeing, swimming, and yes, SKIING.  I actually didn't turn it on until the third day.  I turned it on in the morning and then separately in the afternoon.  Super fun to see that we skied nearly 47 miles and 33,000 vertical feet over the course of the day, though I confess I think that includes the distances covered on the chair lifts.  The app also gives you a little map of the mountain that shows all the terrain you have covered.  My favorite stat, my top speed of 51 MPH.  Yea, some day I am going to live to regret that....


STRAVA describes our afternoon ..

Hey how about we look at some more pictures!!

Ready to ride the Gondola!!

A cozy ride up the hill

Ready to brave the Mayday Bowl!

At the top of Seattle Ridge with majestic Mayday 
Bowl in the background

And enjoying our Sun Valley family favorite,
The Ram

Well, it has been a long time since I posted.  I sure would love to to start travelling more regularly soon! 

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