The adventure of my dreams began when I left Arcata, CA. in freezing rain on one of those tiny planes that make you want to kiss the ground when you land. More freezing rain on my layover in San Fran, and then a long 5 and a half hour flight across the ocean. We landed at the Kona airport at 9PM to a balmy 78 degrees. My travel agent even arranged for me to receive a flower lei upon my arrival! (Ever since I watched the Brady Bunch Hawaii Special back when I was a kid, I always wanted a lei when I got off the plane!) The hula gals had all gone home for the night, but a nice Hawaiian man in a flowered shirt named Harold presented me with my orchid lei and took my photo.
I also made my first Hawaiian friend, a lady named Leah who had done her Peace Corps stint on Molokai. When she was flying back to Connecticut, she had a layover in Kona and decided to stay. (That was 44 years ago!) Now she works at the Farmer's Market everyday selling jewelery and souvenirs. She also sells Kava drinks, which were on my list of things to try while in Hawaii. She mixed fresh organic kava powder with apple juice, which cut down on the bitter taste of the herb and made it easier to drink. It made me feel relaxed and energized at the same time.
The turtles were amazing, and seemed very relaxed in spite of the many humans in their environment.
They are given lots of space...you can be fined $10,000.00 for touching one! They are the main spirit animal of Hawaii, which they call “Hanu.”
It turns out that manta rays are actually related to sharks, but they have no teeth and eat plankton. A surfboard with lights around it is floated in the water, and the light attracts the plankton, which brings the mantas in for a free meal. We were told that they had the largest brains for mammals their size, and that they are very intuitive and gentle. The captain said “They can sense fear, so try and relax for the best possible viewing experience.” I took him at his word. I was exhilarated, yet fearless, and I definitely had an amazing viewing experience. We saw 3 different mantas, and they all seemed to like me a lot. They came so close to me that they almost touched me...and then they would do these back flips against my body. It's hard to find the words to describe how miraculous it was, so I will just say that it is now at the top of my “Coolest Things I Ever Did in Life” list. I took a slew of underwater shots with a disposable camera, but haven't gotten them developed yet, so I will share with you this video of “Lefty,” one of the most popular mantas in Kona Bay, who left us in awe for the majority of the night. (They call him “Lefty” because his left mandible is floppy)