Biggest Ball of String

Our road trip adventures, quirky roadside attractions, generally in the United States or Canada (and with occasional travel off the mainland into Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean and Europe – so far)

A Slingshot Trip

Taking a break from my blog about Hawaii, the Big Island, Kona conclusion – onlyMichigan because I’ve run out of time for now, and because I’m going to be without wi-fi for … who-knows-how-long – I am diverting temporarily to our upcoming trip.

We are “sling-shotting” to Michigan to visit friends (Richard, Shannan, Evan & Jack), and, for the most part, travelling a road we’ve already gone AND I’ve already talked about in my blog at some point.

Which is good, because we don’t have time to stop anywhere, so I won’t be pouty that I can’t stop to see the Roadside Attractions.

AirstreamThe plan is – get to Michigan as quickly as possible, by the most direct route, according to Google Maps. (The most direct route is approximately 3,000 kms/close to 1900 miles.)

The “adventure” part of it is that I’ve decided that, rather than hotel-ing, we are going to bring the Airstream, so that we have our own “home away from home” while visiting Richard and Shannan. Since it’s off-season, most campgrounds are already closed, so we plan to stay at Rest Areas, parking lots of places like Wal-mart, and truck stops.

We’ve never done that before (rest-stops, truck-stops and parking lots.) Makes me nervous. And, a little excited. Normally, I have the route carefully planned, campgrounds or hotels booked well in advance. A book with confirmation numbers, addresses, and phone numbers.

This time, I have a “hope for the best” mentality and a website ( which lists every truck stop (including which have showers, restaurants and lounges), rest stops (including whether they are East/West or North/South bound), and parking lot that allows overnight stays, for every interstate in the United States.

Here’s what we’ll be passing:

1) We will be going through Medicine Hat, Alberta, which is home of the World’s Largest TeePee. This I haven’t seen AND we will be stopping for pictures.

2) Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, home of the World’s Largest Moose, and a townWorld's Largest Moose which actually has a few things I do want to do that I missed last time (the Al Capone tour and the Underground Tunnel tours), but we don’t have time. I will eventually be back there for those tours.

3) Dog River/Rouleau, Saskatchewan, filming location of “Corner Gas”.

3) Weyburn, Saskatchewan, home of what could be the World’s Tallest Wheat. (Same link as #3, Dog River)

The World's Largest Buffalo4) Minot, North Dakota, whose motto is “Why-not Minot”….

5) Jamestown, North Dakota, home of the World’s Largest Buffalo AND albino buffalos. (Same link as #3, Dog River) I might try to stop there for a better picture of the Albino Buffalo, actually.. Which reminds me. I should bring the big camera….

6) Fargo, North Dakota, home of the Infamous Wood Chipper, and the Fargo Walk of Fame.

7) A Continental Divide, not THE Continental Divide.Alexandria's Runestone

8) Alexandria’s Runestone. (I did say if we were ever there again, expecting we never would be, I’d stop and see the real one in the museum, instead of the replica… but that won’t be this trip…)

Skimming passed Minneapolis and St. Paul (tons more I need to see there, too, but I didn’t even get that all done last time I was there, and I was there for … 2 days, not 3 minutes…or probably an hour? that it’ll take us to “skim passed”?

Once we get to Wisconsin, though, we will be on a part of the highway we haven’t been before.

Here’s what I’ll be missing (maybe):

1) In or around Eau Claire: Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum, a Ship-shaped CarPaul Bunyan Wash, and a Transmission Man.

2) At Mauston, the Kwik Trip sign is apparently a hanging semi-truck… Might be able to see that from the road if I’m looking!

3) Wisconsin Dells – now the home of the Russian MIR Space Station… hmmmm… maybe we can stop on the way back… Looks like there’s also an Upside-down Whitehouse, Storybook Gardens (more research required to see if this still exists), a Muffler Man that looks alot like Burt Reynolds, Paul Bunyan restaurants (might need to stop there), and the World’s Possible Largest Flamingo….

4) DeForest – home of Sissy the Cow and Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet. … Actually, now that I know there’s an all-things-cheese place, might need to stop there for sure. (I mean – at some point, we have to stop at a Cheese Tourist thing – it IS, after all, Wisconsin!)

5) A bunch of sites in Madison, including Otis Redding’s Plane Crash site…

6) An Apple Water Tower at Edgerton.

7) Janesville – Bessie the Cow (apparently in a Fruitopia commercial?) and a 2-story outhouse,

SPAM Museumm8) Beloit – A Giant Bulldog and a Giant Hormel Can…

Speaking of Hormel – last time we were here, we visited the SPAM Museum, (SPAM being a Hormel product). This time, I am in search of La Victoria Chunky Jalapeno Hot Sauce – apparently this is the best hot sauce on the planet – if anyone knows where to find it… Originally, we found it at a little store in Sandpoint, ID (future blog topic), but can’t find it again. I did email to MegaMex Foods (which is “a joint venture between…Hormel Foods and Herdez del Fuerte“) and they are searching. (It IS available on-line, if I can’t find it any other place.)

ENTER Illinois. Still on a “fresh road”.

Oh too bad. I’m out of time.  See you later!

Thank you to our wonderful friends for house-sitting for us, too! Mwah!


Lu’aus, Kalua Pua’a, and icky Poi

Each time we went to Kona (well, The Island, actually), we did some tourist-y things –edit like, visited the Volcano and went to a bunch of beaches and snorkelled… but, we didn’t actually make it to a Lu’au for NINE YEARS!

Lu’aus just weren’t on the list of things I wanted to do. Until, I realized, we’d been there 9 times, and hadn’t done the most classic thing.

After taking a random opinion poll, we decided to go to the Lu’au at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel.

The Royal Family ArrivesWe chose that particular one because the Royal Court arrives by boat, the Court Herald announcing their arrival blasting the Conch.  Also, it was our understanding that they were the only lu’au at the time that had the Fire Dancers.  The dress was traditional, but not what you see in the movies – well, the male dancers were wearing loin cloth, but the hula girls were in full dress, not in coconut shells. (We were fine with that – not sure how the guys in the group felt, but we knew in advance.)

They have the unveiling of the Kalua Pua’a (pig) that is cooked in an underground oven (imu), and they serve that, along with poi (which is basically Imugoo made out of taro root… it comes in different textures – depending on how many fingers you need to eat it – one, two and three finger poi, depending upon the gooiness (spell check says that’s the way to spell it). Poi is, in my opinion, GROSS!! but apparently…popular.)

Unburying the pua'a in the imu

pua'aComplimentary mai-tais helps to drown out the icky taste of poi, though, so that’s great! and for dessert, often pineapple upside down cake, which is YUMMY too!

We learned that we could attend a Time Share Presentation and get 4 free Lu’au tickets, which seemed like a good idea at the time.

We agreed in advance to “just say No” – no matter what.  WELL! those are TERRIBLE!!!  Peter’s good at them.  I am NOT!   I caved right away. Well, I made it through the first room and the first presentation.  The second was trickier.  And, by about the 4th, we were arguing.  It pretty much wrecked the entire day.  We didn’t buy a time share.  We DID get free tickets.

We had a lot of fun at the lu’au.  We crossed it off our “we have never done this before” list…

This year, as mentioned, we were with Chris & Amanda & daughters, who hadn’t been to a lu’au before, so we chose the one at the Royal Kona Resort.  (This time, we chose based on the “classic” attire – coconut shell bikini tops BUT, it turns out, they ALSO have Fire Dancers!)More Hula DancersThe hula

The lu’au dinner menu seems similar to the King Kamehameha Beach Hotel (yummy kalua pua’a, pineapple upside down cake, icky poi)…Icky Poi

We paid for the tickets this time – NO MORE TIME SHARES FOR US!!  Learned that lesson the hard way for sure.

Both shows were great! We enjoyed both.  Each had things to offer.  So far, we haven’t been to a lu’au where the dancers invite people up to learn to hula, like in all the movies – but it must happen.  Anyone know where?

Fire Dancer

You should go!  There are other options at other hotels, too. I’m sure we’ll find ourselves at another some time, and maybe I’ll pick a different hotel again. (Which reminds me – sometimes the hotels give special deals, too, if you are staying there.)

We’ve only stayed at one hotel in Kona and that’s the King Kamehameha Beach Hotel, when we were too late coming into town and so we snuck and told everyone we arrived the next day 🙂 shhhhhhhhhhh.

The King Kam Inn (which I believed was the name, until I started writing this particular blog) has THE BEST EVER dinner buffet on Fridays and Saturdays.  They feature Prime Rib (Peter’s favorite) and Seafood (including Snowcrab, which is my second favorite), and a LOT of other items, and a great dessert buffet, too.  (The Buffet is on my To-Do list every year!)Probably the World's Largest Shave Ice

After dinner, you can take a lovely stroll down Ali’i Drive ~ enjoy the sound of the waves lapping against the shore, the happy people sampling what could be the World’s Largest Shave Ice, chirping birds in the Banyan Tree putting themselves to bed for the night, the scent of the seawater merging with plumeria, and the perfect 72°F (22° Celsius) weather (which, as we all know – 72° IS “Comfort Zone”.)

Speaking of Ali’i Drive – I think that’s what we’ll tour next blog.


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Welcome to Kona

Ironman TriathleteWhen you hear the name “Kona”, you might automatically think of the world-class Ironman Competition. Or the world-famous best-ever Kona coffee.

One thing is certain: it is the hub of tourism for the Big Island.   I mean, many people come to see the Volcano, but that’s just a day. The rest of the time, most people visit Kona-side.

And why? well, for one thing, the weather is pretty perfect, and normally predictable.

The weatherman says, every day, something like: “Today will be 83° with a few minutes of mist around 3pm.”  And guess what? Every day is 83°, and every day, there’s a mist, around 3pm. Rarely a pelting rain. Rarely a “cool” day.  (83° Fahrenheit is 28° Celsius.)

You want to be able to count on certain things (like good weather) when you are vacation. Especially if it’s your first trip to Hawaii.

Our first trip to Hawaii happened to be the same weekend as the Ironman Competition, coincidentally.

We were coming to visit family, so they “warned” us of the Ironman and got inner-Island flight tickets for us at Kama’aina rate.  (At that time, there were no flights from Calgary directly to Kona, so we’d had to fly into Honolulu, which will be the topic of another blog sometime.)

Along the Ironman route“Kama’aina” basically refers to an actual resident of Hawaii, and the rate is generally very worth-while.  It’s pronounced “Comma-eye-nah” (kind of) and often you have to ask for the rate (Shop people don’t ask you if you are eligible) but you must have proof of residency to get the discount.  (To tell the truth, on the Hilo side, I sometimes can get kama’aina rate, because I blend in better there…)

Anyway, we managed to get onto the Big Island during the Ironman World Championship, one of the toughest triathlons.  Not only do athletes have to complete a 2.4 mile (almost 4 kms) swim in the Ocean, followed by a 112 mile (180 kms) bicycle race (still covered in salt water residue?), and then a 26.2 mile (42 km) run/walk/crawl to the Finish Line, they also have to deal with thick humidity, the hot sun over an ancient lava field, and cross winds.

The morning of the Ironman, I was blasted out of my solid slumber by the sound of the Starter Pistol – from our view, we could see a sea of bodies heading out into the Ocean .

By the time we got down to Ali’i Drive (the main street on the wharf in Kailua-Kona and great for experiencing all-things-Kona, including restaurants)MmmmmmMai Tai for breakfast, the triathletes were zooming by on their bikes.

And, after a day of overall relaxation and laziness, and just breathing in the thick humid air, scented with Plumaria, we settled in for dinner and mai tais near the Finish Line, and watched those amazing athletes finding their way to the finish line!!

After months and months of what I can only assume is grueling training, athletes must first qualify and be accepted to run. It’s not like you can just show up and participate.  Rigorous training (an average of 7 months, according to the Ironman website) including weekly swimming (7 miles/11.3 km), biking (232 miles/373 km), and running (48 miles/77 kms).

This year’s Ironman competition is October 12th, and approximately 1800 athletes are expected.

Amazing! I would like to say that I was inspired, but… well, I can say I was “awed”.

Coffee Shack, Plantation in backgroundSpeaking of “awe” about things I won’t be doing – one of my friends (who also happens to be family) decided to make her own coffee.  And, not just “make myself a cup of coffee”, but since she happened to live on a coffee plantation at the time, and since Kona coffee is, after all, world famous, she decided to start from scratch.

She went out and picked coffee berries from the bushes.  She followed all of the intricate steps in between, and then roasted the coffee beans. Then she ground them.  She made 1/2 a cup of coffee. … It was DELICIOUS!

But NOT worth doing again…

It’s a good thing, then, that you can buy coffee EVERYWHERE.  You can buy it at kiosks on Ali’i Drive. You can buy it at Walmart.  You can buy it straight from the Coffee Farmer. You can even buy it on line.  I’m not saying it’s all the same quality, and you have to watch for “blends”, but it is available.My Kona Coffee

You can also tour some of the Coffee Plantations. One of them is Kona Joe Coffee.  (They also have a nice lunch and an amazing view.)

Normally, coffee plants are bushes or shrub-like, but at Kona Joe Coffee, they have mastered a way of growing coffee on trellises, like grapes in vineyards.

From what I can understand, the advantage of trellis raised beans (or, as I’m reading, coffee cherries, not beans) is that they have a more dispersed exposure to the sun, and that enhances the quality.

I’ve tried Kona Joe Coffee, and it is GOOD!  I’d have to do proper taste testing to determine which method is my favorite … I love coffee! I love trellised coffee…and I love “shrub” coffee…

One thing is for sure! I LOVE KONA COFFEE! any which way.

Kona SunsetSomething else for which Kona is famous: THE MOST Brilliant and Amazing Sunsets! (Will discuss those more later..)


Seahorses and Petroglyphs

I missed seeing the Petroglyphs in Volcano National Park (we accidentally opted to take a scenic drive downCoy Pond at Queen's MarketPlace an old road so it was too dark by the time we got to the Petroglyph Trail), BUT, fortunately, Chris & Amanda and the girls were up for hiking to the Petroglyphs along the Kohala Coast.

The Petroglyph Trail is beside the King’s Shops, and apparently, there’s a free tour of the petroglyphs.  We just walked around out there and made guesses about what everything was (there are occasional signs, too, to help with your guesses), but it might be handy to have an expert on hand…

The King’s Shops are located in Waikoloa Beach Resort, and include high fashion stores (Louis Vuitton, for example), restaurants, and gift shops.  Across the street is The Queen’s MarketPlace, which includes, along with the fashion stores (Quicksilver and Sunglass Hut, for example) and restaurants, the Island Gourmet Marketplace, which includes gifts, groceries and wine tasting.  (There’s also a large coy pond, at which to wile away the hours, if that interests you – I stayed there while Peter went watch-shopping.)

Petroglyph FieldBetween the Kings and Queens shops is the Petroglyph Trail (or Ki’i pohaku, which means something like “Stone Image”.)

The majority of Petroglyphs were carved into the lava stone sometime between the Hawaiian people’s arrival on the Island (obviously) and the late 1700’s (the sign on the pathway says between 1400 and 1800).   Since then, there’s been an occasional addition – some of it is still considered petroglyphs, just newer, but I’m certain that the Smiley Face is just vandalism by some… idiot…

The walk down the trail is as long as you want it to be, really, I think.  You can spend a few minutes or hours, but take water – there’s no shade at ALL!

Petroglyphs and Shelter Petroglyphs

Also at the Waikoloa Resort is the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa and the Hilton Waikoloa Village.  I’ve never spent any time at the Marriott there, but you could actually spend an entire trip at the Hilton, I Cute little Seahorsesthink. (Time and entertainment-wise, anyway.  I can’t speak for your budget…heh… maybe just Google it.  But, they have a lake in the middle for boating (non motorized), Dolphin Quest, a luau, restaurants – and all this just 20 minutes from the Kona International Airport.)

Just 11 minutes from the Airport is Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm.

The Tour is really amazing!  You get to:

~ see baby seahorses (which you can almost not see- but if you look very close, you can see their tiny little Not as tasty as it lookstails curling while they swim)
~ sample some super salty seahorse food (veggies grown in salt water, not the microscopic shrimp – blecht)
~ see some pregnant seahorse dads (Yes, it’s true – although the mom deposits the baby egg(s) into the dad’s pouch, and he carries them (maybe 1000’s of them !!!) for up to 25 days!!    The eggs actually hatch in the dad’s pouch, and he carries the babies until they are ready to be out on their own. According to National Geographic, fewer than 5 of every 1000 survive, which is one reason for their decreasing population.   (Also, the same article explains that, although the spiny plates on the seahorse make it difficult for other animals to eat, it’s survival is still threatened by humans, who hunt the seahorse for traditional medicinal usage…)

Seahorse RanchThe Ocean Rider’s website reveals that “According to research done by Project Seahorse the current world consumption for the medicine market alone is estimated to be over 20 million individuals per year and increasing at rate of over 10% per annum and there has been a 50% decline in the world seahorse population from 1990 to 1995, and 70% since 1980.”

Another cause of the declining population is that the poor little wild seahorses are not acclimatized to living in fish tanks, and many people want to include them in their scenery.  Not only are they not acclimatized, but they don’t get proper food, so they die.

It’s very sad.

So, places like Ocean Rider, Inc., are studying seahorses and ways to preserve them, especially for domesticated pets.   They have successfully rebred seahorses in captivity, and provide education and food for people who feel they must have seahorses as pets.Being held by a Seahorse

The experts at Ocean Rider have also figured out a “work around” when dealing with the fact that seahorses are monogamous, and what happens when one member of the happy couple dies… But, I don’t want to give it all away, and I also don’t want to get the details wrong, so you will just have to go on the tour yourself.

Two more reasons to go: 1) they also have Sea Dragons at which you can take a peek (no pictures – they are not yet successfully domesticated) and 2) at the end of the tour, you get to hold one of the seahorses!!  (Or, rather, as they clarified, “the seahorse holds you”.  You make your hands like a coral basket and the little seahorse wraps it’s tail around your finger and holds on.  AMAZING!!!)
Seahorses loved the girls The Girls love the seahorses

Next week, Kailua-Kona.

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A Right-Brain Distraction

 Queen of Hearts    Maggie   When I first started writing this Blog, “The Biggest Ball of String”, my idea was that it would be a quick way to tell our friends about whatever trip we were on – I could tell everyone at once, and show a bunch of pictures.

But, right away, I realized that 1) I think way too many things are interesting and I take way too many pictures, and if I tried to blog that, it would probably be boring to everyone else, clog up the system with 1000’s of pictures of green fields, and I’d never finish writing; 2) I think way too many things are interesting, so got sidetracked into telling information about the location – not just that we’d been there, but other things to see, how much some attractions cost, hours of operation, etc.; 3) I don’t necessarily like to write about what I’m doing right that second, because, to be honest, I don’t necessarily want people to know where I am, right at that second… depending on the what, the where and the who….Tennis Tycoon

Anyway! I’m bring this up now because it takes longer to research the areas than it does to just chatter away about what I loved and what I didn’t, and so – and here’s the point – I got side tracked this week, and ran out of time (I didn’t realize it was time for my weekly Sunday blog!)  I could quickly whip something up now, but I want to talk about the Seahorse Ranch (Farm, actually) and want to get the details right, instead of “we went to the Farm – it was cool”, which, by the way, it was!

So, Seahorse Ranch next week. Confession, this week.

New Little BrotherIn the meantime, the reason I was distracted is because I’m working on an art project, and I always lose track of time when I’m working on something “right-brained.”  So much so, that when I am working on something, I have to set the alarm to remind myself that I have other things to do. 

This time, I’m painting a bottle (I can’t show a picture because I want the outcome to be a surprise for the person to whom it belongs…. and I don’t know if they are reading my blog or not… … guess this is one way to find out…)

I’ve had a lot of projects this summer, which is why I went from a “twice a week” blog to a “once a week” blog…

Sometimes, my projects are painting pictures, usually the projects involve sculpting little quirky figurine type things (I call them “My Little Creatures“), and this is my first bottle. 

Dinner out Lifes Stages

I had already started painting by the time my “Left-brain” said, “Hey! You should’ve taken aBottle edited “before” picture.” Oh well.  Unless… here’s a picture (edited) – maybe someone will recognize what the bottle is? The part that’s covered is an embossed sunshine…or sunflower…? all clear…

So, that’s that! Hope to be back on track! In the meantime, I am committed to getting something written about the Seahorse Ranch for next week.

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