You probably won’t surprised to learn that ACIS team members REALLY love to travel and that we take every chance in our personal lives to explore different parts of the world. In our new staff travel spotlight series, we highlight the amazing adventures of our team.
First up is Jeannie Page, our Regional Director of International Programs, West Coast, who recently traveled to Hawai’i, aka The Big Island.
1. What made you want to travel to Hawai’i specifically?
It took me 10 years of living on the West Coast before I finally made it there but better late than never! After starting with the island of Maui last year, and falling in love with it, I decided to make it an annual tradition to travel to a different island each year for vacation. This year I went to the Big Island, the home of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and the recently erupting Kilauea Volcano.
A friend of mine recommended that I snorkel with the Manta Rays and I am so glad that he did. Snorkeling or diving with these gentle giants of the sea, off the Kona coast of the Big Island, is one of the top 10 dives in the world! These beautiful creatures have no teeth, no barbs, and no stingers so are very safe and truly graceful creatures. This excursion is done at night with snorkel gear (or you can scuba dive), hanging off a raft that projects lights into the water beneath it so that you can see the Manta Rays. To see these elegant creatures doing backflips right in front of our eyes, and seemingly playing with us with an intelligence and awareness, was one of the most magical experiences of my life. We saw seven of the well-known Manta Rays, all identified by their unique markings. The largest one that we saw, “Big Bertha” had a 16 ft wingspan! This was truly the experience of a lifetime and was unforgettable. I highly recommend it!
I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely newlywed couple from Seattle on the excursion. They were right next to me on the raft and very graciously shared their great underwater GoPro videos with me here. Here is a video of what we saw:
3. Best museum you went to?
Hawai’i is all about appreciating the natural world, so no museums on this trip, but I did visit Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park which was definitely a highlight of the trip. We all saw Kilauea Volcano erupting for months on end last year, so it was quite surreal to be standing not far from the crater (it’s not currently erupting). Here is a photo of me at the crater.
This National Park is quite massive and is a full-day’s adventure. What is most striking about the Big Island is how volcanic it is – everywhere you turn you see fields and fields of hardened lava rock. I hiked for about an hour over a lava field that was created during an eruption from 1969-1974. It was quite wild to think about what that must have looked like as hot, molten lava and it was incredible to see how nature reclaims itself and to see all the unique plants that can grow out of the lava rock. After scrambling over lots of lava rock (and getting quite sunburned- warning: the sun reflects hot off of the black lava rock!), then I did the gorgeous scenic drive down the Chain of Craters Road which is a 19-mile road, full of breath-taking views, that descends 3700 ft from the top of Kilauea Volcano down to the sea. At the very bottom you can see the naturally-created Holei Sea Arch.
4. Best thing you ate?
Fresh Hawaiian Ono. Ono is a Hawaiian word meaning “good to eat.” It is commonly known as wahoo and is a close relative of the king mackerel. Built like a torpedo, they are fast swimmers. This was my first time ever trying Ono and it was scrumptious!
5. Most interesting fact you learned?
I learned that Manta Rays are completely gentle creatures and have no teeth, barbs or stingers with which to hurt us – They are more often getting hurt by us and our boats. ☹ They are truly the gentle giants of the sea. I also didn’t realize that they merely filter plankton through their mouths. Beautiful creatures!
6. Funniest moment?
Not so much of a “funny” moment but more of a travel mishap that turned into a great story! One morning I went out to a “greasy spoon” to get some breakfast. When I went to pay with my credit card, the waitress told me it was cash only. “No big deal,” I thought to myself, as I reached for my ATM card… only to be completely shocked that I didn’t have it. I always travel with my ATM card, everywhere I go, so I was shocked to not find it in my wallet. After frantically searching for it, I realized that when I switched to my smaller travel wallet, I must have inadvertently left it behind in my other wallet. The waitress wasn’t too worried and told me I could just run over to the drug store and buy something and get cash back. That seemed fine at first but as I thought about it I realized I needed an ATM or debit card to do cash back and of course I didn’t know the pin to get a cash advance on my credit card (because who ever knows that?!). That’s when I realized I was completely stumped. Being the clever traveler that I like to consider myself to be, I asked her if I could pay her via PayPal. Well of course this was a non-technically savvy person, so that idea was dead in the water. Until… there was a lovely family dining at the counter next to me. One of the women overheard my dilemma and chimed in, “I have PayPal. You could PayPal it to me and I could pay the cash for you.” Brilliant! So that is exactly what we did and the best part of this story was not only the technology-meets-human solution, but moreover that it allowed me to have this fantastic interaction with this family. After that we were all laughing and chatting. Those are truly the best travel moments. I guess in the end it worked out ok that I had forgotten my ATM card.
7. Any “Travel Changes Lives” Moments?
Absolutely! On my last day, I was flying home on a red-eye and hadn’t yet seen any sea turtles, which had been one of my goals, so I set out to find some. I googled the top spots to find them and ended up off the beaten path at a beautiful cove called Kiholo Bay. After carefully driving my rental car down the unmarked, bumpy and pot-hole-filled dirt road, I was delighted to find one of the most spectacular spots of the entire trip. This is clearly a spot where the locals know to go: peaceful, relaxing with beautiful views, lots of great lava rock to scramble around, and I hoped… turtles.
The turtles can be challenging to find because they are often under water and can be easily mistaken for rocks, so I walked along the beach slowly, my eyes peeled. Then there he was, his little head poking up out of the water, being tossed around with the surf and trying to get himself onto a rock.
I wasn’t planning to swim this day because I had already packed my bag and had to board a plane later that night with no place to change. But as soon as I saw this breathtaking spot and put my feet in the perfect warm water, I knew I had to go in! I decided to carpe diem and went back to my car and changed into my swimsuit. Once I got in the water, I was so happy I had done that- the water was perfect and within 10 minutes of floating around, completely relaxed and soaking up the incredible views, suddenly I saw a sea turtle swimming nearby. Keeping a safe distance of course, to not disturb or scare him, I swam alongside him for a bit until he eventually went deep under and out of my sight. I could not believe I was swimming with a sea turtle! Up until this point, I had been disappointed that I hadn’t seen any the entire trip. But here I was, a few hours away from flying home, and I felt how incredibly fortunate I was to start my adventure swimming with manta rays and to conclude my vacation by serendipitously swimming with a sea turtle. It was truly a magical moment!
8. What would you do if you went back again?
I have never done scuba diving before, so the next time I intend to scuba dive with the manta rays.
9. If you had to sell Hawaii as a destination in 5 words what would they be?
Volcanic! Swimming with Sealife!