Alaska and Hawaii: Different Latitude Sisters

Alaska and Hawaii: Different Latitude Sisters  Hana, 2019

Strange but true, the last two states in the U.S with extreme climates, are sisters. With a direct flight from Anchorage to Maui in about 6 hours, Alaskans breathe a sigh of relief for not having to travel 18 hours or so to get to a warm climate. Similar in latitude to Zihuatenano, Mexico, that takes 18 hours of air travel, the 6 hours to get to Maui is a nano second. Remember it takes 3.5 hours airtime just to get out of Alaska from Anchorage, the state’s hub.

Think about it: 

  • Last two States 49 and 50
  • Airplane and boat travel for most of the state
  • Extreme climates 
  • Unforgetable beauty
  • Horrible treatment of indigenous populations
  • Sky high food prices that get even higher as you travel from population centers
  • Moose vs mongoose (both wander a lot)
  • Moist sultry air/crisp fresh air
  • Picking oranges, avocados, bananas /berry picking
  • Sophisticated city centers
  • Wild remote places
  • Tourism important to both
  • Few roads and dangerous
  • Extreme weather Both have tsunamis, volcanos, rock slides, earthquakes
  • Hawaii calls the other states “The Mainland” Alaska calls it “Outside”


As the plane filled, it included a large number of small children and the large accoutrements that go along with small kid travel these days—car size strollers, mammoth car seats. In front of us were two children 5 years and 2.5 yrs and their conscientious Girdwood parents. They seemed to know several people on the plane.  Mom and Dad took turns sitting in the aisle seat next to the two boys who had their own kid iPads. The parents used their smartphones for movie screens. It’s a long six hour flight for small children, but all was ok for the first four hours and kids paraded up and down the aisles with parents taking them to the bathroom. After all, we were all looking forward to Hawaii.

Suddenly the two year old started throwing “the mother of all tantrums” that went on and on as desperate Mom and Dad traded the screaming child back and forth. I know it was hard for them. I said to the Mom who was well aware of the loud screams, 

“Someday you will laugh about this, but not today.” 

“Thank you,” she said gratefully.

About 45 minutes into the tantrum, or was it five hours, the child fell asleep. The parents were exhausted. The 5yr old remained consumed by his video screen the whole time.  

I wondered where the bag of critical bribe snacks was?  The books to read to the child? In my experience reading a book to a child often results in dozing off—it’s important to avoid dozing off yourself before the child does. And don’t even consider skipping a page in a favorite book. Small cars? Games for parent child interaction? It seemed the parents wanted everyone to just be entertained by video screens the whole flight—an impossible task for a 2.5 year old.

As we left the plane (we were near the back) , the floor looked like a movie theatre in the days when you dropped everything on the floor. The cleaners were going to have a heck of a time getting the plane ready for the next flight in the short time allotted. 


It is always hard for me to winnow down my books for travel. If It is work travel, that includes long flights to Washington D.C., it’s two books, one for each way and most likely I’ll pick up another one or two on the trip. I like to take paperbacks with me, those that I’ll only read once, and leave for others to enjoy. 

On one trip, I tried to leave a really good book behind three times—someone rushed after me with the book, saying I left it behind and it looks like “a good book.”  What could I do but take it? On trips with friends where lots of talking and shopping happens, it’s one or two books for bedtime reading or early morning.


This is our first trip to Hana, Maui. Friends graciously offered us use of their second home that they built 20 years ago. Anyone we told that we were going to Hana, told stories of the dark, winding, narrow road. It is important to finish the trip before dark because it is soooo dark.

We arrive on Maui 3pm, collect our luggage and car and  go grocery shopping. Our hosts warned us of the high cost of food in Hana, with only two small general stores available. Indeed some of the prices even shocked seasoned Alaskans—half gallon of milk, $7. In direct contrast to Alaska, wonderful fruits are ready for picking or buying at farm stands.

Alas, it was almost 5pm when we start up the highway, sunset coming quickly. While it is only about 50 miles to Hana, 30 miles for us,  it takes two hours with average speeds of 10-20 miles an hour. It makes Alaska’s Seward Highway with its feet of snow,, high winds, avalanches, mountains ALMOST look like a straightaway. Certainly as we went down a hill and around a corner, we entered a cave of vegetation and hanging vines that would make Tarzan proud. One-car bridges, waterfalls, rain, dark, narrow roads made for a trying trip.

Finally we arrived at the house and immediately love it. Beautifully built with lots of wood and tastefully decorated, we walked around enjoying it. While on a street with other houses, we couldn’t see them. The long lanai provides long views all the way to the ocean. The lanai traverses the length of the house with many sliding doors letting in the sultry air that drifted across us while we slept. Soft breezes, cool or warm are one of my favorite hight time treats. One of the bookshelves holds the most incredible selection of classics, new and enticing books. I didn’t need to bring any books.

The next morning we drove into Hana, exploring the small town and then north of Hana for the beaches, stopping to pick up papaya, passion fruit and star fruit at an organic stand. The stand cashier was in a work/exchange program. I asked him to pick out a good papaya for me as I could pick out a good salmon for him, I was clueless about tropical fruits. A friend of his is working on a work/exchange program in Alaska.

The very old general store has a bit of everything except the Phillips screw driver Jim wanted. I looked at a reusable bag with a flower on it. I admired the authentic replica gecko pin on the top of the bag. “What a clever addition to a bag,” think reaching out to touch the pin and the “real live”gecko and I both jump as it runs off.

As we near home, we find a delightful farm stand/store with magnificent homemade ice-cream for a mere $5 a serving and giant taro chips, a favorite. We shamelessly stop by for ice cream a couple times more.fullsizeoutput_12fc



As important as books are, having proper tea and supplies is critical for any trip. Strong, hot tea, usually Irish Breakfast in the morning is a must. I also like to use items we bought on other trips as a memory of that time. For this trip I picked a sturdy 4-cup yellow tea pot along with a travel tea cozy and thermal mat. We picked these up in Lake Magog, Quebec while on our way to the Gaspe Peninsula . This is the town that Jim’s mother and grandmother summered at traveling from their home in Montreal. It was the first visit to Magog for us.

He likes to make my tea in the morning and bring it to me in bed or on the lanai.  I drink the tea watching the morning awaken around me. It’s the same ritual on our deck in Alaska, particularly when the sun rises enough to hit the deck and provide a little warmth. For as Mary Oliver says, “Why should I not sit and greet every morning…

As often happens on a plane to Hawaii we run into friends/colleagues from Alaska. Now retired, I do miss those work moments .  This time it is Ellen and Richard. We agree to meet one day for lunch in Maui. We make the trip again down the Hana Road.  Once again two hours for 30 miles, beautiful or not too difficult.  It rains off and on but doesn’t seem to faze these two in their classic Porsche.fullsizeoutput_12c8

We do a couple of errands and meet our friends for lunch. It is worth every minute of the trip down the mountains. Ellen and I plan a summer rendezvous with another friend who moved to Homer.

We enter a few days of rain, not just sprinkles but RAIN, not the horizontal freezing rain of Alaska, but dense sheets of warm water that pour down .  It stops but we can see the next squall on it’s way—a bit of blue sky, white clouds and then heavy dark clouds. Surprisingly, we don’t mind. The house is spacious and comfortable.  We can usually sit on the lanai and watch the rain and read. This is an unusual holiday for us. Usually we travel many miles in the Sprinter visiting friends or staying at a hotel for a day or two when we need a break. We like this vacation style!! I read four books, Jim, two. I never read during the day at home—always something I feel must get done. The rain stops and the lush grass and foliage turn greener and sparkly. Lushness is all around. One morning I find a green flower vine draped on the porch. Thank goodness for FB one as a friend quickly identifies is for us.

We drive a short distance to the Lava Tube attraction and then on another 1.5 miles to the botanical gardens even though the sign near the lava tube says “closed.” As we get close, the road is flooded with at least a foot of water flowing from the waterfall across the road and down into a stream. Another day.

Jim elects to stay home  one day while I drive around in the rain. I stop at the beautiful, but pricey art gallery at the equally pricey hotel in Hana and chat at some length with the manager. A lawyer and a teacher, she taught art for several years at the public schools. We touched on the abhorrent treatment of Alaska Native and Hawaiian Native children—both punished for speaking their language and practicing customs. Like Alaska, the missionaries  came in to “save” the indigenous people. “Now,” she said,”Traditional Hawaiian language is taught starting in primary school.”

I walk around the mostly outdoor lobby admiring a wooden chair and big cushy leather chairs under a roof. I look at the bulletin board of classes offered and snap a photo of the bamboo spear throwing class, certain Jim would love it. He declines.

I collect roadside flowers and leaves for Ikebana here and there. The size, various shades of greens and unusual shapes attract me. A sandwich board sign for  Hana Tropicals is on the side of the road and I drive up the narrow mud road. It’s still raining. I pass a food truck for Ethiopian food that is unfortunately closed,  past a few ducks and stop at visitors’ parking. An open main building with green houses in the back draws me into the shop. I wander around looking at many beautiful orchids and flowers. A tall young woman greets me. She and her boyfriend came from South Carolina three years ago for a work/exchange program. After their stint, the owner asked them to manage the nursery. Her skin glows with youth and moist air. She loves her work and it shows in her face as she talks about the flowers and how they ship all over the U.S.  Alaska, too?,I ask surely challenging her. “Last week we shipped orchids to Fairbanks when it was -40,” she said proudly, “They arrived in fine shape.”

What could I do but order an orchid? After checking on its potential viability in my home, (I assured her there is a great deal of light) she picked one out for me. She made sure to let me know that it is important to watch for Fed EX to bring the plant in right away.This is a special plant prepared by a loving gardener.  We talk more about the work/exchange program. There is a North American one as well as an international program helping young adults learn about gardening and the environment. I encounter an enthusiastic worker from South America on the way out.

I pick a large lemon from a bowl that says “Lemons, $1” She tells me they are the juiciest lemons they grow and wants to give me one. Indeed, it makes the best ever lemonade, no sugar needed.  But, it seems the money goes to the work/exchange staff who earn no salaries, so I put money in the basket. They do flower arranging also and there are buckets of beautiful flowers for $1 each. I pick out a few and she insists on giving me a Bird of Paradise with a few leaves wrapped around it “for our house.”

It’s still raining but I drive down the road to the nearby state park and park near the water. Only a few diehards are here in the pouring rain standing by their cars wearing cotton hoodies. I never see a rain coat on anyone the whole trip —must be un Hawaiian. I sit and watch a well-fed ginger cat near the garbage bins. A mongoose is jumping in and out of the bin with food scrapes. It seems the cat and mongoose have an understanding. It isn’t until the mongoose leaves that Ginger Cat takes her turn at the garbage bin—she must be slumming it for the day.

After stopping by a unique fruit stand, I drive home having had the best ever afternoon, the kind of driving around that Jim dislikes strongly. He, in turn, had fun watching movies, dozing and reading. Over dinner, I tell him about my travels. 

Hawaii is near the equator and so the sun roughly rises at 6am and goes down at 6pm. We find ourselves rising early.  Rain seems to diminish with bright sun showing. We drive past Hana to the national park. We want to hike to the Bamboo Forest but it is an hour each way and muddy. We settle for a shorter trail down by the ocean. 

From here we drive further on Hwy 360 driving closer to the “no-driving” section. If you get in an accident, rental cars won’t cover you. We continue along the road, more  broken up now and the scenery with the ocean below us is beautiful. Soon, though, we find the road narrowing and I cling to the side of the mountain with my finger nails. The rain starts again and we decide it best to turn around, our curiosity satisfied.

A bright, sunny day greets us on Tuesday and we set out, first to the Lava Tube, my one and only lava tube tour. Jim loves them and tells me about more we can visit until I shut him down. It is also a former nuclear fall out shelter for 50 people. The sunny day draws other people who join us heading down the stairs to the dark, dripping slimy lava tube. We each have a flash light. It is the blackest of black when we turn our flashlights off. Interesting lava stalactites and stalagmites are all around. One of the signs says how the centipedes and the worms that live in the tube, are now born without eyes, but longer antennae to find their way around and “please don’t step on them.” Further along a sign tells us about the “20 inch eyeless worms that live down here, and leave them alone if you see one.” We duck under a 4ft rise into the “Chocolate Room.” Indeed the lava looks like dripping chocolate. We mustn’t touch it, but “Boy Scout O’Neill touches it. We turn around and repeat our steps and finally out into the sunshine. It’s important to try everything once and for some things, once is enough.

The closed sign is gone for the Botanical Gardens and we drive down the road again. Indeed the water has diminished to a trickle across the road. We pay and park and walk the beautiful grounds with ancient Polynesian worship areas, and look at the churning sea below the rock cliff. Extensive work is underway to remove invasive plants and replace them with indigenous plants better able to stop erosion.

The sun still shines and we head to the State Park. This time the parking lots are mostly filled. A skinny black cat lounges under a car near by. I get a piece of cheese but he backs away. I leave it and it is soon gone. There is a wonderful walking path of boards all along the water, along with ways to go down and clamor over the rocks, past the black sand beach and down a path along the cliff splashed by the incoming surf. I thought Jim might want to go down to the beach to watch the babes in bikinis but he declines. Instead we walk further along the path and watch two 16 year olds swimming in a cove. Unfortunately the way in and out of the cove is over huge rocks. They manage it and then they walk by us over the volcanic rock path in their BARE FEET. To them, that is the way it will always be. To us we know that ability disappears quickly with age. No more two dollar flip flops, it’s $100 Keen sandals to protect tender feet. 

There are tents all around on the grass, far apart. There is also a number of skinny cats wandering around. Two women lean over the railing looking at one and offering a tuna snack. The wily cat stays back and then quickly snatches some tuna and runs around the rock with it. I’m surprised, this is a popular park and wonder why the cats haven’t been caught, neutered and released.  

It’s been a busy day for us and we’re both tired, still coughing from our colds. It’s a happy day thought and we talk about it over dinner. It’s early to bed and a good sleep.

In the mornings we pick up oranges from the ground for fresh squeezed juice. Ironically I bought two dried out oranges at the grocery store in Maui for $3.49/pound. We met the gardener who keeps us supplied with apple bananas and the creamiest just-picked avocados. We made a stop at an organic fruit stand and added star fruit, passion fruit and papaya to our bounty. I brought a loaf of my sourdough bread with me and made modified “Avocado Melt Sandwiches”, a favorite of many Alaskans from The Midway Cafe in Anchorage. I must say though, due to the freshness of our vegetables, they were even better. It will be hard to go back to imported avocados and tomatoes in Alaska. Even “meat and potato” Jim loves the sandwiches.

I meditate in the bedroom with the lanai doors wide open. The rain slows to plunking drops on the roof. A soft, moist breeze touches my cheek. The birds start singing and chattering, happy the rain stopped. The scent of oranges drifts past my nose—it’s Jim squeezing the oranges for juice in the kitchen. 

Wednesday is our last day and we go no where. We pack, read, lounge around and watch the birds and mongooses in the yard. I make a big breakfast and we eat it on the lanai. It is so peaceful with a slight breeze .

It’s time to go home and we are ready. It’s been a wonderful holiday, but home is home and we’ll collect DustyKitty in Anchorage on our way.

Thursday morning we are up early to head to the airport. Jim squeezes one last glass orange juice and once again the aroma floats into the bedroom. We finish the packing and load everything in the car.

“Goodbye Gecko.” Jim says to the gecko hanging on the wall. “ I wonder if  he’ll miss us?,”

It’s one more hairy ride down the Hana Highway. Twists and turns, one lane bridges, lots of traffic going to Hana. “As if I needed a sign,” said Jm passing a “winding, narrow road”sign. I admire the beauty of the drive, Jim is too busy.


Soon enough we are at the airport checking in and through security and another agriculture check on the way to the gate. The plane is packed, once again filled with parents and small children that surround me, my penance for making a comment about the lack of parent/child interactive books or games on the plane.

A very special Hawaiian holiday thanks to our friends.

PS My orchid arrived in a snowstorm in perfect condition !



Alaska and Hawaii: Different Latitude Sisters

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