Hawaii Part IV: Volcanoes and other Fun




In which we hang out with family in and around Hilo swimming, lounging, and seeing the sights.



Starting with the big one: Volcanoes National Park!! Although it’s difficult to tell, what you see here is live lava pouring into the ocean.

The Big Island is the only island in the Hawaiian archipelago which still has live volcanic activity, and is the home of Pele, the Goddess of volcanoes and fire. Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea are all active volcanoes, with Kilauea erupting continuously since 1983. Since that date, about 500 new acres of land have been added to the island.



C’s dad, also called C, braves the lava field.

We drive to the end of the road, then hop on bikes and take off across the lava field.


J and C the Elder tromping amongst lava rocks

When we reach the end of the road, we park our bikes and walk about a mile over the lava rock.


Ya’ll, lava is cool.



AND THEN WE FOUND THIS! Live lava, just oozing around, minding it’s own business, about 5 feet from our shoes. Above, C the Elder and some lava. He’s 5 ft away folks, not actually touching it.

The lava here is about 1700 degrees, and the heat prohibits you from getting dangerously close. It is unnerving, though, that the top crusts over and looks exactly like everything you’ve been stepping on for the last couple of hours.


Oozing lava is so mesmerizing and cool.



Casual family photo in front of oozing lava.

We explored the area, took tons of photos and videos, and had a picnic dinner while watching for the sunset. Once dark, we could clearly see the glowing red of the live lava, even at a distance. With headlamps, we tromped back to the road and biked out. Simply amazing.


Other photos:


J ecstatic at Suisan, the local fish market.

With all these family photos, there hasn’t been room or food photos!! Never fear, we’ve been stuffing ourselves with fish and poke, not to mention daily fruit smoothies and Kona coffee.



C taking the plunge at Boiling Pots, just above Rainbow Falls. Only swimmable because of extremely low water levels. Usually the current swirls and riles here, hence the name Boiling Pots.



Hanging w the Hawaii fam: C, cousins Leialoha, Autumn, Genesis, Lorie, J, Lyric, and mum Pauline.


Weekly Kalapana music festival with cousins.



Liliokulani Gardens. According to Pauline, this was an exceptionally scary and daring thing to do when she was a wee one.



Speaking of childhood sites, J and Pauline making the leap into the Ota family summer swimming hole at Ke’El Road.

I remember coming here in 1992 and being so impressed watching my cousins leaping into turbulent ocean waves, then swimming through underwater tunnels and into other holes. Apparently it’s not nearly the death-defying plummet I’ve always pictured.

After almost three weeks in Hawaii, and a full dose of Aloha spirit and Pidgin English, we finally head back to Seattle! As fantastic as this adventure has been, we are excited to be home, to see Twy again, to move back into our apartment, see our friends, and enjoy Seattle at its summertime best.


“Seattle At It’s Summertime Best.” Rock climbing at Amazonia with Shannon and new Seattleite cousin Josiah.



And in a shameless, unrelated plug, we are Aunties!!! Baby Vatland, still unnamed, was born to C’s sibs Lani and Stig in Norway on July 21st. Yay!

And here closes another chapter of the great CandJDontPayRent tales! Til next time, folks!!


Lots of Love!!

C & J


Hawaii Part III: Ota Ohana Family Reunion!


And now, for the main event! (a couple of weeks ago, sorry for the delay). We cap off our travelling adventures with the Ota Ohana (family) reunion in Hilo, Hawaii. Above, the Ota family crest stylized into a T-shirt design by Brittney Mahler.



The whole Ota hoard.

C’s grandpa, Kay Kunio Ota, was the fourth of six siblings. Pictured above are about 70% of the descendants of those siblings. We are almost 70 people strong, despite missing key members (like all of C’s siblings). The overachieving Sakumotos win with 100% representation.

It is C’s first time back to Hawaii in 17 years, and it’s wonderful.


Before she died, C’s Grandma Kiyoko (who married into the Ota family), wrote an extensive Ota family history. Prior to this reunion, C’s mum Pauline added to the history book. Above, Auntie Leh pores over photos of the Issei and Nissei generations. (Issei are first generation immigrants, born in Japan. Nissei are second generation, born in the US. C is yonsei, fourth generation.)



The complete Ota family tree – all the way to Rokusei!! (Sixth generation) Above, Hula fills in her family information.



C’s mum and sibs! The Kay Kunio Ota family: Doug, David, Barbara, and Pauline.



The immediate family: J, C and parents. Missing key members Lani, Stig, Dan, Anna, and newly born Baby Vatland (squee!)

Other Photos:


Keiko being delighted by Uncle David. The Ota family is currently in the midst of a baby avalanche and despite her apparent youth (and being the youngest Ota present at the reunion), Keiko is successfully older than three other Ota family infants.



Portrait of family gathered around baby carriage. C and Leialoha (purple and blue, respectively), now 31 and 35, haven’t seen each other since they were teenagers!



Family dinner.



Tys and Lora learn how to shell opihi (limpets) before dinner at the Leialoha ranch on Sunday. The Leialohas are family friends who used to work with C’s grandpa in his doctor’s office.



C’s mum and sibs delighting in Hawaiian Shave Ice.



Surprise!! Uncle Doug and Uncle Carlos stopped by the courthouse in Hilo and got married after being together for 23 years!! Above, cousins pile celebratory leis on them at dinner.



And just in time to celebrate the nuptials, J, C, Carlos, and Doug happen across the Hilo Pride Festival! It’s a small gathering, but festive and fun.



Wholesome family lawn games.

A fantastic time spent with the whole Ota family. Huge thanks to Karleen and Pauline for all their hard work planning the reunion and to all our local Aunties, Uncles, and cousins who hosted! We will definitely return to Hawaii again before too much time passes.



C & J

Hawaii Part II: Muliwai Trail to the Waimanu Valley


Waimanu beach. Photo by John Mahler.

In which we head to the Hilo side to meet up with the Ota family (C’s Mom’s side). But first, backpacking the Muliwai trail to the Waimanu Valley with cousins John, Brittney, and Alex!


Cousins: Before.



After much trepidation (on the part of John, Brittney, and Alex, who were excited right up until all their local cousins responded to the plans with loud scoffs and exclamations about hike difficulty) and much convincing (on the part of C & J, who delight in hikes everyone else thinks are too difficult), the voyage began!

Day 1 starts at the stunning Waipi’o Valley Lookout. Then we hike steep down into the valley, ford the river, cross the valley, hike steep up out of the valley, hike up and down 13 smaller valleys and ford 13 small streams, hike steep down into the Waimanu Valley, and finally ford the river to our campsite.


After 9.5 mi, we reach our just reward: The Waimanu beach – our campsite for the next two nights.


That night, we celebrate July 4th in style with sparklers and stars. Also our first night: J spearfishing prawns in the river to supplement our delicious ramen dinner. Unfortunately, no photos were taken, but it was just as badass as you’re picturing.


Day 2 begins with a delicious breakfast of mullet fish, gifted to us by our new friend and neighbor Troy. Along with Brittney’s harvested coconuts and bananas from our new friend Kavita, we fancy ourselves quite the foragers.

Below, Kavita and Troy teach us how to warm banana leaves over the fire so that they are pliant enough to wrap the fish without breaking.


We feel intrepid, but mostly sit and watch our new friends teach us how to catch the fish, clean the fish, and cook the fish. Hawaiians are so communal and friendly it’s ridiculous.


Alex and John: First camping trip ever, and already so good at this.


Along with the fishing spear and the metal grill we’ve been using to cook, we also find a boogie board, brought in by someone foolish enough to carry a boogie board 9.5 miles, and left behind for everyone for ever more to enjoy. Breakfast completed, we spend the morning lounging and learning how to boogie board.



Photo by Brittney Mahler.

That afternoon, clearly not tired from all the other activities, we take a short day hike to Waihilau Falls, a 2,600 ft falls with a delightful swimming hole. The falls are sadly quite low on water.



Looking up the Waimanu Valley, Waihilau Falls in the distance.



We spend Day 3 doing Day 1 in reverse (minus the spearfishing of prawns), and pretty much ace it. J, as per usual, does the whole thing in flip-flops.

All in all, a pretty fantastic trip!


Cousins: After



Photo by Brittney Mahler.

We take a quick dip in the ocean at Waipi’o beach, and meet Uncle Jay, another friendly, helpful Hawaiian. He loads us onto the back of his truck for a lift back up to the lookout, along with about 15 other people. J and I hitch a ride with Uncle Jay all the way back to Hilo.


Next Up: Ota Family Reunion!


Photo by John Mahler.

Lots of Love!

C & J



Hawaii Part I: Kona


Plumeria – the most fragrant lei flower in all the land.

In which we land in Hawaii for three weeks on the Big Island! Part I of this adventure entails spending a week on Kona side at Wild Boar Beans, a family-owned homestead with coffee, cacao, and lots of fresh fruit.

The big house, and the view from the big house. We do not live in the big house, we live in a cute little hut just down the hill with a delightful outdoor shower. The farm is mauka (mountain side) from Captain Cook, south of Kona town. There is one highway that circles the island, and when giving directions, everything is either mauka (towards the mountain) or makai (towards the ocean) from the highway.



Family dinner with Lana and Sandy (two other volunteers) and Greg (our host).

We quickly slip into Hawaii time and have a delightful, relaxed week. We wake up, spend a little while lounging on the lanai with breakfast, and then work for a few hours. Work ranges from weed-whacking and mowing to taking care of the animals (2 dogs, 2 cats, 2 sheep, and some koi) to building stone walls. Disappointingly, coffee harvest doesn’t start until September or so, so we don’t actually have much to do with the coffee trees.


Clara: Selfie with weed-whacker. 



These orange pods are ripe cacao. When broken open, the pods contain a tangy white flesh which is delicious to eat straight. If making chocolate, the flesh and beans are wrapped and left to ferment. The beans are then dried, roasted, and ground. When done with traditional methods, the entire process takes a couple of months.


J at Kealakekua Bay.

In the afternoons, we take off for the beach and explore the area.

Despite being on the sunny side of the island, it is quite cloudy and rains almost every day. While it’s nice that there’s less sunburn risk while snorkeling, we fear what will happen next week when we head to the rainy side.

More photos:


Statues at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.

Under the Hawaiian kapu system of law (taboo), many crimes or missteps against the social order were punishable by death. However, if someone who committed a crime was able to escape to the pu’uhonua (place of refuge), they would be unequivocally pardoned. During times of war, this sacred place also protected civilians as well as defeated warriors hoping to return home.



Drying ti leaves. Ti leaves are used in cooking and in the making of leis, hula skirts, and thatched-roof homes.


Turtle buddy, feeding at Two-Step.



That snorkel right there? That’s J.

The highlight of J’s life, when we snorkeled with dolphins. A pod of about 15 dolphins circled the bay for a couple of hours, sometimes coming so close we had to pull our hands in to keep from touching them.



J atop a collapsed lava tube.



Lava cliff.

Petroglyphs at Keauhou!

These petroglyphs are drawn in the inter-tidal rocks makai of a large heiau (temple) built by the Hawai’ian Ali’i (king) Lonoikamakakahiki in the 1500s. They are visible only at low tide, and took some time to find.

On the left, a series of petroglyphs telling the story of the death of the king of Maui, Kamalalawalu, at the hands of Lonoikamakakahiki. After Kamalalawalu stabbed out the eyes of a messenger (a brutal thing to do, even then), Lonoikamakakahiki retaliated by capturing Kamalalawalu and sacrificing him alive to celebrate his great victory. He was impaled on a pole for several days, then towed out to sea behind a canoe and fed to the sharks.

On the right, an extremely rare petroglyph depiction of a European-style sailing ship.



Lava rock at Honaunau.



Kids jumping off the rocks at Two-Step.



Next up: Ota Family Reunion and backpacking in the Waimanu Valley.


Lots of love!!

C & J



Our grand return to the United States!

In which we spend a week hanging with the fam in Miami. We are just in time to celebrate our two-year anniversary, J’s (belated) birthday, and Father’s Day.

Celebrating with Martha and the Prietos.

We also meet new family, J’s new half-sister Camille!



It’s a fantastic visit, and as always, the week goes by too fast in a whirlwind of parties and other get-togethers. We clean the gutters, swim in the pool, make some ceramic sculptures, go out on Charlie’s boat, and eat all the Cuban food we can handle.

A few more photos:


Proud Papa.




Rock climbing with cousin Alianne.



Out for Father’s Day drinks.



Girls Night Out to see Wonder Woman with the Prietos!

Flying east, we layover in San Francisco and spend a day with Washington DC friends Lindsay and Jess! We haven’t been to San Francisco since our road trip across the country in 2014, but our experience there is remarkably similar, and mostly entails lounging in parks in beautiful weather, eating delectable asian food, and drinking craft beer:



We now find ourselves on the big island of Hawaii for the last leg of our adventures! We are working on a small coffee farm near Captain Cook, snorkeling, beaching, adventuring, and are already sunburnt.

Lots of love!

C & J


5 Months in South America


Huaraz, Peru

Friends! We have now completed the South America portion of our adventures, maybe more aptly titled the Andes portion, as we only traveled up the western coast, and only through four countries.



Valparaiso, Chile

After our last stint travelling (2 years in Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia, and the United States, 2012-2014), many people asked me the financial details of our trip. How we managed to save, how much we spent, how many times J lost her pocketknife. Our first trip was self-financed with some supplementation along the way:

  • Generous help from family and friends who offered us free accommodations and meals around the world,
  • Volunteering for a couple of stints in exchange for room and board via Helpx.net,
  • And in Australia, we got work-holiday visas and were able to get real jobs for real pay.



Sucre, Bolivia

This trip was a little different – we financed a bulk of it from our Honeymoon Fund, full of generous gifts from friends and family for our wedding, added to our own savings. A huge thank you to everyone who contributed! This trip would not have been possible without you. While we have aged out of the work-holiday visa option, we again volunteered for room and board via Helpx and Workaway.


Collon, Peru

In total, we spent 3 months in Chile and Argentina (most of which was spent in Patagonia, with only 2 weeks in central and northern Chile), and one month each in Bolivia and Peru.



Bariloche, Argentina

By the numbers, this is what it takes for two people to travel in South America for 5 months:

  • Total spent: $9,857.10 ($4,928.55 each)
    • This number is inclusive of all airfare/travel, initial expenses like travel vaccines, travel expenses, and souvenirs/gifts. It is not inclusive of bills like health insurance.



Ancud, Chile

  • Average spent per day: $50.11 ($25.06 each)
    • Our estimated budget was $35/day, but this number averages in expensive days like land travel and visiting sites like Machu Picchu.
    • This number also fluctuated, with us spending much more daily in Chile and Argentina and much less in Bolivia and Peru.



Grey Glacier, Chile

  • Cheapest night of paid accommodation: $3.75, in Copacabana, Bolivia.
  • Most Expensive night of paid accommodation: $46, in Chillan, Chile.
  • Total nights spent on overnight buses: 6
  • Total nights spent in our tent, the Turtle: 28
  • Highest elevation reached: 5,047 m / 16,558 ft, Urus Pass, Peru.
  • Total number of knives J cycled through: 4




Machu Picchu, Peru

These numbers will continue to grow as we still have a month left in our travels, but our budget and travel style is quite different for this segment of the journey. We’ll spend a week in Miami visiting the fam, then three weeks in Hawaii.



Ninu Mayu, Bolivia

Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca


Nevado Chakraraju (6,108 m / 20,039 ft)



Huaraz is a small city 8 hours north of Lima, which sits at 3,100 m. It is completely surrounded by picturesque snow-capped peaks and rocky cliffs, and is basically an adventure wonderland. Our hostel, directly across the street from the central market, is an old building with colonial Spanish architecture, and we discover that it is one of the few buildings that survived the “great earthquake of 1970” which leveled most of the city.

We come for a few days and stay for almost two weeks of rock climbing and hiking through the Andes, including a fabulous 3-day venture on the Akilpo-Ishinka trek. Some photos:



Day 1: Blue skies in the Rio Akilpo valley. We set off with a pep in our step, thoroughly enjoying the fact that we don’t see a single other hiker in the whole valley.


We crisscross the river on a series of bridges made of logs laid across the stream and covered with dirt and rocks. They are a bit unnerving because they look and feel solid, but sometimes have holes where someone clearly fell through.

The weather is changing rapidly, with big, dark clouds rolling in and out.



After a couple of detours due to encounters with cows and a longer and slower day than expected due to high altitude, we decide to camp at the head of the valley, below our desired campsite at the lake. Exhausted, we find a delightful, cozy spot for the turtle sheltered behind a large rock which protects us from the night’s violent gusting winds.



Wait, but why is it snowing?? The next morning, off-trail hiking towards Akilpo Lake.



And then, the weather cleared! C glacier stomping at Akilpo Lake (4,700 m). From here, the established trail ended and we took off up the slope on a social trail towards the pass. The views grew more and more spectacular as we rose, surrounded by no less than six peaks 6,000 m or higher.



At Urus Pass (5,047 m / 16,558 ft), we encounter snow that all of our prior trip research told us should be melted by now. This made route-finding a bit more difficult, and our progress a little slower. This photo taken just beyond the pass. We spent about 27 seconds at the actual pass, since the wind made it difficult to stand upright and pelted us horrible ice-bullets.



Descending into the Ishinka Valley.



3 1/2 hours of steep, difficult, off-trail stumbling later, we arrive at Ishinka Base Camp. Our egos are slightly soothed when we chat with a local guide embarking on an 8-day glacial trek, and he is impressed when we tell him our route.

The next day, we hike an easy, sloping 16 km back out the Ishinka Valley, and, back in civilization, catch two collectivos back to Huaraz.



A truly awesome trek.

Other photos from our time in Huaraz:


C, taking a chilly dip on a day hike to Laguna 69.



J, taking her beers for a chilling dip in Laguna 69.



Rock climbing for J’s birthday with a view over Huaraz.



We spend a couple of awesome days rock climbing. Since it’s difficult/dangerous to take photos while belaying, this was the only action shot taken (C safely at a bolt). We tackle mostly 6a and 6b climbs, and C takes her second major leader fall, which J expertly catches.



In between all this activity, we spent some delightful down time in Huaraz, as illustrated by this photo of J making breakfast in our hostel room. We thoroughly enjoy the market and have our go-to ladies for vegetables, bread, and fruit. We discover a couple of nice locals restaurants and an awesome brewery with a delicious IPA. It’s a great place to spend our last days in South America.

36 hours of travelling later, we now find ourselves stateside in Miami!!

Next post: South America summary, and Miami with family and friends.


Lots of love,

C & J