Maui – Day 3

Another morning consumed by conference.  As for the afternoon, we planned ahead of time and brought our hiking boots with us to checkout the Iao Valley State Park.

Lunch was at Tin Roof.  We had planned to hit this joint after landing in Maui 2 days ago, but they close on Sundays.  I had high hopes for this place because Joe read good reviews, but it was just good, not fantastic.

Joe had the mochiko chicken again (bottom left) and I had the saimin ramen with a 6-minute egg (bottom right)

Iao Valley Park is located in the Waikulu area close to the downtown area so it was a short drive to the park.  We quickly learned that we could avoid the park fee by parking alongside the road outside the park entrance.

One thing you’ll notice on the island is that wild chickens are everywhere – at gas stations, grocery store parking lots, and of course in state park parking lots.


A view from the parking lot…


We thought we needed hiking boots, but this was completely doable in flip flops as the trail was mostly paved.  You can climb a flight of steps to get a closer look of the Iao needle.


Then there’s another trail bringing you closer to the creek.


Both trails were very short and we were disappointed that that was it.  However, we quickly realized that there were trails leading away from the designated trail and decided to check them out.


Found a rope tied near a pool of water, and it was very tempting to jump in, but I didn’t have my swim suit with me, so I opted for the next best thing – posing with the rope pretending to swing into the pool.

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Odd outfit I know.

We started to encounter denser brush, and I was getting a little concerned that we may get lost and end up needing to be rescued like those missing hikers I had read about a few months ago.  When we came upon a couple who were heading towards us, I asked if there was anything to see further up, and was told that there were no waterfalls up ahead and it was just the same dense trail.  So we turned around.

Checked out the rest of the paved trail and managed to position myself (by going past a warning signage) to get a nice shot of the Iao Needle with Joe standing on the bridge.


Since this park visit was literally a walk in the park we had ample time to kill.  We decided to head back to the hotel and do beach stuff.  Unfortunately, the waves were just too strong that we couldn’t really do much.

The beach was pretty much deserted.


We did try our best to stay for sunset, but the sandblasts won.


When in Hawaii, one must have Hawaiian ice, even though it’s just sugary syrup on ice.


Dinner was at Miso Phat again…

TNT in the center, and Miso Phat rolls on the sides.

Maui – Day 1

Our first time in Maui was in 2016 with mom and dad.  Due to the fact that they were with us, and dad had some medical issues at the time we really didn’t get to explore the island as much as we wanted to.  This time around I made sure we hit everything we wanted to see, specifically to hike the Pipiwai trail to see the bamboo forest.  We also finally got a chance to go whale watching for the first time.

As soon as we landed we decided to get some authentic Hawaiian food.  We ended up at Poi by the Pound that was within walking distance from our car rental company SIXT.  We actually didn’t realize it was within walking distance, and ended up driving around the block.

Joe and I shared the Hawaiian plate which consisted of kalua pork, lau lau, poi, chicken long rice, ahi poke, and salmon lomi.  This gave us a chance to taste all the various local dishes.  My favorite was the kalua pork, but due to it’s saltiness I ended up mixing it with poi, which by itself is rather bland.  However, the combo was actually pretty tasty.

Clockwise from top right: salmon lomi, Lau Lau, kalua pork, rice, salad, chicken long rice, poi, ahi poke.

After lunch we were on our way to our hotel – the Kaanapali Beach Hotel (the same one we stayed at 4 years ago).  I decided to stay at KBH due to it’s proximity to the Sheraton where the conference was being held.  The other reason why I picked KBH was that they do not charge a resort fee like all the other hotels.  Personally, I don’t like paying for resort fees as they really don’t add much value to my stay – I don’t need wifi and free local calls, as that’s was a personal cell phone is for.

Instead of driving clockwise from Kahului to Kaanapali like we did last time, we opted to drive counterclockwise to check out the part of the island we didn’t get to see last time.  The clockwise route is a major thoroughfare between Kahului and Lahaina, whereas the counterclockwise route is a one-way winding route that is slower, but much more scenic.


The cloud cover lifted as we continued on.


The one thing I love about Hawaii is how lush and green everything is, especially the windward side of the island.


The contrast of the green mountain and blue ocean.



Imagine living in a place like this.  Terribly inconvenient, but you’re in your own paradise.


One thing we’ve learned over the years, is that if you see a bunch of cars parked on the side of the road – stop, and check it out.  This is what we were awarded with after a 2-minute trek on the trail.


Getting closer to the ledge, at risk of getting blown over.


It was really windy the week we were there as you can see from the waves being picked up by the wind.


A closer look.


Interestingly, there are no signs along the road pointing out scenic vistas.  One of them being the Nakalele blowhole I’ve wanted to check out last time.  The only reason why we ended up at the blowhole this time was all thanks to the telltale sign of a huge gathering of rental cars.  We didn’t even know what we were stopping for until we saw this sign on the trail.


One other thing we’ve learned over time is to always heed warning signs.  So we steered way clear away from the blowhole – maybe we stayed a little too far.  The other reason for not hiking all the way down was due to the fact that I was wearing flip flop sandals, which was not the most appropriate footwear for the situation.


With all the stops along a narrow winding road, we finally reached the hotel some time after 4PM.  As soon as we dropped off our bags, we headed over to the Whalers Village to pick up one of my favorites – Honolulu Cookies, to bring back to the office after the trip.

Caught a rainbow on our way back to the hotel room.


For dinner, we opted for sushi since we hadn’t had sushi in years despite the fact that we live in California.  We opted for Miso Phat given that they get their fish same day off their own boat “Shiso Phat”, and let me tell you the fish is absolutely fresh and delicious, especially their hamachi.  I can’t remember the last time I had such good sushi other than back in 2009 at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.  In fact, it was so good that we ended up having dinner there 3 nights out of the 5 – we would’ve gone 4 had it not been for our 13-hour Hana highway trip that drained us by the time we got back to the hotel in the evening, and we opted to skip dinner all together.

If you ever end up at Miso Phat, make sure to order the Miso Phat roll, TNT roll, and spicy hamachi roll.  Also the joint doesn’t have a liquor license, so BYOB (there’s a deli next door that sells good Japanese beer and sake).



Mount San Jacinto

Lately I’ve felt the need to take a break every 3-4 weeks.  Working daily is mentally draining.  Call it burn out or compassion fatigue, either way I need a recharge.  I realized that I don’t necessarily need a long getaway to recharge, I simply need a day in nature to allow the weight to fall off my shoulders.  After the exhilaration and serotonin jolt I got from the Mt. Baldy hike, I quickly started to plan another hiking trip.

It’s amazing how little I’ve seen of SoCal after having been living here for the last 8 years.  Our lives have basically been confined to the 25 mile radius of our home.  On weekends we opt not to venture far from our home because we simply love staying in and near the area we live in.  Plus, the SoCal traffic is a huge deterrent to drive anywhere.  With that said, this year I’ve decided to take off a Friday every 3-4 weeks to explore SoCal.

To find another hiking trail, I consulted  He has detail information and turn-by-turns on his website.  It’s a wonderful resource.  I wanted something challenging in an alpine environment.  In order to find that in SoCal, one must go up in elevation.  Meaning at least 8000 ft above sea level.  The best part about hiking in such high elevation in the summer is the temperature.  It could be 100F in the desert floor, but a cool 50-60F up top.

One interesting trail is the PS Tramway to Mount San Jacinto peak located in the San Bernardino Mountains in Palm Springs, which is about a 2-hour drive from Laguna Beach.

You take the Palm Springs Tramway up 6000ft from 2000ft.  The cost of the ride is $25, which is a pretty good deal if it can shave off 6000ft of ascent.


The whole trip took 10 minutes, and the best part about the tram is that the floor rotates allowing you 360 degree view while you stand still in the tram.


A view down toward the desert floor.

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Once you get off the tram, you’re at 8000+ft and in alpine territory.




Our goal was to reach the summit at 10,834 ft, which meant we still had a good 2600 ft ascent and 5.5 miles ahead of us.  Our first goal was to reach Wellman’s Divide at 9100ft.


A view from Wellman’s Divide…


After a quick water and snack break, we headed for the summit 2 miles away.

Found a nice cutout in a tree for a photo-op…


Scenes along the way…


You can see the desert floor to the left.


There is still snow left at this elevation in June.



Near the summit, there’s a shelter with 2 bunk beds that you can stay at in case you’re caught in inclement weather.


Judging by the sign, we took the easy way up.  Some people actually hike from the desert floor in Idyllwild.


Luckily we brought hiking poles this time, because there was a patch of snow up the final push that made trekking tricky.

Finally made it up to the top after getting overtaken by a bunch of boy scouts…Ah youth…


I read that on a clear day you can see Catalina Island off the coast of California to the west and Mt. Charleston in Nevada to the east.  Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of haze while we were up top, and chose to face east for our lunch break.


After the half hour lunch break, we starting our hike back down…


There was no way to hike down this without the use of hiking poles.


The hike took us a total of 7.5 hours (plus the 1/2 hour break up at the summit).  It took 4 hours to go up and 3 hours down.  By the time we got back down to the desert floor, we were ready for some real food after a whole day of trail mixes.

When it comes to eating, it’s always Joe’s responsibility to find yummy food because it’s important to him.  After much researching prior to the hike, we decided on Workshop Palm Springs.

The restaurant has a very hip, minimalist, industrial feel.


The Palm Springer cocktail was yummy!


The octopus carpaccio was especially refreshing after a long day of hiking…

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and the mussels were to die for.  The broth was so good that we quickly accepted another round of buttered toasted bread in order to sop up the broth.  It would have been easier had they just offered us a straw each.


I opted for the saffron risotto because I needed the carb for my scheduled 10 mile run the following day.


Joe had the pork chop with amazing relish.


Finally, the pistachio mouse with passion fruit gelatin, which unfortunately overpowered the pistachio.


This hike was unique because of the tram, but not quite as interesting as Mount Baldy.  For now, we’re going to take a break from hiking as I think we got the hiking bug out of the system.  Luckily, we have a more sedate Vegas trip coming up in 3 weeks…

Mount Baldy

Hiking Mount Baldy was a last minute decision.  While at work on Friday, I was itching to go somewhere and do something over the Memorial Day Weekend.  Hiking is always fun, so I googled hiking trails in SoCal.  I didn’t want just any two-bit hiking trail like the ones we have in Laguna Beach.  I wanted something challenging, fun, and beautiful, which meant I had to look at higher elevation climbs.  Mount Baldy, AKA Mount San Antonio, fit the bill.

Mount Baldy is located in the Angeles National Forest, which is an hour and change north east of us.  Mount Baldy summit is the highest peak in LA county, topping out at 10,064ft.

After stopping off at the visitor center to pay for our $5 Adventure Pass we headed to Mankers Flat, the start of the trailhead.

There are 2 ways of getting up to the summit.  The Devil’s Backbone or the Baldy Bowl trail.  From Mankers Flat, we picked hiking up the paved road to Mount Baldy Resort, then hiking up the Devil’s Backbone Trail to the Summit.


One thing that caught us off guard was the snow.  It had rained the night before, and any precipitation above 8K ft translates to snow.  I think had we known there was going to be snow, we would have scrapped the hike because we were warned not to hike the trail when there is snow.

However, snow makes this place look like a wonderland.  It’s beautiful beyond description.


Some people opted to take the ski lift up to the resort before picking up the trail.


A view above the clouds before the Devil’s Backbone Trail.


Looking east towards the Mojave desert.


The start of the Devil’s Backbone trail.  Called the Devil’s Backbone trail because you have sheer drops on either side of the path.  When icy, this is where people fall off to their deaths.


Looking back at the hikers crossing the first section of the backbone.


Hiking up towards the second section.

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Never would I imagine this kind of view existed in Southern California.


Posing on the second section of the backbone.


Certain sections are narrower than others.


Immediately past the backbone, there was a narrow part that hugged the cliff wall.  Some of the snow had turned slushy and slippery, and at one point I thought I was going to fall off.  I think I would have been perfectly fine had there not been any snow on the ground.  This is when a set of hiking poles, and some crampons would come in handy.  I just remember digging my nails into the side of the wall to keep me from falling.

I had never been so scared in my life.  Even Joe said he’s never seen me so frightened.

At the bottom of the last summit.  This part was hard only for the fact that it was freezing and the wind was whipping at top speeds, and we had no where to hide.  This section was completely exposed.  Joe couldn’t feel his lips.  I just felt stinging on the right side of my face as the wind was coming from that direction.


As we were hiking, we both had the same thought about turning around (a group had turned around).  However, for me, the thought of having to go back to the narrow path where I thought I had almost fallen off made me push forward.

We finally made it.  Four and a half hours and 4000 ft from the parking lot, we made it to the summit.  The last section took us a good 40 minutes to hike up.


Thanks to the gale force wind, we chose not to linger at the top, and we made our way down the Baldy Bowl trail.




Can’t remember the last time we saw snow.  This was an impromptu thing Joe did.  He just plopped down to make a snow angel.


Luckily, the Baldy bowl trail was protected from the wind, and we decided to have our mid-day snack here while enjoying the view.


View along the trail at lower elevation.


Finally, at the end of the Baldy Bowl trail which connects to the paved road we had hiked up 7 hours ago.


I am so glad we did this impromptu hike.  Granted I almost died of a panic attack, but it was worth it.  Would I do it again?  Absolutely, but only after the snow has melted, and after investing in some good hiking poles.

Sedona – Path Less Traveled

I had wanted to hike Soldier’s Pass, but we were 30 minutes late arriving to the tiny parking lot, which meant no parking for us.  So we headed over to the Fay Canyon trail head, which is billed as a easy hike but with a spectacular vista at “the end”.

The hike was truly a walk in the park, with a flat terrain and rock walls to the sides.

This rock wall looks like a choo-choo train…


The trail was flat up until the end of the maintained trail.  Then you’re looking at hiking up this…


Must scale this to see the view…


Most people stopped right here, but we kept going only because we wanted to see what was beyond.  After a certain point the trail grew thinner and fainter.  At one point, the trail was no longer obvious, but we saw cairns and started following those.  We ended up against a cliff wall, and this is the view everyone else missed…


Resting and enjoying the view…


Where’s Waldo?  This shows you the sheer size of the place.  There were darker marks along the rock walls indicating water falls.  I can only imagine how pretty this place would be when there’s water flowing.


Again, where’s Waldo?  The best part was that we had the whole place to ourselves.


This was a hike that was billed to be an easy hike, and was supposed to only last 55 minutes, but ended up taking us 4 hours to complete.  I’m so glad we kept pushing on because it felt more like an adventure than just any old hike.

Back to the spot where everyone else had turned around…


After 4 hours, we were both hungry and a cold beer sounded like the perfect remedy.  The plan was to hit another hiking trail, but after 2 beers each we were done.

We did manage to check out the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village before our dinner reservation at Mariposa.  Joe really liked a piece by Robert Charon he saw at the Renee Taylor Gallery, and I’m thinking it might be a good 45th birthday present come September.

Casa Sedona Inn

Casa Sedona Inn is a boutique hotel with 16 rooms.  We were lucky to snag the last room available for Memorial Day weekend.

We ended up with the Sierra Vista room.

Bathroom with a jacuzzi tub, which we never got a chance to use.

The room had it’s own patio entry.


Dining, patio, and ‘lobby’.

They serve breakfast (except Mondays and Tuesdays) with some interesting items such as truffle brie scramble eggs, savory ham and cheese waffles.

After we checked in, I took a 2-hour nap before venturing out again.

There’s an iconic image of Cathedral Rock I (along with everyone else) wanted to capture, and the place to be is the Crescent Moon picnic area located within Red Rock Crossing.

We got there about an hour and a half before sunset.



As did everyone else including a wedding party…



Since we had dinner reservations at Dahl & DiLuca, we didn’t get to stick around for the Cathedral Rock to turn orange.  Dinner was yummy though…


Sedona is one place that keeps drawing us back, and there’s always something new to explore each time we’re there.  Our first trip to Sedona was in 2006 when we had just moved to Tucson, and were in awe of the red rocks as we were driving into town.


Our second time there was in 2008 when we stumbled upon the West Fork hiking trail.


Since moving to CA in 2010, we’ve been busy exploring places locally, and hadn’t been back to AZ in 8 years.  Joe wanted to bring the car on a road trip, and living in coastal CA one only has a few options – go north toward Napa, south to Mexico, or inland.  Mexico’s out given how dangerous Tijuana is, and Napa we’ve been not too long ago, so we opted inland.  Palm Springs, which is 2 hours away, didn’t sound exciting enough.  Neither did Phoenix and Tucson.  Personally, I think the most beautiful area in all of United States is in the southwest – southern Utah and northern Arizona.  Since we’ll be heading to Vegas and southern Utah in October, we thought, “why not Sedona?”

We cobbled together a last minute trip for Memorial Day weekend.  Snagged the last room at Casa Sedona Inn, and we were off to do some hiking.  FYI, avoid Sedona Memorial Day weekend – too busy and crowded, good luck trying to find a parking spot at the trail head if you arrive 30 minutes after gate opens.

We left home a little after 11PM Friday, and drove 7.5 hours to Sedona – best thing about driving at night, no traffic.  We got to the Mescal trail head parking lot @ 6:45AM – early enough to still get a parking spot, and we were off towards Devils Bridge.  For those with high clearance vehicles, they can drive right to the Devils Bridge trail head.  For the rest of us we had to either park at the Mescal trail head or the Vultee Arch entrance, and then hike towards the Devils Bridge trail head.  Of the 2 options, I recommend parking at the Mescal trail head, as the hike in is shorter.



Devils Bridge…


We were fortunate enough that there wasn’t a huge crowd by the time we got to Devils bridge – if you want to hike this and avoid the crowd, start early.

We witnessed 2 proposals on the bridge.

Us, old married folks, on the bridge…


Before reaching Devils Bridge there’s a path that splits off to give you a view of the underside of the bridge, which I think it’s totally worth checking out.  A lot of people bypassed this…


By the time we got back to the car, it was only 10:30AM, so we were off to the next hiking trail since check-in wasn’t until 3PM.

Cathedral Rock.

We had more fun with this one because it was scrambling up the rock.  But first, we needed to find parking, which the lot was full.  It took some driving around – going to the overflow parking lot, Yavapai Vista, which was not ideal; looping back to the Cathedral Rock parking lot, and tracking hikers who were heading back to their cars.

Beginning of the trail…


Going up…




Photo op along the ledge…


The vista from the top…




By the time we were done I was ready to crash since I had gotten 1 hour of sleep in the last 30 hours.

Time to check in…but not before checking out Chapel of the Holy Cross…


Valentine’s in Cabo

Work has been demanding for both Joe and myself, and we were overdue for some true R&R.  We’re not talking about a vacation that requires flying across the world, jammed pack with sight seeing and activities.  What we needed was a vacation that asked as little from us as possible.  That meant, taking the shortest possible flight and sitting on the beach.  Sure we could simply drive down the hill and sit on the local beach, but it’s just not the same.  Staycations somehow are not true vacations – you’re constantly distracted by ‘chores’.

Any flight time over 3 hours just becomes tedious at this point in our lives.  Hawaii is a 6-hour flight, but Cabo is 2 hours away.  So we decided to go to Cabo for Valentine’s week.

Now, we also wanted to get rid of the hassle of driving around looking for places to eat while on vacation, so we opted for an all-inclusive package.  Luckily, CostcoTravel has a good selection of these packages to choose from.  We ended up going with the Marquis Los Cabos All-inclusive package because it was a great deal, and it was adults only – again, I have nothing against children, I’m just accustomed to peace and quiet.

Plus, how can one resist a hotel lobby that looks like this…


Here’s what it looks like at night…


We flew out early Monday morning, and checked in to the hotel by 11AM.  Since our room wasn’t going to be ready for another 3 hours, we headed down to Dos Mares for lunch.

Here’s the view of the central pool looking out toward the ocean from our table.


Crab Tostadas…


Yucatan ceviche – I had this every single day, it was that yummy!


We walked around after lunch waiting for our room to be ready.  Here’s a view from above.


Some other views of the property…

Everyday was essentially the same – wake up, eat breakfast, hit the gym, lounge poolside, eat lunch poolside, more lounging until it was dinner time.  Rinse and repeat.

We did get a glimpse of breaching whales as well as stingrays leaping out of the water while lounging poolside.  I don’t have a picture of the flying stingrays, as they are hard to capture, but here’s an image from BBC Earth….

It is not known why mobula rays leap out of the water (credit: Octavio Aburto / iLCP)

It’s an amazing sight to behold as it is just so out of the ordinary.  It took me by surprise when I first saw one leap out of the water.

This is the view we got when things were less exciting…


Different shades of blue…

The only variation to the routine was dinner.  They have 4 restaurants on site for dinner – Sakke (Japanese), Pergola (Italian), Vista Ballena (Mexican), and Canto Del Mar (French).  Sakke was the first night and it was very average.  We tried to get in to Pergola the next night, but it was a wait so we ended up ordering room service as we really had no other option – Vista Ballena and Canto Del Mar were closed that night, and we didn’t want to repeat Sakke.

For Valentine’s, all the ladies were handed a rose…


We made reservations for Valentine’s 6-course tasting dinner at Canto Del Mar ahead of time.  This is probably the fanciest Valentine’s dinner the two of us have ever had in the 17 years we’ve been together.  Sure beats Chipotle that one year in Tucson…

For our last dinner we made sure we got to Pergola early to secure a seat.

You can’t go wrong with this view while enjoying the yummy seafood risotto.


Capturing palm trees reflected off the infinity pool during sunset…


All in all, this was a great, albeit short, relaxing trip.  Am I ready to go back to work now?

Not quite…

Sichuan – Pandas Galore

Our itinerary brought us back to Chengdu for our flight home.  We were to spent the night in Chengdu and fly out early afternoon, which meant we had the morning to do whatever.  And that ‘whatever’ ended up being the main Giant Panda Breeding Center outside city center.

We made sure to get there first thing in the morning since we really only had 2 1/2 hours to burn.  By the time we got there the pandas were just waking up to their morning feeding.  This place has pandas of varying ages – babies to adults.

Juvenile pandas…





They squeal like puppies…

Baby panda head looks to be too big for its body…

And of course the adults…




Something about the way they eat bamboo is mesmerizing…

Different eating technique…

An of course you have the red pandas…

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In all honesty we could have spent all day if we could, but we were happy we got a chance to visit this facility before leaving China.