Mantas, mules and Mal (POTWW)

Trip Start Sep 03, 2002
Trip End Sep 27, 2003

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Sunday, July 6, 2003

And so we left the land of Mrs Mac's (meat pies) and headed for the land of Big Macs.

Our first stop was Hawaii. Whilst neither of us had a burning desire to visit Hawaii, it did break a very long and tedious flight and we may never be back that way so we thought it would be worth a look around. We landed at Honolulu and then took our most expesive flight yet (per mile) over to Big Island. The idea being to avoid the high rise developments (scarred as we were by the Gold Coast), see a volcano, get some more diving in and top up the tans before hitting LA.

We stayed in Kona - nice little town, if a bit on the tatty and run down side. The beaches were OK but busy, and the volcano was permanently covered in cloud, so no great views/photos.

A 100 mile drive took us down the coast to the active volcano where we took a stroll down to the spot where the lava was flowing into the sea. This involved walking over solidified flows which had only covered the road six weeks previously. Every now and then there would be a half buried road sign sticking out of the lava. Quite cool (well hot) watching the molten rock ooze down the hillside.

The other Hawaii highlight was a manta ray night dive. Mantas are plankton feeders, and the plankton are attracted to the dive lights so "good sightings" are almost guaranteed. We thought we might just glance a couple of mantas in the gloom - however we had six mantas coming in so close that one guy had his face mask knocked off as they cruised overhead. It was a truely awesome experience having these 3 -4m wide animals which weigh over 500kgs glide just cms from your head, especially as they have their massive mouths wide open as they suck in the plankton laden water. Underwater ballet is the best description of the acrobatic and graceful manoeuvers we were lucky enough to spend 40 minutes watching, we all came up with the biggest grins on our faces.

We also did some pleasant day dives, including one through lava tubes called "suck 'em up" - timing was key to avoid getting an authentic washing machine experience.

After Hawaii we flew into LA and stayed with a friend for a couple of days. Mal is a good looking, smooth, suave, sophisticated Australian (well that's what he told me to write) who works in the entertainment industry. Successful, forty something and STRAIGHT - his lifestyle makes him the Playboy of the Western World. Needless to say Mandy felt right at home in his Beverly Hills apartment being driven around in his Z8 - Nick was nearly as happy in his rented super economy hire car. Best story of the stay - Mal was invited to an Australia Day lunch with Mel Gibson and a select few. When the valets brought the cars round afterwards, Mel looked at Mal's car and said "nice car mate" - guess Mr Gibson has to settle for a station wagon what with all those kids he has. ......Big thanks to Mal for being a great host and entertaining us so lavishly.

It was back to earth with a bump as we waited 45mins to get through security at LAX (and we were in the 'express' first class lane) - and back to sheep and goats class in American Airlines.

The Grand Canyon was big - so big that a half day mule trip (big drops, but otherwise a bit dull and cheesy) took us about a third of the way down into the Canyon. Much more striking was Bryce Canyon a little bit further north in Utah - absolutely beautiful place with stunning sandstome formations (and an excellent trail ride). We then drove on into Zion Canyon - the best of the three. Whilst it was a shame to have such a quick tour of such stunning country, given that the temperatures were in the low 40s it wasn't exactly hiking/climbing weather. Definitely worth revisiting Zion in spring or autumn when the weather is a bit more amenable to doing active stuff.

For Mandy the best part was the drive between The Grand Canyon and Bryce. We stopped at a small town for lunch and noticed in the local paper that the largest "no kill" animal rescue center in the USA was just up the road. Of course we had to drop in for a visit. Well - they sure do things big in America. "Best Friends" has 600 cats in Kittyville, and 600 dogs in a seperate facility at Dogtown, not to mention the rescue horses, donkeys, parrots etc. Mandy was in heaven rolling around on the floor with the special needs cats (those that have medical conditions which would prevent them from being rehomed). We also met The General, a chicken killing cat who had been on death row and was only spared on the condition that he stayed at the center and never ever left. This place was awesome, clean, comfortable, spacious, and the animals looked in great condition. They turn over $15 million a year and clearly spend the money very wisely.

Then Vegas - well we thought Vegas would be so bad it would be good. However it was so bad it was just bad (according to Nick). Mandy had great fun having a couple of poker lessons and managed to keep her shirt at the tables. Nick sat by the pool trying to ignore the various grotesques sunning themselves like beached bleached whales. Probably just as well we left before Mandy got too far into it.

Next a short stopover in Dallas, where we visited the excellent and informative JFK museum. It was hot and sweaty, but we did have an excellent evening listening to a Blues Band outdoors and getting very drunk. July 4th was a bit of a damp squib, and then it was time to move on to Canada. Boy were we glad to be taking our last US domestic flight for some time...........
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