Travel | Oahu

 

I was afraid we might run into Santa coming down our chimney this Christmas just gone. My sister, mom, aunt, and I awoke to 3:50am alarms on the morning of the 25th to make a 5:30 flight to Hawaii. I didn't unwrap any presents this Christmas, but I still got some pretty great gifts – sand and sunshine and a purple lei around my neck at the Honolulu airport.

After meeting up with my cousins and grabbing a Loco Moco at Zippy's, we scooted our tiny white rental cars up the eastern edge of Oahu and would later laugh at the breathtaking views we whizzed by in total ignorance during the late night drive. We stayed in a perfectly simple, newly renovated, neon colored Airbnb house perched right on the tip of Laie Point, a craggy finger of land that reaches into the agitated December Pacific.

Jetlag shook us awake in time to catch the sunrise, which came with a rainbow between bouts of sideways rain. We then met up with cousin Will, whose wedding gave us the excuse to visit Hawaii, and ate breakfast in cute Kailua at the Nalu Heath Bar & Cafe . Each day since I have dreamt of those acai bowls with a wistfulness I've rarely known. They changed my life.

We wandered around hip Hekili Street, which is a fantastically fashionable place to spend time and money. We also saw a girl sharing a table and plate of crepes with a wild chicken which I considered my personal Christmas miracle. At a nearby beach we watched the waves toss wind boarders here and there. Barack Obama was reportedly staying a few miles away, but he didn't answer my texts to hang out.

 
 

Skydiving (spectating, not participating) was next on our agenda. Watching blood relatives jump from an airplane is equal parts entertaining and stressful. We eased our nerves with a stop by the insanely crowded food truck park in Haliwea. Outside of New Orleans, Dat Cajun Guy had the best po'boys and red beans and rice I've ever had. We also visited the Snow Factory truck for "snow" (a shave ice/ice cream hybrid), the wonders of which we discussed in depth almost every day of our trip.

Wild Laie Point didn't exactly show off the famous Hawaiian sunset, but we found it the perfect place to watch the day fall asleep. As the clouds rolled in and the wind whipped up and the waves churned harder, we reflected on the enormous blessing it is to feel small next to a big ocean.

And then we watched Hallmark movies and fell asleep at 8pm, because vacation is still vacation.

 
 

The North Shore becomes the surfer's Mecca in December, so we laid down towels on Banzai Beach to sit and watch the men and women worship the enormous winter waves. You know those big waves that get so tall and curl in over themselves so that a surfer can glide through the inside tube? We saw those!

Shark's Cove, a naturally enclosed pool of ocean, was our afternoon spot for wading and people watching. As we got lunch from the North Shore Shrimp Truck, I pondered if it was acceptable to be receiving 75% of my meals from the window of a vehicle. And then I got a rainbow shave ice. From a truck.

 
 

Will and Carissa's rehearsal dinner was wedged between emerald mountains and turquoise shoreline at the Kalama Beach Club. Under twinkling lights, we ate and drank and laughed and prayed in celebration of this upcoming wedding. 

The next morning took us to Waimea Bay, a gorgeous semicircle of sand and sea dotted with enormous rock formations. Several rapid, intermittent showers brought us a rainbow, which inspired lots of cartwheeling. Just across the street, a gorgeous walk through the lush Waimea Valley, a reserve full of indigenous flora, brought us to Waimea Falls. 

Rain-soaked and mud-splattered, we realized the late hour and rushed home to get six women ready for the long awaited wedding! Of course, we weren't in too much of a rush to miss out on another acai bowl from (you guessed it) a food truck.

The wedding was perhaps the most beautiful celebration I've ever attended. The evening was as lovely, organic, and authentic as the bride and groom. Sparkling lights, long banquet tables, delicious food, warm ocean breezes, LOTS of cake, crowns of greenery,  and a getaway vespa trailed by tin cans. A night can't get more perfect than that.

 
 

Classic Hawaiian Tourism was the theme of the following day. After an unsuccessful visit to the inordinately crowded Diamond Head State Parkwe scooted over to famous Waikiki Beach because it is, of course, required. Ever the entertainers, Natalie and Shannon rented a surfboard and took turns riding some "waves". We grabbed lunch at a nearby foodcourt (SO MANY Asian meal options, which I loved), then headed to Hanauma Bay.

During my last visit to Hanauma Bay, the water was a nearly oversaturated shade of blue, so I was a little disappointed that December had stolen some of the bay's colors. With only 45 minutes left to rent snorkeling gear, we grabbed our equipment and floated out as a little glob over the gorgeous coral reef. That shivery, giggly afternoon was my absolute favorite. I even saw an eel, which was both thrilling and damaging.  

 
 

I was sad that we visited Hukilau Cafe in Laie on our last full day in Hawaii. If we had discovered it sooner, I would have eaten their coconut pancakes for at least ten different meals. Top five pancakes of my life – and I've eaten a lot of pancakes.

We swung by Oahu's incredibly beautiful, jungly Macadamia Nut Farm which offered free samples galore and even allowed visitors to try cracking their own macadamia nuts! 

A breathtaking drive through the misty green mountains brought us to Pearl Harbor, my favorite Oahu destination. A kind of peaceful, quieting veil rests over Pearl Harbor. A mind can't quite reconcile that the glittering Hawaiian harbor is the gravesite of thousands. The pristine USS Arizona memorial powerfully conveys the story of December 7, 1941, and I could have spent hours pacing its length. The wreaths laid by President Obama and Prime Minister Abe the week before still stood at the front of the memorial.  

 

We skidded our Nissan into the Dole Pineapple Plantation just in time to grab a Dole Whip before their early New Year's Eve closing time. We obviously chose the ice cream over the plantation tour because we have our priorities in line. The Whip didn't disappoint.

As our late night return flight loomed near, we made one final stop in downtown Honolulu to see the Hawaiian State Capitol, which is reminiscent of a very stylish volcano.

We stopped by Iolani Palace, the only palace on U.S. soil, and gave a wave to the Queen Liliuokalani statue. After a quick swing from the branches of a banyan tree, we faced the reality that our Hawaiian holiday was coming to a close. 

Our plane was somewhere off the coast of California when the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve. Shannon tapped me on the shoulder from her seat behind me and we gave a little cheer to 2017.

Travel | Krabi, Thailand

Our trip to Thailand  included two mini-trips (THREE if you count China!) because my hostess is a massively gifted and ambitious planner. We'd been in Chiang Mai for about eighteen hours (enough to get street food, soak in a midnight city view from a mountainside lookout, and drink coffee at like ten different cafes) when we hopped on a southbound flight to Krabi.

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Even months later, I am still strangely obsessed with the trendy little guest house we stayed in. The Mini House had clean lines, tons of lush greenery, loads of natural light, and a great cafe. And obviously lots of miniature potted cacti. My weakness. Pro tip: when you're the only Westerner at a hotel, you've made the right decision.

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Our first big adventure was a sea kayaking tour of several islands. Admittedly I was kind of nervous about kayaking when we booked it, since I'm not particularly athletic (don't let my muscles fool you.) But plot twist! The kayaking tour was without question my favorite part of the entire trip. I felt as though we'd jumped into a preloaded computer screensaver image, one of those gorgeous island photographs I always figured were Photoshopped. We paddled the entire circumference of an island and my brain could not fully compute that I was really floating on this bright turquoise ocean.

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After kayaking for a few hours, we got to relax on the beach and eat a homemade Thai lunch. We explored the forest where a few boats still remained stranded high in the treetops, just as they'd  landed during the 2004 tsunami. So eery. Aye, our sweet kayaking guide, recounted how he'd survived the tsunami, which struck as he was fishing out at sea.

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Tiger Temple is a must-do in Krabi. But be warned – those 1,600 steps feel every bit like 1,600 steps. Also, the first 500 steps are littered with the most ferocious monkeys and I am still suffering a tinge of PTSD after being chased by what I can only assume was the alpha. There may have been tears. The views from the peak of Tiger Temple were stunning and (maybe probably) worth the monkey attacks.

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Funny story: Before climbing to Tiger Temple, we wanted to leave our luggage with a friendly vendor (normal, right?). He happily agreed to store our bags under a table for the price of a few Cokes. When he lifted the table cloth to tuck our bags away, he brought out a plastic container and opened the lid to reveal several baby hedgehogs. It was kind of horrifying and kind of adorable. Should I have rescued them!? I feel guilty every day!

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We went out to dinner and happened to turn a street corner just in time to catch one of the most gorgeous sunsets I've ever seen. The sun looked just like that glowy pink bubble that transports Glinda the Good Witch around in The Wizard of Oz. You know the one? Then we got rotee, this amazing Thai dessert that's a magical French Toast/crepe combo drizzled with Nutella. 100 emoji. (Full disclosure: I'm not sure how to correctly use the 100 emoji. Embarrassed monkey emoji).

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We spent a gloriously hot Sunday morning on the gorgeous public beach and grabbed some food at a beachfront restaurant. We took a songthaew (think a truck with benches in the bed that serves as a taxi) over to the town center, where we wandered and soaked in all of Thailand's charming little details, colors, and vignettes. We even browsed a Thai bookstore, which was such a great dose of culture. Long on the hunt for Thai Tea, we finally hunted down a street vendor and purchased a few. In the spirit of transparency, the Thai Tea did not live up to my dreams. Maybe I was put off by the large can of Carnation condensed milk poured into each tea?

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Full of sunlight and newly-minted memories and Pad Thai, we grabbed a late night flight back to Chiang Mai. I will never forget that divine weekend getaway to the southern coast of Thailand and I cannot recommend Krabi highly enough to you, dear reader!

Check out Alli's blog for a view of this trip from a different lens!

Journal | Chasing Light

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Grey.

The thick, wooly clouds and chilly morning mists of early June in southern England have reflected my insides a little too well lately. Nothing is wrong, but the monotony of routine and responsibility has simply lulled me to sleep. My gratitude muscles need toning and my wonder reflexes need sharpening. From the atmosphere to my attitude, life has been a bit grey and I haven't made any earnest effort to conjure some color.

Over an afternoon cup of tea with friends (yes, the entire British-tea-drinking stereotype is spectacularly true), the idea of a spontaneous trip to the seaside sprang into life. We volleyed the thought around, we came up with reasons to just stay home,we sipped and nibbled and stayed a little grey.

"We're doing it," a brave soul finally declared. The scones were hastily finished and the bill paid. A few short hours and a bit of petrol later we were sitting on the coast, our palms pressed against the cool beach pebbles and the wind whipping our hair.

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The daytime was living it's final moments. Honey-colored sunlight dripped over the rolling, sheep-dotted hills and my heart ached with the beauty of it all. We'd serendipitously arrived to the coast at Golden Hour, that sublime slice of day in which the dying sun casts the landscape in a delicious golden glow. I imagine every hour in Heaven will look like this. Feel like this. Where the warm sunlight somehow fills up your lungs.

When my feet hit that seashore, the grey of the last weeks evaporated and was replaced with miles of gold.

Sometimes grey is comfortable, like a blanket that keeps you trapped in the fog of sleep, of numbness. It's not until you find the Golden Hours that the grey becomes unbearable.

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Unlike the steady rhythm of sunrise and sunset, which has produced a Golden Hour everyday since His mouth spoke the heavenly lights into being, Golden Hours of the spirit don't come to us by a clock. Sometimes we must chase the light. We must put down the tea, leave the sleepy village, and expend every ounce of our breath climbing the sea cliffs until we glimpse that sunbathed panorama view.

"When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12

Jesus. He is the burning ball of light that casts this world in a heavenly glow. He is the one who rips off the grey blanket and calls us to live with Him in the light of truth, love, holiness, peace, and joy. He asks us to follow Him, but I want to do Jesus one better. I want to chase Him, to chase the Light until Golden Hour is every hour and all the world drips with honey.

Jesus is alive and I am redeemed. This is golden.

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Chasing the Light can look like a bursting-with-gratitude heart during a seaside sunset or a bursting-with-girlfriends table during a weekly Bible study.

Chasing the Light can look like dusting off a forgotten Bible and reading the words aloud until you believe they are true. Chasing the Light can mean kneeling on the bedroom floor and crying out words you didn't know you had to tell Him. Chasing the Light can mean removing the earbuds on your morning commute so as to truly see each soul that passes by.

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Just as the sun is ever shining on some part of the world, God is always working out His salvation on the earth by bathing the human race in the honey-colored light of His Savior Son. There is no room for grey on this side of the resurrection. The Golden Hour is here. It's up to us to chase it.

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." 1 Peter 2:9

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