The only problem with vacations is that they inevitably come to an end.
But after shaking off the post-vacation blues and reluctantly settling back into our daily groove — a transition eased by the beautiful mountain setting we’re lucky enough to call home — we’re left with a lifetime of priceless memories.
I’ll never forget my first getaway to a tropical paradise called Hawaii. I hope it was not my last. In fact, it’s easy to see how vacationers arrive and never leave. Kind of like Tahoe.
My girlfriend Becky and I spent last week in Oahu to attend a friend’s wedding, splitting our time between the south and north shores.
While stories of epic adventures would make for a better column, most of our tales involve lounging on sandy beaches, snorkeling in the rocky shallows and gaping at the geological wonders that abounded around us.
The trip started in Waikiki, a tourist hot spot crawling with activity, with crowded beaches, daily parades and sidewalks filled with fellow gapers from all corners of the globe. The ocean, translucent turquoise in color and swimming pool temperature, was like nothing I had experienced.
After three and a half days among the masses, however, escaping the confines of the city in a Camaro convertible was a breath of fresh air, both literally and figuratively. Thanks to Leo for that, the rental car guy who kindly offered a free upgrade from our boxy sedan. He was one of the many warm and accommodating locals we encountered.
Inland, crops of pineapples sprawled out on both sides of the open road, with 4,000-plus-foot Mt. Ka’ala and the Wai’anae Range towering above to the west. Before long, ocean appeared in the distance, as the island is only about 30 miles wide at our crossing point.
The North Shore was the place to be. We dined at roadside food trucks featuring plump shrimp and mouthwatering fish tacos, fruit stands full of fresh goodness, and even a brick pizza oven hauled behind a friendly local’s pickup. They weren’t big on vegetables over there, but that was OK by me.
References to legendary Hawaiian surfer Eddie Aikau were everywhere, serving as evidence of the North Shore’s rich history of big-wave surfing. Some of the most famous surf breaks in the world line the North Shore in close proximity — Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, the Banzai Pipeline.
Summer is not the season to witness these powerful waves, however. So we snorkeled instead, spotting large sea turtles and fish of all colors and shapes among the rocks and coral. Becky saw an eel. We both struggled to find the balance between a golden tan and crispy burn. Sunscreen is only so effective in the intense tropical sun.
We day-tripped around the Kamehameha Highway and Windward Coast in our semi-sports car, which was surprisingly punchy and fun for only six cylinders.
The terrain was nothing short of amazing, with steep and rippled, Jurassic Park-like mountains of rock and dense forest rising almost straight from the sea. I half expected to see a pterodactyl swoop down from the Koolau Mountains, or a herd of velociraptors to come screeching out of the tropical woods.
We were warned of high prices, but really, they were pretty much on par with Tahoe. Gas, in fact, was cheaper than Truckee, despite being on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Come on, Truckee.
Before we knew it we were on our way back to the airport, inching along in a Honolulu traffic jam that nearly prevented a timely car return. Our vacation had come to an end, as they always do.