Previously: Tourist Trap
One of the things Ray wanted to do on our trip was go to the top of one of the mountains on the Big Island. We had heard rumors that there was snow in Hawaii, and we wanted to be able to see it for ourselves to believe it. So we booked a tour on Mauna Kea Summit Adventures, which not only seemed to be a pretty comprehensive tour (complete with dinner, a parka for the cold, and stargazing), but also did a pretty good job of advertising in every single tourist magazine we had.
We headed into Waimea/Kamuela for lunch at the Paniolo Country Inn and had a much better experience than our last sojourn into Waimea for food. Although this place was still akin to diner fare, there was no wait, and we were treated much better by the waitstaff. We ate our lunch without much fanfare and tried to find the spot where the tour van was going to pick us up.
When I had made our reservations for the tour a few days before, the woman on the phone asked me what resort we were staying in. Since we weren’t at any of the resorts, she told us the van would pick us up at the junction of Highway 190 and 200, which has no distinguishing landmarks other than the junction itself and a dirt turnoff by the side of the road.
We had given ourselves plenty of time in case John Cleese didn’t know where we were going, but we found the place pretty easily (it’s not like there’s anything else for miles!), so we pulled over and hung out until the van came to pick us up. I did get a chance to take a few pictures of the countryside while we were waiting.
At last, our van arrived, and it was already pretty crowded, this being the last pickup point before entering the dreaded Saddle Road (many car rental companies actually prohibit driving on the road because it’s so narrow and windy and locals drive very fast, especially at night). Apparently Saddle Road used to have spots that weren’t paved, but that has changed, and in fact, the state is working on widening and fixing the road so that it’s a safer, faster, more viable direct route from Kailua-Kona to Hilo.
Ray took the shotgun seat, since he has trouble with motion sickness when he’s not driving, and I made my way all the way to the back corner, where I sat next to a really cool gal from Colorado. As he drove up the mountain, our tour guide made comments on the countryside and the history of the area.
The road wound through ranches, sheep farms, a military camp, and finally arrived at the Mauna Kea Summit Road, where the grade got much steeper. We were going so high we were looking down on the clouds.
We arrived at the Mauna Kea Visitors’ Center (altitude: 9,000 ft.) just in time for dinner. We all piled of the van, and our tour guide distributed warm parkas and hot dinners (okay, mine wasn’t hot, but only because I got the vegetarian option, which was a cold veggie wrap with tofu). We were encouraged to wander around (i.e., use the bathroom!) for a little bit, but we needed to be back in the van in 30 minutes so that we could make it to the summit in time for the sunset.
After seeing this sign, though, I came to the conclusion that the real reason our tour guides wanted us to be back in the vans before too long is that they didn’t want us to be attacked by ninja cows.