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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Tuned in to Radio Bay

We have obviously been enjoying our stay in Radio Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii very much since we've now been here for one month. It isn't for everyone - indeed, most cruisers seem to dislike it - but we're willing to put up with the negatives in exchange for the positives.

First of all, if you are noise sensitive, you will not like staying here for very long. We are tied up to a concrete wall with big wooden ladders mounted on the face of the wall. The wall is actually the edge of a large shipping container storage area/parking lot which is part of the Port of Hilo. We are separated from the semi-trucks and containers by a chain link fence, and harbor security will no longer escort us across the property to the gate through which cruise ship passengers transit. In addition to the rumble and back-up alarms beeping from trucks moving containers, there is a storage silo which periodically emits a startling burst of pressure, something like "ch!" or "pssst!" But after awhile all of this is only white noise for us. Besides which we spend most of our days off the boat and things are usually quiet at night. I actually get a vicarious thrill at the sight of a cruise ship docking just across the pier from us. It's fun to listen to their on-board announcements and watch the people on their cabin balconies looking down and perhaps wondering where our snug little boat has been. We share this moorage with the Kiska, a small Coast Guard ship home-ported here. Their daily ritual of "Call to Colors" before raising flags in the mornings brings back fond memories of living in Alameda, CA across from Coast Guard Island. The early morning arrival of the young men and women serving on the ship reminds me of my own youthful years served in the Air Force.

Our access to this part of the shore is confined to: one working electrical box, water faucets, and a bathroom/shower building adjacent to the parking lot for the Coasties. There used to be a second electrical box which would give hours of juice for a quarter. That may be why it has been dismantled. But $.25 for one hour at a time is fine for our basic needs. The covered picnic table, trash cans, and shelves for a trading book "library" are still next to the bathrooms. As with our previous visits the bathrooms do not get much attention beyond the emptying of trash and replenishment of paper products. But I appreciate knowing I can luxuriate in a long hot shower, just steps away from the boat, whenever I want, especially if we've been out riding our bicycles around Hilo.

Making my way from the boat to the ladder using a stern line

Climbing the ladder to the top of the wall

Made it! Now it's time for a shower.

Having a bicycle since we've been cruising is nothing new to John. He had a used bike to get around Mazatlan during his 2012 summer there when he was house-sitting and working on the boat every day. So he was very anxious to buy another one as soon as we arrived from French Polynesia. He found an inexpensive mountain bike at Walmart, and we bought a used road bike from an ad on craigslist for me. I am astounded by how much more flexibility we have with the bikes. They have freed us from the tyranny of the local bus system.

When we visited Hilo in 2009, 2010, and 2011 the buses were free. The route we use most often runs in a circle from the beach parks east of Radio Bay, past the Port of Hilo, along the waterfront to the downtown bus terminal, up through town with stops at colleges and high schools, to the Prince Kuhio shopping center, then down towards the bay, past the airport, past Radio Bay again, and terminating at the end of the beach parks road. It's a long circuitous route if all you want is to go to the grocery store. But we were content to put up with it when it was free to hop on and off as many times as we needed. In fact, we thought it was a pretty great deal.

But free rides don't usually last forever so we weren't surprised when friends wrote us that the bus was now $1. What shocked us was arriving in Hilo to find that the fare had doubled to $2 as of July 1, 2013. This still wouldn't be out of line if it allowed you to make multiple stops along your route, as I've experienced with most mass transit systems in the U.S. But many of the island bus routes run so infrequently that a 2-hour transfer is often not enough time. And that's assuming you can even get a transfer. Apparently you cannot use a transfer to reboard and continue on the same bus route. Instead you have to transfer to a different route (some of them cover the same territory). Transfers are one-use only and the date and time are laboriously handwritten as you wait to exit the bus. Seriously! On the plus side, the fare is $2 no matter how far you're traveling on a particular route.

So we are happy to have our bikes safely secured and waiting for us on shore. While most of Radio Bay is taken up by Port of Hilo operations, there is one small corner which is shared by the private Palekai paddle club and the park in which it resides. We row to this stony shore and lock our dinghy to an exposed tree root out of the way of the larger beach where the big canoes are launched. We wanted to keep our bikes locked to a post under the covered club picnic area to protect them from the rain. After some complaining from guys who hang out at the club drinking in the afternoons, John bought a truce with a six-pack and we moved the bikes over to the Port's fence.

It is so very nice to have only a short row over calm, protected water to come and go from Nakia. I don't have to stress out about getting salt spray splashed on my town clothes, John doesn't have to hassle with the outboard motor, and we're only steps away from a gorgeous walk or bike ride along one of the most interesting stretches of coastline in the area. There are half a dozen different beach parks connecting the shore, each with their own personality and facilities. Most of them are very kid friendly with natural or human assisted shallow wading pools. Some have outdoor showers and no bathroom; others have bathrooms complete with changing rooms and showers. Most provide picnic tables and one has thoughtfully placed each table under its own gazebo for shelter from the sun and rain. Based on our brief tours I would say each one of them offers the sight of green sea turtles feeding on "grass" covered rocks below the water's surface.

On a long day of riding, with multiple stops at various beach parks, we easily saw more than one turtle at each site. There were even turtles popping their heads up inshore of a crowded surf spot. We've also seen humpback whales outside the breakwater, and we sat and watched spinner dolphins swimming with snorkelers 150 yards off shore. Flocks of egrets fly west over the boat at sunrise, returning east at sunset. Colorful finches fly up out of the grasses. The foliage seems even more exotic and varied than that of Tahiti but, as John likes to point out to me, that's probably due to the many non-native species introduced here.

While we spend much of our time shopping, running errands, and making use of public places with free Wifi, we are definitely enjoying the natural beauty and refreshing climate of Hilo. We will eventually be moving on to Honolulu but, for now at least, we're in no hurry to leave Radio Bay!