Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!!!!

It has been a wonderful year for travel, an amazing year in politics, a disastrous year for the worldwide economy, and as we end 2008 we can only be excited about the prospects for 2009.

The Devil Dog spent time in Steamboat Springs and Crested Butte for ski trips, went to St. Paul de Vence and Cap d'Antibe in the south of France, thanks to Katherine Johnstone and the amazing people at Maison de la France, rolled down the Mississippi River on a paddleboat from Memphis to New Orleans, luxuriated in Champagne and Burgundy, France, and renewed ties with a dozen or so coffee farmers in the south of Kona, among many other adventures along the way too numerous to recount here, but rest assured they were good ones.

After many years writing travel pieces for The Washington Times the Devil Dog expanded his horizons with pieces this year in New York Newsday, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Dallas Morning News, with upcoming articles scheduled for the Austin American Statesman, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, and The Honolulu Advertiser. Watch for expanding circles of media penetration in the year to come.

I would thank several key people, including the aforementioned Katherine Johnstone, for whom I give great thanks for both her wisdom and efficiency, and massive kudos for being such a cool person, and Kent St. John of and the travel blog Be Our Guest, better known to our intrepid readers as Francois Delay du Pompideau, who not only is a Keith Richards like partner in crime (I guess that makes me Ronnie), but whose friendship and decency as a member of the human race led to the creation of this column (and who coined the nickname of Devil Dog for yours truly under circumstances that are cloudy at best).

Happy New Year to all and best wishes from the Devil Dog for a beautifully ridiculous 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Coffee Tasting Judges Caught in the Act

The Kona Coffee Cultural Festival has captured our attention this last month, and for good reason.  The Gevalia Kona Coffee Cupping Competition honors the top three coffee farms in Kona each year in a process infused with the integrity of an international panel of judges who are experts at coffee.  Each farm provides 50 pounds of parchment from which a sample is milled and roasted.  The coffee is rated on fragrance, aroma, taste, nose and body.  The judging is completely blind, with the judges having no idea which coffee farm they are tasting.

Above and below we see the judges hard at work, their refined pallettes discerningly sifting through the finer aspects of our contesting coffees with a dedication to quality and the integrity of the process.  The Devil Dog hails this years winners and all the coffee farms of Kona who continue to produce this hand crafted artisan product, and encourages you to order Kona coffee from these archetypes of American agriculture, the individual farmer crafting his single vineyard estate coffee like a fine winemaker in Napa or Sonoma.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Meanwhile....back in Kona

Speaking of Kona, I am always enthralled with the quaintness of many of the old houses and businesses there.  The outer islands of Hawaii are full of old homes and structures, and the Big island is no exception.  The entire town of Hawi in the north of Kohala is practically a museum piece of old Hawaii.  In the picture above is an old building or home that may or may not still be in use, just off the road before Honaunau.  

Below is Rons Custom Saddlery, the starting point for Kealekekua trail rides and where I first discovered Terry Fitzgerald's Da Kine Coffee. I used to buy it there (along with Kona Bob coffee) but the saddle shop is open on, shall we say, an indeterminate schedule.  So after missing the proprietor one too many times I began visiting Terry's farm and the rest, as they say, is Kona Coffee history.  But the saddle shop is still there and a treat to see every time I pass by.  they host trail rides down to Kealekekua Bay twice a day on most days.

Then there is the subtle color scheme of the Blue Ginger Gallery in Captain Cook, a beautiful old building, tenderly restored and then painted a brilliant blue that is hard to miss.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Let it Snow

The Devil Dog hopes all of you had a wonderful Boxing Day.  In the spirit of Christmas, and with memories of Heliskiing in Telluride in my head, the Devil Dog hopes all of you embrace the joy of the holiday season by remembering that they have had 5 feet of snow in parts of the Rockies the last several days.  Heliskiing is one of the most exciting and terrifying experiences of my life.  The picture above is taken at the summit of one of our stops as the helicoptor takes off, leaving us at 14000 feet at the top of a mountain.  Thats the Dog himself in the photo below, ski equipment in the snow, and the wicked peaks of backcountry Telluride all around us.  

And theres only one way down.  Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!!!!

On this most glorious of days, on Christmas, the Devil Dog is drawn back to his ski trip to Crested Butte last year, because nothing says Christmas like snow in the mountains.  Sleigh bells ring....are you listening.

Mount Crested Butte,  seen from town above, and Crested Butte Ski Resort are one of the best kept secrets in Alpine skiing, a winter wonderland of unparralleled proportions.  And they get a lot of snow there. The fabulous upscale restaurant Soupson, in a log cabin from the 1890's, is buried under an avalanche of snow.

The original City Hall, built in 1883, is now a community arts center.  The town is a fairy tale of an iconic western mountain range town, and on Christmas day we cannot help but cast a glance to winters beauty in the mountains of Colorado.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thunderball Snorkle Dive in Kealekekua Bay

So the Devil Dog is on a Fairwind snorkle dive in pristine and historic Kealekekua Bay, but there's a wicked twist....they have handheld underwater propulsion devices, personal submarine navigators, such as the yellow number in the hands of our dive master and guide in the picture above.  With this device we ply the waters of the bay from the shallows of a few feet to twenty yards off shore where its 30 feet deep, to thirty yards off shore where its a hundred feet or more.  Oh yes.  It gets steep very quick, and very drops off.  But its stunning. And with our Thunderball James Bond underwater propulsion devices we cruise at a steady pace on top of or under the water, diving to 30 feet or more in a heartbeat, and shooting to the surface with equal clarity.

Speaking of clarity, this is the area where we dock and where the crystal clear waters are 10 to 30 feet deep, filled with sea life, coral,  and a veritable underwater wonderland.

Kealekekua Bay is many things, but the Devil Dog counts it as one of the things you must do at least once at some time over the years when you are in Kona.  It is somewhat of a destination point, meaning it can be a little crowded on days, so the private dive with the Thunderball underwater propulsion device is highly recommended, because you see a lot more of the bay and you cover more territory, going into areas of the marine preserve that are less seen. 
Its a magical time on the Fairways boat Hula Kai.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kealekekua Bay

Kealekekua Bay is a crystal clear immaculately beautiful natural wonder of undersea joy and aquatic adventure. Lined by towering cliffs, Kealekekua Bay is also the site of ancient Hawaiian legend, where Captain Cook discovered the Sandwich Islands and was hailed by natives as a God, only to be slain in an armed skirmish on the shores of this very bay when he returned to repair his ship when it was damaged in a storm shortly after leaving, and met with a series of escalating conflicts with the local Hawaiian chief.  A monument on the spot of the skirmish marks the photo below. The Devil Dog is appalled at the violence but respectful of its significance.

But the waters of Kealekekua Bay and the pristine snorkeling are its constant calling in these modern days, and as a protected marine environment it is home to packs of porpoises of different species and persuasions.  

Our trip to Kealekekua Bay is a Fairwinds excursion, on their magnificant diving yacht the Hula Kai. Its a five hour excursion, with lunch served aboard, visuals of the ocean and the coast that are unbeleivable and a seaside approach to the hallowed waters of Kealekekua Bay that are the start of its own adventure.  A day of snorkeling in these amazing waters is a popular but truly worthy encounter with the ocean. We spend the day in  an undersea adventure worthy of James Bond.  As in Thunderball.  As in underwater hand held forward motion aquatic propulsion devices.  More on that later.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Old-school buildings in Kealekekua

Kealekekua and Captain Cook,in the the southern reaches of Kona, are true pieces of Hawaii, genuine unspoiled outposts that have changed little, in many ways, in 500 years or more. The Aloha Theatre,above, is restored to its original condition from 80 years ago. It is this genuine quality of olde school Hawaii that makes this area, Kealekekua, Captain Cook and Honaunau absolutely priceless biospheres of unparralled beauty and character.

The Devil Dog has always admired the old buildings along the road through these towns. The Manago Hotel, below, is as authentic a local hang and enterprise as you aqre likely tofind anywhere in the islands, and lunch in their restaurant is essential.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Old church in far southern Honaunau

Speaking of churches, the Devil Dog was driving to Kona Rain Forest Farms in far southern Honaunau, when on the right hand side of the road I saw this beautiful old style Hawaiian community church and had to pull over and photograph it. Large stretches of Honaunau are just as they were 20 or even 40 years ago and old churches such as these abound in Hawaii in the rural areas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Holualoa Church

At this Christmas season its nice to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas, a celebration of the human spirit that is found in humble beauty and the simple pleasures of being alive on the planet.  Thats one of the things I love about Hawaii, that you are never more than a millisecond from realizing the beauty and joy all around you. 

This tiny church in Holualoa is an example.  Its a simple wooden structure with an amazing view from its back balcony and a stirring presence in the middle of this tiny highland village. The congregation is young, the pastor is vigorous and engaging and the services are well attended. It is fittingly called the Living Hope Church.  More than that it is a very pretty church in the middle of paradise, and in this season of holiday madness is a symbol of where spirituality really lives, and that is in the beauty of each moment we take the time to appreciate..

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Luncheon of the Boating Party

So it was a beautiful day when the DevilDog set sail on the Holy Grail with Howard and Stephanie Conant and a couple of their friends .

We whiled away the afternoon in the crystal blue waters off Kona.

As the afternoon waned and we were heading back toward land I was talking to the other couple and he was telling me how he had been in Aspen since the early 1970's.  Ah, said the Devil Dog, since the Claudine Longet days. Why yes, he replied with a bemused look on his face...and here she is.  

The lovely woman with him with the delightful French accent (above and below) was none other than Claudine Longet herself, now long since re-married to her now lifetime companion, far away from the 1970's.  I was a bit bemused myself.  We had spent the entire day together and had some wonderful  conversations and I had had no idea. One of Renoirs most famous painting is Luncheon of the Boating Party. This afternoon together resonated marvelously, like something out of a painting,  at this particular boating party on a  beautiful day at sea.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Holy Grail: Howard and Stephanie

Before they founded and nurtured Kona Rain Forest Farms from the cradle to the White House, with a legendary devotion to creating a great organic Kona Coffee (and the Devil Dog's personal favorite), Howard and Stephanie Conant were sailors.  They sailed between California and Australia numerous times in their 51 foot custom built aluminum sailboat and palace of the sea, the Holy Grail.  This was their life, this was who they are.

But they stopped in Hawaii and bought a piece of land and carved out a Shangri La of a coffee farm, 9 acres out of virgin forest and 5 acres of coffee trees.  They worked the farm for 9 years, raised it to perfection, saw their coffee being served in the White House, coffee Howard had roasted with his own hands. And then they sold it to Dawn and Robert Barnes, who run Kona Rain Forest Farms today, and continue the extraordinary coffee legacy of Howard and Stephanie with an unequaled devotion to quality, fresh roasting orders for immediate shipment, and expanded production, including 5 new acres of coffee trees in the upper pasture, continued orders for special occasions from the White House,  and who placed third in this years Gevalia cup.

With the brand safe in worthy hands Howard and Stephanie returned to their first love, sailing their devoted boat Holy Grail, and enjoying life in Kona in a new home in the hills above Keauhou. And so it was that we took the Holy Grail out on a Sunday afternoon with a party of friends. Howard and Stephanie were in their element, beaming, as we steered a course off shore in the deep and cobalt blue waters of the Kona Coast, a dreamscape of an ocean of sheer translucent beauty on a fabulous working sailboat capable of any of the starry crossed voyages of our oceanic imagination. It was a truly lovely day.

The Holy Grail is available for charters, and you could scarcely be in more capable hands on a more romantically unconventional conveyance, the oceangoing sailboat. The Holy Grail.  These are serious, fabulous people with a life at sea in their veins.

Howard and Stephanie can be found at or can be reached at 808 987 9698.

This is Howard in the photo below, working the boat instinctively in a silhouette of the afternoon sun as we came in from a wonderful day at sea. 

Kona Rain Forest Farms can be found at or call Robert and Dawn Barnes at 808 328 1941

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pau Hana Estate Ripe Coffee Cherry

Sandy and Carol at Pau Hana Estate coffee sent me this amazing picture of their coffee cherry just as it is ripe enough to be picked.  You may remember they have 4 acres at the top of Koa Road, won 2nd place in the Gevalia cup in 2006, and are the descendent farm of legendary Woods Estate.  Sandy and Carol produce a consistently excellent product on their amazing organic farm, set in an incredibly beautiful location, with separate pastures of coffee trees above and below their house, high in the hills above Captain Cook. 

Check out Pau Hana Estates at or call them at 808 328 8099