Whew! Just got home from a week’s vacation and I’m absolutely worn out. Our family vacations like running a marathon: get an early start, stay on the move all day, then collapse into bed at night in a body wrung out like a dishrag. I’m not sure whether we’re cheap and want to get our “money’s worth” out of a vacation, or we’re afraid that we’ll strangle each other over petty disagreements if we don’t schedule up every second with body-draining activity.  

Here’s an example. My husband and I get up around 6. Kelly wakes up about the same time and goes for a run while we get breakfast started, attend to our morning constitutionals, etc. A half hour later she comes back for iced coffee, and we wake Chris up. We have a quick breakfast, grab our swim gear, put on a thick coating of sunscreen and are out the door by 7:30.

We drive a half hour to the Place of Refuge, a protected bay south of Kona, and walk down the road, a single file of humans with beach bags hanging off of each shoulder stuffed with giant towels, water bottles, cameras, several tubes of sunscreen, snacks, water shoes, etc. and/or backpacks containing everything we might need if we got lost in the wilderness for a week. In one hand we have the mesh bag of Snorkel Bob’s snorkel gear, the other arm wraps around a big styrofoam boogie board. We pick our way across the lava rocks and hear that there are dolphins swimming way out in the ocean, so we ease into the water, slip on our fins and snorkel masks, and race each other to the dolphin area.

Sunset at the Sheraton waiting for the manta rays to come to the spotlights.

There are a lot of dolphins! They’re swimming under us and on both sides, in groups of three and four, the moms with babies that swim like they’re glued to their momma’s sides. They’re all talking to each other in their high-pitched dolphin squeaks. Four teenage dolphins (or so I imagine) start hollering back and forth to each other as they pick up speed and launch straight up and out of the water, doing flips and twists. I’m sure they are yelling: “Hey Flipper, I can jump higher than you!” “Can not.” “Can too.” “Oh yeah, well watch this!”  It all happens in just a few seconds, but they are definitely egging each other on. It’s so much entertainment that we stay out there way past the eighty minutes the sunscreen says we can be in the water, and we’re cold and tired and our fingers look like shriveled brains. 

We finally swim back to the rocks, struggle out of our fins and masks, throw t-shirts on to keep from getting any more burned on our backs. Dizzy from exertion, I offer everyone a protein bar, and with one hand holding that, we try to find the black crabs that skitter across the lava rocks we’re standing on and pretend we’re going to catch them, which is (a) impossible for city slickers like us and maybe even the locals and (b) if a crab comes anywhere close we screech and run.

We gather all the stuff we didn’t need and trudge back on the road in single file to the car, then drive up the side of the mountain to The Coffee Shack because it’s already one-thirty in the afternoon and we’re starving. The Coffee Shack people provide for our entertainment while we await the food – they put little mango jelly containers on the rail of the outside seating area and the green geckos come off the walls, walk along the rail, and leisurely slurp up the jelly as the locals and tourists take pictures. We watch them the entire time, even while we’re eating the big tasty sandwiches on homemade bread, pumpkin ginger soup, and a high-as-the-sky slice of coconut cream pie. We get back to our condo around three and hop in the pool for an hour, throwing a small water football in such a way that it lands in front of the receiver so they not only get splashed but have to lunge for it and usually miss. Such fun!

Somewhere around four we all go back and shower off the sunscreen and drive into Kona to walk through the shops. We pick up little tourist trinkets, “Oh isn’t this turtle so cute?” try on kukui nut bracelets and sunglasses until around six when we settle on a restaurant not known for good food but sitting right on the ocean, and we scarf down dinner. It’s close to eight by the time we get back to our condo because we prowled through town looking for macadamia nut ice cream, and then we either go to the big pool to swim,  tossing whatever we can find to toss (one of those long noodles, for instance) if someone forgot to bring the busy balls – we call everything with a round shape a busy ball, I can’t remember why. After showers to get the chlorine off, we go out on the veranda and look for stars or watch the rain, or we play Farkle, a no-brainer dice game that requires very little skill and can be played on auto-pilot because by now we’re half asleep but want to get our money’s worth out of the day so we do something…anything…until close to ten.

These are the family vacations that we take to Hawaii because we bought a time-share with another couple and alternate every other year. Sometimes the kids bring a friend, this last time it was just the four of us. There’s no sitting by the pool in lounge chairs, no watching TV, no taking in a leisurely meal at a restaurant watching people or waves, and only the briefest glances at our emails and texts to stay in the loop with whatever’s going on back home.

I think these vacations are wonderful even with the steady bickering over where to eat, “what are we doing today because I don’t want to get back in the sun after the burn yesterday and I don’t know why I didn’t put on more sunscreen like you told me to,” who’s going to drive, and “why didn’t you park in that spot because we’ve been driving around the block forever and now it’s gone and I’m starving.” I love it all, especially spending time with our grown kids, but it’s sure nice to be back home and get a chance to relax.