A first birthday visit for my ukulele

A first birthday visit for my ukulele

Salmon swim upstream to return to the home of their birth.

My very special tenor ukulele can’t swim…but for its first birthday, I thought I’d take it back to its birthplace. Only we’d be flying. Hawaii is simply too far for me to swim either—especially with an ukulele case strapped to my back.

Over the 12 months since I’d acquired my koa beauty from Moore Bettah Ukuleles, I’d emailed Chuck a few times with questions about humidity and wood care and, well, just those new parent type of questions.

Why not, Chuck wrote once, come experience “their” side of Hawai’i Island on our next visit? He suggested a little oceanfront cottage nearby took vacation renters…hmmm…maybe?

What you need to know, though, is that Chuck’s neighborhood has no wells for water—so it’s “catchment” water only. There’s no electricity either (which makes for nicer views since there are no wires interrupting the skyline of coconut fronds and jungle-y trees) and, to top it off, there’s no cell phone reception for at least a 10-minute drive (at least for Verizon).

Chuck and Bonnie operate their businesses (ukulele and custom Hawaiian jewelry, respectively) with solar power only; they have a high-end water purifier and they are now connected to the Internet via satellite.


No “connectivity”? We love it!

In contrast, the place we were looking at renting nearby had very limited 110 lighting (no power-gobbling hair dryers there!), a water system that provided the liquid stuff only for bathing (bring in bottled drinking water) and no wifi or connection or cell phone coverage (but I already said that, huh? ‘Just wanted to reinforce for you how “unplugged” it truly is).

Sign us up!

While being oceanfront on the not-so-traveled Red Road in the Puna District really appealed to us, an equal appeal was being able to visit Chuck’s shop and see where my ukulele was “born.” Chuck and Bonnie emailed their invitation to visit them while there and we looked forward to getting to know them better than I had the year before when I bought my MBU (that’s Moore Bettah Ukulele in the slang of the uke world) the year before (see here for the tale of that quest and the prize).

note_from_chuckI was not disappointed. We arrived at the cottage late at night after flying in to Kona side (Note to self: next time fly in to Hilo and save the drive over Saddle Road). But waiting for us on the cottage’s front porch was a cardboard box, loaded with tropical fruit (some of types I’d never seen before) and a warm note from Chuck and Bonnie welcoming us.

[Brief travel notes follow, we’ll be returning to the main ukulele program shortly…]

I don't see any coconuts...

Falling coconuts on the rental car? I hope not!

We marveled at the fruit briefly before tumbling into bed. Visions of koa ukulele, coconuts and bumpy unknown tropical fruits danced in my head. The breeze and an evening rainstorm came up, rustling the fronds and resulting in the deep thumps of ripe coconuts hitting the moist soil (Second note to self: Do not park the rental car anywhere underneath coconut trees). We slept well.


Yes, it looked like this. No Photoshop. Really.

Like most visitors to Hawai’i we awoke “early” due to hurtling through multiple time zones the day before. I have truly never seen such a sunrise as we enjoyed that morning: pinks of every color heralded the sun’s rising in the sky as the waves’ white foam ripened from purples to pinks to frothy cream under the lightening skies.

Yes. That puddingy one. What is it???

Yes. That puddingy one. What is it???

The fruits (what is that one with the white puddingy-like center called???) were our breakfast and, while we’d planned to head over to Chuck and Bonnie’s in the morning, we hadn’t asked ‘em ahead of time what hour would be a good time to arrive. No cell phone coverage meant we couldn’t call so we just relaxed and didn’t worry about anything.

Mark explored the grounds (avocado, oranges, a pond, lots of coconut palms, brilliantly-colored flowers and birds) while I pulled out my ukulele and strummed, sitting on the front lanai and watching the waves crest and break against the black lava (Third note to self: It doesn’t matter how well you play ukulele when you’re sitting on a lanai; everything sounds great, so just keep playing).lanai_playing

“Aloha,” I suddenly heard. I looked up. There was Chuck, beside his pickup at the gate entrance to the cottage. We hollered him in and he bounded up the outside stairs.

“Doing the tourist thing, playing ukulele on the lanai, huh?” he laughed. Geesh, and I’d thought it such an original occupation that morning…

And so began our visit to return to the land of my ukulele’s birth.

We swam at Warm Pond, we snorkeled nearby in a collection of tidepools and we enjoyed a Wednesday night at Uncle Robert’s in Kalapana (definitely a community happening you don’t want to miss).

Chuck and Bonnie are the kind of people that make you feel at home, even though the surroundings are really nothing like your home. I don’t know anyone back home who live beneath the shady leaves of a mango tree…


I dunno. Maybe I’d asked about a high G soprano…

Chuck and Bonnie treated us as if we were old friends (and sometimes that’s a lot better than being family!) and joined us on some of our explorations in the area. While the Red Road area is sometimes said to be less than welcoming to visitors, with Chuck and Bonnie beside us we were treated warmly.

We even took oodles of pictures of my one-year-old ukulele in various places evocative of its birthplace: propped on black lava hugging the shore, beneath the shade of a milo tree, on a palm mat and nestled in some seaside greenery.


Oh. Thanks for showing me, Chuck.I didn’t know it could be played above the third fret…

Golly, was it a great first birthday party! And Doctor Chuck gave my special tenor a one-year checkup, pronouncing it healthy in every way. He buffed it on a polishing wheel of some sort (I couldn’t watch; all that spinning, all that power, all that possibility of the thing ruining my ukulele!) and he deftly installed two strap buttons for me (next adventure: a quest to fabric stores to discover the “just-right” strap material).

On top of that, I got some wonderful Christmas shopping done right there in Opihikao, thanks to Bonnie’s jewelry designs. Oh, and a few splurge jewelry items for me, too… After all, at least I wasn’t buying another MBU while I was there!