Aloha and Hola

by Marcel on May 1, 2011

Hanauma Bay

Aloha! As some of you know Charlotte and I made a recent trip to Hawaii back in April, and I also made a trip to Panama and Peru in May/June. There has been a lot going on with us lately so the website and blog have taken a backseat, but I have plenty of pics and stories to post from all the recent travels. Of course it will take me a while to get-r-done. For now I just want to recap our first trip to Hawaii, I’ll write more about the South American trip later. Pics from our Hawaii trip can be seen in the new Hawaii Gallery on CosmicAdventure. Charlotte has also posted a blog about Hawaii and has a few pictures there.

In April Charlotte and I decided to take a long overdue vacation together. Our trip to the San Juan’s last September was great, but we wanted a real beach vacation this time, and Hawaii has been on our minds for quite a while. We don’t have great direct flight options from Portland since it’s a smaller market, but Hawaii is just a 5 hour straight shot on Hawaiian Airlines. After much flip-flopping around we decided to just pull the booking trigger and do it. This meant of course that we would have to put Mulder in the Pet Hotel again, but we figured he could handle it for a little less than a week. He did do much better this time; I think he actually enjoyed it.

As for where in Hawaii to go that was another topic of debate, but we finally decided to start with the Big Kahuna- Oahu. It’s not the biggest island, but does have the biggest city Honolulu, and the most famous attractions to see. Many people say it’s not the real Hawaii, but after going there I think they couldn’t be more wrong. Of course we did rent a car and saw a good part of the island, so that could be the difference between us and most people who never leave Waikiki, but more on that later.

Charlotte and I haven’t been on a plane together since flying back to the U.S. in 2005 from Europe. It’s really hard to believe, but true. We’ve both traveled quite a bit since then, but always separately except for regional road trips. The main reason for this is because of our doggie Mulder, since we don’t know anyone who can or is able to watch him; he is quite a handful. Also we just haven’t traveled much except for family and regional trips the last few years. This is changing.

Vacation day finally arrived so we headed out on the very customer friendly Hawaiian Airlines due Southwest towards the open Pacific. In the beginning the flight was fine, but then we headed directly west out to the coast, and then actually started going north. I knew something was wrong. I could recognize the coastal towns and some of the mountains that I’ve hiked before so I knew exactly where we were. Why is it that when Charlotte and I travel together something weird always happens? The captain said we’d have to go back to PDX to have a part fixed on the plane, and then mentioned something about dumping fuel. I don’t like flying and this made me very nervous. Surely if something serious was wrong they would say it was just a minor repair as they had announced, but for all we know there could be a hole in the side of the plane. After almost an hour of up and down the coast we finally went back to PDX and landed safely. They fixed the part and we took off again in the same plane. I was uncomfortable to say the least, and would have preferred to board another plane. Fortunately it all worked out and we did finally arrive in Hawaii, although a few hours late and a few more gray hairs on my head. Do I get extra frequent flyer miles for that bonus trip up and down the Oregon Coast?

Once in Hawaii the warm air and relaxed atmosphere helped me quickly forget about that flight episode and get down to what was important, vacation. We found the Hard Rock Café the first night, my favorite place to go on vacation because I love music, and collect the Guitar Magnets that they don’t always seem to have in stock. Charlotte was glad to have that task “out of the way”, she doesn’t like the Americanized food there. That night we walked around Waikiki and took in the festive atmosphere of the place. It’s like Vegas on the beach, but without the casinos. It’s basically one long strip of restaurants, shops, bars, very nice hotels, and lots of tourists from all over the globe.

One of the first things I noticed was how friendly the birds are here, just like Bob Marley’s song “Three Little Birds”. With no real predators in Hawaii except the occasional housecat, they really have no fear of people. Since most dining is outdoors patio style they often join you for dinner in hopes for a handout. We’re used to it though; a certain canine member of our family is an expert table surfer too.

Walking around Waikiki we quickly developed a fondness for the local ABC stores, which is the local chain of souvenir/convenience stores that seem to be on just about every corner, much like coffee shops are in Seattle. We also noticed that nobody here says hello, they say Aloha! They also say Mahalo instead of thank you. There are many other local words you can hear and see printed too. Sometimes you can overhear locals talking in Pidgin which is the local dialect that is totally incomprehensible to anyone who isn’t Hawaiian. At times you have to wonder if you are even in the U.S. anymore; Hawaii feels like another country.

The next day I went scuba diving for the first time since we were in Nice France in 2005. The dive shop wasn’t too particular about my credentials and was ready to take me on a 110 ft deep wreck dive straightaway, but I opted for the easier afternoon dives to get my feet wet first. I wouldn’t say it was the best diving I’ve ever done, but there were quite a few different fish to see and the water was surprisingly blue. The coolest thing I saw was the sea turtles. I’ve seen a sea turtle on the beach in Florida before, but never while diving. In fact I saw several, including one unlucky fellow that was missing a flipper due to a boating accident. He was happy though, floating contently in his Hawaiian retirement paradise. Charlotte spent a relaxing day in the sun at Waikiki Beach while I was diving. Once I got back she was ready to indulge in one of her favorite activities, dining out.

There are lots of Asians in Hawaii, both living here and visiting as tourists, mostly from Japan. This means lots of Asian food, which Charlotte was very happy about. It would be very easy to eat bad food here all week if you just pick and choose random places, but with the help of Yelp, and our guide books, we were able to find some real foodie places that would make even the most die-hard foodies in Portland drool.

First up was Sweet Home Café, completely discovered on Yelp by their excellent review rating. We thought we’d give it a go, and as is the norm in Hawaii all good things come with a wait. We waited outside the small dining area for 30-45 minutes before getting a seat at a communal table, euro-style dining as we call it. The ordering process was a bit challenging, but it all worked out in the end. You order what kind of soup base you want, I ordered pumpkin base and Charlotte got seafood base. Then you go to the fridge and pick out veggies and any other exotic ingredients you want to add to your soup. The sauce bar was also quite extensive. If you want chicken or other meat they will bring it out on a plate, raw. You then put it in the pot and cook it up in the soup along with everything else you picked out, it’s something like fondue style. I have a weak stomach so anything like the sight of raw meat on the same table that I’m going to eat at makes me nervous. Eventually I got into the spirit of things and it turned out to be one of the best meals I’ve had in recent memory, I do like soup, a lot! To top it off they brought out a super-delicious dessert that defies description. There’s nothing like good food to warm your heart.

The next day we went to Pearl Harbor. Finding a parking place took almost an hour, no kidding. Still the site was well worth the effort. I’m a huge history buff so learning even more about Pearl Harbor and its part in WWII was very interesting, and somber. There isn’t much more I can say about it except if you go to Oahu be sure to set aside a day to visit this site, and go early to beat the crowds.

After getting lost on the nearby navy base and discovering how cool the navy camouflage uniforms are (which amazingly haven’t caught on at Old Navy yet), we decided to head to Punchbowl Crater. This is a pretty cool place with a great overview of the city that most people probably don’t visit because it’s quite a ways from Waikiki through sometimes thick traffic. Since we had a car, no problem, and no crowds once we got off the highway. We practically had the place to ourselves!

After Punchbowl we went on to drive the beautiful Round Top and Tantalus road loop. This is one of the off the beaten path discoveries that I only found about because I saw a hike that was here listed in one of our guidebooks. What a find it was! I love these loopy forested roads. It was kind of like Forest Park in Portland, but Hawaiian style with tons of Bamboo and other tropical trees. The overlooks and hiking were terrific, unfortunately the mosquitoes were horrific, and it was getting close to dusk, so there wasn’t much hiking to be done, but lots of sightseeing.

Fact check– Hawaii used to be free of mosquitoes, but then Europeans arrived and brought them along.

That night we decided to go for another outstanding dinner at Ono Hawaiian Restaurant which we saw on the Anthony Bourdain show. After another 45 minute or so wait, and not being sure if we would even make it in before they closed, we finally got a table and one awesome meal. We tasted dishes like Lau Lau, and Kailua Pig wrapped in a Taro leaves. The traditional Hawaiian desert poi was interesting to try too. I ordered a big bowl and had a hard time finishing it. It was somewhat tart, unlike the sweet taro pie offered at McDonalds which I thought this would taste like. I guess it’s an acquired taste. The pork however was outstanding, and overall the family style meal was just what we needed to fill our foodie bellies.

With just two days left we were running short on time and there were still quite a few activities we wanted to do. We decided that snorkeling Hanauma Bay, hiking Diamond Head, and driving the North Shore would be our main objectives. The next morning we set out to spend the day at Hanauma Bay. After stopping to get some local pastries for breakfast we drove around the coast to the bay. Despite the crowds of tourists this place far and away exceeded any expectations I had for a day at the beach. The beach itself is inside a volcanic crater that is now open to the ocean on one side. This creates a very shallow and circular bay that is great for snorkeling, and a semi circle beach that is perfect as can be with Koko crater looming in the distance. I really can’t think of a more spectacular beach anywhere else that I’ve ever been, and I’ve seen a lot of nice beaches.

Charlotte tried the snorkeling for a bit, but it just isn’t her thing. She did see a couple fish I think, but was too scared to get beyond waist deep. Me on the other hand, I was all over that place like a fish in water. In the shallows you can snorkel over the reef just below you, like a foot or two below you. If you venture out past the initial reef and wave-break into the middle of the bay, the water is much more blue and clear, and with less tourists flopping around in their rented gear. Here you can really see what is going on under the surface of the water. There are multitudes of colorful fish and you can dive down to explore a much healthier part of the reef than in the shallows. The great snorkeling, sand, and scenery made this day at the beach my favorite experience in Hawaii.

Disclaimer: The deeper part of the bay is not recommended for everyone, many people have drowned here who are not aware of tides, currents, etc.

After Hanauma Bay we headed up the coast to see some spectacular viewpoints and beaches on the way to Kailua. We really got into the groove by listening to our favorite new radio station Da Paina. They were jamming great songs like “One Love”, “Pass the Dutchie”, and my personal new favorite “Lets Drink Beer”, a local Hawaiian tune that is sure to become a reggae classic if it’s ever discovered in the Caribbean.

The guidebook and some people we’ve talked to say Kailua is a great surf town with a laid back vibe so we ended our afternoon there. Although the town was nice and much more relaxed than Honolulu we couldn’t find anything extraordinary about it, except a nice looking state park that would be good for beach sports. Different strokes for different folks I guess. We left without finding any decent food options and headed back to Honolulu on the incredibly impressive H3 highway.

That night we ate yet another Asian food meal at the Marukame Udon Noodle house where they actually make the noodles by hand onsite. It was pretty good, and very good prices, but kind of novelty for me. Charlotte on the other hand was delighted to have another good Asian meal. I made up for my food deficiency by directing us to the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian where the Mai Tai drink originated. It was a dark and dimly lit open air bar right on the beach, but somehow the atmosphere here was a bit stuffy, and the drink was probably the most expensive mixed drink I have ever bought. It was pretty good, but I think I would prefer a pub and one of those Koko brown ales made by Kona Brewing company. The glitz and glam just doesn’t do anything for me.

For the last full day left in Hawaii we still had quite a few things left to do. We had planned to spend a whole day on the North Shore, but I still wanted to hike Diamond Head Crater too. From everything I read the hike should only take a couple of hours, so we set out early in the morning to knock that out before heading to the North Shore before noon. We did get an early start, but the parking lot was already full. Fortunately we were able to squeeze in after only a 5 minute wait, but many others had to park another mile down the road, and then hike up the blacktop road before starting the real hike. Even though it was early the temps were soaring making this one volcanically hot hike. One girl near the top was even suffering from heat exhaustion. Charlotte really struggled, especially near the top when the tunnels and stairs seemed to never end. I know she wanted to give up, but she hung in there and eventually we made it to the top together.

The views were spectacular. Although the hike wasn’t that difficult except for the heat and humidity, it was a very unique trail. The summit and lookout offered a really outstanding perspective being on top of Diamond Head Crater, which is so prominent from Waikiki and many viewpoints on the island. We enjoyed the views for a while, and then headed back down through the waves of tourists on the trail. After a quick lunch at the famous Rainbow Drive-in, and a stop at Leonard’s bakery for some malasada doughnuts, we were off to the North Shore.

We passed the Dole Pineapple plant, and headed onto the North Shore where the real Hawaii is, which most people say you miss by going to Oahu. Our first stop was at Waialua. This was totally unplanned; we actually got lost and came here by mistake. Getting lost on the north shore is probably a good thing, because in a way this place is sort of like a hidden paradise far and away from the hustle and bustle of urbanization, and the locals plan to keep it that way. There is a big movement to “keep the country, country” around these parts, and who can blame them. For us the coolest places we found were discovered by stumbling upon them. The Waialua coffee and chocolate factory and farmers market was one of those places. After taking a tour here and buying up some local goodies we headed on up the coast to Haleiwa where we originally intended to go.

Haleiwa was a really neat little town, but the highlight for us was Matusmoto’s shaved ice. Apparently this place is famous, especially with Japanese folks, because there is a whole wall of pictures with famous people (mostly Japanese) eating this stuff. After yet another long wait (well worth it) we had our huge shaved ice delicacies of tropical exotic flavors which you can see listed here.

Onward around the coast. We hit the famous Waimea Beach where people sit and watch 30 foot waves crash in during the winter time, along with crazy surfers who risk life and limb (literally) riding them. If you don’t believe me just head to the theatre to watch Soul Surfer, now playing. Our visit was during the spring so the waves weren’t that big, but the beach was still happening. Next we moved on to the Bonzai Pipeline, which I’ve heard so many stories about when I was a kid growing up in Florida. Again the waves weren’t overly huge this time of year, but still head-high and forming a perfect tube. This place was also very hard to find, definitely a locals only type of place. We continued on and hit more famous places like Turtle Bay, Teds Bakery, the shrimp food carts, and Chinaman’s Hat before the day finally gave away to night and we had to head back to the bright lights of Waikiki while jamming to Da Paina.

If you were wondering if we made it to the very popular Polynesian Cultural Center where they have a nightly cultural show, we didn’t. We did drive by it, but we both thought we’d leave that for the droves of package tourists who make that their one excursion out of Waikiki. Nothing against it, but with the limited amount of time we had this place just didn’t make it on our list of priorities.

Since our flight out was at mid-day I had the last morning to either surf or paddleboard at Waikiki beach, which was just a few blocks from our hotel. I’ve surfed before and can’t say that I’m too crazy about it. Snowboarding, skimboarding, and skateboarding, have all worked out for me, but somehow surfing never took, despite several failed attempts. This time I decided to try paddleboarding instead. Basically you are equipped with a huge buoyant surfboard that you stand on, and then you paddle out to the waves. You can ride small waves if you want, or just paddle around the water. The ancient Hawaiians used to do this, so I figured why not give it a shot. Well this was just as much a bust as surfing has always been for me. I kind of wish I had surfed instead since I at least know the basics of that. I had a hard time standing up on the paddleboard, but did eventually get the hang of it and paddled out past the wave breaks where the surfers were patiently waiting for either a nice swell or a shark attack. Overall I found paddleboarding to be unexciting. I even sliced my foot on the infamous Waikiki reef one of the many times that I fell off the board. This to me was a sign that the fun was over and it was indeed time to go home.

After lunch at one of my favorite taco stands Wahoo’s, which we don’t have in Portland but did in Denver, we were off to the airport. While waiting for the plane we toured the gardens within the airport and recapped our good times in paradise. Charlotte actually asked me if I thought I would ever want to live in Hawaii, which surprised me a bit. We both grew up in a tropical environment, and Hawaii is a very Asian influenced place, so I think she felt very comfortable here. Personally I think there is plenty to offer in Hawaii, and we’ve only seen part of one island. Typically you don’t leave your immediate area of residence within an hour’s drive very often, so that being the case there is plenty to do here to keep you busy within that vicinity. The real problem would be the price of housing, and low paying jobs. One local told me that the unemployment rate in Hawaii is very low, but everyone works two jobs. Additionally you would no doubt miss the mainland and all of your family and friends that are so far away. A five hour flight to Portland isn’t that bad, but it’s not that practical either. Last but certainly not least it is quite an ordeal to bring your pet to Hawaii if you did plan to move here, I checked into it. All things considered it is probably more hassle than it’s worth, unless you are just at that place in your life when you can make it work and it is really what you want. It would be a nice place to zone out for a while, so you never know. Someday that beach lifestyle could call us back to this very foreign 50th US state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, or to another more tropical place.

Waikiki from Diamondhead

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: