29 Nov – 4 Dec 2014. We are at our gate in the Honolulu airport. It is after midnight as we wait for our delayed flight to Samoa. The concourse is busy with people of all ages, reading, watching movies on their various electronic devices, sleeping. The children, of course, are wide-awake and full of energy. They see who can jump highest and furthest from a tiered concrete planter. Having no frontal lobes they are completely fearless. We try to pretend we are not tired.
But back to the beginning: five days earlier, after our flight from Vancouver, we finally arrived at our hotel in Honolulu at about 11pm local time. There was nowhere for the shuttle to pull up right in front of the hotel, but we appreciated that the shuttle driver carried all our bags to the hotel entrance. He wished us welcome to Hawaii and left us. At the bottom of a flight of stairs. Well it was very clear Don was not carrying anything up those stairs, and I knew even for me it would be a slow struggle. Suddenly an angel appeared. How does that happen? Literally out of nowhere, as far as we could tell, there was a teenage boy grabbing a bag in each hand, a total of about 26 kilos, and almost running up the stairs with them. I started slowly lifting one of the other bags up step by step. I’d barely made the second step when there he was again, grabbing the remaining two bags and running up with them. At the top he deposited them and raced away down the stairs before we could even say thank you, let alone give him a tip. We thought he worked for the hotel, but no, he disappeared into the night never to be seen again. A sweet beginning.
Gorgeous golden-sand beaches, blue water, blue skies, palm trees, tropical warmth. How can you not love it even though we are surrounded by high-rise hotels and apartments? Even though all we’ve found to eat so far has been American strip-mall food not quite on a par with Denny’s, an American family restaurant chain with nothing of the contemporary finesse of White Spot, a Canadian family restaurant chain, which offers a flat bread with caramelized onions, goat cheese, arugula and a drizzle of balsamic and other more creative meals alongside their hamburgers. No, all we’ve found so far has been your standard reubens, turkey clubs, hamburgers and BLT’s, at best on “whole wheat”, which is nothing more than white bread with food colouring. Apparently asking for a BLT with cheese instead of bacon is asking for too much. Sigh. For breakfast I have a piece of coloured-white-bread toast with overcooked scrambled eggs a significant portion of which are grey. Hmmmmm. Food-wise it has not been a good beginning but I have no doubt we’ll get our bearings and find better alternatives as our stay progresses. And anyway who cares? Gorgeous golden-sand beaches, blue water, blue skies, palm trees, tropical warmth. What’s not to love?
Oahu is one of the smaller islands of Hawaii, but the most populated with the city of Honolulu, and other towns. Whatever the Polynesian cultural origins of these islands, make no mistake, Honolulu is a big American city, very much like big American cities in hot climates on the mainland. It’s LA in the middle of the Pacific. Whatever the Polynesian cultural origins of the island of Oahu, there’s not much left of it except a sanitized homogenized standardized performance version created for the enjoyment of tourists. The advertisements call out to you to Discover a Different Culture but we know it’s just a show and the real culture has long ago been subsumed first by missionaries in the 1800’s, then the gradual influence of the west, and finally by modern America.
Looking towards the marina and downtown Honolulu from our hotel.
Don still has a cold so I walk alone down to the waterfront and along Kahanamoku Beach, Fort Derussy Beach, and Waikiki Beach. We do the same walk together the next day, finally stopping at the outdoor beachside restaurant at the Moana Surfrider Resort for Plantation Iced Tea (meaning laced with pineapple juice) and some very mellow live music – a little country, a little blues, a little rock ‘n’ roll, a little relaxing into presence, a little Hawaii-at-the-beach vibe settling in.
Near the marina, a Hawaiian Zebra Dove,
and a parrot in the grass by the lagoon.
Dinner that night was average Japanese food in a small dead mall with a screaming baby. Tripadvisor is not infallible.
Wanting to discover more of Hawaii than the beach scene we take a bus to Chinatown. As Chinatowns go it’s not the most fascinating I’ve ever been to. Vancouver’s is bigger, less seedy, and more interesting, but it was worth the visit if only to get away from tourist central.
Longans and rambutans
Walking back to the bus stop via a different route we find a park full of banyan trees, and stop to stare, fascinated by the way the roots grow down from the branches.
Rain rain rain. All day. So our drive to the north shore was sadly somewhat dampened. The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing championships were taking place at Sunset Beach and we were looking forward to watching some of it. On a sunny day, or even just a non-rainy day, we probably would have sat for several hours watching some of the best surfers in the world ride the huge waves. As it was we stopped by a couple of times in our journeying around the north end of the island and it seemed each time we got in the car to drive somewhere the rain stopped, but as soon as we stopped the rain started up again. Just couldn’t time it right. We did however get out and walk a bit by the sea at Pūpūkea Beach and a couple of other locations.
On the way north we stopped at the Dole Plantation “fairground” (tourist shop, train rides, plantation tours) specifically to try the pineapple ice cream. We’d met a man on the flight over who’d raved about it. And he was not wrong. It rates among the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten. A huge cupful of soft-serve ice cream with an authentic pineapple flavour. The heavenly taste of Hawaii. Best ever!
Later we went to Giovanni’s famous Shrimp Truck at Kahuku.
Giovanni’s serves only four dishes – garlic scampi with rice, prawns with lemon butter and rice, hot and spicy prawns with rice, and a jumbo garlic hot dog with rice. That’s it. Don and I shared the scampi and the lemon butter prawns and it was one of the best meals on the road. I’m not much of a foodie, and don’t often write about meals, but this was definitely one of the standouts.
This is where we ate, next to the white van,
and this is what we ate – simple and perfectly prepared.
That evening we found Genki Sushi at the giant Ala Moana Mall where we ate delicious sushi from a conveyor belt two nights in a row. The mall is actually listed as a tourist attraction, as in one of the “things to do” while in Honolulu. I am bewildered by the idea that shopping is actually considered a hobby, and puzzled that anyone would want to go to a mall for anything other than necessities, especially while on a tropical vacation, but we did actually shop there. The most hilarious thing about our chaotic departure from Vancouver? Don forgot his (much loathed) swimsuit. So we went there to get him a new one.
Beyond Honolulu we found a more Hawaiian Hawaii. No longer in a big city that could be just about anywhere in America, we found, despite the rain, and weather cooler than we expected, a kind of looseness, and a feeling of relaxation that seems to come with a tropical climate and island life.
Next post: Our second day touring the island – more beaches and a Buddhist temple.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.