Friday, January 6, 2012

Hawaii used to seem so exotic

The trouble with world travel is that you keep getting introduced to new and amazing places, so the places you've frequented in the past start looking a little staid. We've been to Hawaii half a dozen times, so we weren't expecting the same magical reaction we had the first time or two, and sure enough there were no real surprises once we got there, especially given that we decided to save some money and stay put on the most touristed island, Oahu. Yet for all the crowds in Honolulu--we were, after all, there at the busiest time of the year, during the Christmas holidays--the island is still stunningly beautiful and a pleasure to visit.

Leaving Pohnpei we almost took along some stow-aways. At the security check at Pohnpei airport John was asked to open his carry-on bag, a small backpack, and out walked 2 inch-long tropical cockroaches (they grow them extra big in the tropics). On further inspection, 6 or 8 more crawled out and scattered this way and that as we crushed them with our shoes. We did NOT want to take those guys with us! They may have been inside my spare pair of shoes, which had been sitting on the floor in the room of our bungalow for a couple of days. John had kindly offered to carry in his backpack. Never again, I'm sure.

Continental Airlines flies from Pohnpei to Hawaii, but the flight isn't direct: it stops at Kwajalein (base for a US military installation) and then at Majuro, in the Marshall Islands, before getting to Honolulu. Lots of local families were flying to visit relatives for the holidays, so many people on the plane knew each other, making the ride quite festive. The flights are quick but the stops take some time---it was 3:30 a.m. when we finally landed in Hawaii.

That's when I realized that I'd forgotten to factor in our crossing of the international dateline, so our hotel reservation didn't actually start until later that afternoon. Darn! We had planned to check in to our hotel in the early morning and sleep for a while, but of course it was way too early since we hadn't reserved a room for the night/morning we arrived, so instead we ended up in the hotel's "hospitality room"--a row of computers, some massage chairs, and a couple of rattan couches--and tried to nap before heading out for breakfast. Really uncomfortable, but at least we weren't sleeping on a park bench. When the sun came up we walked a few blocks to Waikiki beach (pretty much empty at that hour) and laid down in the sand near the water. We must have slept for a couple of hours, because when I next opened my eyes the sun was blazing and we were surrounded by a crowd of bodies in bikinis!  

Waikiki Beach

Eventually we did get to check in to our hotel (Waikiki Sand Villa, a serviceable hotel a few blocks from the beach, along the Ala Wai Canal), where we had a nice corner room with views of the mountains on one side and the beach high-rises on the other, and a sliver of an ocean view. A small sliver.

We spent the next 6 nights in Honolulu, hanging around the beach, walking a lot, doing a little shopping, and taking a couple of day trips to other parts of the island. We rented a car one day and drove around most of the island. Did a good walk to Makapuu Lighthouse on the windward shore--beautiful coastal and mountain views--where I tried to spot a whale but had no success (no surprise, even though this is the time of year that whales can supposedly be spotted along the shore). Looking for whales in an ocean can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. We stopped at an orchid farm farther along the coast toward the north shore, where I decided that maybe I'd give orchids a try. Am I patient enough? We picked out a few beautiful plants that will be shipped to us in February, weather permitting.

We stopped for a late lunch at the Crouching Dragon restaurant on the north shore--not bad, nothing special--and regretted it when we saw, a few miles later, the famous fresh shrimp trucks that populate that part of Oahu. We were too full for shrimp, but I had one of the other island specialties, barbecued corn on the cob, drizzled with lime juice, garlic butter, and black pepper. Delicious! The waves on the north shore were pretty big, so we spent some time on Sunset Beach watching the surfers crash and burn before we headed back to the city. If we had it to do over again, I think we would try to find a vacation rental of some kind on the funky north shore instead of basing in Honolulu.

Red flags on the north shore mean swimming is dangerous

Another day we hooked up with a Kailua (windward shore) kayaking company that picked us up in Honolulu and brought us to their shop near Kailua beach where we picked up a couple of kayaks and trundled them down to the water for some ocean kayaking. The water was fairly choppy so it took a lot of work to get out to the nearby coral island, but it was a good workout. We used to kayak only on quiet lakes and rivers, but we're so much more comfortable in the sea now that we've had a few of those experiences under our belts. While we were in Kailua we stopped by Island Snow, the shave ice shop favored by the Obama family, who were also vacationing in Kailua while we were there. About 30 flavors to choose from--a really refreshing cross between a slush and a snow cone.

Shave ice flavors at Island Snow

Food-wise, Hawaii has some fun home-grown delicacies: poke (marinated raw tuna cubes), loco moco (ground beef and rice, topped with an egg), pupus (appetizers), and malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts) among them. We love the Asian influences on the cuisine, and we ended up eating a lot of Japanese food. Our favorite restaurant was tiny Matsugen on Beach Walk, which serves the best soba noodles we've had outside of Japan. Next door to it is another really good restaurant, Arancin, where we had excellent Italian dishes. Both these little places are very popular with visiting Japanese. Another night we ate at Uncle Bo's Pupu Bar and Grill, a short walk from Ala Wai Canal, a little off the beaten track. Really good and not so packed with tourists. For lunch on a couple of days we headed to the Japanese food court at Shirokiya Department Store in the Ala Moana Shopping Center, which is modeled on the food courts in Tokyo department stores. Loved perusing all the possibilities and choosing our favorites to bring to the tables where we ate among the throngs of Asian diners doing the same.

Selecting from the Japanese food court at Shirokiya

Bottom line: Hawaii is gorgeous and easy to love. It's a good entry point back into the United States after a long trip in more exotic places--easy to put everything on autopilot and enjoy the scenery, the amazing weather, the surfers, and the island lifestyle. It's crowded with tourists during the holidays, especially near the beach at Waikiki, but I'm glad to see the Hawaiian economy doing so well after taking a hit during the recession. We were ready to move on when our six days were up, especially since our next stop was San Francisco and a chance to meet our new granddaughter.

1 comment:

  1. I love how the shadow of the tree is like an arrow pointing the way to the ocean :-)))