Neither of us having ever visited Hawaii before, we naturally hit some popular places on Oahu. But it’s always a highlight when we see people we know, and we were lucky enough to do so in Honolulu. Readers may remember that we have been chasing our fellow travel bloggers, Lawsons on the Loose, around the world for some time now. First Roy got in touch because he and Joy were in London, but we were already in Vienna. Then we were about to leave Southeast Asia for Melbourne, where the Lawsons had been staying, but Roy hurriedly booked them tickets in the opposite direction, so we missed them by a day!
Third continent lucky, though. On an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we connected with the Lawsons at Kaimuki Christian Church, where Roy is currently preaching. We are pretty casual these days, and I felt comfortable right away, as the service began with one of my all time favorite hymns: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” It’s an old revival hymn that I’ve worked into an otherwise contemporary service myself. Its lyrics are reassuring and were especially appropriate on this Sunday, Father’s Day.
Dr. Roy Lawson is one of my parents’ oldest friends. That is not a comment on his age, by the way! If I couldn’t be with my own dad celebrating Father’s Day, then one of his favorite professors, colleagues, and friends was the next best thing. He and Joy had so many stories of their travels, as they’ve been on the road longer than we have. Two years ago they sold their house, unloaded virtually all their possessions, and basically said “let’s travel till we drop.” No sign of dropping yet.
Hawaii no longer greets every visitor with a lei fresh off the plane, but some women of Kaimuki Christian Church made up for this. We felt very welcome at lunch with the Lawsons, and almost Hawaiian!
Kaimuki is one of the oldest neighborhoods of Honolulu, and the congregation is very reflective of Hawaii’s ethnic diversity. No one group seems to make up a majority, although I did sense that haole were a minority. It was like being a mzungu all over again.
Nearby were two other attractions, and we were fortunate enough to be in town on Saturday morning for the first one. The Kapi‘olani Community College Farmers Market was a delightful start to our first full (not jet-lagged) day in Hawaii, starting with locally grown Kona coffee. We found a few other treats to energize us, such as macadamia soft serve with “crashed” macadamia nuts.
We needed energy, because the other thing to do near KCC was hike up Diamond Head (not to be confused with Diamond Hill in Ireland). This is not a natural trail, as it was built in 1908 to service military installations at the top of the hill. Looking out for a possible naval assault was important although, as we learned at Pearl Harbor, it did not help much with an assault by air.
T. and I labored up the trail that military families had been using for leisure for more than a hundred years. There were probably a few on the trail with us this hot day, too. And one show-off guy who ran up and down, passing us at least four times! He certainly earned his shaved ice at the bottom of Diamond Head.
At the top, we took the option to go up through the bunker. It was a very steep climb, but we were rewarded by 360-degree views of the Leeward Coast, the Wai’anae Range, and southeast to Koko Head.
The most famous beach, or rather stretch of beaches, in Hawaii is Waikiki. It was once a royal leisure center, and our hanging out here is as good a moment as any to remark on the unique history of Hawaii.
Long before it was one of the United States, Hawaii was an independent kingdom. Kamehameha I, after whom the highway around Oahu is named, united the islands under his rule, whereupon he was presented with the Union Jack as a token of friendship with Britain. This unofficial flag of Hawaii is incorporated into the state flag even today.
The kingdom came to a sad end, though, when U.S. business interests decided it would be better if they controlled Hawaii. Queen Liluokalani, the last reigning monarch, was arrested in Washington Place, which is now the state governor’s residence.
I remember reading about Queen Liliuokalani when I was a child, never having realized before that one of the American states had been a kingdom. I always remembered the ignominy, so had to find the statue of her that stands today in the courtyard of the state capitol building.
We went back to Waikiki until we’d gotten too much sun, which took some doing after all those months in Australia. June was Pride Month and wouldn’t have been complete without at least a drink in a gay bar. Overlooking the beach is Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand, a friendly spot where one can, indeed, buy leis—or just enjoy a mai tai.
|Note the British flag incorporated into the Hawaii state flag.|
Snorkeling there, we saw a phenomenon we'd never seen before: schools of fish swimming in circles, apparently when they wanted to stick together. If you ever go to Hanauma Bay to snorkel, they say to get there early in the day (it opens at 6:00!) before the crowds arrive. We ignored this advice, and it wasn’t a problem on a weekday, but we did have to wait in line. They make you watch a video about not standing on the reef, etc. It is actually quite difficult not to touch the reef, as the water is so shallow in places you can barely swim over the coral. But if you are careful and get out into the deeper water, you can have the reef practically to yourself.
They offer “prescription” masks in Hawaii, meaning magnification for people who wear glasses. I’d never had this option before, but I think it helped me see more. And do take advantage of the trade-in for “reef safe” sunscreen if you go to Hanauma Bay. Better yet, wear what the Australians call a “rashie”—a swimming shirt that protects from ultraviolet rays. All the time we spent in the sea in Australia, and we never had to buy rash guards till we got to Hanauma Bay!
Having been talked into the convertible, we did take a couple of scenic drives around the island. You can cross it on the Pali Highway, which cuts through the Ko‘olau Range. It was pretty spectacular to look out at emerald cliffs the whole way.
We also went round much of the Windward Coast, winding between this wall of volcanoes and the Pacific. Here on the two-lane Kamehameha Highway, we passed neighborhoods, every one of which seemed to have its local beach. Families were just down there picnicking, with no hotels or commercial buildup in sight. I didn't see any public BBQ grills, though.
We’d had so much fun swapping tales with the Lawsons over Japanese food that we set up another lunch with them (this time Nepalese). We were able to report on a couple more things they’d recommended we visit. One was the North Coast where, Roy had assured us, we might get the car going over 55 mph! Alas, the day we went around there it was so choked with beach traffic we had to close the roof rather than burn up. We also regretted not being hungry, because that part of the island abounds in fresh pineapple (wonderful here, as kiwi fruit is in New Zealand) and trucks selling shrimp.
Here’s my verdict on Hawaiian food specialties. Plate lunches (e.g., loco moco, which is hamburger with fried egg and the usual sides of macaroni salad and white rice) are delicious, but not the healthiest. Portions, being U.S.-sized, are too enormous. We can’t get used to them. Even the local Chinese restaurant deep-fried chicken wings! Hawaii is also famous for poke (raw fish) bowls and shaved ice, both of which I tried, but found forgettable. As for spam fried rice, I know that Spam is a favorite food of Hawaii, but I cannot imagine why!
We’d also made time for one more veteran-related site: the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. Punchbowl is the nickname of a volcanic crater, and we could see it clearly on maps. It was remarkably hard to find the cemetery, though, because of the peculiar way Honolulu highways are set up. There is something called an interstate highway here, though of course one cannot drive from Hawaii into any other state. Perhaps this explains why it was unlike any other interstate I’ve ever seen. Normally if, say, an exit is marked Punchbowl in one direction but not in the other, and therefore I miss it going west, getting off the interstate and getting back on going east is no big deal. I would expect to exit and turn.
Not in Honolulu. Here, you can see the highway, but getting back on it going the other way takes you meandering all over some neighborhood before you even see a “TO” sign again. This happened to us an amazing number of times. Our host assured us she lived only ten minutes from Pearl Harbor, but whether coming or going, we never took less than half an hour of wandering around.
In any event, we finally reached the cemetery. A number of famous veterans are buried here, including Daniel Inouye, Hawaii’s long-serving U.S. senator, and Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian-American in space who, along with his fellow astronauts and teacher Christa McAuliffe, died in the Challenger explosion on 28 January1986.
In a memorial wall lie the remains of Stanley Dunham, President Obama’s grandfather, who helped raise him.
Perhaps the most affecting gravestone, though, is that of Ernie Pyle, the World War I veteran who famously wrote dispatches from World War II, and was killed in its final months. On either side of Pyle’s grave are two of the cemetery’s many gravestones to the “Unknown” soldiers of the Korean war.
The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is full of tributes from many wars, including from other countries. Some, like the one from South Vietnam, made me uncomfortable. Just the volume of memorials gave me mixed feelings, as it represented so many conflicts and so much death. It is a very peaceful place, though.
When Barack Obama was president, he remarked that the thought of beautiful places in Hawaii was what sometimes kept him going during tough days. One of the places he mentioned always returning to was Manoa Falls. We set off to hike to these and were surprised to find few people on the trail. A "shaman" who said he lived in a picnic shelter told us we were on the right trail, so we carried on, but soon people coming in the other direction said it did not lead to the falls. I'm glad we passed on the shaman's tarot reading.
Eventually we got directions (again) to the Manoa Falls Trail. Perhaps because President Obama made it famous, I suspect it is a little more crowded than during his childhood. But we still enjoyed the views on a humid day.
Way back in the 2008 presidential campaign, Michelle Obama said that to understand her husband, you had to understand Hawaii. Now I know what she meant. Hawaii is not like other states, and not just because you can get rice with everything. I can see how a Honolulu native, who grew up here and in Indonesia, and began his career in Chicago, could see possibilities in America that others just couldn’t see.
Perhaps Hawaii is the only state from which such a vision of America could have emerged. Barack Hussein Obama is a brown man in a country that insists on black and white, a Christian with a Muslim name, with an African father but raised by his white mother and grandparents, the Dunhams. It is at once what made him appeal to so many different people, and what so frustrated others. Many people, not just Americans, want someone to be like them, someone they can understand without trying too hard. Coming all the way to Hawaii is not the simplest field trip to take in the U.S.A.
It’s worth it, though.