So this past week I was lucky enough to take a vacation from my vacation, trading the Big Apple for the Big Island! (We were actually in Oahu, but I had to make the expression work, jä feel?)
I haven't been to Hawaii since I was twelve, so I was very excited to see what I'd been missing. This time we had our Aunt Eunice, who lives in Waikiki, show us around the island, and we learned a lot more about the culture and customs here.
Good lord, it's hot. It's worse than New York. The tropical humidity is making me feel faint.
We are greeted by a woman who gives us flower leis. "Welcome to Hawai'i," she smiles at us, although I am too tired and hot to smile back. I silently thank whatever genius invented air conditioning as we climb into the shuttle that takes us to our hotel in Waikiki.
Waikiki is a lot smaller than I originally thought, only two square miles in area. It's full of tourists, and high-end shops. Not what you'd expect in Hawaii. At night, you'd almost mistake it for Times Square, with costumed characters roaming the streets and magicians entertaining crowds on the sidewalks.
It's gorgeous here. Our hotel faces the ocean and the water is a beautiful blue ombré from the horizon all the way to the shoreline. Five minutes after unpacking, I head straight down to the beach, where I meet up with my mom and sisters, who I haven't seen for two months. Everyone here is so tan. Compared to the locals, we look like porcelain. The water is warm and inviting, and pretty much perfect. We hunt for crabs and poke the occasional sea cucumber we see lurking around.
We decide to go to the beach at North Shore, which is an hour away from Waikiki, and to stop at the famous "shrimp trucks" along the way.
The Macky's truck looks like nothing special, and I'm a little skeptical and a lot outraged that the butter-garlic shrimp costs $13 a plate.
Until I try it. And it's completely justified. Probably the best shrimp I've ever had in my life.
Then we discover that all of the wild chickens pecking around the food truck like rice, and are trusting enough to eat right off of our forks.
We detour at a little semi-hidden cove, where apparently sea turtles make frequent appearances.
Sure enough, there is one sleeping peacefully in the sand. Her name is Hiwahiwa, according to the local wildlife preservation volunteer who watches and tags the turtles.
After jumping in the water to cool off and cutting my toe on a rock in the process (injury count: 1), we head to Waimea Bay.
It's equally stunning here; it looks like a postcard.
We float in the water for a while, and then spot people cliff-jumping off a tall black rock, so of course I have to try it. We climb to the top, and it's a little terrifying. It looks much taller once you're looking down. I leap off of it and it's actually the most exhilarating thing, despite the split-second right before you hit the water when it feels like you're going to die. But completely worth it. I finally understand what an adrenaline rush really feels like, and reflect on my relatively boring existence until this point. My sister is absolutely opposed to jumping until I convince her of how fun it is (how great of a role model am I?). We end up jumping four times.
We visit the Dole Plantation (because Dole Whip) and manage to arrive right as the plantation closes, so we don't actually get to take the pineapple tour, but we still get Dole Whip and see some of the pineapple plants.
If you don't know how pineapple plants grow, you're in for a treat, because it's pretty hilarious.
One of the great things about Hawaii is that there's lots of Japanese food, so we find this cute spam musubi and udon place near our hotel for dinner.
We wake up at 6:30 am to visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial. I manage to drag myself out of bed, half-asleep, to take a picture of the morning sky (the things I do for my art), and we hop in the car.
We arrive at 8 am, only to discover that our tickets for the memorial aren't until 11:45 am. So we go to the mini-museum. We walk through the exhibits and read about the war. Then we watch a documentary film about the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, and I realize how profoundly little I know about the logistics of WWII.
There's a lot of gut-wrenching stuff in the mini-museum, but the thing that gets me is a quote on the wall from an Oahu resident:
"Right after the attack, I noticed our regular milk man, a Japanese man named Frank, never came around to deliver milk anymore...Then one day, he came to our door. He said he felt so badly about the attack and he thought that we wouldn't accept him anymore because he was Japanese—that we could no longer be friends. I [have] never seen a man cry so hard like that man did."
We take a tender to the USS Arizona memorial, a huge white structure built over the sunken ruins of the former battleship. It's reverentially quiet, as people speak in whispers and take pictures of the massive wall that bears the names of the dead.
Afterward, we head to Nico's a fish market that serves fresh poke bowls. I only recently started eating raw fish, so it's still a little strange to me, but it was so good.
We wake up early again the next morning with the intention of going hiking at Diamond Head. Instead, we end up at the farmer's market (leave it to my family to find where the food is).
There are so many interesting things here; I just want to try everything. It's more like a street fair than a farmer's market...although they have traditional local fruit and vegetable stands, they also have pastries, fried Japanese street food (octopus balls, anyone?), and other snacks like ice cream.
It's now entirely too hot to go hiking, so instead we go to see the famous Halona Blowhole, a natural occurrence from cold water rushing through molten lava tubes from volcanic explosions thousands of years ago. It's really dangerous; apparently a couple of people have died recently from getting sucked into it. The dangerous thing about Hawaii, my aunt explains, is that everything seems very benevolent and very serene, but because the island is so well-preserved, the natural elements are at work full-force.
Afterward, we go to Makapu'u Beach Park, just because it's supposed to be very beautiful. It's hot now; I feel like I'm baking every time I step outside. We cool off in the water and climb on the black volcanic-looking rocks that decorate the shore.
It's all fun and games until I fall on one of the rocks and crack my nail (injury count: 2). It splits open and bleeds a lot and hurts like hell. I instantly regret ever mocking girls who complain of broken nails. Luckily, the beach is so nice I quickly forget about my own clumsiness.
Aunt Eunice insists that she take us to Leonard's Bakery, a place known for its doughnuts. I remember my coworker talking about this place, because it's apparently very famous among the locals. We agree out of politeness, even though none of us are huge fans of doughnuts. We get there, and it's a tiny little shop with a line crammed into the middle of it. My aunt explains that these aren't really doughnuts, but Portuguese pastries called "malasadas." And they're amazing. They're fried, but they're not like doughnuts at all. These are hot, light, chewy, doughy, sugar-coated balls of goodness, and I finish mine in about three seconds flat. My life has been incomplete until now.
At night, we go to a luau. Very touristy, but still a lot of fun, especially because the adult ticket comes with a free drink package.
The locals refer to everyone as "cousin" and "family" here. It's a very nice culture; everyone is very friendly and welcoming, which on a pragmatic level is to their advantage—tourism is the #1 industry here. But as you talk to more of the people, you see that it's not just an act; they really do feel a sense of kinship with the visitors on the island and want to share the richness of their culture as much as possible, which I love.
We decide to snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, but it's full, so Aunt Eunice suggests that we go hiking. I am not a fan of hiking when it's 90°Fand humid and I am dressed for snorkeling. But I reluctantly follow my family up the Makapu'u Hiking Trail. And it is worth it.
This is quite possibly one of the most breathtakingly beautiful things I've ever seen. The vast expanse of the ocean is jewel-toned, and it's so perfect and vibrant-looking that it appears Photoshopped. I stand there for a good ten minutes wondering how it's possible for something to look so completely unspoiled.
As we drive back down the mountain, we see that Hanauma Bay is open, and we immediately buy tickets. Hanauma Bay formed when rising magma created a volcanic cone on the coast of Oahu. It was a popular fishing spot for the Hawaiian Royal Family, but its ecosystem was disappearing so quickly that it was declared a national state park. Now it's a popular tourist attraction, and we can easily see why.
We snorkel for a bit and see all kinds of fish, including a giant rainbow-colored parrotfish as long as my arm, some little iridescent silver fish, and the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, the state fish of Hawaii, also known as the reef triggerfish. I've never seen such bright colors in nature. It's moments like these when I wish I had a GoPro, because the reef was incredible (and very alive!). One of my favorite things about snorkeling is being under the crystal-clear water and hearing nothing but the crackling of marine life in the silence.
The fish are very bold. They swim right up to us, darting around our ankles, and continue to eat even as we float above them. Fish don't care. Fish got things to do, places to be.
PSA if you've never snorkeled before:
1. Snorkeling is not a comfortable experience, and you WILL find the mask tight and a little uncomfortable and you will get salt water in your nose and mouth.
2. Don't panic. Your first reflex is to inhale because of the sudden influx of air, but try to keep your breathing steady.
3. Spit in your goggles to keep them from fogging up. I don't know why it works, it just does.
4. If you dive down, equalize by holding your nose and mouth closed and exhaling.
5. DON'T STEP ON THE CORAL. It's fragile and also sometimes stings. Plus, it dies if it gets stressed out, and you don't want to be a murderer, do you? You monster.
There's not a single day that I don't wake up and marvel at the ocean. I never get tired just staring at the horizon, watching the waves roll in. There's something very reassuring about the persistence of the ocean, the constant rhythm of it. Or maybe it's because it's familiar, in San Diego, in Santa Barbara, and now here. It's funny that something so temperamental is a source of comfort to me.
We go straight to the beach in the morning, and bake under the sun, even in the shade (I think I'm at least three shades darker by now). We watch the waves for a bit, and then my sister and I venture out with our snorkels. We see a wealth of fish near the jetty, where all of the coral beds are. My favorite is one my sister and I nickname the "boxyfish," this little purple and white-spotted guy literally shaped like a cube with a tail. He has these big eyes and a little snout. Very cute.
My old roommate's sister actually lives in Waikiki, and generously (and courageously) offers to teach me and my sister how to surf. I haven't been surfing since my Girl Scout troop took a lesson together in third grade, so naturally, I'm a little nervous. But as we paddle out to watch the sunset, the water is cool and smooth and reflects the cotton-candy skies in its surface. It looks like a beautiful painting; I can't believe some people actually get to live here. The waves are small, and I manage to stand up on two of them (I guess that Girl Scout lesson paid off). I finally understand why people love surfing so much. It's awesome. The feeling of elation when you finally catch a wave is incomparable. It leaves you wanting more. Definitely regret not trying it sooner. Will have to attempt again, possibly in Santa Barbara. Return with salty hair, some minor bruises (injury count: 3), and high spirits.
Back to New York! It's been lovely, Hawaii. See you again soon.
If anyone actually reads through these very long posts, I like you.
writer/creator. problem-solver. curious cat.