In addition to helping gain equal rights for the black man, Martin Luther King Junior has provided us a few other contributions. One of these is freeway signs in every city in the country that are three times larger than normal to accommodate his name. A slightly better one is Martin Luther King Junior Day, for which a few people, me excluded, have a holiday. I decided to take it anyway. Looking for a place to celebrate the man, we discovered that one could fly to Hawaii as cheaply and easily as just about anywhere in the United States. Needing to transit an ocean to get there seems more like a trip abroad, and not having been there for over 20 years it seemed a great idea. It took six hours to fly there from LA and 5 hours to get back. Guess which way the wind blows and which way the earth turns.
Everyone has his favorite Hawaiian island and as far as I know no one’s is Oahu, the only one I have visited. I assure you that Oahu is a magnificent place to experience, and I look forward to doing the other islands sooner or later. In the meantime don't let anyone talk you out of going to Oahu if you have the chance, because be assured someone will tell you Maui, or Kauai, or the big island, Hawaii is much better. There seems to be something faddish about liking any island other than Oahu, maybe because it is cheaper and easier to get to Honolulu, Oahu.
We landed in Honolulu at 9:30 PM on Friday night for a four days visit. I reserved a room in the Aston Waikiki Beachside, which true to its name is across the street from Waikiki Beach near the base of Diamond Head Crater. I based this on an Internet search, which allowed me to look at a lot of hotels and prices. You can get a room here for under a 100 bucks if you don't need to see the ocean from your bed. For an extra hundred you can get the same room looking at the ocean, although a back facing room has the benefit of being quiet. Not planning to spend much time in the room led me to save the hundred for dinners at the "Top of the Waikiki" and breakfasts at "Dukes Barefoot Bar and Restaurant". The main thing I like in a hotel is being right in the center of where I want to walk around at night, and this is definitely that place. Any time of day or night step out the front door and you find instant, non-stop, high quality entertainment.
As we drove along Kalakaua Street looking for numbers, I confronted the standard problem that there are none when you need them. In six blocks we saw about two street numbers, which at least told us we were in the right general area. Finally after going a few more blocks having not seen a single number I elected to pull over and stop until I could somehow determine where we were. Studying the buildings in search of a number somewhere, instead I found myself staring straight at the sign, Aston Waikiki Beachside Hotel. This is the sort of magic that lets me know that I am in harmony with the universe.
The Hawaiian language creates words by using repetitive sounds, so when an alphabet was finally created for it not so long ago, the creators only needed twelve letters to cover all the sounds. You just use the letters over and over to make different words. That makes street names hard for a mainlander like me to pronounce, to remember, and even to distinguish. For example, many street names begin with the letters "k", "m", and "p", and the letter "a" shows up a lot. You are likely to find the following different streets, for example: Kahoaa, Kakaaka, Keakanaa, Koahaaha, Kiahaana, etc. I saw streets named Aiaawa, and Aiaiana. The state fish is named Humuhumunukanukaakuapuaa. The word "Aa" (pronounced "ah ah") describes a rough volcanic ash. You quickly learn two words, Aloha, which means almost anything in the way of greeting and goodbye and Mahalo, which is thank you. Unlike every other state in the union, you won't find a Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard in Hawaii. I don’t know why.
In typical WWT fashion I had no real touring plan except for patriotic thoughts of Pearl Harbor, big waves, mountains, tropical gardens, and beautiful coastal scenery. My local friend, Carlos, who is a professor at the University of Hawaii, had given me a few hints about hidden places. (The WWT responsibility handoff maneuver principle, ResHam) We began each day with a semblance of a plan, which we immediately discarded the first time we ran across something that looked interesting. Plans are mainly to make sure you start doing something so you can then decide what you really want to do. I am like a ship; I have no rudder action to guide me until I get moving.
We began the day with another walk along Waikiki Beach and saw the surf in daylight for the first time. Our plan was to drive around the east side of the island on the first day and look for some nice gardens. We had gone less than a city block when a sign "Diamond Head Crater" distracted us to follow it. I wasn't sure what was in the crater but I knew it would be interesting so I headed up the winding road and through a tunnel that led inside the crater. At the checkpoint, a friendly ranger handed us a brochure and told us "Enjoy your hike". Pauline and I looked at each other almost simultaneously asking, "What hike?"
The hike up Diamond Head is an interesting exercise in psychology. The trail designer would make a great salesman. We began by agreeing that although there was no way we would make it to the top, we would start up and before we got tired head on back. At the beginning of the trail vendors offer water and a flashlight, which signs tell you are vital equipment for the hike. Flashlights? Since we had no intention of going all the way, we passed on both water and flashlight. Besides I had my handy LED key ring light, now standard WWT equipment, and "how thirsty can one get"?
The trail is divided into six pieces, each of which makes you feel like you are almost at the top. The fourth piece involves a hundred yard tunnel where you actually need a flashlight. The WWT pocket LED light came through with flying colors. The end of this tunnel is a "good news, bad news" moment when looking to the left you see the whole world in front of your face. When looking to the right you stare into a 100 step staircase and everyone says "Ahh shit, not another one!" No one turns back, not even the 300-pound lady carrying her dog. At the top of the 100 step staircase is another "ah shit" moment followed by a totally dark spiral staircase that gets you almost to the top of Diamond Head. The view from the top, a 360-degree panorama of mountains, stunning coastline and sea is well worth the hike, and though it was not in the plan, our hike up Diamond Head was a highlight in the trip not to be missed.
From Diamond Head we followed the coast, stopping off and on to savor the magnificent hues of green ocean and surf until we had circled the bottom quarter of the island. We turned inland along highway 61 driving through the rain forest.
Like many other beautiful places, making Oahu easily accessible to tourists has been devastating to the Island in the sense that freeways cut across magnificent forests and mountain ranges and houses grow like a cancer up the southern slopes of the island around Honolulu. High rises poke up through the scenery to accommodate more and more people. And like almost every other place where everyone can afford cars there are more cars than anyone is willing to deal with. A truly modern dilemma is that when a beautiful place is discovered, huge numbers of people show up to live there or visit there and the original beauty that people came to experience soon disappears. Almost all of the roads are jammed with tourists trying to get out of Honolulu for a while. Locals told us that traffic on Maui was even worse.
Driving a car across Oahu takes about 30 minutes on freeway H1. A truly interesting experience is traversing several climates in less than an hour. The north side rain forest receives nearly 200 inches of rainfall each year while the south side is more arid like a desert. The mountains, ocean, and winds form a perfect rain machine and one can always witness the onset and ending two or three rainstorms in an hour's time.
Just north of Honolulu lies Manoa valley. Following Carlos suggestion I followed University Road to the end, about a 15-minute drive. At the end lies three points of interest, Paradise Park, The Restaurant at the Top of the Trees, and a falls. The suggestion was an excellent one. In Paradise Park lies the Lyon Arboretum, a botanical garden operated by the University of Hawaii, just out of reach of the noise and confusion of Honolulu, providing an easy walk through a lush jungle of magnificent plants and scenery. We practically had it to ourselves until it closed. Unfortunately we ran out of time and missed the restaurant and falls.
I like restaurants on top of high rises, and Honolulu has one that rotates a full circle in one-hour, Top of the Waikiki. We arrived at the restaurant at 5:30 and walked in with no delay, a standard WWT trick. This is one of those meals where the food can be considered secondary because the view is the main focus. We sipped Mai Tais and watched the sun set over a peaceful sea. Actually the food was excellent, a nice surprise. I think it may be hard to have bad food with such a view. Even a Big Mac would have tasted good here.
As we left the restaurant we were drawn to the sound of drums across the street and walked into the annual Polynesian folk festival. We were entertained by hula dancers and a collection of men who could absolutely do magic with a log and a stick. One cannot possibly stand still while listening to these drum beats or fail to get a little excited inside while watching the hula dancers. How a lady can make her ass do that is far beyond any explanation that physics could provide. Kalakaua Street is the main street in Waikiki, running parallel to the beach. Surprisingly, they block it off frequently for special events. On Sunday morning we walked into a street that had been converted to a pedestrian street for a Sunday Brunch on the Beach. We passed on the food and headed for Pearl Harbor
As any good American knows, the Japanese turned Pearl Harbor into toast on 7 December, 1941. Among the 12 battleships that were sunk (9 more were damaged), the one that was a total loss was the U.S.S. Arizona, which went down with 1l77 sailors most of whom are still inside where their remains are entombed today. To leave the men entombed was an interesting and fitting choice that probably would not happen in today's world. Fortunes and huge resources would be committed to getting the last bone and finger out and identifying each with DNA sampling. What has changed in our thinking since then? Bombing Pearl Harbor accomplished several important things. First it pissed off every American enough to unify us so we could kick Japan's ass back into Japan, and second it made the U.S.S. Arizona a sacred spot that is visited by millions of people each year, including a lot of Japanese.
Looking over the edge of the memorial, down toward the rusting Arizona deck, I could see tiny drops of oil still rising from the ruins, after 60 years, every minute or so from the Arizona to the water's surface, where they form beautiful and colorful abstract rainbow rings (Newton interference rings) and then disappear, too thin to see. The ship and its crew still talk to us. I wondered if anyone had estimated how long it would take at this rate to empty the fuel remaining in the tanks. What would it be like to see the very last drop rise from the ship? It occurred to me that it would be an absolutely awful feeling, like watching a living creature take its last breath
A tram ride takes tourists over a bridge to The U.S.S. Missouri, which is lined up with the Arizona, symbolically with big 16-inch guns protecting it. Since I had never been on a battle ship I decided not to miss this opportunity, and Pauline graciously humored me. World War 2 officially ended on the deck of the Missouri when Japanese representatives signed an unconditional surrender shortly after Truman nuked Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I stood in the same place where Macarthur had stood 60 years earlier at the signing. A plaque in the deck is labeled as the place where World War II ended. I was reminded of an ironic and comical conversation between the infamous "Alfonso and Telefono" characters.
Returning from a highly successful fishing trip, Telefono exclaims to his buddy Alfonso, "Alfonso, that was a most magical fishing spot in the lake. I hope you marked it so that we may return to it again soon."
"Oh, but of course, Telefono, just take a look right here. I marked it with a large black X right on the side of the boat."
"IDIOT!!!, shouted Alfonso,"Next time we may not get the same boat!"
World War 2 actually ended in Tokyo Bay, where the ship was sitting in 1944. I doubt seriously that the exact spot is marked, but I will try and find out. I would bet that the Japanese let us take our marker home with us. The Japanese general who signed the document did so under protest and refused to take a seat with the other Japanese who signed the unconditional surrender.
Walking around this ship was totally overwhelming for me. The ship is a formidable war machine of destruction. It is a floating city covered with 9 sixteen-inch cannons (that is a sixteen inch diameter bullet) and dozens of smaller cannons and missiles. These are guns that can each hurl a ton of explosives 30 miles every few seconds, and missiles that can fly for hundreds of miles. With steel armor two feet thick it is hard to imagine that it could have been so vulnerable in Pearl Harbor that day. It is hard to imagine that the damn thing actually floats. What is even more astonishing is that the U.S.S. Missouri has been retired. That means it is actually no longer as destructive as the other stuff available to the military these days. How can anything with a more destructive capability exist?
People come away from Pearl Harbor with many feelings, pride, sadness, anger, and comfort. The walk around the Missouri was a sobering experience leaving me with much Weltschmerz (feelings of world pain). Though very glad to have had this experience, I was happy to leave here and head for the Peaceful North shore.
Half way across the island is the Dole pineapple plantation and its visitor center, including the largest maze in the world. Surely this is a good place to sample fresh pineapple juice, I thought, and I could almost taste the "Dole whip" I had seen advertised. Approaching the juice counter I could immediately see that this experience was not going to be positive. After fighting impossible lines for ten minutes, I gave up, figuring that the Mai Tai I had downed the night before and the fresh smell of pineapples were sufficient, and we headed back into a light rain. Really, you would think that the largest pineapple producer in the world could figure out how to give visitors a ##@@!!&** taste of pineapple juice. I would have expected the water fountains to have a pineapple juice option.
Monday found the Kalakaua Street blocked off again, this time for a parade. Carlos had recommended Duke's Barefoot Bar and Restaurant as a good eating experience since it was located right on the sand. We chose to have brunch there and found it a good way to begin the day. The fruit alone was worth the price of the meal, not to mention the ambiance. I forgot to mention that Hawaiians are extremely friendly.
The drive over Likelike Highway 63 is another trans island drive that is an experience itself worth taking. The scenery is stunning especially after one tops the mountain and heads down the North East slopes of the rain forest. We were headed to Senator Fong's Plantation and Gardens, looking for the perfect garden experience. At the senator's place a tram took us over 700 acres of land that had been cultivated with a great experience in mind. We saw and tasted fruits and flowers we had not experienced before, including star fruit and jackfruit. The lady driving the tram and conducting the tour was magnificent. I was amazed at her enthusiasm and after doing this several times a day for nearly 20 years. She seemed to enjoy the views as much as the rest of us. Occasionally she leapt from the cart to pull a fruit or flower from a tree and pass it around. She broke open the famous "lipstick" fruit and smeared the red dye on her skin. "Just don't get any on your clothes", she said, "or they are history." She got so excited showing us stuff that the tour ran over about 15 minutes into the next tour she was supposed to do.
Just past Senator Fong's is Kualoa, where part of the movie "Jurassic Park" was made. On the coast highway we found a nursery and macadamia nut outlet, which turned out to be an interesting study in marketing and psychology. The store provides free samples of all the variations of macadamia nuts, including chocolate covered ones, allowing one to taste before selecting a purchase. To top this off, they also offer free coffee samples of the famous Kona coffee, which they also sell. I made the nut circuit two or three times sampling a nut from each of about 10 varieties and I hit the free coffee twice to wash down the nuts.
Beside each bowl of nuts a sign clearly states "Please sample ONE of our nuts to determine your favorite." I believe that the strategy works because I could see lines of people paying 10 bucks for an 8-ounce bag. They must have worked out how much to charge to compensate for the loads of little ole ladies on tour filing down the rows of samples feeding like hogs at a trough. I watched a 400 pounder, hobbling along with the help of a cane wolfing down handfuls of macadamias from each bowl, both cheeks stuffed with nuts, exclaiming, "I like this kind the best".
There was no way I could leave the place without a bag of nuts, macadamia brittle, and a box of chocolate covered ones. Judging by the never-ending busloads of people this was obviously a standard tourist attraction we had stumbled onto and enjoyed by accident. Behind the shops lies a garden that gently slopes off to the bay. From this garden, looking south across the bay to rows of mountains and islands sinking in the mist like a carefully designed painting, atmospheric perspective and all, I saw one of the most beautiful seascapes I had ever seen.
Around the North Coast lies the famous Sunset Beach, where waves sometimes rise 50 feet and surfers routinely risk life and limb in quest of the perfect wave. We sat on the rocks overlooking the breaking waves looking for an effect I first discovered in paintings. Try this if you ever have a chance. Select a beach with nice surf preferably with the sun behind the waves. As the waves rise and the velocity of the top of the wave exceeds that below, the top thins out and begins to break over the bottom part. At some point you can see light passing through the curved water sheet from the other side. The spray of water coming over and light passing through and under explode into a wonderful sparkling array of blue, green, and white colors that lasts but a millisecond. Only with the help of a talented artist did I know to look for and enjoy this phenomenon. Here on the North Oahu coast is a perfect place to observe it.
In this part of the island it seems to rain about once an hour, followed by bright sunshine. This does not really feel like rain, though. It is if one is standing in a spray of mist produced by the mountains that just happens to come your way rather frequently. The cloud where the rain is coming from in surrounded by blue sky.
On the way back to the hotel as we walked by the mimes and musicians, I accepted one of the many pieces of paper handed out by the hawkers inviting you into nearby stores and restaurants. Normally, I just politely refuse them and walk on, but out of curiosity, I took one and read. The Hana Restaurant one street over offered dinner specials of steak and lobster for 12 bucks. Just for kicks we followed the map one block behind our hotel to a nearly abandoned street where we found a very nice, almost full restaurant and took a seat facing the door. I wanted to see just how effective this advertising method was. I was surprised by the result.
I ordered the lobster tail trio for 12 bucks; they actually brought me four. Then I began my study in statistics. In a few minutes I could see that every person entering the place had a hawker pamphlet in his hand. The hawkers were sending at least 10 people per hour here, about enough to keep every table full of customers. I concluded that the restaurant could not exist without the hawkers and would otherwise be empty. Paying these guys a few dollars per hour was an advertising gold mine, providing this restaurant the same business it would have if it were on the main drag where rents would be in the stratosphere.
Waikiki is filled with quaint little shopping villages that are tucked into every nook and cranny. They sell "mu mu’s", Hawaiian shirts, crystal, souvenirs, and the usual tourist stuff. One can buy anything ever made with Hawaii stamped on it, most of it made in China; there are some exceptions, of course. On the main street one finds an ABC store every 50 feet. I would have thought this ludicrous except that every one of them seems to be packed with tourists. They sell anything that a tourist in Waikiki could possibly need........at tourist prices.
After a nice night walk along the beach and taking in mimes and musicians one last time we turned in for our last night in Waikiki. I immediately got hooked in a war movie and stuck with it until 1 A.M. Then I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning in a state of half sleep mentally struggling with the concept of war. The U.S.S. Missouri had left a strong mark on me. It seemed like the formidable death star of the dark empire in Star Wars. How could humanity go on creating wonderful art and music with stuff like that floating around all over the world? When the sun rose I was feeling small and helpless, feeling doubts that humanity had a chance of ever living in peace. There would always be some pecker head somewhere who wanted to drop bombs and hurl explosives all over the place.
I managed to shake some of the feeling by lingering over breakfast in Waikiki Jack's while staring into a peaceful sea. We had elected to sleep through the free coffee and donuts, provided by the hotel opting instead to visit the next-door Jack-in-the-Box. I would bet there is not a Jack in the Box in the world with a view like Waikiki Jack's. I wanted to prove my theory that even a Big Mac would taste good in the right place. Actually, the test was not totally fair since Jack's sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit are better than a Big Mac, and the hand held hash brown potato isn't half bad either. And we were able to reflect on all the hilarious Jack-in-the-Box advertisements.
We chose to spend our last morning in a local garden, which we had selected from the tourist guide. Foster's Gardens comprise a hundred acres of orchids and magnificent trees right on the edge of Honolulu next to the H1 freeway. The gardens represented a compromise that we would not have made had we realized the deafening noise factor presented by the traffic. One can hardly hear the birds singing along long paths covered with Banyan trees and flowers. We moved as far from the freeway as we could to lessen the sound only to be blasted by some maniac with a leaf blower that was louder than the freeway. (I would vote for a law that placed a five-dollar bounty on all leaf blower operators). We had become familiar with Hawaii's cannonball tree, which is decorated with heavy 6-inch cannon balls for which no one has ever found a use. As soon as I saw the cannonball tree and heard the leaf blower, I knew God’s intended plan for the cannonballs. We finally realized that the gardens in the airport would be more peaceful so we said our last good bye to Foster's Gardens.
I was pleased to find that we had been upgraded to first class. The only bad news was that I needed to buy more upgrade certificates, for which American Air lines has now raised in price significantly. Over the years the price of these coupons has slowly risen to the point that I must reassess their use. To fly five hours in first class now costs three
hundred dollars in upgrade certificates. Therefore, I pay $60 an hour-that's a dollar a minute-to sit in a seat that is four inches wider and has free drinks. Hmmmm? Without paying attention to the evolution from almost free upgrades a few years ago to the current situation, I find myself wondering why I hadn't paid the extra hundred to wake up looking at the ocean.
First class gave us access to a magical Gold Lane, which allows one to move past long security lines. I thought this had been outlawed. It placed us in a rather precarious position, nevertheless, since after we moved ahead of all the peons waiting in line, they forgot to give us a mechanism for breaking back in when we arrived at the x-ray machines, which were the real bottleneck with a continuous line running straight from the place we had been shuffled around. I was glad that no guns were allowed, for we would have been immediately assassinated when trying to break back into the line we had been sent around. An unbelievably kind man invited us to go in front of him. If only everyone could be like that I thought, then the Pearl Harbor thing would never have happened and I would not be overwhelmed with Weltschmerz this morning.