Sailing on a Yacht in the Greek Aegean – Flashback Friday

Sailing in GreeceThe only thing better than having a yacht…is having a friend with a yacht. In 2011 and 2012 – I was fortunate to sail with my friend Graham on his yacht Jouster for a couple of really great voyages through the Gulf of Volos and into some of the Greek Aegean islands.


As a little kid geek reading big fat sci-fi and fantasy novels, I used to hide out in my  tree fort and read for hours every day. The amount of time I spent reading must have doubled when I found A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony.

In the Xanth series, Anthony introduced me to Centaurs and creatures of Greek myth and I was hooked, entranced, and spending far too much time in my teens reading Piers Anthony’s other books when I should have been out chasing girls.

That geeky kid never disappeared from within me so it was with a huge amount of excitement that I set out for the Gulf of Volos in Greece. You may be asking what the connection is – don’t worry, I’m about to tell you.

The Gulf of Volos is where the Greek Argonaut, Jason set out with his argonaut crew to recover the Golden Fleece and his crown. It was in this very body of water that Jason learned to sail the Argo.

Here is the legend in brief:

Pelias (Aeson’s half-brother) was very power-hungry, and he wished to gain dominion over all of Thessaly. Pelias was the product of a union between their shared mother, Tyro (“high born Tyro”) the daughter of Salmoneus, and allegedly the sea god Poseidon. In a bitter feud, he overthrew Aeson (the rightful king), killing all the descendants of Aeson that he could. He spared his half-brother for unknown reasons. Alcimede I (wife of Aeson) already had an infant son named Jason whom she saved from being killed by Pelias, by having women cluster around the newborn and cry as if he were still-born. Alcimede sent her son to the centaur Chiron for education, for fear that Pelias would kill him — she claimed that she had been having an affair with him all along. Pelias, still fearful that he would one day be overthrown, consulted an oracle which warned him to beware of a man with one sandal.

Many years later, Pelias was holding games in honor of the sea god and his alleged father, Poseidon, when Jason arrived in Iolcus and lost one of his sandals in the river Anauros (“wintry Anauros”), while helping an old woman to cross (the Goddess Hera in disguise). She blessed him for she knew, as goddesses do, what Pelias had up his sleeve. When Jason entered Iolcus (modern-day city of Volos), he was announced as a man wearing one sandal. Jason, knowing that he was the rightful king, told Pelias that and Pelias said, “To take my throne, which you shall, you must go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece.” Jason happily accepted the quest.

Mt Pelias which sits above the Gulf of Volos was the home to the original centaurs, including Chiron who educated Jason and later Achilles in the arts of sailing and swordplay. I was going to be sailing and eating and drinking on the same body of water as the ancient heroes and centaurs.

Sailing in the aegean

The Gulf of Volos, it turns out, is a fantastic place for a novice sailor such as myself. With winds that usually stay below F3 and not a whole slew of hazards that can catch you by surprise. Called the Pagasitikos Gulf, this is a place that hasn’t been overrun with tourists, yachts, or development. While you can go to most of Greece and find thousands of people on holiday, the Gulf of Volos has just a few – some days we saw no other yachts and just a couple of fishing boats!

Aegean gulf of Volos

We found crystal clear waters and a good wind provided by the ‘Meltemi’ blowing from the NE, quiet bays and fishing villages, history to investigate and many islands to explore. The whole area is known as Magnesia – which I might add has the same name as the region I lived in Turkey though the Turks have allowed the name to become Manisa!

Magnesia is one of four counties which make up the region of Thessaly. Magnesia is the coastal county with Mount Pelion and the Aegean Sea to the east, the Pagasitikos Gulf to the south and includes the islands of Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonnisos otherwise know as the Northern Sporades Islands.

Pelion is a hidden peninsula, an unexplored area of Greece, where life in the mountain villages and little fishing harbors remains as serene as in the distant past.

This was an awesome and beautiful place though I must admit – I din’t meet any centaurs, sirens, or heroes – except in my imagination. What I did meet though was the beauty of the Greek culture, the kindness of the Greek people, and the joy of sailing for days on open water without being crowded, barraged with noisy jet-skis or powerboats, or annoyed by blaring booze cruises.

 

I’d been in the Aegean in Izmir, Turkey. I swam in the Moroccan, Italian, Spanish, and Turkish Mediterranean, but always I had this idea of sailing sailing sailing in Greece. The problem was part monetary and part mental. I’d gotten it stuck in my head that only rich guys get to go sailing and as far as living in caves…those islands and (I was thinking) all of Greece were so developed and monetized that the kind of cool adventure I was thinking of could never exist in anything but dreams. Maybe, in some ways, I was right but also – I was definitely wrong.

Volos Greece Aegean

My friend Graham runs a guesthouse in Fez bought a share in a Greek sailboat a few months ago and he invited some close friends to come out and sail with him during the end of the summer season. The only problem was that they only were staying half the time and as a new sailor, he wasn’t entirely comfortable manning the yacht solo – lucky for me, he mentioned he needed crew and even luckier, when I told my wife about it she said that I should take the opportunity to go for two weeks even though we have a new baby who was only about six weeks old. I think she was glad to be rid of me for a while. Since she had her whole family around her, she assured me that she would be fine and so…off I went!

While I wasn’t able to get the ultra low fares from Morocco to Greece that I got on the way back ($16 US dollars from Volos, Greece to Bergamo, Italy and $16 from Bergamo to Tangier, Morocco and then $18 from Tangier to Fez by Train!!!) Even with last minute fares, I was still able to get to Greece for a relatively cheap amount and since I would be sleeping and often eating on board – the cost was worth it. I went with Ryan Air from Fez to Girona, Spain for about $125, then from Girona to Milan for about $80, and another $100 or so from Milan to Volos, Greece. So all together round trip from Fez to Volos with stops in Milan and Girona ran me about $355 US dollars!

It’s things like RyanAir, WizzAir, AirArabia, Jet4You and other budget airlines that make me very hesitant to ever return to the USA where even a flight from one state to another will cost you more than it costs me to visit five countries (a fact which I can confirm in 2018 – in fact, flying from one Hawaiian Island to another can cost more round trip!)

So anyway. There I was. A not rich guy on the way to sail in Greece. Who says you have to be rich to lead a rich life?

Sailing in the Gulf of Volos is a total joy – not just because the weather is mild and the gulf is beautiful but also because it is far from crowded and the places you can visit are so incredibly not-ruined-by-tourism!

Take our first port of call- Amaliapolis on the west side of the gulf. Just a small fishing village with a lovely beach and several great tavernas sitting right on the water. We were able to tie up to the quay and this is where I went ashore for my first taste of real Greek food in Greece.

The Taverna overlooking the quay I ordered feta, tzatziki, and cheese stuffed eggplant – plus the bread and of course some ouzo. While Greek food can be very similar to Turkish food in many regards, I would say that the Greeks tend to use about ten times more garlic which is just fine for me. The waitress told me – don’t order the tzatziki if you plan on kissing anyone – my only plan was to enjoy amazing Greek cuisine. Not a problem there at all!

Graham on Jouster

This was a particularly nice place for me to experience Greek culture for the first time as the staff at the taverna spoke some English and since Amaliapolis is small and not overrun with tourists, they were able to tell me about and demonstrate at the same time the Greek custom of filoxenia which essentially is being welcoming to guests and friendly to visitors. Everyone I met in Amaliapolis was incredibly warm.

There was a wedding in the center of the town and while we would have certainly been invited to dance and join the festivities – Graham and I hung back and watched from a distance while having some adult beverages by the sea. We were hardly dressed for a wedding and the bride certainly didn’t need a couple of foreigners bumbling around what looked like a wonderful event. Music, dancing, and more than a little bit of singing too.

In fact, when I was in the taverna eating – earlier in the evening, the group next to me was a big family all singing together and really enjoying being a family. I wish families were like that all over the world. I hope that my little family will sing together like that someday.

Further south was a second mooring we thoroughly enjoyed. Nies Bay was a very sheltered little harbor with nothing around it. A nice looking beach lined one of the shores and a few fishing boats were anchored in the shallows of the deep interior. No other yachts and no one on the beach – but this was late September and early October so the beach season was over – even though the weather was perfect for the beach and the water was warm and clear.

By the way my extravagant first Greek meal spoiled me since the prices in Amaliapolis are about the lowest you will find anywhere – four mezes, bread, and ouzo for 8 euro! I hear that the tavernas in Amaliapolis are famed for their seafood – I’m sure it’s the best you’ll get anywhere with price and friendliness!


I treasure those memories of sailing on the Aegean with Graham and other friends. Sometimes, when I get stressed out living back in the USA and having to work all the time to make ends meet in Hawaii, I think about those tavernas and I’m instantly in a better place. I will go back again someday. Until then…Greece is certainly in my dreams.

 

Duke Kahanamoku and the History of Surfing in Hawai’i.

 There are many reasons to love Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing. Watch here as he breaks his own Olympic swimming record in Antwerp, Belgium. Or maybe you’ve seen him in one of his starring Hollywood roles back in the 1930s. Maybe you’ve eaten at Duke’s restaurant, or surfed at Duke’s beach? Maybe you know that he was the Sheriff of Waikiki or that he was the guy who gave surfing to the world!

Or maybe you don’t know all that.

Surfing: The Ancient Sport of Hawaiian KingsDuke surfing

Ancient Hawaiians perfected board riding. Tahitians did it in a way, but the Hawaiian people, who descended and became very distinct from the Tahitian people changed it. They made longer boards, they developed style and technique, and they made it the exclusive sport of the ali’i. The high ranking or royal people of ancient Hawaii. For nearly a thousand years, this amazing sport belonged to the Hawaiian people alone. When Captain Cook came to Hawai’i in 1793, he and his men witnessed it and wrote about it. When missionaries came and gained too much control in the next century – they tried to ban surfing all together – but with no success. The main reason seems to have been that they were scandalized by nude Hawaiian surfers (they also created mumus to cover the Hawaiian women). In the 1870s, King Kalakaua made a determined effort to bring back surfing, hula, and other Hawaiian traditions that the uptight missionaries had tried to ban.

Surfing Gets Some Fans – Duke Goes Olympic

Duke

In the early 1900s, a few visitors would try their hand at board riding. It’s said that both Mark Twain and Jack London gave it a try. It’s also probable that King Kalakaua got Robert Louis Stevenson to give it a try a bit earlier. In the early territorial days, the visitors who came to Waikiki would mostly watch the locals ride the waves. One of the best surfers at this time was also one of the best swimmers – Duke Kahanamoku. His full name was Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku, and Duke wasn’t a title. Duke surfed Waikiki on a 16 foot board that weighed 114 pounds. He qualified for the U.S. Olympic Swim team in 1912 and proceeded to break nearly every world record for events he competed in. There was only one swimmer who ever beat him – Tarzan – the actor Johnny Weismuller.

Duke Gives Surfing to the World

From this time until his passing, Duke traveled the world for swim meets and surfing exhibitions. He introduced surfing to California and the Gold Coast of Australia. It took off in both spots. Duke moved to Newport Beach, California where he worked as a lifeguard and popularized the sport further. While he was there, he acted in film and television. He didn’t have big speaking roles, but he was a heart throb none the less.

Sheriff of Waikiki

 

We like to say that Duke was the Sheriff of Waikiki – but actually, he was the Sheriff of Honolulu. He served 13 consecutive terms in the elected role.  He died in 1968 but his memory lives on forever. Surfers today still pay homage to him at statues and monuments dedicated to him around the world. In Waikiki, his statue on Duke’s Beach off of Kalakaua Avenue is nearly constantly draped in leis put there by admirers.

Anyone who has ever been lucky enough to ride a surfboard, owe’s a debt of gratitude to Duke Kahanamoku.

Duke kahanamoku

Green World Coffee Plantation on Central Oahu in Wahiawa

Coffee farm oahuMost people head to central Oahu with one thing in mind – Pineapples and the Dole Plantation. Personally, there’s a better destination that I like to stop at – it’s not as old, not as touristy, and is all about one of life’s essentials – COFFEE!

Hawaiian Coffee is kind of a big deal. Everyone has heard of Kona Coffee. Kona is famous around the world for being a deep, rich, and tasty coffee. What makes it so are the perfect growing conditions on the island of Hawaii. Well guess what? We have perfect growing conditions on Oahu too. Our climate is ideal on the central Oahu plateau. Our soil is rich volcanic soil filled with nutrients (though mellowed by a few million years from the Big Island. Also, we have old, great coffee stock.

Green World Coffee opened up about a decade ago with the idea of creating a small family run operation that would give Oahu coffee some exposure to the world. It was started by Howard Green. The Waialua Estate coffee sold by the Dole company is pretty well known, but Green World decided to go small business style. They planted their coffee, they began their roasting operation, and they opened their doors.

Green World offers a small coffee garden on site, a great little cafe where they know how to make a good cappucino, and an absolutely lovely little gift shop. You can sample a half dozen coffees from different islands and blends from the world over. They also have their famous ‘Sex and Chocolate Tea’ which is delicious but a little disturbing if you stop to wonder what is in it. Green World roasts all of their own coffees on site so when you walk in, you will feel like you have entered coffee heaven.

Ask the people working about the coffee! They love to share information about the roasting, growing, harvesting, the various stages of the coffee and much more. You’ll find these are all incredibly friendly folks who truly embody the aloha spirit.

Green World Farm is just seven acres and about three thousand coffee trees.  Open daily from 7am to 5pm with extended hours on weekends. The farm is located at 71-101 Kamehameha Hwy in Wahiawa.

If you are heading North afterwards – choose now whether to get a Dole Whip at the Dole Planation or to head on up to Haleiwa and get a shave ice at Matsumotos…or just get both…nobody is going to judge you for it.

 

North Shore Soap Factory in the Waialua Sugar Mill on Oahu

North Shore Soap FactoryOne of my favorite places to take guests and visitors on Oahu is to the world famous North Shore of Oahu. A day up there usually includes visiting the famous surfing beaches like Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay – but it also includes stops such as a Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa and a trip to the old Wailua Sugar Mill which for more than a decade now has been home to the North Shore Soap Factory.

My friends Jerry and Deb saw that sugar was never coming back and when there was talk about tearing down the historic old sugar mill (the last to close on Oahu) – they knew they had to do something – so they moved their home-grown soap and botanicals operation into the old drying cone. Jerry is a surfer, builder, and tinkerer and over time he converted the old rust bucket building into a full blown soap factory.

North Shore Sugar Mill

Since that time, other businesses have moved in. Some of the best surfboard shapers, glassers, and designers in the world occupy the run down buildings around the property. A coffee roaster moved in. A surf shop moved in next door. Eventually, the Waialua Farmers Market started operating on the grounds.

The great thing about the North Shore Soap Factory is that it is so much more than a soap factory. It’s a museum, because during the course of building the soap works, Jerry and Deb saved all the memorabilia they found from the old sugar mill. It’s also a place to rest and have a free cup of coffee. You can try out the soaps and rubs in the showroom – and it’s one of the best places on the island to find the miracle kukui nut oil – which will help you recover from a sunburn…and which, by the way, is the basis for all their soaps. No nasty chemicals or pig fats used in these soaps.

People have fun at the North Shore Soap Factory – even if they don’t think they will. Sometimes when I have a group of married couples – the women (or the men) might get excited but the rest of them roll their eyes or talk about how they want to see the ‘real’ Hawaii and not take some factory tour. The funny thing is that you can’t really get any more authentic than the Waialua Sugar Mill and once you get there you realize this was a place where men and women worked and supported their families. This was the lifeblood of these islands. Sugar was king.

I grew up watching television and one of the most iconic commercials was always the C&H Pure Cane Sugar from Hawaii commercials. This is where some of that happened. Even better – today it is where something is still happening. This isn’t one those tours of places where people used to work but now tourists are the only work…Deb, Jerry, and their crew are actually creating something

And I don’t mind telling you – I’m a big fan of their products. After you buy a bar (or six) don’t forget to stamp your soaps with the old canoe paddle stamps Jerry created in his workshop. And by all means…take some photos.

 

Leonard’s Malasadas on Oahu, Hawaii – Delicious Portuguese Donuts

There are certain foods that you have to eat when you come to Honolulu. One of them, is the famous Malasada from Leonard’s Bakery.

A malasada is a doughnut without a hole – a little bit crispy and a little bit chewy. They’ve been in Hawaii since the late 1800s when the Portuguese emigrated in large numbers to work in the sugar cane industry. Leonard’s Bakery opened in 1952 on Kapahulu avenue where they still sit today.

The bakery was opened by Margaret and Frank Leonard Rego Sr. It was Frank’s mother’s recipe that started them out but they adapted to the Hawaiian taste and soon were making pao doce – typically a meat stuffed pastry in Portugal – with chocolate, coconut, guava, and more. The bakery is still owned by the same family and run today by Leonard Rego Jr. and his adult children.

Leonard’s is a household name in Hawaii and neighbor islanders come and head straight for the bakery. You are always welcome when you bring the pink Leonard’s box or bag with you.  They’ve sold nearly 200 million malasadas since opening…so they are doing something very right. 

Like Dole Whip, Shave Ice, and Macadamia nuts. Malasada’s are a must try experience when you are in Hawaii. There are trucks at various points around the island which pick up the malasada dough from the main bakery in the morning and then make malasadas until they run out in the late morning.

It’s not rocket science…but there is definitely something magical about Leonard’s Malasadas. Whle Leonard’s does offer other baked goods – the malasadas are where it’s at. There are plain sugar, cinnamon sugar, and Li-hing (a dried chinese plum powder – sugar, salt taste), and then the filled ones. Dobash (chocolate), haupia (coconut), and a variety of fruit flavors such as lilikoi, mango, and guava. The coffee – …mmm…it tastes like it has been there since 1952. Definitely FBI coffee…stick to the malasadas.

 

 

What’s a Haole? Is it a racial slur? Does it mean Caucasion? Hawaii Slang

When I first came to Hawai’i – I was at the beach in Waikiki and met a couple of locals. They asked where I was from, how long I was staying…the usual questions locals ask people on vacation. It was a friendly talk-story conversation – until they found out that I intended to stay in Hawai’i. At that point, I started to hear another word in the conversation – ‘haole’. I’ve thought about this a lot through the years…it’s all tangled up with colonialism, whiteness, brownness, localness, Hawaiiness…

I want to be clear…the guys were never unfriendly or threatening – they wre just a couple of brown skinned guys who grew up here – I have no idea what their ethnicity was – at the time, I probably thought they were Hawaiians – and they may have been – but looking back, it seems more likely they were ‘locals’ of Filipino or Japanese descent. The funny thing about the conversation was how it went cold when they found out I wanted to stay in Hawai’i. As a visitor, a tourist…I was a welcome guest, but as a person staying…I was something else…I became a haole. Instantly.

It occurs to me that I can’t describe what a haole is without giving some other definitions first:

Hawaiians are people who are descended from the Polynesian voyagers who settled these islands a thousand years ago. If you can’t claim ancestry, you aren’t Hawaiian. Period.

Kama’aina are people who are ‘of the land’. People who live here, who have roots here, who are a part of this place but usually not Hawaiians (though Hawaiians are certainly kama’aina).

Local is a word that carrys a racial weight. Essentially it means brown, Asian, grew up here, not Hawaiian but people who feel they belong here. Generally, if you can’t say what high school you went to (in Hawai’i) then you aren’t local. And if you are white you may be local haole, but you aren’t local.

And that brings us to Haole. 

In it’s simplest form a haole is a white person. European or American heritage. Pukui and Elbert’s Hawaiian Dictionary says that a haole is a white person of foreign origin, but that’s not the whole story. As mentioned above, at a certain point, you become a ‘local haole‘ (though some would argue this is an oxymoron and something only haoles would say).

There are other types of haole though – tourist haole (generally just called a tourist). They’re not staying and they don’t matter to people who live here, they just need to spend and support the economy. Harsh but true.

Mainland Haole would be an American who moved here. Military and university students often fall in this category. Coast Haoles get a little more respect – generally from California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska – we share the Pacific. Local haoles might have been born here, went to high school here, or have lived and worked here for enough time to understand the culture, how things work, and have been ‘localized’ with habits, dress, language, etc.

Then there’s Hapa-haole. Hapa means half in Hawaiian and in it’s pure form it means half Hawaiian and half haole – just hapa could mean half Hawaiian and half Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, or other Pacific Islander. Sometimes hapa is used just to indicate half but locally, it’s understood that at least part is Hawaiian. 

For those wondering, there is a racial connotation to the world haole. In previous times, local grade schools had ‘kill haole days’ when local kids would pulverize white kids and mostly not get any trouble over it. There are still neighborhoods on most islands where if you are a haole, you are a target. There’s a simmering resentment that sometimes comes to the surface for past or present discrimination of whites and for the plantation heritage, the overthrow of the Queen of Hawaii, and the colonization of Hawai’i. There are people who hate all haole. But mostly, that’s just not true any longer.

The story I’ve heard most says that when Captain Cook and his men arrived, they refused the traditional Hawaiian greeting of touching foreheads and exchanging breath – this is the ‘HA’ in Aloha – the breath of life. Hawaiians called Cook, his men, and the many white foreigners who came afterwards HA-ole which translates as ‘no breath of life’ or even ‘ghost’ or ‘not living’. Eventually, the word just came to mean foreigner – a person not from Hawaii and since most of those who came here initially were from Europe or North America -it came to mean white.

I’m going to go a little further though – I’m going to add on a little distinction that I’ve discovered. When you come to love and understand Hawai’i – to really feel it in your bones – it doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is. Local people, kama’aina, locals, Hawaiians – they recognize it. You may still be a haole, but you are a local haole, you (in a sense) belong to the people here. You belong to this place and it is understood that you belong in this place.

For those who never get it, however. The white people who come here and disrespect the land, the people, the culture, the unique way of doing things here – they have a different distinction which, if you hear it and it’s applied to you, you need to get out of that area – the facking haole or effing haole. If someone is calling you that, you need to leave because you aren’t safe and you’ve been put in a category (rightly or wrongly) that puts you in danger. There are people who simply hate all haole and there are people who deserve to be hated – that’s all I can really say about that.

When I lived on Kauai I used to hang out in a little marina in Kapa’a. There were a bunch of local fishermen who I’d talk story with. One of them, who some guys said was the direct descendent of King Kamuali’i of Kauai, we became friendly. We were barbecuing and drinking beers one day and a rather angry young guy had a few too many and sort of spat in my direction “What’s that facking haole doing here?” I was very aware of a lot of stink eye and anger being pointed my way all of a sudden…then George, the descendent of the king, he walked over to me with a murderous look in his eye…”This haole?” He roared…”This guy, he’s a haole…but he ain’t no facking haole!” And he put his arm around me and everyone laughed and it was all cool. It’s wierd, but it stands as one of the proudest moments of my time there. If you get it, you get it – if you don’t – well…no big deal.

Saturday Slideshow: Tropical Flowers on Oahu

I’m going to start using the Saturday Slideshow to showcase some of my travels to different places around the world and around the USA – but that will be next week. This week – I’m going to share some splashes of amazing tropical flower power to brighten up the cold and rain that I know are hitting most of the United States and much of Europe. This is how I share a little Aloha before the holidays!

Come to Hawai’i and visit Oahu – the flowers are for everyone – just remember the secret code of the flower – behind the left ear means you are taken, behind the right ear means you are available, behind both ears means that you are taken but willing to consider upgrading…:)

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Flashback Friday: 2008 I get a Shaka from Obama

I originally posted this in mid-2008.  I miss Obama. I respected him. I would have voted for him if there had been any question of him not winning in Hawai’i. I’m still pretty stoked that his brother-in-law was one of my instructors at the University of Hawai’i and his sister was someone I’ve chatted with at cocktail parties. Aside from working as a casting assistant when The Apprentice came to Hawai’i, that’s as close as I’ve been to a president, but then – even if I’d have met the current resident of the White House – I wouldn’t feel honored or special. There was something special about getting a shaka from Obama though…

Yesterday as I was driving the Oahu Nature Tours Van to pick up guests to take hiking, I was overtaken by a minivan, a black escalade, and eight police vehicles. As the Escalade went by, I realized it Candidate Obama and I threw a shaka hand sign at it. Even though I am voting for Nader and am disappointed at the concessions Obama has made towards moderates, I am rooting for him to win. The alternative is entirely too god-awful to think about. So anyway, the windows in the back of the Escalade were tinted pretty dark but I’m pretty Obama threw a shaka back at me. For those who don’t know, the shaka is a hand sign that looks like this:

The “shaka” sign is a common greeting gesture. It is often associated with Hawaii and sports such as surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, kitesurfing, skateboarding, skimboarding, snowboarding and skydiving. It consists of extending the thumb and pinky finger while keeping the three middle fingers curled, and raising the hand as in salutation with the back of the hand facing the person that is being greeted; sometimes the hand is rocked back and forth to emphasize the sign.

Hawaiian locals use the shaka for various meanings, like “all right”, “cool”, “smooth”, etc. Residents of states other than Hawaii who use the shaka may describe it as meaning “hang loose”. It is also used to convey what locals in Hawai’i call the “Aloha Spirit,” a gesture of friendship and understanding between the various ethnic cultures that reside within Hawai’i. It can also be used to signal a “hello”, “goodbye”, ” ’till next time”, “take care”, “Alright!”

The most common two places for the shaka are when people need to cross the road and a driver pauses to let them (it’s customary for the driver and the pedestrian to shaka each other in appreciation) and also when one driver let’s another get in traffic – both drivers will shaka each other.

 

Turkey and All The Trimmings – Diving into Culinary Istanbul

I’m thankful that I had the chance to live and work in Turkey for several years. On this Thanksgiving, I am in Hawaii, but I look back at Turkey…and all the Trimmings. Happy Thanksgiving from Vagobond!

The Blue Mosque Spiritual Center of Istanbul

I love Istanbul. It’s big, it’s ancient, it’s filled with people from all over the world, but most of all – it’s delicious. Like the city, the food of Istanbul is a mixture of the large, the old, the international and, well, deliciousness. To help explain what I mean by that – here’s a very brief history of Turkey.

Turkey was the birthplace of the founder of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It was the greater part of Alexander the Great’s Empire, it was the Eastern Roman Empire, and it controlled Egypt, the Middle East, and North Africa as part of the Ottoman Empire. After World War I, Turkey was split into regions controlled by different European powers and after Attaturks’ war of Independence it became modern Turkey. The Western part of Turkey is in Europe, the Eastern part of Turkey is in Asia. If you’re looking for the center of the world – Turkey is it. If you’re looking for a world cuisine, go no further than Istanbul.

Peacock was a delicacy served in Ottoman Palaces for a different kind of Thanksgiving

Italy may be the birthplace of pizza, but when you go to Turkey you get something more magical. Pide. Cooked in wood fired brick ovens and served on long wooden planks, pide is essentially a large pizza stretched out until it is often more than a meter long and a hand wide. This is the ultimate Turkish fast food and it’s a great place to start when you want to eat Turkey with all the trimmings. Pide isn’t the real Turkish Pizza though, that distinction belongs to lahmahcun.

Pide in Turkey

Pide is the longest pizza in the world!

Lahmahcun is a thin oval shaped Turkish pizza on a very thin pita crust. You can get a cheese lahmahcun or the traditional which is finely chopped meat and herbs baked until crispy. To eat it in the true traditional style, squeeze a bit of lemon on it, put a small bunch of parsley or sorrel on it, and then sprinkle it with sumac. North Americans invariably ask “Isn’t that poison?” and while there is indeed a poison sumac (similar to poison ivy) the Turkish version is a slightly sour purple condiment that goes perfect with lahmahcun. Now, just roll your lahmahcun up and eat it like a burrito.

This next is a statement that can cause some controversey. Turkish home food is very similar to Greek home food. The controversey comes because any Turk will twist that statement on it’s head and say that Greek home food is like Turkish home food. I sat in a cafe on Kos and watched a Turkish man try to order a Turkish coffee and refuse the Greek coffee that the Greek waiter kept offering him – was it possible that only I knew that they are exactly the same thing?

The Turkish Home is the Culinary Center of the Country

Stuffed grape leaves. Dolmates in Greek, dolmades in Turkish. I took a cooking class in Istanbul recently. A New Yorker in the class learned that we were going to be making stuffed grape leaves and said to me behind her hand “I thought this was a Turkish cooking class, not a Greek one.” The truth is more complex. Dolma means stuffed in Turkish but has no meaning in Greek. As one Turkish pundit put it “in Greek dolmates means ‘stolen’.“

That brings up a good point. Watching foreigners interact with Turkish food is one of the great Turksih delights. Americans say that kifte is like hamburger, Mexicans say that a donor durum is like a burrito, Greeks say that everything is like the Greek version, Italians raise their nose at pide and lahmahcun but then eat it with simple smiles. One of my favorite reactions was when an older English lady was eating a bowl of iskembe chorbasi (chorba, by the way is a generic word for soup in Turkish, though it is often used to describe a minestrone type soup – which makes sense when you realize that shorba is an Arabic word that is used to describe a minestrone like soup.) The English lady was obviously enjoying her chorba and asked me what it was made from. The name iskembe is derived from a Persian word – shikamba. Shikamba and iskembe both mean – tripe. Tripe soup. When I told her, she wouldn’t eat any more despite her earlier enjoyment. “I won’t eat cow stomach,” she said, “Even if it is delicious.”

For Turks, iskembe is the perfect cure after a night of hard drinking. Hard drinking usually involves drinking raki, the Turkish national liquor. An anise flavored hard liquor that typically is served with fish. For Turks the word fish always goes with raki. So, raki balik, liquor and fish. My kind of country.

In a way – with the drinking, the fishing, and the tripe – Turks are the masters of feasting. if you don’t believe me, you can look at one of the most famous of the Ottoman palace foods – a quail cooked inside of a chicken, cooked inside of a duck, cooked inside of a peacock. The North American redneck Thanksgiving version is a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey – suitably called Turkdukin. I’ve no idea what the Ottoman/Turkish version is called – but one thing you can be sure of, it’s going to be delicious.

The Halona Blowhole – Lavatube, Wild Hawaii Coast, South Shore Oahu Marvel

Halona BlowholeI’ve always thought that the Halona Blowhole, and blowholes in general, are very unfortunately named. They should instead be called ocean geysers or lava tube spouts – but blowhole? Really? Oh well, there’s nothing I can do about it. The unfortunate name doesn’t change the fact that the Halona Blowhole is one of Oahu’s most exciting natural wonders. Like Diamond Head– people come to Hawaii with seeing ‘the blowhole’ on their bucket list – often without knowing what to expect.

Halona is a stretch of rocky and wild coastline on the South shore of Oahu. The word Halona means overlook in Hawaiian language and as descriptions go, it’s pretty apt. Sitting between Breakneck Beach (Sandys) and Hanauma Bay – this rocky overlook provides views of whales, Maui, multi-colored water, and of course, the aforementioned blowhole. So, just what is the blowhole?

Halona Blowhole

Several hundred thousand years ago, the Koko Head volcano was active and lava flowed from it to the ocean below. Surface lava cooled quickly and hardened into stone, but under the surface rivers and streams of molten rock made their way to the ocean. As the streams dried up, they left tubes behind – sometimes large, other times small. Most of them collapsed from the weight of the rock above but some of them (in particular smaller ones) remained as small tunnels. One such lava tube formed at Halona and was left just below the high water mark. Tens of thousands of years of wave action eventually broke the surface of the tube so that incoming waves would burst through the rock after traveling some distance in the lava tube – if the pressure was (or is) strong enough based on direction of the waves, volume of water, and tidal conditions – the water spouts skywards and sometimes causes visitors to get wet!

On the right day, at the right time, in the right conditions – the Halona Blowhole goes as high as 30 feet! Other days you are lucky to see a little mist coming out. Nearly every visitor to Oahu makes the trek to Halona – the parking lot can be crowded – but on the right days – you won’t even notice the people. Don’t forget to look behind you at the Kokohead Volcano. Blowhole Oahu

There are strict rules in place and visitors are not allowed to go down to where the blowhole erupts. In the past there were no fences or barriers and adventure seekers would get close to the blowhole to feel the power of nature…and some of them died. There have been a handful of fatalities from people making bad decisions and the result is that no one is allowed to go near the blowhole. On one tragic day, a teenager got blasted by the spray and then sucked into the blowhole and died in front of visitors.

Halona From Here to Eternity

The Halona Blowhole parking lot is also where you park if you want to visit Eternity Beach – but I’ll tell you about that in another post.

Hike Oahu’s Diamond Head Volcano then Surf Diamond Head Break in Hawaii

As a guide, one of the top requests I get is to ‘see Diamond Head’ – which is funny, because often when I get the request – it’s in Waikiki where Diamond Head is most visible!  Diamond Head is just one of those monuments that people have heard of but don’t really know what it is – sometimes they know it’s a volcano, sometimes they know it’s a hike, sometime’s they know it’s a surf break – but Diamond Head is that and more. It’s also a neigborhood, a road, a direction, a crater, a park, a National Guard base, a historic military lookout, a lighthouse – and quite frankly – an experience and feeling – a sense of actually being in Waikiki.

Geologically speaking, Diamond Head is a tuff cone volcano that last erupted about 400,000 years ago. The Hawaiians called it Le’ahi which means ‘forehead of the tuna’ and from Waikiki – that’s exactly what it looks like. Western sailors gave it the current name because it was a visible landmark from sea – also known as a ‘head’. The shape of the top is roughly diamond shape which makes sense to me but there are other stories about sailors finding calcite crystals they thought were diamonds and even about the way the light refracted off of it at sunset.  At it’s tallest point, it is 762 feet tall (232 m). Diamond Head was the last gasp of the Oahu volcanos and took place millions of years after the main island-forming eruptions of the Ko’olau and Waianae Volcanos. The Pali Lookout sits at the top of the Ko’olau Volcano rim – sometimes people get the lookouts confused.

In modern times, the crater and nearby areas outside the crater were part of the U.S. Army’s Fort Ruger. Today there is still a National Guard Unit and Hawaii Civil Defense inside the crater. It was used as a lookout point for the U.S. Military in Hawaii during both world wars and the pillboxes at the top of the popular interior hike are the remnants of those bygone days.

Diamond Head is a U.S. National Monument and Natural Landmark – so it is protected. In the 1960s and 70s there were huge Woodstock style concerts in the crater with the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, and more.  I would have loved seeing the Grateful Dead in there.

Today, most people who come to Diamond Head want to do the hike. It is less than a mile each direction but with some serious elevation gain (about 560 feet). Bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen,  and take breaks if you need to. The trail was built in 1908 by the U.S. Army. In ancient times, there was a Heiau (temple) dedicated to the God of Winds up near where tourists take in the view today. You’ll see why – so hold onto your hat! Admission is $5 per car if driving or $1 per person if walking. It is open every day of the year from 6am to 6pm with last entrance at 4:30 pm daily.

Parking is cheap but you may have to wait for a few minutes. To get there just drive up Diamond Head Road to Kapiolani Community College and turn right at the sign, drive through the tunnel into the crater, and pay for parking at the gate.

After you take the hike, drive back out through the tunnel and continue on around Diamond Head’s exterior. You will find several pullouts where you can take in the view of the surf on one side and the exterior of the Volcano on the other. Between the lookouts and the Diamond Head Lighthouse which is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard – you will see a trail that leads down to the surf break. Diamond Head is one of the most consistant and popular surf breaks on the island of Oahu. You will have to hike your board down (and back up) but it will be worth it. If you just want to watch the surfers, the lookout with the Amelia Earhardt memorial is the best spot.

Further down the road, you will enter the Diamond Head neighborhood, one of Oahu’s most exclusive and expensive places to live. Just a bit further and you will be back in Waikiki at Kapiolani Community Park. Don’t forget to turn around and enjoy the beauty and grace of Diamond Head as you enjoy Waikiki.

The Nu’uanu Pali Lookout on Oahu – See Hawaii from Above

Pali Lookout HawaiiOne of the most spectacular viewpoints in the world lies just a few miles from Honolulu and Waikiki. The word ‘pali’ in Hawaiian language means cliff – and the Pali Lookout won’t disappoint you as you get an amazing view up the Windward Side of Oahu and down into the beautiful towns of Kailua and Kaneohe. The lookout itself is a magnificent section of cliff which sits at the top of the Nu’uanu Valley and just on the town-side of the Nu’uanu tunnels (Route 61) which go straight through the walls of the ancient Ko’olau volcano. The tunnels date back to 1958, before that the road went up and over the lookout.

From the lookout you can see Kualoa Mountain, Chinaman’s Hat, Coconut Island, and Kaneohe and Kailua Bays.

Driving from Honolulu, you will take the Nu’uanu Pali Highway and turn off at the Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside – don’t forget to pay for parking- the attendants are vigilent! If you wear a hat, hold onto it because there are often strongtrade winds barrelling through the pass. Before the tunnels, this was the main road across the Ko’olau connecting town-side with windward side. The road up from the town side has always been important and today there are consulates, church headquarters, Buddhist missions, a synagogue, and nice neighborhoods. The Nu’uanu valley has been inhabited for more than a thousand years. Hawaiian royalty built their summer homes in the valley to avoid the higher temperatures from June through September.

Historically, the lookout is celebrated as the site of the unifying battle of the Hawaiian Islands where King Kamehameha the First brought ten thousand warriors and slaughtered the defenders of Oahu – who were mostly conquering Maui warriors. He forced Kalanikupule to the edge of the cliff and then threw him from the edge along with four hundred of his soldiers. This happened in 1795.

Fifty years later, the first road crossed the Pali. Hawaiian legends abound about the Pali – there are ghosts and goddesses and magical dogs and enchanted lizards – but mostly you will see chickens and cats.

One of my favorite of the stories goes that you should never have pork in your car when you cross the Pali – mainly this is because Pele, the goddess of the Volcano had a terrible relationship and bad breakup with Kamapua’a – the pig god. Since that time, she won’t let any pork or pigs come across the Pali and if you try…your car will break down until you remove the pork from the vehicle. So you better not pack ham sandwiches for lunch!

 

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