Happy New Year from Vagobond! 2019 is the YEAR OF CHANGE

VagobondAloha My Friends!

Happy New Year! 2019 is going to be an amazing year where the only constant is going to be change!  I have declared this theme both to prepare you for the unbridled pace of innovation and global change – as well as to prime the pump for all of us to make the most healthy and beneficial changes we can in this brand new year.

My Hat’s Off to You in 2019! I’ve freshly shaved my head for 2019 so the answer to the question that no one is asksing “What does a vagobond keep under his hat?” Is now revealed – “Nothing!”

I am making a number of personal and professional changes this year. As a part of that, I will be making some changes to Vagobond too. I will be keeping my focus on my home island of Oahu and the State of Hawaii but will be easing my editorial schedule a bit. There will be new articles and blog posts on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Fridays will continue to be ‘Flashback Friday‘ and Saturday will continue to be the Saturday Slideshow. Flashback Fridays will be looking back at my  past global travel adventures and Slideshow Saturday will be a mostly visual post focusing on pictures I have taken or will take in my travels. Friday and Saturday posts will be all over the globe. Monday and Wednesday posts will be focused closer to home.

Also, even though I have mixed feelings about social media – in 2019 I will be putting a renewed focus on Vagobond’s social media. I’ve neglected creating a decent YouTube channel for over a decade now and I’d like to correct that this year. My podcast Vagobond Podcast Adventures will continue with more of a travel focused theme. I will also try my hardest to give some energy to Facebook, Pinterest, and whatever the newest social media might be. My Instagram (@vagobond) and Twitter (@vagobond) accounts are way too far gone as personal accounts for me to be able to reign them into a tight niche – so you’re stuck on those with my art posts, political commentary, and whatever else I might want to throw up there. I will also be making some aesthetic changes to the way Vagobond.com looks – so don’t be surprised if the site looks different from time to time.

One more note about the year of change – this year, I am going to be taking all of my spare change and putting it in my daughter’s ‘share’ bank. When the bank is full, she and I will be deciding how to donate it or use it to help others. This is a bit of an experiment on my part because I want to see just how much a little change can actually add up to over the course of a year and whether it is enough to do some serious good. Welcome to the  YEAR OF CHANGE and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

Sincerely and wishing you happiness and joy in 2019,

Christopher ‘Vago’ Damitio
Founder and Chief Balderdasher, Vagobond.com
1/1/19 5:00 a.m.
Honolulu, Hawaii

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Haleiwa Town and the North Shore Neighborhoods of Pupukea and Waialua

HaleiwaOne of the most delightful little villages on Oahu is the surfing town of Hale’iwa. When I say surfing town, I don’t mean the town itself surfs- that would be silly – but the town does revolve around surfing. Once a plantation village where workers lived and bought what they needed to go about their lives, this village transformed into something else entirely when big wave surfing arrived. Today it is filled with boutiques, galleries, great restaurants, shave ice shops like Matsumoto Shave Ice, and plenty of surf shops. In fact, it is the perfect place to spend the day strolling, shopping, eating, and hanging out with friends and family.

Hale’iwa still has much of the slow paced country village feel about it combined with a chilled out surfer vibe which sits on top of a mouth watering culinary destination and an innovative artisanal movement. Hale’iwa epitomizes the Hawaiian ‘country’ scene without being backward or pretentious.

HaleiwaThe town sits between the villages of Pupukea to the East an Waialua to the West. Pupukea is little more than a grocery store, a fire station, and some food trucks (which happen to be sitting at the gateway to the world’s best surfing beaches and the amazing snorkeling at Shark’s Cove) and Waialua has died back to mainly farms,the North Shore Soap Factory and old sugar mill complex.  Waialua Bay wraps around and comes into Hale’iwa and then turns into rocky shoreline before reaching world famous surfing at Waimea Bay and the sacred temples in Waimea Valley and atop the hills in Pupukea. The small boat harbor in Hale’iwa is where many shark cage dives, dives, and sailing adventures leave from. To the south of Hale’iwa you will find the Dole Plantation and the town of Wahiawa.

HaleiwaThe present day location was the site of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village where it was a common destination for the Hawaiian Ali’i (Royalty) to escape the heat of Honolulu or ‘Ewa in the summer months. People have occupied the area for nearly a thousand years. Hale’iwa got it’s first western style building in 1832 but wasn’t founded as a town until 1898 when Benjamin Dillingham, a local businessman who contracted to have the Hawaiian railway built from the sugar and pineapple fields of the North Shore to the shipping port of Honolulu, saw the potential for tourism and built a hotel at the northern terminus. He named the hotel for the nest of the black frigate bird, called the ‘iwa bird in Hawaiian language. Hale is the Hawaiian word for house, so – House of the Frigate Bird.

Haleiwa

The hotel is long gone and village residents fight tooth and nail whenever anyone tries to bring a new hotel into the area. The last thing anyone wants is for Hale’iwa to turn into another Waikiki. If you want to stay on the North Shore, you need to either book a room at the expensive Turtle Bay Resort on the Northeast corner of the island or find a vacation rental. There are no other hotel options.

Haleiwa

Hawaii Kai and Aina Haina Neighborhoods

Koko Head StairsSouth East of Honolulu are the neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawaii Kai. These are upscale neighborhoods that you reach when you pass by Diamond Head and the ritzy Kahala neighborhood and continue on to Koko Head and Hanauma Bay. As a guide I often pass through here, but rarely stop. There are some houses to note as you go by – the wedding cake shaped house on the hill belongs to Keanu Reeves – or at least it used to. As a child, Barack Obama and his mother lived in a non-descript house in Aina Haina. The house used as the family home of Steve McGarrett on Hawaii 5-0 is in Aina Haina too.

Other than that, these are simply suburbs i a very pretty setting. Aina Haina was named after Robert Hind, a local dairyman – it literally means Hind’s Land. Hind owned the Hind-Clarke Dairy which is long gone, but the name remains. There are several pretty beach parks here.

Hawaii Kai is a bit more interesting as it is the former site of a royal fishpond. Prominent local developer Henry Kaiser dredged the Kuapa Pond in 1959 and used the tailings to fill in much of what is there today and create the Koko Marina. Together with the Bishop Estate, Kaiser turned the area into a world class marina and developed the surrounding suburbs.

There are several attractions nearby including Koko Head Crater, Hanauma Bay, Koko Head Stairs, Hawaii Kai golf course, Sandy’s Beach and just around the south shore Makapu’u Point, Sea Life Park, and more.

Molokai – The Friendly Isle – Slideshow Saturday

MolokaiIt’s been more than a decade since I’ve been to Molokai. I was suppossed to go back over this Christmas holiday, bring my family, meet up with friends – but the cost of living in Hawaii and a particularly painful dry period in tourism during October, November, and early December brought about the necessity of cancelling that trip so that my wife and I could work – this is life in Hawaii and sometimes we have to make hard choices to live here. I’m grateful to be able to live here and I hope that our friends have a wonderful time on ‘the Friendly Isle’ just as I did all those years ago.

I spent a week there that last time and the memories sometimes make me want to cry. The beauty of Molokai, the raw nature, the warmth of the people, and the feelings of having been in Hawaii how Hawai’i once was.

Molokai is the fifth largest in the Hawaiian chain. It is approximately 60km by 16km. It sits about 40 km from Oahu and is visible from Makapu’u Point on a clear day.  Mt. Kamakou is the highest point on Molokai at about 1500 m (4960 feet) and it has a permanent population of about 7500 people. Molokai is a much more agricultural place than most of the islands and a much more Hawaiian place as well. It is said to be the birthplace of Hula.

Like all of the Hawaiian Islands, Molokai was born from ancient shield volcanos and has eroded now to a much smaller place than it was. It has a 40 km (25 mile) fringeing reef and the economy is largely dependent on fishing and farming. The main town is Kaunakakai.Of particular note on Molokai is the former Leper Colony town of Kalaupapa. It operated at a leper colony from 1866 to 1969 – more than a hundred years. Today, Hansen’s Disease (formerly called leprosy) is treatable but in those years it was deadly and misunderstood. More than 10,000 people were thrown into the remote colony with no assistance. Not allowed to have visitors and given minimum supplies. A Belgian priest based in Waikiki saw the treatment as inhumane and went there to help for sixteen years before contracting and dying of the disease himself. His name was Pater Damiaan de Veuster, in Hawaii he is known as Father Damian, to the Catholic Church he is Saint Damiaan.

Molokai Ranch, a Singapore based company tried to commercialize Molokai tourism for many years but after decades of anti-commercial activism – ceased all operations and put the ranch up for sale in 2017 for $260 million dollars. There is not much tourism on Molokai these days and there is high unemployment.

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Waipahu – Oahu – Edward Snowden’s Hometown

WaipahuWhile it’s probably not what it wants to be known for, the town of Waipahu’s most famous resident is probably Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked large amounts of classified information from U.S. intelligence agencies. Of course, there is much more to Waipahu than just Edward Snowden. Waipahu is a central Oahu town which used to be the heart of the sugarcane plantation industry.

A natural spring gives the town its name. Waipahu means ‘fresh water bursting upward. The spring was so important that Waipahu, now mostly forgotten or unknown by the many tourists who visit Oahu, was once the capital of the island and of the Oahu Kingdom which proceeded the unification of Hawaii by King Kamehameha.

Waipahu became important to sugar in 1897 when the Oahu Sugar Company formed there. Workers from Hawaii, Japan, China, Korea, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Norway and the Phillipines kept the mill going and the sugar growing. The history of the plantation and the plantation workers can be experienced and learned about at Hawaii’s Plantation Village – an often missed attraction located in Waipahu. It was established in 1973 and is a living history museum focused on that time and place.

Waipahu

Waipahu has about 40,000 residents today and includes several suburbs including Waikele where many visitors to Hawaii go to visit the outlet malls. Other suburbs are Waipio, Village Park, and Royal Kunia. The majority ethnic group in Wapahu is Filipino followed by Japanese and Chinese. Pacific Islander’s make up about 12% of the population, Caucasion and African-Americans maku up only about 5% of Waipahu’s population when combined. Waipahu has a growing Hispanic population at about 6%. 

Waipahu has a notable Little League Baseball team which won the Little League World Series back in 2008.

Oahu Hawaii’s Lighthouses – How many are there?

Diamond Head Lighthouse
How many lighthouses exist on Oahu? If you’re just here to find the answer quickly – there are six. If you want to go deeper than that though – read on.

Most people can only list one or two of the lighthouses on Oahu. Diamond Head Lighthouse is an obvious one and the one at Makapu’u Point is another that people will see if they are driving around the island. Both of them are special and beautiful.

The Lighthouse as Diamond Head is the home of the Coast Guard Admiral in charge of the Mid-Pacific Region. It is beloved by Oahu residents and has a beautiful old antique fresnel lense. It was built in 1899.

Makapu'u Lighthouse

Equally loved (but sometimes forgotten because out-of-sight means out-of-mind)is the lighthouse at Makapu’u Point. You won’t see it if you are driving from the south shore up to Waimanalo unless you look backwards as you are going past Sea Life Park – but if you are driving the other direction – you can’t miss it. It was built in 1909 and its hyper-radiant lens is visible for 28 miles – so, for those who are curious and have hiked the Makapu’u point trail and seen the island of Molokai off in the distance – it can be seen with the naked eye from there (22 miles).

Aloha Tower

Perhaps more loved than both is the Aloha Tower in Honolulu – which most people have no idea is even a lighthouse! It is the oldest lighthouse on Oahu and while it has a clock in it, it was actually built to help guide ships into Honolulu Harbor. It was not a vanity project! The grounds are mostly Hawaii Pacific University but there is a Gordon Bierch Brewery there – so you can grab a beer after you admire the lighthouse.

Oahu Lighthouse

The other lighthouses are less well known. There is the Kaena Point Lighthouse which is now a collapsed ruin on the westernmost point of Oahu – it has been replaced by a metal tower. The hike to get there is worth it – beautiful easy walk through bird preserves and isolated beaches.

Oahu Lighthouse

Pyramid Rock on the Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe is the home for another lighthouse – it is not accessible to the public – just like the entire base. It’s too bad because this is one of the most beautiful areas on Oahu.

Oahu LighthouseFinally, there is the lighthouse at Barber’s Point. This lighthouse has a modern lense but an old body, it was built in 1888 and has saved many souls from smashing on the reefs of Oahu. It is an active lighthouse in beautiful surroundings – so beautiful that one of Hawaii’s most popular luau’s is set nearby. It’s off the radar for most visitor’s but is worth the trip if you have a car and some time.

Merry Christmas from Vagobond!

This was 40 years ago. It’s funny how as I sit with my wife and daughter (mee looking at the instructions and my wife grabbing the wrappings – we almost mirror this picture of me with my parents from 1978. This was my favorite shirt as a kid with a van filled with dogs and cats it said “Keep on Truckin’ – of course it did. Merry Christmas everyone and Keep on Truckin!!!!!
Merry Christmas

Christmas in Hawaii – At Home on Oahu for the Holidays

Oahu ChristmasIt was my intention to meet up with friends on Maui and have a Merry Christmas trip to the island of Molokai this year – but things don’t always work out the way you plan. In this case, the fake nuclear attack, near misses with hurricanes, and Big Island volcanic eruptions (plus the largely unspoken economic crisis that is looming) hit our tourism based income incredibly hard this year. As the holidays loomed, my wife and I were left with the choice of working in Honolulu during the Christmas break or taking our annual holiday – due to our budget – we opted to go with working.

Honolulu ChristmasWe will have Christmas Day off together but during all the other days of our daughter’s school break, one or the other (sometimes both) of us will be working. We’ve enrolled Sophia in a Christmas break day camp, so she will still get to have lots of holiday themed fun – and frankly- that’s the most important thing to us. We’re lucky – actually. This year, there are a lot of workers such as those who work for TSA, Homeland Security, or Border Patrol who won’t be collecting a paycheck. There are many families here on Oahu and throughout the Hawaiian Islands (and the USA) who are homeless and won’t be celebrating Christmas, getting presents, or spending any time with loved ones. There are many families who can’t afford to send their kids to day camps during the holiday and without school to watch over them while the parents work – many children are being left to their own devices – not through cruelty, but through necessity.

Honolulu ChristmasSo, we are thankful. Hawaii is a strange place for Christmas in any event – we try really hard here with lots and lots of decorations and Christmas music- but if you’ve ever spent time anywhere else for Christmas – it just feels really odd to have perfect weather, warm water to swim in, and everyone wearing shorts and Santa hats. Merry Christmas in Hawaiian is Mele Kalikimaka. The Hawaiians in ancient times didn’t know anything about Christmas. They celebrated a four month period from about November to February called Makahiki when there was generally no work done, lots of games, contests, and all warfare and hostilities were called off. This is just one more way the Hawaiians lived better in the past than we do today.

Christmas in OregonThere was no money, no economy, no imports, no exports, and nearly everyone could take four months of the year off from working or fighting to just enjoy life. When you average it out, the ancient Hawaiian family only needed a total of 4 hours of work per day to provide everything they needed in life. They didn’t need all this stuff we have now. I noticed something odd this year – people were frantic about their Christmas shopping, often neurotic and seemingly in a panic. In Hawaii, it’s not like other places – you’re expected to give good presents to all of your coworkers and friends and family – and that gets expensive fast. Then there’s the Secret Santa tradition – in the jobs I had on the mainland – Secret Santa was a way to ensure that everyone got one nice gift and no one had to spend too much – something like maximum $25 – and no other gifts needed. Not here – my wife’s work laid out the rules $25 minimum! And- they all went ahead and bought gifts for everyone else too…

Honolulu ChristmasGrowing up, Christmas was never that fantastic for me or my siblings so as an adult, it really took becoming a parent for me to grow to love the holiday. When our daughter was old enough to open presents – I began to spoil her the best I could (okay, from birth, I admit it). I love watching her wake up and look for presents. I love the mystery. I’m going to admit something here though – I’ve always been really honest with her. I’ve never wanted to tell her lies about anything – and frankly – I became terrified that she would discover that I was lying about Santa Claus and feel it as some sort of betrayal of trust. I felt incredibly guilty about it. She had started to ask questions that were leading to the answer and in a moment of what may have been bad judgment – I just told her that Santa isn’t real. After that we worked through the way the whole process works.

Honolulu ChristmasWhen she was a baby, we took her to where the real Santa Claus lived in Demre, Turkey – so I went from there and explained the tradition. As it got closer to Christmas though,  we both  agreed to suspend reality and believe in Santa together. We have a tiny little tree in our tiny little apartment. I’ve kept all her presents hidden so I can put them out on Christmas morning – and just like last year on the Big Island (I snuck the presents in an extra suitcase) – Santa will be visiting us again. So we will leave him cookies and milk. I have to admit, it’s much more fun to suspend our disbelief together than it was to fool her – I think it’s going to be a lovely Christmas in Honolulu this year. We’ll go to the Beach on Christmas Day, build sand castles, and maybe go see a movie and eat Chinese food. Maybe next year we can restart our holiday travel tradition. Or maybe not. In any event, we wish you a Merry Christmas!

Mele Kalikimaka!

The Polynesian Cultural Center – Visit all the Pacific Island Cultures on Oahu – Hawaii’s #1 Tourist Attraction

Polynesian Cultural Center LaieThe number one tourist attraction in Hawaii is the Polynesian Cultural Center in the town of Laie. Laie is also known as ‘the Mormon town’ and with good reason. The Mormons were early settlers in Hawaii and virtually the entire town of Laie is of the Mormon faith. There is a Mormon temple, a Mormon University, and the Mormon owned Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). Now that we’ve got that out of the way – I’d like to introduce you to the PCC – and in case you are wondering – the Mormons do a great job of separating the attraction from their faith – so there is no need to worry that you are going to be preached at. It just doesn’t happen. In fact, if you didn’t know it was owned by the Mormons, you would never guess it.

Polynesian Cultural Center Laie

A bit of history – the PCC was born from an effort to raise funds to build their temple.  Native Hawaiian people had celebrated a harvest festival in the area called a hukilau – it was a sort of luau where everyone helped to gather and prepare food and everyone was welcome. They invited guests from Waikiki and the hukilau was a big hit. It grew into a weekly event, then it grew into a Hawaiian village, and eventually, it grewe into villages to celebrate all of the Polynesian Island Cultures.

Polynesian Cultural Center Laie

Inside the PCC there are villages with cultural activities, presentations, and more. The villages represented are Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and Aotearoa (New Zealand). There are also movies, luaus, a beautiful canoe pageant, hilarious shows, and the breathtaking broadway style show ‘HA: Breath of Life’.  There is much more there as well with the Hawaiian Sports Hall of Fame, the Ukulele Experience, the Hukilau Village, and so much live entertainment that you won’t ever become bored.

Polynesian Cultural Center Laie

Located in Laie on the Windward side of Oahu on Kamehameha Highway. Open 12-6 Monday through Saturday. Tickets will cost you anywhere from $70 to $250 per adult. This is an all day sort of event. If you go to tour the villages, enjoy the luau, and watch the show you will be there until 10pm.

Polynesian Cultural Center Laie

Slideshow Saturday: My 2008 Walk Around Oahu’s Coastline – Photos from the Ground

I’m not going to write much about this since I’ve already given you most of the words and some of the pictures from my old Nokia phone in the Flashback Friday Post about my 2008 Perimeter of Oahu Walk. This post is mostly to show some of the people I met and the beautiful scenery of this island from the perspective that almost no one ever gets – walking around the entire coastline (albeit having to go around some controlled military bases in Hawaii). Without further ado…here are some of the photos from my adventure. Enjoy the beauty.

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U.S. Military Bases on Oahu

Pearl Harbor There are a ton of military bases on Oahu. Strike that, there are two tons – or maybe more like 250,000 tons. close to 50,000 active military personnel plus their wives and children makes at least 125,000 people who don’t live in Hawaii except as a duty assignment. Add to that the 15-25,000 reserve personnel and the 100,000 people who in some way rely on the bases for their employment and what you have is nearly 1/4 of the population here in Hawaii either in or beholden to the military. Hawaii is one of a very few states that have at least one base for every branch of the armed forces – and, actually, we have more than one of almost all of them. Counting the bases, like counting the personnel themselves is impossible because the definition of bases seems to change – for example Joint Bast Pearl Harbor or whatever it is now. It’s not just the Navy and Marines who have a base in Hawaii – it’s every branch. Plus the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and state and local police. In any event, here are the bases.

Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu

Bellows Air Force Base in Waimanalo

Fort Shafter Army Base in Honolulu

Schofield Barracks Army Base in Wahiawa

Tripler Medical Center Army Base in Honolulu,

Fort Derussy Army Base in Waikiki

Wheeler Army Airfield in Waihiawa

Camp Smith – Joint Base in Aiea

US Coast Guard Base Honolulu

Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii

Bellows Marine Corps Training Area

NCTAMS PAC in Wahiawa (Navy)

Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Pearl City

Kunia Field Station Navy Base in Kunia

Iroqouis Point Naval Station, Ewa Beach

So, if you count them that way – there are sixteen U.S. Military Bases on Oahu. The most heavily fortified island and city in the United States and quite possibly in the world. All the bases sit on prime land that once belonged to the Hawaiian Kingdom and thereby to the Hawaiian people – you can’t go on the bases unless you have clearance. Sorry.

Kokohead Botanical Garden – Desert Botanicals and Hawaiian Flowers in a Volcano Crater

Koko craterWhether you are a virgin or not – you should go in a volcano while you are in Hawaii. You can go in Diamond Head or head over to the Big Island but my suggestion is that while you are on Oahu, you visit a geologic masterpiece on the south side of the island.

You can climb up Koko Head Stairs and then you can go take a cool down hike through the Koko Head crater.  To get there you will drive from either the Honolulu side or the Kailua side. Between the two you will find Sandy’s Beach and that is where you’ll turn and drive through California looking suburbs, past a golf course, up to a horse stable and guess what…you’re there – inside the Koko Head Volcano. Look around and it will make sense, but when you drive in – you barely notice because one side of the volcano opens to the burbs.

Koko Crater

What I love about this spot is th at it is generally off the radar – the yoga/hiking/Instagram selfie crowd like to go to the tops of the mountains, the old bus tourists stay on the well worn coastal roads and stops, and Koko Crater just sits like a jewel waiting to be discovered. Sixty acres of serene, colorful, fragrant and almost never crowded dryland botanical garden. Dozens of plumeria flower trees (frangipangi), bougainvilla, cactii, and Hawaiiian endemic species all abound with color and beauty.

Koko Crater

The garden has been built since 1960 and is an ongoing and never ending project of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens. The climate in the crater is suitable for African, American, Hawaiian, and Madagascarian plants and cactii. There is a two mile loop trail with more than two hundred species on it. I usually spend a couple of hours there but I would recommend no less than an hour to enjoy it. Bring water and wear sunscreen. You don’t really have to worry about bugs here.

Koko Crater

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