Back in 2000, just when the dot-com crash was happening – I quit my job at a company called Tech Planet, bought a VW van for $150, moved out of my house, and decided to write a book about how to live without being a wage slave. Eventually, that book turned into Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagobond. The Portland Mercury wrote my favorite review of it in which they actually compared me to one of my literary heroes – Jack Keroac. All of that however, came later. By the end of 2000, I was growing increasingly tired of living in a van in Seattle rain and was looking at options of either driving south to Mexico or finding some other way to stay warm without being a wage slave. My brother, trying to explain why I should be grateful to live in the USA, said something like “You should see how people in China live…” which I took completely the wrong way. I decided to go to China. There was one problem – I was a homeless guy without any money…so I took my last $100 and went to one of the Native American casinos along I-5 – I knew I would win. I put my money in a slot machine and won closet to $1500. Next I bought a ticket to Beijing. Then I went back to the casino and won another $2000 on the same slot machine! That’s how my international travel started.
I parked my VW van in my mom’s backyard and then hitch hiked back to Seattle. My friends dropped me off. I went through customs and was on my way. There was a connecting flight in Vancouver, British Columbia. When we landed, I had to run through the Vancouver airport to make my flight – as I ran, I saw TV’s playing footage of the huge Nisqually earthquake that had hit Seattle Tacoma International Airport – the same airport I’d just left. These were early days in the internet – I didn’t have a smart phone (no one did) and I didn’t have a laptop or access to the web. It would be days before I found out the details of the quake because I would have to get to China, find an internet cafe or English language newspaper, and frankly, I had more pressing concerns. I hadn’t made any arrangements for where I would stay or what I would be doing in China.
I didn’t have any credit cards, hotel reservations, or anything else. I’d bought a Lonely Planet China Guidebook the day before in Seattle. Essentially, I was a scrungy 29-year-old homeless guy who arrived in the Beijing Airport without a clue. It was awesome. I had astounding culture shock. I had about $1500 in US currency – I changed $500 over to Chinese Yuan, figured out how to get on and pay for a bus and decided I would get off at the twelfth stop. No reason.
Very few Chinese seemed to speak English and I didn’t speak any Mandarin. I got off at the 12th stop and with the help of a friendly Chinese workman who spoke no English managed to figure out where I was using street signs and the Lonely Planet maps. There was a hotel nearby and I managed to find it, paid two nights rent, and locked myself in my room with the snacks I’d bought along the way. For two days I crammed Mandarin learning some basic phrases, directions, etc – I used the Lonely Planet to figure out what I wanted to do in China, and I slept off my jetlag.
When I emerged two days later, I was ready to climb the Great Wall of China, visit Tiannamen Square, and visit the Forbidden City. I had also located a fun sounding backpacker’s hostel and some internet cafes. I was ready for China. I had one month before my return flight to Seattle and my visa expiration date – but I already knew that I was going to burn that flight and stay in Asia for a while.
Tomorrow for Slideshow Saturday – I’ll share some of the pictures I took of those first days in China – climbing the wall at Badaling, the Forbidden City, and Tiannaman Square. These were film days – so I don’t have hundreds of shots – still, it’s fun to finally share them.
Lanai is owned by Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle Corporation. The people who live there are not owned by him. The last time I was there was in 2008. It was a short trip – mainly because I couldn’t afford to stay any longer. Lanai has two expensive resorts and the Lanai City Hotel which was fully booked except for the two nights I stayed there.
To be more specific, Ellison owns 97% of the island. There are some private homes and a small portion owned by the State of Hawaii – but he owns the rest. The island is 140 squrae miles and highest elevation is Mount Lana’ihale at 1026 meters (about 3,366 feet). There are about 3100 residents on Lanai. So, in a way, it’s a small town. It’s also the 6th largest island in the Hawaiian Island chain. The island is approximately 30 miles from Oahu and is visible from Oahu’s south shore on clear days. Residents are proud of the fact that there are no traffic lights on Lanai.
The name Lānai is of uncertain origin, but the island has historically been called Lānaʻi o Kauluāʻau, which can be rendered in English as “day of the conquest of Kauluāʻau.” This epithet refers to the legend of a Mauian prince who was banished to Lānaʻi for some of his wild pranks at his father’s court in Lāhainā. The island was reportedly haunted by Akua-ino, ghosts and goblins. Kauluāʻau chased them away and brought peace and order to the island and regained his father’s favor as a consequence.
In ancient times Lanai was ruled by the Maui chiefs and kings, this has translated to modern times when it is still considered a part of Maui County (along with Molokai and Kohoolawe). Lanai was a sugar growing and Hawaiian taro growing place until 1862 when it was purchased for the Mormons and subsequently stolen by Walter M. Gibson – who subsequently became the prime minister of the Hawaiian Kingdom under King Kalakaua.
Gibson’s adventures are another story but suffice to say, he lost the island and in 1921 Charles Gay planted the first pineapple. Today the island is known as the Pineapple Island mainly because the island was bought by James Dole of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (Dole Food Corporation and Dole Plantation). The island stayed part of Dole until it was purchased (with Dole) by David Murdock. He sold the island to Larry Ellison in 2012. The island hadn’t produced pineapple in two decades at that point. The island cost him $300 million. He remodeled the Four Season’s Lanai at Manele Bay and is restoring the other Four Seasons Resort at Ko’ele. Ellison has also funded many public works improvements.
Not many visitors go to Lanai – but those who do typically have the money to stay at the Four Seasons. The Lanai City Hotel is more of a locals place. There are three very nice golf courses on Lanai and a trap shooting range. These are also attractions for wealthy folks. As is the yacht harbor. There is a concrete ship which is crashed on a beach appropriately called Shipwreck Beach. It’s sort of an attracation.
Most people rent cars to see the remote places. I went hiking each day and managed to make it to most of the same places. Lanai isn’t that big. In addition to hiking to the Garden of the Gods, I was able to visit the Luahiwa Petroglyphs, the Pu’u Pehe Overlook and also spent some time lounging in Dole Park and exploring the plantation streets of Lanai City.
I want to go back to Lana’i someday – but not until I have more money.
Last year (2017) I took my family to the Big Island of Hawaii for a Christmas holiday. I’d been to the Big Island several times before – the first time back in 2002 and then again in 2006 and last year for work and an earlier trip to explore the possibility of buying some land in Kurtistown . Each trip had been about a week – so I suppose that means that all together, I’ve spent a little over a month on the Big Island. I love it and can’t wait to spend more time there.
The Christmas trip last year was by far the best – sure I wasn’t staying in the scientific barracks on Mauna Kea with all the astronomers, hiking through active lava fields, or even driving a convertable Mustang through Kohala with the wind blowing through my hair (hair that is now mostly gone, I might add). What made this trip special was being able to share it with my wife and daughter.
We stayed at the Hilton Double Tree in Hilo – a hotel which sits on one of the most scenic bays in the world. From there we explored in many directions. On Christmas Day, we went to the visitor center on Mauna Kea where there was a little bit of snow to play in. Another day we explored the Volcanoes National Park where we didn’t get to see huge lava flows (those came a few months later) but still got to see a little bit of activity in the distance.
It was fun to share the vast lava plains, the cold mountain tops, the rugged and raw beauty of Kapoho Bay (which completely filled in with lava during the eruption of 2018). We wandered around Hilo and Kailua-Kona (not to be confused with Kailua on Oahu). We explored the lava tree forest and Akaka Falls and we enjoyed almost every minute of it. Even better, Santa somehow found us in our hotel room (our six-year-old Sophia never bothered to ask why usually light packing Daddy brought a huge suitcase on this trip – hint: this was Santa’s bag). We almost had a not so perfect moment when we went down to get breakfast on Christmas morning and found out that there was a 2-3 hour wait in the hotel restaurant – but adapted and headed out into Hilo town where Ken’s House of Pancakes was open and working hard on Christmas morning.
This was a super fun trip and since this is a Friday Flashback – I’ll share a bunch of pictures since every picture really is worth at least a thousand words. Aloha and a hui ho and ho ho ho!
The 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
These are a real flashback to the past. One of the best things about these videos is the ever changing shape of my facial hair. The other thing that might be confusing is that when these were made, I was in college and just about everyone called me Chris. I was the President of the UH Branch of the Sierra Club and also started a couple of an independent hiking club called Hawaii Hikers. The quality of the videos is circa 2004-2008 – so I apologize for the grainy footage and shaky camera work – at the time I thought it was really good!
If you thought that Oahu is ‘the city island’ of Hawaii just because it is home to Honolulu and nearly half of the state’s inhabitants – think again. Oahu is filled with nature, rural life, history, and plenty of surprises.
There were many more hikes, but these were the ones I made videos of. What happened to the people in the videos aside from me? It’s a good question.
Kuliouou Ridge Trail
Kokohead Rim Trail #2
Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail
Kealia, Oahu’s North Shore
There are some astounding hikes on Oahu. This one is considered to be mediocre unless you happen across the Wallabies which actually do exist.
Ka’au Crater is a fantastic hike with some dangerous points, plenty of waterfalls, and lots of birds. Count on spending 5 hours minimum.
Mt Olympus is considered one of the toughest hikes on Oahu…and for good reason
Waianai Kai is a surprise and you won’t find a lot of other people there despite the stunning beauty all around you as you hike.
Mount Olo’mana near Kailua offers three peaks and plenty of challenges plus a stunning payout in terms of the view. Unfortunately, I was getting a bit too arty and trying to use aspiring musicians for the soundtracks.
Okay, this last one — it’s just weird. Easter at Pu’u Pia, an easy hike in Manoa.
I suppose I should give a bit of a personal history for the rest of this story to make sense. Here it is in brief – in 2017, I moved my family to Hawai’i. We sold our antique store and little community paper on the Oregon Coast and I came here, found a job, and rented an apartment on Oahu. I lived on Oahu for almost a decade and graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a degree in Anthropology back in 2008, then I left. That and my familiarity with Hawaiian history and culture enabled me to get a job as an archaeologist with a private company here. The pay was below what it takes to survive on Oahu – luckily we had a little bit saved from the sale of our business’ in Oregon which tided us over until I found a job in my pre-university line of business – being a tour guide. So, I was a working archaeologist. It was pretty cool. Now…on to the Flashback…
This week I had the opportunity to come to the Big Island of Hawai’i, stay in the scientific dormitories at about 10,000 feet, and visit historic and cultural sites from this level up to the peak at 14,000 feet. I was living among some of the top astronomers and scientists in the world and I was a working archaeologist on the highest mountain in Hawai’i.
This particular job is an annual event in which a team of archaeologists and botanists visit a series of sites to note any changes, vandalism, or other noteworthy events. The biggest challenge is the altitude – any time you go above 10,000 feet, you are putting your body into an altered state – there is not as much oxygen and your body can go through dangerous changes.
Although minor symptoms such as breathlessness may occur at altitudes of 1,500 metres (5,000 ft), AMS commonly occurs above 2,400 metres (8,000 ft).It presents as a collection of nonspecific symptoms, acquired at high altitude or in low air pressure, resembling a case of “flu, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a hangover”.It is hard to determine who will be affected by altitude sickness, as there are no specific factors that correlate with a susceptibility to altitude sickness. However, most people can ascend to 2,400 metres (8,000 ft) without difficulty.
Acute mountain sickness can progress to high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), both of which are potentially fatal, and can only be cured by immediate descent to lower altitude or oxygen administration.
So, you can imagine what it’s like to be doing strenuous hikes in the neighborhood of 14,000 feet. My understanding is that most of my co-workers have suffered ill-effects. Yesterday, my first day hiking on the mountain, I experienced some light headedness and a bit of vertigo but for the most part was fine if out of breath more than I liked.
My co-worker moves quickly and I was frequently quite a ways behind him. There is not supposed to be any pressure to move faster than feels personally safe, but he has a cold and gets paid a salary instead of being an hourly worker like me – so we’re moving a lot faster than we should be. We’ve got a bright red jeep for the week – but he won’t let me drive it. Kind of lame.
Mauna Kea is mankind’s window to the stars. The dry climate and 90% clear skies have made this the world’s premier location for large scale observatories. The world’s largest observatory is here along with a dozen other giant telescopes for optical and infrared astronomy as well as submillimeter wavelength and radio astronomy. The most familiar portion of the summit is what people here call the 007 array – this was featured in the James Bond movie Moonraker back in the 1970s. We are staying in the barracks that house scientists from 11 countries and support staff for the mountain.
Mauna Kea is not simply a technological treasure. The Hawaiians considered this the realm of the Gods, a sort of Mt. Olympus where the goddess Poliahu dwelled. The Hawaiian name is Mauna a Wakea which means sky father – Wakea is considered the father of the Hawaiian people. This mountain was forbidden ‘kapu’ (taboo) to commoners and the Hawaiian Ali’i were the only ones allowed to make the trek to the top without special dispensation – which was reserved for priests (kahuna) and skilled stone artisans. The rock on Mauna Kea was treasured for the making of stone adzes, knives, and other stone tools.
This is a wahi pana, a sacred and legendary place. This was where Hawaiians would study the stars, make tools, and practice elaboriate religious rituals. My colleagues have recorded 96 sites between 12,000 and 13,000 feet – 76 of which are recorded as shrines. The shrines can be elaborate or as simple as an upright stone jutting from a crack in the lava where it was placed. There are modern shrines, ahu, as well – placed by modern kahuna. There are a whole mountain of laws and regulations regarding these – we keep it simple. Disturb nothing. We pack out what we pack in. We do not photograph human remains but we note their placement.
Mauna Kea is also home to several endemic species and a host of invasive species. Silversword, ‘ahinahina, is an endangered plant species endemic to Hawaii. They can grow for up to 40 years before blooming. Not threatened are mamane and pukiave shrubs which tend to b found at the lower altitudes and provide food and shelter for endangered birds like the Hawaiian palila and the Hawaiian goose or Nene. This bird in the gallery below is an Erckel’s Francolin, a sort of African pheasant which was introduced long ago and is endangered in its native home of Ethiopia but doing just fine here.
This is a magical and majestic place. I am priveliged to be able to spend a week here.
Flashback Friday – back in 2017 when I knew that I was moving back to Hawai’i and bringing my family with me – I had two plans and didn’t know which one would be better. The first was to move to Honolulu, find a job, find an apartment or house, and get ready to pay the quality of life tax. The second one was to move to Hilo, use the proceeds from the sale of my antique store in Oregon to buy a piece of land near the volcano, and then to live a sort of Hawaiian Mosquito Coast adventure…ultimately, I decided on Honolulu as being the best decision for the good of my family….but even after all the eruptions and hurricanes of the past year – there’s a part of me that wishes I had chose Kurtistown. Here’s what I wrote back then:
It’s Father’s Day and I have to admit – this was one hell of a present to myself. Alright, actually, it is happenstance – I didn’t plan this as a Father’s Day gift – I wasn’t thinking about Father’s Day at all – but I was doing my damndest to be the best father I can.
I’m waking up and sitting in a big comfy bed with lots of feather pillows around me. I’ve brewed a cup of coffee and I’ve got a view right out my window and off the lanai of Hilo Bay as the Hawai’ian sun brings the silhouete of the Big Island to life. Happy Father’s Day!
The picture above actually shows where I’m sitting in bed. The Grand Naniloa Double Tree by Hilton in Hilo, Hawaii.These past few years I’ve been living in Reedsport, Oregon. I was a bit surprised when I was driving up to find that the bay on the back side of this hotel is called Reed’s Bay. That Reed fella got around. I’m not here on a vacation – at least that wasn’t my intention, but it did sort of work out that way.
I came here to look at a property south of here in Kurtistown. Sitting in Oregon, I wasn’t at all sure that I would be able to accomplish the 5-day mission I set out upon – land a job, secure a house or apartment on Oahu, and rediscover the lay of the land in Hawai’i. So, I had a backup plan. If, when I got to Oahu, it was just too expensive, too crowded, too much to bring my wife and little girl to – if there was no home for us on Oahu – I was going to purchase (perhaps) a remote cabin in the rainforest – a very real mega-fixer-upper on a beautiful piece of land – and I was going to move us there. The owner was willing to carry the loan, I had just enough for a down payment, and I’d figure out a way to make it work…that was the plan. So, before I left Oregon I booked three days on Oahu and a weekend trip to Hilo where I used my new Hilton Honors Amex to book two nights in the Grand Nani Loa and got a great package deal on a car.
Thankfully, Oahu welcomed me home with open arms. I got the job, I found a home and secured it, and by the time I flew to the Big Island on Friday – my work-family-mission in Hawai’i had already been accomplished. Still, there was a part of me that loved the idea of pulling a Mosquito Coast (Paul Theroux moves his family to a remote tropical jungle situation) and building a life in the jungles of Hawai’i. So, I arranged to tour it with the realtor at his earliest convenience and since he wasn’t available until Sunday morning – I got directions from the owner and drove out some serious country roads as soon as I got off the plane.
I loved the property. Pineapples, coconuts, bananas, haliconias, big ohia trees, wide grassy fields. It was actually the type of property I dream about living on – except for the mosquitos. And except for the house. The house was a disaster. It was livable – but to be honest, I’ve lived in huts, tents, and cars that were less grody. It had some very real structural issues as well. Plus, it was so far out and off the grid that there was no way I could move my wife and daughter there. Not just because of my responsibility, but because once she saw it – my wife would have revolted. The only way to move her there would have been in manacles and frankly, even if that was my style, I’m pretty sure it still wouldn’t have worked.
So, I cancelled the showing, let the owner know that it wasn’t going to happen…and set about rediscovering Hilo and a bit of the surrounding areas…from the posh comfort of my posh hotel room – when I checked in – the universe rewarded me for thinking about my wife and child by getting me an upgraded room…which, by the way, is why it always pays to be kind and understanding when your room isn’t ready and you are ready to check in…
Kamehameha the Great was the first king of the United Kingdom of the Hawaiian Islands. His actual name was Kalani Pai’ea Wohi o Kaleikini Keali’ikui Kamehameha o ‘Iolani i Kaiwikapu kau’i Ka Liholiho K’nui’kea – which history has shortened to Kamehameha the Great. There are multiple large impressive statues of King Kamehameha which each have interesting histories. The original was created by a sculptor in Italy which explains why King Kamehameha is standing like a Roman general and has vaguely Italian features…it was commissioned by King David Kalakaua to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival in Hawai’i – an event which probably would not have been celebrated had Kalakaua known he would be the last king of the islands and he would be overthrown by the missionaries who followed – but he had no way of knowing that and so he ordered the statue and had it shipped around South America – where it sank. But wily King Kalakaua had insured it and so another was cast – but by the time it arrived, the first had been recovered and sent ahead. So there were two – one went up at Iolani Palace and the other went up near the birthplace of Kamehameha. But the photo below is neither of those.
This statue was commissioned by a resort on Kauai that seemed unaware that King Kamuali’i of Kauai was never conquered by Kamehameha – in fact, Kamehameha never set foot on Kauai. It was a politcal unification, not a military one – so the people of Kauai have strong feelings about a statue of Kamehameha being erected on their island – and made a big stink about it – which resulted in this beautiful statue being sent to Hilo – a place where Kamehameha was loved and revered. There is also a statue of Kamehameha in Washington DC which was in the hall of heroes next to Father Damien (Hawaii’s only saint) – each state has two heroes there…and Kamehameha was in the shadows until Barack Obama became President of the United States – at that point – it was emancipated and moved to Emancipation Hall. A much better spot.
I love Hilo. The whole Big Island of Hawai’i is a bit like the Oregon Coast in that the economy is rural and agricultural. And it is fairly wet on this side…and the economy seems a bit depressed when compared to Oahu or Maui. Just like Oregon is depressed when compared to California or Washington. In fact, in the past, when I’ve thought about the islands and their very distinct personalities – I’ve sometimes used a West Coast shorthand to describe them. Oahu is the like the Bay Area, Maui is like Los Angeles, Kauai is like Portland, and the Big Island is like Oregon although Kailua-Kona seems to have become more like Seattle. Lanai is like agricultural California and Ni’ihau is (as far as I know because I haven’t been there – more like actual Hawai’i. As for Molokai – it’s also more Hawai’ian than Haole – but it’s been ten years since I’ve been there – so I can’t say for sure. Anyway, that’s a very imperfect West Coast shorthand. Each island has a flavor and each district has a flavor and each town has a flavor.
The farmer’s market in Hilo is fantastic. The smells and sounds brought me back to a place I didn’t know I had forgotten. I was fortunate to be here on a Saturday when the local canoe clubs were having a big regatta – and one of the things I love about Big Island is that when families go to the beach, they really go…they bring huge tents and electricity and even one guy with a lazy boy recliner. I wanted to take a picture but he was just so comfortable and I didn’t want to intrude on that.
I drove down to Volcano and checked out the show Madam Pele is putting on. Fantastic. At night the spectable is extraordinary – but I didn’t really want to hang out. I’ve walked the lava fields before, poked pennies into the lava, and melted my shoes as well as seeing the nighttime wonders. This time, I just wanted to be there and then to move on.
It’s nice that I’ve been here before – I feel no pressure to do anything. I strolled through the Queen Lilioukalani Gardens and walked out to Coconut Island. I wandered through downtown and had a fantastic plate of Hawai’ian food at Hawai’ian Style Cafe – it’s been a while since I had laulau, poi,lomi-lomi salmon, long rice soup, or poke that was that good. I walked through Hilo leaving my rental car at the hotel and going miles and miles and miles. I browsed the bookstores and antique shops, bought a delicious cardamom muffin, and just soaked it in. Then I sat on the lanai at my hotel, looked at the water, and just breathed.
This morning, on Father’s Day, I counted my blessings. Being my daughter’s daddy is the best thing that this world has ever given me. I am so blessed. Then, I got a text from her thanking me for this privilege!
The Big Island is beautiful. There is no question about the stunning beauty, the abundance of beautiful birds and the wonders of nature. Akaka Falls and the Hamakua Coast, the majestic volcano mountains of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and the wonderous sense of space. Being on the Big Island again was like meeting a girl you were crazy about but never really got to know very well a decade after you had both moved on with life. The Big Island is pregnant with possibilities. And, there are also some very real dangers.
The first that comes to mind is Rapid Ohia Death – this is a relatively new phenomenon where a form of Ceratocystis fimbriata – a root fungus is killing the large Ohia trees all over the island.
The Ohia tree (aka Ohia Lehua or sometimes just as Lehua thought that is usually the word used for the flower) is endemic to Hawai’i and is often one of the first plants to grow on lava – it is a tree closely associated with the volcano goddess Pele. I should point out that endemic means that a species developed here and is not found in nature anywhere else on the planet. There are five species of ohia that are endemic to Hawai’i. The Hawaiian islands are home to a great variety of endemic species because they are the most remote landmass on the planet and on the islands you can find nearly every climactic zone where life thrives from desert to tropical to temperate, etc. Unfortunately, the isolation in which speciation occurred made the unique species of these islands susceptable to disease and pressure from invasive species. A great many of the unique species of Hawai’i have gone extinct and a great many more are endangered. Many of the endangered species rely on the habitat created by the Ohia forests…so, in 2015 when huge swaths of Ohia began dying rapidly – there was panic. The fungus killing them has been identified, but the source of the fungus is unknown and a solution to the growing problem has not yet been discovered.
And of course, there are other Big Island dangers – volcanos, malaria, West Nile Virus, and other tropical mosquito borne pathogens.
The Big Island is bigger than all the other islands combined. I only saw a tiny portion of it on this trip, but it was enough to know that this place is precious. On my last morning on the Big Island (this trip) I drove North from Hilo to Hakalau Bay, I didn’t have time to hike or really dive in – I was just soaking in an impression. I stopped briefly at Akaka Falls and Kolekole State Park – I stopped to help a stranded motorist with a broken down car, but she was busy doing Facetime with her mom and said a tow-truck was on the way so I didn’t stick around. I just drove and enjoyed the driving.
I bought a plate lunch (to go) and then drove to the airport and returned my rental car. I did better on timing this go round – I was only one hour early for my flight but from Big Island to Oahu, I would have been fine with a half hour or maybe even 15 minutes. No wait, no line, no problem.
In 2008, I graduated from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, moved out of my apartment in Manoa, said goodbye to my sweet landlady Mrs. Arizumi and then I stayed in a Waikiki hotel before flying to Portland, Oregon for Christmas. From there I took trains across the USA, flew to Europe, took a ferry to Africa, hot air ballooned in Turkey, rode horses to the pyramids, hitchiked into the Korean DMZ, hitchhiked and walked across Canada, sailed in the Aegean, got married in the Sahara, emigrated to California with a foreign wife and child, started and sold an antique shop and a newspaper in Oregon, went through the citizenship process with my wife as she became a naturalized citizen, and then after nine years of being away, I came home and got things ready to bring my wife and child back to Oahu.
It was the completion of my trip around the world. I arrived back on Oahu in June of 2017. I rented a car, and then I drove to the SGI culture center on the Nuuanu Pali Highway where I chanted Nam Myoho Renghe Kyo in gratitude for returning home and the completion of my adventure. After that I drove to Kailua on the windward side of the island and went directly to Ninja Sushi where I ordered the meal that I’d thought about constantly but not had since 2008. A Shogun Dunburi from Ninja Sushi.
It was as delicious as I remembered. The years had not magnified it. I was not disappointed. I ate every bite.
There were lots of new expensive houses. I had thought that perhaps I would move my family to Kailua when I brought them to Oahu a few weeks later – but Kailua seemed to have moved out of our economic range – for the moment. Still, I stopped at my favorite beach park and bodysurfed a dozen waves before sitting on the sand and staring out at the Mokulua Islands in rapture.
I looked through Kailua a bit noting that Kimo’s Surf Hut still survived but had been moved because a shopping center had gone up filling that block. Daiea – the Korean Superstore had disappeared – replaced by Target and Safeway. Other loved businesses had also disappeared…but there were new ones. Then I drove around the South Shore of the Island with Hawaiian myth, story, legend, geography, and more flooding into my brain. All that I used to share as a tour guide started to return as I passed Pele’s chair, Rabbit Island, Makapu’u, and Koko head. I was hit hard with memories of my epic walk around the perimeter of Oahu as I saw familiar stones, heaiau, and landscapes. I drove to Waikiki, remembering the traffic, the roads, and the feel. One sad note – I saw far fewer people stopping to let pedestrians cross traffic than I used to. Especially in Kailua where people seemed surprised as I let them cross and an impatient driver even honked at me. My hotel, the Waikiki Ambassador was a fake internet bargain. Comfy bed and pillows but a concrete box with 1980s furniture and no real comfort. It was on the opposite end of Waikiki from where I began at the hotel named for deposed Queen Liliuokalani.
I drove to Waikiki and paid my respects to Duke Kahanamoku and then went up to Manoa and visited Mrs. Arizumi and her daughter Clare and her little dog Choo-choo. Mrs. Arizumi must be near a hundred now – maybe older, I don’t know. She is still sweet and I was hugged and welcomed back like a part of their Ohana. After that I returned to Waikiki and took a long walk. Being a person who doesn’t enjoy crowds or shopping, I shouldn’t love Waikiki, but I do. My whole heart does. This is home. As I stood by a favorite Niu next to the jetty I leaned against it and I swear this old coconut tree was happy to feel me leaning against it again. The waves were welcoming me home and the sunset kissed me and welcomed me home. Yes, I was home and after looking all over the world – I know for certain that Hawai’i is the best place in it. This adventure had come to an end.
And then, on that day, a new adventure began. Home is where the heart is. My heart is always here on Oahu.
This was a very fun day which I am reposting from a decade ago back on July 3, 2008. The photos were taken with my old Motorola Razor.
Total time: About 3.5 hours Total $: About $25 including lunch, groceries, and snacks. Total value: Priceless…check out the pictures if you don’t believe me.
It was just myself and my friend Antje and everyone else really missed out. We met up at the “Bad Ass Coffee Company” at the Aloha Tower Marketplace. Actually, Antje thought I meant the bad “ass coffee” company so she first went to Starbucks…an easy mistake. Anyway we took the elevator to the top of the Aloha Tower after a completely worthless search of our bags by the security guard. He has probably been sitting at that desk since the tower was built in 1926, but if we had been carrying anything bad, he certainly would have missed it in his minimal search. The signs describing the scenic wonders at the top of the tower were more than a little out of date. Nice views though.
From there we walked up Nuuanu stream where we had to hop a couple of fences and do some scrambling to get into the stream bed. Lot’s of old Chinese guys playing cards and homeless people sleeping along the way. We roughed it down the stream doing a lot of rock hopping and seeing frogs, fish, and birds along the way. We emerged in Chinatown at the Kuan Yin Temple and paid a short visit. After that another visit to what I thought I remembered being a taoist temple but that is now a shinto temple (maybe it always was).
Next was a visit to the Chinese Cultural Plaza where there were old men playing Chinese fiddles, mohawked kids in squeaky shoes, and surprisingly nimble old ladies teaching gum chomping little girls how to do traditional Chinese dance. A nice place to eat some dried mango and drink young coconut juice.
We walked into Chinatown proper and browsed some shops, looking at old buildings, and cruising the open markets where there was a bewildering variety of fish and vegetables…not to mention more than a few cockroaches. Don’t worry though, i still bought lots of dirt cheap groceries.
Next we browsed through more shops and ate the award winning food at Little Village. MMMMM!
Finally, a walk back to the tower and farewells until the next time.