Thoughts of a Suicidal Diver – Skydiving On Oahu’s North Shore

This was my first post on Vagobond back in 2005. Hard to believe how long it’s already been. I’ve added the short story I wrote to the end of the post but I can’t seem to find the picture of me and my friend Lena who took the dive together on Oahu’s North Shore. This day has been on my mind a lot recently because of the tragic plane crash a few days ago that took the lives of eleven people.

Man…that was so cool. It hardly feels real. The climb to altitude in the Cessna. The moment of going out the door of the plane. The freefall..man oh man…the freefall was awesome. Below is the link to the company I went with. Totally fukn cool man. I highly recommend it and I will definitely go again. Hawaii Sky Diving. 

Skydive Oahu
I wrote the little blurb below about the experience but I didn’t include it in the original post….my tandem diver told me how depressed he was before we jumped. I’ve never figured out if he was just messing with me or if I narrowly dodged a bullet. The night before had been his 50th birthday and he was unhappy at the turns of his life. Still single, no kids, and generally unhappy. He smelled like alcohol still. We were the last out of the plane and the first on the ground – meaning we pulled the rip cord way after everyone else….

 

 

A Suicidal Skydive Instructor’s Stream of Consciousness

That’s crazy. I would never do that. Somewhat disturbing to think about what it would be like to do it though. It wouldn’t really be hard. I mean, it wouldn’t haunt me because I would be dead. Right? I mean, that’s what it is.

But to not pull the cord. The strength it will take to not pull the ripcord. To not choose life at the last moment. There really can’t be much more difficult than that. I have my doubts about whether I could really do it.

Fuck, I’m late. Fuck it, today will be my 1000th dive. Cool. Shit. Gotta go. I’m sick of working. Sick of having to be anywhere. I’m fifty and I don’t have anyone who gives a shit about me. No wife, no family, no kids. My life will only get worse from here on .

It’s a cool job though. I do have that going. I’ve got to be there, but it’s pretty cool. I just hate strapping myself to strangers and pretending to feel the thrill of their first airplane jump as if it is my first time too. Life is most difficult when you are insincere. Suddenly the world begins to appear as full of shit as you are. I really wonder if I could do it.

The Road to Hana – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Beautiful, Crowded, and Dangerous! Gallery

 

Road to Hana Maui

(Scroll down for my gallery of photos from the Road to Hana)

The Road to Hana – also known as the Hana Highway is Routes 36 and 360 along the East side of Maui. It connects the towns of Kahalui, Paia, and Hana. The destination is not the purpose of taking this trip, literally, you are there to experience the road. There are 59 bridges (most of them one way) and with stops you should count on a minimum of 8-hours round trip. The highway was opened in 1926 and fully paved during the 1960s.

In the early 2000’s on Maui,  I took my rental car the rest of the way from Hana to Ulupalakua Ranch. This route is even more treacherous than the main Road to Hana. I considered doing it this time but when I heard one baby boomer in a Mustang recommending it to another baby boomer in a Jeep, I decided it was a better idea to take the Road to Hana back – surprisingly – we saw very little traffic on the way back – so my assumption is that a majority of people are now taking the so called ‘road less travelled’ (which, if true, makes it the road more travelled).

The Good
The Road to Hana is one of those fantasy trips that people dream about doing. Sixty two miles with more than 620 turns and a natural treasure around every bend. Waterfalls, black sand beaches, green sand beaches, red sand beaches – tropical forest, more waterfalls, hikes to such amazingly named places as the ‘Seven Sacred Pools’. There are absolutely breathtaking views along the way with climbs along the coast up to as high as 4200 feet. Some essential stopping points are Ho’okipa Lookout, Twin Falls, Kaumahina State Wayside Park, Honomanu Bay, Ke’anae Arboretum, Wailua Valley (and falls), Upper Waikani Falls (the three bears), Pua’ Kaa State Wayside, Hanawi Falls, Wai’anapanapa State Park, Kahanu Botanical Gardens, and the Nahiku Marketplace (which, while priced for tourists, still offers some delicious lunch options).

The Road to Hana is beautiful and there are many places worth stopping along the way – if you can find a parking spot. Going past Hana to Kipahulu and Ohe’o Gulch is essential.

The Bad
You can break your budget with mediocre roadside attractions along the way. A good example is the lovely but overpriced ‘Garden of Eden’ -a beautiful botanical garden that charges $15 per person to have a walk in the jungle, buy bird food to feed their birds, and shop in their gallery. Personally, my recommendation is to pass this one as the free botanical gardens, parks, and trails along the way offer everything you can get here (and more).

It’s hard to get a photo at any of the attractions along the way without a whole bunch of tourists (like us) in the background. Patience is the key here. If you are dreaming of being alone in beautiful and remote tropical areas – the Road to Hana is not your destination. Parking at the trailheads, beachparks, and attractions along the way is also a problem – at one point, I felt like I was jockeying for a space at the Iwilei Costco on Oahu (not a recommended experience).

Everything on the Road to Hana is priced at the highest possible amount. This is a well defined tourist route and you are paying tourist prices at every point.

The Ugly
I’d driven the Road to Hana a couple of times in the past. Once in 2005 and again in 2007. This was more treacherous than either of those trips. The problem was the constant stream of rented Ford Mustangs and Jeep Wranglers going in both directions – intersperced with pissed off locals trying to get home or someplace else and willing to make insane passing maneuvers when the Mustangs and Wranglers didn’t pull over to make way.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m sympathetic to both groups. After all, we live on Oahu and are visiting Maui – we were a little bit of both tourist and local, but both groups were engaging in some shitty behaviour. While most of the tourists used the pull outs to let groups of 3 or more cars go past – all it took was one jerk living out his jeep fantasy while holding his GoPro over the t-top who refused to pull over and left a line of ten or more cars behind him to ruin it for everyone. Also, while most of the locals patiently waited for a safe opportunity to pass – there always seemed to be at least one aggressive teenager in an oversized Tonka truck that was willing to play chicken with oncoming cars and endanger everyone. I lost count after the six or seventh near miss – but that was fairly early in the day.

Peace of Maui – Old School Upcountry Maui Living – Peaceful Maui B&B

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

I can understand why some people want to come to Maui and stay in the beach resorts in Kapalua, Kaanapali, or Kihei. Maui has beautiful beaches, great snorkeling, and some real high end resort experiences. That’s just not what we are looking for when we come to Maui.

We live on Oahu so we get plenty of beaches, resorts, and tourist activities. For us, the reason to come to Maui is to enjoy a break from tourism, the city, and the grind of traffic and city life on a resort island. We come to Maui to experience more of a simple Hawaii. The kind of Hawaii where you can look up at the stars at night, shower outside under a wealth of flowers, and wake up to birds, deer, and the sounds of nature.

Our go to place for all of that is Peace of Maui, an upcountry B&B located near the Maui cowboy town of Makawao. Peace of Maui is definitely not a resort. If you are looking for five star accommodations, this isn’t the place for you. If you are looking for golfing, beach umbrellas, and early morning swims – this isn’t the place for you. If you are looking for waiters and valets and bellboys and concierge – this isn’t the place for you. You need to know this before you book – you are not booking a luxury vacation at Peace of Maui.

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

What you are booking is a chance to enjoy the simple things on Maui. Peace of Maui is hard to classify. B&B might be closest, but from my experience – it’s more like a hostel for grown-ups with private rooms, laid back vibes, and a do-it-yourself ethos that works for those who (like us) don’t really want to stay in a resort that could be in Los Angeles, Miami, Honolulu, the Philippines, Australia, or dozens of other beach destinations. Peace of Maui gives you the chance to stay someplace that is uniquely and totally Hawaii and Maui.

There are no private bathrooms or kitchen unless you rent the cottage. We rented the Hibiscus room, a classic plantation style shack with unobstructed views of Haleakala. The bathrooms are in the main lodge (there are three of them for all rooms to share as well as two indoor showers and an outdoor shower that was near us in the Hibiscus Room.). We had a queen bed, a pullout single bed, a mini-fridge and a dresser. Nothing fancy but comfy beds and pillows, clean sheets, and a locking door.

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

Peace of Maui sits on a couple of acres and is surrounded by grasslands at the base of Haleakala. The shared kitchen is reminiscent of youth hostels with each room getting a cupboard and a section of the main refrigerator. The owners, Tammi and Mika live above the main lodge. Their two dogs Ranger and Awahi wander the property freely. There is an outdoor patio area near the kitchen and then a bigger outdoor patio near where we stayed with a hot tub, the outdoor shower, fire pits, and plenty of sitting areas. Mika is building an outdoor kitchen in this area too.

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

It should probably be noted, that the owners are Christians and there is a fair amount of Christian material around – be it the artwork, the embroidered towels, or the religious tracts – that being said, at no point was there any sort of conversation regarding religion or anything like that. I mention this because if you are for some reason ‘anti-religion’ or ‘anti-Christian’ this might put you off. We are not Christians and weren’t bothered by any of it, but I know some people have stronger views about his sort of thing. To be honest, I probably would not have booked if this had been obvious on the website – and if that had been the case, we would have missed out on a spectacular place. We really loved it!

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

The only reasons we had to go into the main house were to get access to the wifi (it doesn’t reach the Hibiscus Room), use the kitchen, and use the toilets. If there had been an outdoor composting toilet, an outdoor kitchen, and a stronger wifi signal – we would not have needed to go into the house at all. I suspect that all those things are coming. In any event, it’s nearly perfect as it is. Our interactions with other guests took place on the outdoor patio or in the kitchen. We swapped notes on going out the Road to Hana or going up Haleakala and generally interacted a bit less intimately than if we had been in a hostel but a bit more intimately than if we had been in a resort – just right for my tastes at this point in life.

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

Peace of Maui is perfectly located for all of your adventures on Maui. Just ten miles from the airport and an easy drive into Paia or Makawao, not far from the farms of Kula and the Haleakala Highway, close to the starting point of the Road to Hana and far enough away from Kihei and Lahaina to be peaceful, but close enough to be convenient. It’s about a 30-minute drive to the Maui Ocean Center, Lahaina, or down to Kihei.

Rooms start at the astoundingly reasonable rate of $115 per night and the cottage starts at $250 per night. This is a small place with limited capacity, so be sure to book early. Make your reservations at www.peaceofmaui.com

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

The view of Haleakala from the patio each morning where I drank my coffee.

Maui Ocean Center – The Best Aquarium in Hawaii

Maui Ocean Center

I don’t want fans of the Waikiki Aquarium to get up in arms here – I love that place, but the difference between the Waikiki Aquarium and the Maui Ocean Center is like the difference between community college and university – and that’s all the comparing of the two I will do. The truth is that families traveling with kids will love both places. First let me give a little background.

Maui Ocean Center

The Maui Ocean Center opened in 1998 with the mission of respectfully educating and sharing the treasures of the Pacific Ocean as well as educating about and sharing many aspects of Hawaiian culture with visitors. At just over twenty years old, it’s a relatively new attraction in Hawaii, but already one of the best with more than sixty exhibits, a 750,000 gallon living reef aquarium, and the awesome 3-D encounter with humpback whales.

Maui Ocean Center

We arrived on Maui several hours before we could check in to our room at Peace of Hawaii and this was the perfect first destination.  My wife was deeply immersed in the important exhibit on Kaho’olawe, the Hawaiian island that the US Navy bombed into an uninhabitable wasteland. This was one of the most important of the inhabited islands to the Hawaiian people’s culture and yet somehow, some military genius decided that using it as a bombing range was a good idea – thankfully, Kaho’olawe is making a slow recovery thanks to the hard work and bravery of activists and preservationists.

Maui Ocean Center

Our 7-year-old loved the Turtle Lagoon, the touching tide pool,  and the living reef exhibit. Of course, seeing the sharks and rays and walking through the shark tunnel was a thrill for all of us. The 3-D whale encounter in the sphere was good but felt like it was a little bit short, which is probably a sign that we enjoyed it. 3-D technology is catching up quickly and I’m not sure how long this will still be amazing to anyone – but at the moment, it’s still well worth doing.

Maui Ocean Center

The Maui Ocean Center is open every day from 9am to 5pm. Admission is $35 for adults and $25 for kids ($34.95 and $24.95 +tax, so who are we trying to kid here?) It’s a bit steep in my opinion, but then admission to everything is expensive these days and the value here is quite good. Military and kama’aina get a 35% discount with valid ID.

Maui Ocean Center

The Maui Ocean Center is located at Ma’alaea Harbor on the West Side of Maui. From the airport it’s an easy 15-20 minute drive.

Reflections on Maui – A Decade Ago and More

When I first came to Maui, sometime in the early 2000’s – I was in awe. I’d grown up hearing about Maui – mostly in terms of Maui Wowee – but also about the beauty, how it was place the stars gathered, and one of the most spiritual places on the planet.

My first time here (because I’m here again as I write this) was a budget trip just to see the place. I stayed in hostels, hitchhiked around, swam, drank, smoked my first Maui Wowee and seriously felt the vibe. I don’t have pictures from that trip because I didn’t have a camera and in those days, there were no cameras on phones – but in fact, I didn’t have a phone at that point either.

However, it pretty much felt like this picture. It was awesome.

Maui hippie surfers

The next trip was totally different. Troubled relationship, four star resort, great food and wine, luxury experience but with personal and money issues. It felt more like this picture:

Unhappy rich guy on Maui

Then, there was a trip where I was working as a driver – taking PGA golfers on tours and to their tee times. I was a servant and I hated it – though there were moments like when one of them generously bought me a $150 Kobe Beef hamburger at the end of the Road to Hana.  That one felt more like this picture:

Maui Driver

After that, I had one trip where I stayed a couple of nights in Lahaina before going to Lanai. That one was a little bit like the first trip but without the carefree – more like I was looking for the carefree but still carrying all my cares. That trip felt like this:

Maui Lahaina Jump

Now, back again and I have to admit – Maui is a great reflector of what you are feeling in your life. It’s a bit like a magic mirror. I’ll be writing about Maui and the adventures and experiences I find here this time around – I’ll try to keep it to the facts and try to understand that what I experience here is still likely a reflection of my own inner experience – at the moment – it feels a bit like this picture – So far, so good!

Maui 2019

Hotels vs. Hostels vs. Couchsurfing vs. Vacation Rentals – Where to stay when you travel!

Enjoying travel is easy. The hard part is making sure everything works.

Kahala Mandarin ResortIn terms of accommodation, it comes down to 1) figuring out how to get where you want to go and 2) figuring out where to stay when you get there. Sure, there are other factors like finding the money to travel, what to eat, how to stay in your budget, and of course the biggest challenge for those not born with a magic ticket passport – getting the visas.

But, by and large I would say that transport and accommodation are the two biggest challenges. What are the relative merits of a few types of places you might consider staying.

First of all hostels – I’m not a huge fan of hostels now that I’m no longer in my twenties,  but, for people who aren’t like me, there might actually be some very good reasons to stay in hostels. Here are just a few – hostels are great places to meet people, hostels are sometimes cheaper than a hotel (but not always), and hostels can be good places to find cheap tours, activities, etc.  My personal recommendation is to avoid the dorms and get a private room – even if it means finding a new friend at the hostel and sharing a private the next days you are there.  A private room at a  hostel is probably the best value and you don’t have to deal with inconsiderate, crazy, or drunk dorm-mates. Here’s another but though- if you are going to get a private room at a hostel, have a look at hotels nearby because you have a pretty good chance of getting a more comfortable room for the same or less money at a one or two star hotel and sometimes even the three stars can surprise you. Don’t assume that hostels are the cheapest option because often they are more expensive than a nicer room somewhere else.
As far as hotels go – there are really a few different types of accommodation that fall under that category.

Polynesian Hostel Beach ClubBed and Breakfasts are essentially hostels for grown ups as they generally have common areas where guests can converge (for breakfast for example) and more personalized service than a hotel – this can, in some cases, be annoying if you just want to have a place to sleep and be left alone by other guests and staff but most people find it to be pretty nice. The staff and owners at good B&Bs are generally interested in who you are and getting to know you…if you don’t want that, just get a hotel.

Guesthouses are along the same lines but without the interest in you from staff. You may or may not have breakfast or common areas – these can range from a lakeside house in Koycegiez, Turkey to a Dar or Riad in the Fes Medina – to me, a guesthouse is characterized by a host who lives in the house or somewhere nearby and is available to answer questions or help arrange activities, transport etc.

Vacation Rental Vacation rentals are a mixed bag. This could be an extra room in a family house or a whole property dedicated to being rented out on a short term basis. These days, you can find vacation rentals  that fit with everything else that is described in this article from a spare couch or van parked in someone’s driveway to a luxury home with a butler and private chef.

Motels are places you can drive your car to and park. Motor + Hotel – In South Korea, they tend to be places where you can get some loving with a special someone (either that you just met or who you already know – up to you) and they also tend to be much cheaper than hotels. They call them Love Motels for a reason. In the USA, these are hotels that are along motorways, highways, and freeways. I grew up staying in motels since my dad was a musician early in my childhood..

Hotels are places generally in cities where visitors can stay. Service tends to be detached, professional, and standardized. A managerial staff usually runs the hotel rather than the owner of the property. This is your best bet for privacy, comfort, amenities, and location. Hotels are rated by stars, but there are many hotels that have never been rated that offer exceptional value. Many that have been rated degrade over time or fail to provide the standards you would expect. In general – no stars means it has not been rated, 1 star means basic room with toilet and shower, 2 star means the room has additional comfort features (like shower gel and soap, daily cleaning etc)  and the property may offer food or drink, 3 stars means that there are additional features like telephone, television, hair dryer, extra pillows or blankets etc.  It also means the hotel likely has a complaint system in place and works hard to make guests comfortable and happy.  4 stars brings you additional comforts like a bathrobe and slippers, minibar, room service, couch and/or upholstered chair, patios, cosmetic products, etc. And finally, the 5 stars (or five diamond) hotel brings you fresh flowers in the rooms, welcoming drinks, personalized service, shoe shining, ironing service and everything else you can imagine in terms of comfort and service.

WaikikiFinally, a resort is a hotel in a specific setting usually with shops, restaurants, activities and much of what you could want on holiday all in one location. Examples would be Hilton Hawaiian Village on Oahu, Hawaii ; Disney Resorts; or Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore.

So, which is the best hotel? As with most things in life- it depends. The star or diamond system is a great general guide but in many cases hotels don’t live up to the stars they have or far exceed them. For my money, a three star hotel that aspires to four stars is the best thing going.  Or – a hotel that hasn’t yet been rated that aspires to four or five stars. The worst? A four or five star hotel that is living on it’s reputation from long ago – these are the kinds of places that charge you for internet access or have terrible expensive restaurants in the lobby.  If you are just looking for a bed and a place to stash your bag – a one or two star will usually give you the same or better accommodation and rates than a hostel private room. Even if they are one star, they value it and want to keep it- a hostel doesn’t have stars and won’t get them – although in some cities I’ve seen hostels that behave as if they are five stars while giving less than one star treatment.

Brussells CouchbsurfingA final note on what used to be my favorite means of making friends and learning about new places. Couchsurfing. For a while Couchsurfing was an amazing underground way of finding free accommodation and making new friends. Then it became more mainstream. Then it tried to monetize itself like AirBnB had done. Then it all fell apart. I’ve tried to use it over the last seven years and found it to be more trouble than it is worth. However, it may still be worth it if you can figure out how to make it work.

I need to emphasize  this – you can’t really put couchsurfing on the same level as hotels, hostels, or motels.  First of all, you aren’t paying with money. You are, however, paying with a guest/host relationship that has responsibilities.  If you are going to couchsurf but don’t want to interact or spend time with the hosts – you shouldn’t couchsurf. Often, your hosts will provide you with experiences you wouldn’t find elsewhere, but never forget that couchsurfing is about friendship. Would you call your friend in a different city and say “I’ll be arriving on the 5th at 10 pm, please have my room ready. I’ll work all day the 6th so you won’t see me and then I’ll leave on the morning of hte 7th at 6 am. Can you arrange transport?”

If you would do that, I’m guessing you have no friends. I certainly don’t want a friend like that and neither do couchsurfing hosts.  Couchsurfing can provide you with all kinds of levels of comfort from filthy, stinky, sketchy drug shacks to mansions and villas with private gyms and saunas.  It depends on the host. The reason they are hosting is because they want to know you and become friends – if you don’t have the time or desire for that – don’t couchsurf.

Banzai Pipeline – The World’s Most Famous Wave

Surfing OahuHidden just beyond the tiny sign that announces ‘Ehukai Beach Park’ is one of the world’s most iconic and undoubtedly the most famous surfing break in the world – Banzai Pipeline, variously known as ‘Pipeline’ or ‘The Pipe’. The wave itself is ancient but the name only goes back to 1961 when three California surfers stopped to film Phil Edwards riding a magnificent wave next to an underground pipeline construction project. The name stuck and in 1963 surf rock band, The Chantays, titled their pumping tune ‘Pipeline’ which cemented the name in place forever.

The beach had been known as Ehukai which means ‘sea-spray’ in Hawaiian for a long time. After World War II, locals began referring to the beach there as  Banzai Beach – Banzai was the word that Japanese kamikaze pilots shouted before crashing their zero fighters into enemy targets.  Both names come because of the fact that during winter, waves can reach as high as 30 feet (nearly 10 meters) high.

Banzai PipelinePipeline is a reef break. It’s a flat table top reef that has jagged spires and canyons. Waves travel thousands of miles from where they are generated by storms in Alaska or Japan and the first land they hit is the gently sloping undersea mountains of the Hawaii-Meiji Seamount Chain – which, hen it breaks the surface – becomes the Islands of Hawaii. The water is already being pushed upward when it hits the reef at Pipeline, but the sudden presence of the reef causes a dramatic upswell which is often preserved to amazing heights by the offshore winds blowing from land.

There are actually four surf breaks at Pipeline. There is Pipeline itself which is a left, then there is Backdoors which is a right – and when big water is coming in – there are the second and third reefs outside (further out). Pipeline is one of the most deadly waves in the world and there have been many deaths and injuries there. Imagine the damage from being in a swimming pool where the bottom is covered with broken glass – and then having another swimming pool dumped on top of you. That is roughly equivalent to being crushed by a huge wave at Pipeline.

Banzai PipelineThere have been many movies shot at Pipeline – perhaps the most famous was Blue Crush. Each one of the jewels of the Triple Crown of surf happens here – The Pipeline Masters.

The craziest thing about Pipeline is that in summer, it can be as smooth and calm as a lake and a perfect place to swim and relax in the water – jus watch out for the currents.

 

 

 

 

Saturday Farmer’s Market at Kapiolani Community College on Oahu

KCC Farmer's MarketKapiolani Community College on Oahu has a weekly farmer’s market that is a world class destination. It’s crazy, it’s crowded, it’s fun and it is DELICIOUS!  This weekly event is sponsored by the Hawai’i Farm Bureau and goes on rain or shine. If you are a Farm Bureau member, you get in early from 7:00-7:30 and can avoid the crowds. 

First of all – there is plenty of farm fresh produce – but don’t make the mistake of thinking that is all there is. There are food stalls that serve plenty of delicious foods from crepes to burgers to ‘Loco Moco’ to jumbo wild shrimp. The prices for produce are reasonable and for everything else – about what you would expect in Hawai’i, meaning you aren’t going to fill your belly for five bucks.

KCC Farmer's MarketStrolling through the market provides plenty of opportunities for people watching. In fact, you can see people from pretty much all over the world. China, Japan, Australia, Europe, North America, South America, India – it’s a global marketplace. There are usually local musicians out and plenty of culinary wonders that do a great job of demonstrating just how diverse and eclectic Oahu’s food scene is.

Give yourself a couple of hours to explore and eat and enjoy and while you are there, don’t miss the desert botanical garden nearby. It’s filled with some beauties!

Getting to KCC is easy, it’s on the back side of Diamond Head near the entrance to the crater, right across the street in fact. You can get a taxi, a bus, an Uber or a Lyft from Waikiki for just a couple of bucks. There is plenty of parking so if you have a car, driving is an option. Don’t forget to bring your own reusable shopping bags!

The KCC Farmers Market takes place in Parking Lot C at Kapiʻolani Community College  (4303 Diamond Head Rd.) every Saturday morning from 7:30-11:30. It’s free and has no entrance fee. 

Chinaman’s Hat – Oahu’s Politically Incorrect but Scenic Micro Island

Chinaman's HatAs you head up to the North Shore of Oahu on the Windward Side of the island, you will come to one of Hawaii’s most iconic landmarks. The little ‘sorting hat’ shaped island offshore from Kualoa Ranch has one of the least politically correct names in the U.S.A – Chinaman’s Hat. Okay, it’s not that bad and truth be told, there is a valid reason for the name.

The Windward Side of Oahu was heavily settled by Chinese immigrants who came to work in the sugar cane industry but then chose to stay and start their own farms. When the Chinese arrived, the island had a different name, but the locals who were already in place, noticed right away that their little island looked an awful lot like the wide conical sun hats the Chinese brought with them.

Rather than starting to call the hats ‘Mokoli’i hats’ – which may have happened at some point – the locals instead started referring to Mokoli’i as Chinaman’s Hat. There are some lovely stories and plenty of artwork that show a giant Chinese farmer living under the hat – with big catfish like Fu Manchu whiskers.

Chinaman's HatThe Hawaiian name for the island, Mokoli’i, means little lizard. There are some great folktales about it as well. My favorite of them has the sister of Madam Pele, being harassed by the lizard, who fell in love with her and wouldn’t leave her alone. Unable to get her suitor to leave her alone, she killed him and then picked him up and threw him up to Kualoa where he landed. His head and back are formed by the Kualoa Mountain and the tail falls into the water where just the tip of it pokes out.

Chinaman’s Hat is a popular destination for pictures. The water is nice but there is a lot of reef and coral and not much sand. Visiting the island is best done by kayak but it can be swam or snorkeled to. One word of caution if you plan to do that – this is a tiger shark breeding area – so pay attention to the signs and conditions.

Once you reach the island, there is a short 20 minute hike that will take you to the tip of the hat.

Waimea Valley Botanical Garden and Waimea Falls Hike on Oahu’s North Shore

Waimea Valley Waterfall Hike Oahu North ShoreIf you are coming to Oahu in the hopes of swimming in a waterfall, learning about the ancient Hawaiian culture, and seeing unique and beautiful endemic and indigenous plants and animals – plus doing a bit of hiking and enjoying beautiful gardens and tropical flowers – then you should probably head straight to Waimea Valley and Waimea Falls on the North Shore of Oahu.

This stunning 1800 acre park has one of Oahu’s most beautiful waterfall hikes, historical sites, reconstructed and preserved archaeological sites, botanical gardens filled with indigenous plants and native birds, as well as a wealth of friendly and knowledgable employees and educational displays.

At $16 per person – this is probably one of the most affordable and enjoyable activities on Oahu. There is a 1.5 mile round trip hike on a gently sloping paved path that leads to the falls. At the falls, swimmers are required to wear provided life vests and there are life guards stationed to assist if you get in trouble. Along the path there are plenty of side trails that will take you to hidden parts of the valley – or you can stick to the trail and explore the many educational displays along the way.

Waimea Valley Waterfall Hike Oahu North ShoreIn the visitor center there are frequent educational activities, a lovely gift shop, a good restaurant and always clean restrooms (as well as free wi-fi which you may need since there is no cell service in the valley). On Saturdays, the Pupukea farmers market is a fun and lively event with live music, plenty of great food, and a beautiful open lawn to picnic on.  The visitor center also hosts weddings and parties as well as concerts.

There is a great luau which takes place in Waimea Valley.

This valley was one of the main settlements of Oahu in ancient times and it is filled with rich archaeological sites. It was evacuated in 1893 due to heavy flooding and never recovered. The valley is a sacred ahupua’a to the Hawaiian people – that’s a land division.

Waimea Valley Waterfall Hike Oahu North ShoreThere are 41 different gardens in the valley containing more than 5000 different plants. For many of my visitors, this is the most fulfilling and memorable part of their journey to Oahu. In addition, it may look familiar because there were quite a few movies and TV Shows shot in Waimea Valley including Lost, Hawaii 5-0, 50 First Dates, Joe vs. The Volcano – and many more.

Details

Adults: $16
Children (4-12 years): 8
Seniors (60 years and older): $12
Kama’aina/Military Adults (ID required): $10
Kama’aina/Military Children: $6
Kama’aina/Military Seniors: $8
Annual Pass Individual: $50
Annual Pass Family (2 adults and up to 4 children under the age of 12): $100

Hours:
Open daily from
Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Sharks Cove at Pupukea on Oahu, Hawaii – a Beautiful Snorkel Spot

Sharks Cove Pupukea Oahu HawaiiSnorkeling is one of the activities that visitors coming to Oahu, Hawaii or other tropical island destinations want to experience.  There’s nothing quite like stripping down to the bare essentials and lowering your body into water that feels just right and then swimming around with ease while marveling at the beauty and diversity of the undersea world.

Most visitors end up either snorkeling in Waikiki – which has some decent spots but in general isn’t all that great in most places, or they join the busloads of tourists and head to Hanauma Bay – which is a spectacular place to snorkel but has an entry fee, is always busy, and is closed on Tuesdays.

Personally, I prefer heading up to the North Shore and checking out Sharks Cove. Open daily every day (though sometimes closed due to high surf in winter), has a wide variety of fish and different levels of snorkeling suitable for beginner through expert, and finally – has great food trucks and a grocery store just across the street.

Sharks Cove Pupukea Oahu HawaiiThe protected areas inside the tall reef are a perfect place for beginner to intermediate snorkelers and for those with more experience you can go to the deeper portions where you will find caves, a wider variety of corals and fish, and more. Please be aware of the conditions and watch out for the ‘salt water waterfalls’ where big surf hits the exposed reef and washes down the inside.

Sharks Cove is part of a Marine Life Conservation District and so there is no fishing or spear fishing allowed. You’ll also see scuba divers going 15-25 feet deep to explore the many underwater caves in the area.

There are also many tide pools in the vicinity and a lovely, but small beach for those who don’t want to snorkel. A few notes –

  • Entering can be a bit tricky as there is sharp lava/reef throughout, you may want to wear water booties or reef shoes.
  • Reef extends up to and above the surface in areas – careful not to scrape your chest/belly
  • Kids need to be supervised – there are some tricky areas and places where the reef opens up to the open ocean, so don’t just turn them loose – this ain’t the hotel pool, Martha
  • Parking is limited, so it’s best to come early or late
  • If the surf is up, the visibility will be terrible and the conditions can be dangerous

Finally, I’ve never heard of anyone seeing a dangerous shark inside sharks cove, but there are some outside – so be aware. You might see some small white tipped sharks – but they are harmless, if thrilling. The reason it’s called Sharks Cove though is because the outline of the reef is said to resemble a shark – plus, it scares away some of the visitors!

Sharks Cove Pupukea Oahu Hawaii

The Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu – World’s Largest Open Air Shopping Mall

Ala MoanaWhether you live in Hawaii or you are visiting – one destination that you have to go to is the mall! I know that sounds funny in the age of brick and mortar retail dying out – but Ala Moana Shopping Center is much more than just a mall. It’s actually the largest open air shopping center in the world and it’s a place that both residents and visitors to Oahu love to go.

Ala Moana Shopping CenterIt’s hard to believe, but the land that Ala Moana now sits on was once a swamp. It was purchased from the Bishop Estate in 1912 by Walter Dillingham, a dredger with a dream. He filled the land with the dredgings from the Ala Wai Canal and Pearl Harbor.  His son, Lowell, took the next step – getting the ball rolling on construction of the mall in 1957 and opening in 1959 – the same year Hawaii became a state. At the time it was the largest shopping mall in the United States. Today it is still the ninth largest in the USA and the largest open air mall in the world with nearly 2.4 million square feet of retail space. There are well over 300 stores, restaurants, and vendors in Ala Moana – among them Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and all of the many luxury brands you can think of as well as Target, Ross, and other discount stores. Food courts, stages, entertainment venues, and the Shirokiya Japanese marketplace – a large Japanese street food themed food court with cheap beer and delicious food.

Ala Moana Shopping Center

Getting to Ala Moana is easy – it’s between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki and sits between Ala Moana Boulevard and Kapiolani Boulevard. It is mauka (mountain direction) from Ala Moana beach park. Parking is plentiful. Ala Moana is a huge part of local life here in Honolulu – malls may be dying everywhere else, but not in Hawaii.

Ala Moana Shopping Center

Visiting the Battleship Missouri at Pearl Harbor

Battleship Missouri High on the list of many visitors to Honolulu, Hawaii is the chance to visit the USS Missouri, the last of the great American battleships – which is permanently anchored as an attraction at Pearl Harbor as part of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

The ‘Mighty Mo’  was the last American battleship commissioned (1944) and the last of the great ships to be decommissioned (1992). The ship still serves, but now it is as a monument to those who have served on American Navy ships.

To get to the Missouri, you will first need to go to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center where you can purchase a ticket if you haven’t already bought one online. The entire complex contains the Missouri,  USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. From the visitor center you will take a military operated bus to Ford Island.

Don’t be surprised by the size of the ship. It is huge! At more than 18 stories tall from top to bottom and over three football fields long, be ready to climb lots of stairs and do lots of walking- there are elevators available for those who are mobility challenged.

Battleship Missouri

The ship is kept in a state of what seems perpetual readiness and the smell of diesel fuel and paint is strong wherever you go. The passageways, galleys, and chambers on the ship feel ghostly alive with the sounds of the crew that no longer serves on board, recorded in the past and piped in on speakers in the present. Most of the ship feels as if you have arrived just as the crew is taking a break and has gone elsewhere – it’s eerie to look into the empty medical offices, machine shops, galleys, berths, mess halls, and quarters and not find a soul there (except for other tourists)

The Missouri is most famous as the site where the formal Japanese surrender happened. That and the site where  Japanese kamikaze pilot smashed into the ship are both memorialized. The kamikaze display below decks, where the faces and final letters of the young men who committed suicide by smashing their planes into American ships is perhaps the most disturbing of the many museum displays on board the ship. It’s important to remember the high cost of war while you visit this huge machine of death – World War II killed an estimated 88 million people of which as many as 55 million were children, women, senior citizens and other civilians and non-combatents.

Battleship Missouri

Battleship Missouri

If you are not a patriotic American or a true fan of war machines or history, the first part of the tour can be a bit rough. You are required to take a docent guided tour where patriotism and gushing anthropomorphic descriptions of the ship are shared from a well memorized script. This portion can run from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the tour you book and your guide’s enthusiasm The guides always refer to the big ship as ‘her’ or ‘she’. After the guided portion, you can wander through the ship at your leisure – watch your head and don’t trip as you crouch through the hatchways.

There are two tours available – the standard guided tour (Mighty Mo) – which shows you the main decks and the nearly three times as long ‘Heart of the Missouri’ which takes you to below decks and through some of the museums and displays.

 

Battleship Missouri

As with most attractions in Hawaii, Kamaʻāina and military members with photo I.D. get discounted prices. Visitors cannot bring purses, backpacks or bags into the entire complex. There is bag storage available or just leave it behind.

Battleship Missouri

 

The Valor in the Pacific Memorial and Pearl Harbor Historic Sites are located at

1 Arizona Memorial Place Honolulu, HI 96818

Open daily. 8 am- 4 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day

There are many ver official looking sites that offer tours and tickets, but this is the only truly official website for the sites. https://ussmissouri.org/buy-tickets

Happy May Day! A Short History of Labor in Hawaii

Shrimp Trucks OahuHawaii has a long history of exploiting labor of the many for the profit of the few. In the days before European contact, the common people, the maka’aina worked the taro patches and fishponds for the chiefly class – the ali’i. And yet, despite the feudal nature of this relationship between worker and master – the labor was not exploited. There was no hunger unless there was famine and no one was left out in the ancient Hawaiian society. The ali’i used their power to take care of the land and provide for the people – it wasn’t perfect but the average Hawaiian needed to work only 4 hours per day to get everything they needed to live and took 4 months off for the festival of makahiki when warfare and work were replaced with celebrations and games.

The exploitation I refer to came after contact. Missionaries established small farms and plantations. The Hawaiian system of responsibility of those controlling the land towards those living on it disappeared and was replaced with the exploitive practice of bosses and workers.

North Shore Soap FactoryWorkers were brought in for nearly a century – waves of migrant workers brought from places where no language was shared and put against each other – the ruthless exploitation of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Filipino, Puerto Rican, and other workers was brutal and violent. It was not chattel slavery, but the so called ‘contract labor’ was just a step above it. In some cases wives of some workers were sold to other laborers – stolen from their families and given to others. This was the basis of the vast fortunes of the upper classes in Hawai’i.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that labor in Hawai’i began to organize. The 6-month longshore workers strike of 1949 crippled the Hawaiian economy and turned the tide in favor of workers. For three decades, workers fought bosses to establish fair wages and better treatment. By the 1980s, sugar had become a still hard job but one that provided a living family wage where a worker could buy a house, raise children, send them to college, and retire.

WaipahuIt was then that sugar and large agriculture pulled out of Hawaii – they reversed the victories of the workers and left the Hawaiian economy completely. In less than a decade, big agriculture had left the Hawaiian islands and gone to where labor was less powerful and workers could still be exploited for big profits. The Hawaiian economy was left in a shambles.

Today, tourism has replaced agriculture. Gone are the days when workers could afford to buy a home, send kids to college or retire. Instead, the children of those sugar workers now work as I-9 wage slaves to avoid employers having to give benefits, they work as low paid cleaning and maintenance people, they work as underpaid waiters, drivers, guides, bartenders, or desk clerks. The bulk of most of their wages don’t come from the employer, but from the tipping customer. While there have been some small victories with tourism wages (the big hotel strike in 2018) – mostly, workers have lost. Those who have money have always been fine in Hawaii. Those who do not either move away or become homeless eventually.

Workers in Hawai’i – regardless of industry generally earn 10% less than they would in an equivalent mainland city. They generally pay at least 10% more for rent, food, gas and everything else. Hawaii is paradise – but you only get to enjoy it if you are wealthy, subsidized by the military, visiting for a short time – or if you’ve given up on making it in the capitalist system and have decided to live the life of a homeless person in paradise.

 

City and County of Honolulu – Many Neighborhoods, Towns, and Cities As One

Honolulu, Hawaii is an incredibly diverse place to live. With more than a dozen languages spoken by significant communities, a wide diversity of religions, and a culture that spans the globe. When you consider the fact that Honolulu is not just a city but actually a combined entity of the City and County of Honolulu all run from as jurisdiction with one mayor, one city council, and one police force – it really changes the way Honolulu looks both geographically and demographically.

Neighborhoods and towns on OahuOver the past year, I’ve written a large number of posts that detail the different neighborhoods, cities and towns of Honolulu – which includes the entire island of Oahu. I have not included the outer islands that are part of Honolulu City and County which stretch all the way up to Midway Island but not including it (or Johnston Atoll). Thousands of uninhabited little islands, atolls, reefs, etc are included but since they have no people, they have no neighborhoods. This post is an attempt to share all of those neighborhood articles in a bit of an orderly way. My purpose in writing these articles has been so that I can share more than just the names when I write about places, activities, attractions, restaurants, or beaches on Oahu.

Neighborhoods in ‘Town’ include those places formally inside the metro city limits. East Honolulu goes from Diamond Head to Koko Head. Windward Side stretches from Waimanalo up to Kahuku on the east side of Oahu. North Shore is from Kuhuku to Mokuleia. Leeward is the ‘West Side’ and goes from Yokohama Bay down to Ko’olina. Central Oahu includes areas from Ko’olina to Salt Lake and all the towns upwards to Wahiawa in the center of Oahu between the two mountain ranges of Ko’olau and Waianae.

I’ve combined some areas that made sense to me and have yet to write about some neighborhoods like Chinatown, Ala Moana, Black Point, Portlock, Kalihi, Moili’ili, Waipio, Barber’s Point, Nu’uanu and the many many many Military Bases and Housing Complexes on the Island.

Neighborhoods in ‘Town’

Downtown Honolulu Financial District and Fort Street Mall

Historic District

Chinatown

Makikiki, Punchbowl, and Tantalus

Waikiki

Diamond Head

Kaimuki

Kaka’ako

Salt Lake and Moanalua

Honolulu International Airport

University of Hawaii and Manoa

East Honolulu

Kahala

Aina Haina and Hawaii Kai

Kokohead

Windward Side

Waimanalo Beach

Waimanalo Town

Kailua

Lanikai

Kaneohe

Kahalu’u, Ka’a’awa, Punalu’u

Laie

Kuhuku and Hau’ula

Central Oahu

Pearl City, Aiea, Waimalu

Wahiawa and Mililani

Waipahu

Kapolei and Ewa

North Shore

Waialua

Haleiwa

Waimea, Pupukea, Sunset Beach

West Side (Leeward Coast)

Ko’olina and Makakilo

Waianae, Makaha and Nanakuli

Central Oahu Neighborhoods of Wahiawa and Mililani

Wahiawa and MillaniTowards the center of Oahu you have two communities that sit higher than anywhere else on Oahu because they are on the central plain between the Ko’olau and Waianae Mountain Ranges. Mililani which is mauka (mountain direction from beach) of Pearl City and Waipahu and Wahiawa which sits in just about the exact middle of Oahu.

Mililani Town

Mililani has about 50,000 residents split between Mililani Town and Mililani Mauka – split by the H-2 freeway. It is a planned residential community that sits on former plantation lands. It was designed by famed architect Al Boeke and the first homes were sold relatively recently in 1968. You won’t find any historic landmarks in Mililani from the colonial or territorial periods. Mililani is literally an ‘all American’ suburb town that is the only place in Hawaii to ever win the official designation of ‘All American Town’. In 2005 it was designated as one of the best places to live in the USA by Money magazine. Tourists and visitors will find little to no reason to visit Mililani.

In Hawaiian, Mililani means beloved place of chiefs and that may be true because as the third wealthiest town/neighborhood on Oahu – there are definitely some chiefs living there. Wahiawa, on the other hand, means ‘place of noise’ which is funny because it is one of the quietest places on the island – which might actually be the point because in Wahiawa, you don’t hear the roar of the ocean and so the noise of the wind, birds, and the land itself is probably the loudest.

Wahiawa sits closest to the middle of Oahu. For Hawaiians, this made it a place of power. It is the ‘piko’ or bellybutton of this island. The town was a sacred place for Hawaiian people it is where healers trained in pre-European contact Hawaii. It is where high ranking women would choose to give birth. It is a sacred and powerful place where there was a significant population of Hawaii’s third gender, the ‘mahu’ were centered.

Wahiawa, Hawaii

Today, Wahiawa is a bit of a pit – a typical military town surrounded by bases and military housing. You will find no shortage of fast food, pawnshops, payday loans, furniture rentals, and tattoo shops there along the main strip through town – though – in recent years, residents have made an attempt to clean the town up and are finding some success. Surfer’s Coffee Bar and the surrounding businesses are clean, interesting, and make a nice stop on the trip from North Shore to Oahu. Some decent restaurants have set up shop in Wahiawa. And if you get off the main drag – you will find the free, beautiful, and very well kept Wahiawa Botanical Gardens.

Wahiawa Botanical Garden

Wahiawa has a population of about 18,000 people. The surrounding military bases of Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Field both have significantly larger populations than the town. South of Wahiawa you find Mililani and north of it you find Hale’iwa. Just to the North of Wahia’wa are the Kukaniloko Birth Stones, Green World Coffee Plantation, and the Dole Plantation.

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