The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii

There are few places that can inspire awe and contemplation as those where important historical events – and thousands of human deaths – took place. Pearl Harbor, once the jewel of the Hawaiian Islands – a protected harbor with many streams flowing into it and oyster beds that some say produced the most beautiful pearls in the world – then the catalyst for the overthrow of an ally and eventually a different jewel – the showplace of American military power in the Pacific Ocean – ships and planes lined up on display to deter an enemy from thinking they could attack – and then – the unthinkable – on the morning of December 7th, 1941 – the United States learned never to underestimate an enemy, to never forget to look upwards, and the cost was so high that the nation still bears the scars.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a triumph for the Japanese – a total success with the exception of two factors – the aircraft carriers were not there by a lucky quirk of fate and the Japanese did not destroy the fuel reserves on the hillsides – which would have crippled American naval power. The United States was brought into World War II by this attack – awakened from a nationalist and isolationist period of navel gazing while the world fell into chaos. The warnings were there, but the USA never saw it coming. There are many lessons that could be taken from this with direct relevance today…but the beauty and power of the memorial are such that the only way to truly feel it – is to visit.

The Pearl Harbor Visitors Center is open from 7 am to 5pm every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Admission is free to the visitor center and also to the USS Arizona Memorial which involves watching a powerful film and then a US Navy launch to the memorial itself.  With 4000 daily visitors, tickets go fast – so it’s not a bad idea to reserve them online through recreation.gov. Any other site you reserve through online is a private tour company. Recreation.gov will charge you $1.

The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center was opened to the public in 2010 as part of the newly-designated World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. The new visitor center has welcomed millions of tourists from all over the world just as the old visitor center did for decades.. The center was built to further enhance the visitors’ Pearl Harbor Tour experience.
Admission to the visitor center is free and within the grounds you will find two free museums, a comtemplation garden, and the Remembrance Circle along with the anchor of the USS Arizona, the statue of the Lone Sailor, and the other Valor in the Pacific Attractions – the USS Missouri Tour, The Pacific Aviation Museum, and the USS Bowfin Submarine and Submarine Museum.  The free museums on site are named ‘Road to War’ and ‘Attack’ and detail the events leading to the war and then the attack itself. The Attack museum has a twenty-three minute documentary as well as artifacts, memorabilia, and historic timelines.
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center works in partnership with the National Park Services and Pacific Historic Parks as well as the United States Navy. The memorial itself was built in 1962 by Honolulu Architect Alfred Preis over the top of the sunken USS Arizona Battleship where 1177 sailors lost their lives on that fateful morning.

Visiting the Kamaka Ukulele Factory – A Family Business with 101 years of Experience in Hawaii Ukuleles

The Kamaka Ukulele is the gold standard in fine ukulele quality and there is a reason for that. The Kamaka family has been making the best ukes in the world since 1916 when Honolulu resident Sam Kamaka Sr began making the instruments in his Kaimuki basement. Since then the Hawaiian ukulele has made it’s way around the world in the hands of celebrities, musicians, comics, vaudeville stars, visitors, and Hawaii residents. Four generations of the Kamaka family have kept the Kamaka Ukulele factory running with the guiding principle of quality first.

Sam Sr and his two sons Fred Sr and Sam Jr are all three inductees into the Ukulele Hall of Fame. The elder Sam was the inventor of the ‘pineapple’ ukulele – it was 1918 and he just liked the idea of making the body a little more round – turns out it made the sound a little more rich. Sam Kamaka Sr. said to his sons, “If you make instruments and use the family name…don’t make junk,” and lucky for all of us, they listened. Fred Kamaka Sr and his brother Sam Kamaka, Jr –  still run the Kamaka Ukulele Factory where  twenty-five employees – mostly family members – continue to make the world’s best ukes.. The factory produces a maximum of 17 ukes per day…

As a long time ukulele fan, it was awesome to get to meet Fred Sr. (And Fred Jr.) and get to talk story with them and learn about the history of my favorite istrument…the true Hawaiian Ukulele.  I also met Sam Jr’s son Chris Kamaka. He is the quality control officer and rejects one out of every five ukes produced in the factory because of inferior grain, sound defects, or other imperfections that would be invisible to the rest of us.

If you would like to visit the Kamaka Ukulele factory and meet some of the family, see how these beautiful instruments are made, and maybe even learn how to play a simple tune – it’s still possible. The factory, located in downtown Honlulu near Kaka’ako is open several days a week. 

Matsumoto Shave Ice – Matsumoto General Store on Oahu’s North Shore

If you ask any child in Hawai’i what they want for dessert or a treat – chances are you are going to hear most of them say the same thing- shave ice.

That’s shave ice, not shaved ice because Hawaiian language doesn’t have a ‘D’ in it and our local language ‘pidgin’ officially known as Hawaiian Creole – also tends to leave the ‘d’s off words. It just flows better to say “Like get shave ice?” Instead of the mainland haole version of “Would you like to have some shaved ice?” Right?

The number one shave ice place in Hawaii is up in the little surf town of Hale’iwa. Matsumoto General Store. Back in the 1950s, Hale’iwa was more about sugar cane production than surfing and while there was a hotel (the upscale Hale’iwa Hotel) where people could come to see the ‘country’ of Oahu, mostly it was a place where people worked, went to church, went to school, and just lived. The Matsumoto General Store was a local Japanese owned place where residents could buy grocieries, toiletries, gas, and whatever else they might need.

In 1956, Momoru and Helen Matsumoto made a decision that would change the store forever. They bought a little hand cranked shave-ice maker from Japan. The Japanese had been shaving snow-fine ice to provide treats for nearly a thousand years. Momoru figured it would be a nice treat on hot days. Stanley, the son of Momoru and Helen, was five-years-old when it arrived. According to him it was the first shave ice machine in Hawai’i. The Matsumotos decided to create a different shave-ice experience than that of the Japanese.

For starters, they decided to take tropical Hawaiian flavors and mix them with sweet sugar cane syrup as well as going with the more traditional berry flavors. Soon there were pineapple, lilikoi, coconut, and mango shave ice syrups. Later they put ice cream on the bottom (which might be the most genius decision ever made in regards to shave ice). The ice cream keeps the ice from melting as quickly and absorbs the syrups as the ice above is eaten. Later still they decided to bind the flavors with a ‘snow cap’ topping of sweetened condensed milk. Other innovations included the addition of sweet azuki beans, mochi, and fresh fruit. The classic Matsumoto Shave Ice is vanilla ice cream, ice, three flavors, and the snow cap. Pick your favorite flavors or just go for the rainbow – strawberry, banana, pineapple.

Little Stanley grew up and took over the operation in 1976. At the time the North Shore was booming with surfers, tourists, and development. Matsumotos moved out of the grocery business and became almost 100% shave ice. It continued this way until the early 2000s when the building was remodeled and they brought back t-shirts, souvenirs, and country store items.

The Matsumoto Shave Ice is famous all over the world. When you get there, the line will probably be long – but don’t worry – Stanley has streamlined the process and local teens will make your shave ice with expert precision in a very short time. While you are standing in line, don’t be surprised if Stanley (usually wearing a t-shirt with a cartoon version of himself on it) comes over and starts talking story with you. He’s seen his family store and the entire North Shore change over time – but the shave ice – it’s still as good as it ever was. Maybe even better. Definitely ono.

Saturday Slideshow: I Love Honolulu – It’s Perfect – Even if it’s not Perfect

I love living in Honolulu. I work all the time and still don’t make enough money to pay all my expenses. I rarely have time to go to the beach. I have a smaller and much more expensive living space than I’ve had in a decade. I am stuck in my car looking for parking all the time. And still, I love living in Honolulu. There is no better place in the world as far as I’m concerned. Yes, it could be better, no it’s not perfect, yes, I run the risk of running out of money. It’s hard to explain…if these social and economic conditions, the crowding, the traffic, the expense, the need to work so much…if these conditions were somewhere else, I would be miserable, I would probably be suicidal – but here, I put a record of some goofy tiki-beach songs on or I step outside and see a rainbow or an old auntie crossing the road so slowly in her mumu that I end up being late for work or some gnarly looking truck driver just stops and tells me to go in violation to all traffic rules and common sense – or a homeless guy sitting in the median is playing his ukulele as I drive by or there is an art exhibit in city hall where the employees and their kids are the ones who have their art on display. I’m not kidding. I love living in Honolulu. It’s not easy – in fact, there’s nothing easy about it. Free time is hard to come by, it’s loud at night, the homeless make me cry, the zoo has gone downhill, the lines are long, the prices are insane, the beaches are crowded – and yet…there is no place like it in the world. I am so happy this city is my home.

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Flashback Friday: 2008 PhotoEssay: Urban Hiking in Hawaii – Chinatown Honolulu

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 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.

Sea Life Park – Oahu, Hawaii – Dolphins, Sea Lions, and Sharks – Oh My!

Sea Life Park on the island of Oahu in Hawaii is a must see destination for families with young children. We loved it. Open 7 days a week with tickets starting at $25 and offering reasonably priced specialty programs like dolphin encounters, educational programs, and more.

I grew up in California during the 1970s and 1980s. We went to zoos, circuses, wildlife safari parks, and rode around in the back of pick-up trucks when driving to huge water parks. We also went to Sea World and Marine World and as a child – there are few memories that can compare with watching a show with the Orcas Kandu and Shamu (not the original Shamu, but a different Shamu) – I know that the view on keeping whales and other animals in captivity has changed – and I get it – but those memories were profound and life changing. Wildlife parks of both the marine and land based types – gave me a deep love of animals and ecology. I’m happy that Sea Life Park, here on Oahu, offers me the chance to share that with my daughter. No, there are no whale shows – there is no Free Willy or Feel Bad situation, but there are dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, sharks and more. The entry fee is a very reasonable amount – and the shows were fun (even if a little hokey). Sea Life Park was a hit with us. Most importantly, our 6-year-old left with that same excitement I remembered from visiting those 1970s and 1980s California adventure parks.

 

Hawai’i is the True Center of the World


Travel is so easy in our world. People get on planes, they watch movies, eat, sleep, use the bathroom…and then they get off the plane and enjoy the next spot. Just chilling out as they fly through the air in reclining seats at hundreds of miles per hour.

Look at the map above. Hawai’i is that tiny set of dots in the very middle of the Pacific Ocean. We are further than everywhere than anywhere else on the planet. We are the most remote inhabited landmass in the world. We are, actually, the true center of the world.

The whole world comes here, the whole world knows about these tiny islands. The whole world dreams about this place. We have all religions, all languages, all people of all shapes, colors, and sizes. We are the world. The maps are wrong. They place us on the left or on the right or sometimes they don’t even put us on the map. Even the maps produced by the country we were incorporated into sometimes leave us off of them. The maps put a big snowfield on top – nobody lives there. Few dream of going there.

We are part Asian, part European, part African, part Australian, part American and a part of you -whether you know it or not. I believe that it’s time to stop listening to all the nonsense of the politicians and the flat-earthers and the people who don’t understand aloha.

Hawai’i belongs in the center of the map. It should be the capital of the world. Like the moon, it should not belong to one country. Hawai’i should be for everyone. From our beautiful beaches to our sacred mountain – which just happens to be the best window into the entire universe from this planet…

It’s time for Hawai’i to become free and independent – it’s time to give Hawai’i to the world. The United Nations should move from New York and the United States should move from Hawai’i. It’s time.

Top 5 Reasons Hawai’i is Still the Best Vacation Destination

A friend from Oregon told me “We keep thinking about taking a trip to Hawai’i but Cancun always wins because it just seems to be a better value for our money.”

I respect the fact that people have to get the most value for their money, but the truth is – there is nowhere that compares to Hawai’i for the vacation of a lifetime. Here are the top five reasons why Hawai’i is still the best vacation destination for anyone.

1) Hawai’i is safe. Violent crimes are extremely rare here. We do not have kindnappings, gang violence, or drug cartels to deal with here. Yes, your rental car may get broken into when you leave your purse in it and yes the cost of your hotel (and everything else) borders on the ridiculous – but unless you are acting like a drunken idiot – your chances of a violent encounter are close to zero.

2) Hawai’i is exotic. In Honolulu there are fifteen languages that are spoken on a daily basis by a large number of residents. (English, Mandarin, Japanese, Tongan, Fijian, Micronesian, Spanish, Portuguese, Samoan, Cantonese, Hawaiian, Pidgin, Korean, Visayan and Illongo) In addition there are many other smaller ethnic groups here which have vibrant communities. Hawai’i residents practice Christianity, Shinto, Taoism, Buddhism, and modern Native Hawaiian traditions. You can have Japenese food for breakfast, Korean for lunch, and Moroccan for dinner.

3) Hawai’i has volcanoes, tropical rain forest, great ocean beaches, and a healthy tourist infrastructure. It’s incredibly rare to hear horror stories from tourists who come to Hawai’i. In fact, I only have met one woman who didn’t enjoy Hawai’i and she said it was because she missed her swimming pool at home…so, not exactly a normal tourist.

4) Hawai’i is a part of the United States but not a part of North America. This means that for Americans, there are no visas, no changing money, no need to bring a language guide book, no extra vaccinations, and lots of the same protections they get at home. For international travelers – Hawai’i is a chance to experience the most unique culture in the American Empire.

5) Hawai’i has a rich history of war, conquest, betrayal, and colonization and a vibrant natural history that includes more endemic plant and bird species than anywhere else on the planet. Hawai’i is the most remote place on the planet and the species that made it here became different from those in every other place. It’s my belief that this is also true of the human culture here, though Americanization is destroying that uniqueness at an unbelievable rate.

10 Free Things to do in Honolulu

While I love being a world traveler, most of the time, I’m just happy to live in Hawaii and do the amazing things you can do for free here. Honolulu, the capital city, offers tons of free things to do. Here are my top 10 things to do for free in Honolulu

1) Hike to Manoa Falls and enjoy the tropical rainforest
2) Go to Ala Moana Beach Park for surfing, snorkeling, and sunbathing
3) Free night movies on the beach in Waikiki
4) Free Hula and Torchlighting every night in Waikiki
5) Walk through the historic district of Honolulu
6) Once a month First Friday Gallery Walk in Chinatown and Arts District
7) Eating a picnic lunch on the Iolani Palace grounds
8) Watching tourists hang leis on the statue of Duke Kahanamoku
9) Sunsets from Magic Island with a perfect view of surfers
10) Sledding down the big grass hills with local kids on cardboard boxes at Kakaoako Beach Park

Honolulu is probably one of the greatest cities in the world for incredible free activities. I could list hundreds, but these are the ten that make me smile at the moment.

Aloha World!

After several years off the internet – Vagobond is back.  I started Vagobond back in 2008 after graduating from the University of Hawaii. Vagobond and I travelled all over the world. I separate us because while I am Vagobond (aka Vago), Vagobond.com became something of it’s own. A community of writers, travellers, photographers, and friends. In 2016, amid massive internet wide hacks – Vagobond was hacked and infected with a huge number of viruses which were then being distributed outwards to the community we had built, new friends, and strangers. It was not good. So I made the decision to remove Vagobond.com from the internet for a while. During the time the site was offline, my family and I moved back to where it all began – the Hawaiian Islands also known throughout the world as paradise found.

I never really had the chance to share Hawaii with the world while I was travelling – I was too busy taking in and sharing the wonders of other places. So it seems fitting that now that I’m back home and Vagobond.com is back on the internet – that I start out sharing the only place that has ever felt like home to me.

E Komo Mai – Welcome to Vagobond. We will have many journeys together but for me, all things begin in Hawaii.