Pearl Harbor is close to the airport so we decided to tour it just after we landed and picked up our rental car. Valor in the Pacific National Park is an extremely well done park containing artifacts and thorough explanations of local and world events that occurred before, during and after the attack. The exhibits didn’t appear to whitewash any historical facts including the racist internment of loyal American citizens of Japanese descent.
Our digs on Oahu were perched high above the city with an amazing view of downtown as well as Diamond Head.
We savored our terrific night-time views as well.
Oahu is the most populous island. On it resides Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital and its most populated city; a vibrant metropolis replete with rush hour traffic and an occasional aggressive driver. None of this detracted from the stunning beauty of this tropical paradise island. Topographically, it is dominated by two volcanic mountain chains that run parallel along the northwest orientation of the tectonic plate’s path, an alluvial plain saddled in between.
The iconic Diamond Head, symbol of Hawaii and Waikiki beach, turned out to be a big surprise. It’s actually a crater of a dormant volcano.
To get to the summit requires driving through a tunnel in the side of the crater and parking in the caldera. The hike goes up the inside of the highest point of the crater which, from the outside, makes up the famous image seen from Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach.
Being back in the US meant some comfortability in being a citizen and knowing the lay and law of the land. But I recognized some things that I was uncomfortable with, as well.
Public restrooms are typically dirty and not well maintained. If there is toilet paper in the restroom, it may be as trash strewn across the floor; and the seats are often very dirty.
While driving on the road, there are scenic outlooks with a chance to pull over and stop but despite an abundance of fantastic scenery, I sometimes found that I’d pulled off the highway to find an obstructed view or a scene that was just not that pretty.
States like Hawaii draw a lot of people who move there for the wonderful weather and then find that it’s incredibly difficult to make a living wage. Only hundreds of yards from stores like Louis Vuitton and Coach sits Waikiki Beach where there are people who set up mattresses to sleep at nighttime. Near the same spot on Waikiki, I saw a guy pull an ice cream cup out of the garbage, look inside, take a whiff and then start eating what was left over. The ice cream cup probably smelled better than him. To be fair, comparisons only make sense in the context of other developed western nations so these were my points of reference or comparison as I returned home.
Hanauma Bay is without question the premier place to snorkel on Oahu. The bay features a beautiful white sand beach and a reef filled with one of the most diverse environments. It was also a volcano tens of thousands of years ago, the southeast wall eroding over time thereby creating the bay.
We went for a hike to Manoa Falls. It was unexpectedly crowded perhaps because it was one of President Obama’s favorite hikes when he lived there.
After we reaching the falls we continued on another trail which took us up to a ridge where we were able to catch a great view.
There’s political tension I noticed while on the Big Island. Hawaii was an internationally recognized monarchy until deposed by a coup that was engineered by American business interests and backed by the American government in 1893. This led to the annexation of Hawaii five years later and statehood in 1959. (I think it can be said that the natives were royally screwed–or screwed royalty). There is a faction of Hawaiians who want this reversed, though, unlike their New Zealand Maori cousins, there is no consensus or even much political agreement within the native community to move with solidarity. I was surprised to learn that Hawaiians don’t possess the same status as Native Americans. This is at least a partial result of enough Hawaiians not thinking of themselves as Americans but rather descendents of the former monarchy. Perhaps this is also complicated by the lack of documented blood lines and contributed by the historical decimation of about 90% of the original Hawaiian population by diseases brought by foreigners.
There is a spirit in Hawaii that generates a truly exceptional friendliness: the Aloha spirit. It is one of the things that makes Hawaii so special. The most common meanings of Aloha are a greeting, a farewell or a salutation. It’s also commonly used to mean love. Literally, it means “divine breath” and is an acknowledgment of a divine presence that resides inside and outside of people.
We planned our trip so that it was flexible enough to come and go when we felt like we were ready. That wasn’t always possible and we left Hawaii wishing we’d spent more time there.