As the taxi took us along rugged, gravelly roads, winding around fields of sharp looking grass, and dense bushes and weeds, I wondered where was the Hawaiii of Don Ho and Paul Page? Not present were, swaying palm trees, gentle blue green oceans, soft warm sand cushioning my pink, pampered Haole feet, these “sure things” I came from Chicago to enjoy, seemed somehow…not here.
The cab, with a less than talkative, extremely large Samoan guy popped the trunk and nodded, “out”, without saying any words.
Granted the only reason I was here was my girl friend at the time had won two round trip tickets to anywhere in the US and my cousin Jennifer and Jason were living here, on the island of Oahu. Jason in Kailua and Jennifer was in Hauula. We were staying in Hauula.
On a tiny inlet, Jennifer’s A-frame styled house was crammed next to two other houses with decks facing the ocean side. Why with all this land and forest did they need to jam 3 residences right next to each other… it was beyond me? BUT when you stood on the deck and saw the unobstructed, view of the limitless ocean you really didn’t care. Mahalo!
These three homes were rented out to “high ranking” military folks…Jennifer was a doctor and top of her class so here in one of the “cottages” is where she stayed with two other doctors. I quickly realized things would be pretty quiet out here since these doctors worked all the time and were rarely ever home except to shower, sleep, eat a quick meal and get back to Trippler Military Hospital. The Trip, which I called it, was the largest military hospital in the Asian-Pacific Rim…the medico’s were busy.
Jennifer broke away one night to take us to a local hot spot. I tired poi at Ono’s a famous restaurant where many locals came for traditional Hawaiian cuisine, I wanted to like the poi and impress my waitress…but this was not the case. I had to admit the combo platter with Kalua Pig, Lomi salmon, and some other stuff in little bowls took a lot of rice and chili sauce for me to really choke it down. Ironically, years later that Kalua Pig on some cheesy nachos is one of my favorite meals…that’s why I’ll never be Ohana…it’s ok, I’ve made peace with the haole status. Just because you fall in love with a place and keep going back doesn’t make you a local. I’ve always been an outsider who loves to be around the insiders. I don’t really mind being the lone wolf.
In the Pacific Islands family is everything…your riches are your family- and I love that even thought in that department I’m an outsider too.
Chinatown is alway my favorite. Whether Chicago, San Francisco or Honolulu. It is mystical, slightly forbidden, sometimes shadowy and seedy or suddenly opulent and ostentatious. Glamorous, maze like, foreign and fully functional- there always seems to be something cool to look at, eat or be a part of in Chinatown. From Japanese sushi to Chineese Dim Sum, to Bob Chin’s…that’s the fancy stuff. You have to wander and find your spots. You will feel out of place, lost and possibly stupid, but if you can get over yourself…you will get to witness markets and moments that tell you a story of a lifetime in an afternoon, stare into the jade lions eyes…you will find answers.
For me it took me many visits to “get Oahu”. It was not the land of false fairy tales even though those stories were lovely and what brought me here originally. If you don’t get the people, you don’t get the island. Once I really listened, slowed down, shut up and allowed the islands to rule the roost and me not be the ugly mainlander with my loud demands and restrictions…it was like a quiet smiling wind took me under its wing and allowed me not to be eaten by a big shark that passed me by twice! We’ll get to that. Fast forward. My brother moves to Oahu and my cousins move back to the mainland.
My brother is a pop culture vulture like me. Although we compliment one another because he always knows the inside scoop to the part of the story I’m searching for…and…I can fill him in on the other half. His big guy status opens doors for him. He’s 6”7 and charming so folks like him. I have a Midler-esque quality which I have come to accept and appreciate, so islanders find me curious.
I love the Hukilau Cafe. It’s not fancy and get your buns though the door before 2p.m. or no macadamia nut pancakes for you! The owner is cool, you can tell she knows everything that’s going on. She’s strong and hard working and her food is great…bacon crispy, no problem. Don’t rush her, you are a visitor and this is her home, so be good, eat and get to the beach.
Malaekahana Beach is one of my fav’s. I think it’s gotten more well known since I started going there- pick up some poke at the Kahuku Superette with the other Hawaiian guys for lunch…nice sizes and ready to travel, just bring a cooler.
There's a bunch of cool little beaches that from the road don’t look like much but on the weekends everyone goes to these beach’s and pitches a tent, there are public rest rooms and folks park and camp out and have a good time. As one local explained, “we live where you come to vacation, we don’t need to travel.” It’s true, most Hawaiian’s want to stay in Hawaii. Unlike me from Indiana, who couldn’t wait to move to Chicago, the Big City or travel the world…many Hawaiian’s have all they need right on their island, if they’d only be allowed to just have their island.
The longer I studied islands and their cultures, one very similar thread linked all of them. They just wanted to be… to live simply in their own ways and it worked for centuries until the pesky white guys came in and fucked it all up. Stop getting offended…facts are facts. We brought SPAM, disease, inappropriate clothing, forced their religions down the toilet and then wondered why they didn’t thank us. All I can do, being the pale face I am, is try and be thankful and respectful and feel really lucky that they don’t throw me in the ocean and use my body for chum.
Ok…my shark stories.
No great shakes except for my psyche when both times I realized I could have been shark sushi.
Remember that beautiful little inlet at my cousins. The third day of my visit I woke up early to watch the sun come up, I’d made a pot of delicious Kona coffee, extra strong and it had made me extra hyper even in the blazing hot sun. There was no air conditioning in the house so I hurriedly pulled my bathing suit over my sweaty body and made a run for the ocean. The sweet cool waves bathed me in refreshing kisses and I let myself swim out a little farther then I probably should of, I noticed pretty close by one of those sharp pointy metal things was tethered in the water. I think somewhere I’d heard they were there to protect US shores in WWII from hiding battle ships, that could moor in the little inlet and then sneak attack our ships.
As I treaded water and watched the sharp edge wander I thought better of swimming that far out and decide to make my way back in for some breakfast.
I later shared my story with my cousin, finally asking, “do you want to swim out to those tethered pylons with me, I bet there’d be some cool snorkeling out there.”
She looked at me befuddled, “what pylons? Tethered where? The only thing out that far are sharks, supposedly there’s safety nets, but there’s no way I’m swimming that far out.”
I gulped, “whaaa?”
“Thank God you didn’t swim out that far…my roomie who’s out of town, sometimes scuba dives out there…he’s got some underwater video. Sharks aren’t just a theory…that’s their stomping grounds.”
I looked at her thinking she was pulling my leg, “but what about the tethered pylons.”
“How much did you have to drink the other night?” She raised her eyebrows.
Yeah, I was pretty tanked.
In my second brush with the “mano” or some may call JAWS, coffee was also part of the story.
Years later, I was staying in my favorite condo’s on the ocean at Pat’s of Punululu- literally I woke up in bed looking at the ocean unobstructed. It was dreamy. I made my coffee and hustled down to the beach, only two old folks were hanging out the rest of the expanse was deserted, except for one lone snorkeler, who had what I call a Midwest Tan, in other words as pale as milk and ready for a blistering sun burn. He was chubby and his trucks were neon Ocean Pacific circa 1980’s beachwear. All I could do was shake my head at his fashion fax pas.
I jumped into the on coming wave and wanted to squeal, it was cold! After paddling and breath stroking up and down the beach a bit, the chill came back and I decided to get out.
Chattering up to my big beach blanket, I bundled up on a lawn chair next to my stuff and cracked open my travel mug of steaming Big Bruddah’s coffee. Ohhhh so good! Then I saw it, a turtle, finally a turtle! It popped its head out of the water like a submarine's periscope and then as I fumbled to get my phone and take a picture, but before I could get a photo it shot off with such speed it boggled the mind. Until I saw the huge stealth shadow swimming under the water going after the turtle. It was at least eight feet long and before I could yell to the snorkeler it was gone. Now, the water I had been swimming in was only a bit above my boobs and I’m five feet nine inches and I was on my tippie toes. Maybe it wasn’t a shark. They wouldn’t come in that shallow of water…would they?
That night at dinner I shared my story with my sister-in-law who works for Hawaii’s national parks. “I’m sure it was my imagination,” I laughed, over a big bowl of spaghetti.
“I’m sure it was,” she replied. “Less than a mile from where you are staying we had to shut down the beach because a dead whale drifted in and got stuck on a reef and there was a shark feeding frenzy. I’m sure your shark got done pigging out and decided he needed some turtle on the half shell for dessert!”
We all laughed, but I was done swimming at the beach for the rest of my trip.
You may be wondering what’s the big build up to this story…where’s it going Cally. I’ll tell ya where…to a very quiet place, called my soul.
I am by nature restless, loud, funny, hyper and always have something cooking, metaphorically but when I’m in Hawaii I can shut the hell up and just be. I literally can sit for hours and stare out at the endless ocean, the soaring mountains that seem to have a low song that vibrates out to me and holds me captive. I don’t need to clutter up the air with my conversation…all I want to do is just be with this special island that allowed me to come visit and be its friend even if it’s only for a little while. I think this is what heaven must be like, maybe that’s why the Hawaiians are such a happy people.