Hawaii 2004

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

 Following Mark Twain

First of all, it hasn't been my explicit purpose to visit all the places previously visited by Mark Twain. But he happened to cover lot's of territory and going to some place he haven't been to takes lot's of imagination. However this time I didn't strain myself with lot's thinking and decided to follow the common route - take a typical trip to Sandwich Isles.   Cook named them so, but not because they reminded him of ham on a roll. He must have been thinking about a hero. You see, he wasn't an ordinary Cook, but a Captain Cook, and he named the isles after his commander - Lord Sandwich (who made his way into history by being a relative of the inventor of the sandwiches...)   Do you find this story complicated? I do. Perhaps that's why nowadays we prefer to call these islands by their native name - Hawaii. I just thought you'll enjoy all this trivia - who could have thought that sandwiches were "invented"?   Although the story goes:

Chudak matematik v Anglii zhil
On hleb s kolbasoy sluchayno slozhil.
Zatem resul'tat polozhil sebe v rot -
Vot tak chelovek izobrel buterbrod

Professor of Math lived once in Britain
He added some ham to his roll, it was written.
Then the result was savagely bitten
That's how sandwich was invented by Briton


Well, I think I got too distracted by literary pursuits, I'd better return to classics, to the one and only Mark Twain. He visited Sandwiches aka Hawaii back in 1866, when Honolulu was a thriving town of 12,000. After spending 4 fun months there he always meant to return and stay on these "isles of the blest" for the rest of his life. But it didn't happen. He saw Hawaii one more time from the board of the ship, but because of some epidemics he couldn't disembark. In this respect I am more fortunate, because it will be already my second trip to the isles and hopefully I have many more happy returns in store. Aloha, see ya in 3 weeks,

Friday, January 09, 2004

  First day in Waikiki  

Aloha to everybody,

I intended to write a long story describing our first day in Waikiki, but jetlag has finally go me, I don't think I can type for much longer. I can only say that it's beautiful here. The weather is pleasantly warm and breezy. Ocean - 22 Celsius. I've overheard some locals complaining that it's too cold in winter... Well, I haven't noticed any winter here yet.

Tomorrow we have another long day waiting for us. Remember Lee from Nepal? She happens to be a resident of Oahu and tomorrow her husband and she are giving us private "around the island tour". And once it's over we must hop into taxi and rush to see Chinese circus - we managed to get the last two tickets of their last performance. It's always a good idea to browse local newspapers to see what's happening around the city!

Ok, off I go, my jetlag calls me home...


Saturday, January 10, 2004

  Big waves in Oahu  

As we are get more familiar with Oahu, one thing that I found peculiar is that the island never feels crowded, not even in Waikiki the epicenter of tourist activity. After a short walk along the shore we were able to find a beach which we had pretty much to ourselves. There are a million people on the island but locals still hunt wild pigs and goats in its jungle areas.
As my friends gave us a tour of the island, there was only one part of it were we saw many people - the North Shore. The traffic there was bumper to bumper for miles and crowds of Hawaiians lined up the shore to watch the unusually large waves. These islands are the origin of surfing and waves play important part in their culture. Big ones are traced for hundreds of miles in the ocean and their arrival is announced in all local media. Tonight they were expected to reach 20 feet by midnight, and on Tuesday another swell was expected with waves 40 feet high! Waves of this size happen here only once in every few years.

We didn't stay long enough to see any of these monsters, but those 15 footers that we saw were already sufficiently impressive. Especially as they were crushing against rocks and exploding in fountains of splashes, to the height of at least 5 store building! Big Water, as Hawaiians say.

Monday, January 12, 2004

  Ranger encounters 

I wrote these notes sitting on the beach, watching blue waves, pink clouds and weird birds with heads colored as the brightest shade of scarlet (red No.17?)
The accommodations on Kauai are expensive and not always located where we want them, so for the ultimate freedom and economy solution was to sleep on the beach. To make it happen instead of an usual small rental car we got an SUV and two pillows in Wal-Mart. Then we parked on a public beach with bathrooms and showers and voila! Our portable beachfront room with skylights is ready!

This is our hotel

At first it worked really well, especially as it started to rain heavily at night - hey, it's rainforest area! We were very glad that we didn't take the tent approach to camping.
However in our search for comfort and good deal, we totally forgot about the ancient Hawaiian "kapu" system.
You see early Hawaiians had very easy life. The land and ocean provided them with all the necessities without requiring them to put in much effort. However it is not in human nature to enjoy what comes easy and Hawaiians have invented an ingenious way to make their life more difficult - an elaborate system of random and usually meaningless restrictions called kapu (taboo). I.e. it was prohibited to climb certain mountains, touch certain things, cast shadow on the hut of the chief, etc...
To some extent this system has survived to this day, but now it's called Kauai County Civil Code and enforced not by early day shamans, but by cops.
At around 5am we were woken up by a ranger:

R: You can't camp here without permit
Me: We are not camping - we are only parking.
R: Then I'll cite you for "unlawful inhabitation in the vehicle"
Me (thinking): "Unlawful inhabitation of my own car"? Are you loading me with crap?
Me (saying): So what's better?
R: Well, the permit is $10 per night, the citation is $100
Me: Ok, we are camping
R: But to camp you need a tent
Me (thinking): Oh, now it occurred to you that we weren't camping?
Me (saying): What's teh difference? That way we take less space on the campground.
R: (shrugs his shoulders): It's tent only camping area. And you can't camp here, you need to camp over there (pointing to the parking lot about 60m away).
Me: But there were no sign that we can't camp here
R: Did you see the sign saying that you can camp. So we are even here.
Me (thinking); Yeah, but it's you who's harassing me at 5am
Me (saying): Here is $20. Can we have permit for the next night as well?
R: Ok, I can issue you a permit for this night and for the next one, but not for Tuesday - on Tuesdays this campground is closed.
Me (thinking): another dumb kapu
Me (saying): And where can I find the schedule of campground closures and get the permits?
R: In my office in Lihue
Me (thinking): Damn, it's the other side of the island!
R: Ok, here is the permit for 2 nights. You'll need to park over there. And you need a tent, but you'd better stay in the car, because tomorrow night it's going to rain again.
Me (speechless - trying to digest what he just said)
R (while leaving): We are only trying to protect you - we don't want you to get robbed.
Me (thinking): Oh, no! Not another load of BS! Are you saying that thieves will be delicate enough to check whether my permit is properly issued? What if they are illiterate?
Me (saying): Thank you!

So he left and finally left us at peace, didn't even asked us to re-park our car immediately. In the end it worked out exactly as it would in some 3rd world country. They also probably have tons of idiotic laws, but as long as you pay the cops you can do whatever you want. I like this particular aspect of the system.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

A night in wind tunnel 

Thursday night we spent in a hostel in Kapaa - a building of rather convoluted architecture located right on the beach. I think you can get some feel of how this building is designed if I describe the path from the parking lot to our dorm room. First you need to take a ramp to the 1st floor terrace, then you walk through another dorm room, into the hallway, then to the lobby/reception room, then you exit the building from the opposite side and walk one flight of stairs down. After that, to reenter the building you take another staircase up 2 flights, walk through the kitchen, take off you shoes and here you are!
Another unusual feature of this labyrinth structure is almost total lack of windows and in some cases of walls as well. The kitchen and "living room" are located on roofed terraces and the dorm, even though has wall and window frames, but doesn't have any windows in them. I am sure this open air design works great on a hot tropical day, but what we had that night was a major storm (perhaps the same one that was supposed to bring the giant waves to Oahu)
The building was filled with the howling wind like a wind tunnel pipe. You can get an idea of the strength of the "draft" by the fact that it overturned a table loaded with books which was previously standing by the wall.
Actually things were falling all the time, every few minutes we would hear a tremendous thud, followed by somebody's hysterical chuckle. It felt like if a cow from Twister just landed on the roof! Of course, in the morning we haven't found any beef. Only lot's of debris all over, the overturned furniture on terraces and one uprooted coconut tree that felt across the driveway, blocking our exit. Few quick-witted students lost no time to steal the coconuts - each taking as many as he or she could carry. Well, since we survived the night - it was very appropriate to think about the breakfast.
But what about those pour souls who stayed in tents, as the ranger suggested? I don't know - I've never seen them since. They must be gone with the wind. (For those of you, who don't know, tents make excellent sails or maybe even air balloons if the wind is that strong)

Windy morning

We are trapped!

Coconut thief

Friday, January 16, 2004

  Morning in a cabin 

7 am. I am in a forest cabin, woken up by the duet of a feral (wild) cat and a feral rooster. Actually these sounds, particularly those of roosters wake you up where ever you are on the island.
The legend says that during 1992 hurricane a chicken farm was destroyed and since then chicken spread around the island. Now, no matter where you go you can see flocks of them crossing the road. Zara jokes that Hawaii should have picked chicken as their state bird, if this honor hasn't been previously reserved by Kentucky.

We discovered this cabin yesterday by pure luck - I haven't read anything about it neither on internet, nor in any of the tour guides. Which is strange, because it's a true lodging gem. State run cabins, in the middle of Kokee state park trails, just a short walk to 5-star attractions - Kalualu (sp?) Cliffs and Waimea Canyon ("the Grand Canyon of the Pacific" - and indeed it looks similar) In addition to prime location they also come with electricity, fully equipped gas-powered kitchen, hot showers and wood stove. And they are very inexpensive too! Alas hot water run out even before I started my shower and we never managed to get the wood stove running - for some reason not only wood, but even paper refused to burn. But what's a big deal? Hey, it's Hawaii!
One caveat though, the "front desk" for those cabins closes early, at 5pm. We stumbled in at the last possible moment, as the "concierge" was about to leave. As I was filling the registration form, another two travelers walked in and speaking with some undefined European accent asked for room:
- Can we get a room?
- I just gave out the last one
- Can we stay on the campground?
  (campground is located only 100m away and is also run by the state -MM)
- Only if you have the permit
- Can we buy the permit here?
- No, you need to get it in Lihue.  But the office there is already closed.  (Not to mention that it's a 3hr roundtrip drive -MM)
- A look of utter disappointment on guys' faces

When we got to our "cabin" we found that it's actually a full blown 2-bedroom house. It had only 4 beds, but was capable to accomodate a small army. We would hve certainly offerred these guys one of the bedrooms, had we known that we have so much extra space.

Guess what we had for dinner?

BTW, speaking of permits, I tried to get them the "proper" way twice. The first time after spending at least 1/2 hour driving around and asking for directions we finally found the permits office. But it was already closed. They close at 4 and stop issuing permits at 3:30. The other day, as we were passing through Lihue we stopped in this office again. But it happened to be camping permit office for state run campgrounds which are numbered 2 and on that day they were issuing permits only to one of them, which wasn't located were we wanted to go. Permits for county run campgrounds must be obtained in the County Permit Office, which is located in another building. After we made few loops around the town unsuccessfully looking for "another" building, Zara said that being woken up at 5am by a ranger starts to look like a better option.

One would think that all these bureaucratic obstacles were created to prevent campgrounds from overcrowding. But, no, ever campground we saw so far was practically empty, not filled even to 1/10 of it's "comfortable" capacity. Everywhere we stayed we felt like we have the whole place just to ourselves.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

First near-adventure 

This note describes how closely we came to establishing a "permanent encampment" on Kekaha - one of the best beaches, an endless stretch of sand.

Because the beach is so long, instead of walking to their favorite spots, most locals prefer to ride right over the sand in their 4WD trucks. Hey, I've also got a 4WD, why not follow their example?

What I didn't know though is that the kind of SUV Chevy Blazer is, it's good only for riding to suburbian malls. To make the short story even shorter, very soon we got stuck. Any attempt to get out resulted only in sinking deeper and deeper into trouble. Very soon I was sitting in the sand up to the frame - car's underbelly.

Once it happened a bunch of friendly locals stopped nearby. Each of them assumed an expert look and they immediately took charge over the situation. Some of them started to dig sand from under the car, some were pushing broken surfboard under the wheels, while the others got a rope and were trying to pull me out using their pickup.
At one point when I came back bringing some branches, I found 4 guys letting air out of my tires, lowering the pressure. In retrospect it would have been good thing to do before I entered the sand, but now that my frame was already in sand, I think that lowering the pressure only sunk the car deeper.

In the end, despite all these expert efforts, the only really helpful thing they did for me was to boost my moral. At some point they all started to trade stories how they all got stuck at one time or another, so I no longer felt exceptionally stupid. They also left us some bananas. Because, they assured us we are going to be stuck there for a long time and will need food...

Don't take me wrong, I am very grateful to all these guys for their willingness to help, all their enthusiasm, their efforts, advice, food and compassion: "Oh, man, your girlfriend must be very pissed!"

But actually Zara wasn't pissed at all. During this whole commotion she just stretched nearby on the sand and enjoyed the sunshine. Once our helpers left, she got her mobile and called local towing service. They came 10-15 minutes later with a big truck and effortlessly pulled us out...

However the experience of digging car out of sand on my own came handy the next day, when I got us stuck again, in the spot where mobile didn't get the signal... But it's already another story... Either get a better car, or get a better driver :)

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Snorkeling trip 

So far we managed to keep ourselves entertained without taking any commercial "adventures". But today, partially as my compensation to Zara for enduring the sand dunes we went for something less off-road - a snorkeling trip.
Unfortunately, as Zara's luck had it, this snorkeling trip didn't include actual snorkeling - the waves were too rough. So we just sailed past inaccessible North Coast of the island, saw some whales on our way back, but most of the time we were just bobbling in the sea, doing nothing. When it was finally time to return, somebody complained: "Oh no, we are having so much fun!"
Huh? Either I missed something, or these people have very dull lives.