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March 19, 2007

Hawaii: Poke, shave ice and Kalua pig

Hanaumabay_80days
Hanauma Bay

Oahu. It has always struck me that Hawaii's most populated island was named after the particular yelp of excitement shouted by first time visitors.  Perhaps this is why I envisioned several hours of euphoric tropical enjoyment during the cruise's all-too-short stopover on the island.  Accordingly, I set myself the following itinerary: Dock at 10:30 a.m., take the shuttle to the Hyatt Hotel at Waikiki Beach (another outstanding name--Waikiki, not Hyatt) and rent a car. Drive to Hanauma Bay, go snorkeling, see tropical fish, return to Waikiki, sample two local delicacies: poke (pronounced "pokey") and shave ice, then hit the beach, where I would learn how to surf. Or try to learn how to surf. Or try to try to learn how to surf.

Things went wrong pretty much immediately. The ship, already delayed by several hours, took its time getting into port. It steamed in toward the Port of Honolulu (here are the coordinates, N21 18.232, W157 51.259), then swung back out into the bay because it had yet to get clearance. When it finally docked, the guests donned their shore-leave duds and formed a long line at the door. The Coast Guard hadn't approved the guest list yet.

The ties between St. Paddy and Oahu's Shriners run deep
Oahu's Shriners celebrate St. Paddy's.

Finally, we de-shipped, were herded onto a waiting line of shuttle buses and taken to our first destination, the Waikiki Hyatt, where a bigger and more frustrating obstacle awaited. The rental car was there, gassed up and ready to go. But we couldn't drive it anywhere because the main strip at Waikiki had been cordoned off for the St. Patrick's Day parade. So we patrolled the tourist strip that is Waikiki Beach--as strips go, it's better than most--and waited for the parade to work itself out, which meant waiting for the Army brass band, Shriners and long line of washed-and-waxed pick-trucks to pass by.  For lunch, we found ourselves eating that most international of foods: Sushi. Hawaii + Ireland = Japan, apparently.

It got worse. When the parade finally ended, the crack team of specialists at the car rental company thought it might be a good time to have a look-see for that infant car seat that we reserved, oh, three days ago. It just wasn't to be found. We spent another forty minutes in the car rental company's extremely comfortable and charming waiting area, remarking to ourselves, "So this is what a basement looks like in Hawaii." It was an enriching cultural experience.

I was on a mission to get to Hanauma Bay, and the reason is as follows: My grade 7 science project was to create a self-contained ecosystem in an aquarium fed only by sunlight. I collected water, river mud, bought guppies, and the whole ecosystem economy chugged happily away for a few weeks and then all the guppies died save one baby, which never got bigger than the size of a nail clipping.

Over the next months, I converted my 10-gallon aquarium from an ecosystem into a full-fledged tropical marine aquarium. I had a sea anemone, a clown fish that lived in the sea anemone, a trigger fish, a butterfly fish, a shrimp, a wrass, two damselfish and an angel fish.

This was the 80s, and my marine aquarium, just like junk bonds and real estate, fell prey to the era's indulgent excesses. One day, my butterfly fish exhibited signs of a disease called ick. I took some extremely bad advice and put an erythromycin tablet into the aquarium, which killed the ick, but also killed the "good bacteria."  Nitrate levels spiked and within 12 hours every fish was dead.

Poke to go
Poke to go

Ever since then, I've had a serious desire to see an actual marine reef, especially one whose nitrate levels are in check. So I wasn't about to let the U.S. Coast Guard and a rental car company kill another marine dream. We made it to Hanauma Bay. I rented snorkeling equipment and for 10 blissful minutes, floated among the live rock and corals, seeing triggerfish, wrasses, angel fish, and tangs. It wasn't until I was leaving, walking back up and over the rise toward the parking lot, that I looked down at Hanauma
Bay and realized I swum out to the closest and most central patch of reef. It was the Waikiki Beach of Hanauma Bay. But it was still good.

Whatever bad karma I had earned myself had by that point run its course and the day only got better. On the way back in to Honolulu, we stopped at a Foodland supermarket where I bought a container of poke that we ate in the car. I'd never had poke before, which is, basically, an extremely delicious salad of raw fish, and in the wake of the experience, I find myself near evangelical about this delicious food. We capped it off with a cream puff from a Japanese chain called Beard Papa; I'm not sure we could have eaten a more Hawaiian meal.

Shave ice in Oahu
Shave ice

Driving back towards Waikiki, we stopped in at a place called Waiola for some shave ice. (Thank you to my friend Wendy for the suggestion.)  Shave ice is something like a snowcone, though the ice is more finely ground, making it much more enjoyable to eat, and the flavorings are a lot better.

This is where my luck really changed. In Waiola, I met a man you have known, until this point, as Schang. Schang was the guy who'd been posting helpful comments last week advising me what to do in Oahu. In his last comment, he made the mistake of giving me his phone number, which resulted in me peppering him with calls for the better part of the day. And yet, rather than flee to one of the other islands, which would have been totally understandable, Schang sought me out and found me at Waiola.

Schang, whose actual name is Sam, and his wife, Krista, have been living in Honolulu for three years. Continuing their streak of incredible generosity, they took me out to dinner to a spot called Ono's Hawaiian Food. Ono means delicious in Hawaiian, and it is. We ordered local specialties such as pork laulau, Kalua pig pork, poi and lomi lomi (salmon, tomatoes and herbs). Laulau, to use a simple comparison, is sort of like a Hawaiian cabbage roll, only it's wrapped in taro leaves instead of cabbage and filled with delicious hunks of tender pork. My favorite, though, was the Kalua pork, which is cooked underground with lava rocks. It's similar to pulled pork in appearance and texture, though far moister, and has an uncomplicated and delicious flavor.

Sam and Krista in Oahu
Sam and Krista

Sam and Krista also told me about the side of Hawaii that tourists don't see. I had never heard that there is a small but active secession movement among indigenous Hawaiians. I also didn't know that Hawaiian housing prices make the prices in Calistoga seem quite agreeable. As we walked back to the car from the restaurant, I pointed to a modest bungalow on a shallow lot and said, "So what would something like that go for?" Krista figured around $700,000. Sam thought it was worth $1 million, maybe more. Crazy, I said to myself. Then, for a few fleeting Hawaiian seconds, I thought about Hanauma Bay, poke, that cream puff, and Kalua pig. Crazy, I thought, but worth it.

Posted at N21 19.125 and W165 33.676

Comments

I enjoy reading about your adventures as you travel aroud the world -especially the detailled descriptions of the food.Since your wife and daughter are with you on this leg of your journey,perhaps you could share an anecdote or three involving them.

Hi Mark,
You know how the 24 hours in Honolulu promised by your cruise ship ended up shrinking down to only 12 hours? That's an example of a dirty little secret in the cruise business that I just wrote about here on my blog: http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/blogs/perrinpost/2007/03/caveat_to_cruis.html
Hope you and yours are successfully steering clear of seasickness,
Wendy Perrin
Conde Nast Traveler
http://cntraveler.com/perrinpost

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