Land of the Free, Chapter 3 – Aloha!

Hawaii. A little cluster of eight islands in the middle of the north Pacific Ocean.  It is an eclectic mix of bustling US city complete with its clogged freeway system and homeless people, and of tropical island paradise with white beaches, palm trees and clear oceans that reflect the skies magnificent azure hue.

It has a rich polynesian heritage.  The local polynesian dialect is still spoken regularly, like an unofficial first language, and everyone greets you with a hearty “Aloha”.  I always thought that the whole aloha thing was just one of those annoying tourism gimmicks (like the nauseating “Have a magical day” that Disney people irritate you with).  But everyone says it – from the checkout chick at the supermarket to the guy serving at Maccas.

The kids had a little bit of trouble with the pronunciation though.

Me: “Aloha boys.”

Mr 7: “Hello-ha.”

Me: “What is the name of the island we’re on?”

Mr 5: “We’re staying at … Haw … ah … Ha-wee-wee.”

Me: “And the name of the city?”

Mr 7: “Hallelu-lu.”

Hawaii is truly a beautiful place, with some absolutely stunning natural features.  The beach at Waikiki is a pale, clean sandy beach where the clear shallow water reveals the schools of small fish swimming around your feet, and further out, the shoals of coral reef.  The clear water gradually gives way to the most amazing ocean, which looks like someone took a swatch of the most amazing shades of blue, then bled and blended them like a water colour, all the way to the cloudless horizon.

Turn around, and the mountain range looms above you, its sides covered with a lush carpet of rainforest, and its sharp ridges disappearing into the cumulus clouds that remain perpetually attracted to it.

The main artery of Waikiki is Kalakaua Avenue, which is a clean, vibrant, high-end restaurant and retail strip.  Louis Vuitton, Victorias Secret, Prada … there are a lot of different ways in which you can spend your money.  If you keep going west, you will eventually end up in Ala Moana, which is a very very large, open-air shopping centre with many of the same brands.

If you would prefer cheap alcohol, cigarettes and souvenirs then head to the nearest ABC store.  You won’t have far to go.  The ABC stores are everywhere.  There are literally 60 or 70 of them in the mile or so around Waikiki.  They outnumber McDonalds about 30 to 1.  They stock almost everything.  Groceries, snack foods, lots and lots of souvenirs, tacky Hawaiian shirts, and really really cheap alcohol and cigarettes.  Like, 1.75L bottles of Smirnoff Vodka for $US25.  In Australia, that same volume of spirits would cost about $70.   The story from the tour guides is that the chain is owned buy a japanese family, who named it ABC as an abbreviation for “A Better Convenience”.  The locals have a number of other possible abbreviations – Aloha Brings Customers, Alcohol Bric-a-brac Cigarettes, Another Bottle of Cognac, A Bunch of Crap, just to name a few.

The Hawaiian diet is unique.  This little island consumes the largest amount of spam in the world.  They serve spam with breakfast in McDonalds.  They have cook books entirely  dedicated to spam.  They have macadamia nuts with spam flavored coating.  The tour guide said they even have a festival where they close part of the main street of Waikiki for a festival of spam cooking.  If they ever took Iron Chef to Hawaii, their key ingredient would be spam.  Cue Monty Python sketch here.

The other key ingredient to combine with the spam is, not surprisingly, pineapple.  Again, they like to serve everything with pineapple, or pineapple juice.  Every time I ordered a meal from McDonalds, they gave me a cup of pineapple pieces with it.  Mr 5 ate a couple of them, but I had four left over in the fridge when I left.  I must admit, it does go well in Mai Tais, but other than that, I really didn’t share their pineapple fetish.

The dress code is pretty much anything you feel like.  High end restaurants will let you in wearing T-shirts, shorts and sandals.  Gaudy Hawaiian shirts are the standard uniform for everyone in hotels, transportation and tours.  On the beach, as long as you have some form of material covering your delicate parts, no one cares.  There are exceptions of course.  One middle aged, unattractive Indian lady decided to wear a white, relatively see-through G-string Bikini.  When she emerged from the water, there wasn’t much left to the imagination.  And worse yet, she sauntered up the beach, blithely oblivious to the wave of nausea that she was creating, found her towel, and then bent over for about five minutes while she scrounged around in her handbag looking for her sunglasses.  Oh please madam, put it away, this is a family beach.  Now, I have seen my fair share of buttocks in my time as a doctor, from the aesthetically pleasing to the downright ugly.  Even so, there was something particularly hideous about this view, and yet, like a doe staring into the headlights of the on-coming semi-trailer, I strangely couldn’t look away.  I should have.  I’m now scarred for life.

Over all, I enjoyed Hawaii so much more than the rest of the trip.  We did pay through the nose to get high end accommodation, a condo 35 floors above and directly across from the beach at Waikiki, but having a bedroom and bathroom to ourselves was absolute gold.  We will definitely be coming back – to explore the rest of Oahu, and to try and get across to Maui or the big island of Hawaii.

I’d recommend coming if you can.  Before I came to Hawaii I thought it would be just like the Gold Coast. While there are definitely some similar elements, the Gold Coast doesn’t come with a stunning mountain range just behind the beach, coral or the clear water that allows you to see it, and it certainly doesn’t come with magnificent sunsets over the ocean that I witnessed at a Luau the other night.

I might come back to the keyboard when I get home, to sum up a few things but for now, mahalo, aloha, and God bless America.

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