Diving into Island Culture Eating Poi and the Oahu Coast

of Mermaid Caves and Hula on Waikiki

It was going to be hard to beat my first 12 hours in Hawaii - but I was going to try, because my hours on the island were short. I awoke with the morning light, the crowing of a rooster and a disturbing vibration under my bed - as if there were a generator underneath it. Time to get a move on. 

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I beat the rush into the communal bathroom at the hostel and got myself together and out the door in search of coffee and first breakfast to set my plan of attack to squeeze the marrow out of the day. I found myself sitting at Island Vintage Coffee enjoying an Acai bowl and piece of poi banana bread writing about the day before for a nice chunk of meditative time.

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The need to rush was eliminated by something in the air, not heat, but perhaps this magick known as island time. The act of just enjoying the moment - and the first time spent truly engaged in writing my blog in months. 

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When I felt the call to start exploring push me to move I heeded it and pointed the nose of my little Fiat South (because it was raining on the North End) and because it was still early enough in the day that I thought I could sneak in and out of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Museum relatively easy.

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Boy, was I wrong. I was right that it was less busy, but my complete and utter underestimation of the pull of WWII history, and the desire of the masses to tour war machines over the Christmas Holiday was splashed in my face in the parking lot. All of my carefree, all is good attitude was challenged, as not one, but four times was the parking spot I carefully followed a human to and turned on my blinker, signaling that I would be turning there, was take out from under me. I smiled, held gratitude and moved on - I was in it to win it, not to get angry in a parking lot in the busiest season of Hawaii tourism. 
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Another learning curve was the no purse or bag rule - so despite my perfectly curated assortment of things I brought with me on my day long adventure into the great Oahu world, I had to pay $5 to store my water, sunscreen and notebook because they were in a bag. Then finally, I could get in line to choose what in fact I wanted to look at - where I was informed that all tours for the Arizona were sold out, and the more interesting things were across the harbor, requiring a shuttle, more lines and more waits.  I asked the woman at the ticket counter "Isn't there like a general visitor's center?"  She gave me a blank stare, paused briefly and then repeated the names of the 5 tours/museums I could choose from. "I take the submarine tour." She nodded and gave me my ticket "It is just to the left." 

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And there was another line. But I was committed now. I had to wait it out, see the USS Bowfin aka the Pearl Harbor Avenger, and then I could escape to lunch somewhere interesting, without a line, with the company of flavor in my mouth.

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The submarine was remarkably like the one I toured at the Oregon Science Museum a couple years back. Almost an exact replica, except that it smelled better, and everything was shiny. I enjoyed taking selfies in the shiny,

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and I listened to my well-timed audio tour guide as I attempted to not lose focus watching the two girls in front of me exchange poses in front of all the numbers and dials in every room.  I don't even think they listened to their audio guide. For shame! They missed out on the whole story of how this particular submarine and others were a big reason for U.S. Military success over the Japanese during the war over the Pacific. 
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IMG_4298When I exited the ship I noticed that the line was 4 times the size it was when I got it.  I had gratitude that I did my duty to US military history early in the day, got my bag from the bag locker and left. The moral of the story - do not go to Pearl Harbor during the holiday season, unless you go at dawn and have prepared yourself to spend an entire day in the multi-museum compound. 

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I made it out just in time to get to downtown Honolulu and walk right into a seating at Rangoon Burmese Kitchen to order what I have to say was the best salad of my life.  The Burmese Tea Leaf Salad - thank you to The Eater for pointing out the salads on the menu of this establishment.  I accompanied my salad with an appetizer of Baya Kyaw aka split pea fritters (that were also the best split pea fritters I have ever had in my life, because they are the only split pea fritters I have ever had in my life).

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Why were these things so good? Down to the living depths of my soul level of umami, richly seeping into the spirit of my taste buds bursting with garlic, fish paste, shoyu - combined with the perfect crunch and flavor of the peanut, cabbage and sprouts - it was glorious. Go to Honolulu just to eat this salad. The Baya Kyaw tasted of garlic and other sorts of spices that I couldn't parse out but apparently included mint, ginger and garlic - again umami, but this balanced by spice and the sweetness of the pea flour. Yum. 

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After lunch I journeyed West.  On the map I spied two names and places that seemed worthy of setting Google to lead me to me - which seemed better than simply just driving up the West Coast with no purpose.  I wanted to walk/hike a little, and see some white sands, and dip my toes into the water on this side of the island.  Hawaiian Electric Beach Park and Mermaid Caves were the names that popped up. Mermaid Caves is a site of tide pools in the volcanic rock filled with beauty and danger and the other one was well, just a beach with a funky name. 

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Turns out the Hawaiian Electric name is literal. Next to Hawaiian Electric Beach Park is the electric company with all of its industrial glory looming over it. I didn't go in the water, I just gawked at the whole juxtaposition.  I also caught my breath after almost dying on the highway when my little 4 cylinder car failed to accelerate and slowly glided across two lanes of swiftly oncoming traffic. My life flashed before my eyes as the slow motion moment progressed and the engine revved and oh so dramatically placed me inside the parking lot of the beach park. I drank a sparkling water and contemplated life, and how to not have to cross over that oncoming traffic again.

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A really long u-turn filled journey later I was further up the shore looking for the Mermaid Caves.  I new I found them when I found the cross and other memorials littering the area. I decided to just walk the safe path and take pictures instead of going down because I was alone without a spotter, and I didn't really feel like drowning in a tide pool today. It was beautiful and there were crabs running all over the rocks in their funny crab-like running motion. I also found a fisherman, he just popped up and out of a hole in the rocks - he was not in particularly good shape, which made me think maybe I could go down there - but I thought against it.  

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I went up the shore little bit further and touched on a couple other beaches, finding one with particularly soft looking sand and using that opportunity to dip my toes into the water on this side of the island. At that time I wondered what my housemates were doing. Turns out they were cliff jumping, working double shifts as servers, surfing instructors, and the other things they do to make ends meet - just another day in paradise. 

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Speaking of paving paradise, I looked at the clock, did the calculations, and decided it was time to head to Waikiki to see if I could get good seats to the hula dance performance at the fancy Hotel Halekulani beach side restaurant, House Without a Key under the 130+ year old Kiawe Tree. I knew it was going to be a pain to get in and out of Waikiki, probably cost a fortune for parking, but seeing the sunset, listening to Hawaiian music, and witnessing actual traditional hula dance seemed like a quintessential Hawaiian experience I should not pass up. Even if it was now commodified to entertain a bunch of over-privileged vacationers. Who am I to separate myself from the tourist masses? Even if I chose the most budget accommodation ever.  So hula it was and off I went, taking the over one hour drive back to the city.  On a plus side, a rainbow was visible the entire time, and the traffic into Waikiki was gnarly - but I made it, parked and fixed my face and clothing a little to ensure that I met dress code in the very high class establishment I would be entering.  

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The juxtaposition between experiences (hippie surfer hostel on North end/luxury hotel on Waikiki) was stark. But my timeliness paid off in that I got a front row seat for the music, dancing and sunset - next to a birthday party celebrating a family with way too much disposable income (my judgment being based purely on the amount of coconut shrimp they ordered at $25 a plate - they spent my rental car's rental on coconut shrimp alone, but who was paying attention).

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It was worth the hassle to see the hula dancing and listen to Hawaiian music in such a royal setting.  

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I took the opportunity to try poke and was treated to coconut cake as a result of a mix-up with my table. Win-win! Great fuel for the hour plus drive home, most of which involved extricating myself from Waikiki. 

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