Trip 26 -- Oahu Walk
Day 1: Honolulu airport to Kapolei
Monday, May 10, 2021
Today: 32276 steps/25.65 km/15.94 mi/4h 34m
With my first glimpse of Hawaii, four air hours after the last visible landmass, I thought: What the heck are these islands doing here? And where did the population come from? The Caribbean islands make sense to me, some sloughed off the continent and within a short sailing distance, but the dots of Hawaii almost 2,000 miles from the nearest major piece of land seem improbable.
My friend Ivory's father spent decades filming the Big Island's volcanic activity, leading to a lot of weekend conversations that went something like this:
"Hey, kids, want to go in the helicopter and fly over the lava flow?"
"Ugh, Dad, not again!"
He explained in brief terms ("I'm a vulcanographer, not a vulcanologist," he said when I asked for specifics) why Hawaii is here and roughly shaped like fragments of a stingray. A hot spot on a tectonic plate bubbled up to create Kauai, the northernmost major island. The plate containing that hot spot gradually moved to the southeast, with the hot spot periodically percolating into volcanoes, to form the landmasses of the other islands. The Big Island is therefore Hawaii's southeasternmost and youngest island -- at least visibly. The tectonic plate is still drifting, and in 10,000 years, he said, there'll be another one.
Of the Big Island's five volcanoes, two are still active; one erupted three years ago, spewing over homes and fences and blocking off streets that will probably never reopen. It still steams in the distance, and one can walk out onto the lava field and ponder the suddenness of the event. All of the other islands' volcanoes are extinct.
Ivory picked me up at the Hilo airport, where I was given my third Covid-19 test in four days. I'd have avoided it if I'd brought my vaccination certificate, and I'd considered it, but all mention of vaccination exemptions made it seem as though the state recognized only those jabs executed in Hawaii. At least the test was free and I didn't have to wait for the result.
Ivory's family moved from the mainland to Hilo when she was young, and so she spent her youth around the dramatic bridges, rivers, and cliffs that overlook the surf. As the road curled around toward the shore and I caught my first glimpse of the huge waves, I suddenly understood the scenes in "Under the Wave at Waimea": 20 or 30 surfers lining up at sea, adhering to an etiquette based on seniority, waiting for their turns to ride. Ivory now sells real estate, but she once worked at Cafe Pesto, where we dined the night of my arrival.
Hawaii is sun, sand, sea, and surf, but it's also homelessness, meth addicts, illegal cockfights with bladed feet, fenced-in dogs on too-short chains (why both?), break-ins, and gravel roads flanked by rusty car carcasses. There's even snow up in the mountains. Hawaii is of course not unique with these blemishes, but the juxtaposition -- a drug den across from new housing, for instance -- is striking, and my first sight of meth users at the end of a beach was startling.
And of course there is the divide between the native population and the haoles. A landscaped area near the Hilo airport's exit implored people to "Keep out." Underneath was "Aloha," written in stones: the conflict of Hawaii symbolized, deliberately or not, in a single setting.
"I was supposed to welcome you with a lei," Ivory said. I hadn't realized its significance; I'd imagined drunk mainlanders in loud shirts celebrating at being touched by Polynesian women as they sipped cocktails with umbrellas. But a lei is more an element of the spirit of aloha, which itself is a deeper idea than merely hello; it signifies a connection and respect between people.
Ivory has a four-year-old daughter, Iris, and Ivory's boyfriend, Alex, has two sons, Wynn and Tay. Among them they have three large, friendly dogs (Ivory's Bouvier is trained to play dead, give her five, and perform other tricks), three goats, and about 30 chickens.
"I sold a dozen eggs for five dollars," ten-year-old Tay said. "Tomorrow I'll do it again." The eggs' colors depend on the colors of the chickens, with the black hens bearing greenish eggs and the gray hens and white hens bearing, respectively, the commoner brownish-pinkish and white eggs.
"If Dad gives you your gun, can you shoot the doves at Twenty-seventh?" Ivory asked Tay.
But he didn't have to go that far. He looked up behind the house, found a dove high up in a tree (long before I saw it), stepped into the overgrown patch behind the goat pen, and fired his Daisy air rifle. He collected the bird and de-feathered it with his fingers. It was grilled for dinner.
It was richly flavored, dark and slightly smoky and sweet, like duck. Of course, a dove yields only about four bites of meat, so the dinner was supplemented by sweet sausage, chicken, and leftover poke -- marinated cubes of raw fish -- from lunch. That meal we had taken in a public park, as part of a three-year-old's birthday party; there had been nine varieties of tuna poke and about as many themed games featuring characters from "Frozen."
In Ivory's home, I fell asleep to the sound of coqui frogs and awoke to dogs, birds, and roosters, with a highway somewhere in the background. It was like coming out of sleep on my Aruba, Zanzibar, and New Jersey walks combined.
Near her home is a Sunday market. It's a bit subdued these days -- the food is the main attraction, and for the time being you're not supposed to eat there -- but it was fun to see local obsolescence (Don Ho on eight-track, for instance) and impressive to behold the rows of local produce. These included papayas, passion fruit (known as lilikoi in Hawaiian), and giant butter avocados, so called because they spread so smoothly and taste so sweet. Ivory's father had opened for us a fresh one, magnificently flavored, the size of a coconut.
The 40-minute flight between Hilo and Honolulu is a fantastic way to see a few of the islands from above: the marshy northern extreme of the Big Island, the double breast of Maui, the impenetrable ridges of northwest Molokai, the tall hotels of Waikiki. Oahu is the only island not to require a Covid-19 test for inter-island travel, so I stepped out of the airport without delay and, a few minutes later, reached the Airport Honolulu Hotel or the Hotel Honolulu Airport or whatever its counterintuitive word sequence is. Dinner options by the airport were slim on a Sunday night, but some fast-food loco moco (two scoops of rice with hamburger patties topped with fried eggs and gravy) gave me a salt rush and weighed me down for an early sleep.
This morning I switched on the news and found out that I was one of 64,008 visitors from the mainland this weekend and that a recent study named Hawaii the worst state in which to be a police officer.
I began the Oahu walk this morning, in a light shower that soon gave way to sun. The route put me under Interstate H1 (Hawaii has interstates!) and then, after some confusion finding the sidewalk and some help from highway crew, under the light rail, scheduled to open partially later this year.
I reached the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and contemplated spending at least a little time learning about the events of December 7, 1941, but I was shooed away from the ticket booth. "No bags allowed," the man said, gesturing toward the storage office.
After a few steps I made out the sign saying that bag storage cost $6. I walked back to the man.
"Excuse me," I said. "Is there a fee to park a car here?"
"So it's just people who walk in, who have no place to put their bags, who have to pay six dollars?"
I gave him a thumb up and said, "I wish you'd rethink that discriminatory policy," as I headed back toward the main road. I crossed and examined the handsome new Halawa light-rail station, pondering the arriving passengers who in a few months will also be inequitably forced to pay to secure their belongings.
Feral cats greeted me at the entrance to the Pearl Harbor Bike Path, which meanders for five miles all the way west to Waipahu. Considering its name, the path doesn't spend a lot of time by the water, but occasionally I'd get a glimpse of the harbor and a few of the old battleships. There was other beauty, in the form of sudden, pink bougainvillea, a droopy banyan tree, and a garden with signs warning "No steal my taro" and recommending "Mama is lonely -- visit." After this trip, I promise.
Hidden in the bushes and the forests and along the shore were numerous encampments of the unhoused. The most extreme example was in front of, and perhaps segueing into, the ABC Junkyard: rows of supermarket carts and discarded car parts, with the occasional chair or sofa. A dog eyed me from off the path but didn't move, and the people ignored me.
A tour group of seniors on tricycles passed me, slowly, as I ascended to a small bridge. We bade each other a good morning, and then they were gone.
I paused to take a picture of a brilliantly colored bird, crowned in red, like paint, with a white belly and a gray back. Someone popped out from the shore, large, mean-faced, and plump, perhaps of Samoan descent. He muttered a question that I didn't understand.
"Just going," I said, gesturing ahead.
"Hah?" he grunted, and he repeated his question.
I kept walking without responding.
"Asshole," he said.
A few minutes later I came to the group of seniors. They were paused, listening to their guide. Then I heard a zooming noise from behind. It was the guy from the shore, on a motorcycle. He came up to me and stopped.
"What you take photo?" he demanded, speaking through his cigarette.
"With the red cap."
I was glad to be in the company of the seniors. He continued on his motorcycle, and I resumed walking.
"It's pathetic that you passed us," one of the seniors said.
"Well, you're getting a nice tour," I said.
"We're supposed to be."
There was, I overheard, a problem with one of the tricycles, and they had to turn around. Once more I came to the guy on the motorcycle; he was talking with another man, and they had a dog, but they did not regard me.
The bikeway ended and I walked up the street to Waipahu Festival Marketplace, an indoor market with produce vendors, a bakery, and a sit-down area selling Filipino food. I had a Chinese-style pork bun that might have been wonderful if its interior hadn't been nearly frozen, and then I walked the few minutes to Hawaii's Plantation Village.
The cultural museum is a recreation of a sugar plantation through the years, with one original building and around two dozen others constructed in the styles of dormitories, family houses, supervisors' dwellings, and baths and outhouses during the plantation period. The Chinese were the first to arrive, in 1789 (just after James Cook's expedition and the associated import of diseases destroyed the indigenous population, Polynesians from the Tahiti area who had arrived centuries earlier), to work the rice plantations.
Rice gave way to sugar in the 1830s, and the population was beefed up with northern Japanese, Portuguese, Puerto Ricans, Okinawans, Koreans, and Filipinos. Their need to communicate resulted in pidgin English, a deliberately simplified version of the language that could be learned quickly and understood and is still spoken today.
The typical workday was six in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon, with a half-hour for lunch, and women were up early to prepare meals. The first Chinese sugar workers received $3 per month on a five-year contract, after which many returned home. But many others stayed, and Japanese laborers in particular were known to recruit "picture brides" from their native land to join them in their new home.
Early accommodations were predictably crude and crowded, but labor strikes resulted in gradual improvements and cash wages. Sugar was produced in Hawaii until 2016.
I had a proper lunch of stuffed milkfish and bitter lemon at the Filipino cafeteria within the Seafood City supermarket, and then my route turned suburban. There were churches and religious schools and houses with large yards, plus the occasional park.
The Hampton Inn & Suites Oahu/Kapolei is next to a shopping mall. I spent some time in the pool, watching a family of kids try to hold their breath and glide the pool's length -- I admired their enthusiasm and support for each other -- and then dined across the way at the Moani Island Bistro. A duet performing soul music accompanied my ahi "nachos" -- sort of a poke combined with guacamole and wontons -- and sizzling short ribs. Karaoke took over, and for a Monday night the scene was surprisingly festive, the restaurant almost full. A few more Lilikoi Dutch Mules might have brought out the Brad Paisley in me ("I'd like to check you for ticks" has been known to emerge from my vodka-coated mouth), but another early walk beckons.
Go on to day 2