Honolulu Recap

I’ve been pretty lax this week about updates, so here is one big one to cover my week in Honolulu. I’m sitting at the pool at my hotel room doing last minute stuff for leaving the country and waiting take a cab to the airport.

Overview

I’m not that impressed with Waikiki. Not at all really. If your idea of a good time is sitting around on a crowded beach and shopping, then this is the place for you. Other than that, there isn’t a whole lot here. Diamond Head is really nothing compared to natural sites you can see on the Big Island.

It’s very expensive, which really comes as no surprise. What is surprising is the price of Hawaiian stuff. I would have thought that macadamia nuts would be cheap, but it costs more to buy them here than it did at the grocery store in Minnesota. I found this to be true on every island I visited.

The number of Japanese tourists here is astounding. I guess the exchange rate actually makes this a much cheaper trip for them than it is for me. Also, its the closest part of the US to them besides Guam or Saipan*. The large Japanese community in Honolulu doesn’t hurt either, I’m sure.

One thing that surprised me were the gun clubs in Waikiki which advertised directly to the Japanese. I guess their image of the US is cultivated from TV and movies, so they think that an American thing to do is to come and shoot guns. The brochure I got on the street even had a Japanese guy in a Kevlar helmet with an AR-15. (It should be noted that most of the packages you could purchase involved shooting nothing more powerful than .22’s or 9mm weapons) I suppose it would be like an American visiting Japan and wanting to buy a Samurai sword or a ninja outfit.

Most of the businesses in the area have signage in Japanese and/or have employees who speak Japanese. There are also a ton of Japanese restaurants. I’m not talking about the Japanese restaurants you see on the mainland: sushi bars and teppanyaki. These are mostly noodle restaurants. The equivalent to American hamburger stands or diners.

I have a very large post on ramen I was going to write, but I’m going to save it for when I’m in Japan.

Pearl Harbor

The one thing you have to see if you’re in Honolulu is Pear Harbor. In particular, the USS Arizona Memorial.

I don’t know why, but the first thing that struck me was the number of Japanese tourists visiting the USS Arizona Memorial. It struck me as odd at first. Then I thought about how odd it would be for me to visit Dresden or Hiroshima, and I thought “not very odd at all”. As my dad pointed out, “it’s part of their history too”. Most Japanese today were born after the war and have no greater particular attachment to anything from that time period than we do.

After I quickly adapted to the idea of Japanese tourists at Pearl Harbor, I realized one of the great strengths of the United States: we don’t hold a grudge. At no point in my life can I remember any politician, veterans group, a citizens group, or anyone asking for an apology from the Japanese. Not for Pearl Harbor. Not for the Bataan Death March. Nothing. The war is over. They attacked us. We fought back. We dropped two atomic bombs on them. We won. We’re friends. It’s over. It’s in the past and neither side really dwells on it.

Compare that to the Koreans and Chinese who are to this day, still demanding apologies for various horrible things done to them over 60 years ago. I don’t think its that they can’t get over it, so much as they don’t want to get over it. There is no argument that the Japanese military did horrible things in Manchuria and Korea during the war. I’m not sure what apologies now will really achiever, however. It seems along the same lines as the University of Virgina who just recently apologized for its role in using slaves to build buildings on campus. Sure it was bad, but the people who apologized weren’t responsible, and the whoever is on the other end of the apology weren’t the ones who were wronged. The time for the apology was 150 years ago. I’m sure the Jews are eagerly awaiting the apology from the Egyptians for the whole pyramid thing.

You can still see the oil dripping out of the USS Arizona. I’m amazed that oil can still be leaking. Even if it’s only a drip, I’d have to think that after 65 years, it would have exhausted its supply by now.

Unlike most war memorials, the USS Arizona Memorial really hits home. Its not a big empty field with military souvenirs like a Civil War Battlefield. It’s not a monument, statue, or rows of white headstones. The memorial floats on top of the actual ship. Its right there below you rusting away at the very spot it sunk on December 7, 1941. Most of the men on died on the Arizona are still entombed below your feet. I can’t think of any other memorials like this off the top of my head, where they kept the remains on display to view. It’s very powerful.

Underview

There were only a few things I didn’t get to do in Hawaii. One was getting to the north shore of Oahu and see surfers on the really big waves. The other was visiting the island of Molokai.

In a few hours, I’m off to French Polynesia’s capital, Papeete on the island of Tahiti. I’ll only be there for a day before I fly off to Easter Island. This will be the real start of my trip. I’ll be finally leaving the US and I’ve gotten all the stuff done here that I wanted to get done.

I’ll be on Easter Island for a week (due to flight times) so I’ll have lots of time to put up video (yeah, I know. I’ve been lax). Expect lots of repetitive shots of big stone heads.

Hawaii also marks the end of my cell phone service. If you had my cell phone number, you can get rid of it. If anyone (and I do mean anyone) would like to leave me a voice mail, you can call my Skype number. It’s available on the contact page.

Till I see you south of the equator, Aloha!

Waikiki, Why?

 jellyfish tank at the Waikiki Aquarium.
This is a photo of the jellyfish tank at the Waikiki Aquarium. The photo came out so bad, it actually looked sort of cool

I’m currently staying at a hotel about two blocks away from the Waikiki beach. I couldn’t get into a hostel but the hotel I’m staying at is only a bit more per night more than a private hostel room, and I get my own bathroom and a kitchenette, so its not so bad. Considering how much hotels go for around here, I’m not complaining.

I wasn’t hoping to be in Honolulu that long, but it looks like I’ll be here till Saturday. The Hawaiian Airlines flight to Tahiti only is once a week and if I take any other flight, it will cost at least $1,000 more, so I’ll just hole up here till then. This will give me the opportunity to get any final stuff done I need to get done, maybe apply for some visas, get my international drivers license, and do some video editing.

I should be on Easter Island a week from Monday if everything goes according to plan. If not, it will probably be Wednesday.

Sunday I visited the Waikiki Aquarium. The Waikiki Aquarium is probably the best aquarium in the world for coral and marine invertebrates. The coral they had in their tanks were enormous. Having had a coral aquarium for over five years, I can appreciate having coral the size of your torso. The Waikiki Aquarium has the luxury of using natural light for some of their tanks as well as natural seawater. They also have nice tanks with sea dragons and several species of jellyfish.

I have a lot of interesting stories about my first two days in Waikiki I’ll be posting tonight.

SCUBA Steve Says…

Boat at sunset off Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
Boat at sunset off Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

I’m now officially a PADI certified open water diver. This means I can sign up at places to do basic SCUBA dives with compressed air.

I still had issues going down in depth. Everyone else in my group could dive to 20 feet with no problem. I had to sink down a few feet at a time and wait for my ears to clear. Once I got down I had no problem, but I can’t just zoom to the bottom.

I also seem to have water in my ear. In particular my right ear. It’s really annoying.

The actual dives I took were amazing. I wish I had an underwater camera. I saw about five large male sea turtles. I was amazed at how big they were. They were easily bigger than me. Up close, they were enormous. Most of the coral I saw was encrusting coral, which isn’t that interesting, but the fish that inhabit the reef were. I saw jawfish, triggerfish, angle fish, puffers and a flounder. We even saw a pretty large, white eel sitting out on the sand.

I actually looked into a waterproof enclosure for my camera, but it costs more than the camera….and it’s huge.

I’m guessing I’ll get enough dives in over the next few months to get my advanced open water certification. You only need five I think.

I didn’t take any video on Maui. I was mostly confined to a neighborhood near my room or I was in the water. I don’t have much on my schedule this next week, and doing video editing will be a priority.

Random Thoughts on Maui

Before I leave Maui, I think I like to get down some random thoughts on life here on Maui.

  • I paid $4.00 a gallon for gas this week. The very windy Hana coast road I wrote about earlier had only one gas station that I could find. It charged $4 per gallon. The price around the rest of Maui seems to be around $3.40 per gallon. On the Big Island I saw prices from $3.02 to $3.20.
  • In Minnesota, I could go to the Dairy Queen in the mall near my house and get a medium chocolate dipped cone for exactly $2.00 with tax. Here, the exact same thing was $3.33….and they didn’t make it as big.
  • There are lots of characters here. I get the impression lots of people just show up in Maui and never leave. Even in the hostel I’m staying at, there are several people who recently showed up and are looking for jobs. One night while watching TV, a guy just sort of showed up who played a wooden flute and did an impromptu concert in the living room. He had copies of his CD he was trying to sell. The Big Island was mostly native Hawaiians. Here its mostly mainland transplants.
  • Hawaii is organized a bit differently than most states. The county seems to do more of the functions you’d find in a city in most states. The island of Maui has its own police force. The differences between cities seems minor. The school system is run by the state, and its the only state run school system in the country.
  • Due to logistics, I’m going to skip Molokai and go directly to Honolulu. This will give me an extra day or two to get things in order for leaving the country.
  • It’s easy to see why people just stay here. I”m tempted to just stay a few more days rather than move on to Oahu. I’m not sure if that’s a function of the island or just a lack of desire to pack and move again.
  • I may have to stay in Honolulu a bit longer than I had hoped also, just to get a much cheaper ticket to Tahiti. The only day Hawaiian Airlines flies to Tahiti is Saturday. If I don’t go on Saturday, the ticket price is anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 more…..that’s bullshit and I’ll just stay a few more days in a hostel to save the money

SCUBA SCUBA Deux

I did my first two SCUBA dives today. It was pretty cool except for two things: 1) I can’t handle changes in pressure very well. We didn’t go down that far (about 20 feet) and my ears were killing me. They still seem a bit plugged up. 2) My face mask seemed like it was constantly leaking.

Tomorrow I finish up my certification with two more dives. I really hope I can get over the pressure issues. No one else on my dive had issues anywhere near what I did. I couldn’t see doing anything deeper than 20 feet if I had to go through that again. I have to descend really slowly to be able to equalize the pressure in my head. My sinuses aren’t plugged and I don’t have wax in my ears. I don’t know what the issue is.

SCUBA doesn’t seem like a cheap hobby. I have my own snorkel and mask, but that’s the absolute bottom of what you can get. One women who dove with us today (her dad was in the class) had her own wetsuit, regulator, fins, BCD (buoyancy control device), weights, the works. The shit isn’t cheap. Factor in getting tanks refilled and other doodads, and its quite the bill.

Even though I plan on doing more diving while I’m in the Pacific, I don’t plan on buying any more gear. I don’t know where I’d put it and how I’d carry it. It would also probably be cheaper to just rent for what I need it for.

Come Saturday, i have to figure out how to get my rental car returned and make my way to Molokai. I really just want to visit the leper colony national park (Yes, I’m serious) and maybe view some of the sea cliffs (they have the biggest in the world. 1,000 feet tall). Saturday will be interesting.

Expect an expanded post on the life which is Maui tomorrow.

Note: all women are hot in a wet suit.

SCUBA SCUBA Doo, Where Are you?

Canoes in the sunset off Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
Canoes in the sunset off Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

Today I had the classroom part of my PADI Open Water Dive certification. I rocked. I’m good at test taking. I’m taking my instruction at Lahaina Divers, which seem like a pretty good outfit (the fact that they’re a block away from my hostel doesn’t hurt either).

SCUBA is something I’ve never really given any serious thought before. You see it on TV all the time, but I never really bothered to think about what goes into it. You strap a tank of air on your back, you breathe the air, you go underwater. Pretty simple.

What I never gave any thought to was the issue of pressure. The brilliance of SCUBA isn’t strapping a tank of air on your back. The brilliance is in how it regulates the pressure of the air. The modern SCUBA set up was invented by Jacques Cousteau (or as it was originally called the Aqualung).

Tomorrow and Friday I actually get into the water and at the end, I should be able to dive anywhere. By the time I leave the Pacific, I should have my Advanced Open Water certification.

I’m looking forward to diving in Truck Lagoon and Palau.

More Maui Makes Me Merry

Wave on the Hana Coast
Wave on the Hana Coast

Instead of leaving Maui before schedule, I’m going to be staying a few days longer so I can get my SCUBA certification in. The best I could do was a class that starts on Wednesday and ends on Friday. Today (Tuesday) I’m going to drive down the Hana coast and take photos and read my SCUBA book before the class tomorrow. If you know a bit about physics, what you’re required to know isn’t that difficult.

I have to figure out how I can get to Oahu from Molokai. My current plan is to take the ferry from Maui to Molokai. I don’t know if renting a car is possible or worth it on Molokai.

Today I took the extra day of waiting to make the drive up the Hana Coast. Hana is a very small community on the southeastern part of the island, on the slope of Haleakala. Charles Lindberg lived there in the last years of his life and is buried nearby.

Waterfall on the Hana road
Waterfall on the Hana road

The highway showed about 40 miles to Hana when it started. Problem is, that 40 miles consists of nothing but hairpin turns, one lane bridges, and lots of traffic. If you could do 20 mph you’d be lucky. Also, the Dali Lama was in town so traffic pretty bad.

The weather has been very windy the last few days so the surf has been very high. I managed to get some nice photos of the surf.

The highway to Hana had lots of waterfalls and really nice scenic overlooks. I eventually just gave up taking photos of waterfalls and the coast because they all sort of became a blur and the sky was overcast, so the lighting wasn’t very good. Here is the most prominent waterfall I did manage to see along the way.

I eventually worked my way up to the Haleakala National Park visitors center on the coast. They had a waterfall called the Pools of ‘Oheo. Its a stream with two small waterfalls that spill into pools right on the coast.

The Pools of Oheo in Haleakala National Park
The Pools of Oheo in Haleakala National Park

The drive back almost made me dizzy having to go through all the hairpin turns again.

View the entire set of photos from today here.

I’ve also changed how I’m handling my images. First, I’m shooting everything in higher quality RAW files instead of JPEG. We’ll see how this works out and how much storage I have. I’m also not uploading everything to my Flickr account. I’m just going to convert the best photos to JPEG and upload those. This will result in fewer but higher quality images. I might also delete some of the redundant photos in older sets.

Haleakala

On Sunday, I got up early, dropped my rental car off at the airport and took a flight from Hilo to Maui. The time I spent in security took longer than the actual flight.

When I arrived in Maui, I had happen what I dreaded. My debit card was declined. This happened the last time I was in Hawaii on four separate occasions. It seems that if you have any gas purchases that are too close together, its raises a flag with the fraud prevention unit at the bank and they shut your card down. (It turns out that when a credit card is stolen, one of the common things to do is to fill up a car with gas along with the friends of all the the thieves.) In principal its a good thing to be looking out for you, but it really sucks if you’re on the road when this happens. My gas purchases were over 12 hours apart and it still made the flag go up. If I didn’t have a cell phone available to call up and resolve the situation, I would have been totally screwed.

By the time I got that resolved and got my rental car, it was about 9:30am and I couldn’t check into my hostel until 5pm. I figured it was as good a time as any to go visit Haleakala National Park, which takes up most of the eastern half of the island. Not including historical sites, there are two proper national parks in Hawaii: Haleakala and Volcanoes. Volcanoes is by far the better known of the two as it is the one with volcanoes actively erupting. I had no idea what to expect at Haleakala as I’ve read very little about it.

The summit of Haleakala is about 10,000 feet above sea level. Like Mauna Kea, you have to drive the entire 10,000 feet so there is a huge elevation change in a short period of time. The time from 0 to 10,000 feet is probably faster on Haleakala. The first thing you notice as you drive up the mountain is waves of people on bikes going down the mountain. Turns out its a popular activity to take a van to the top of the mountain and then coast down the 20 miles or so to the bottom. Everyone had full body windbreakers on and motorcycle helmets. It seemed like it would be pretty fun.

View from the top of Haleakala
View from the top of Haleakala

Unlike Volcanoes which is mostly just bare lava rock (at least around Kilauea), Haleakala has lots of vegetation. They also have more real backpacking and hiking options than Volcanoes does. Haleakala is also home to many plants and animals which are native to Hawaii and are only found there. One of the indigenous species to Haleakala is the silversword plant. Its only found at elevation, only on Haleakala, and it only blooms once in its life, every 15 to 50 years.

Silversword on Haleakala
Silversword on Haleakala

The Haleakala crater is really big and very pretty. The red from the oxidized rock its very breathtaking. The day I was there had lots of clouds so I couldn’t see the entire crater.

Inside Haleakala Crater
Inside Haleakala Crater

BTW, I think that’s the best photo I’ve taken so far…

Sunset with the Gods

The ancient Hawaiians thought that the snow capped peak of Mauna Kea was the home of the gods. Today is just the home of the largest astronomical telescopes on Earth. I spent my last day on the Big Island on top of Mauna Kea and got to watch the sun set. It was pretty amazing.

You can’t just go up Mauna Kea willy nilly. For starters, you are going a vertical distance of about 14,000 feet. There are very few places on Earth where you can make this sort of vertical climb that quickly. Even in places that are at a higher elevation, you usually are starting at a higher base elevation, so the difference in elevation wouldn’t be as great. I ended up staying at the visitors center at 9,000 feet for about ninety minutes to acclimate. I really have never had any issues with elevation (granted, I haven’t been above higher than 14,000 feet before) and probably didn’t need to stay that long.

I one of the reasons I rented a Jeep Wrangler was specifically to go up Mauna Kea. They require you to have a four wheel drive to go up Mauna Kea (I’m sure you could make it up without a 4×4 so long as there was no snow). They also make everyone watch a one our video at the visitors center just to acclimate everyone. The video was a big thing about how the scientists are trying to be sensitive to native Hawaiians.

Everyone at the visitors center went up in a caravan and it was pretty slow going. I’m not sure you could really go faster than about 20 mph or would want to.

When we arrived at the top, the first stop was the Keck Telescopes. There are two Keck Telescopes, Keck 1 & 2. We got to go inside of Keck 1.

Inside the Keck 1 Telescope, Mauna Kea
Inside the Keck 1 Telescope, Mauna Kea

The Kecks are the largest telescopes in the world. The primary mirrors have a diameter of 10 meters and have a unique hexagonal design. In addition to each mirror being the largest in the world, they can work together to form an interferometer, or one big telescope.

The other telescope we got to go inside of was the University of Hawaii 88 inch telescope.

88 inch telescope on Mauna Kea
88 inch telescope on Mauna Kea

The UH 88 is one of the oldest telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea. It has been surpassed by the other telescopes on the summit, but it still does a lot of valuable work on finding Kuiper Belt objects and other objects in the solar system. It is scheduled to be torn down and replaced with the Pan-STARRS telescopes which will do constant surveys of the night sky to check for asteroids.

After the showing the insides of the telescopes, we had the rest of the time to sit and wait for the sunset. The neat thing about Mauna Kea is that it’s so high up in elevation that the clouds are almost always below the summit. As it gets dark, the clouds usually go down several thousand feet giving great views at sunset.

From the summit of Mauna Kea, you can see Haleakala, which is on Maui about 96 miles away.

Haleakala as viewed from Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Haleakala as viewed from Mauna Kea, Hawaii

You also get a good view of Mauna Loa.

Mauna Loa viewed from Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Mauna Loa viewed from Mauna Kea, Hawaii

One of the neatest things you can see at sunset is the shadow of Mauna Kea on the clouds behind the mountain.

Shadow of Mauna Kea on the Clouds, Hawaii
Shadow of Mauna Kea on the Clouds, Hawaii

The views of the sunset itself of course, were just amazing.

Telescopes in the sunset
Telescopes in the sunset
Sun setting over the clouds
Sun setting over the clouds

I felt like I was going to get frostbite on my fingertips the last hour or so I was I up at the summit. I left soon after sunset and made the dark drive down the mountain in low gear.

They had a star party at the visitor center, but I passed as I had an early flight the next morning and it was an hour drive back to Hilo.

If you are ever on the Big Island, make the trip to the summit of Mauna Kea. Its probably the the #1 thing you can do on the island and most people never bother to do it. If you go on Saturday and drive yourself, it doesn’t cost anything more than the gas to get you to the summit.