Easing Back Home Through Hawaii

Trip Start Jan 31, 2005
Trip End Mar 30, 2006

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Flag of United States  , Hawaii
Wednesday, March 15, 2006

From Bangkok, the two of us took a very long flight to Hawaii, stopping a few times in Asia and then crossing the International Date Line. Altogether, we traveled for around 20 hours. Add that to the fact that we didn't really sleep our last night in Thailand, and we were pretty dazed when we found ourselves in Honolulu in the early morning, local time. Somehow we got through immigration and customs without too much trouble (though not without some consternation on the part of the officials who learned how long we'd been gone and how many countries we had visited - we could tell they wanted to search us...). Then soon enough we were on a public bus bound for Waikiki. We were going to meet Allison's parents at a hotel there later in the day and were hoping we could check in early, before they arrived. But it was still only about 9 am when we pulled into the front desk, so we had a wait awhile for guests to check out and the room to be cleaned. We sat in the open air lobby for awhile, having "home" sink in. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, but we enjoyed the feeling that we were watching an aquarium of tourists swimming back and forth, with an occasional piece of a cell phone conversation drifting by: "Now, my brother-in-law here in Honolulu, is LOADED. We're going to his multi-million dollar condo tonight. If only he could get his four kids, who are all under five, under control..." As usually happens when returning to the US after being in the developing world, one of the first things we noticed was increased average girth - let's face it, we aren't a thin nation. But a surprise this time was the limping we saw. It seemed like everyone we saw, young and old, fit or not, was walking with a limp. This confused us for awhile, and made us wonder if it was due to lack of time spent walking. But we realized later it was probably just people getting used to walking in flip flops.

Our room opened up surprisingly quickly and we passed out for most of the afternoon, pretty excited about the soft mattress and nice sheets (been awhile since we could have said that - we'd been steadily dropping our accomodation standards the last few months of traveling). We woke up in time to get back on a bus to the airport to meet up with Allison's parents, who were scheduled to arrive sometime around 4:30. Or so we thought. We'd forgotten it was a good idea to call the airline before leaving for the airport and paid for it when we discovered that their plane was three hours behind schedule (major snowstorms across the Midwest). It didn't seem really worth it to go back to Waikiki, since it was about an hour on the bus each way, so we decided to stay around the airport until they arrived. We hadn't really eaten yet that day, as we'd been served the equivalent of about 2 days of food on the flights to Hawaii. But around that time we were just starting to feel like we needed something. There's no shortage of food in airports, but all of it was in the secured area, where we couldn't go. We started asking around to see if there was any food to be had within walking distance of the airport. We got some funny looks about wanting to walk and warnings that there might not even be a sidewalk, but were sent off in one direction with promises that there would be several fast food places somewhere up the road from which to choose. It was better than the airport staff predicted: the walk took about 3 minutes and there was indeed a sidewalk - they needn't have worried. We spent about $6 on a foot-long sub from Quizno's, reflecting that the same amount would have bought us each a meal at one of the best restaurants in Bangkok. Time to readjust price expectations. We killed time at a table outside the strip mall until it looked like it was about to rain, then hurried back to the airport, where we killed time reading tourist brochures. The Browns eventually arrived, we had a happy reunion, picked up a car and headed back to Waikiki for the night.

Our plan was to spend a couple of days in Honolulu, then move out of town to a cottage at a military recreation center about 45 minutes out of Honolulu (Allison's dad is a retired Air Force officer, which qualifies the family for such things). Since it had started raining about as soon as we all arrived (you might remember having heard about the record-setting rains in Hawaii this spring - we were there for a lot of it), we spent that day getting organized and buying food before we moved into the cottage the next day. Jeff and Allison's brief stint with culture shock continued as we first marveled at portion sizes at breakfast (how many eggs are in this omelette?) and then went shopping at what is sort of a military equivalent of a Target. Something about the size of the place and quantity of stuff (the easter candy and decorations in particular stood out) seemed pretty crazy to us. Mom and Dad Brown were patient as we readjusted.

The next day we moved into the cottage, a simple place practically right by the ocean. We spent the next week there, with Adam (Allison's brother) joining us a few days into our stay. While the frequent rain made for a less than ideal beach vacation, we still had a great time. The sun peeked out for a few hours at a time now and then, and we would all run to the beach to sun and swim while we had the chance. It seemed that it was most often pretty clear in the late afternoon, and we watched neighborhood surfers during the sunset. And when it was raining, we had a reasonable excuse to be sitting inside watching much of the first three or four days of the NCAA basketball tournament - really, would we have felt good about that if the sun had been out?? We also had time to take a few walks in the surrounding neighborhood, an interesting place. Except for the Army Recreation Center where we were staying, there were no tourists, just working class (and primarily native) Hawaiians. Kind of gave us a glimpse of the "real" Hawaii. Though not always pretty (high cost of living widens gap between rich and poor, lots of health problems in the native population, struggling public education system, etc.), it made us feel like we were a little off the beaten path. And with a good ice cream parlor across the street (visited most nights) and a decent Mexican restaurant not far down the road, we had even less reason to mind.

One day, when we had a full day of beautiful weather, we drove up to the North Shore of Oahu, home of some of Hawaii's most famous surfing. We spent awhile watching surfing at Sunset Beach (should have brought binoculars, but still impressive), then moved on to Waimea Beach Park, where we could at least possibly swim. Though the waves were still pretty intimidating along most of its shore and reserved for maniacs on body boards, we were able to go in at one far end and body surf the shore break. Jeff, Allison and Adam were like 10-year-olds and wouldn't get out until potential sunburn compelled Rick and Randi to round up the family and get off the beach.

The week passed quickly and soon enough we reached the time when we had to start moving off in separate directions. Rick, Randi and Adam were moving back to Honolulu for their last night, while Allison and Jeff had to head to the airport for the next bit of adventure. Jeff flew to Maui to meet up with his friend Kyle, while Allison had to make a brief jaunt to the mainland (long story) before joining Jeff and Kyle on Maui. Thanks to the Browns for a great time!

Kyle is a Michigan native who is currently making a living on Maui by taking photos of people learning to surf (good score, Kyle!). He basically snaps photos while surfing alongside beginners, quickly puts them into a digital slideshow before the end of the lesson and then uses his natural charm to sell students one of the best souvenirs they'll take home from Hawaii - a picture of themselves and their friends up on a board riding a wave (and falling off a board, and laughing in the water, etc.). Though Kyle had to work during most of the days we were on Maui, we were able to ride along with him to the surf schools and use any equipment we wanted. We've both dabbled a little in surfing before (especially Jeff), so we went out alongside the official surf students on the three or so days when the weather wasn't completely horrible (remember we mentioned we visited Hawaii during one of the rainiest springs in memory?) The schools were all in spots with really small, easy waves, so the surfing was manageable for us (sort of a novelty - seems like we always end up trying to surf in waves we have no business being in). Jeff looked like a pro compared to the students, though Allison was definitely in their ranks, only able to get up if someone pushes the board for her (paddling not being her strong suit). When not at surf school with Kyle, we had a great time playing frisbee in Kyle's huge backyard (except for the time when Jeff fell in a huge hole hidden behind some grass mounds and messed up his back...) and making a few side trips to other parts of the island. Due to the weather and the fact that we were becoming lazy travelers, we certainly didn't do Maui justice, but we did manage to take a nice hike at a pretty park in the hills and do some more body surfing on one of its more popular beaches. We also met up a few times with two other friends - Shira and Kata - who are also former Kalamazoo folks living on Maui. So, thanks to you, too, Kyle, for a really fun week! It passed too fast and soon enough we were on a plane bound for the mainland.
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