Friday, December 7, 2007

No, really, it wasn't all bad

Now, for all of the wonderful things seen and done.

1. Chinatown. Here we found a wonderful little nook of honolulu worth spending time in. Although parts of it are being gentrified, a majority of it still holds strong with generations of chinese immigrants and markets that are straight out of Beijing. There are fish and mangoes and shrimp and leaves and ginger root and live crabs and things I am not sure are animal, vegetable or mineral. The smells are overwhelming, and there are tiny chinese people everywhere bartering for food. As we step cautiously through one marketplace, an elderly man is singing in Chinese to a little boy who is evading his responsibilities. Family members join in, imploring the boy to pick up his slack, and passing down much lost generational wisdom. Then, as we stroll along the river, we find groups of older men playing mah jong, being rooted for by the younger novices, who are obviously learning from these masters.

2. Shinto and Buddhist temples. After Chinatown, we fall upon this traditional Shinto (Japanese) temple. There were people performing a ritual inside which involved offerings of fruit and grain. Not wanting to disturb them, we did not go in, but I did wash myself in the water provided to purify hands and feet before entering the temple and felt refreshed. After this, we went looking for the entrance to Honolulu's botanical garden and found a peaceful buddhist (chinese) temple. In it, there was a 15-foot-tall golden statue of Buddha and shaved-headed-brown-robed lady monks.

3. Botanic garden. After our lesson on Eastern religions, we thought we'd give a little offering of our time to the nature gods. We found trees as big as 20 story buildings, oogles of orchids and palms galore. It was nice to relax and explore the intrapersonal for just a moment.

4. The hike up Manoa falls. Even though it had been raining - therefore making the trail extra muddy, we decided to go for it. The beaches were a total failure (who likes the sand without the sun?) and this was a last resort. The first part of the hike was only 1 mile, up to the 100 foot waterfall. The way there was actually pretty challenging, even though it was filled with tourists - old ladies and babies and the like. Along the way were gigantic trees with vines climbing them. The sounds of tropical birds filled the air, and we could hear the falls as we got closer. When we got to the falls, we encountered some hippies with a tiny toy dog attempting to swim the treacherous (falling rocks) water below the falls, so we decided to keep going onto another harder and more muddy trail that takes us took us to the top of the mountain. We instantly found it more difficult, climbing over boulders and sliding through the mud. The trail almost felt like a fairy tale - bamboo forests, dark patches of overgrown gigantic trees, and howling wind. Despite the fear of rain or becoming lost, we made it to the top, getting a spectacular view of the valley and the mist hanging in the air, getting heavy enough to release some rain every once and again.

5. dinner at town. Alex and I found a fantastic (that word always implies pricey) restaurant whose motto is "local first, organic whenever possible," which instantly caught our eye. It was glorious to eat something besides plain bagels for breakfast and PB and J's for lunch everyday. Worth every penny.

6. hanauma bay. It finally became sunny enough to snorkel in Oahu's best spot. You just swim right off of the beach into the coral, and the fish are spectacularly brave, letting you come so close you feel fishy yourself. I swam for a bit through a school of shiny silvery fish, and after having swum through them for a while, a large (3 foot or so) parrot fish swam by, and I actually became nervous, feeling a bit like prey. Interesting how easy it is to enter the mind of a fish, when you are in this new and strange environment, huh?

7. yokohama bay. This is the beach where the sun stayed for only 45 minutes, but it was worth it all the while. Firstly, the beach was closed so we had it all to ourselves (the lifeguard was nice enough to let us sit over to the side so no one could see us). The mountains cradled us from behind, the ocean rose up and swaddled our legs, with the stark black contrast of the lava-rocks providing something interesting to look at. Hawaii really is a paradise, believe it or not by my rantings.

8. sandy beach. This is one of oahu's best body surfing beach, but certainly for experts. It took all of my strength and skills not to drown to get past the crashing waves. Once I did, the swells carried me up and down tens of feet, and when I looked down I could see straight through to the bottom. It was exhilarating and scary, I just kept imagining seeing the silhouette of a shark below me (even though it was surely only coral).

9. windward house and maria. We stayed in a hostel for the first four days, but the hostel people told us of a house they run on the other side of the island (windward), so we spent our last four days there. What a great decision! Do you remember the introduction to Jurassic Park where they are flying in a helicopter to this island with sheer green cliffs? Yeah, that is the windward side of Oahu. We stayed in a house run by an Austrian grandmother type, Maria, who shared story upon story of her traveling experiences - from 100 mile pilgrimages through Spain to raising four adopted sons to getting lost in the Hawaiian jungle five years ago (when she was 69!).

10. The last sunny day: kayaking and body surfing. The last day, we got some sun! We rushed to catch the sunrise, and hurried to the kayaking spot to get in some adventure sports! We kayaked a few miles out to a couple of different islands and back. Alex and I are both too stubborn and proud to work well together, so kayaking was a challenge, to say the least. But the views were awesome, and we saw two green sea turtles, coming right up close to our kayak, poking their little heads out and going back under the water. What curious little fellows! Then we went to makapu'u, a body surfing beach that is a little tamer than sandy beach, and I spent the afternoon riding the waves, only nearly breaking my neck in the surf once (yay)! It was pretty much me, the only white girl, and a ton of little native hawaiian boys. I can thank Lake Michigan summers for my body surfing skills!

Overall, the pluses outweighed the minuses, but I had to be honest about the awful aspects. It can't all be perfect all the time!

click here for more pictures from the trip

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