One year ago (as I write this) I was on a two week vacation with my daughter, wife, and my wife’s extended family. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, at the time I was also on a blogging sabbatical, journalling dry-spell, and all-round record-keeping leave-of-absense. It might go without saying, then, that I don’t have much written down from those two weeks of our frantic Hawaiian holiday. I’m hoping to rectify that with a few posts recalling the trip now that a year has passed, the dirty laundry has all been washed, and I’m kinda wishing I could go back…
I like good food. I would ask the question “who doesn’t?” but I fully understand that different people have different ideas of what constitutes so-called good food.
I admit it, as pejorative as that label has become in recent years, I am something of a foodie. I like weird food. I like eclectic food. I like unqiue food. I like clever food. I like beautiful food. I like spicy food. I like foreign food. I like food.
This fact is doubly true when I am travelling.
One problem: my last three vacations have been to the United States where — though I am told by numerous television shows they have wonderful food — I have encountered, in order: (1) the Hawaiian-ized version of multiple chain restaurant’s food, (2) Las Vegas casino food, and (3) Disneyland amusement park-style food. Not a fair example of American cusine, I admit… but that’s what I got.
I had two gripes (and just to be fair, three unexpected surprises) about eating in Hawaii. First, when traveling with a group of six adults and one child, to appease all palettes, I find one tends to lower to the level of least adventurous taste buds. You can cast your own evaluations on that statement. But let’s just say there was a lot of compromise and a few heat-and-eat pizzas from the local convenience store. Second, in what I assume is a bit of corporate low-bar-laziness, many familiar chain restaurants with establishments in Hawaii tend to just toss a slice of pineapple on a familiar dish and call it “Hawaiian” — which is lame.
I spent two weeks trying to get a sense of something uniquely Hawaiian, and the best I think we did was a Maui Mixed Plate… which gave me a bit of a stomach ache later. So, not the best va-food-cation ever.
But as promised, I did have three munching highlights of extreme awesomeness…
One: Upon venturing into the International Marketplace in Waikiki, tucked into the back corner of the bustling shops, we found a kind-of food court. There were lots of loitering pigeons, some wobbly plastic picnic tables, and most of the signage was a cross between garish-neon-retro and hand-painted-on-plywood-aestethic. But, bar none, the spicy shrimp platter from the seafood joint there was the tastiest and cheapest lunch I had the whole two weeks.
Two: Hawaiian shaved ice takes about five minutes to prepare after you order it. The lines are long. The look of it in its trademark plastic umbrella cup is kinda like… huh? But if you eat one, you’ll spend the next year of your life wondering where you can get another.
Three: When renting a condo in Maui we happened to find a place that had a communal beachside barbecuing area. We didn’t think much of it at first, but standing ocean-side, watching whales spouting against a vibrant watery orange sunset, all while sipping a brew and grilling up grub for the family — including a squid you’ve gutted and cleaned yourself — is one of those bucket-list moments.
It was hard to forget that Hawaii is pretty much a string of volcanic islands sprung up out the Pacific Ocean. And of course, the idea of “the volcano” is so embedded in the Hollywood-perception of both Hawaii and Polynesia, too.
Where we stayed in Maui, the beach — if you could call it that — was essentially an obstacle course of dark black, wave-pounded volcanic stone. You needed shoes to walk on it because there were parts so sharp that their epic sharpness could have rivaled shattered glass… shattered glass with ocean bacteria to boot.
Overlooking Waikiki beach is Diamond Head, what we believed as we tromped up — foolishly walking the too-long-journey from our hotel to the trailhead — a volcanic crater. As numerous quantities of on-hike signage informed us, however, Diamond Head is not a volcano. It is a tuff cone vent of a volcano. And it was not going to spew lava all over us at any point, noted most impressively by the guy selling cokes and hot dogs right about where the lava might be flowing.
We hiked to the top, a convoluted series of switchbacks, tunnels, concrete staircases, and squeezing through openings not exactly tourist friendly, emerging at one of the ridge peaks in the epic ocean wind one might expect in such a location. Of course, amidst the hundreds of other people hiking that day, somebody was always trying to sell you something. I got offered to buy a “I conquered Diamond Head” T-Shirt when I was half-way down. And the guy who climbed up to the peak to spout off a well-rehearsed speil for a travel-tour package — for only $79, if you bought it from him, today only! — had quite the gig going on, too.
The bulk of Maui seems to exist only because this volcano called Haleakala happens to have been belching up rock for many millenia and nice stuff has grown on it. Though again, we were informed, not a REAL volcano: a shield volcano. You can see Haleakala from pretty much everywhere, usually shrouded in clouds.
Either way, we drove the the epic winding road — in a sad little mini-van packed to the rafters with seven people and two-weeks worth of luggage because our next stop was the airport — to the ten-thousand foot summit, y’know, just to have a look. Which was nice. High. So high that the summit is also where the US Government keeps some of their important astronomical telescopes and military surveillance equipment. (It’s all on Wikipedia.)
At some point in any Hawaiian vacation — or so I’m told — you’ve got to go see a luau. Part of me is absolutely certain that somewhere along the line the luau was invented — cobbled together from some more authentic styles of entertainment — just as some kind of show designed to entertain tourists. No other reason… just to give tourists some evening entertainment when it was too dark to surf.
This is how it goes: You pay a hundred bucks, give or take depending on the quality of seats, to watch a fairly interactive stage show featuring dozens of Polynesian-style dances, some guy juggling fire, and somewhere in there to eat a bit of barbecue. All ’round it’s a right fun time.
Near the end of our stint in Maui, at the tail-end of our trip, we attending a rather nice little luau in Kihei. Karin sprung for the top-tier seats and we had great seats right front-and-middle for the stage, positioning me perfectly to snap some great photos of the dancing and fire juggling later on in the evening.
Claire, shy as she is, held back from most of the kid activities they had set up prior to dinner — well, apart from the bouncy-castle — but a year later the video I shot of that night is still her favorite and we watch it over and over and over, particularly the parts where she was coaxed on-stage.
I don’t want to break into review-mode here, apart to say that an evening at the luau was definitely one of the memorable — and one of the more ‘just-what-I-was-expecting’ — Hawaii moments we had on vacation. Also, I can’t really compare; I’ve only been to one.
But the fire juggling — and trust me, I’ve seen and photographed plenty of fire juggling at the Fringe Festival over my years volunteering — was definitely top notch.