Erm, this isn't Australia....
Trip Start Jun 05, 2006
58Trip End May 03, 2007
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Where I stayed
Going to Hawaii was really just the spontaneous side of Jo Davis being unleashed again. Once I saw super-fab low budget Australian airline JetStar advertising Honolulu as a new destination in December, I just knew I had to go. Back in January I even took an exceptional amount of ribbing at work for this because I got all excited by a seat sale and booked up a return ticket from Honolulu to Melbourne just because it was dirt cheap - and I didn't even have my flight out there at that stage
I remember March 8 well because it was a lovely hot day, but there was a big thunder storm brewing all afternoon. I love thunder storms at the best of times, but not really when I'm about to take to the skies. Still, I was very excited to head to Sydney Airport and find myself at the international terminal for the first time in ages. It also gave me a good laugh to see that the 9 hour JetStar flight to Honolulu had become a code share with Qantas. How hacked off would the Qantas crowd be after paying tantamount to double my fare only to go with a low budget carrier. Instead of being greeted by the foxy Qantas check-in women they get second-rate JetStar staff wearing an uncomfortable-looking orange nylon uniform that makes you feel itchy just by casting eyes upon it. Yah boo suckers!
Anyway, the orange had the complete opposite effect on me and made me feel very mellow and chilled out, which was a good thing because I was sitting by the terminal window looking at a black as night sky and a lot of grounded planes. I'd splurged on a new book (why, why why are books so expensive in Australia?) and had reached chapter six by the time we had the first of many public apologies over the PA system
About an hour and a half later we were ushered onto the plane in a system akin to the most mismanaged of meat raffles like those so beloved of small-town Australia. Every 10 minutes people's names were called out to go through the 'no liquids' security check. JetStar, bless 'em, had cobbled together rows of tables full of staff who didn't really know what the hell they were doing, hence the gigantic hold-ups that were completely un-storm related.
Once I'd received a fumbled old pat-down I settled down on the plane next to a very nice lady from Brisbane whose name escapes me now. But we had a good old chin wag. She was in her forties and told me that this trip to Hawaii was the first time she'd ever been away without her husband. In my guise as Jo No-Mates, Lone Traveller Extraordinaire, I I reassured this woman that she'd have the time of her life on her own. The two of us made a toast to Hawaiian Adventures with our JetStar sparkling wine. We were like Thelma and Louise. But in a plane, not a convertible. And flying over the Pacific, instead of flying to our deaths in the Grand Canyon. It was just Thelma and Louise. Oh yes.
The nine hour flight to Honolulu seemed really short. Before I knew it we were soaring over Oahu. I'd seen images of Hawaii so many times before, but never thought I'd find myself in a place that seems so far away from the UK - just because I fancied going there. It sounds weird, but it made me realise just how much I was in control of my own destiny. It was like I had just realised I was a grown-up and could go wherever I liked.(!)
We touched down in Honolulu about 8am and it didn't take too long to jump on a shuttle bus to Waikiki. On-board, I got chatting to Amber, a Canadian from Regina (they're everywhere!). Anyways, I must have a special bond with all people from the land of the maple leaf or something, as we got on so well in those 10 minutes that we decided to meet a couple of hours later on Waikiki Beach. I got dropped off at Hostelling International Waikiki Beach while Amber - lucky thing - had a night in a hotel prior to jetting back to a frozen Saskatchewan the following night. I, on the other hand, had 6 nights on Oahu and 15 days on the Hawaiian islands overall. OK, you could say I was the Prime Minister of the Province of Luck right then. But it would be fair to say that I was truly out of my comfort zone by this stage. I'd just remembered that I was back in the crazy land of tipping and found myself fumbling around for a dollar bill as we got closer to my drop-off point
Anyway, it was only 9.30am at that stage so I dumped my backpack and dove into the toilet. These little sessions are what I like to refer to as my wonder woman juju sessions. They basically involve me - in lieu of having access to a shower - splashing water all over myself, changing clothes and underwear, cleaning my teeth, flashing a dazzling smile at the mirror and telling myself to BLOODY WAKE UP. I may have had just a couple of hours sleep that night, but a quiz whizz round in the cape and I was ready to face the outside world again. Also, I was experiencing the longest day of my life. I was about to re-live Thursday again and had arrived in Honolulu hours before I'd even taken off from Sydney. How's that for time travel?! I made a quick call home at the same time (10 hours ahead), and then got talking to - oh my
As soon as I wandered out onto the streets of Waikiki to go meet Amber, I knew I was going to like the place. For starters it's full of Americans (most of whom have a habit of making me laugh without even realising it) and it has the ubiquitous ABC stores on every street corner. I was very excited about finding bottled water for $1US in there after being used to paying $4 in Australia. I also enjoyed being asked if I found everything I needed all the subsequent 100 billion times I went in there after that.
I found Waikiki to be, in effect, a bit of a human zoo. All microcosms of human life were on display there - from sinewy seventy-something body builders to Texan families of 10, complete with requisite cowboy hats of course. I also loved the number of Japanese people who were either laden down with shopping bags or surfboards and were manically taking pictures of precocious college girls in their bikinis. Somehow I think they had arrived in their version of heaven and Waikiki was it. Shame they tried to bomb it to bits a few years ago though. (Whoops, that one was in bad taste...)
Amber and I met on the beach's main pier and had a good old butcher's at the surfer boys
After a bit of wandering around Amber and I got lunch and decided to settle on the beach, seeing as we were both kind of knackered and jet-lagged. As the day progressed, Waikiki Beach got pretty chocker and we were pretty much fighting for precious towel space by the Pink Palace hotel come 2pm. Eventually though, we'd got ourselves settled and had even been in the North Pacific for a dip. Lovely! We were just falling asleep at about 3pm (a good old Nanna nap beneath the sunglasses) when we were woken up by some big old raindrops plopping onto our bare stomachs. I woke up in a daze. Clouds? On a formerly blue sky beach day? That just doesn't happen in Australia, I thought. Anyway, if I was going to get through the whole day then I needed a boost. Of a certain kind. After all, my name's Jo Davis and I am a coffee addict. It didn't take me long to find a warm, welcoming, glowing cup of strong Java that became part of a religion for me
After a couple of hours more sunbathing (saved from coma status by the coffee), Amber and I decided to go and get showered and to meet again outside Billabong for dinner. Back in the hostel's kitchen I met the lovely Lucy again and invited her to dinner with us. But before the three of us ate we decided to try out the free Polynesian show on Wakiki Beach. Every night there's a free torch lighting session on Wakiki complete with song and dance and hunky bare-chested men. And of course that night we had the perfect sunset to enjoy it all by. I think that was the moment I had one of those 'I'm actually in Hawaii!' realisations.
We ended up having dinner at this great Mexican just a couple of blocks from where I was staying. I knew I was going to love it as soon as I saw the lit up cactus outside. Over dinner Lucy told us about how she broke up with her boyfriend while she was travelling, leading to them both going their separate ways. She's not the only one - I met a massive proportion of newly-separated couples on my travels. Guess the whole 24/7 travelling thing proves more 'break' than 'make' for most people
Lucy wasn't a major fan of the hostel because 'there were too many old people'. It was true, the backpacking crowd in Hawaii was generally older than in Australia. Hostelling in the States seems to be in more of the embryonic stage, so you can't expect as much value for money as you would get in Oz. But I loved the fact that there was a completely diverse crowd at the hostel. I had this lady from British Columbia in my room called AJ. She must have been in her seventies and I was full of admiration for her. She was fascinating to talk to as well and I loved hearing about her life over our numerous cups of coffee in the kitchen. I was also sharing my room with this crazy girl who I never actually spoke to because we actually existed in different time zones. Apparently she was 'working' in Honolulu and came home every night at 3am when I was sound asleep and then, conversely, was sound asleep whenever I went out the next morning. I believe she was American, but couldn't really pin down her accent just from her snoring. I was also sharing with an Aussie girl and a barmaid from Devon who thought I was an Aussie. That's gotta be ironic.
My second full day in Hawaii just had to be spent 'doing Diamond Head'
We jumped on The Bus, Honolulu's efficienrt transportation system where, for the bargain price of $2, you can go just about anywhere on Oahu. It was good to see it so well used - it was packed. Once we shoved our way past a load of bratty kids, we got off at Diamond Head and began the hike up. Well, it was more of a stroll really. It's only three quarters of a mile to the top. It may have been a short walk but we were kept very entertained by some of our 'fellow hikers'. We were just stopping to take some pictures about half way up when the peace was shattered by a rotund young man (American, of course!), sweat pouring off him as he puffed his way up to the top. I particularly liked the dramatic way in which he declared - insert American accent here - "I can't take this ANYMOOORRRRREEE!!!" and crashed his rather lardy arse down onto a rock. His mum, obviously finding herself in the last chance saloon, produced her trump card - a can of diet coke. After all, it's the drink of champions! The chunky youngster glugged it back, let out a loud belch and he was ready for more Extreme Mountain Climbing
Despite the ease of the climb, it must still be quite the achievement to reach the top of Diamond Head. Just as you're readying yourself to drink in the view and enjoy the peace and quiet, lo and behold you stumble across a very jaded man stationed up the top with a little table stacked high with certificates that say 'I climbed Diamond Head'. Hmmmm - I quite fancied one of those babies, so reached out a hand for my piece of paper to celebrate my achievement, only to have it slapped down by Jaded Table Guy. "That's $2, lady," he tells me. Only in America. And just as we rounded the corner to the viewpoint and began admiring the beauty of the island from above, a very helpful man suddenly appeared almost magically in a puff of smoke. "Hellloooo ladies and gentlemen," he greeted us with as though we were at the circus. Our ringmaster then proceeded to talk us through all the sights down below. 'What an awfully helpful chap!' I thought. But that didn't last long. "And down there we got 100,000 acres of unspoilt flora and fauna," he goes. "And we got a tour going out tomorrow with just seven places on it, with the best tour guide in Hawaii to show you all these beautiful species....." 'Shut up, shut up, shut up,' I thought. We are trying to enjoy real beauty here and you're giving us a sales pitch?! Oh yes. Only in America.
After Lucy sampled some real Hawaiian shave ice (why it's not 'shaved' I have no idea - it's not grammatically correct), we decided to split up and meet a bit later at Sandy Beach, on the south east corner of Oahu. Did I mention that Oahu's bus service was comprehensive but not exactly reliable? Back at Waikiki Amber and I picked up our bikinis and waited 45 minutes for a bus back to the south east that was never going to come. Despite being entertained by more Canadians and a strange woman who told me she loved the way I said 'fabulous', we decided to cut our losses and hit Waikiki Beach again. We had another long, lazy afternoon on a beach that I was coming to love just because it was full of crazy characters and there were so many conversations to eavesdrop on. I just love the way Americans talk to each other as though they are at opposite ends of the beach. And - bonus! - as the sun set, a couple of lovely guys vacated their sun loungers and asked us if we wanted them. So we ate dinner while watching that striking Waikiki beach sunset. Amber was gutted to be flying back to Saskatchewan that night, which was considerably chillier than Honolulu in March. (I'm still dealing with the reality that human life actually exists on those Canadian prairie lands...).
Anyway, Amber and I scooted over to the Hilton Hawaiian Village with the intention of catching the free fireworks show, only to find that it was erm, cancelled
The next day I jumped on a bus to head out to Pearl Harbor. You can't really go to Hawaii without going to Pearl Harbor. When I got there it was all rather chaotic. You have to head over to this marquee to drop your bag, which I'm convinced is a ploy to get visitors to part with dollars for every kind of world cuisine on the planet which seems to reside in there. Ugh! American commercialism! I hastily made my way over to the USS Arizona Memorial to find that I had an hour and a half wait before I could get to the actual memorial. But never mind. There was plenty to see in the museum, which I found fascinating. And going down to the harbour edge and looking at this big wide open space, the scene of such devastation, really brought everything home to me. It's so quiet down there, and very fittingly there was a leaden sky up above with a small ray of sunshine trying to poke through
Eventually group no 7,879 - including one Jo Davis - got its turn to go out to the memorial. I was already a little bothered that there was no mention of Britain's involvement in WWII in the museum and hoped for some mention in dispatches during the film we watched. Erm, no. Re-write those history books, people! It all started when Japan decided to bomb the States. I was actually surprised to see quite a few Japanese people taking a day off from riding around on the Hilo Hattie trolleys to come to Pearl Harbor. Well, good 'em on, I thought, and I chided myself for thinking it was weird in the first place.
It was very moving when we docked at the USS Arizona. You can clearly see the funnels of the ship under the water, and the hugeness of the vessel just hits you. You only get about 20 minutes out there in all, but it passed so quickly for me because I was just standing, watching and thinking.
Amazingly Pearl Harbor took up the whole day for me and it was a long old ride home because it was so busy around the Ala Moana centre. I needed to cut loose that night, I decided. So I came back to the hostel and there was Ryan and Lucy
So we stayed there for a drink while looking at a big screen featuring some sort of bull riding on it. When Aaron started to explain the rules of the rodeo to me, I knew it was time to leave. I begged them to take me to the Gangster/Hip-Hop club next door. This place was even weirder. In all the club had 10 people in it. Oh dear. We stayed for a while, but by then I'd pretty much had enough. And anyway, I was determined to head out early the next day as I wanted to go up to the North Shore.
The North Shore is adored by surfers the world over for its big waves, duuuudddde
For the rest of that day I worked my way round the island of Oahu, I didn't have a timetable or the foggiest idea of where I was actually going, but I just drew arrows round the map of Oahu in my Lonely Planet. I loved using the bus, especially because once you get into the North Shore and down onto the windward coast, you meet all sorts. I even got talking to a Mormon at one of the bus stops I waited at. At first I just thought he was a very smartly dressed young man, but then again you don't see many twenty-something going around in a suit on a Sunday. I think the penny dropped when he started telling me that there are a lot of people on Oahu who 'Jesus just won't save'. Yes - he did a lot to convince me that Mormonism and narrow-minded bigotry doesn't go hand in hand
Master Mormon got off at his monster of a temple, which I believe is the biggest Mormon Temple outside of Salt Lake City. I continued on round to the east coast, which I think was my favourite part of the island. There were no tourists. The highlight of the island tour had to be when a lady got on the bus with a bird on her shoulder. Now that doesn't happen every day where I'm from, I thought. The bird, a colourful little blue and green chappie, was shiteing away merrily on his owner's shoulder. It must have been the excitement of being on a bus.
Once I'd done the full island loop I got off at the Ala Moana Center and went off for a walk round by the beach park, which was full of life on a Sunday afternoon, with barbecues smoking away and kites at full flight. Here, a couple of miles away from Waikiki, you get more of a sense of the real Honolulu. This is where people go to jog, play sport and generally chill out. It's a lot less frantic than Waikiki.
But I'm glad that my day wasn't complete without meeting another funny little character. This time around I had the (mis)fortune of waiting for the bus back to Waikiki with a chunky 10-year-old who was carrying a TV
A long 45 minutes later I got onto a bus, still being harangued by TV Girl who seemed to find me absolutely fascinating, despite the fact that I had my back turned to her. As we got on the bus she then proceeded to abuse other passengers - for example a man in a wheelchair was on the bus, which was a packed bus. TV Girl then turns to me and goes: "If that man wasn't on the bus there'd be room for lots of people!" I just wanted to die - people probably thought she was my child
proceeded to move on to talk to some Japanese tourists on the bus and decided they were 'retarded' because they couldn't speak much English. She also managed to abuse some other woman for being large. I could kind of see why she wasn't well regarded at school. I shoved her out of the bus at her stop and flung her TV out after her. It shattered into a million pieces. Whoops - slipped into fantasy mode for a second there.
A few minutes later the bus wasn't going anywhere and I could just see the tail-end of the parade snaking down the main road a couple of blocks away. I was desperate to see it, so I decided to jump off the bus and do me a bit of parade-chasing. It was really quite interesting to see it in reverse - I raced past each float, snapped a picture then shoved my way through a load of people who were moving in the other direction. It was a very lively parade, held to celebrate island life and there was a great atmosphere down on the Waikiki seafront. Everyone was in party mode and someone even gave me one of those cool light sabre things. Once I'd made it to the head of the parade at break-neck speed (the highlight was definitely the dragon), I went on out to the pier to take another look at Waikiki at night
The next morning Lucy (formerly of my hostel, now living in a more exciting hostel with a TV in her room!) and I went to the Kualoa Ranch on the windward coast of Oahu. We were quite exciting about seeing one of the most famous locations for numerous bad films we'd seen over the years, and of course the location for Lost. We had a good morning on the ranch. It was beautiful out there - we were allowed to wander round at leisure and went out on this cool 4x4 to do a hike that gave us tremendous views of the valley below.
When we got back to Waikiki Lucy decided she was too exhausted to do anything else so retired to her room with the TV in it for a nap. (Just for a change she went out the previous night.) I was full of beans and energy so took the bus into downtown Honolulu to go see Chinatown. I think I was just about the only Waikiki incomer there. I followed a fascinating trail round this beautiful neighbourhood and there really was something to see round every corner. I tried some Chinese cakes which were delicious and really enjoyed wandering through the various marketplaces and soaking up the atmosphere
I ended up in downtown Honolulu where I marvelled at the magnificent 'Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the USA. It was restored in 1978 and you could go inside, but it was a little late in the day so I decided not to. Opposite the 'Iolani Palace in the Old Federal Building, which was equally as lovely.
I didn't have too much luck weather-wise on my last day on Oahu. The rain was pouring down and it was exceptionally windy. Determined to do something that didn't involve spending heaps of money (ie shopping), I decided to head over to the Sea Life Park on the south east of the island. It just so happened that AJ, the seventy-something Canadian lady from my hostel dorm, was going there too. I saw her at the bus stop, and bless her, she had her swimming costume packed because she really really wanted to swim with dolphins. It was absolutely chucking it down at this stage, so I got the general impression that she wanted to do this a lot! When we arrived at the sea life park there was some sort of gale blowing, because the park is right on the tip of Oahu, and was very exposed. I'm not very much of an animal person, so volunteered to take some pics of AJ with the dolhpins as she didn't have a camera with her
After coffee with AJ and another wander round the park, I couldn't hold out any longer and found myself at the Ala Moana shopping mall, erm, shopping. I don't know what happened, but somehow I discovered that Old Navy is the shop I've been missing out on my entire life and ended up buying one or two items there. Oh dear. It was when the sales assistant told me that people are going crazy over the baby doll dresses - I just couldn't resist. I found myself coming out of the Ala Moana Center blinking as though I'd just emerged from a nuclear bunker. It was 6.30pm and I had shopped - or pretty much window shopped and I still hadn't dropped. I always shop and drop! Where did this extra stamina come from? Mystified, I made my way back and set about packing my stuff up for Maui the next day. At the very last moment I had resorted to shopping and was thoroughly ashamed of myself. Time to get away from the commercialisation....