Who would’ve thought this extended trip of over two months would also include time-travel? We left Sydney (after some useful advice from the staff at check-in about where to find the best Lava Flow cocktails in Honolulu) around tea-time on Saturday and arrived for breakfast the same day in Hawaii. Crossing the International Date Line meant that we were still 21 hours ahead and we could re-live a whole day in another continent – well, we had an early check-in at the hotel and went to sleep.
Our last stop was in the US of A, as we touched the runway in Honolulu, a mere few metres away from the ocean. Aloha is the only way to greet people (later with a twiddle of your thumb and little finger, other fingers folded) and the number of Japanese people in the queue outnumbered anyone else. We were asked to give fingerprints from both hands (all fingers and thumbs) – questioned politely about our many stops along the way. It was winter in Hawaii about 23-26 degrees Celsius – a ‘mostly cloudy’ weather prediction meant the sun might go behind a cloud for a couple of minutes.
Getting into Waikiki on the Likelike Highway (later we heard that Princess Likelike rode that stretch on her horse up to a special place reserved only for Hawaiian royalty – now, it is a military base), I was experiencing a feeling of city-anxiety that I seem to have developed on this trip. Singapore, though super-efficient has enough malls to put people like me in a permanent state of claustrophobia. Melbourne was nice but a little dull – a European sort of city but too cold in summer. Alice Springs was strange for the way the Aboriginal people roam about looking lost and depressed. Sydney of course was the exception. Waikiki was super-touristy and the hotel staff a little cut and dried, but we could see the ocean close by, the sun was a few degrees cooler but still bright and warm. All would be well.
Few people go to Hawaii and not hop across to other islands. We were in that minority – we stuck to Oahu. Just to confuse things a little, Hawaii is the name of another island in this bit of the Pacific archipelago. The sun sets over the ocean in Waikiki and despite the hustle and bustle of the city, the sea was a shimmering gold on aquamarine and the water gentle and warm. As we walked along, the flaming torches were burning strong in the open-air restaurant of the Halekulani hotel. The old-time trio (mentioned even in guide-books) were tuning up to entertain the diners. We had a sample of their crooning as we hung around to watch for a few minutes.
The next day – a walk up Diamond Head crater seemed like a good way to re-energise after the long hop from south-east Australia. Along the way, we were utterly charmed by the sight of numerous coconut, mango, almond and even banyan trees. Bougainvillea bushes in orange, pink and red, ornamental crotons in front of people’s houses. Was this a dream – had I landed on an unknown southern Indian island by accident?
The US Military presence is felt almost everywhere – even the path up the crater was built by the US Army. All along the way, there were defence establishments of all shapes and sizes. Any minute, I expected the chanting marines from Officer and a Gentleman to march past or watch the cruise missiles from Top Gun take off from the naval carriers stationed in the near distance. Hawaii might have a unique Polynesian identity and culture to delight visitors, but it is quite dominated by the country’s military. It was a moderately vigorous climb to the top of Diamond Head – the views of the high-rise buildings of the city on one side and the serene sea on the other were quite spectacular.
The Polynesian Cultural Centre north of Oahu, is a theme park with meaning. All its cultures are featured here – Hawaii, Aotearoa (Maori for New Zealand),Samoa, Fiji, and Tahiti. Each island area has exact replicas of huts and ceremonial places from their lands. The centre itself is funded by the Church of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) and the people who present and perform in the floating pageants and in the evening show are mostly students who earn money to pay for their education at the Brigham Young University next door. The best feats were performed by the Samoans – the women from this island are the happiest in Polynesia, presumably because the men do all the domestic work. The presentation was centred around the coconut tree – the tree of life. Kap, the incredibly talented fire-thrower, stand-up comedian and artist, as we later found out, explained that these islands didn’t have iron ore – so all the implements used were from bamboo and coconut trees. He cut open a coconut using the sharp end of a bamboo stick dug into the ground. He broke the inner shell with a small stone. His men grated it in seconds and wrapped it in some husk and squeezed out the milk in a matter of a minute. The Fijians were funny (“how many in the audience have been to Fiji? Five – good. How many of you would like to know more about Fiji? There, five of you have been there – just ask them!”), the Tahitians graceful dancers and the Maoris – scary but impressive.
The brochures at the hotel and guide books in Waikiki are bursting with adverts for snorkelling, scuba-diving, surf-boarding, swimming with the dolphins, and guaranteed whale-watching among other things. Back near Kaikoura, in New Zealand, also in the Pacific, they weren’t sure if we’d be able to spot any. The sight of the spurt of water signifies the presence of one of these giant mammals. The humpback whales have travelled a long distance from the cold waters of Northern Alaska to get to the warmer end to give birth. They swim back all the way, with the calves (each 15 feet long) sometime in May. Just seeing glimpses of a dorsal fin (of a calf rolling on its side) or a tail-fin (of it taking a vertical dive) was enough for the entire boat to be totally thrilled and captivated by these playful animals.
By way of saying farewell to a grand trip, and to play out a dare set by a friend, we decided to parachute ourselves in the middle of the ocean (albeit tethered to a boat). A life-jacket, a couple of belts and hooks strapped us in and away we went up in the sky – the feeling of being aloft, swinging gently above the clear blue water was simply wonderful. If we were to believe the Bollywood film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (you don’t get this life twice) – conquering our fears leads to inner transformation. Watch this space!