Day 1 and 2: Exploring Honolulu, Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, Hanauma Bay, and Ala Moana Beach Park.
Mahalo and Aloha
After my Seattle play performance during the Spring of 2009 (yeah you can sometimes spot me acting on stage too) that provided enough excitement to last me a while, I contemplated doing something new, something exciting, maybe something a little forbidden too. So when my friend pinged me suggesting, “Let’s make a trip to Hawaii !!”, I gave her a quizzical look, wondering if she was serious. I had thought of visiting the Grand Canyon or Niagra Falls someday, but not Hawaii.
Now most people have a habit of giving their 2 cents about everything, whether asked or not. Over the next few days, I heard lot of opinions from my well-wishers. Hawaii is not a place for two girls traveling alone. Hawaii is where you go for your honeymoon. Go to Las Vegas, but keep Hawaii for a special occasion. Hey, you don’t even know how to drive. How will you visit Hawaii?And the funniest one, a dialogue from the movie Jab We Met, “Akeli ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai” (Rough translation: A nubile woman on her own is as unsafe as an open safe).
I wondered what was this big deal about Hawaii. One, most people who advised me against it had never even been there. Maybe they had kept this so called secret location for a special occasion they had no idea about. For me, it was one of the 50 states in the US. And why not? I was transitioning from an F1 visa to an H1B, and did not want to travel internationally while my work permit was pending. So why this hush hush about going somewhere with a friend who is not a lover or a husband, in fact, not even from the opposite sex? Don’t girls travel on their own? In fact, don’t people travel on their own? Just for fun and not under compulsion?
Without giving away the story, I would like to tell you that despite what people said, I had one of the most memorable trips in Hawaii. 5 days of sun, sea, sand, hikes, historical visits, and exploration it was. Life is unpredictable, fate is fickle, and I will never again die regretting that I listened to people and did not do Hawaii.
As for the post, Mahalo and Aloha means thank you and welcome. Two words I picked up during my trip there.
Hawaii being one of the most sought after tourist places in the world, people ask me if the trip cost a fortune. Honestly, you can make a Hawaii trip as expensive as you want it to be. As I was just a few months into my job (and had another trip to California and New York the same month), I decided not to splurge.
How I saved money but still afforded Hawaii:
1. No resorts, no expensive hotels, we stayed at the youth hostel in Honolulu (Waikiki beach hostel). Excellent location, right by the Waikiki beach. I understand this isn’t an option for most, but being single girls, we didn’t mind living in hostels. We agreed that since we needed a place to sleep and freshen and take a bath and to keep our luggage, living in a hostel would ensure we spent most of the time exploring Hawaii and not basking in luxury and watching “Friends” on TV.
2. We did not rent a car. The reason was simple, we didn’t know how to drive then. That is why we picked up the island of Oahu. We found it was the best in terms of public transportation. If you were to visit say Maui or the Big Island, you have to have a car.
3. How much you spend also depends on what you do. Since I’m very scared of water activities and don’t know how to swim, I avoided water activities, snorkeling, parasailing, and jet skiing. Now I would strongly encourage you to do these, I am told they are awesome. But my point is, you can still have fun without doing these. I still had a fun time hiking, visiting Pearl Harbor and other places of tourist interest, lazing around watching sunsets by the beach, and shopping.
4. Choosing the right time to visit: If you choose Christmas, Thanksgiving, holidays, or school breaks, be ready to cough up an enormous amount for flights and stay. We went there in May and were spared the on-season crowd as well as the on-season prices.
5. Inter-island hopping: Most people do it, but we decided to keep costs low and explore just the island of Oahu well. We missed out the great things to do in the other islands (especially exploring the two national parks), but well, it is kept for some other vacation.
Day 1: Exploring Waikiki Beach
We had a direct early morning flight from Seattle to Honolulu, and thanks to the 3 hour time difference, even after a tiresome 6 hour flight, it was still morning when we reached Honolulu. Hawaii is a group of islands located in the middle of the Pacific ocean, almost mid way between the western coast of the US and Japan. I was a little surprised at how small and laidback the Honolulu international airport was. Mostly a touristy place, the one thing that hit me was the sun and the tropical smell in the air. Suddenly, it felt like being in India. People, both men and women, wore flower garlands, or even a single flower. Instead of buying fresh flowers that would wilt in the heat, I bought myself one single white artificial flower.
I immediately noticed that the flowers and the trees reminded me of India, perhaps due to the tropical climate. I was thrilled to see plants and trees I haven’t seen in the US otherwise- Banyan trees, Mango trees, Bougainvillea, even Hibiscus plants (Ma Kali’s favorite). What more, even the buildings looked different. While I thought the tall buildings looked like Mumbai, my friend claimed that it looked like Korea or Singapore. Well, I have been to neither, so I do not know.
Soon, the shuttle dropped us to our hostels. We were initially disappointed by the dilapidated and messy condition our room was in, but well, this was a hostel, not a hotel. There were 8 bunk beds for girls. I made a mental note of how rushed mornings would be when 8 girls waited to use one restroom, combs, makeup kits, sun screen, and all. I immediately grabbed an empty bunk bed. I was thrilled. The last time I had climbed up the stairs to find a bed was when I was travelling in a train in India.
An interesting thing about the hostel was its high turnover number. We never saw a girl for more than 2 days. Most of them were Europeans and Australians backpacking and globe trotting on their own; brawny, physically strong women who had been all over the map, climbing mountains, surfing seas, and blazing it out. Though we looked puny and fragile compared to them, we were glad there were women who travelled Hawaii on their own and didn’t keep it as a honeymoon destination.
Next, we changed, freshened, and headed for the Waikiki Beach. The trollies have color codes based on where they take you. The blue coded trollies take you around the scenic sightseeing places. The red ones take you around the historic sightseeing locations. The yellow and the pink ones took you around the shopping locations. One could board and re-board them any number of times. But these were expensive. 30 dollars a day or something like 45 dollars for 4 days. We were glad they did not charge us for taking trolley pictures.
I am told the Waikiki beach is a man-made beach. From there, we could see the Diamond Head Crater that we hiked 2 days later. It’s an arid and easy hike and when you reach the head of the crater, you can see the whole city of Honolulu and the oceans (would write about it in the Hawaii part 2 post).
The first thing that hit us about Honolulu was the heat. The buses were air conditioned, with the cold air set high enough to freeze you. But once you step out, you will half boil yourself. Most of the times all we had were milk shakes and fruit juices. By the way, the shaved ice is a hit in Hawaii, and though we did not have it, it seems that it is one of those things highly publicized because President Obama loves them. He is from Hawaii by the way (and so is Katrina Kaif). I ended up asking my friend, “Who wants to leave Hawaii to work in Washington DC or in Mumbai?”
We spent the sunset by the Waikiki beach, took long walks for hours everyday, enjoying the music by the live street performers, the shops, the lights, and the people on the streets. Hawaii is a fun place, you could walk on the streets late at night and still feel it’s a never ending carnival going on. Hopping on a bus and sightseeing is something, but being on foot and exploring every little nook and corner of the city is another. We were told about a famous eating place called Ruffage (though the name didn’t sound that appealing) and though we tried thrice, we were unable to locate it. We ended up eating pizzas for dinner by the beach. Ask me how much fun it is to have your dinner by the beach, sitting on the sand, listening to live music with the cool maritime breeze on your face.
That night, we discovered we would be going to sleep every night henceforth with live music. You know about the “nukkad” concept, a place for hanging out for men, usually at the entrance staircase of someone’s house, where people sit for hours chatting or playing music? The entrance to the hostel was one such place. That night as I hopped on to my bunk bed, I went to sleep with the music of live guitar playing outside. It was a carnival. It seemed I had left all my worries back in Seattle. I had never been happier.
Day 2 (Exploring Pearl Harbor, Hanauma Bay, and Ala Moana Beach Park):
By the end of day 1, I realized a few things. First, it really helped to know how to drive. Second, it helped more to know how to read a map. The first, I could do nothing about, but the second, I still had a chance. I spent quite some time the first night “doing my homework”, which meant going through all the brochures and maps collected to make a plan for day 2. Our visit to all the places was dependent on the public transportation- a bus, a shuttle, or a cab.
The next morning, we woke up early enough to finish using the restrooms before the other 6 girls had woken up. I found myself looking forward to using some makeup at 6 am, though given the heat and the weather, my face would look like a melted cake as soon as I was out in the sun. Sleeping in a bunk bed sounded exciting too, but realization hit hard that I was perhaps growing a little too old to hop around in bunk beds. Hearing your bones creak is a scary feeling. Anyway, we were up and ready on day 2 pretty early in the morning. But even before we were ready, the sun was up and shining and people were out there on the streets. Our first destination was Pearl Harbor, which took us more than a good one hour by bus. I wasn’t very aware of the history of Pearl Harbor, except the fact that the Japanese had attacked this place in the 1940s. But going there and seeing and knowing things for myself was a different experience.
Amongst the various sights we visited were the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Bowfin. USS Arizona was a memorial built on top of the ship sunk and destroyed with around 700 people still on board. We were shown a historic video before a motorboat quickly took us to the USS Arizona.
There are remains of the ship still visible and they say that oil still seeps into the water from what remains of the ship (which is a wonderful habitat for living organisms).
We met four of the survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack, who were army officers on the ship then. Although remnants of wars or details about them do not interest me that much, I must say I left Pearl Harbor with a heavy heart. But that is the same way I would feel I am sure if I was to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki some day.
After Pearl Harbor, it was time to head back to the city and grab lunch. We were pretty exhausted, and could not decide between taking the bus and exploring the beaches further north, or getting back to Honolulu downtown and freshen up at the hostel before we started for our next destination. I needed a coffee badly and the person at the Starbucks suggested a nice Indian place to eat. I asked around if there were nice places to explore when the owner of the Indian restaurant suggested Hanauma Bay. The name funnily sounded like Hanuman (monkey God) bay. I had seen pictures of the place during my day 1 homework and it did look awesome. It was a horseshoe shaped mountain that had ejected lava hundreds of years ago before it cooled down and became habitable. Apparently, this is a very popular place for snorkeling too.
Next we spent the evening at the Ala Moana Beach Park, catching a very glamorous sunset. We walked by the beach and talked for hours, watched the birds, the children playing, and people happily basking in the glory of the Hawaiian air.
It was a totally relaxed evening, watching Honolulu downtown being lit and coming alive as the sun went down.
We eventually walked back to our hostel, a good 90 minutes of walking that that day that made us ravishing hungry and ensured we ate guilty-free after all the work out of the day.
There was more live music for our ears as we slept like logs after a very tiring but equally amazing day 2.
Verdict after day 1 and day 2: Go visit Hawaii if you get a chance. Don’t wait for a honeymoon or something romantic or miraculous to happen.