“The future”, William Gibson once wrote, “is already here: it’s just not evenly distributed”.
Indeed he may have. This quote could easily be applied to our recent trip from New Zealand to Hawaii. We left Auckland on Saturday morning, 14th April. We arrived in Honolulu at bedtime on Friday 13th. We experienced Friday 13th twice in April 2012. Fortunately, nothing bad happened on either of the same day. (As a rationalist, I have to say “of course it didn’t: it’s merely a date in a calendar.”)
Uneven distribution is a concept that may also be applied to the island of Oahu. In the local lingo it’s ‘the gathering place’. And gathered we humans have. With over a million permanent residents on the island with many, many more military – US marines, navy, air force and army all have bases – plus of course so very many tourists.
Honolulu: you get a flower garland to be draped around your neck as you emerge from the plane with steel guitar/ukelele accompaniment, yes? Er, no. 40 minutes “standing in line” waiting for a humourless immigration official to take your fingerprints and validate your visa at 11.30PM. Could be done in seconds by a machine or quicker by hand if they had more than two (slow motion) staff on duty.
Honolulu: palm trees and wide open vistas? No again. The six lane Nimitz highway running through high-rise urbanisation without barely a nod to town planning. Not good. This might well be a bitter blog folks.
The sun and sea are here as advertised. We do climb the summit of famed – I’d never heard of it – Diamond Head. The caldera of this dead volcano offers spectacular viewing of the south west parts including Waikiki, the reefs and the highrise. It’s thanks to 1908 army engineers that we’re atop this rock: Hawaiian lands have been of great interest to the US military. We survey the view of Honolulu from redundant gun emplacements (which are fascinating in themselves).
Thankfully, the North Shore of the island is mercifully less developed. But there are still too many people here for it to be the stuff of legend nowadays. Traffic jammed for miles. All to get a peek of the shore. There’s not even any big surf to wow us. We make a random stop at a beach –ooh look, a parking space! – and stumble across, almost literally, basking green turtles. This stirs us out of our negative mood. These big fellas munch on the shoreline seaweed then haul out onto the hot sand as it aids digestion. The volunteer rangers on hand prevent helpful tourists from “rescuing” them. There are several swimming (slightly disconcertingly) around our ankles in the shallows awaiting their moment to come ashore.
It’s a lovely wildlife moment. Then you turn toward the land and there are a gazillion people staring back at you. The buses stop for seven minutes – a ranger tells me – before moving on to bag their next destination scalp. The marketing people have been ever so sucessful in pitching Hawaii. Now they’ve all but killed the very thing they were promoting.
Elvis crooning Blue Hawaii no longer.
Best escape to the Big Island.
Ahhh, now that’s more like it. Lush, green, rural and uncomplicated. And so very volcanic. Young Morgan asks questions to the tune of “where’s the volcano Dad?” How to answer? The whole thing is volcano. The Hawaiian archipelago is a volcano: sitting on 3,600 miles of sea-mount it’s the only bits that stick above the ocean surface. The scale is mind scrambling.
We take in some of the volcanic sights at the wonderous Volcanoes National Park. A guided walk becomes a private tour at the capable hands of Ranger Travis. What a nice guy, brimming with knowledge in legend and volcanicity. However, when he toots his Hawaiian nose flute for us, it’s too much and I get the giggles.
Our digs are on the Mauna Loa volcano. Literally built on a 1950s lava flow a few miles from the sea perched at 1,500′. A 30′ yurt – with wifi naturally – in the improbable community of Ocean View. People come here to drop off the grid and do the hippy thing.
The hippy thing? It’s America, only closer to the south Pacific. Bureaucracy meets manyana with several ladles of who cares. This laissez fair attitude is amplified in the warm island sun.
Sounds lovely? Sorry: it’s more like sheer bloody laziness.
Exhibit A: We leave our laundry at a “Wash n Go” whose attendant – despite looking less than busy – can’t possibly do it this afternoon. We agree to collect the washed items in the morning, say 10ish? Great. Super. Thanks awfully.
Rocking up at the appointed time the following morning. They’re closed all day Wednesdays. We flying in a few hours, are travelling light and a great deal of our clothing is sealed inside a locked remote Hawaiian washeteria. Could this morning get any better?!
All efforts fail to gain entry. No answer from the phones, no spare keys, no caretaker, no help from anyone except a retired Mancunian who is running a thrift shop opening nearby. (Thanks for your help Mike, even if the task was impossible.) A particularly grimy customer at the next door takeaway comments: “Welcome to Hawai’i.” I quietly invite him to stick it.
We try not to let it spoil our day, but it does curtail our plans and necessitate clothes shopping that was not budgeted. Ugh and ugh.
And so it goes when we buy clothing. Service isn’t with a smile, it’s when they feel like it. You feel like an irritant despite the “valued customer” rhetoric and sole source of income for many businesses. “You want sauce with that?” Why not, eh? You get an individually wrapped, factory produced sachet for your convenience. The use it and throw it away culture. Admittedly it’s a bit rich from a family on a round-the-globe odyssey to talk of conspicuous consumption, but on Islands apparently so concerned with preservation, conservation and localisation you’d think they’d make more of an effort.
And another thing… [look, I’ve got all hot under the collar now] they make a big deal of growing coffee here in Kona. So, we stop high on the mountain road – above the bay where Captain Cook met his maker. Its a boutique coffee shack surrounded by the plants the cherries came from. The menu has lots of syrups and so forth to “customize” your coffee in an effort of perfection. We’ll take it with a little milk please: a cappuccino and a café au lait. Verdict? Perfectly ordinary American dishwater coffee. A match for the dross they trot out from any old place in the ‘States. Not a patch on the Aussie & Kiwi roasts we’ve been enjoying. This sums up Hawaii: all hype, self belief and actually quite disappointing in the end.
Okay, okay. The landscape doesn’t disappoint. It’s tremendous. It changes between altitude, age and flavour of lava flow, windward or not, with endemic flora that has had many thousands of years of splendid isolation to adapt. It’s perplexing and impressive. If you do not have an appreciation of biology, geography nor geology you could just dismiss it as a “load of rocks”. (A nice lady cabin crew described the west of the Big Island thus. It was my favourite bit.)
We weren’t a bit sad to leave the Islands. And that is a sad fact in itself I’d say.