Pretty on the outside, but sort of a bumpy ride altogether.
For $140.45 per person (lunch is NOT included), start your day with a Pearl Harbor Tour at the USS Arizona Memorial where you’ll learn about the attack in a new museum at the Visitors Center. Next you’ll cruise through the pineapple fields of Wahiawa, stopping at the obligatory Dole Pineapple tourist trap. Then, it’s on to the famous North Shore surfing beaches where you might get some great photographs (but don’t hold your breath because it rains almost daily). The highlight of the trip is exploring the “Islands of the South Pacific” at the world famous Polynesian Cultural Center, which closes all its exhibits at 5 PM, so you’d better bring your jogging shoes.
It sounded like a wonderful way to spend our first Sunday on Oahu, only E Noa doesn’t offer this tour on Sundays. Apparently, the Polynesian Cultural Center is run by Mormons, so Sunday is family day. We decided on Wednesday instead. Here’s how it all went down.
We were picked up at our hotel about 20 minutes late. There was a second van that stopped at our hotel and transferred a particularly nervous, strange, and scary looking family of 13 Canadians, all of who were hell-bent on getting on the bus first as they rushed in front of us to board. One of their kids was about 6’5″ and proudly wearing a shirt with skulls that read “Kill them all and let God sort them out.” There were plenty of seats, so we weren’t worried about their bumrush. As the bus took a sudden dip, we saw that two unrelated obese chicks actually beat the scary Canadians onboard as they slammed themselves into the first two seats behind the driver. After the Canucks finally boarded, a woman with a three month old baby fake-smiled as she ushered her obedient husband aboard with a stroller that had nowhere to go, bumping almost everyone in the process. Why bring an infant to Hawaii? I could tell this would be a very interesting crowd. But that’s the risk you take when booking a public tour.
Our driver Carlos, a shorter man with a shaved head, seemed nice enough as he gave us a brief yet dark history of Hawaii that was supposedly “secret.” Apparently, there is an underground movement working towards reestablishing Hawaii as a sovereign nation. You can tell who’s involved whenever you spot an upside down Hawaiian flag. He told us a story of a Pearl Harbor witness who told him she saw Japanese pilots actually waving civilians back into their homes. Carlos continued with some snippets of history and folklore (probably mostly folklore, since Hawaiian history was recorded through dance), including a tidbit that was particularly interesting. Apparently there was an apology by a certain “Japanese official” who was abruptly cut off upon stating that Japan’s problems were not with the Hawaiian people, but with the American government. I cannot find any indication of such a speech. That must have been super secret.
USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.
After reeling in guilt from being American, on the way to Pearl Harbor, we received a firm dissertation on Pearl Harbor’s strict security rules. We were reminded that this site is a tomb, and we should be mindful of that and be silent. And no bags — diaper bags, purses, camera bags, backpacks, fanny packs, whatever – would be admitted due to post 9-11 rules. Frankly, I couldn’t understand this rule. With all due respect, you’d have to be a pretty dumb terrorist to attack Pearl Harbor. There hasn’t been anything here to blow up since 1941. Carlos advised us to carry our wallets only, and leave all bags on the bus. We were prepared for TSA-quality security scanning. When we approached the entrance, we were surprised to see scores of folks pass thru two rangers with no scanning whatsoever — no pat-downs, no metal detectors, and not so much as a glance or a ticket check in our direction. I could have walked in with a rocket launcher strapped to my back and probably gone unnoticed. Maybe this was a low threat day, who knows. Our tour guide told us where to go, when to meet him, and he took off.
It was raining that morning, as it does a bunch in Hawaii. Just past the front entrance, there was a bustling gift shop filled with all kinds of the typical souvenir crap. Their big seller that day was their rain ponchos. For only $1.50, you could cover your clothes with a pink or blue trash bag. Call me crazy, but for some reason, I didn’t think a gift shop was befitting for a tomb.
We got in good and early. Due to “sequestration,” the monument closes two hours earlier than normal, and they only give out a limited amount of tickets daily. After walking through two museum-type exhibits and standing in the rain for about 45 minutes, we were corralled into a movie theatre to watch a very well done ten-minute historical document about what happened here in December 1941. After the movie, we were ushered into a ferry that brought us to the USS Arizona Memorial, a monument built directly over the carnage of the Arizona.
The memorial still reeked of oil or fuel, an unpleasant reminder of how real this was, albeit more than seventy years ago. They call it the Tears of the Arizona. Folklore states the tears will stop when the last survivor passes on. At the time of our visit, there were twelve survivors still with us. A touching display of the names and ranks of all the boys lost in this horrible attack sits at the far end of the memorial. You’ll get roughly ten to fifteen minutes to walk around and shoot pictures, then it’s a return ferry back to the visitor center. Children were laughing and folks were loud during the ride back, not the reaction anyone would expect.
Avoiding the crowded gift shop, we were left in the rain again for another twenty minutes. We walked back to the bus, but no one was there. Eventually, Carlos returned and the Canadians made their mad dash to their seats.
The Mecca of Tourist Traps, Pineapple Style.
On to the North Shore and the pineapple fields of Wahiawa, otherwise known as the Dole Pineapple Tourist Trap. Another speech from Carlos about how the Dole folks bought or kidnapped slaves and brought them to Hawaii to work the plantations. Apparently, the Dole pineapple guy was a former post-monarchy Hawaiian president’s cousin, so they hesitated to use the Dole name until Hawaii became an official state. This place is a cross between a low-end Disneyworld and Walmart, with an obvious emphasis on pineapples. Since it was raining, we couldn’t enjoy the outdoor activities including the world’s largest pineapple maze, but we were more than welcome into the gift shop! There were t-shirts, jewelry, arts and crafts, sandals, toys, candies, barbeque sauces – everything you would not expect to find at a pineapple plantation. Busloads of wealthy Japanese tourists appeared to buy everything in sight. The parking lot was filled with buses.
Half hour later, it was back on the bus and a ride to the world-famous North Shore beaches. Due to the weather patterns on this side of the mountains, it was of course raining, as it does there most of the time. We stopped at one beach called Sandy Beach, supposedly the site of big surfing competitions. We drove by a few other big-named beaches, and continued to our next stop, a shitty local shrimp shack.
High-End Dining, if you live in a trailer park. It’s literally a shack, with two bathrooms out back.
Oh, but this was no ordinary side-of-the-road shrimp shack! I could tell from the hand-painted sign in the back of the pick-up truck with flat tires, this place was high-end. Apparently, according to Carlos, Fumi’s is “one of the top 100 restaurants in the world.” I still have not been able to find one single magazine or television show or anything that states that fact. There is a Fumi’s Shrimp Truck that ranked high on some Maxim food truck survey in 2006, but nothing since. We had been here a few days ago on another tour, so this was no big thrill for us like it was for our new Canadian friends. We both don’t care for shrimp. It’s a completely outside venue with very little cover from wind-driven rain. Every table was dirty or wet, except for one. We asked if we could stay on the dry bus. After a brief speech about company policy and security and a fabricated story about how someone was robbed but not really, we realized we were stuck here and would be forced to sit outside on cold wet benches for an entire fucking hour.
At least our Oahu Nature Tour guide called in our order in advance, so it was ready as soon as we arrived. And that tour guide sat and ate with us, telling us some great stories about his experiences on the island. Our Enoa guide took off for an hour, supposedly to get tickets for the next show because of some sort of snafu. The one dry bench I mentioned? Some other driver planted her ass conspicuously in the middle seat of that dry table, as if she was saving it for someone. We found out later she was saving the entire table for herself, as someone from her bus asked if they could join her. She politely declined, stating “drivers need quiet time,” as she proceeded to stuff her face at the single solitary dry table in the place, all by herself.
Maybe that’s normal in Hawaii. But here in America, we have words for people like her.
After a cold, wet, hungering, miserable hour-long waste of vacation time, I was a heartbeat away from bagging this tour and calling a cab. We were relieved to see Carlos finally pull up in the van. He pulled along the back of the parking lot. The crazy Canadians ran to board the bus, in the rain, and one by one, Carlos shooed them away. About ten minutes later, Carlos pulled up a little closer and opened the door. He allowed everyone to board the bus as he got off and went to Fumi’s window to pick up his lunch, which he apparently pre-ordered.
Fiji at Polynesian Cultural Center.
We arrived at the Polynesian Cultural Center at about 1 PM. This place is kind of like a low-end Epcot, where all the different cultures of the Polynesian people are showcased. After some initial confusion, our group got together and headed to the first show. We felt kind of rushed, since the shows and exhibits ended at 5 PM. We got to see four or five different shows. The Samoan show was definitely the highlight, although the other shows are well-rehearsed and very informative. As we were walking to the dinner buffet, one of the Canadian elders asked about a dark-skinned man carrying some sort of stick and wearing a bone necklace. Our guide remarked that he looked kind of scary. The Canadian countered with “Wouldn’t want to run into him in a dark alley. Shit, you wouldn’t be able to see him!”
Dinner was an extensive buffet featuring pasta, chicken, fish, and all kinds of yummy foods. We finished at about 6 PM, but our show didn’t start until 7:30. Another hour or so trudging through stupid gift shops in the rain before we could get into the covered stadium to see a show called “Ha” (no, it is not a comedy). Ha was fairly entertaining, showing dance and customs from various islands while following a boy growing up and experiencing the circle of life. The finale featured some pretty amazing fire dancing.
Would I recommend Enoa? Well, the scary Canadians weren’t Enoa’s fault. Enoa has nice orange paint on the outside of their buses, although a gallon of water leaked from the air conditioning unit on the roof as our guide pulled out of a North Shore beach that completely soaked the big goofy Canadian kid with the nasty t-shirt (karma slap). They do have a bunch of tours to choose from. Their prices seemed fair enough. But they definitely need some serious training in customer service and perhaps some streamlining of their tour dialogue, scheduling, and overall practices.