Oahu, Final Impressions.

Oahu -- concrete jungle.

Oahu — concrete jungle.

Hawaii is full of beauty and wonder. If you think about it, it’s amazing this place has any life at all. From a relatively recent origin involving a hellish scenario of fiery earth puke, Hawaii has morphed into one of the most beautiful places on earth. For thousands of years before Europeans conquered the lesser-armed world, early immigrants from places we now call the Polynesian Islands, Asia, and New Zealand were able to successfully and continually navigate a large and sometimes turbulent ocean with no power, no GPS, and no communication and integrate foreign flora, fauna and customs to these islands of fertile ash. As its detractors will boast, nothing is really native to Hawaii. But that’s not important or relevant. Its beauty remains readily evident and certainly unique.

And then there’s Oahu.

Oʻahu, translated as “The Gathering Place”, is the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands and the most populous (almost 1 million souls). Home of several military bases and Hawaii’s state capitol, this very busy island still has some charm on the windward side of its mountains. But much of Oahu succumbed to quick and dirty 1960s capitalism (think late Elvis, not the cute one). Many of its stark concrete buildings were constructed with reckless disregard for the natural inhabitants and scenery of this island. A view from any hotel in Waikiki will quickly spoil any virgin traveler’s image of this island paradise. Row and rows of unchecked growth have led to decades of now dilapidated buildings, streets and sidewalks. I had remarked to a bartender in Waikiki that their busy city reminds me of Los Angeles. She thought about it for a moment, looked off to the sky, and agreed.

Having learned of the turbulent history of how this island was born, I couldn’t help but think that a reactivated powerful volcano or a tidal wave (with plenty of advance notice, of course) might actually do Oahu some good.

If you’ve come to see Hawaii, spend a day or two in Waikiki, then slip out as quickly as possible. Kauai, Maui, and “The Big Island” will offer much more of the Hawaii you were really looking for.

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Hanauma Bay Snorkel Tour

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay

Snorkeling is one of the favorite activities visitors do while in Hawaii and Hanauma Bay is a destination everyone wants to see. Since this bay is a protected location, they only allow about 3,000 people a day into the facility. If you want to do it on your own, you’d better get there early and prepare to stand in line. One of the benefits of a guided tour is guaranteed entrance into the bay, and you can choose an afternoon time when the air is a little warmer.  We chose the 12:30 tour.

Hanauma Bay Dive Tours’ snorkel tour includes snorkel equipment, safety snorkeling vests (inflatable life jackets), beach mats, bottled water, snacks, a lock box for your valuables, and roundtrip transportation from all Waikiki hotels in air conditioned vans.  For $59 (plus a $7.50 entrance fee) per person, we thought that was a fair price to avoid all the hassle of cabs, equipment, and lines. Plus, we’re not expert snorkelers, and we both thought a refresher course can always help.

Allyn, a tall, polite, fifty-ish, soft-spoken man picked us up right on time at about 11:30 at our hotel. The van smelled conspicuously like fish, so we knew we were in the right place. A Japanese family of four accompanied us and spoke no English. We were floored as this all-American Caucasian dude rattled off fluent Japanese as his other guests boarded the van. The Japanese tourists smiled and I suppose were equally as surprised.

We stopped at a small dive shop somewhere in Honolulu on the way to the bay to pick up some flippers. The shop was bustling with folks getting ready for real diving. We all located the correct and comfortable size and Allyn bagged them up and loaded them into the van. As we drove to our destination, Allyn explained in both languages that this bay is actually a hollowed-out volcano that filled with water millions of years ago. It’s not every day you get to swim in a volcano and live to tell about it.

We got to Hanauma Bay and stood aside as Allyn met another instructor and went to collect our tickets. He pointed out a scenic lookout, and our jaws dropped as we saw the bay down the hill in a distance. Beautiful shades of blue and teal decorated this shallow bay as its small waves crested upon a white sand beach. Hundreds of people were relaxing on the shores as children played catch while others snorkeled.

Before you can visit the bay, you have to watch a short mandatory introductory movie showcasing the history and preservation of this natural resource. The movie was kind of goofy and amateur, but we got the point – don’t touch anything. The theatre dumped out into a cul-de-sac where trams (or a steep hike) take you down several hundred feet to the bay from the top of the volcano. The tram costs $1.00 to ride down, and that price jumps to $1.25 for the ride up. Although that hike looked appealing, my legs were still screaming from scaling the Diamond Head volcano crater earlier that day. Our tram fee was included in our tour. I sat my ass down and enjoyed the ride.

2013-03-25 13.28.08We found a cozy spot under a tree on the beach, and Allyn and the other instructor set up shop. They rolled out a mat on the beach for each of us. They pulled out the equipment and issued a snorkel mask and tube plus inflatable life preservers for all of us. I had snorkeled without a life preserver before, but as a novice, it’s always more comfortable with the life preserver. We went into the water and were instructed on how to put our flippers on. It sounds simple enough, but with my twenty or so snorkel tours, this was the first time I was properly instructed in how to use all the equipment. All my other Bahamian and Mexican tours pretty much tossed the equipment to us and threw us into the water, so this was kind of cool. Allyn and the other instructor were incredibly patient with everyone on the tour, including the two children that were with us.

We began with a few basic maneuvers to make sure everyone was up to snuff. We all seemed to learn quickly, so it was on with the tour. What’s unique about this place is that the coral reef is just a few feet from the beach. Our tour began immediately. We all swam out about twenty to thirty feet from the shore. Some of the kids had some issues, so the other guide stayed with the children. Tina, the Japanese gentleman, and myself followed Allyn a little further out, and tropical fish were everywhere.

The tide seemed kind of shallow, as subtle waves came in and made me feel as if I were about to get pounded into the coral. We were only inches above it in some places. Since the water was a bit choppy, the four of us returned to the shore and walked to the far end of the bay. We re-entered the water and it was a bit more calm on that end. It seemed deeper too, and it was nice not to be right on top of the reef.  Tina and I paired off and saw parrotfish, tangs, eels, and so many other species I couldn’t possible identify. Towards the center of the bay, I spotted a huge sea turtle rising to the surface to breathe. I swam up to meet him, careful to follow the rules and not touch. He took a breath, looked around, and glided away.

Before we knew it, we had snorkeled across the entire bay. We returned to shore and disbanded our equipment, talking about all the amazing sea life we had just encountered. And Allyn said everything again in Japanese.

Hanauma Bay was an amazing experience, and Hanauma Bay Dive Tours does a terrific job with this tour. Note that snorkel tours are not available on Tuesdays, weekends and Hawaii State Holidays.

Waikiki: Beautiful by Day, A Bit Scary by Night.

(c) 2013 Chuck Graudins

Rainbow on Waikiki Beach.

When its beautiful oceanfront view becomes obscured due to proton deficiency, this place magically transforms from families frolicking in the waves to typical sin city sidewalks. If your idea of paradise is street artists, excessively wealthy Asian tourists, homeless Hawaiians, drunk tourists, well-heeled hookers, and pushy sidewalk salesfolk pedaling massage, manicures and machine guns, Waikiki at night is for you. Kalakaua Avenue has the same savoire faire as downtown LA, New York, and Vegas; fortunately with a little less violent crime (think about it — there’s really nowhere to run if you’re a bad guy).

As a tourist, you may find yourself jet lagged and sipping a cold one at Hard Rock, Margaritaville, or The Yard House at as early as 11 AM. Of course, a little further down the strip, what would a tourist mecca be without the typical overpriced versions of The Cheesecake Factory, PF Changs, Dennys, and even Chilis. Burger King seemed to have a large presence on this island, but fret not – McDonalds is building a new location right on the waterfront.

Tourists wanting to be in the thick of things will want to stay at or near the Sheraton Waikiki. This hotel is located directly on Waikiki Beach, and is steps away from the perpendicular torch-lit “strips” of Kalakaua Avenue and Lewers Street. The beach itself is man-made, and is fairly small and always crowded. Most of the hotels have a more than adequate swimming pool.

The Secret to Great Hawaiian Customer Service: Avoid Samoan Women.

My parents ended up on Ellis Island from somewhere in Russia when they were very young with nothing more than a terrific work ethic and the clothes on their backs. They settled in North Philadelphia. As good, hard-working darker skinned citizens worked their way up and moved into our neighborhood, most of the white folk fled to the suburbs. So there I was, in the 1970s, one of the few white kids left in this barrio. Although no one from my lineage could have been responsible in any manner for the stupidity of southern American white men in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, I was bullied, beaten, and robbed for no other reason than my skin was a little lighter than theirs. Fortunately, I am able to empathize and forgive.

Without a lengthy history lesson, know there is a “Polynesian triangle” of islands that are cornered by Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island. Folks from Asia, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand, Hawaii, and another handful of island nations routinely boat-setted among this triangle and either traded with or beat the piss out of each other in an extended stone age that lasted until Europeans introduced gunpowder in the 1700s. No matter what Hawaiians may tell you, there is technically no such thing as a “native Hawaiian.” You’ve got a mish-mosh of ancestry that spans thousands of miles and a bunch of folks who kinda-sorta look alike who call themselves “locals.”

Certain “locals” despise Caucasians. In some parts of Honolulu, especially in an area known as “The West Side,” you may encounter some silly taunting as a tourist. And it doesn’t matter if your ancestors had nothing to do with the colonization of their islands – they either don’t know the difference, or they just don’t care. Ironically, Asians have been permanently excused from any and all atrocities towards Hawaiians, since they had a pre-existing relationship with Hawaii and its sovereignty well before the British and then Americans quashed it. It’s still bizarre to see Japanese tourists tour Pearl Harbor. But Hawaiians and Japanese know the island was attacked only because there were American bases that posed a threat, and to punish Roosevelt and his Caucasian administration for halting oil sales during World War II.

Fortunately, most of the tourist areas are well concentrated near the beaches, so it’s difficult to get lost. In those tourist areas, you’re unlikely to find any adverse attitudes from anyone you’ll encounter. You will almost always be greeted with a genuine Hawaiian smile, especially at the big name properties including Marriott and Sheraton. Our tour bus slowly rolled past four teens sitting on some steps leading towards a pretty run down building towards the outskirts of Honolulu. As we all exchanged glances, I fully expected a middle finger. But all we got was a friendly “shaka.” Good kids.

Although all “native Hawaiians” consider themselves as one unified race, there are obvious divisions among them. I did find a horribly politically incorrect yet profound correlation in my travels. Certain Hawaiian women, mainly the ones with no defined chin, appear to hold the largest grudge of all the Hawaiian people. Every single dealing I had with a no-chinned Hawaiian woman — at the airport, at my hotel, at a restaurant, at convenience stores, on tours, and everywhere else I can recollect — seemed to be neglectful and bothersome. My guess, from their similar appearance, is these women are more of a Samoan descent. Without lipstick, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the women from the men.

“Kap the Magic Man,” the very friendly, talented and comical ambassador of Samoa at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu, Hawaii, says Samoan women are the “luckiest women in the world because the men do all the cooking and cleaning.” During his show, I yelled out and asked Kap what the women did, and he jokingly responded “nothing.” Perhaps Samoan women were happier doing nothing, and today they’re pissed off they have to tend to tourist whims. Who knows.

It is important to note that Hawaiian men of all shapes and sizes seemed much friendlier. It is very interesting that most thin Hawaiian women also seem to have a wonderfully pleasant disposition and appear to harbor no animosity whatsoever. Just lay low, stay in the tourist areas, be polite, and always find the line with a man or the thinner Hawaiian woman. Your trip will be filled with Shaka.

Discover Hawaii Tours Big Island/Mount Kilauea Volcano Tour

Hawaii's hero, Kalani.

Hawaii’s hero, Kalani.

If you’re from the mainland, getting up at 5AM shouldn’t be an issue. We live in Florida, so our bodies were still accustomed to a world that’s six hours ahead. We were routinely awake no later than 4. When the Discover Hawaii Tour bus rolled up to our hotel a bit early at 5:30 that morning, we were bright-eyed and ready for our volcanic adventure.

We had a friendly driver transport us to the airport. He wasn’t full of personality as we were expecting, but he wasn’t supposed to be. The driver told us about what to expect during the day, and gave us one key piece of information that apparently only we heard – get your boarding passes for your return flight NOW. We did, but no one else did. So our tour was cut a bit short so those fools could wait in unnecessary lines at the airport for our return flight to Honolulu.

We arrived at the airport early and were dropped off at a section where you have to walk on the tarmac to board your plane. It was like arriving in one of those third-world Caribbean nations, only without the army and their machine guns watching you. We boarded a small jet run by Go Airlines, and had a quick and uneventful flight to the Hilo Airport on the “Big Island” Hawaii.

We met our local guide, Kalani, a very friendly stocky grey haired gentleman sporting a goatee. He checked everyone in and quietly dealt with a scheduling snafu. We boarded the bus (which had storage bins above the seats, not found on any other tour bus) and began our tour in Hilo. Kalani stopped to show us some of the celebrity Banyan trees located all over Hilo and the stories behind them.

Our first stop was at Rainbow Falls, an 80-foot waterfall where the sun does mystical things if you catch it at the right part of the morning. There is a moderately difficult hike that will get you down to the falls, but we didn’t have time to do it. We snapped a few pictures and we were on our way.

Next was Queen Lydia Liliuokalani Gardens, a picturesque park based on traditional Japanese gardens built for a queen who never got to see it. The public park rests near a gorgeous rock-lined waterfront across from two of the largest mountains on earth.

Hawaii's black sand beaches. Cool.

Hawaii’s black sand beaches. Cool.

On to Big Island Candies, a tourist trap but also an actual candy factory staffed by mostly Filipinos viewable via giant glass windows. Grab some free coffee and samples on your way in.

Then on to another park where I saw my first black sand beach. That was interesting. Most of the sand on the islands is naturally black, but that freaks people out, so they import the white stuff.

On the way to the Volcanoes National Park, we swung by some orchid joint, where some dude creates hybrid orchids that win all kinds of national and international competitions. Tina enjoyed that spot, but I was getting restless.

I don’t remember exactly when we stopped for lunch, but we hit this run-down hotel and its equally Children of the Corn restaurant fondly named “Uncle Billy’s.” What the fuck… I had flashbacks of my two visits to that God-awful Fumi’s Shrimp Stand. Fortunately, there was a decent buffet that included fish, chicken, and beef stew. As I stewed over the beef and continually watered down my iced tea that might have been 70% high fructose corn syrup, a gentleman sat down and began to play guitar. As irony would have it, his first song was “Island Style” by John Cruz. One of the things on my “bucket list” was to see John Cruz perform this song live in Hawaii. I had missed him opening for Bonnie Raitt by one day, he had no live shows the week I was there, and Cruz had ignored my Twitter request for a private show (dick). Whatever — this will have to do. Our guide, Kalani, remarked that he carries a ukulele. But since there was already a guitar player, he’d leave his uke on the bus. Later, I heard Kalani is an accomplished uke player. Insist on his show.

My shallow male mind thought to itself, “This is all nice and all, but where’s the lava?” Yawn. At this point, I thought this would be just another lackluster tour with the same old scripted information and mild racial intonations one of our other tour guides spewed haphazardly. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Kalani blew my mind, and that’s pretty hard to do. Apparently, Kalani spent a few decades with the military, the National Park Service, and was pretty darn tight with the United States Geologic Survey folks. And he’s a musician. Kalani had a mind-blowing wealth of information he was saving for the nadir of this tour. Sneaky bastard.

It was a bit of a ride to one of Hawaii’s last active and most famous volcanoes, Mount Kilauea. Kilauea is located in the heart of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and is the most active volcano in the world, erupting continuously since 1983. Sounds dangerous, but Danger is my middle name. We arrived at the Jaggar Museum and watched a short video introduction on what’s really going on here. I publicly inquired if current geologists have “moves like Jaggar,” but was suspiciously ignored.

Hawaiian Lava Tubes leading to the ocean.

Hawaiian Lava Tubes leading to the ocean.

As we snuck by all the “DO NOT ENTER” signs and fences, we all donned helmets, gas masks and space suits and proceeded to cautiously scale the inner walls of Halema’uma’u Crater Overlook, still very active and spewing chunks of magma and noxious sulfur dioxide gases. Or, maybe we stayed within the typical tourist safe-zones and observed some very cool (hot as h-e double hockey sticks) steam vents and the actual active caldera where magma was filling a molten magma lake. Very cool stuff.

We tooled around the park and found some scary yet picturesque locations that looked as if they might be remains from an Armageddon scenario, including one location where part of a roadway was spared from a 1970s eruption and lava flow towards the ocean (making the Big Island even bigger). Thurston Lava Tube was a highlight of the tour – you can actually walk through a cave created by flowing magma thousands of years ago. A large part of it is now blocked off, but your short dark walk will give you an idea of what these things look like. Some of the sites Kalani showed us were accompanied by fascinating details about the history, geology, and experiences of folks working in this area. This guy has inside information to which few others have access.

This is a long, long day. We arrived exhausted back at the Hilo airport around 7 or so, early enough so the bubbleheads who weren’t smart enough to get their boarding passes in the morning. Another short flight back to Honolulu, where our very quiet return driver was waiting.

This is an amazing tour that we recommend you take as a guided tour. There’s too much stuff to see on your own if you don’t know the lay of the land. Kalani and Discover Hawaii Tours is a pro outfit we would highly recommend. Just do it. You know you want to.

E Noa Tour 3P: Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona, Polynesian Cultural Center.

Pretty on the outside, but sort of a bumpy ride altogether.

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

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.

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. Literally, a 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.

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.

Waimea Waterfall and Circle Island Adventure via Oahu Nature Tours

Cacao Pod, still on the tree. First time I have ever seen one.

Cacao Pod, still on the tree. First time I have ever seen one.

On Oahu, I heard many things are closed on Sunday. As I was preparing myself for an disappointing experience along the likes of Chik-Fil-A or Hobby Lobby, two stores with zero compassion for folks who have real jobs and actually need to use post-church Sunday for shopping, I found what I had heard couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything we saw was open. The strip was bustling and fully functional all day and well into the night. There was traffic everywhere. This island was definitely open for business.

As we waded through the hundreds of non-English speaking Japanese tourists (who have their own dedicated tour buses and guides), David, our friendly tour guide, arrived at the tour entrance of our hotel right on time. After signing the obligatory waivers, we climbed up into the van and began our adventure. A quiet Canadian family of four from Alberta would be our touring partners on this adventure.

As David drove through Honolulu, he gave us some interesting facts about the state and its culture, including pointing out the former school and boyhood home of Oahu’s favorite son, President Barack Obama. We slowly drove by the only palace on American soil, and learned Hawaii’s beloved queen was imprisoned for nearly twenty years when American Marines seized control of this sovereign nation and former British territory. That helped to further explain why native Hawaiians are still so pissed off at Americans. David was very well versed for a Caucasian retired military man who had only lived on Oahu for just over four years.

Our first stop was an old sugar mill that had been converted into a pseudo coffee and cacao plantation. We were ushered into a tourist trap store that had a few scattered coffee and cacao plants laying around outside, filled with the same coffee beans, spices, and other silliness we had found in the several ABC stores and other tourist traps all over Oahu. I tried a free sample of a baked cacao bean, the precursor to chocolate. I had always wanted to do try one, so that was a big thrill. I bought a small bag to bring home. There were also free coffee samples featuring authentic Kona coffee, only found in Hawaii. I was coaxed into a “world famous shaved ice” using their custom “natural” flavorings. Five bucks and a few bites later, I chewed on a piece of plastic tape that had somehow fallen into my natural mango concoction. That would be the permanent end of my shaved ice experience. Back on the van and on to the next stop.

We drove through the North Shore surfing town of Haleiwa and spied its quaint little shops and restaurants filled with tourists. We wanted to go back, but a cab ride would have run over $100 from Waikiki.

Waimea Falls.

Waimea Falls.

Our next stop was Waimea Valley. This beautiful rain forest had been a sacred place limited to royalty for more than 700 years of native Hawaiian history. We donned our rain gear and David lead us through an informative tour of their world famous botanical gardens containing over 5,000 species of tropical and subtropical flowering plants, ancient archaeological sites, and one of Oahu’s most scenic waterfalls known as Waimea Falls. Since we had a small group, David was able to address all of our silly questions and gave us ample time to snap hundreds of photographs. It was rainy and a bit chilly, but I dipped my feet into the small lake at the bottom of the falls. Several people were swimming. That was fucking nuts.

Our next stop was the world-renowned surfing location known as the “Banzai Pipeline.” Waves are kind of lame in the spring, but it’s a cool photo op. It was hard to believe such a famous place was nothing more than a tiny public park.

It was time for lunch at one of the North Shore’s most famous shrimp stands, Fumi’s. David carries a menu in the van, and had us tell him what we wanted so he could pre-order. Lunch was included in this tour, and was ready upon our arrival. I ordered catfish, and Tina got their chicken dish. We both kind of picked at it, hoping there would be somewhere we could get snacks later. David sat with our group during lunch and we talked about Hawaii’s biodiversity and culture.

After lunch, we continued our drive along Oahu’s windward coast and stopped at a Macadamia Nut Farm. This was another well-oiled tourist trap, with the same kind of art, spices, candy, nuts, jewelry, t-shirts, and other shit we had seen at every other store we had visited thusfar. We quickly surmised this silliness and waited on the bus as we watched the free-roaming chickens dance between cars in the parking lot.

We got back to our hotel early. We had a quick dinner, and went through our tons of amazing photographs.

In retrospect, this is the best tour company on Oahu. We would highly recommend Oahu Nature Tours.