HAWAIʻI was meant to be the icing of the cake, my final stop in the USA before heading on home to New Zealand. I have been away for months now and am looking forward to getting back to some normality.
Well I’ll tell you, my introduction to Hawaiʻi — spelt more commonly, but less correctly, as Hawaii — was not the tropical relaxing time I had envisioned and had very well been looking forward to. I arrived in the throes of severe food poisoning, courtesy of some fancy restaurant in Baracoa, Cuba. Lesson One learned- food poisoning is everywhere in Cuba!
I think to put it simply- I was feeling f***ed! I had travelled to the Havana airport via two very long 12 hour bus trips.
I flew into Honolulu International airport on the island of Oʻahu, and then went to the beach resort of Waikiki, a district of the big city of Honolulu: which was brilliant but really over touristy for me!
I got stuck into the food there, I figured it had to be cooked properly! So I had Mexican corn bread pizza with cottage cheese — delicious! I also got four fajitas which only cost like 10 USD’s which I thought was super cheap! While I was sitting there eating I got talking to a young guy and he said he felt his land was invaded. I thought well you didn’t fight back like Cuba did you? Well I suppose they do have a right to feel invaded. Freedom is priceless.
I also visited the Polynesian Cultural Center on the North Shore of Oʻahu, which had totem pole-like statues that were so like the Māori ones in New Zealand I was quite surprised! The large Hawaiʻian carvings are called tiki, which in New Zealand refers to a type of small carving; the larger totem-poles in New Zealand (Aotearoa, in Māori) are called pou whenua, which means ‘land poles’.
Many of the peoples of the Pacific are quite closely related. The group known as the East Polynesians — which includes New Zealand Māori (though New Zealand is at Polynesia’s western extreme), Tahitians (who call themselves Maohi) and Hawaiʻians — all speak languages that are so similar as to almost be dialects of one tongue. Captain Cook used a Tahitian Maohi to interpret with the New Zealand Māori, who say ‘aroha’ where Hawaiʻians say ‘aloha’, though it’s less often used as a greeting (both words mean ‘love’).
Hawaiʻi is likewise cognate with Hawaiki, the semi-mythical homeland of the Māori who arrived in New Zealand, or Aotearoa, during the European Middle Ages. Hawaiki is not literally the same as modern-day Hawaiʻi, however, as the Māori actually sailed from a region closer to Tahiti.
Such impressive feats of navigation help to explain why the languages of Polynesia can change so little even over vast distances. Cook was greatly impressed by this fact and the seamanship that underpinned it.
Hawaiʻi is the 50th State to join the United States and with a population of 1.4 million people, it is the only US ‘owned’ state that lies in the Oceanic region. Sadly of the 1.4 million people who call Hawaiʻi home only 2,000 of them speak Hawaiʻian as native speakers and less than 30,000 speak it as a second language. I wonder if they offer it widely in Hawaiʻian schools, in the same way that the possibility of studying Māori is offered in all schools in New Zealand?
I was booked into a hostel, and really the hostels in Hawaiʻi are amazing! It only cost me $50 a night in a two bedroom styled place. Hotels were hideously expensive- I looked online and by the time you add up all the hidden surcharges and booking fees they were well into the 2–3 hundreds. Over-priced in my opinion — so hostels again it would be.
I had prearranged to go to the Big Island, the largest of the chain of islands that makes up Hawaiʻi, and an island that is often called Hawaiʻi itself.
Roughly 150,000 people live on the island which is full of stunning scenery and volcanoes. That was my main reason for heading there — volcanoes! My food poisoning was just starting to settle slightly — I still felt off but that was NOT going to stop me going there. So I hopped on the plane and went.
I arrived in Kahului and I went straight to the closest walmart and brought myself a whole lot of camping gear — that was my plan to go and camp all around the island. I had read up in my guide book and it suggested going camping because it was a great way to see everything.
Unbeknown to me — camping in Hawaiʻi is a strenuous effort. Unlike my guide book it told me to just turn up and pitch my tent — you actually have to book online. I turned up at one campground in Kohana iki and just pitched my tent. I stayed there for one night and found Spencer Beach Holiday Park. So I spent two days there, chatting to Dana, enjoying the sunsets and just enjoying life!
Apparently I couldn’t do that because (another fail on the guide book) I needed a permit. Lucky for me I met a guy from San Diego called Dana who lent me his permit to use while I was there until I could sort something out. He was an interesting character. He had been homeless in the mainland of the United States but had wound up here after a rather eventful and sad journey. He had lived in San Diego and there was a set up for homeless people there by the state government where they gave land to the homeless where they could build themselves homes or what ever they needed. Quite a grand gesture too, anyway Dana had set himself up quite well — built himself a house and a room he rented out on air bnb to earn some extra cash. The thing though is that areas like that you don’t always get the loveliest of people — so it ended up the neighbours were dodgy as and running a methamphetamine lab, right next door.
I do believe that some people just seem to miss out on things in life — through no fault of their own. Sometimes its just down to bad luck and getting ripped off or taken advantage of by other people. Sometimes people can even be too trusting — he told me how a book he had sent to the publishers was stolen and published by someone else. (He has since written 6 books and good on him).
Anyway it was quite interesting just sitting there and listening to his take on life and his stories. He left San Diego after living there for seven years, the P lab neighbours worked with some crook policemen and Dana ended up having his house burnt down, all his stuff stolen and then they accused him of threatening them with a gun so he ended up in jail for 5 weeks. It turned out they were full of shit, (he never threatened them) so he got off the charge. One of the ladies who had accused him was in court because she had a list of criminal charges herself — I’ll bet one of them was stealing his stuff. He didn’t have a choice but to stay in prison because the bail was set at $25,000 which is a ludicrous amount! I mean I don’t know, everyone has their own stories and it was interesting anyway. I don’t judge all homeless people — I know they are not all unintelligent drop kicks and that sometimes it is simply bad circumstances that lead them to where they are.
I got a rental car and drove down the coast to Kailua-Kona and went past the site where Captain Cook landed. I loved the scenery — it was beautiful and reminded me a little bit of home. I also went for a short stroll in one of the national parks there, I wanted to do more walking and trails — but that wasn’t going to happen!
I heard about a local Hula festival that would be happening at the Sheraton hotel that night so I decided I would go. It was well worth doing and the Iolani Luahine Hula Festival held so much meaning behind it. Iolani Luahine was a well-known Hula dancer, famed in Hawaiʻi for her dancing. She enrolled at one of the missionary schools set up on the island, only to find out Hula dancing was forbidden, so she changed schools. After graduating from university she started up Hula classes — realising her goal in life was to keep the traditionally dancing alive. She made huge steps in preserving the cultural dancing and so the festival is in memory of her and her efforts. I was so glad I went, it was fascinating to watch the performance and a really good show!
Video of the Hula
I met a lot of people on the beach who were homeless and would put up a hammock every night and would sleep there on the beach. I talked to a few of them which was interesting — I will write a chapter about homelessness in my upcoming book, A Maverick USA Way when I get to writing about my travels. [Update: this book has now been published.] It’s something that affects our societies, and something needs to be done. One lady I met was in her 50’s and she did studies for the council — she smoked cigarettes and marijuana and then couldn’t afford housing so that’s how she wound up homeless. I ended up sharing half my breakfast with her and getting her a coffee while she talked to me about her situation. I think I had enough after a few days, it does get tiring — you cant help everyone and you cant give 24/7. Anyway a lot of the locals told me that they felt Hawaiʻi had become a dumping ground for the USA homeless, which was quite sad.
I also heard about the ex CEO of Facebook — Mark Zuckerburg and how he was trying to file a lawsuit against locals who owned ‘quiet titles’ to the land surrounding his home that he brought with wife Priscilla in Hawaiʻi.
Land rights in Hawaiʻi were something of interest to me. When the US marines invade the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi they replaced the traditional systems of land ownership with ‘private property’. Hawaiʻians traditionally use a system like many other Pacific island countries (Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga etc) where ownership of land is passed through the family. A sugarcane magnate named Claus Spreckels was one of the first ‘Californian white’ people to obtain land on Maui, one of the several main islands of Hawaiʻi— purchasing vast amounts of it from the King. His sugarcane farm became one of the largest in the world.
Traditionally Hawaiʻian people believe land is ‘aina’ — a spiritual entity that cannot be owned! Anyway Zuckerberg felt the heat of people’s opinions on social media and the outrage it caused so they have apologised to the people and backed out of their plans.
My next stop was in Kalapana. I made my way there feeling horrible and almost delirious and went to one of the first beach resort hostels I saw — I got a room for $60 a night, I think they felt sorry for me in my dire state. But that was great and the lady Anita who ran it was lovely! One Hawaiʻi travel tip — ask the locals where to stay you might get it cheaper that way!
I stayed there for two days trying to recover — I think it was just the constant travelling that was also wearing me down. On the first day I ate some packaged tuna — not canned stuff, with gluten free pasta and tomatoes and that set me off again. I was getting really fed up so on that third day I pumped myself full of pills and made a spur of the moment booking. I thought bugger this I am going on a helicopter ride — so I did. It wasn’t cheap but I was getting sick of feeling sick — ha!
So off I went, HELL what an experience! There were no doors on it and they were worried about things blowing out into the rotor blades so they told me to make sure everything I had was thoroughly secured. It wasn’t till we had taken off and I’m looking down and my jandal (or thong) clad feet that I regretted not wearing my sneakers — which I had literally worn for the last four months except today. I spent the whole time worrying I was going to either vomit or my shoes would blow off into the rotor blades and that would be the end of that.
Helicopter Ride over the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, on the Big Island
Best thing to do on the Big Island!
It was an amazing experience and one I thoroughly enjoyed and would do again- yes I got a flutter in my stomach but not because of the food poisoning but because I can get scared of heights!
You could bike from Kalapana to go and look up close at the eruptions and the lava. I found this place called ‘Uncle Roberts’ and that’s where I got talking to a lot of the locals. The locals I talked to were sick of the homelessness. People stole their food and were living in public buildings in Pahoa and then burning them down, like the Akebono Theater. Fair enough too, that they were sick of that.
One thing I noticed around the island was the abundance of wild fruit that just grew everywhere, avocados in particular were everywhere and all over the roads!
I went up the coast to Hilo and I did a very silly thing. I brought this sausage meat that should have been heated up, it was warm. So I ate that along with some vegetables and boom — hello return of food poisoning. Hilo was a quaint town from what I saw.
Anyway I was feeling so rotten I found whatever accommodation I could online and booked it. I used priceline.com which owns booking.com, booked an apartment for two nights for $300 then the added fee of $50 for doing so — made for some expensive accommodation! Anyway I turned up and to my disgust the apartment was filthy! So I called the owner up and he said he’d come around and sort it out. At about 8pm this guy who looked pretty old (Id say 100!) turned up to make my bed — I said no, there was still rubbish in the trash can and the state of the apartment was filthy. So I left him there for an hour to tidy up and I got back and he still hadn’t finished! I was more than annoyed — I did not expect that after the price I had paid! So just be wary — of booking.com — don’t get ripped off like I did and then when you want to actually get hold of them you can’t! I rung 5 times and emailed and still nothing! There are better websites to use in my opinion.
I flew back to Oʻahu. I wanted to return to the island’s less populated North Shore (Waikiki and Honolulu are on the southern side) in order to see the Banzai Pipeline: the huge waves that are used in all the world famous surfing competitions. And yes, Hawaiʻi is famous for surfing — when the Americans arrived it was a well ingrained tradition. A return to Oʻahu’s North Shore was a great way to finish off my trip although I am still annoyed I couldn’t eat any of the beautiful island food. So off on the plan I go. Next stop: New Zealand.
[Some of the images in this post also appear in my book A Maverick USA Way, which was published in 2017.]
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