Robert and Christina Go to Hawaii

Part 2: Diamond Head and Waikiki

On Tuesday we were up at a quarter to five, having slept very well. We lamented the unknown Fish Auction location, which our timing would have been perfect for, but we nibbled some trail mix to start the day and eventually were waiting outside for a bus on Kuhio Street, en route to Diamond Head, at 6:20. The bus didn’t come until 6:55, but in the intervening time we chatted with a student who, though she wouldn’t call herself a local, was obviously more local than we were. The bus ride was long, and when we got off the bus we had to walk up a hill, through a tunnel, and then up another hill just to get to the parking lot where, if you were driving, you could park your car and began the hike up the crater.

We began the walk, which was nowhere near as easy or as beautiful as the guidebooks said. Still, it was neat to walk up the old switch-back trail, and then to enter into the military bunker the Army built, climbing up their concrete steps and going into their lookout at the top. It was extremely warm, though, and I wished I’d had a sweatband like the one my father always wears: sweat just kept pouring off of my head, and with my hands all red-stained from the iron banisters, I had no way of wiping my brow. All the way down, I kept waiting for someone near the bottom of the mountain to ask me if it was worth it so that I could tell them my thoughts on the subject.

I took issue with my guidebooks (Frommer’s Honolulu, Waikiki, and Oahu, and Lonely Planet Hawaii) at this point, because both of them had extolled the virtues of public transportation in Honolulu, and both of them had raved about Diamond Head, calling it in part “fun for the whole family.” While we did see whole families trekking up, none of the little kids or grandparents looked like they were having fun: rather, they looked as though they were dragged along by just the same advice I’d read. “Wear good walking shoes—a pair of tennies is fine—and bring a flashlight,” the books advised. Well, I was happy I had hiking boots, never mind a pair of tennis shoes (as Aurora might say, I would never be caught dead saying “tennies”), and the flashlight was wholly unnecessary, as the tunnel near the top of the trail was very well lit. The guidebooks also suggested that Diamond Head was “easily” reached by bus, but a half-hour wait, a 20-minute or longer ride, and then a bus that doesn’t even bring you to the foot of the mountain, is not my idea of easy. Though the books gave Diamond Head three stars, I’d just give it one—I was happy we did it, but mostly so that I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by not doing it. Though the books raved about the public transportation in Honolulu, even going so far as to say that you could “make a cheap daytrip by taking TheBus [yes, it’s really called that] around the island,” I found TheBus overpriced—$2 a person?—and unreliable. The very, very few people we saw waiting for buses on the North Shore of Oahu looked hot, bored, and very unhappy as they waited. We only saw one bus outside of Honolulu, in all of our driving around the island, so those poor people probably had a very long wait. Though the guidebooks warned that parking in Honolulu and Waikiki is “almost impossible,” and that having a rental car your entire trip is “unnecessary, I think they were once again wrong. We only had a problem once finding parking, and though there was lots of traffic on H-1 and H-2, it seemed that the traffic was mainly limited to those roads: side-streets or even smaller highways like Kam Highway were clear even when H-1 was jammed.

View from the top; I sit warmly.

After returning to the parking lot at the bottom of Diamond Head, I couldn’t face another ten-minute walk and twenty-minute wait and twenty-minute bus ride. Luckily (we thought), we saw a cab just dropping off some tourists, so we hailed the cab to give us a ride back down to Waikiki. The guy refused to use the meter, which was present and appeared to be working, and initially asked for $10 to Waikiki. The ride down was short and swift, and when, judging from the signs, the driver was about to turn right and drop us half a block down on Waikiki Beach, we asked him to turn left and drop us half a block down at the Waikiki Aquarium. He did, we got out, and paid him $10 even. He then demanded $12, saying the “Waikiki” as a destination only meant the right turn he didn’t take onto the beach, and that the left turn to the Aquarium was an extra $2. We were annoyed, and Robert refused; the driver made excuses about how you can’t turn around from here, and there’s no u-turn allowed, and now’s he’s stuck. Robert pointed out the “U-Turn OK” sign right in front of us; the driver said fine, just give him an extra $1. We refused again, and he stomped around and got back into his cab, yelling something about cheapskates. Maybe we are, but we sure didn’t like that guy.

The aquarium was very nice—kind of a low-key place, with beautiful fish and very few crowds. Look at me finding out my age in coral years! Nifty. There was a great Hawaiian monk seal exhibit with workers explaining how they sensitize the seals to prepare them for blood tests by putting warm compresses, alcohol swabs, and a poke from the tines of a plastic fork on their flippers, all the while feeding them fish to relax them. I thought this was a great idea—why don’t people do this with kids, or with terrified people like Robert? Next time Robert needs to have a blood text, I’m going to try this ahead of time.

After the aquarium, about to wilt from the heat, we walked through Kapiolani Park and emerged at the Groin on Waikiki Beach. Robert stood on the sand and under a banyan tree, and was happy that at last he had seen the beach up close. Though we were carrying a backpack with towels, we didn’t go down to the water because I kept saying there were better beaches elsewhere—why waste time here, where it was crowded with tourists and not as nice? Besides, we were both hungry, so we turned off the beach back to Kuhio Street to find lunch. We ate a delicious shave ice with adzuki beans and sweetened condensed milk at a little smoothie and ice shack right next door to Ruffage, and then we ate a bowl of beef teriyaki saimin noodles at an L&L Drive-In down the street.

L&Ls are a local chain, but the most interesting thing about them to us is that although all L&Ls, and many other little Hawaiian local-food places, advertise themselves as “drive-ins,” I only saw two, in my entire stay, which actually had a drive-in lane. What on earth do they mean, drive-ins? To make matters more peculiar, many advertise themselves as “drive inns,” which I’m unable to parse at all.

After the saimin, we turned back toward the beach, entering what we thought was a regular mall, or Galleria, along the way. Immediately, we were in another country. A Japanese man said something to us in Japanese, and we didn’t respond. We walked a little further, and a Japanese woman made odd hand motions at us, as we were standing in front of a little gate. On the other side of the gate were shops, we could see, and mall-like things such as a Christmas-tree-style tower of teddy bears. We walked through the little gate and up an escalator. We soon started to notice that almost all of the signs, not to mention all of the patrons and all of the salespeople, were also Japanese. Eventually, I saw a tiny sign in English that said, “Duty-Free Shops and Galleria. No entrance without proof of an international ticket.” We started to lose interest in whatever exciting world we’d thought was being denied to us because we weren’t Japanese, and we just wanted to go down the escalator, out the little gate, and back outside to the beach. Our fairy-tale world of Hermes and Louis Vuitton closed in around us, though, when we realized that the only escalators we could find were the ones we rode up on. Robert went to the men’s room, and there found someone who spoke a little English, and could direct us to a very hard-to-find corner with an escalator down and, at the foot of that, an actual door—no little gate—out.

We breathed a sign of relief at our escape, and we turned toward the water—makai, we had read, the Hawaiians call it, giving directions primarily in makai (to the water) and mauka (to the mountains) terms. Makai of the odd duty-free mall, we found ourselves in another maze of a shopping center, again surrounded by tourists and unable to find an exit, but this shopping center was outdoors, unairconditioned, and these tourists were only about 50% Japanese. Someone finally told us to cut through the lobby of the Sheraton in order to find our way out, and when we did so, we found ourselves on the stretch of Waikiki Beach just behind the Sheraton.

All beaches in Hawaii are public property, so although hotels or other private property may butt up against the beaches, they have to allow the public access to public property through the private property. We knew this from our guidebooks, and the signs in the Sheraton seemed to confirm it, so we trotted out onto the beach and spread out on the rainbow-striped sheet I’d brought from home as a beach blanket. All the other tourists were tanning (or burning) on those little roll-up bamboo mats which the ubiquitous ABC Stores in Waikiki sell for a dollar and change. I was happy to have our sheet, though, instead of a mat—it didn’t take up a lot of room in our luggage over (it’s just a sheet, after all), it has no tiny holes in the weave to let in sand, the way the bamboo mats do, and it doesn’t make funny woven imprints on your stomach or thighs. After about fifteen minutes of this, though, Robert’s beach lust seemed satiated, and we sweatily, warmly, walked back to our hotel.

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Created: 9/10/04. Last Modified: 9/10/04