Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hanama Bay / Last Night

click photo for panarama shot.
We got a late start on Thursday, our last day in Hawaii (sniff), and it was 4:30 by the time we got to Hanama Bay, rented snorkeling gear, and waded on in. It was another lovely day in the water (only our second, surfing day being the first, proving that there's more to do in Hawaii than just going to the beach).

I remember snorkeling in Hawaii when I was a kid; as part of the group tour I was on with my parents, we went out in a boat from which we were encouraged to jump overboard with snorkel gear to observe the schools of tropical fish - hundreds of them swirling around crystal clear water as though we had somehow found ourselves in a well-stocked salt-water aquarium. This wasn't like that, but it was very nice. The water was fairly clear and warm, and there were colorful fish moseying about, and we even saw a sea turtle out for a dip. The reef was right below us though, just a few feet (sometimes less) from where we swam, and since you're not supposed to touch it let alone stand on it, it was sometimes difficult to keep a good position in the water. Next time, I think we go back on the boat to deeper water.

After snorkeling, Gary took me to dinner at Sarento's which is an Italian restaurant at the top of the Ilikai Tower at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, which had the added convenience of being practically next door to the tower we were staying in. Dinner was lovely, with views of the lights of Honolulu and the bay, impeccable service, and wonderful food. We had opah again, this time with a macadamia nut romesco and grilled fennel, and we started with a seafood sausage over lilikoi mustard which was great, but the real star was the fresh mozzarella wrapped in ham and grilled, making the cheese just a bit warm and just a bit gooey... we were so enthralled with eating it that I forgot to take a picture. It was a divine meal capping a perfect vacation.

House Without a Key

Later that night, and due to a tip from another Honolulu-an, we went to dinner at House Without a Key, the restaurant at the Halekulani Hotel. Starting with fruity coctails, we enjoyed the Hawaiian music (with interpretive hula performed by Miss Hawaii [unsure if current or former]) before our wonderful dinner of watermelon salad with chili, lime, bacon, red onion, ginger, and basil, followed by opah with some kind of delicious sauce, the details of which I can't quite remember. We had a lovely meal and walked back to our hotel along the beach.


"Doughy Balls of Goodness"

Someone who used to live in Honolulu told me to go to Leonard's Bakery for Malasadas. She didn't really explain and I didn't ask, but we did make a special trip to find the bakery because, well, why wouldn't we? Malasadas are tough to describe, and Meg, who gave us the tip on Leonard's didn't try; she just said "doughy balls of goodness" and left it at that. She wasn't wrong, but here are some tips should you find yourself contemplating a purchase of malasadas: only buy as many as you can immediately eat. Leonard's makes them to order and there's a good reason for this; they don't keep well at all, and if you can't eat them straight out of the fryer, don't bother. We bought four and ate one in the car. It was scrumptious, and this fact did not prepare us for what would come later.
We opted for the filled malasadas - filled with custard cream (vanilla, guava, chocolate, and coconut). This was a huge mistake given our lack of appetite at the time of purchase. We figured we'd take them back and have them for dessert later and maybe for breakfast the next day. Later that night we split another one which was by then at room temp and it just wasn't the same. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't good.

Undeterred (stupidly), we tried again the next morning even though (more stupidly) we hadn't put them in the fridge the day before (custard... they were warm balls of dough that had been filled with custard; what did we think was going to happen to that custard in its warm casing when left sitting out?). We tentatively tried the chocolate one and it seemed a little off so we each just had a nibble as we realized our mishandling, but still, I decided to try the coconut one. I cut it open and stuck my finger in the custard to give it a try and immediately rushed to the sink to spit out the tiny bit of completely spoiled coconut cream, after which I wiped my tongue off with a kitchen towel. Lesson learned, but definitely go to Leonard's if you're ready to wolf down some doughy balls of goodness seconds upon receiving them.

Riding the Wind (or, At Least I Didn't Barf)

After our surfing experience, I was all set for more adventure, and Gary's other planned activity for this trip was to take a glider ride. He'd been up in gliders a few times before; I never had but I had spent a fair amount of time in small planes, and I'd been parasailing once on a previous trip to Hawaii; gliding struck me as a bit of a combination of the two. I was kind of correct in terms of the sensation - fast and exciting on take off and getting up in the air (small plane), and quiet and peaceful while gliding and experiencing an unusual vantage point (parasailing). What I didn't anticipate was the fairly profound motion sickness I felt. The seat at the back of the glider was incredibly cramped, and that combined with the heat and the motion of the glider, which was just similar enough to being in the back of a car on a winding road, made me just a little nauseous. 

But it was an interesting thing to do, even if I'm not going to rush out to try it again real soon. Gliders are pretty incredible - even Shawn, our pilot seemed to be in awe of the idea of just riding the air currents without any power. The glider seemed like a really giant model airplane, and the fact that we were up about 1,200 feet, having been towed into the air connected to a plane by an ordinary nylon rope which might have otherwise been used as a clothesline, seemed both magical and a little idiotic. We had a nice view of the ocean and the hills though, and since I didn't get to the point of actually feeling sick enough to yak, it was all good.

Surf Rider

It's not like I've never thought about taking a surfing lesson before because I have. I've thought about doing it in Mexico, I've thought about doing it in Sri Lanka, but like many things I've thought about doing (learning to play the ukulele, cleaning out my garage), it just hadn't happened yet. So when Gary mentioned long before we arrived in Hawaii that he planned on taking a surfing lesson, I was mostly game to join him. Except when I wavered to not being game. Because I'm not really an ocean-person (more of a pool-person), and I'm not a strong swimmer (more of a float on my back in the pool with my sunglasses on-kind of swimmer), and, I mean, the beach in general... there's all that sand getting into everything. Plus, I thought that maybe the heroic effort it has taken me to become a totally mediocre snowboarder might have sucked all the "extreme" (using that term loosely) sports drive right out of me. But I decided to take the surfing lesson anyway; I figured if I didn't like it, if it was too difficult, if I just couldn't get up on the board and kept getting pummelled into the waves, I'd just quit and sit on the beach and watch. Turns out I am an awesome surfer :-)

Full disclosure: 1) I didn't have to do much paddling since Tony, our surfing instructor, paddled out to the breakers with one of his feet resting on my surfboard, so all I had to do to get out to the surf was lie on the board and ride while he dragged me along behind him. 2) Falling off a surfboard into the warm water off Waikiki is NOTHING like falling onto the hard, cold, frozen ground while snowboarding. Not that I fell much. Frankly, I didn't fall at all except when the board reached such shallow water that I needed to flop off to stop it from reaching the shore. 3) The waves we were surfing were approximately two feet high.

Tony gave us about 15 minutes of instruction on the beach which consisted of teaching us the four steps to getting up: 1) Push up from flat on your stomach to hands and knees on board. 2) Left foot up and centered. 3) Right foot up, into a crouched position. 4) Stand. We practiced a few times on the beach and then into the surf we went.

According to Tony, the hardest part of surfing is learning how to read a wave so you know when to push into it and when to stand. And since he completely removed that from the equation, and because the waves were so small (and the water so warm), it was easy. We would lie on our surfboards while Tony kept looking behind us at the waves coming in, and when an appropriate one approached, we'd take turns with him pushing the back of our boards directly onto the top of the wave at precisely the right moment, and then he'd call out, "up!" at exactly the right second for us to start the steps to standing. Gary and I both stood up and rode on our very first tries which I attribute to Tony's perfect timing in shoving our boards forward at the right moment to catch the wave. The hardest part was paddling back to him when the ride was over.

Surfing feels like flying on water and I can't wait to try it again. If (and only if) I'm lucky enough to be back in the tropics, back in super-mild ocean waters, and totally and completely warm.

[We took our surfing lesson on May 13th. I was too busy relaxing to update the blog further while actually in Hawaii, so next couple posts were written and uploaded after returning home to Seattle.]

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Shave Ice

So Gary insisted we stop for shave ice at this place he knew (having lived on Oahu from '97 to 2000). I was game because it's polite to be enthusiastic about things that the person who invited you to Hawaii is excited about. But really, a snow cone? We took a detour off the main highway to Haleiwa town so we could stop at M. Matsumoto. The traffic was terrible and it was tough to find a place to park and I almost wondered aloud if we should skip it. Because...really... we were going a long ways for a snow cone.

I don't know how I'd missed shave ice on all my prior trips to the islands because it's a staple like poi and spam (maybe that's why). Little did I know.

Shave ice (and that's shave not shaved) is smooth and soft, not granular like a snow cone, and the flavorings (Matsumoto's has 40) are intense without being terribly sweet. We got one with mango, guava, and lilikoi which is sorta like passion fruit, and we ordered it wrapped around a ball of vanilla ice cream. Words can't do justice to the icy, sweet, refreshing, light, addictive, melty, wonderful goodness that is shave ice. You'll have to trust me on this one, it's not a damn snow cone, that's for sure.

North Shore

On Monday we hit the highway and drove around the island - or at least as far as one can drive around the island. North out of Honolulu through kind of wet and blustery weather, to the North Shore, past Sunset Beach where the sun was shining, and to Waimea Valley. Full disclosure: I don't admit this lightly, but before we got to Waimea Valley, we stopped for some "loco moco" at a little hole-in-the-wall joint in a small strip mall. What, you might ask... is...?? You probably don't want to know but I will tell you - in this case, it was rice, scrambled eggs, and a grilled hamburger steak covered in greasy, thick, brown, horrifyingly delicious gravy. Sometimes loco moco has everything from Spam to bacon to macaroni salad so ours was a relatively simple version and we could not stop eating from the giant trough we ordered.
Don't judge me.
Once we'd slurped up all the gravy we could handle, we made our way to the botanical gardens at Waimea Valley and on to the falls at the end of the path; the water was unfortunately quite muddy with all the recent rain, but it was a pleasant walk anyway.


Being three hours ahead of Pacific time is awesome. It means you get up early even though it's "late" back home. We made breakfast (full kitchen in our swanky room) and were out by 8:15 and on our way to what ended up being a 6+ mile walk around Diamondhead. Our walk started along Waikiki, past the banyan tree, along the beach, views of the mountain, up the highway, through the neighborhoods with their flowering gardens, and back down to the beach.

We stopped near the end for some iced coffee and a snack, watched some beach volleyball while we ate, and then went back to the hotel for some relaxing by the hotel pool. Unfortunately, the pool was crawling with little kids (there were probably 4 but it seemed like 40). It had also started to rain lightly but there were lovely little furnished, covered cabana areas on the pool deck and we stretched out on a long couch and read for a while before the immense need to nap took over. We finally got up when the rain started dripping through the canvas cover into the cabana, and decided to conclude the nap in our room. The evening was spent eating bad (but perfectly delicious) happy-hour-tourist food, doing a little shopping (Gary didn't own any flip-flops. Who comes to Hawaii without flip-flops??) and then had another early night.

Aloha Waikiki

Once again, a place I never thought I'd find myself, but when a handsome gentleman invites you to Hawaii, one does not quibble about specific locations. I've been to Maui a few times, Kauai a few times, I've been to the Big Island, and even to Molokai, but I hadn't been to Oahu since I was 12 years old and came here with my parents. Oahu and certainly Honolulu never held much interest for me, but here we are having a fantastic time.

That's right, "we." Gary (Sedona --> Vegas --> Myrtle Beach --> Birmingham) and I now find ourselves on Waikiki Beach on a true vacation. No working during the day in hotel rooms, no looking wistfully out the windows in the glare of computer screens, this week is pure fun and sun, relaxing and recreation. We arrived on Saturday, rented a car, and drove to a Hilton hotel which was about a block from the beach; lovely room, not much of a view, so we unpacked and headed out to explore. Waikiki is full of shops and cafes catering to typical tourists and somewhat specifically, Japanese visitors. There was a P.F. Chang's right across the street and a Cheesecake Factory nearby along with a lot of very high-end clothing stores. Since we didn't want or need any jalapeno poppers or Prada purses, we ended up getting some Vietnamese fast-food, taking it out to the beach, and plopping ourselves in the sand. That constituted our first dinner and the evening's entertainment. It couldn't have been a nicer day.