Hawaii

Photo Sep 18, 4 50 23 PM

It’s not surprising that so many people choose to honeymoon or have a destination wedding in Hawaii — a state of extremes: beautiful beaches and dangerous volcanos. The latter is why my husband and I made the trip in September — both of us were in the wedding party of a couple of friends of ours getting married at the luxurious Kahala Resort in Honolulu. For both of us, this was our second trip to Hawaii.

My first was with my mom and childhood nanny during winter break, sophomore year of college. While temperatures back home in Houston were cold, we enjoyed 70s Fahrenheit pretty much all day and night in Hawaii in January 2001 — perfect weather for getting an even tan on Waikiki Beach.

This time, the weather was a bit warmer — enough to break a sweat.

East Oahu lookout point

East Oahu lookout point

Oahu

Honolulu

view of Pacific Ocean at sunrise from our Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort room

view of Pacific Ocean at sunrise from our Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort room

During my visit 17 years ago, we stayed at the Waikiki Sand Villa on the Ala Wai Canal, which is a great place to walk around for exercise and the perfect combination of city and water views. This time we stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort in an oceanfront, high-floor room with balcony for a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean and white-sand Waikiki Beach.

You’ll want to visit the historically significant Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona Memorial, walk around the shopping & tourist areas of Waikiki, hike Diamond Head, and check out all the Asian dining options, as there is a large Asian population on the island, particularly native Hawaiians, Polynesians, Japanese, and Chinese. Poke (essentially, deconstructed sushi in a bowl) is a natural choice, but believe it or not, they’re not all good. Marukame Udon is a popular restaurant — the line was out the door, down the sidewalk, and to the end of the block — with a cafeteria-style setup where you can watch employees behind the counter cook your bowl of udon in soup (my favorite is beef, or niku) and pick up a variety of Japanese musubi. Some family of mine who live in Honolulu took us to the refined 100 Sails Restaurant & Bar with a New American and Pacific Rim buffet at Hawaii Prince Waikiki Hotel — the sunset view at dinner was beautiful with an endless array of sailboats lining the Ala Wai Harbor.

East Oahu lookout point

East Oahu lookout point

Venture out of Honolulu on the island of Oahu to the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail with a number of scenic lookout points to see cliffs, more secluded beaches, and ocean. The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a popular spot for snorkeling and close encounters with marine life, but we ran out of time to go. Another bummer: we had signed up for a seaplane tour of Hawaii, but unfortunately, the company running it had to cancel our trip due to unforeseen circumstances on their end.

Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center at Brigham Young University’s Hawaii campus — we took a boat ride to tour the center in the mountains and saw The Hawaii Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. A hilarious comedian/stuntman and coconut tree climber were part of a Polynesian performance in their tribal habitat.

Chief’s Luau was my second luau experience, complete with a buffet dinner feast, coconut leaf crafts, and performances with island music, dancing, and fire.

 

Molokai

like your own private beach, Molokai

like your own private beach, Molokai

If you really want to get away to some true peace and quiet, with hardly anyone around, this is it! Beaches, hiking trails, and parks… all to yourself. Molokai is called the friendly island of Hawaii, and it’s true. With a population of just over 7,000, it’s intimate enough that people would start conversations with us in public places, from restaurants to our hotel, Hotel Molokai in Kaunakakai. The hotel was a charming caricature in itself — crowing roosters, hens, and baby chicks roamed the property. Rooms didn’t have air conditioning, only a basic fan and air vents we could open in the door and windows. Thousands of crabs or more ran along the brown sandy beach, and as I would try to approach, each would vanish into the sand below and leave only a hole in the sand. The soil on this island is a brownish/orangish clay color.

view of Oahu from the air, flight to Molokai

view of Oahu from the air, flight to Molokai

We enjoyed visiting Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove, taking a step back in time at Molokai Pizza Cafe, and stopping at official and unofficial lookout points in Kamalo, Mapulehu, Pukoo and Halawa Valley, Cape Halawa. We drove from one end of the island to the other to see Papohaku Beach at sunset, which also offered treacherous waters and high surf. What Molokai is most well known for is its past history as a leper colony. From the Kalaupapa Trail & Lookout, you can see the isolated peninsula where several people with leprosy still voluntarily live.

The only part I didn’t like entirely was the short, roundtrip ride on a small Mokulele Airlines 9-seater plane from Honolulu to Molokai. The views of the islands from the low-flying plane were breathtaking, but the turbulence was enough to pull my heart into my stomach and hang on for dear life for several minutes after takeoff and before landing. I don’t like roller coasters with drops, or turbulence.

Maui

Maui (age 19, Jan. 2001)

Maui (age 19, Jan. 2001)

I visited Maui on my first trip to Hawaii. Beautiful white sand beaches make this island a favorite for tourists. Go see palm trees and mountainside views at Kuka Emoki and the idyllic Whaler’s Wharf (with whaling ships). We also saw a tiny island known as the “turtle” and the Guiness Book of World Records’ largest Hawaiian shirt inside the Hilo Hattie Island Store of Hawaii. We took a mini cruise off the island and enjoyed (as we did on the other islands on both trips) juicy Hawaiian pineapple and the best piña colada, while hula dancers and musicians entertained us. There’s a lot of audience participation involved in these shows, and I did plenty of dancing too.

Hawaiians seem to be obsessed with genital symbols, both phallic and vaginal, in the form of rocks and other natural formations on multiple islands, including Maui and Molokai.

Hawaii “Big Island”

 

Hawaii (referring here to the island so named, not the state as a whole), also known as the “Big Island,” was another I visited only on my first trip to Hawaii. We stayed at Hilo Resort in the town of Hilo, where we had an ocean in our backyard and played in the black sand. It is interesting to experience all the different types of sand on the various islands. Follow our lead and visit Rainbow Falls at Wailuku River, Kilauea Caldera Volcano, Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, Mauna Loa Macadamias factory and warehouse, and the Farmers Market in Hilo.

black sand beach, "The Big Island" (age 19, Jan. 2001)

black sand beach, “The Big Island” (age 19, Jan. 2001)

Advertisements
beachfront wedding

beachfront wedding

If you have barely four days and a wedding to attend, you can’t do everything Puerto Rico has to offer, but you can get a taste of the tropical island that attracts so many tourists year round. Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, travelers from the U.S. don’t need a passport. But before checking in for your return flight to the mainland, you have to run your bags through the USDA agricultural inspection — no native Puerto Rican fruits allowed back in the U.S. I spent a lot of time exploring the island with other wedding guests, as we all had the same flight itinerary and stayed at the same hotel.

The Beach

The obvious draw of Puerto Rico is its beautiful beaches on the Atlantic Ocean. I spent a weekend and two weekdays in San Juan this month, attending the destination wedding of a childhood friend. The host hotel was beachfront: La Concha, a Renaissance Resort whose name in Spanish means “shell” and which has a uniquely designed building shaped like a shell (sea shell, oyster shell, clam shell). The wedding reception was in this building, which houses the Perla restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows that allow guests to look out of the shell and take in the beautiful view of the ocean and blue sky. The ceremony was on an outdoor platform overlooking the water.

The afternoon before the wedding, I spent an hour lying on a lounge chair overlooking an infinity pool, which overlooked the sand and ocean. The view was so serene that it put me to sleep. The constant sound of waves hitting the shore was wonderful.

A number of piña coladas and mojitos accompanied our visit — we sipped them poolside, beach side, and in the smoke-free casino, where I watched other wedding guests gamble and didn’t waste a penny. We also enjoyed Mahi Mahi bites and Latin sliders with Puerto Rican hot sauce at the hotel’s pool-side restaurant Solera. Tamarind was abundant at Voga’s breakfast buffet, but I wasn’t adventurous enough to try the fruit.

Our hotel room had an incredible ocean view, where daily we saw surfers and swimmers enjoying the waves and sand until a short rain shower interrupted them for just several minutes. We had the same experience on two days — one was cloudier and calmer, the other was sunnier and marked by a higher tide (providing for quite a thrill, as waves crashed farther up the shore than usual). I enjoyed letting the waves crash into me, tossing me around in the water. I ended our last visit to the beach with coconut ice cream from a cart.

me enjoying the Atlantic

me enjoying the Atlantic

Beach-front Tourist Area

We spent an afternoon walking along the street where our hotel was located, Ave Dr. Ashford. The stroll took us to lovely lookout points with pretty palm trees and sculptures, souvenir and beach shops like Piña Colada Club, high-end stores like Salvatore Feragamo and Gucci, and YogurtFit, where we stopped for Naranji, Coco, and other frozen yogurt flavors. A great dining spot we found was Waikiki Caribbean Food & Oyster Bar. I recommend the Empanadillas de Cachín (filled with fish and a tasty sauce), whole red snapper, red beans and rice, and fried Yucca balls.

Old (Viejo) San Juan

Our welcome dinner put on by the bride and groom was at Patio del Nispero in the boutique Hotel El Convento in Old San Juan, about 10 minutes from our hotel. The quaint ambience is what you’d imagine for the older part of an island city. The meal was delectable, complete with plantain soup, Tres Leches, and other zesty Puerto Rican dishes. All the shops we passed were closed by the time dinner was over, but the lights strung from buildings on one side of the street to the other were still on and provided us a charming atmosphere for a nighttime walk. The buildings are old, some dilapidated, but with beautifully intricate Spanish colonial architecture.

We came full circle on our final night, dining in Old San Juan at El Siglo XX — part deli, part restaurant. Lamb chops, chicken asapao (Puerto Rican-style gumbo), and cod with creole sauce were our menu choices. At 7pm, most retailers and other businesses were closed, which surprised and disappointed me for a tourist destination. But then again, it’s Puerto Rico, not Hong Kong (a city of high-speed commerce, much of which stays up all night).

I was also surprised to find the $2 daily maid tip and one-time $4 bell tip were already included on my final hotel bill — a bit deceptive, especially when you’ve already tipped for those services. As extensively as I’ve traveled throughout the world, staying at hotels at various price points over my lifetime, I’ve never seen those gratuities line-itemed on my bill.

People and things move slowly in Puerto Rico. They’re on island time — relaxed, unhurried, and friendly. You can get around fine speaking English, but my Spanish helped often when English wasn’t a strong language for the local I was speaking to.

Guava paste, Yaucono ground coffee, and breezy dresses were among the purchases our group brought back home. Had we stayed longer in Puerto Rico, I would have liked to explore its rain forests, caves, and water adventures. Maybe next time…

Until I write again, safe travels!

Old San Juan at night

Old San Juan at night