By flying into Hawaii from Samoa, we are going back in time. Crossing the international date line means that we leave at 6 pm, and arrive just after midnight on the same date! I almost screwed up our hostel booking because of it, but luckily we caught the mistake and booked our first night at a motel right next to the airport. The next morning it’s a short bus ride into Honolulu and our hostel.
Honolulu is a pretty small city, and surprisingly walkable. Nice, wide sidewalks and several streets that are only for foot traffic – certainly unexpected for a US city! A local gave Jen a friendly warning as she was about to jaywalk. Apparently the police don’t hesitate to fine you for it, so better mind the signs.
Walking around downtown is really pleasant, it’s clean, the weather is nice (obviously), and there’s a nice variety of stores. Even the touristy knick-knack shops are nice and don’t just have all the cheap crap that you normally see. It’s a bit pricey, but seeing as we’re used to China and just travelled through some of the poorest countries in the area, I suppose our baseline is a bit off. We dine on a deliciously disgusting Philly Cheese Steak – seriously; I would love to try the real thing some time, but for now this memory (and ball of fat) will linger for a good while.
The following morning we get picked up by the dive shop and taken not even two blocks down the street to their shop. I chat with another diver on the boat and he tells me he’s an old navy diver with thousands of dives under his belt. I was a bit surprised about how thorough the safety briefing is, they’re really treating us all like complete newbies. The first dive is on a very well-preserved, downed Corsair fighter plane (the pilot ran out of fuel and did an expert emergency landing into the ocean). The wreck itself is really cool, lots of morays hanging out and schools of tiny fish. But there’s not much else in the area, just sand, so you have these seven people – plus Divemasters all crowding around this little fighter plane. It’s almost unbearable, especially since these are the absolute worst divers I’ve ever come across. No awareness of where the other divers are, almost entirely upright in the water coupled with zero buoyancy control, so they’re constantly flailing to stay in place. We end up just hanging back, trying to stay out of the way of their fins. Even the guy claiming to be a navy diver was just terrible, so I suppose he was just lying about his experience.
The other dive sites are more reefs, so it’s easier staying out of people’s way and explore on your own. There are pretty hefty currents now and then though, so you need to be careful not to get separated. On the last dive, one of our DMs catches a tiny octopus and lets us hold it before letting it go again. It’s pretty cool, feeling the suckers on your hands. He shows us that we need to keep rocking our hands back and forth to make the octopus stay in our hands, because if you stop it will bolt. Generally the rule is to not touch anything under water but our DM explains that he’ll only do this if it’s certain not to hurt the animal and it is safe to do for all parties. I suppose that’s fair, at least if you’ve put in the research.
On the way out on our last day of diving, another guy in the group tells the DM to set up his equipment (attach the tank, set up the regulator, et.c.). The DM asks him if he’s forgotten how. The guy responds that no, he hasn’t, but that he does this maybe a handful of times a year, whereas the DM does this every day. The DM does set up his equipment in the end and later, back at the dive shop, another DM exclaims “He slammed us on Tripadvisor!” and they all have a good laugh about it. Never before have I seen so many entitled and terrible divers. Speaking to the DMs we find out that people have absolutely no qualms over lying about their experience, which is why they need to keep a very close eye on everyone. I suppose they get a lot of tourists that don’t do a lot of diving, but for some reason want to appear like they do. (which is especially stupid since diving is not something you should take lightly – screw up bad enough and you could die).
In the afternoon we’ve booked a Luau – it’s basically a barbecue and show, and this particular one features “The Chief“. The Chief is a pretty funny native stand-up comedian and in addition to that and various island activities like making a fire by literally rubbing sticks together (something I fail miserably at) we’re treated to a dance show with native dances from throughout the south pacific. One of the dancers asks about my t-shirt (I bought it in Samoa and it has their main beer brand on it). He’s really happy about it, and explains that he and pretty much all of the other dancers are from Samoa and nearby islands. The best thing about the Luau was the fantastic food though, and by that I mean the pulled pork. They roasted an entire pig and there was just heaps of pulled pork to be had. I hardly ate anything else from the buffet (something I later regretted as I spent the next evening on the loo, evacuating what felt like rocks…)
Our last day I rent a surfboard and spend a couple of hours getting horribly burnt and getting tossed around the surf. I just have to come to terms with having to put in a lot more practice if I’m ever going to be able to stand up surfing for more than a second at a time. Our last thing on the TO DO is the Pearl Harbor museum – it’s over at the actual naval base so we need to take a bus over there. This means we get to be stuck in traffic, waiting for the filming of a Hawaii Five-0 scene to be done. Not too bad though, and Jen actually follows that show, so it was cool. The museum itself has a huge line to get in, but they’re pretty efficient so it doesn’t take very long to get in. It is hands down one of the best museums I’ve been to. Tons of models, info and eyewitness accounts, not only by Americans either – there are several by Japanese too. And just like the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima, they’ve taken pains to remain objective. We were expecting a lot of flag waving and talk about how great the US is, but there’s actually very little of that. A highlight is the Pearl Harbor monument, which is out on the water, on top of the USS Arizona, one of the sunken battleships. It has a glass floor, so you can look down on the actual wreck as you read about the different parts of the ship. A very powerful experience, definitely one of the top five museums I’ve been to.
Overall I was surprised about how much I liked Hawaii. Sure, it has the usual US annoyances; such as that all land is private so you can rarely walk along a beach without running into a fence and having to turn back. And how once you get outside the immediate city center, not having a car turns into a real problem. I think it was mostly the mood that got me, people are friendly, it’s warm, and very walkable in the city. I regret that we didn’t have time to rent a car and drive around the island. What we did see of the rest of the island while we were bussed to the Luau was very pretty, and I wish we’d gotten to do that at our own pace, and stop whenever we felt like it.