December 18 – 21, 2008
How did we end up in Hawaii one week before Christmas?
For two winters in a row, I were amazed by what a combination of recession and shoulder season could do to air ticket and accommodation prices. By taking our trip just before Christmas, I landed ourselves two $259 USD round trip tickets between Vancouver and Honolulu, with a stop at San Francisco on the outgoing leg.
My girlfriend and I chilled out at the prototypical yet aging Waikīkī for two days, wandered around and in general be amazed by the sheer amount of Japanese tourists in town. Hawaii was a logical destination for Japanese tourists at this time, given the high exchange rate of Japanese Yen and the major discounts in airfare and accommodation. But the bus load upon bus load of Japanese tourists was still a staggering sight. I lost count after the first hundred, but the ratio between Japanese and everyone else seemed somewhere near 1:1
I couldn’t say I really enjoy Waikiki; the weather was gloomy throughout, the food was subpar, the traffic was bad, the town was a little rundown and the souvenir stores were some of the tackiest I had ever seen. The rubbish these stores sold were even worse in quality than their Cancun equivalent, and that’s saying something. Worst of all were the pervasive touts who aggressive tried to make some quick bucks and some cheap laughs on the tourists behalf.
Food was also a disappointment. We wanted to try ahi poke (raw tuna salad) at Ono Seafood, but we just couldn’t find the place. Instead we went to Ono Hawaiian, which we were warned as overpriced. So let me again warn you with my first hand experience, Ono Hawaiian is an overpriced joint with mediocre services. We ordered the $40 set combo and Chicken Lau Lau. It came with a tomato dish mixed with salmon. A strange taste of sourness and fishiness. Another bowl was a purple starch called poi, a viscous fluid made by mashing cooked taro corm and adding water. I found the taste to be a little like gastric acid. The chicken was tasteless.
The snorkeling at Hanauma Bay was decent. The pretty coastline was a 45-minute bus ride from Waikīkī. Very few Japanese tourists because there were no shops around.
Our much delayed flight from Honolulu to Big Island finally arrived Hilo, on the eastern coast of the island, at midnight. We walked to the rental car office under a light drizzle while sounds of chirping birds surrounded us. This singular moment felt more Hawaiian than all of our two days in Honolulu combined.
After a night of sound sleep at a run-down resort, we woke up to a stretched-beyond-the-horizon Pacific Ocean at the balcony of our room. And unlike the dreadful sunless weather in Honolulu, a warm cast of sunlight covered everything under the light blue sky.
Before we set out to Hilo’s town center to grab some quick breakfast, we walked to the nearby Lili’uokalani Park. Shoals of small fish were swimming along the shore in the crystal clear water. I hadn’t seen such abundance of fish before; it was not just a batch here and there, but almost all along the shore were inhabited by these small fish.
A short five minutes drive landed us at Hilo’s town center, which basically consisted of two one-way streets. We parked beside an open-air farmer’s market and took a stroll inside.
There were many different locally grown produce and flowers for sale at the market. I am not sure if the food at the farmer’s market was particularly cheap, but everything was a bargain when compared to Vancouver’s price standard. A pineapple cost $1.50, a bunch of bananas $2, a papaya $2… we ended up buying $20 worth of fruit that could be substituted for a few meals.
With a very tight schedule on our first day on Big Island, we decided to feast on the fruits for all three meals to save some time. The fruits were delicious enough that the experience didn’t become a punishing ordeal.
After stocking up on water and filling up the tank, we set out for our prime destination of the day – Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.