Sunday, 28 March 2010

Aloha goodbye

So this is it. 30 minutes before our bus goes to the airport, we say goodbye to Hawaii and return to the cold and rainy shores of California. Cold and rainy...maybe I'm thinking of a different country.

Two final pictures:

The state flag of Hawaii. Notice anything familiar? Perhaps British people are allowed to stay here forever!

What holidays are all about.

Hannah "The Body" Davies

It's our last full day here on Oahu, and although we had planned another bus trip we decided to keep it simple and do something Hannah's been desperate to try since getting here: surfing!

Our fab hostel loans out all the equipment you could need, and although some mean longboards are on offer Hannah stuck to the more conservative body board (like a big swimming float).

We made our way to Walls Beach, the local body boarding spot, and Hannah took to the waves for some serious riding. She reappeared from the break after half-an-hour. "It's harder than it looks," was her only comment.

Beach bunny.

Heading out.

And riding back!

While I maintain my 'Englishman on a beach' poise.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

All marine life is here

Today was the day the rest of the holiday has been leading up to. We left the Dole plantation behind and bussed up to Haleiwa harbor where we lounged in the shade awaiting the arrival of the boat belonging to...

We were slightly worried when the boats belonging to North Shore Shark Adventures (the other shark company around here) were moored up, the guides claiming it was too choppy out at sea to run any more trips today. Thankfully our skipper was less cautious (a good thing when running a shark tour?) and soon we were out on the rollercoaster waves heading to the cage.

The idea of the trip is simple. They sail you three miles out to sea, drop you into an 8ftx8ft cage with a snorkel, and then wait for the sharks to come. We did have to sign a two page legal waiver, had the golden rule (don't put your limbs outside the cage!) drilled into us, and after that it was swim time!

But before we could even get there we passed a humpback whale nursing her baby, and as we approached the cage a huge school (flock?) of flying fish leapt from the water and fluttered away. Flying fish! I thought they were only make-believe.

Soon enough the boat was moored to the cage. "Ok," said the captain and when nobody moved I stepped up, thought of England, and lowered myself in.

The water was deep blue and crystal clear, and the adrenaline fear (I obviously mean excitement) meant it didn't even feel that cold. Ten seconds later Hannah was beside me, and as the whole contraption leapt and bobbed with the ocean swell I could hear her excited snorkel sqeaks and followed her pointing hand.

There, lazily coasting around the cage, was a 7ft long sandbar shark. With no reference point in all the deep blue it looked superimposed, something from a 3D shark movie. But there it was, eying us up with every slow pass.

The truth is (according to our tour guide) that they're more attracted to the strangeness and vibrations of the cage than the people inside. All the sharks we saw were scavengers, staying well away from anything alive and thrashing, instead clearing up the debris. "The white blood cells of the ocean," our captain said.

Shark number one was soon joined by a few slightly smaller sandbars and also a 6ft barracuda! The boat drifted off, attached to the cage by a rope, and the ridiculous nature of being in a box three miles out in the Pacific, tossed around by the waves and surrounded by sharks suddenly dawned on me.

Sticking my head out of the water to see if it was actually true I saw all the people still on the boat pointing and shouting. About 30ft from us a humpback whale had breached the surface, was taking a breath, and with a flick of his tail dived back under. I ducked straight back under too, and although I couldn't spot him you could hear him singing!! Not quite as tunefully as on those whale song CDs you can buy, but he was certainly giving it a good go. A few bubbles of breath drifted up past us from the depths before all was again quiet.

All too soon our time in the cage was up, and group two was in the ocean as we hosed ourselves down with the boat's "shower". But the fun wasn't over as we watched the sharks slide gracefully around. Then the whale was back! He took a breath and swam right under the boat, on his side, one eye looking up at us. "I've never seen a whale come that close, and I've spent more days on the water than on land," the captain said, a line he surely uses once a tour. "Unless you become a marine biologist, you'll never get closer to a whale than that." Well, maybe he was being honest.

Our trip back was with the waves, so a little less rollercoastery. "Now we just have to spot a sea turtle and our holiday will be complete!" I commented. "They're on that beach over there," replied our guide. We wandered over and, sure enough, there was one lazing on the beach, one swimming about, and a third crawled onto land just to appear on this blog.

The bus journey back was through crazy rush hour traffic, hot and annoying. But I had swum with sharks, and eyed my fellow passengers with a ruthless and predatory gaze before meeting Jack, Amanda, Raimundo and Tere for cocktails and appetizers at the beach front Hilton.

I'm the most dangerous thing around here.

Mummy whale.

The cage.

Inside with Hannah...

And here comes shark number one.

He's ready for his close-up.

The barracuda, hanging out with his sharky friends.

The view back to the boat.

A sandbar shark comes around for another look.

Two sharks and my limbs (fully inside the cage).

Another rises from the depths.

Self-portrait in the Pacific.

Hannah enjoys the life on the ocean wave.

Back on land with the fame-seeking turtle.

And, for completeness, the Hilton keeps some pet penguins.

Friday, 26 March 2010

On the dole

They make pineapples here in Hawaii. Lots of pineapples! Huge swathes of prime real estate in the centre of this island are given over to the prickly but delicious fruits, and Hannah and I stopped off at the Dole plantation today on our way to the north of the island.

The plantation has a nice garden with various varieties of pineapple on display, and an even bigger gift shop where everything that can possibly be pineapple themed can be purchased. They also offer what is reputedly the island's best pineapple ice cream...although it was a little Mr Whippy to really deserve that honour.

Did you know it takes 20 months for a plant's first pineapple to mature? And then 14-15 months for the second? And that's it for that shrub! I'll never look at that slice on the rim of my Mai Tai the same way again.

Aloha from pineapple land.

Everything you need to know.



Even more!

Hannah managed to hold herself back from vaulting the fence and breaking her Lent vow.

There's no place like home.

Tonight they will haunt my nightmares.

Hawaiian Mr Whippy.


Tonight we had a very special treat when Vince and Christine gave us tickets to their hotel's luau and let us look after their baby as well. Claire was dolled up in her best pink hula dress and soon we were enjoying complimentary exotic cocktails and the all-you-can-eat barbecue buffet.

Not strictly barbecue, this was actually kalua pig cooked in an imu - an underground oven where the unfortunate swine had been buried for around 17 hours (we presume he was dead before he went down there). Together with deep fried plantain, some mahi mahi, rice, and sweet potato, we had a meal to remember. Two of the more memorable components were the pickled seaweed (self-explanatory) and the poi (a purple starch sauce made out of taro root...whatever that is).

After dinner the entertainment really started. Our luau was hosted by one Glen Medeiros, who had a number one single in England in 1988 and is apparently a favourite of my mother-in-law. Hawaii - where pop music careers come to die. He was actually quite fun, even impersonating Elvis and Tom Jones at different points, but mainly introducing dances from across Polynesia.

The evening was educational too with a demonstration of how to husk a coconut, and a guy making fire on stage by rubbing sticks together. We had a dance from Tahiti and a New Zealand haka, as well as pom-pom swinging and even more fire, punctuated by announcements of birthdays and wedding anniversaries of those in the crowd. This being a military hotel we were asked to hold up candles for anyone we had lost in war, before Glen finished the evening with a rendition of 'Proud to be an American'.

Hula princess Claire.

Tourists in the tropical grove.

The imu, from whence the kalua pig emerged.

Our fruity table, all set and ready.

Pre-dinner tree climbing demonstration.

Pre-dinner complimentary cocktails.

Piping up the pig with some handy conch shells.

Expectant faces in the crowd.

He's down there somewhere...

And here he is! Thankfully he tasted better than he looked.

Gathered and ready to eat, while being entertained by a Hawaiian band.

Miss Pineapple #1

Miss Pineapple #2

Pig, plantain. Tasty.

Poi. Not so great.

Chilean hula dancing.

Hawaiian hula - obviously inferior.

Dessert. A little underwhelming...

...although somebody was very happy with it!

Then the show: a guy rubbing two sticks together in a coconut.

And making fire! Impressive.

A New Zealand haka on our tour of Polynesian culture.

Dry roasted nuts.

Happy couple, dubious toddler.