Archive for the ‘Hawaii’ Category

IMG_1660  All the islands of Hawaii hold places of deep spirit and meaning. Today I’m paying my respects to three  on the Big Island, each with its own strong sense of mana, spiritual energy. First, the Place of Refuge,   Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, a 180-acre National Historical Park on the southern Kona coast. For   centuries this complex of stone walls, thatch-roofed shelters, and ponds at the edge of the ocean was a   sacred heiau/temple, home of royalty, and a place of safety—at least, for those who could get here.

Standing next to a fearsomely carved figure, gazing at the surf, I’m imagining the relief I’d feel if I had managed to elude capture, get to this shore, and crawl up the rocks to sanctuary. If I’d broken a sacred law, a kapu —and there were a lot of them, from standing on a chief’s shadow to fishing at the wrong time—I would likely be killed, unless I got to this refuge. Then I could be absolved by the priests and return home safely. Different times, different customs. Today the only ones seeking refuge are tourists looking for shade under the palm trees.

As I touch the massive stone wall, feel the gaze of the grim-faced wooden guardians, and Charlie Grace, with pig bone fish hookplace a hand in a carved stone bowl, I can sense those spirits of the past. Local craftsmen bring part of that past into the present day with cultural demonstrations—like Charlie Grace, a skilled carver of canoes and implements, who’s showing us how a fish hook was made from pig bone, and the way a stone-and-shell drill was used. He “talks story,” too, in traditional Hawaiian style, telling of the ancestors, reverence for the land, and the great canoe that is our planet.

Another sacred place with a different tradition, up the DSC07487 Mauna Loa mountain slope on Painted Church Road, is a small, white, steepled church.  St. Benedict’s Painted Church, built in 1899, is an active local parish, but the main reason tourists stop by is to see the unusual interior,St Benedict's Painted Church every inch of it covered with colorful designs. Father John Velghe, who came from Belgium, had no artistic training, but he used art to teach his faith to people who couldn’t read. Using house paint, he painted illustrations DSC07481directly on the church’s wooden walls and ceiling. Some have faded over time, but the Biblical scenes, palm trees, moral lessons, and decorative stripes are all here, the results of one man’s vision.

Further along Painted Church Road, I find and enter the third and most recent sacred site,  Paleaku Gardens Peace Sanctuary. It’s  hard to describe just how special this serene, meditative, 7-acre garden really is.IMG_1686 It started 44 years ago, with Barbara DeFranco’s goal of Jade vinecreating a spiritual center featuring world faiths and plants. With a lot of hard work and help from people who shared her appreciation of diversity, she reached that goal, although, she says, it’s always a work in progress.  Wandering around the mountainside garden, admiring the views, I come to one shrine after another on the grassy slopes and set amongst trees and flowers of Hawaii and other parts of the world. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Native American and Native Hawaiian are here, along with Tibetan sand mandalas, a labyrinth, and even a 100-foot-diameter Galaxy Garden that shows the Milky Way in flowers. And those are only a few of the marvels of Paleaku.  The sanctuary is not generally well-known to tourists and not to be missed. It’s open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 am-4 pm.Buddhist stupa



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DSC07659  I’m flip-flopping along Honolulu’s Kealakaua  Avenue, among hordes of tourists in search of sunshine and tropical drinks stirred with pineapple spears. This is Vegas-by-the-Sea, packed with tawdry glitz, upscale glamor and crowds. Not my usual cup of tea, yet here I am, settling now onto the warm sand of Waikiki, mai-tai in hand, happily watching the surf roll in. I’m surrounded by acres of sunburnt flesh, much of it squeezed into bikinis so skimpy they could fit in my pocket.  People-watching can be a full-time hobby here, with all ages and sizes dressed—or barely dressed—in every possible outfit.

Waikiki has lost its long-ago quiet, lazy appeal, but the soft breezes, sunshine, waving palm trees, and rugged beauty of Diamond Head are still here. The long white beaches are perfect,DSC07701 and Hawaii tourism interests plan to keep them that way. To fight erosion, they built walls and used to barge sand  in from California. More recently it’s been carted from nearby shoals to restore the shoreline and widen the beach.

Here’s what draws me, besides the climate and setting:  local papaya and pineapple for breakfast, concerts and hula dances in Queen Kapiolani Park, swimming with colorful fish, the grace of practiced surfboarders, a relaxed and friendly (mostly) culture, shopping and chatting at farmers’ markets—tourist brochures list where to find them, and three are an easy walk from my condo rental.

Banyan tree, Queen K park honolulu I like walking through the 100-acre banyan-shaded park, with a stop for a lunch of grilled mahi-mahi at Barefoot Beach Cafe. Or I continue on to lunch at lovely Hau Tree Lanai, where Robert Louis Stevenson used to hang out. On the return walk I stop to read every historical plaque. Hawaii has a rich history, full of war and beauty and sorrow.

Back on Kealakaua I pass kids texting, guys lugging surfboards, hustlers selling tours, street people scrounging trash bins. Musicians play on the street corners. Nobody bats an eye at the strolling Santa  with his violin, the muscle-bound man covered in tattoos, the young women in minuscule shorts and stiletto heels. Stores advertise everything from high fashion to t-shirts with sslogans that prove bad taste knows no bounds: “Sluts rule.” “I just want to pee onDSC07695 everything.” And the ubiquitous “I’m with Stupid.”   Festivals keep popping up; here comes the Chinese New Year lion, with his clanging entourage, growling for money from local shops.

When it’s time to eat, choices are everywhere. I skip the fast-food chains, of course, and go for local sushi or pho or, for a pricier meal head for the Asian/Pacific fusion food at ever-popular Roy’s. Also good:  Il Lupino’s veal scallopini and arugula salad with almonds and spiced pears, evoking memories of Sicily. DSC07705My favorite lunch place is the classic Moana Surfrider, where I’ll sit on the veranda above the beach and feast on soy-glazed salmon. Lots of Japanese wedding parties are held here, so I get to admire the gorgeous brides in their fluffy white gowns. I find a lively, fun atmosphere at Duke’s, which has memorabilia of the famous athlete. And I always go for a last-evening watch-the-sunset drink at the Royal Hawaiian.

Waikiki can be off-putting, especially if you’re looking for tranquility, and Honolulu offers many other attractions—fabulous botanical gardens, Chinatown, museums, temples, historic sites—but those are for another time. Today I’m just  part of the passing scene, one more sun-loving vacationer in Waikiki.  Aloha.DSC07703

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There are two tantalizing stories in the airline magazine on the plane to Maui that grab me: one about the newly emerging bluegrass scene, the other a write-up announcing the annual Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival. Oh boy, what lucky timing. During my stay on the island, I can hear a celebration of music created on the Hawaiian steel guitar–featuring Henry Kaleialoha Allen, one of the kings of the genre–and some bluegrass jamming on the beach. It doesn’t get better than that.

The festival is being held at the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, known as “Hawaii’s most Hawaiian hotel,” committed to maintaining a genuine Hawaiian cultural experience. The hotel made National Geographic‘s list of 150 truly authentic and sustainable resorts. I walk from the place I’m staying and find myself in a soft universe with one big pool–shaped like a whale–and acres of green lawn dotted with grass umbrellas and lawn chairs. People are making leis out of flowers and seed pods, local folks are tuning up instruments and drinking beer at the Tiki bar. Steel guitars, metal-bodied Resonators for playing rock and roll and the blues, even ukuleles are for sale. As well as some types of guitars I’ve never seen before.

It isn’t a big stretch from the lap slide steel, dobro and pedal steel guitars, associated with country music and bluegrass, to Hawaiian music and vice versa. Playing a guitar laid flat and using a bar to slide up and down the strings has been done on the islands for a very long time; the first musicians probably used whatever they could get their hands on to slide up and down the neck of the guitar–a hollow or solid metal bar, a metal tube, a knife edge–hence the name “steel” guitar. It makes the distinctive fluid tones that many love and drive others crazy.

The formal lineup for the festival starts late: the major is here, other dignitaries too, and they want to talk about all the things dignitaries like to yak about. But there is no stopping the jamming all around the edges. And to my surprise, when the musicians come on, they are more jazz than Don Ho, more Yoshi’s than Blue Hawaii. This is Hawaiian Fusion–a little Appalachia, a little Aloha. And the crowd is about as mellow and welcoming as you would expect on a warm, sweet night with the fragrance of plumeria, tuberose, and orchids in the air.

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A gingerbread village is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of  Waikiki Beach.  There it is, though, an incredibly detailed medieval/German/fantasy gingerbread village Hyatt Regency Honoluluvillage that includes Honolulu’s intricate Iolani Palace.  This amazing creation stands in the lobby of the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, one of Waikiki’s enormous high-rise hotels, and was constructed by Chef Ralf Bauer. He does this every December, each time adding to the scene.  There are churches, train stations–yes, a train circles the whole thing–a carousel, quaint houses, and the palace.  It took 250 hours to build it from 60 pounds of dark chocolate, 20 pounds of white chocolate, 120 gallons of icing, and who knows how much gingerbread and powdered sugar.   

The chestnuts are roasting on an open fire only in song, as far as I know, but you can’t get away from the holiday tunes in December, when shoppers are out in full force. But they always are in Waikiki. The displays of shell leis, jewelry, t-shirts, trinkets, and flipflops (“slippahs”) are never-ending, and tourists are happy to buy. 

waikiki beachThen there’s the famous beach, where hundreds of bodies bake in the winter sun. How can you not love a wide stretch of golden sand, swaying palms, a gentle breeze, and surfers riding the waves?  Despite the crowds it’s a mellow scene, and the aloha spirit prevails, most of the time.   It’s not my scene for long, though (20 minutes, max); so we hop the #2 bus to Chinatown. (Tip:  Take the B Express instead, which makes only a few stops.)  Ambling among the shops selling fresh papaya and bananas, pigs’ feet and vegetables I don’t recognize, feels like a visit to China–or San Francisco, Hawaii-style. 

After a stop in the beautiful Kwan Yin temple and a tour of exotic Foster Botanical Garden, we have lunch at Legend Seafood Restaurant. The dim sum here gets rave reviews for good reason; it’s excellent. Tourists are in the minority in this busy place. Servers wheel carts carrying baskets of hot tidbits: shrimp-stuffed rolls, fried buns with chives, duck slices in sweet sauce, and dozens more. Choose what you want and it’s added to the bill. Prices are reasonable and the experience is fun. 

Then it’s back to the tourist world, and maybe a sunset drink at the Hau Tree hau tree barBar, our long-time favorite at the far end of the beach, away from the chaos, at the  New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel.  A mai-tai and some salty pupus at a table under the huge old tree makes a fine ending to the day.

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