May 17: Portland to Honolulu
Having spent the night in Vancouver, WA, we woke up at about 6:00 a.m., a couple of hours before our alarm went off, and drove just across the river to the Clarion Inn Portland Airport. We’d already booked the night of the 24th at this hotel, the night we land at about midnight on our return from Honolulu. We’d figured that we’d have to stash our RV and trailer at an RV storage lot, which wouldn’t be accessible at such an hour, so we’d need a place to stay the night, lest we end up like Tom Hanks in “The Terminal”.
In the interim, though, we’d heard that it might be possible under such circumstances to store your vehicle at the inn where you’ll be staying. So we called the Clarion a few days ago and inquired about this possibility, and the fellow we spoke to told us that yes, we could do so for 8 dollars a day — which is considerably less than the 30 dollars a day we would be charged by the airport lot. So we told him we wanted to do it, and he said it was all set.
When we pulled in this morning, however, it appeared less certain from the get-go. The parking lot was the size of a postage stamp that had gone through the wash, and it was already pretty full, with no pull-through spots. And Matt, the young man to whom we’d spoken only three or four days before, seemed to have little recollection of the conversation at all. Even though he’d assured us then that there’d be no problem fitting us in, he seemed at a loss as to how to do so now. And oh yes, that 8 dollar per day fee? He said that in fact the fee was $129 for up to two weeks. Upon further investigation, however, he decided that the fee should be 8 dollars per day after all.
Despite all the confusion and uncertainty, Matt did make every effort to accommodate us, and ended up giving us a spot normally reserved for a hotel van. So then we had an hour or so to finish packing, carry out trash, put things in order in the RV, and clean out our refrigerator — unfortunately, we forgot to leave the refrigerator open, so it may be a bit odorous when we return, especially given the record heat Oregon’s been having lately. And then we hopped on a shuttle and it was off to Portland Airport.
Yes, we’re finally taking the Hawaiian getaway we’ve talked about for years. It was almost a Hawaiian performance tour as well, as we were contacted by a school on Oahu about a possible booking there. But it didn’t come through, so we’ll just have to settle for a tropical vacation instead. Oh well. For Kimberly, it’s a homecoming of sorts, as she lived on Oahu as a child, and has been back to visit only once, some 20 years ago. For me and Zephyr, it’s totally new territory, which is increasingly difficult for us to find in the U.S.
The dream of all of us making an excursion to the 50th state came true in large part because of Kimberly’s parents. Being retired, they have membership in a timeshare program, which allows them to spend x number of days per year in one of a large number of vacation resorts. And every year they give us a week of their time. In the past, we’ve used it in Las Vegas (3 or 4 times), Orlando, and Ruidoso, NM among other places — the location we select is subject to what works with our touring itinerary. Last year we stayed in Panora, Iowa. This year, we opted for something a little more exotic.
Because Hawaii is more in demand as a destination than Iowa, we had to book our lodging nearly a year in advance, and even then we were probably lucky to secure billeting. Then we immediately started searching for the best airfares available, and spent a few months following the price fluctuations. Finally, in October, we snagged what we figured would be the best deal we’d find. And boy, were we ever right. Not long after that, gas prices began punching holes in the moon, and airline fares followed suit. Had we waited much longer, we would have had to pay double or more, assuming we could have afforded it at all.
At the Portland Airport, we saw a display of bicycles custom designed and built in Oregon. One of them was a collapsible edition, which perhaps we should get next time, so we can take them along on trips like this. We’d hoped to lug our own bikes along this time and see Oahu in style, but it would have cost 50 dollars per person, so we scratched that thought, hoping that we’ll be able to find some for rent over there at an affordable rate. We’ll see.
The 6-hour flight went smoothly enough, and even landed a few minutes ahead of schedule, despite the difficulty the pilot was having communicating over the intercom; we were only hearing about every other syllable, and we just hoped and prayed he wasn’t trying to give us vital information, or that he wasn’t having the same problem talking with the airport. But since we made it to our destination in one piece, it appears that all other systems were functioning satisfactorily.
Our one complaint about the flight is that, contrary to expectation, lunch was not provided. When we booked the flight, we were asked to specify a meal preference, and we selected vegetarian with dairy or egg acceptable; and this selection appeared on the confirmation the airline sent us. Wouldn’t you assume this meant that the lunch of your choice would be included? But the only thing we received for free was water and other beverages. For 10 bucks we could have purchased a ham and turkey sandwich (not terribly vegetarian, is it) with a little dish of pasta salad. For 7 bucks, we could have purchased a microscopic tray of vegetables or fruit. For 3 bucks we could have purchased chips or candy. Welcome to Wishful Thinking Airlines, where you can order whatever your heart desires, as long as we don’t have to give it to you or something.
To top it all off, flight attendants issued us produce declaration forms from the State of Hawaii, so we could fess up if we were packing any fresh fruits or vegetables to stave off starvation — and they didn’t give us a pen to fill it out with, but just announced that if we didn’t have one, we’d have to borrow one from a “neighbor”. No, kidding, they actually said this.
Well, we did have some pens on hand to use for our own form, and to lend to our neighbors. We also had the foresight to bring along a few goodies, so we didn’t have to shell out more money. Not a regal repast, mind you — just some boiled eggs, a PBJ, one apple, some prunes, and some Clif Bars. But it was enough that when our flight touched down at 3:15 (6:15 West Coast time) we were merely hungry, and not ready to devour each other.
Since all of our baggage was carry-on, we didn’t have to linger to claim that ours was ours, but just got right on a bus and took the hour ride through downtown, and on to our hotel in the resort district, only 4 blocks from fabled Waikiki Beach. We’re staying at the Kuhio Banyan Resort, which hardly looks like a resort in any ordinary sense of the word; it’s certainly not on a par with the other timeshares we’ve stayed in, but more like a standard 2-star motel, especially from the outside. It’s in a nondescript building, with the entrance in a courtyard flanked by a Subway sandwich shop, a bar, an ice cream shop, a pedicure place, and one of the many tattoo parlors tattooing the Honolulu cityscape. On the mainland, it hardly would command resort prices, but here it benefits from the three golden keys of real estate: location, location and location.
We entered the tiny office and were checked in by a large woman in a muu muu, uttering her spiel in a machine-gun patter hardly stopping to catch her breath, as if she could do it in her sleep. And then she adorned our necks with leis, in the classic Hawaiian manner. These were real leis, made of real flowers — not cheap plastic imitations.
Our room, on the fourth floor, is just that: a room. Normally, a timeshare is a 2, 3 or more-room suite. But this one is a single room plus bathroom, although one niche in the room is set aside as a fully equipped kitchen, including all the necessary dishes and utensils. These units are designed to sleep at least 4 people, but we had to do a little sleuthing to figure out where our “bedroom” is. The main bed, for 2 people, is a murphy bed — the first one we recall ever sleeping in, and the first one we’ve seen in we can’t remember when. The two smaller beds are convertible sofas, and the one Zephyr chose (closest to the TV, of course) requires him to extend his feet under the lamp table. If all three beds were unfolded, they would take up so much room as almost to make one big wall-to-wall bed. The entrance to our unit looks over a narrow alley upon an apartment building adorned by some rather ratty curtains; but the front window looks out on bustling Kuhio Street. All-in-all it’s not a bad place, despite the two imprints of an iron that once burned very distinct shapes into the carpet. (How could anyone manage to do that twice??)
After checking in and depositing our belongings, our first order of business was to go out and buy some food to stock our kitchenette. No, wait — on the way to do that, we must first stop to buy food to stock our stomachs. We don’t eat out much, and when we do grab a bite on the run, there’s nothing like one of the burrito/wrap franchises (Moe’s, La Salsa, Baja Fresh, Chipotle, and in Florida, Tijuana Flats) for a tasty, healthy, filling, and inexpensive meal. But when we ran the names of these places by the lady at the reception desk, we drew only a blank stare. We were going to have to rely on serendipity.
Only a couple of blocks from the hotel, we discovered a shopping plaza that had a food court. And the food court included a wrap shop, and the wrap shop’s menu included a chopped vegetable wrap. So we ordered these, and they were not too shabby. They were cold vegetables rather than the grilled variety, as we expected — rather like a wrapped salad — but they were satisfying enough for the moment.
As we sat and ate, we couldn’t help noting how prevalent the Asian culture was in the shopping center — even more so, it seemed, than the Polynesian culture. There were so many signs in Japanese, and the atmosphere was so different from what we’d find on the mainland, that it felt like being back in Japan. Next to the table where we sat, a sightseeing tour bureau had all of its signs in Japanese except one. It said, “We speak English, too.”
Then it was on to Foodland, a supermarket chain that, at about a mile away, was the closest food store except for quick shops of the 7-11 variety. Most of these, in fact were ABC (Aloha Brings Customers) stores, which had — we swear — at least one outlet on every block, and sometimes TWO on every block! We decided to walk there so we could get the “lei” of the land. It was a pleasant evening for a stroll, a bit overcast with a hint of breeze; not nearly as hot as one or two of us had feared. In fact, when we landed this afternoon, the temperature was only 80, and because the sky was mostly cloudy, it felt even cooler — cooler than what it felt like back in Portland.
En route to the market, we took a little detour to have a look at Waikiki Hawaiian village, a resort operated by Hilton, which was also on our roster of possible lodging places. And it certainly would have been more luxurious than what we ended up with. But they had nothing available at the time we were trying to book, and we didn’t want to hold out for it and risk not getting anything at all. Just as well — we’re not planning on spending much time in our room except for sleeping. Who cares if it’s short on closet space? As we approached the property, we noticed one very possible reason why there was no availability: the grounds were being prepared for some sort of reception for the state GOP convention, and the place was swarming with folks wearing John McCain buttons and even Ron Paul buttons. (At least we didn’t see any “Hillary is the Antichrist” T-shirts.) If you’re going to have a political, or any other type of gathering, there are certainly worse locations you could pick for it. The Hilton is right on the beach, with a view of Diamond Head, and it has its own additional little lagoon for swimming. Since dusk was approaching, a pair of young men dressed in native garb (which, for one of them, meant a grass skirt) ran along the thoroughfare with torches in hand, lighting the torches that line the curb, and that pop up everywhere at night in Hawaii, lending an even more festive atmosphere. In the courtyard where the banquet was being set out, a group of Polynesian musicians warmed up their chops. Nice work if you can get it.
Continuing our walk, we came to a shop that drew Kimberly in like a chicken coop draws a fox: a tea emporium, and a very extensive one at that. She was out of tea at home, and so had none to bring along. And that’s a crisis situation, as tea comprises a large percentage of her food pyramid [Since that time, I myself have become the tea fanatic of the family]. On the plane, she had to settle for Lipton’s; and determined to spare herself from such a fate again, she bought a packet of Assam (her favorite variety) whileI bought a packet of Lapsang Souchon, which is very similar to Russian Caravan (my favorite variety). We then were all braced to face a week of brutal tourism.
Nearby was another shop she popped into, having the dubious name of Crack Seed Store. It sported jars and jars of dried seeds and nuts and fruits and even cuttlefish and other marine animals, all salted and preserved and just waiting to be dished out to folks who actually crave such things. And Kimberly is one of them; while living in Hawaii as a child, she developed a fondness for “salty seeds”, which are dried and (extremely) salty plums. She’s continued loving them all these years, though they can be very difficult to find. So she couldn’t resist buying a few ounces, and with both her epicurean cravings fulfilled, we went on to Foodland.
We anticipated that groceries would be a bit higher here than what we were used to, but we weren’t at all prepared for what we found. It was, quite frankly, the sticker shock of our lives. It’s understandable that milk would be 8 to 10 dollars a gallon, and cheese more than 8 dollars a pound. After all, there’s only one dairy here. But everything else was in the same stratospheric league. Granted, we shop whenever possible at Trader Joe’s (none of those in this neck of the Pacific), which sells quality food at 30 to 40 percent less than what other supermarkets do. Well, at Foodland in Honolulu, these same items can be had for twice as much as we usually pay — or more! Healthy bread is more than 5 dollars per loaf (even the white pasty variety is about 3 dollars), and whole grain cereal more than 6 dollars a box. Bananas were $1.29 a pound. Even locally grown produce was higher than average.
Hoping to scout out a supermarket later that would not require us to sell our firstborn and consume his share too, we decided to buy just enough food for now to get by for a day or two. Even so, the total came to over 97 dollars, and we had such a light load that we easily could walk back rather than take the bus.
Along the way, we encountered quite a number of homeless people, more than we’d expected to see. We figured that in such a high tourist area, the police would chase them out regularly; but coming in on the bus this afternoon, we saw quite an encampment of them in a city park. Who knows what factors contributed to their being on the streets in the first place — maybe they bought groceries at Foodland instead of paying rent. But if you’re going to be homeless, there are certainly worse places to be not officially living in; at least they don’t have to worry about getting cold at night.
Back in our room, we started getting ready to turn in by about 9:00, which was probably our earliest bedtime ever — while the clock in our room said 9:00, our internal clocks said midnight plus 3000 miles. But before we drifted off to sleep, we were startled to hear the booming of a fireworks display, erupting for reasons we never heard about, on the beach right in front of our window. What a welcome to Hawaii. “Mahalo” (thank you) Honolulu. And good night.