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May 18, 2008: Dole Plantation and Turtle Bay Resort

Surprisingly, we all got up early enough to attend the “island orientation continental breakfast” at the resort. Not surprisingly, the “continental breakfast” turned out to be, like many other continental breakfasts, of the Homer Simpson order: gooey donuts and bad coffee. The real objective was the “island orientation” part, which was an opportunity for management to pitch to guests various tour packages. The problem with staying at a timeshare is that they assume you have a lot of money, and try to sell you other bad investments to round out your portfolio.

Not surprisingly, we passed on these golden opportunities, had a real breakfast in our room, and set out on the day’s mission: getting an overview of Oahu by taking a self-guided tour on The Bus. Yes, that was supposed to be capitalized. That’s what they call the major Honolulu-based transit company: The Bus. A smaller shuttle line from the airport has the more colorful name of Wiki Wiki, which means “fast fast”, which really is just equivalent to plain fast, since “Hawaiian time” is notoriously tardy, and even bus drivers seem lax about sticking to the schedule, if anybody can even find one. But The Bus is what people ride most often, unless they have enough money to catch The Cab. Or if they’re commuting between two points along the coastline, they might want to take The Boat.

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There are three freeways on Oahu: H1, H2 and H3. The Boat is sometimes referred to as H2O. Completed in 1997, H3 is the newest, most scenic, and most controversial of the three roads. Its construction dragged on for years, delayed by protests and legal challenges. Among other things, its route passed through ancient burial grounds, and many indigenous folks objected to having their relics desecrated. Many of them even now believe the highway to be cursed and refuse to travel on it. Perhaps there’s really something to this curse, considering how gas prices have risen. (Actually the price of gas here, while sky-high, is to our surprise no higher than on the mainland.)

Much more recently, another controversial transportation option was developed: The Superferry. Last year, when we first started planning this trip, we were hoping to extend it to two weeks instead of one, and use the additional days to do some island-hopping. But at that time the only means of traveling between islands was to fly, unless you had access to a private boat or were a VERY good swimmer. We commented that we couldn’t understand why no inter-island ferry was available after all this time. Well, lo and behold, we read only a few weeks later that such a service was about to commence, offering passage not only for people but their vehicles. It seemed like an idea long overdue!

But alas, the Superferry cut some corners and neglected to do an environmental assessment, a standard practice for decades. And it adopted a boat design that has been known to kill whales. Concerned citizens pressured the company to clean up its act, and even obtained a ruling by the state Supreme Court that the Superferry should suspend operation until its environmental impact could be evaluated. Superferry ignored the ruling, and even moved its opening up two days. The inaugural launches were met with hundreds of protestors, some on the land and others in the water, swimming or surfing, to block the boat’s departure from the harbor. (That’s a spectacle we wish we’d been here to observe!) On behalf of the Dept. of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard plucked these men and women from the water forcibly, and some were arrested. Superferry went full speed ahead, and that’s where things still stand the last we heard. [The following year, Superferry service was suspended, and then the company went bankrupt. And that’s where things stand now.]

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Well, our itinerary today did not require the Superferry, The Boat, or H3, and very little H1 or H2. Instead, The Bus stuck mostly to low roads, giving us a healthy dose of local color. We poked along past little farms with horses and the two or three cows on the whole island (that’s an exaggeration, but not much of one).

We zipped past too many beaches to count, picking up passengers and passing passersby who were dressed in a variety of combinations of contemporary and traditional attire. At one point the bus picked up a pair of teenage girls fresh from the beach; about three buses later, on the other side of the island, we encountered them again.

Everywhere you go, you’re greeted with “aloha”, which can mean either “hello”, “goodbye” or “I love you”. Given the context, we’d say the first interpretation is a safe bet. And we hear and see many other Hawaiian words and phrases as well, spilling out what seems to be an uninterrupted flow of vowels – some Hawaiian words, in fact are composed entirely of vowels, and every syllable in the language ends with a vowel. It’s a liquid language that flows like tiny bubbles in the wine, with no t’s, s’s or r’s to clink against the ear. Thus, the many expressions borrowed from English require a bit of transformation; “Merry Christmas”, for instance, becomes “Mele Kalikimaka”.

Anyway, The Bus took us past the fairgrounds where the state fair currently is in progress, although it doesn’t seem to have any action today, and then past Pearl Harbor, which we plan to investigate tomorrow, and past Aloha Stadium, which we will probably never investigate because we’re not terribly fond of football; if we were, this would be a place we might catch the NCAA Hula Bowl, or the NFL Pro Bowl, both of which have been hosted here many times.

Before long, we were out in the country, with The Bus providing service from The City to some unexpectedly rural areas. In the midst of miles and miles of farmland, we found what was to be our first stop: The Dole Plantation. We knew that Dole was a Hawaii institution, but we had no idea exactly where it was until The Bus rolled up in front of its doors and we decided on the spur of the moment to get off.

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Dole, of course, is synonymous with pineapple, which is synonymous with Hawaii, but it has been so only for a century or so. The pineapple, which probably originated in South America, was brought to these isles in the 1500′s. But the fruit didn’t really flourish here until around 1900 when American businessman James Dole established his plantation here. (Dole was a cousin of Sanford Dole, who’d had himself proclaimed “President of the Republic of Hawaii” after overthrowing the queen. We’re not making this up.) The present tourist attraction was opened as a roadside fruit stand in 1950, and finally expanded to its current layout.

What the Dole Plantation features now is a train ride around the plantation, a garden of the various crops and plants grown in the area, a gift shop, a restaurant, and the attraction that really caught our eye: a maze. Not just any maze, but a gigantic, elaborate maze that Guinness declared to be the largest in the world in 2001. (Presumably it no longer holds that distinction, but it’s still impressive.) The labyrinth is constructed of trees on the perimeter of the maze, with the center consisting of shorter shrubbery planted in an array that looks like a pineapple when viewed by pilots or space aliens.

I found an aerial photo online:

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Yet it isn’t just the size or shape that makes this maze special; the greatest appeal of all is the added challenge of trying to locate 8 hidden stations inside. Each of these stations, resembling an unenclosed-variety phone booth (anybody remember phone booths?) only smaller, features a different stencil in some relevantly recognizable shape – fish, hula dancer, pineapple, etc. — and just to prove that you’ve found the station in question, you’re supposed to trace the stencil onto a card you’re issued at the entrance. Everybody got that? Then pay your 6 bucks and let’s have at it!

The allotted time for the quest is supposed to be about half an hour, although the bragging rights board out front indicates that some people have completed it in as little as 12 minutes. I surfaced after about 30 minutes, figuring that everyone else also would be hot and hungry and ready to have lunch. I’d located only 5 of the stencils – although I accomplished the equally difficult feat of retracing my steps to retrieve the stencil card and stencil pencil I’d dropped, in different places. Kimberly and Zephyr were nowhere to be seen; it was about 20 minutes before Zephyr emerged, and about 10 more before she did. Each of them had discovered 7 of the stations, though each was missing a different one, and they were different from the ones I missed. Between the three of us, we got them all.

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We sat on the patio and ate the homemade burritos we’d brought along, and decided that some cold, fresh pineapple juice would go really well with them. And it just happens that we knew right where we could get some.

Then it was back on The Bus to take us to the beach.

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Our next stop on The Bus route was Turtle Bay Resort, which Kimberly’s family used to take vacations at many years ago. After changing into our swimwear in the crowded restrooms, we took our first dip (at least it was the first for D & Z) in those magnificent Hawaiian beach waters.

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Now you might think that a fancy resort like Turtle Bay might restrict the use of its beaches to its guests only. Certainly that would be the case at most places. But Turtle Bay does not have its own beach. Neither does anyone else in Hawaii. There is no private ownership of beaches anywhere in the state – they’re all open free to the public. Now that’s the kind of law we can live with!

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We decided not to stay in the water very long, however, because we were hoping to make it to Kailua, Kimberly’s old hometown, where the beaches are even better. So we rinsed the sand off at the outdoor showers, dried off and got back on the next bus.

Our route took us by Kualoa Ranch, where Jurassic Park, Lost, Mighty Joe Young, Pearl Harbor, and other films and TV shows have been shot. [At the time, I’d never seen Lost. Now I’m a huge fan. Wish I’d taken a tour of the ranch.] If you squint, you almost can see dinosaurs romping around among the palm trees. As you might expect, Hawaii has a fairly active film industry – in fact, on our ride from the airport yesterday, we passed a film shoot in progress somewhere in the downtown area.

Shots through the window of a passing bus:

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Our ride today also took us past Chinaman’s Hat, a curiously shaped little island just off the coast that is open to the public during the daytime, and at low tide is even accessible by foot. Back when this formation was nicknamed, its moniker was considered less offensive than now. (It’s more officially known as Mokolii.) In any case, you readily see how it came to mind: it really does resemble one of the classic straw hats worn by Chinese immigrants. It’s really not that different, though, from many of the mountains you see around here.

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The ranges of Hawaii tend to be a different breed altogether from the mainland species. With the exception of those barren, squarish buttes in the desert states, mountains on the continent tend to slope up from the plains more or less gradually. But here they jut up as abruptly as if the volcanoes below had thrust their fists through the earth’s crust. And these outcroppings are all covered with lush vegetation. For those accustomed to the mainland landscape, this looks like another world – or at least a prehistoric era.

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While waiting to transfer to another bus at Windward Mall, we noticed something that we’d seen earlier at Turtle Bay, but thought it was peculiar to that resort only: BLUE stop signs. Is this the wave of the future in Blue Hawaii?

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By the time we reached Kailua, it was getting later than we’d expected, so we decided to save the beach outing for another day, and take care of something more pressing: the completion of our grocery shopping. There was a Safeway next to the bus stop, where we’d catch the bus “home”; and while the prices there were still higher than on the mainland, they were considerably lower than at Foodland. We’d all emptied our backpacks as much as possible before leaving the room, so we were able to stuff them with a large part of the food, and easily carry the rest in shopping bags on the bus.

On the ride back, we sat next to a man who was studying a transit map that had all the bus (oops! The Bus) routes marked on it, so we asked him where he got it. He said at the library, which was down by the statue of King Kamehameha, who was looking across the street right at the library building. This gentleman, who teaches nutrition at a local university, is a chef who recently moved here from Orlando. (When we mentioned that we go to Orlando every winter, he asked, “Would you like to buy a house?”) He told us that he once catered for Will Smith and Bon Jovi at Aspen, Colorado.

Finally back in our room after a long day of gawking out the window of The Bus, we unpacked what we hoped would be a week’s supply of groceries – including, of course, rice, a staple of the local diet. We also bought some Orajel, because I am experiencing a rebellious tooth that started acting up almost as soon as we got here. When you’re vacationing in The Aloha State for only a week, the last thing you want to do is take time out to go to the dentist.