Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Aloha!



If you have not figured it out yet, let me fill you in... traveling is like oxygen for me. Traveling keeps me sane. Traveling keeps me curious. Traveling keeps me inspired. Traveling keeps me in love with life. Traveling keeps me grounded. It seems just when I return home from a "big" trip or even just a short weekend away, my mind is already spinning on "what is next"?! I've learned over the years, that 'it' is a passion not all understand. I do not scoot around NC, the country or the world because I am not content with the life I have created in Raleigh. I do it because I covet what this world has to offer. So while it was a little crazy (and scary in ref to the funds) to plan to leave for Hawaii just 18 days after getting back from SF- I knew it would be worth it and of course it was. A week in The Playground of the Pacific will do wonders for the essence of one's being and more so for their spirit. Sean Penn once said about his work in Haiti that "it is good to seek circumstances that will humble you" and I believe that statement to be true.




Oahu's Island is home to the thriving city of Honolulu, where my brother Christopher lives, as well as the laid back surfer's dream, The North Shore.  Christopher was stationed in Hawaii to work at Schofield after graduating from the Citadel. He's a First Lieutenant and loving the Hawaiian lifestyle. I'd seen many pics of this paradise, but I wanted to see it in real life. Christopher and I decided Thanksgiving would be the perfect time to come.  At first I was a little concerned when I was only seeing flights for $1,400 and up on domestic airlines. Then Hawaiian Airlines popped up on my Google Ads: FLY HAWAIIAN AIRLINES TODAY. $870 round trip with one stop in NYC. That was a deal for real, so I booked before it went away! Total travel time was about 13 hours. Other options were stopping in Chicago or LA. But that just added extra hours. So while 10.5 hours from NYC was a long time, I preferred it. Hawaiian Airlines was just wonderful. All the flight attendants were helpful and so very nice. You did not get the feeling that you were bothering them if you needed something. The seats were comfortable and very spacious and everyone had their own TV screen. I got some breakfast and took a natural sleep aid and slept most of the way there.  I was there Saturday- Saturday... not nearly long enough. I've been many places, but this was the one of those times, I was actually sad to leave.  There was so much more I wanted to do, see and experience,  and I knew it would be another very long while before I got to see Christopher again.

When you look at a flat map, it is hard to grasp how far Hawaii actually is. It's always stuck off the coast of California. I've been to tropical paradises, but never ones this secluded. I flew in to Honolulu mid afternoon. The clouds were scattered across sky over the Pacific and hugging the mountains behind the city skyline all the while, parts of the sun were shinning over Pearl Harbor. As I exited the airport I was greeted by Christopher with 2 beautiful fresh made Leis that smelled delightful!

Park at Honolulu Airport 

After hugs and hellos I was told to suck up my jet lag and get ready for the evening! We headed to Christopher's apartment at Harbor Court to get ready for the night. His friends Tony & Kelly picked us up and we head into Waikiki for dinner and drinks at Rumfire. Tony and Christopher went to the Citadel together and both got stationed in Hawaii. It's awesome to get to move beautiful location for the job and have your best friend and his wife come along. Rumfire is beachfront with tiki torches lining the property.After dinner hours this place turns into a lively bar/ dance party. From here we bar hop to a couple other bars.

Chris and I at Rumfire

Sunday was a be lazy at the pool day. Before that happened Christopher took me to Dixie Grill.  While the food was really good, the atmosphere and location were def questionable. It located right off the highway, literally, if you sit outside, the cars zoom past you. There was a collection of miscellaneous decor all over the place. But again, the food was good. After getting our Southern fix we head to the pool. We spent the afternoon napping in the sun between dips into the pool. Christopher took me to his favorite late night bar the night before, they have found a way to beat the system, while you can't technically "sell" alcohol past 2ish, you can however buy casino chips until 6am and purchase drinks with your chips. The place has a very fitting name: Asylum. Christopher had work early Monday morning, so that evening we  went to a cook our own dinner on open fire spot. Gyu-Kaku was a recent new find for the boys, and it sounded perfect for a Sunday night date night with the bro. We could get full bellied and then pass out!

Dixie Grill

Roof top pool


View of pool from the apt.

Gyu- Kaku
While I was visiting, Christopher still had to go into a work a little bit. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I would have to entertain myself until late afternoon.  Monday morning I took in the views from Christopher and Dario's apt, headed down for a morning swim and read some of my book, Family Fang then decided it was time to check out the City. They reside a block over from China Town- that seemed like a great place to start. I walked in and out of galleries, windowed shopped and ooohhh & ahhhed over hand crafted wood watches, observed at Lei stands while the locals make the beauties, talked with elderly and wise men about their Chinese Herbal Meds and ended with a late lunch at JJ Dolans. I made my way by foot to Ala Moana Beach Park and literally sat and walked around the park for over two hours just taking it all in.



View from Harbor Court

View from Harbor Court

Diamond Head

Thanks Google Images: Ala Moana Beach Park
beautiful trees everywhere, Ala Moana Beach Park


I ended my day with walking around Aloha Tower, across from Harbor Court. Dario, Christopher's roomie was cooking dinner for us and two other friends, Chris V. and Mike that evening. Dario is from New Jersey and can make a killer pot of Spaghetti, we all sat around the table telling stories, drinking beer, sipping vino, eating pasta and chicken and enjoying the company.

Dario Marcelli, an Army officer and graduate of West Point is one of the nicest, happiest, genuine, respectful people I've had the pleasure of getting to know. After meeting his parents, it was easy to see where he got it from. He and my brother Christopher met at Ranger School. Dario was a wonderful host while Christopher was working, he always checked in to make sure I was ok and even treated me to a night out with his parents and friends.  His parents were coming in that week they brought along some family friends. Tuesday night were were all to go dinner at Hye's then out for drinks. Christopher had to work a 24 hour shift.  Chris Vesce, also a West Point Graduate and Army Officer is a character and has the biggest arms I've ever seen ( a older lady at Thanksgiving dinner agreed with me ). He always has a huge smile on his face and thoroughly enjoys living the Hawaiian life to the fullest. He's goofy but serious about his work and tells heartfelt stories about what is it like to work at Pearl Harbor, where some buildings still have gunshot holes. At the end of the day he is smart, witty and confident. While he may come across as cocky, he's got nothing but great and sincere intentions.   Michael Frey also an US Army officer is an upstate NY Boy has a smile that lights up the room. He was much more quite than his buddies Dario and Chris V. and was often the target of their jokes and stories, but again, always with harmless intent. It was a pleasure to get to know each and every one of them. 



Tuesday I did more exploring. I started with the 5th largest shopping mall in the USA. Ala Moana Center. Check out a list of stores here: Ala Mona website. From there I took a taxi to Lanikai Beach.  Sadly, I left my phone/ camera at the house that day, so to get an idea check out these Google Images. Probably one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever laid eyes on- even on a semi cloudy day. It rest on the Winward Side of the Island. The Beach is known of course for it's white sandy beaches and crystal waters, but it also holds a bit of history. They are several Pillboxes that were used as observation posts for the part of the Island's defense during World War I & II. Later that evening Dario and I headed to pick Mike and Chris V. up for dinner with his parents and their friends, the Jandoli's. They were all staying at the Moana Surfrider in Waikiki so that was the meet up place. This hotel is gorgeous. It looks like a oversize plantation house was picked up from the South and placed in Hawaii. From here we walk a couple block's to Hye's. It's world famous for their steaks, so the exterior was a little surprising... there was a small light sign and the front entrance sits at the bottom of a tall building. However when you wall in, it's got the manly steakhouse feel: dark paneled walls, leather, candles, dark carpet and lots of dim lights. There were 8 of us and we had the best seat in the house, right in front of the chef grilling/ boiling our steaks and veggies. We started with cocktails, salads and apps. We then did a quick switch (well not Chris V. who stuck with this vodka) to red wine when the meal arrived. It was relaxing, elegant, and a pleasurable couple hours of quality time spent with new friends. After dinner we head to Duke's for a couple drinks before turning in. 

That little guy- he's mine!



Thanksgiving Eve: I beach it before the clouds rolled in. Christopher got home later afternoon and we got ready for dinner and rave night. Across the street from his place there was a Rave party with several dj's spinning tunes for about a thousand people. People were dressed in costumes or barley nothing at all, glow stick were swirling through the air and glitter falling out of the sky. We stayed for about 5 hours, before heading to our favorite late night spot Asylum. Around 5 am I called it quits and heading back to the apartment. Christopher showed up not long after. We slept in then I forced Christopher out of bed to go on a hike with me. Maona Falls and trail was our destination. Driving over to the trail was beautiful. Lush green mountains for as far as you could see, with neighborhoods nestled all over them. To give you an idea of what we are dealing with... parts of Lost and Jurassic Park were filmed in the area we were about to hike.We were hung over so this was by no means a hard trail or done at a fast past. We took our time and it took about an hour each way. Unfortunately the waterfall was not as impressive as we had hoped. It was a drizzle at best! There had not been a good rain for several days, which we told ourselves was the reason behind our let down. Nonetheless, the trail/ hike up was worth it.







if you look close, you can see the waterfall. 










We grabbed a late lunch on the way back, took a mini nap then started to get ready for dinner. Dario's parents had invited Christopher, Mike, Chris V. and myself to join them all for Thanksgiving dinner at their hotel. We arrived a little early to have a drink in the courtyard and watch the sunset. We really could not have asked for a more beautiful setting. Dim lights on the patio, a sunset  and a extravagant spread inside. After our drink, we wandered in and were seated our our table, inside. We were surrounded by palm trees, candle light, intense crown molding, huge windows and food... ahh the food. The buffet was filled with: ham, turkey, roast beef, mashed potatoes, lobster mac and cheese, sauteed veggies, oyster stuffing, crab legs, crab claws, shrimp, oysters, mussels, fruit bar, salad bar, antipasti bar, sushi bar, cheese and bread bar and finally dessert bar. It was like nothing we had ever seen and the food was all cooked to perfection. Again, we started with cocktails and had several bottles of vino with dinner.  We even took a few minutes to go around the table and tell what we were each thankful for. I'm not going to lie, some of us got teary. It's one of the most enjoyable and memorable Thanksgivings I've ever had.I felt so welcomed and privileged that the Marcelli's opened up their Thanksgiving night with their son, whom they rarely see, to all of us.



Christopher
Chris V with all his dessert



The Marcelli's

Mike
We all call it a night after dinner. Christopher and I are heading to the North Shore in the morning and the rest of the crew is heading to Maui for the weekend. I was really excited to experience the slower pace of the island up on the North Shore. The base Christopher works on is located almost in the middle between downtown and the North Shore. So, some of his friends live in town & some up on the beach. This was great because it meant we had a free place to stay. I really had zero idea what to expect. As we drove on the Kamehameha Hwy toward the North Shore, which is about an hour from Christopher's place we passed rolling hills, mountains, Dole Plantation, Schofield- where he works, countless farms ( yes farms!) and tour buses. Christopher's buddies live about 1/2 mile from Waimea Bay, a awesome 5 bedroom house. A couple roomies were out of town, so there was plenty of room for Chris and I to crash for the night. After a late breakfast at Ted's we spent the day on the beach at Waimea Bay. It is crazy to think that this cove host some of the largest and best waves around in the winter. I visited in late November, so just on the cusp of it getting "big". When we arrived around noon, it looked like any other day on the beach: calm with a few small sets, nothing to wow about. By 4:30 when we left, the famous jumping rock was almost submerged and the waves starting to roll in. Big wave surfing did not start here until 1957 when some brave souls tackled the big waves, which started a new era for surfing.






Nice View
The Boy's beach house
Beach across from the house
Across from the house
Waimea Bay
Waimea Bay

Waimea Bay from the top of the hill. 

 We headed to dinner around 5:30 in town, Haleiwa, to eat at Haleiwa Thai. They don't serve alchi, but don't worry, stop in a the hole in wall gas station down the road and pick up whatever you would like to sip. From here we take it back to the house for a couple rounds pool, tunes, drinks and hanging out before we head up to Turtle Bay Resort up in Turtle Bay  for a night out. There are not too many bars in the area, but Turtle Bay has a good one, Surf Bar. The weekend we were there was the start of the Vans Triple Crown. The Triple Crown is a 3 part surfing event that takes place from Mid Nov to late Dec each year on the North Shore. The competition starts in Haleiwa on Ali'i Beach with the Reef Hawaiian Pro then moving up the coastline to Sunset Beach for the Vans World Cup of Surfing and it wraps with the Pipeline Masters at Banzai Pipeline. Knowing the best surfers in the world where on this several mile stretch, I felt certain I'd see a few. Kelly Slater was spotted right when we walked up to Surf Bar. Now, I'm not surf buff, but one knows who and what Mr. Slater looks like. The place was full of good looking guys who all looked like they could be pros.. and to be sure, some of them were, I just couldn't pick them out!

Kelly Slater
When the bar closed, I wasn't quite ready to head home. So I late nighted with some new friends, Thaddeus and several friends lived down the street and had a handful of people going over there.... I needed to be one of them. After several hours of Apples to Apples, drinking games, dance parties and travel stories I needed to head on, plus everyone was fading fast. I do not do well with good bye's so once everyone was fast asleep I rose off my couch and I "borrowed" a bike from out back and started paddling. Now, since it's the North Shore, biking in a cotton mini skirt and tank at 6:30 sunrise didn't seem to be out of the ordinary and there were lots of people out and about. Thanks to my smart phone, I knew I had about 4.5 miles to bike... for this trek I was going to need caffeine, so I whipped into Ted's for their local coffee before continuing on. I pasted Pipeline and stopped for a minute to finish off my coffee ( what a beautiful site for a coffee & sunrise ) on the beach and watch the workers complete the stands for the competition, then kept biking. All was well until I reached Waimea Bay (it is full on morning time now)... the hill... the traffic had picked up so I decided the safe bet was to cross via the beach instead of the winding road. I got about half way up with my bike and decided it was time to ditch it, for several reasons: A) It wasn't mine so if I left it, maybe they would find it. B) It would have been easier to walk it up the winding road vs the beach cliff I was hiking up and it was becoming a pain to literally carry the bike up the trail. C) I didn't want to involve my boys with my borrowing of the bike... I could just see it.. Marco would be cruising down the road on his new bike and someone would call him out then he would have to tell this elaborate story...and so on... With all that said, sorry Thaddeus, but the bike got left at about midway on the dirt path up the back way to the hwy from the beach. I walked the next 5 minutes. At this point I was just so happy to see the green house and was hoping no one was up yet so I could just pass out for a couple hours before heading to Ali'i Beach to watch some surfing. Everyone was asleep but Marco, so I re-told my night, then slept. Several hours later everyone was up and we were starving so we grab breakfast at Kono's then head to the beach. It was hot, sunny and the beach was packed. We watched the surf for about 2 hours, then it was time to say good bye. My flight was at 4 pm.

8 days was not enough time. This small island has so much to offer was well as the neighboring islands. It's nature's beauty in some of the purest forms I've seen. If it's not on your bucket it, add it.



John John Florence!
 




Other things to check out while on the Island:

Chef's Laua at Sea Life Park

Get local and ride "THE BUS"

Diamond Head

Pearl Harbor- Book/ buy tickets in advance, I sadly did not get to go, they were booked the entire week I was there.

Uss Arizona

Shaved local ice- yum

Mokule'ia Beach Park

Dole Plantation

Bellows Field Beach Park

Happy Trails, horse back riding

National Cemetery of the Pacific

Ko Olina Lagoons

Byodo-In Temple

Honolulu Museum of Art

Makapuu Point and Beach