One of the memories I shared at my husband’s Celebration of Life service was how he fell in love with Hawaii when we went there on our honeymoon. Obviously, Hawaii is beautiful and like no other place on Earth, but I think his attachment to it was so immediate and so intense because it was the first time he was unreachable by “the outside world”. Our trip was well before cell phones and while we had the ability to make a phone call if necessary, the cost of such was prohibitive beyond a few minutes here or there to simply let our families know we were still alive. (In all honesty, even that probably wasn’t necessary, but we were well-trained and dutiful children, and so we made sure to check in a couple of times during our vacation.)
We divided our time between three different hotels on two different islands, Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii. (People often confuse the Big Island with Oahu, which drove my husband nutty, but each island has its own distinct feel.) We happened to visit one of the oldest islands and one of the newest, and began our trip at the quaint, little hotel Elvis Presley made famous in Blue Hawaii, before moving on to a more modern, luxury hotel.
Kauai was by far my favorite, filled with thick, dense foliage, everything green and lush.
We did the tacky, touristy thing when we took a little cruise down the Waimea River and stepped out into the Fern Grotto. The hosts told corny jokes while we all grinned like idiots, far too happy simply being on a boat in a river on an island out in the middle of the ocean. That cruise is where I learned that when I wore a flower behind my ear, I had to make sure it was the left one, which signified that I was married or taken. If I accidentally wore it behind my right, I could send the wrong message, inviting random strangers to flirt. Who wants that on their honeymoon?!
We took drives around the island in a convertible Mustang that we were naive enough to take as an “upgrade” option at the rental car desk, and I ended up burning and peeling a few times on the trip. A pasty Irish/German girl from New England does not do too well in constant sunlight (save a daily afternoon shower complete with rainbow). My husband and his Mediterranean skin tone, on the other hand, left the islands looking as if he belonged there.
We had consulted a borrowed Fodor’s guide book (back before the days of TripAdvisor and Yelp, we actually had to read books about which restaurants to try) and one morning took a trip to a little place called the Kountry Kitchen in Kapaa. A fell in love with the place and proceeded to order a second breakfast immediately after finishing his first much to the amusement of our waitress. To be fair, their coconut syrup over macadamia nut pancakes had him imagining that he was stranded on Gilligan’s Island, which brought back pleasant memories of his childhood. The restaurant is also the place where I learned to eat papaya “correctly”, squeezing a bit of lemon juice onto the fruit to bring out its sweetness.
The island is relatively small, and we were able to visit several places in one day, including a guava plantation and Waimea Canyon, affectionately known as the Grand Canyon of the
Pacific. While I can’t compare the two as I’ve not yet been to the Grand Canyon (I know, I know… it’s on my Bucket List), I can tell you that we thoroughly enjoyed the Waimea Canyon and were completely impressed and awed by it’s beauty. We visited the Spouting Horn, as well, an area where the sea has worn away the lava rock creating these massive shooting sprays of water when the waves crash into the shore. It was beautiful and impressive, and the closest we’ve come on the mainland is Blowing Rocks Preserve on Jupiter Island, FL.
It turned out to be a good thing that we did all the driving around we did during our days at the first hotel, because once we got to the second, we didn’t want to leave until it was time to fly to the Big Island. While the hotel itself was gorgeous (and we bumpkins not used to such opulence), it was the fact that our honeymoon stay coincided with an NFL quarterback challenge that had my husband fanboying it. Everywhere we went for the
next several days, he would point out various quarterbacks, including his childhood idol, Jim Plunkett. We would see these players having dinner with their families, or drinking at the bars in small groups, and everywhere he spotted another one, he pointed and grinned. Although I knew almost nothing about football then (or now), his enthusiasm was contagious and I smiled right along with him. Although we didn’t hound them for photographs or autographs, two occasions
presented themselves where we were able to get pictures without a great deal of fanfare. We ran into Jim Everett on one elevator ride back to our room, and Warren Moon on a sunset cruise through the hotel lagoon. Mr. Everett was quite pleasant and down-to-earth; Mr. Moon, not so much (although he was probably just trying to enjoy his Mai Tais in peace.
Our stay on the Big Island (which turned out to be my husband’s favorite island) was celebrity-free (as far as we know), but it also had its fair share of memorable moments. We finally decided we “had to” do the Hawaiian luau thing and reserved our place at dinner one evening, the only night our hotel was holding it while we were there. There turned out to be a major storm that caused our luau to be moved indoors, and eventually knocked out the power at the beginning of the hula performance. We went through the buffet line trying to read the food names by candlelight, which was less than ideal when half of the dishes were unknown to us. I did get to try poi, although I could have lived without that experience. People think grits are bland, but poi wins that contest hands down (for the record, I like grits, although I admit it might be an acquired taste for some).
We got to snorkel one day, and it was an amazing experience; we barely stepped off the beach and into the shallow lava-filled lagoon before we were approached by dozens of tropical fish. It seems they were looking for food as it was common for people to feed them, generally frozen peas (which I still don’t understand and has since been discouraged as unsafe for the fish). I did initially have to cajole my husband into doing it, as he didn’t think it was his thing. But afterwards, he was glad I had enticed (or maybe coerced is a better word) him into it.
The black sands on the beach and Devastation Trail of the island were hauntingly beautiful. The still active volcano had caused a great deal of destruction through that area, leaving behind white-washed skeletons of trees, ashes, and little else. The stark white of the burned out trees against the black-grey ash and deep blue sky was an incredible sight. The Volcanoes National Park also held sulphur pits (less than pleasant) and lava tubes, which were essentially hollowed out caves created by flowing lava that hardened on the outside while the molten lava kept passing through the interior, leaving behind a tunnel. The island itself was littered with waterfalls and small rainforests, as well. It is the most diverse of the islands and still boasts two active volcanoes.
Our last day there, we took a drive to the hardened edge of the fresh lava flow with the intention of getting close to the still-flowing lava. About 100 yards into our journey across the rock, however, I stubbed my big toe and began bleeding everywhere. We ended up heading back to our rental car where A sped off in a huff, knowing that we had missed our chance to see the volcano up close. It wasn’t long before we were pulled over by a police officer who wrote my husband a $25 ticket. As this was the days before the internet, we were informed that if we paid it before we left the island, our own state (and insurance company) wouldn’t be notified. So we spent the last afternoon of our trip in search of this small courthouse to pay the small fine and prevent it from becoming a major ordeal.
As we sat in the terminal the following day, my husband turned to me and asked me to stay. He said we should simply not go home, but instead leave everything behind and live in Hawaii. I thought he was joking and I laughed, thinking of everything we had waiting for us in our new apartment. Turns out, it hadn’t been a joke, and he would have been quite content to leave the real world behind. He would spend the next several years convincing me to move to Hawaii. Eventually we did, at least for a short while, and my oldest daughter actually began kindergarten at Thomas Jefferson Elementary in Waikiki with its open-air classrooms across the way from the Honolulu Zoo and a few blocks from the beach.
We made may more incredible memories as haoles living right in the heart of Waikiki on Oahu, but I’ll save those tales for another day.
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