An early morning start on Thursday, and instead of going to office (it is just 5 min from the airport) I was in the Hawaiian airlines flight. The colorful uniform of the crew was the first sign of Hawaii. Flight was relaxing, all of us spent most of the time sleeping. The descent at Honolulu, was beautiful, seeing the limpid blue color of the ocean, dotted with white boats and yachts, the green of the mountains contrasting with the blue of the ocean was refreshing to the eyes.
One major glitch was that my GPS was unusable. Could have been real bad, fortunately I had the back-up of the directions to our destination and a couple of places.
First stop from the airport was a quaint little Hawaiian restaurant, serving local cuisine. Highlight was the fruit punch and garlic Ahi(fish). We were still quite fresh, so decided to go to Pearl Harbour, as it was on our way to the condo that we had rented.
Pearl Harbour is the most visited place in Hawaii. Surprisingly there is no entry or parking fee. It is a wide natural harbour, one could see why it has been used as a major naval base for the last 100 years or so. The serenity of the place makes one wonder, how contrasting it would have been in Dec 1941 when the attack took place. Didn't have to imagine much though, as before going for a boat trip to the USS Arizona memorial, we were shown a 20 min documentary on the attack, which had some real footage of that day. The USS Arizona was the ship that had the maximum casualties. More than 1000 sailors died when the ship sank under the brunt of the bombardment. One can still see the ship sunk in the water, with some oil seeping out. Which is referred to as the tears of the sailors. Was a somber experience. Ironically there were lot of Japanese tourists there, for a moment I thought isn't it embarrassing for them, but then I remembered Hiroshima.
After doing some further exploration around the memorial we were on our way back. Our place was on the western coast of the island of Oahu. It was a meandering drive along the coast. With steep mountains having serrated ridges on the other side.
The place we stayed at had an amazing view of the ocean which was just 15-20 feet away. It was open and breezy. Did not go anywhere in the evening, just relaxed, sipping wine, enjoying the sunset and the night falling over the ocean. Satisfied that we were finally there and the vacation had started, after all the preparations, planning etc.
We visited an arboretum near Honolulu which had rainforest vegetation from all over the world. It was unbelievably humid, and overcast, there were also mosquitoes. Giving the perfect rainforest experience :). From there we hiked to a nearby lush tropical forest and abeautiful waterfall called Mauna-Lua. The conditions underfoot were wet and treacherous, and there was a dense canopy, I had to carry my daughter Anahita on my shoulders most of the way. Was sweating profusely, but the effort was worth it. Had never hiked in a rainforest before. While driving back, we hit rush-hour of Honolulu, it was almost as bad as any other city in US. Spent the evening at home,enjoying the breeze after the stifling weather of the morning, got fresh fish from a local grocery store and fried it.
In the morning went snorkeling, to a place called Ko-Olina, they had a sheltered lagoon. It is bit difficult getting used to snorkeling, but once you master the breathing, it is lot of fun. We weren't satisfied with the underwater view there, not enough fish and corals. Luckily my wife Meghna had read in the Frommer's guide for Hawaii, that there was a better snorkeling bay nearby, what made it special, was that it had warmer water, due to discharge from a thermal electrical plant near it. The place was worth it. I saw many colorful brightly hued tropical fishes, and corals of various shapes and colors. Felt like a big predator floating on top,some fish were scared, others were unconcerned. Was fun following the schools of fish, by paddling behind them. Both of us took turns, with Anahita and our lunch,drinks on the beach.
Roamed around Honolulu downtown, it has some nice architecture, the wide walkways reminded me a bit of Panjim in Goa. Also the weather was very Goa like. Saw the Iolani palace , the only royal palace in USA. Then went to the famous Waikiki beach. This was the biggest and most crowded beach I have seen in my life. It may be the most popular beach in the world. There are a ton of activities to be done also. Meghna went for a submarine tour, and enjoyed it, as she could experience the rich underwater life of the Hawaiian seabed. I spent the time exploring Waikiki, it was like the Las Vegas strip, except the casinos. Full of tourists from all over the world, and glitzy shops. Ate a sumptuous lunch at the International Marketplace, bought a Hawaiian shirt, and a Lei.
In the evening did boogie-boarding, it basically involves lying prone on a surfboard and riding the waves and surf. Fairly confident in my swimming skills I could venture a bit deep ,and come back on the shore riding the waves. The highlight was watching the sunset on the sea, while lying flat on the board in the water. Seeing it disappear gradually at a straight 0 degree angle.
Spent the next couple of hours goofing out on the beach with Anahita. Imbibing refreshing local beer.
Went to see a secluded Japanese Shinto temple,on the other side of the isalnd. It was an exact replica of a 12th century temple in Japan, reconstructed in the 60s. It must be one of the most serene and tranquil places I have been to. The vibes were so positive , it almost made me believe in Feng Shui, it had a nice garden with peacocks and ducks, and a pond with many fish. Then went to a famous restaurant called Roy's, good food,drinks and view. Spent the evening snorkeling,swimming,boogie-boarding in a nearby beach.
Day to go back. Went for a morning walk on the beach. Was reading a book about Hawaii, so finished it on the way back on the flight. Fascinating book on the history of the islands, about how the Polynesians who were master navigators came to Hawaii on their canoes. King Kamehameha, the Hawaiian Alexander, who unified all the islands, how Hawaii came on the world map due to the lucrative trade in Whale Oil, the royal debauchery and excesses, and how the American planters in the late 19th century became a powerful lobby and ousted the monarchy, and how nationalism is still a dream some Hawaiians harbour, and have a resentment against the US military who occupy a lot of prime land in the islands.
Hawaiian islands are really unique, we just managed to see one of them. Would like to go back and enjoy the other islands to, like Maui, Kauai, and Big Island.