March 27th, 2012
There comes a time in one's adult life where you may find yourself in an unexpected position. That happened to me recently, at the end of 2011. I don't know how it happened, but I'm quite sure a religiously hedonistic lifestyle coupled with alcohol, caffeine, and what I hope was jarred preserves calculated into it. Alas, such is the life of an Internet personality, and I spent close to two weeks in Hawaii because of it. Should you find yourself in my unfortunate position, this guide may help you.1
In general, Hawaii is a string of islands in the Pacific Ocean created by a tectonic plate traveling northwest over a point of high volcanic activity. My best sources tell me that wizards move the plates.
The island in question I landed on was Kauai, which Wikipedia tells me is a quality of cuteness, in the context of Japanese culture. I'm sure the similar-sounding name is entirely coincidental, of course. Here is the island viewed from above:
Naturally, being nicknamed the Garden Island, Kauai is famous for its lush tropical habitat, as evidenced here:
Whoops, my mistake. This appears to be a photo from that Grand Canyon trip I took about a decade back. What I mean is...
Okay, perhaps I'm getting a little ahead of myself. The above photos are, in fact, from Waimea Canyon State Park, on Kauai. Due to a rain shadow effect, there are two main climates on the island. While the east side is considered one of the wettest spots on earth,2 the southwest is semi-arid. As with most of Hawaii, that is often overlooked, as the Mostly Garden Except for That One Patch of Grass Under the Birdbath Island is a pretty difficult name to market.
For a taste of the Hawaiian language, here is are some street names I came across: Kaluahonu, Hanamaulu, Hoolimalina, Ho'Olauela, Nawiliwili, Liliuokalani. Note the excess of vowels, including but not limited to consecutive vowels. I can't help but be reminded of another, more Scandinavian language that has since fascinated me to no end. Literally, just replace all the umlauts with apostrophes and you're halfway there.
Hawaii or Hawai'i? Looking back, I do admit to being fascinated to the point of frustration over the nature of the apostrophe in Hawaiian.3 I've seen documents and advertising that used both forms, seemingly randomly. It's as if the apostrophe is some sort of secret handshake designed to throw off tourists.
Why Kauai is basically Texas
As a Texan, I found surprise, then comfort in the fact that homesickness is virtually impossible there.
Erratic weather: In Texas, we have a saying that if you don't like the weather, to wait a minute. The approach in Kauai is slightly different: if you don't like the weather, take two steps to the left.
Fireworks: As rarely as it happens, this floored me. While several counties in Texas, a state best known for its love of guns, explosions, and eighties music, currently have a burn ban due to drought conditions and still others ban the possession of fireworks in any weather, this apparently isn't a problem in Kauai. The Walmart in Lihue devoted two aisles to what I am almost tempted to call a pasttime. I never thought I'd run into a state that has more of a love of Michael Bay explosions than Texas4. In fact, this mildly disturbs me.
Conspiracy nuts: Speaking of Walmart, I found no less than two free newsstands there devoted to the dissemination of conspiracy theory literature. While the main attraction in tinfoil-hatted circles tends to change overtime, the panique du jour5 at the time appeared to be that smart meters, or a relatively new means of measuring your home's electrical consumption, were radiating the cell phone rays or some-such. While the tiny little skeptic sitting on my shoulder is quick to call bullshit and cite the WHO comparing the risks of cellphones to that of coffee, my shoulder capitalist is instead telling me to buy up a bunch of those cell phone absorption stickers you keep seeing in infomercials; you know, the kind that Billy Mays would've laughed off, and resell them for double the price.
Churches, churches, churches: Most major population centers in America are going to have some quirk, like a Starbucks on every corner in Seattle or hot dog carts tenaciously guarding their corners from interlopers in New York. Here, it's churches. They're not exclusive, either; you have a church on Kauai for practically every denomination imaginable. The chief difference is that all the churches here are much smaller than the miniature roofed cities one would find in Texas, as no congregation could possibly exceed a few hundred. Scarely any synagogues, though. Can't win 'em all.
Nature. And chickens.
Due to its sheer distance from any mainland, Hawaii has largely developed an ecosystem with few natural predators. As such, common fauna found on an island include waterfowl, chickens, diverse tropical marine life, seals, chickens, hoary bats, monk seals, chickens, feral pigs, chickens, and cane spiders.
Chickens are as common as pigeons there, and possibly our future overlords. Most likely their prevalence is due to release following storms in the Pacific in the early 1990s. How they managed to survive so long as to propagate while looking so delicious will forever remain a mystery.
While no major natural predators exist on any given island, several imported predators do including feral cats, KFCs, and Marc Dacascos.
Stuff to do
Luaus: The luau, steeped in centuries of Hawaiian ceremonal tradition (that is, about 200 years,) is a staple of island custom and a must-do for tourists. In order to identify or conduct a proper luau one must observe some basic steps:
- Wear a polyester lei.
- Try a Mai Tai.
- It is improper etiquette to comment on how similar the Tiki torches on display are to the ones you bought from your local Garden Ridge a month back.
- When in doubt over authenticity, stick a pineapple in it. Placing pineapple on any food or beverage product is guaranteed to give it a Hawaiian flair. Pineapple in rum becomes a Mai Tai, pineapples on a vegetable platter becomes Hawaiian hors d'oeuvre, on pizza becomes inedible.
- Argue with purists over whether it's technically a luau. Poolside, beach, potay-to, potah-to.
- Be sure to keep some extra cash on hand to pay bail for assaulting the luau purist.
Hiking and Nature Trails: as the Garden Island, Kauai is famous for its nature trails. Along such guided tours, one can admire unique pristine natural wonders. For example, here is an inlet to the Wailua River, in its most natural state.
Another trail has some steps carved into the earth for your convenience in all their natural beauty, the steps which are completely natural and untouched by man.
The trail terminates at a "secret fall" as advertised in its brochure. This secret fall is absolutely secret, and has remained untouched by any semblance of an outsider in recorded history.
In hindsight, Maybe Kauai is the Garden Island in the same way New Jersey is the Garden State.
Beaches: Having a relatively constant climate year round, Hawaii's beaches can be enjoyed any time of the year. While Texan beaches will waver between piss-warm in the summer and cold enough to freeze your buttcheeks together in the winter, Hawaiian beachcombers enjoy the privilege of water that is always slightly too cold to swim in.6 Seriously, why are ideal beaches always slightly colder than comfortable, but never enough for you to straight-up say it's too cold?
Sure, it looks innocent now.
The northeast shore of any given island is of particular interest because the surf is largest there. Hawaii is one of the few places where anyone can rent a surfboard, paddle in, and promptly embarrass themselves in front of friends and family while they get their very undertanned asses handed to them by a natural human inability to balance on a fiberglass board in turbulent waters. Surfing effectively does, in fact, take years of training that a week on Oahu in a hotel resort with an excess of alcohol is unlikely to provide. Nonetheless, I still recommend the activity by virtue that you alone will be keeping half of TruTV's shows with stock home video footage for years to come.
Shops: As with any tourist attraction, you can indulge in some of Hawaii's apparel and souvenirs. As one of the most unique and iconic tourist destinations in America, you can find equally iconic souvenirs such as:
- T-shirts with "Hawaii" written on them.
- Mugs and other dishware with "Hawaii" written on them.
- Ashtrays with "Hawaii" written on them.
- Shot glasses with "Hawaii" written on them.
- Bumper stickers with "Hawaii" written on them.
- Those stylized fishhooks that musician Israel Kamakawiwo'ole popularized, shortly before hipsters ruined them.
- Stuff with bad puns about getting "lei'd" in Hawaii written on them.
However unintentional my vacation was, eventually everyone has to return home. For me that meant taking an island hopper to Honolulu, then another plane back to the mainland. Both airports, though secure, seem pretty laid-back.7 It was a pleasure overall. Like many, I'll leave behind memories, but more rarely among the tourist industry, I'll leave behind friends.
And ten grooves in the ground leading from my hotel room to the airport.
1 DISCLAIMER: Fenris Designs and its staff do not encourage the use of any advice given from this point. In fact, we discourage advice in general, just to stay on the safe side. And if by any chance you live in Hawaii, relax. I loved it there, and am writing this purely in jest.
2 Outside of Alec Baldwin's armpits.
3 Or is it Hawai'ian?
4 Except for California, where I'm sure Michael Bay lives. Geez, going a little heavy on the pop cultural references here. Okay, I'll stop.
5 French for panic du jour.
6 From a strictly Texan perspective, of course.
7 Though I think one security guard and I are technically married now.
Back to Ramblings...