An Engagement in Hawaii: Week 221

Polaroid of a church in Lahaina: Maui, Hawaii

Lahaina is lush but also arid- red dirt and hibiscus.

Front Street, the epicenter of the town, runs parallel to the coast. It is filled with tourists, restaurants, and shops. From Front Street the land makes a parabolic rise up into the shrouded West Maui Mountains.

It was around 2:30 in the afternoon when a troop of yellow school buses honked their way through Lahaina. The kids from Kamehameha III Elementary were celebrating their last day of school by sliding out of view and waving their hands out the windows.

At the south end of town, near the school, a massive banyan tree canopied a public square. Families sat in the shade and a backpacker rubbed ointment onto his tanned foot. Barret and I strolled down the street, past a stand of parrots that squawked aloha, and had lunch overlooking the waterfront.

Boys bodyboarding at Kaanapali: Maui, Hawaii

To the south and north of Lahaina, all along Honoapiilani Highway, the coastal side of the road was filled with cars. The charcoal grills were hot and the ocean was filled with people and boards. Everyone knows Hawaii is famous for surfing, but it is still surprising to see so many people out in the water at all times of the day. It makes you wonder when and if they ever work.

Barret eating a popsicle at the Twin Falls Farmstand: Maui, Hawaii

The Twin Falls Farmstand is on the eastern end of Maui, which is the side that receives all the rain. The little stand sells smoothies, drinking coconuts, and popsicles on sugarcane sticks. Just beyond the stand is a trail that crosses a small river twice before ending at a waterfall.

Large puffy white clouds floated out of the woods and hung over the clearing. A mother of three studied the dissipating clouds with a large frown. Her husband, a man with thinning hair and an armband tattoo, enthusiastically watched stoned teenagers jump off a precipice and into the cool water below. “I’ve jumped off higher,” he mouthed in her direction. Her frown deepened.

North of the falls, Barret and I stopped at a lookout point. I bought a drinking coconut from a brightly painted van that was manned by a woman with voluminous hair, a voluminous bust, and big jewelry.

At the lookout point Barret distracted me with sea turtles while he pulled out an engagement ring. Although I had selected the ring, I was completely caught off guard.

Polaroid of the proposal in Maui, Hawaii

“Look at what I am wearing!” I exclaimed as I surveyed my wrinkled pants and Teva sandals. My arms were caked in sunblock.

“This is who we are,” Barret replied. “This is what we look like most of the time.”

I had always thought that the proposal would make me cry a lot, but looking back I just remember laughing with joy. Although if you ask Barret, I cried for five minutes behind my sunglasses.

I couldn’t wait to share the news, so before we left I returned to the coconut stand. The vendor squealed in excitement before proclaiming, “isn’t that a cute little promise ring.” Not exactly the response I was expecting, but I think our tastes were a bit different.

Polaroid of a van selling drinking coconuts: Maui, Hawaii

After living in Sydney, I knew Honolulu was a popular destination for Aussie shoppers. However, it wasn’t ’til I was there that I realized the scale of the development- it was a tropical Las Vegas minus the casinos. Older vestiges of the Waikiki beach culture remained, but massive hotels, shopping centers, and restaurant chains dwarfed those two-story bungalow apartments. The main thoroughfare was filled with people in neon green shirts advertising shooting ranges.

Flyer for a gun range in Waikiki: Honolulu, Hawaii

Pearl Harbor was just north of the airport. Barret and I showed up on empty stomachs and we laughed when we discovered that the food court only sold hotdogs and nacho chips- both covered in liquid cheese. Everywhere else in the world the food cart is a culinary treasure, in the US it is most often a form of torture.

Photo of the boat which transports visitors to the USS Arizona War Memorial: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

It cost nothing to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, which could only be accessed by boat, but we had to collect a ticket for a specific time. Because there were so many people, we had a few hours to explore the museums beforehand. One of the things that stood out most for me was how well the collection explained the events leading up to the bombing without reducing everything to: USA good, Japan evil.

However, the most interesting site at Pearl Harbor was of course the memorial for the USS Arizona. This unfortunate vessel had been scheduled to leave the day before it was attacked but had instead been docked for an overnight repair. Because of this, it was fully manned and stocked with fuel- 1.5 million gallons.

Postcard of the USS Arizona: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

After the attack, the USS Arizona burned for three days. Despite this, about 500,000 gallons of oil remained intact and have been leaking ever since. Up to nine quarts of ‘black tears’ bubble up to the surface every day and leave a rainbow-colored residue on the water.

In total, 1,177 crewmen died and of the 37 sets of brothers assigned to the USS Arizona, only one complete set made it out alive. In 1982 a repatriation program began which offered survivors of the USS Arizona the opportunity to have their ashes laid to rest inside one of the ship’s gun turrets. More than 30 crewman have chosen to have the watery grave as their final resting place.

Photo of Waikiki Beach at sunset: Honolulu, Hawaii

Hawaii is a tropical paradise, but it was also a little bit different from what I had anticipated. The number of boxy strip malls surprised me just as much as the massive size of the sea turtles I swam with in Napili Bay.

Honolulu had a thick knot of traffic and a massive highway infrastructure, but when I met a woman in the hotel lobby who had just moved there, I could understand why she was so happy. She had just found her own little slice of heaven. I was sad to be leaving.

Polaroid of swimmers at Waikiki Beach: Honolulu, Hawaii

About: Lahaina

How to get to the Twin Falls Farmstand: East on Hana Highway past the town of Paia. Around mile marker 2 is a bridge- on the right hand side is a parking lot and the farmstand.

How to get to Pearl Harbor: Take bus #20 or #42 to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center

About: Waikiki, Oahu

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Vanuatu: Week 119

Polaroid of a Twin Otter: Tanna, Vanuatu

Sapos yu no respecktim law ia, bae mifala i putum long hand blong ol polis.

Offenders will be prosecuted by the police.

Barret and I were on a Twin Otter aircraft flying between the islands of Efate and Tanna. The small plane seated 18 people, each passenger weighed at the check-in gate like grocery store produce. I should have felt reassured that the plane wasn’t overburdened, but I couldn’t stop reading the flight safety card in front of me and thinking about all the celebrities that have died in small airplanes.

No smok.

The fact that there was no door separating my foot from the faded and worn cockpit was also a cause of anxiety. You see, some things are best left unknown. I like to imagine my pilots are vigilantly scanning the horizon and pushing knobs, but the reality is they aren’t. They actually take their eyes off the clouds for long periods of time to write stuff in old blue binders.

Treetop Lodge on Tanna Island, Vanuatu

The descent towards the small airfield ran along the rugged coast. From up above we could see aquamarine blue holes and rolling jungle-clad hills. While it was a beautiful view, Barret and I quickly realized that Tanna was best experienced by foot.

From our lodge, Barret and I walked two hours to Port Resolution for a beer. The long, dusty road was the only straight shot connecting the east and west side of the island. It was also the local meeting place. Sometimes we crossed paths with an entire village and other times we said hello to kids rolling oranges together; the bruised rinds filled the air with citrus.

Lable on Tusker Beer, Vanuatu

Only one car passed us, going in the opposite direction. It stirred up the volcanic dust that had settled on the ground and squashed lizards. The electric blue tails still shimmered in the sunlight as we walked past. The luckier lizards rustled along the banks of the road and made the dry leaves sound like they had small legs.

On a map Port Resolution looks like a small town, but in reality it is a village of beautifully woven huts. It was the kind of place you’d see in a National Geographic article but you could never imagine living there because heaven shouldn’t require so much dusting.

Polaroid of a hut in Port Resolution: Tanna, Vanuatu

Around late afternoon Barret and I began the walk back. We had about an hour and a half to get to the rim of Mt Yasur in time for a volcanic sunset.

Half an hour into our walk we heard footsteps and a howling puppy behind us. We kept walking but after a few minutes curiosity finally got the better of me and I looked back. Twenty feet away were two young girls and two older women, all with sticks in their hands. The group chuckled when they saw me and the young girl making the barking noises began to whistle. It was the kind of sound you’d make when you wanted your friend’s attention.

“Barret, I think we are supposed to whistle back.”

Barret looked over his shoulder and met the same laughter and giggles as I did.

“You think?”

“Yeah, do it!”

“Why don’t you try?”

“C’mon, you know I can’t whistle! Don’t you have some special method?”

Barret pinched his lower lip, but before he could make a noise the girls beat him to it. Against a chorus of piercing whistles Barret changed tactics and cupped his hands to his mouth. He sounded like a teapot that just couldn’t boil.

Entrance ticket for Mt Yasur: Tanna, Vanuatu

Our audience was still tittering when Barret plucked a blade of grass from the side of the road. He wiped the ash off with his shirt and pinned it between his thumbs. Since we were facing forward we couldn’t see the group’s expression, but when Barret finally made the soggy blade of grass sing, the women erupted in cheers and the two young girls enthusiastically returned our throaty calls.

We were halfway into our rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star when I heard someone call out. I looked over my shoulder and saw the group standing in the road. “Barret, I think I heard them say goodbye.”

“Huh? No, there’s no place to go.” We hadn’t passed any roads or walking paths, just jungle. Barret glanced back again. “Hey- I think you’re right.”

When I realized they were indeed leaving, I was suddenly felt sad. Since arriving in Vanuatu I had become fixated on the idea of needing a talent like juggling, ukelele skills, or really impressive dance moves. In my mind it was an act of reciprocity- a ‘thanks for sharing your time, I would like to share mine too.’ There was so much I wanted to share, but unfortunately the US was represented with a wet turkey whistle.

Polaroid of Mt Yasur: Tanna, Vanuatu

I was at a loss until I suddenly remembered something- “come on Barret!” My boyfriend looked confused but he sensed my determination. “Come on!” I roused him again, “You need to show them your mouth thing!”

As we approached the girls their cheerful expressions turned into bewilderment.

“We want to show you something,” I said before pressing my finger against my lips. “Listen- it’s quiet.”

Under close scrutiny Barret lifted his hand and flicked his middle finger against his cheek. The first few times he did this, the girls still looked confused. After a few more flicks on his cheek they finally heard it- the sound of a falling water drop. Their faces lit up and a big smile spread across their lips.

Mission accomplished. Barret and I waved goodbye and continued on to Mt Yasur.

Mt Yasur erupting: Tanna, Vanuatu

About: Vanuatu

About: Tanna

About: Mt Yasur

How to get around: Air Vanuatu

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