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Mostly Waikiki

We're in Hawaii again for our annual trip to visit the in-laws!

This time, we tried something new & spent a couple nights at a condo in Waikiki before continuing on to Kauai. This journal entry was largely dictated into Shannon's iPhone yesterday while I sat on a comfy bench, watching him swim in the "lagoon" at the end of a park called "The Magic Island" in Honolulu, not far from Waikiki. It's a very urban type of park, crisscrossed with heavily-used jogging trails, and it seems to be used almost exclusively by locals ... including homeless people camping in various hidden corners & the occasional crazy person roaming around ranting to themselves, reminding us of home.

We watched some surfers from the end of the Magic Island, and they were the first surfers we've actually seen while we've been here! I would have expected we would see more, since Waikiki is famous for surfing, but I guess we've been paying attention to other things.

Honolulu/Waikiki is very different from the places we've visited on our previous trips to Hawaii, all of which we've spent exclusively on Kauai. Honolulu/Waikiki is much more urban: full of rushing traffic, crowds of tourists, and high-rise hotels. Not to mention the jet planes flying overhead pretty much constantly, since they fly parallel to Waikiki Beach in their approach to the Honolulu airport.

Other common sights in Waikiki: chain stores I haven't seen since the Southern California malls of my youth (e.g., Orange Julius, Haagen Dazs, Crazy Shirts), fit people exercising (jogging, water jogging, doing push-ups, stretching, etc.), and Japanese people getting married. I don't know why there were quite so many Japanese people getting married, but I seemed to trip over another lavishly-gowned Japanese bride every time I turned around.

The condo where we are staying (the "Ilikai Marina") is in a area that reminds me of Anaheim—sort of depressing middle-class urban—but Waikiki Beach proper (just a short walk away) reminds me more of other parts of Orange County, like Laguna Beach and Newport Beach, where all the rich people live. But it still all reminds me of Southern California ... which isn't a selling point for me, personally. Still, I must admit that Waikiki has its own unique charm, but it's just extremely different from our past experiences in Hawaii!

Waikiki Beach proper is very "user-friendly," in that there are mini parks, benches, water fountains (of both the drinking and decorative varieties), picnic tables, ocean sport/play supply rentals, shady arbors, and other such amenities scattered all around, making everything convenient for the constantly streaming throngs of people ... very unlike what we're accustomed to in the more rural, less touristy areas we've visited on Kauai. Even at Poipu, the most touristy beach area we've seen on Kauai, everything feels more natural and relaxed. In Waikiki, the beaches and surroundings feel manicured, manufactured, and sanitized. For example, in most places there is a sidewalk dividing the flat, immaculate, white-sand beach from everything else. All benches, picnic tables, grass, garbage cans, etc., are all on the other side of the sidewalk. It's a very distinct demarcation, and it felt creepily artificial. In comparison, everywhere we've gone on Kauai has a more organic relationship between Nature and Civilization.

Still, we are really enjoying our time here ... far more than we expected after our first evening! That first night, we arrived around dinnertime, and I was feeling very stressed by the trip. The flight was fine, but the crowds at Honolulu airport freaked me out, especially when I had some close encounters with a couple of large men. They weren't threatening me (though one seriously invaded my personal space), but their general aggressiveness made me nervous.

So we arrived, and I chilled out a bit at the condo while Shannon went out for an early evening swim, which he seemed to enjoy. Then we went to dinner at IHOP, because it was nearby and easy. So that was Monday, and it was really unremarkable. We were not very impressed, and I doubted that I would have any interest in returning to the city after this first visit.

But on Tuesday, we went exploring, walking down the beach through Waikiki, renting bikes to ride around Diamond Head, and eating dinner at a fancy restaurant right on the beach. It was all amazing!

As I dictate this into Shannon's iPhone, sitting here in the "Magic Island" park, I can see Diamond Head in the distance and it's absolutely gorgeous. You can see it from pretty much everywhere here, and it looks like a mountain, but it's actually an extinct volcano crater. You can even hike inside it if you want to, but we didn't do that on this trip. We did, however, ride bikes all the way around it (about a 9-mile ride) and that was soooo much fun! I don't think I would have had the energy to hike into the crater and still be able to finish the bike ride, though. Maybe another time.

It's exciting to be miles away and look off and see this towering mountain, and realize that we actually biked all the way around it!

The bike ride was the best part of our stay here. We rented bikes from a place called Hawaiian Style, and the bikes were fantastic (I liked my rental bike even better than my bike at home!), and the staff gave us advice about routes to take, places to eat, etc.

We had lunch at the Diamond Head Market and Grill, a funky little "snack shop" kind of place of a sort that seems to be common in Hawaii: you stand in line outside a window where a menu is written on the wall (usually a variety of burgers and rice plates), place your order at the window, and then stand around in the parking lot, waiting for your number to be called. Some places have benches outside where you can sit and eat; some don't. This particular place had picnic tables, so we were able to eat our lunch there in the sunshine before hopping back on our bikes to continue with our ride. (I had a "wasabi shoyu ahi steak sandwich," which was excellent. Looking at the market's website now, I wish we'd gone inside; but we just ordered our food at the grill window, ate, and left.)

Aside from circling Diamond Head, we also biked a few miles off on a diversion that the bike rental guy had recommended (mentioning something about dolphins), but the road just abruptly ended at the rather intimidating entrance to the very fancy Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort. We weren't sure what to do at the dead-end, so we were standing around, looking at our map and scratching our heads.

Didn't the bike rental guy say something about dolphins? But this is just some scarily expensive-looking resort. They probably wouldn't even let me use their bathroom. And there's nowhere to lock our bikes, anyway, even if we just wanted to sneak in and look around.

We'd decided to just get back on our bikes and head back the way we'd come, but then some Australian guy (wearing a name tag, and so obviously a member of the resort staff) came walking up the hill to offer his help, and he suggested that we walk down to visit their beach. He even told us where we could lock up our bikes in their parking garage. Coolest guy ever! I wish I could thank him!

Thank you, Mr. Australian Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort Employee Man! You rock!

Shannon and I locked up our bikes and walked down a little alley to the resort's beach and wandered around, then suddenly noticed that there were these amazing fish swimming in a little pond at our feet. There were raccoon butterflyfish and Moorish Idols and Achilles tang and such: all kinds of fish we'd seen when snorkeling on Kauai! I'd never seen them swimming in a contained pool like that, just right by the side of a hotel walkway! So we kept watching the fish and marveling at them ... and then we noticed there were green sea turtles in the pond, too! They were just swimming around and munching on stuff stuck to the rocks and hanging out! It turned out that it's actually a "green sea turtle lagoon" where endangered sea turtles that are born in captivity are raised until they're old/large enough be released into the wild with a better chance of survival. So cool!

So we were marveling at the sea turtles and taking pictures, wandering around ... and then suddenly we noticed that in the next pond over, there were DOLPHINS! It turns out that this resort has a "Dolphin Quest" program that allows people to pay to get in the water with dolphins: pet them, feed them, swim with them, instruct them to do tricks, etc. This is obviously what the bike rental guy had been referring to.

We ended up getting to watch two families having their half-hour "dolphin experience." It was great to be so close to it all ... but what made it especially great was how it was a total surprise. We had no idea this place even existed! We would have walked right past it if we hadn't been drawn in by the fish, and then the sea turtles. And we wouldn't have even made it down to the beach in the first place if it hadn't been for the encouraging Australian resort employee!

It was really incredible. Maybe someday we'll go back and pay a few hundred dollars to swim with dolphins. If we do, I hope that Australian guy gets a commission.

Anyway, it was a great bike ride, the most fun I've had in a long time! There were some hills that were a little difficult for me in my current state of fitness (or lack thereof), but I still had an amazingly good time and it was great to spend that time with Shannon seeing parts of this area that we never would have seen otherwise.

And I give myself a hearty pat on the back for how well I managed the bike ride, because it was not only physically challenging but also potentially nerve-wracking, as well, since we were biking on roads with car traffic almost the entire time. I did phenomenally well: yay me!

That night, after the bike ride, we relaxed for a while before our dinner reservations at a restaurant called Azure, where we sat at a table right there on Waikiki Beach. The location was beautiful, and the food was delicious ... but nothing was going to overshadow that terrific bike ride.

So, anyway, as I finish editing this journal entry, I am sitting in the guest bedroom at my in-laws' house in Kalaheo (on Kauai) on Thursday. (I dictated most of this entry yesterday morning, before we left Honolulu.) It's great to see Gary and Mary again, as always.

Today we made our annual Poipu run. We had lunch with Mary at Poipu Tropical Burger (where I had an amazing burger with "rum guava barbecue sauce"); Shannon swam at Lawai Beach; I bought jewelry at Spouting Horn; Shannon bought a t-shirt at Pohaku T's in Koloa; and Gary took us out for ice cream at Lappert's.

We don't have a lot of other items on our Kauai To Do List. Certainly more swimming for Shannon, if at all possible, preferably with his dad. Probably the Hanapepe Art Walk tomorrow night (we've done this the past two years). Otherwise, probably mostly just relaxing. We're having a shorter visit than usual this year, because of the days we spent in Honolulu, so I hope we just get to hang out with Gary and Mary.

Okay. Time to stop editing this entry and just post it!

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