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Strangers #18 & #19 - Leona and Rob, O'aho, Hawaii

Octopus made of jellybeans in Ala Moana Shopping Centre

The cruise to Hawaii came to an end at 4:30am in the port of Waikiki.  The immigration process went smoothly, better than I have ever experienced in the US before; no big men with guns and no humour, but a young woman who noticed my rings and nail polish and was polite.  My friend and I could book our luggage in the complex we were staying in but could not enter our apartment until 4pm.  What to do in Waikiki for a day?

We had been told that buying a transport ticket (smart card) from an ABC shop would give us one day of rides on any bus or train for $US7.50.  We had also been told the largest open air mall in the world was located near our apartment.  We headed for the mall leaving the delights of the bus until the following day.  Locating and getting into our apartment was enough of an adventure for one day.

The Ala Moana Mall located near the canal was a twenty minute walk in increasing heat.  We discovered ABC stores are everywhere so there should be no trouble locating one the following day.  They sell a mix of goods you might need in a hurry; microwave meals, chocolate, grog plus things that tourists might like: Hawaiian shirts, dresses for the beach, and nick knacks of every kind that will remind you of your trip to Hawaii.

The mall is open air, set on over two floors and offers shopping in every price range.  Top end shops like Tiffanys and Cartier and Kate Spade and lower price shops that sell end of lines, think TK Maxx but with colourful shirts.  There were also food stores; Foodland Farms a mixture of eat in and take away with up end supermarket attached.  There are also a few really out of place shops:  The Moomin shop sells all things Moomin (children’s fantasy creatures invented by Tove Jansson published in Swedish) and a shop called Psycho Bunny, which I noticed as we had a pet called that at one stage many years ago.  Never did find out what they sold. I had been warned Hawaii was expensive but the prices were making me think twice about buying anything.  I kept reminding myself I was on holiday and we did need to eat.

Having orientated ourselves by way of Macey’s and Bloomindale's we found a foodcourt that only housed Asian food.  The choice between Thai, Korean, different types of Chinese and Vietnamese baffled me for a while, that and the conversion of money values meant it took a very long time to choose.  Even though the prices were high the serves were even bigger!  We sat down with a feast between us and tucked in.  

We were interrupted by Leona and Rob.  Technically, they were not strangers to me as I had met them on the ship.  I also knew they were staying in Waikiki for a few days but Hawaii is a busy place so it was still a surprise to see them.  They were staying in the hotel attached to and above the shopping centre. Rob boasted he tipped the receptionist $US100 to be given a better room and he was pleased with the outcome.  The view was great over the beach and water and he would be happy just to sit and people watch for the next few days.  They had only ventured out to forage for something to eat.  All of us had been up for breakfast before 6am.  The food we were eating was not to his, or Leona’s, tastes; they were looking for burgers.

Rob and Leona come from New Zealand, from one of the ports our ship has stopped in on the way to Hawaii, Tauranga.  In order for them to get on the ship they had to fly from Auckland to Sydney to catch the ship.  The first stop, Tauranga was spent catching up with one of their children and a grandchild.  Not much new for them to see there, but they did give us tips on what to do for a day in the port.  Walking around the Mount was lovely and I would not have attempted it had it not been for Leona telling me it was an easy stroll, and a lovely thing to do.  She did it often with grandchildren in tow.

Leona and Rob are in the process of selling their home to downsize to a retirement village.  Rob has already retired and Leona is thinking about it.  Rob likes to stay busy and does the garden and most of the housework.  He thinks he might miss the garden in the retirement village but knows that his body does not want to mow and dig anymore.  Leona works as a care assistant in the local community.  Sometimes she assists with shopping and personal care but sometimes her visits involve a social chat to keep the client attached to the outside world.  While she still enjoys it she will continue to work.  

I first met Leona at the crafters group that self-managed on the Brilliance of the Sea.  She knits, and prolifically, currently working on small jackets for a new born due in a few months.  At the craft market we visited in the Bay of Islands she could not resist the hand-dyed wool from one of the stall holders.  She is not sure what she is going to do with it but the rest of the group agreed the squishiness of the yarn made the purchase price worthwhile and whatever she made it would be lovely.

Before Leona and Rob left us at the mall to look for food they would like,  they told us about the big tour they had booked the following day.  It sounded like a very big day: pick up at 8am and not back until at least 6pm with stops around the island seeing things like the lookouts, islands offshore, volcanic craters and the mountains pushed up from the oceans by the volcanic eruptions.  My friend and I considered these types of tours and decided to try to emulate this by doing it by public bus.  We would not get the commentary or all the history but it would be an adventure and be a fraction of the cost.

The following day we entered the nearest ABC shop to buy a ticket and then find the correct bus.  I could not find anywhere with any maps but did find one online which I tried and failed to memorise.  I would have to find free wifi to look at it again.  The main bus stop is at the shopping centre so we knew how to get there; follow the canal and then cross a big road.  We waited with other tourists.  The bus heads through Waikiki tourist area, then Downtown, then veers to the right to head north up the east side of the island before west and then south back towards Waikiki.  Depending on the route it can take up to 8 hours.  We hoped the 60 would take less time than that.  The other tourists, from Florida had not taken a bus before, ever, so this was a huge adventure for them.  They were heading to Turtle Bay, a resort on the north end of the island.  They had heard there was a great restaurant and a fantastic beach.  We followed them onto the bus.

The bus headed west towards Downtown and Pearl Harbour.  Many tourists got off the bus at that point.  We stayed on.  The bus then doubled back towards the east and started to climb the mountains.  The weather changed.  The sun disappeared behind low cloud hugging the crags covered in green, so green vegetation.  Some of the higher villages live in cloud.  As the bus edged down towards the beach the road hugs the coast.  There is the road, a rock wall and then shallow ocean.  The stops along this stretch of road have a mixture of houses and shacks and small businesses stretched out along the road.  The terrain rises dramatically behind the houses; water cascading over rocks finding a way between the trees, boulders and formations, digging a path towards the lowest point.  I would not like to live there when the rain really begins to fall.  

I had been following our journey on a hard copy map I picked up from a time-share seller in the mall.  It points out all the timeshare locations around the island, including Turtle Bay.  I worked out the map is not to scale so it is making distances hard to work out.  The bus driver stopped,  yelled at us that he would be three minutes and disappeared.  The American tourist followed him off the bus to return to let us know it would be at least one hour to Turtle Bay and another hour to the end of the line.  That sounded like a very long time, especially now i wanted to go to the loo.

We travelled on a way looking at the beach, islands off the coast, the schools, houses, shops and businesses dotted along the road.  We thought we might get off at the Polynesian Cultural Centre.  As we headed towards it on my map, I made an executive decision to get off.  We did.  A shop and five food trucks: Chinese, Thai, Malay, Vietnamese and Loas sit in a circle just off the edge of the road.  I found a toilet.  Now I could think.  My friend wanted to eat, it was gone midday.  We ordered from the Thai foodtruck.  Best Thai food I have eaten in ages.  Freshly made to order and the biggest portions I have seen; pot stickers, noodles and curry.  The food trucks have been in the same place for some time; grass and weeds are growing up around the tyres, flower pots with tropical trailing plants decoratively placed around the edge, and chickens, free ranging under the trucks, around the garden spaces and off up the road. There is a steady stream of people who stop their cars, pile out and order from the trucks, or the shop that offers Samoan food; palasami (a sort of dip made from taro leaves and coconut milk), coconut drinks and pineapple treats.  

According to where I thought we may be on the map, we could walk to the Polynesian Cultural Centre.  My sensible friend decided to ask in the shop.  No, it is a good 15 minutes away by bus, so we waited for the next one. 

We got to the most visited tourist attraction on O’aho to discover it is a Disneyland version of the South Pacific.  We would need more than a day to visit the 6 islands representing countries in the Pacific.  A train could take us around from one island to another, a friendly receptionist offers.  Maybe we did not look like we could walk around the multi hectare precinct in the sun. We asked the cost and were told about choosing a package.  It was all too hard.  We could hear the music and dancing from this side of the high fence but decided that the Disneyland quality of the experience would not be our thing.

We made our way through the car park back to the bus stop only to be distracted by a giant potato.  The potato on the back of a truck, told the world about the benefits of eating Idaho potatoes.  The two enthusiastic farmers driving this attraction around the country encouraged us to pick up as many of the things on their table as we wanted.  We could have our pick of stickers, badges shaped like a potato with Idaho printed on the front, or little books of recipes, all potato based. I could not help but wonder how they got the truck to the island, and the potato did look like a giant turd.

The return journey was uneventful getting us back to Waikiki in time for dinner.  I wondered how Leona and Rob had gone: if theirs was as exciting as ours.

Over the next few days we discovered things about the Hawaii buses: the tickets are bought from the ABC shop but you have to top up the card at 711s.  You can pay the one off flat fare of $US3 for your ride.  The money goes into a machine; the driver does not touch it. You are not allowed on the bus with guns.  Signs at the bus shelters inform us that we cannot lie down in the shelter.  The seats prohibit this; they are not comfortable to sit on or lie down on.  I spotted a Japanese tourist laying a handkerchief over one of the stumps before she attempted to sit on it.  But the buses did give us a way of seeing the island, a way of interacting with locals and tourists and a truly Hawaiian experience.

As we waited for the Fiji Airways gates to open at the airport we bumped into Leona and Rob again.  They were on the same flight as us as far as Fiji.  We would change planes to fly to Sydney, they onto Auckland.  We swapped travellers' stories of waiting at airports, far off places we had been and tales of the expense of Hawaii.  Rob was outraged that they had paid the over $NZ70 for a couple of burgers and fries.  My friend pointed out that the NZ dollar was lower against US currency than even the Australian.  This does tend to make things seem like they cost rather more, especially when the money is coming out of NZ bank accounts.  Rob was good natured about it, taking a similar line to me; we are on holiday, we have to eat, we may never get here again, lets make the most of it.  Sanguine advice.


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