Once I've started my "green Hawaii" research, I'm proud to reject a rental car and take the bus, officially called The Bus, around the island. Forget hotel-organized luaus: The Bus is a great multicultural experience. People of every skin color, age, and gender ride The Bus. A guy wears a "Merrie Monarch" tee-shirt that says "Hula is the language of the heart" as if he means it. A 50ish Hawaiian-American guy sits next to a wrinkly Chinese grandma across from a big, pale-brown woman in a muumuu and sunglasses. A pale, white-haired couple in golf clothes hop on, asking a cross-dressed lady the way to the nearest good beach — which isn't far at all, just a couple of stops. In Lanikai, I needed change for The Bus and a tattooed, handsome yard worker gives me two quarters, refusing my dollar bill, insisting, "It's all good."
The only complaint I hear on The Bus is about the new rule that limits luggage to what can fit on the passenger's lap. When I ask a driver why this new rule has come into place, he shrugs amiably. "People were moving house on The Bus," he says. "It was out of control." He's seen riders attempt to board not only with long-boards and chickens, but also a full-size, flat-screen TV that was taller than the woman carrying it.
New discoveries in Oahu
Swimming in an opulent YMCA. The gorgeous old-world glamour of the Laniakea building, designed by Julian Morgan and surely the world's most beautiful YWCA, near King Street., downtown. This graceful, airy building — once a resort hotel — now houses a central Y with the goal of "eliminating racism and empowering women" which laudable aim it is achieving through the auspices of a welcoming and well-informed front-desk staff, a decent café, free hardbacks and coffee in the lobby, and a large outdoor pool, all currently included in a 14-day free membership.
Scootering. The "Scoot and Stay" package at Hotel Renew offers the combination of born-to-be-wild, wind-in-the-hair exploration with an exceptionally nice room just far enough from the madding crowd. Hawaiian Style Scooter Rental is run by a couple of guys who would rather ride scooters than make money (though they're doing both), and co-owner Brad Fresch loves to take renters in the opposite direction from the tourists' track. Seeing Oahu from the secure, yet sexy seat of a scooter gave me the feeling of freedom and speed, without the guilt of burning so much fossil fuel: the scooters get better than 80 miles per gallon. As Fresch says, "A car is just another house."
New Hates and Rich Ambivalence
I hate that both Whole Foods Inc., and Target are coming to Kailu in 2011. I hate the poison put on top of the buildings to kill the pigeons. I hate the touts in Waikiki who carry around drugged, sick, stoned parrots and pose the half-dead birds on tourists' shoulders for Polaroid mementoes.
I love the flowers; each blossom makes me stop and sniff and appreciate and smile back at it; I carry the small white fragrant ones on my nose, floating on my back in the pools, I tuck fallen big red ones behind my ear, I pick up the cast-off leis from the rich people and drape them around my room, breathing in orchid scent all night.
But I hate the big posters of flowers the ABC stores use to advertise sun block and ice cream; I hate the vinyl flowers sold as hairclips, and I hate plastic leis, a corruption made in China and sold only, I am guessing, to the poorest of the poor in spirit.
I love feeling safe as I walk the moonlit suburbs of Lanikai, going back to the Hidden Hideaway B&B, which breaks the pink-floral-motif mold, and which offers real respite from the traffic and tourists. I love that the locals assure me there is no worry, nothing to fear there, and I can walk after dark. But I hate that after dark in Honolulu homeless people pass out on the sidewalk, as drunk or stoned as the parrots carried by the creepy photographer, their bottles of Thunderbird or no-brand whiskey as comfortless as the cement they sleep on.
I will return to Oahu often, because it's a place to embrace contradictions. Frequent rainbows gleam above military installations, orchids grow by the side of Interstate Highways that don't go interstate, and I can meet warm-hearted half-Hawaiians on the beach, and talk stories for hours before I find out that they've served time for manslaughter. The overloud sound of the made-in-Taiwan drums and the too-bright flames of the fake tiki torches are softened to gentleness by the ocean breeze. The pollution from the big hotels is carted away by descendents of Hawaiian royalty, some of whom still somehow offer aloha to every big silver plane that lands, and still seem happy to share the waves, water, and music, at least as long as I'm paying my way—and even when there's nothing to pay for.
On every trip, I've met soft-spoken Hawaiians who speak sweetly, who have nothing to sell, who seem to want nothing more than company under the palm trees, at the bar or on the beach. They tell me where the quiet spots are; they point out local beauty. This is, I am told, the meaning of aloha. And I keep going back for more.
Having lived in five countries and umpteen states, Gillian Kendall currently divides her time and possessions between Australia and the USA. She writes travel features often for Curve magazine and contributes whatever she can to The Sun. Kendall edited Something to Declare: Good Lesbian Travel Writing, which was nominated for a Goldie award and in her mind should have won one. See more at gilliankendall.org
Kauai Footprints: the Dark Side of "Hidden Hawaii" by Michele Bigley
The Going-to-Be-Wonderful World of Disney by Gillian Kendall
Sedona: Is the Whole Town Built on a Hoax? by Laurie Gough
Thai Voluntourism for All the Wrong Reasons by Gillian Kendall
Other United States and Canada travel stories from the archives
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