Posted by: David Stewart | May 5, 2012

The Hawaiian Ambivalence

Friends often goggle at us when we tell them we’re never been to Hawaii. The 50th state is quite accessible from the US west coast where we live, with even direct flights from Portland. Many of our friends know we have vacationed in some less accessible places like China and Venice and some off the beaten path, like Myanmar and Cambodia. We have many friends who have been vacationing in Hawaii annually for years. Actually, I suspect some of our friends thought there was something really defective with us.

My ambivalence stems from the following:

  • Relaxation and rejuventation for me usually comes from seeing something I have never seen, or as many new somethings as I can (much to the chagrin of the rest of my family, who sometimes call me “Robo Tourist”). I think I have learned my lesson here, and try to schedule a vacation from my vacation periodically.
  • I like learning about cultures and countries different from my own. With only a little vacation time granted by American employers in the private sector, there are few opportunities to do this, so I usually like to save up for a trip that will allow me to see those cultures and countries in person. And hey, I don’t mind brushing my teeth with bottled water.
  • Since we have family in Colorado, there is a strong priority for spending time there around the holidays, which again limits the vacation options.
  • And here is the most dangerous confession of all. Truthfully, I actually like a little danger in my vacation cocktail. I love it when things don’t go quite as planned or when I don’t totally understand the language or customs. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t love it at the time when I got violently ill from drinking Myanmar Beer at the Inle Inn in Naung Schwe. But even then, only my sister and I got sick out of our combined families, we were fine the next morning and had a great story to tell. I am not a crazy adventure junkie, just like a little action, Jackson. (And my local town’s pancake house makes me sick when I eat there anyway, so I get that every place).

And that last one is probably the biggest reason I have not been wild about going to Hawaii. It seems really safe and, well, “American”. Why feel perfectly safe when for just a little more money you can immerse yourself in something really weird?

But after less than a week in Hawaii, we have scratched a few adventure itches:

      • A drive-up volcano: This is the easiest place you can experience a smoking, steaming, molten gateway to hell itself. Mark Twain, when he visited Kilauea, said that the smell of sulpher is “not unpleasant for a sinner.” Besides this exhaust pipe from the underworld in a National Park, you can see the evidence of very active volcanism
      • Volcano National Parkeverywhere you look. (I do have a lot of complaints about how the Parks service is managing certain things here, like closing the only restaurant in the park without any notice or signage, but I digress).
      • Buckets of blood: One of the things you learn when you visit the Tower of London is that English royal history is incredibly violent; your brother might as well execute you as have breakfast with you. At another National Park here on Hawaii, you can find Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, one of the “places of refuge” where a commoner could find sanctuary. Why? Well the Hawaiian culture had oh so many ways to offend the gods or royalty that you could be killed at the drop of a hat. In fact, dropping your hat on royalty might well get you killed. But if you could escape to this lonely spit of land, you could be forgiven. The Parks Service here has done a fantastic job with restoration, signage and explanations.
      • Chewing a ripe coffee cherry: Coffee farms in the Kona region have some decent joe and one of them (Greenwell Farms) had a really nice and informative tour. You can taste a wide varity of coffees and even buy some to take home.South Kona coffee tasting Greenwell Farms
      • Food that won’t kill you: In developing countries, and even in some developed ones, you need to be careful with those fresh fruits and veggies that you don’t catch something nasty from them. Common safe eating practice is to bath you purchases in a weak Clorox solution before slicing them. The markets here are silly with amazing tropical fruits. We have enjoyed fresh lettuce, avocado, mango and so-called apple bananas straight from market to mouth. (Well, Deb washed the lettuce).
      • A weather geek’s dream: Don’t like the placid weather? Hop in your car and drive for 20 minutes. There is incredible diversity here from barren lava fields to rain forests to cattle country, all within the 237 miles of road circumference of the island.

Good, well, and I have to say, with the trade winds blowing, it’s actually, OK I admit it, quite comfortable here compared with my home right now which is rainy and still pretty nasty. And I can find a few really good Pinot Noir wines from home in the local stores.



  1. I think you’re undervaluing the Native Hawaiian culture. I mean, the white missionaries/sugar plantation owners/annexation-ists did their best to try to white-wash the history, but I would hope that there is some effort to preserve and educate the cultural history.

  2. I think a good effort has been made to preserve the culture. It’s just hard to see it.

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