O Polynesian Paradise

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April 29th 2012
Published: April 29th 2012
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Iolani PalaceIolani PalaceIolani Palace

The US's only claim to a royal heritage
O Polynesian Paradise! (Hawaii) (Visited 2003)

Warning – if you can’t do without spicy fare, skip Japan Airlines (which I had thought was the best deal, making as it did only one transit halt compared to the gallivanting one was expected to do if one was travelling by other airlines.) There are two choices on the menu – bland and more bland. Warning number two. Make sure your travel agent procures for you to and fro hotel vouchers from the airlines for transit halts atTokyo. I had to shell out $57 for a hotel room since I had a voucher only for the return trip. Also, take a crash course in Japanese. I went through a bewildering time with my passport being tossed around and nobody able to direct me to a hotel. No English speaking staff at an international airport? Talk about superiority complex! And if you haven’t been prancing about in mars, you’d probably be aware of the stricter rules at US airports. It’s all true. They do take your fingerprints and picture. You also have to take off your footwear, so wear slip-ons. That’s the bad news.

That aside, can there be anything but
Entertainment gauranteedEntertainment gauranteedEntertainment gauranteed

with the thigh slapping boys
good news about a trip to aloha country? Though I barely touched its boundaries, having stayed only in Honolulu, I’m still breathless from the experience. It’s lovely and clean and warm. On arrival, you can simply call for a bus (called The Bus), or a cab (yes, you guessed it) to pick you up from the airport. If you’re alone, the bus people might dilly dally. The cab costs about $20 to town. Have to admit my heart jumped when I first heard my tribal name being called out by the cab driver in that faraway land (“Miss Le-lu, am looking for Miss Le-lu,”)

There are numerous sea facing hotels on the gateway toWaikiki. The Hawaii Prince Hotel ($169 per night) with its twin towers provides a great view. Part your drapes and you see boats across the street. Beyond, is the glorious ocean. Next door is the Renaissance Illikai hotel in warm aqua blue. A lot brighter than the Hawaii Prince with the advantage of being nearer the ocean. It also has a pretty wedding chapel. A bus driver told us that ‘the orientals’ come toHawaiiespecially to have their second wedding ceremony after the traditional one
Pearl HarbourPearl HarbourPearl Harbour

Eerie memorial
back home.

You can’t be in Hawaiiand not get yourself a lei – those garlands made with flowers, leaves or shells. Yes I did the touristy thing and got myself a technicoloured plastic one which I religiously wore throughout my trip. Wonder what the locals thought? It struck me how much Hawaii has in common with north-east India. The traditional hawaiin gatherings called luaus reminded me of the community gatherings we have in our part of India. One can choose from a long list of luaus that includes Paradise Cove, Germaine’s Luau, the Royal Luau and the ‘official’ one – the Polynesian Cultural Centre Luau. I went to witness Germaine’s Luau on a private island outside the city. A bus picks you up from the hotel. Each bus has an ‘escort,’ a kind of tour guide. Eric, our escort, was ‘seriously’ funny. A slight young man, he was soft spoken and straight faced through all his wisecracking. He called us ‘cousins’. Turns out Americans call each other cousins on account of their having a ‘common uncle’ in Sam. “We’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” he’d say. Twenty minutes later, he’d repeat the same line. Then again. And
The University of HawaiiThe University of HawaiiThe University of Hawaii

Couldn't have passed this up
again. In between, he prepared us for the impending banquet, particularly warning us about the poi- a paste made of tapioca. “It tastes like nothing,” he said. Exactly, we found out later.

He kept reminding us his name was Eric and kept checking if we got the bus number right. Turned out there was a contest amongst the escorts where they were made to do the hula and shake their bottoms and we, the passengers were to cheer our own escort on. That’s why we needed to remember his name.. Sadly, for all his funniness our Eric scored low. He was actually self conscious!

On disembarking at the private island, we were received with shell leis. The place was right at the edge of the beach with a variety of seating arrangements – tables, chairs, benches, mats on the ground. A conch was blown and the luau was on its way. Some mumbo jumbo followed by a parade by ‘royalty,’(actors in costume) and then to the feasting. The pig is dug out of the underground oven (imu) and brought to the (all-you-can-eat) banquet table laden with glorious Hawaiian and continental delicacies. We filled our
Diamond HeadDiamond HeadDiamond Head

And there it is!
trays with the tender pork, the bland poi, yummy chicken, vegetables and glasses of mai tai to wash it all down with.

The show carried on even as we gorged on the huge spread. There were dances from the different Polynesian islands. Oh! Those girls sure could jiggle. As for the boys, there was a lot of jumping, chest thumping and thigh slapping – so reminiscent of the Naga dances back home. We almost split our sides laughing at the vain attempts at hula dancing by guests pulled out of the audience.

There is a very strong Japanese presence here,Japanbeing just next door. A lot of Japanese restaurants. And the Japs are the only ones who enjoy the benefit of the different shows (luaus etc.) being translated to their language. Quite annoying for us ‘others’ actually, as the shows take longer on account of the Japanese translation.

There are the ubiquitous ABC stores. Apparently owned by a Japanese, nobody I met knew the full form of ABC but our bus driver told us to take our pick between ‘All Blocks Covered’ and ‘Aloha Brings Cash.’ These are
The USS ArizonaThe USS ArizonaThe USS Arizona

Eerie (almost) Underwater Grave
one-stop-shops that have everything. And I do mean everything. There’s your grocery, your stationary, your pharmacy but also everything touristy. If you’re hard pressed for time, do your shopping here for technicoloured Hawaiian clothes, bags, shoes, souvenirs, macadamia candies-the works, like my Malaysian friend did, and simply head home. There’s also the International Market for cheap, ‘made in china’ Hawaiian stuff sold by Koreans. The Ala Moana Centre on the other hand has branded as well as local stuff and a large food court. Being homesick, I tried what I thought came closest to home food- Vietnamese fare, which satisfied to some extent. There are also the local markets called Hilo Hati selling mostly locally made products.

The kindness of strangers

Was it my slight frame or the fact that I was alone? People went out of their way to be friendly and helpful. On knowing I was fromIndia, they had questions. They were surprised I didn’t wear a sari and bangles. They were open mouthed when they heard how many hours I had to travel from my little hometown of Shillong to reach there. The man at the photo studio gladly
Germaine's LuauGermaine's LuauGermaine's Luau

Pig Out time
offered me free batteries for my camera. The lady tour bus driver dug deep under her seat for a pink paper rose with a pink glass centre to present to me. When I accosted a man on Waikiki beach to take my ‘picture,’ as is the habit of people traveling alone, he did so happily and even offered to take some more, “Would you like me to take one of you with Diamond Head in the background? You can’t pass that up.” And no, he wasn’t flirting. In buses, cabs, shops, markets, the university, hotels and streets people showed extra concern, “You have a safe trip home now,” they’d say in parting.


Countless operators inWaikikiconduct tours in and aroundOahu, the island on whichHonolulustands. There are walks, bus tours and helicopter tours. The standard choice is between half-day city tours that includePearlHarbour for around $14-20 and full day island tours starting at around $24 that would include the famous pineapple plantations. These tours usually take you through downtownHonoluluwhere you’ll see the Iolani Palace (if theUScan boast of any royalty, it can be found here), home of King Kamehameha,Chinatownand the downtown business district. There are drives through
Germaine's LuauGermaine's LuauGermaine's Luau

Fun in the sun
the Punch Bowl National Cemetry, and then on toPearlHarbour where lies the memorial to the USS Arizona. Upon arrival at the visitor centre, you’ll view a film detailing the events ofDecember 7, 1941before boarding a ferry to the memorial. The mood here is solemn and somber, even eerie. The names of the soldiers that went down with the ship are on a plaque – some of them were as young as seventeen. Some were brothers, fathers and sons. I saw quite a few people cry, including some Japanese. The most profound part is looking down the water and seeing the top of the sunken ship (the white memorial has been built on top of the ship) and knowing that there are still unrecovered bodies in there. There are stores within the premises sellingPearlHarbourparaphernalia. I bought a green ceramic fridge sticker with a picture of the memorial on it. The only dampener is the strict security, one is not allowed to carry anything other than money inside.

I was blessed to have been able to visit that Polynesian paradise even though I had to squeeze in time from the conference that I was attending, to
Statue of King KamehamehaStatue of King KamehamehaStatue of King Kamehameha

His Royal Highness
go sight seeing – I couldn’t possibly have passed that up.Honoluluor the whole ofHawaiifor that matter is not a place you make a whistle stop visit of, you need a leisurely visit to savour all the glorious beauty. God alone knows if I’ll get another chance to visit that faraway land but memories of it will linger forever. After allHawaiiis not a place one can forget easily.


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