Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i
It was overcast and drizzling lightly when Jen, Katie and I picked up our guests at the Hale Koa this morning, dimming our hopes for a postcard-perfect day at the beach. But as we made the long, tough climb through Central O`ahu, the skies slowly cleared and the sun slowly came out from behind the wide swaths of sad gray.
Our first stop was the odd little Del-Monte pineapple garden wedged along Kamehameha Highway just beyond Wahiawa.
More a converted traffic island than an agricultural oasis, the garden still impressed Reggie, who prowled around for the most photogenic pineapple. Katie had a blast as well, jumping into thick red-dirt mud puddles and, upon retrieval from the bog, subsequently converting Jen's shirt into a dry-cleaner's nightmare.
After stopping at an quaint Wahiawa drive-inn for some overpriced drinks, we then headed to the island's true pineapple heaven: the recently-upgraded Dole Plantation. For all the manufactured hype, the former roadside pineapple stand is essentially still a big gift-shop shrine to itself.
Dole's new claim to fame is the Pineapple Garden Maze, certified in 1998 by Guinness as 'The World's Largest Maze.' Covering two acres, it's a sight to behold... at least from above, where it's most frequently pictured.
When you're at the entrance, though, it just looks like a really wide bush. And we deemed getting voluntarily lost in such a bush unworthy of the $4.50 admission.
Wandering the grounds, we saw a few more pineapples, a couple of cardboard cutouts with which to pose for photos, and of all things a small reservoir populated with way too many koi (Japanese carp).
It was eerie, and more than a little disturbing. Hundreds and hundreds of orange and white and black fish, packed tighter than sardines, surging at the plastic edges of the pond to fight furiously for the handful of pellets thrown by merciful visitors. They were squeezed in so tight, at times fish would get pushed right out of the water, like some weird air-sucking, crowd-surfing fish stunt. And what these abused fish had to do with pineapples was well beyond my comprehension.
Eventually tearing Katie away from the spectacle with some protest, we reboarded and headed further north into historic Haleiwa Town.
We decided to lunch at the original Kua`Aina sandwich shop, arguably home of the best hamburgers on the island. As usual the tiny place was crowded, Jen having to get unusually aggressive in order to eventually win us a table inside.
The burgers were huge, moist, and incredibly tasty, and our guests were soundly impressed. They were also soundly stuffed, and thus nearly fainted when we suggested dessert.
Of course, there was only one place to go for a cool and sweet treat in Haleiwa: Matsumoto's.
For once, there was no crowd, no line streaming out of the place and onto the gravel roadside. We marched in, and I crowed about Matsumoto's treasured product: the shave ice.
("Sort of like a Sno-Cone, but better," Jen explained.)
Lorraine and Reggie were still too stuffed to think about eating anything else, so the five of us ended up splitting two large cones, a root beer, orange and li hing mui with ice cream for Jen, and a simple strawberry and li hing mui for me. Katie sucked down wooden spoonful after wooden spoonful, turning her tongue (and most of my car's hood) a sticky, dark red.
The shave ice consumed and the swarming bees avoided, we hit the road again, now heading along the shore toward Waimea.
Now, as has been widely reported in the local media, Kamehameha Highway at Waimea Bay has been closed since early March after a rockslide exposed the unstable nature of the huge cliffs in the area. (Not that it was a surprise to anyone.)
The state had since spent a sizeable chunk of change building a temporary bypass road right on the sand of the popular bay... only to discover a heavy rain would wash it out to sea now and then. From day to day, you never knew if you'd be able to get past Waimea to the famous shores beyond.
Jen had called the hotline, fortunately, and we knew the bypass was open. In no time we were there, and I drove over the infamous temporary thoroughfare for the first time.
From a public works perspective, it was impressive, but for the most part, it was just another bumpy road.
We needed only drive as far as Sunset Beach before Lorraine and Reggie saw what they'd come 4,000-plus miles to see: a perfect stretch of Hawaiian beach, and churning, elegant Hawaiian surf.
We stopped the car, and everyone tumbled out. Mostly everyone, at least Katie had fallen asleep. Jen, then I, stayed behind to keep her company, while our visitors just stood out on the sand in the sun and marveled at it all.
No one was in a hurry to leave. Lots of film was burned, and a healthy bit of skin. The surf was breaking close to shore, allowing a good view of surfers showing off their stuff.
"I could live like this," Lorraine said, perhaps for the thirtieth time since she arrived.
Eventually, we hiked back up to the road, and gently got back into the car with Katie still sound asleep. Deciding against a visit to the Turtle Bay Hilton and Waimea Falls "Adventure" Park, we then began the long, peaceful drive back into town.
"You know," I said, "If Katie knew we were just at a beach and she didn't even get to see it, she'd be furious."
We got back to the Hale Koa early enough to check out the pool. Big and meandering and full of people, our now-rested little one was beside herself with aquatic glee. While Reggie sunned herself, Lorraine, Jen and I took turns keeping Katie out of trouble.
"She's definitely at that age where ambition far outpaces ability," I said, rescuing Katie once again after she stumbled in the shallow end and got a nose full of water.
The Hale Koa also had a kiddie pool, all one-and-a-half feet deep and heated. It too was crammed full of kids, many of whom should have been embarassed to be frolicking in a toddler tub. Katie had a blast there too, despite getting repeatedly bowled over by roughousing brats.
Watching her make her way around the wrestlers and watergun commandoes and blockheaded divers, I once again marveled at the controlled chaos of nature. Whether it's a pool or a playground or a busy mall, I'm honestly surprised at how few kids end up in the hospital.
As the sun went down, it was time to think of dinner, and Jen suggested the California Pizza Kitchen at Ala Moana. Hearing no objections, that's where we went.
But I suspect the long day doused our guests' adventurous spirits. After telling Lorraine and Reggie all about the odd, yuppi-fied specialty dishes available, they ended up splitting a single pepperoni pizza.
Day one down, three to go (for me, anyway).
What's up tomorrow? Beats me.
Tomorrow night, though, is our long-anticipated first cruise on the Ali`i Kai Catamaran, courtesy Todd. Unfortuantely, he'll be joining us as a passenger. We won't get to see him serve drinks or do his cheesy hula dance this time.