Wednesday, December 26, 2018

SPAM in Waikiki to the Volcanoes of the Big Island

We had a few things fun things we wanted to wrap up before our time on the island of Oahu drew to a close.

I electronically bideted my butt Japanese style and we headed out the door.

Hawaii has Japanese style 7-11s. There was a 7-11 like a block from my apartment in Ashikaga that I visited religiously. The food was killer, with all kinds of good sandwiches, rice balls, corn dogs... really all of the things. In Japan a public trash can was very rare, but Seven always had one. They made the opening to the trash can really small though, with the hope that you would only put the trash from things you bought there inside. I delighted in taking my trash from home over there and jamming it into the tiny slot. That was about the time I realized I was a genius.

There was the requisite lei refrigerator.

On this particular visit to Seven we were not interested in illegal dumping. We were here to buy a particular Hawaiian delicacy: the SPAM Musubi.

You know how sometimes you get a nigiri sushi, with the fish on top and the rice on bottom, held together by a strip of seaweed paper? And it's delicious but you know deep down what would make it better: it should be king sized, and instead of fish on top there should be a fat slab of salty hotdog meat loaf. That, ladies and gentleman, is what the top Hawaiian scientists have discovered: SPAM musubi.

Hawaii has been plagued with SPAM since World War II, and has the highest per capita consumption in the United States. People that especially hate themselves refer to it as "the Hawaiian steak".

This was kind of a spiritual journey for me because my Hawaiian buddy Ray made some SPAM musubi back in my Japan days. He told me it was a big deal in Hawaii but I was never quite certain if he was just making it all up. It took me 10 years but I can now say with confidence that he is not a liar.

The snack game of this store was also on point, with a mix of Japanese and Hawaii edible curios.

I couldn't pass up a butaman, or steamed pork bun.

Time to get healthy!

Now that I'm a surfing master I commanded Lydia to buy me this surfboard with pineapple skulls wearing sunglasses. She must not have heard me.

In a way going to Hawaii on Christmas was perfect: there were a ton of tropical print shirts on the clearance rack in St. Louis for me to choose from! While on the mainland we often call these "Hawaiian shirts", in Hawaii they call them "aloha shirts". I learned a lot about aloha shirts from an episode of the podcast 99% Invisible entitled Hawaiian Shirts: Articles of Interest #4. According to the podcast the first thing to know about an aloha shirt is that the way you can tell its legit is the fabric pattern on the pocket matches the rest of the shirt. Kahala was established in 1936 and was one of the first companies mass producing aloha shirts. Kahala joined forces with some other aloha shirt manufacturers and came up with a master plan. First they gave free shirts to state congress. Then they lobbied the state government to wear Hawaiian made clothing on Fridays. Eventually government and business fancy people realized wearing suits in tropical Hawaii sucked so they made everyday aloha Friday.

If that wasn't awesome enough, the concept of "casual Friday" crossed the Pacific to the mainland. The same thing happened here, once the concept of not dressing like it's your funeral became commonplace the casualness spread to the rest of the week. Hawaii for the win!

Well I wanted in on that situation. There was a Kahala shop nestled in the fancy shopping areas near the hotel. It was a unique place. You can see they took their history seriously, with retro shirts behind glass on the walls. It was fun.

I went with the "Lahaina":

"Feel the charm of 'Lahaina' in our latest cotton broadcloth print. Fine details and beloved elements of Maui's historic town are depicted in this artistic scene." The shirt matches my beloved elements pretty well I think.

With my fancy shirt secured we had a couple of last culinary pursuits to address.

Being from Springfield, Illinois, located on Route 66, I'm pretty familiar with classic diners, so I was particularly excited to have a bite at the Rainbow Drive-In.

As soon as I heard the thing to get here was a "plate" and that the side was macaroni salad I was like "ok, this is Hawaiian soul food. I get this." I went for the mix plate 

Ohana, or family, is one of the like ten Hawaiian words you'll hear so often in Hawaii that you'll actually retain it.

We grabbed one last Oahu snack at da Cove Health Bar & Cafe. You can tell by the name it was kind of a hippy place.

The reason we stopped in was Lydia wanted to try an Acai bowl. She went with the "Da Cove (small)
Acai topped with granola, bananas, strawberries and honey." Tasted kind of like someone dumped an 8 dollar smoothie into a bowl if you ask me.

My day old lei was still getting the job done.

My poor feet were on the road to recovery from surfing yesterday. Some people say I'm a hero for showing such bravery in the face of these foot scrapes.

We squeezed a last few drops out of the awesome view from the Ritz.

The rest of the Hawaiian Airlines drinks couldn't come with us so they had to be destroyed.

Honolulu's airport was a real cluster. Even the TSA Precheck line wrapped like around the building. My understanding is that this was related to the government shutdown. TSA agents were expected to work but weren't getting paid, resulting in some of them living in their cars and fun stuff like that. As the shutdown wore on some of them started quitting or just not showing up to their shifts, exacerbating nasty lines at airports. Fun!

Our next destination was Hilo on the island of Hawaii. It's weird to me that while they are the "Hawaiian Islands" there's also an individual island named Hawaii. It would be like if one of the 50 states was called "America". I think the fact that it's a little confusing is the reason a lot of people call it "the Big Island".

We didn't know how big our big island adventures might get so we booked a Jeep. I haven't been in a car this spartan in a long time. It had neither power locks nor power doors.

We popped over to the Airbnb situated in the town of Volcano, which itself is not surprisingly located near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. A very odd and unique feature of the place was this little glassed in section of the room that contained a volcanic rock formation.

It really doesn't get more volcano than this.

This was one of those places that seems to see themselves as more of a bed and breakfast, because the fridge was stocked with fruit and drinks.

And they had some Hawaiian bread and butter sitting out as well. I've seen pink which I believe contains guava. The purple kind on offer today is made with taro root. Taro is also what is beaten into the goop known as poi, which I got to try yesterday.

Then we went to the park. Per Wikipedia: "The park encompasses two active volcanoes: KÄ«lauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world's most massive shield volcano.".

Once upon a time an illiterate sack of excrement wished that it was a real boy. Its second wish was that it could then be president. Its third and final wish was that it could partially ruin my trip to Hawaii by closing the federal government right before I attempted to visit some of America's most beautiful natural wonders.

Not only was the National Park system thrown into disarray by the shutdown, but Volcano was even further jacked up by recent eruptions.

The NPS website was particularly dire looking.

We considered bypassing the park closures by taking a helicopter tour. It would definitely have been an added expense but surely would have been a sight to see. There wasn't even any lava to be seen though, so the helicopter option seemed unnecessary. Oh well.

I did learn a new word from the signs outside the closed visitor center. Vog is volcanic fog, a sort of air pollution emanating out of the volcano than can be hazardous at high levels.

No lava, no maps to sit on... I thought this was the land of the free.

Hawaii still has a good number of payphones in operation. I do not know what that is about.

While a lot of the park was closed there was still some hiking to be done. There was steam and craters galore.

I purposely took a couple of wrong turns on the way out of the park just to make sure there wasn't any additional volcano action that we had missed. As a result we happened upon Kilauea Military Camp. I guess it's sort of like a vacation area for service members and their families to relax. I read that during World War II it also served as a Japanese internment/prisoner of war camp.

There was a little general store that was still open. I for sure saw signs that only service people could shop there but... I decided to ignore those signs. 

We bought a few snacks, nothing too serious. I did have a conversation with a park ranger. He said that they were still working despite the shutdown, which was something that I had wondered. He also said that someone had reported a drone so he had been looking around for that. I don't know what the big deal is with all the anti-drone rules. You can get some pretty sweet pictures with those things.

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