Friday, July 17, 2009

Babymoon* (Or, Hawaii Vacation, Part 2)

*While a "babymoon" traditionally refers to a trip for the expectant couple before the babe's anticipated arrival, I like to think of our trip to Hawaii as our babymoon. Like a honeymoon, it happened after the big event--our first vacation with the baby.

As Tyler mentioned at the close of his entry, we were hitting the end of our day roadtripping along the windward side of Oahu. One of the things we'd learned (the hard way) was that we all had more fun if we scheduled our long car rides for times when Stella would typically nap, minimize the number of times we were in and out of the car, and try to make the stops lengthy enough to give Stella a break. After going to Chinaman's Hat and the Buddhist temple, we were pushing our luck to do anything besides get home and give Stella a car break. But our drive home took us past Kahuku, a town now famous for shrimp and shrimp trucks. We'd had one shrimp truck experience in Haleiwa, but I wanted to try once more, and our guide book recommended this one for a sweet and spicy flavored version that tempted me. So we decided to brave the angry baby and stop. Somehow in our peeling, eating and Stella handoff, we failed to get any photos, but the shrimp were very fresh and tasty. I'd also say that while our first stop wasn't the most popular or touted, Tyler and I both favored Macky's. I guess it goes to show it's good to take chances and not always go by the guidebook recommendations!

This must have been our day to test those guidebook assumptions, as we decided to finally brave the lines at Matsumoto, the other shaved ice place in Haleiwa. The guidebooks we had said that they thought the lines were a little unjustified at Matsumoto's and Aoki's was just as good. But the crowds (and tour buses, not always a reliable barometer) definitely meant good business. So we got in line and shuffled through the Matsumoto experience. The bottom line? Both Aoki's and Matsumoto's had different good things going for them. Matsumoto had some different and good syrups (like green tea) and slightly better quality ice cream. Aoki's had better li hing mui (the sour, salty, sweet plum flavor we loved) and friendlier service. In a perfect world, there'd be another shop between the two bridging the best of both.

Finally braving the lines at Matsumoto's Shaved Ice

The next day we scheduled to be our Honolulu day--get up early, head down south, hike Diamond Head before it was too hot or crowded and see Pearl Harbor. We got a little later start than we'd initially intended, had to do a little bit of running around to get gas, but made it to Diamond Head at a reasonable hour.

Entering the Diamond Head Park. Looks auspicious enough.

We start the hike to the top. After all our hikes in the Cascades, this was pretty reasonable, some stairs, a few switchbacks and you're at the top. But as we neared the top, it got a bit cloudier. Once we pushed our way to the upper viewpoint, it was windy, pellet-y rain and no visibility. Some people seemed anxious at the top about the weather--Stella took it all in stride and seemed to enjoy the whole experience. And it was oddly fitting for Tyler and I. We often hike to something that's supposed to have a good view, only to be socked in with bad weather--a hike in Haines on our honeymoon, the start of our morning in Macchu Picchu, our camping trip to Mt. St. Helen's last year... Let's just say it's not a big shock anymore!

No view from Diamond Head

Once again, Stella's a trooper in the wind and the rain

So we hiked down, packed up and headed over to Pearl Harbor. After getting Stella in and out of the car again, tromping around in the heat, we found they were doing some work on the theater and only doing half the number of usual shows. And the shows for the day were sold out. It was about 11AM--we were disappointed. We contemplated heading home in defeat, but we decided to take advantage of our location and head back to Waikiki and get a little beach time--splurge on a lunch somewhere with a view and see if we couldn't spend a little time by the ocean. We found a good parking garage (thanks, guidebook!), found a restaurant in the book that sounded like it would fit our bill and set off. Unfortunately in our haze of hunger and the heat, we ended up wandering far longer than necessary to find it. But, find it we did, and we even got a table with a great beach view. (Apparently it's not a problem to have babies in the bar area?!)

Finally at the beachfront bar

While we were eating, we saw an area full of umbrellas and lounge chairs. We decided to rent them for a half day and spend some time on the beach. Stella still hated the ocean, so Tyler and I took turns getting out into the water, taking in the view and feeling like we were really in Hawaii.

Waikiki from our shaded lounge chairs

After a few days on the run--and an evening luau scheduled--we took the next day easy, having a big breakfast, relaxing, napping and walking a bit around Haleiwa.

Kicking back in Haleiwa (note Stella's leg), drinking papaya juice

But even a baby gets bored of too much lounging around in a little house without too many distractions, so we ended up packing up and going to see a nearby cultural site, the Pu'u o Mahuka Heiau, an ancient temple that as a certain kind of temple that included human sacrifice. The ruins themselves were interesting (though the photographs may not seem that compelling), and we had a good time hiking around, getting views of Waimea Bay below us. (As an interesting side note, it was at Waimea Bay where Captain Vancouver was killed.)

Hiking around the heiau on the red dirt trails

View of the Heiau remnants

Looking down at Waimea Bay

Post-hiking afternoon nap

Then it was time to head out for our luau. On our way to the luau, which was in the southwest corner of Oahu, we stopped to see the Kukaniloko Birthing Stones, a sacred place where all royal women on Oahu went to have their children. It was good to have directions in the guidebook--the entrance was a small dirt deadend in between pineapple plantations. But the site itself was amazing. I'm sure a lot of it was having had the recent experience of childbirth, but seeing the stones so many women used so long ago and thinking of what their birth experiences must have been like was really powerful.

Path to the birthing stones, set unexpectedly amongst modern-day pineapple plantations

The Birthing Stones

We continued on to the luau we had chosen, Germaine's, which had gotten good reviews. Like a lot of Oahu, it seemed that not much had changed there since the 70s. But the dancing was good, the people were nice and seemed to be enjoying themselves, and it was a good enough time, even if it was a wee bit challenging with Stella as the night wore on.

Dancers from Germaine's Luau--cheesy, but fun

At the beginning of the evening, the dancers circulated and talked to people. It turned out that the nice guy who had talked to us about his daughter was the fire dancer

Suddenly, where there had been times when our vacation stretched before us with innumerable options, we had one day left. We decided we'd do three things we'd wanted to do all week: see the Pearl Harbor site, do the maze at the Dole Plantation and see sunset at a beach. To avoid disaster a second time, we got up early and headed south again to get free tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial, which incudes a film, the boat trip out to the memorial, and time on the memorial itself. We got tickets and only had a little time to wait before it began. We thought the whole thing was well done. The footage in the film was moving without being over the top, and the memorial was tasteful and touching. After it was over, we thought about taking in more of the sites there--there's a submarine you can tour, the boat where the war with Japan ended, and a aircraft museum. We actually got back in line to see the aircraft museum (Tyler's grandfather had been a pilot in the pacific theater during the war), but it was getting hot, Stella was getting cranky and it just wasn't working out, so we headed back north.

USS Arizona Memorial

From the memorial--some of the Arizona that can be seen, as well as the bloom of still leaking oil

On our way home, we stopped at the Dole Plantation, where they have either the largest or second largest hedge maze in the world, depending on your source. At the start, they give you a ticket and you have to find seven hidden stations in the maze. At each station, you stick in your ticket and trace a marker to prove you've been to each one. We set off as a team, winding our way along the first opening of the maze. At some point, we realized other people had cards that provided a map of the maze to help them find the markers. I don't know why we didn't get one, but it seems like that would take away half the fun. Isn't the point of a maze to get disoriented and wander around rather than just prove your map following skills? Ultimately, it took us about an hour and 20 minutes to do the whole thing without a map. Not too shabby!

Finishing the Dole Plantation Maze. Still not sure why others had maps, but that still seems that it would take the fun out of the whole thing.

After a rest and dinner, we headed out for a beach and decided to stop at Turtle Beach again. I'd been wanting to see more sea turtles, and it was accessible and picturesque. Stella wasn't thrilled with our plan--she didn't care for the waves, could care less about the sea turtles and was hot and tired. Until a little boy caught her attention and he started clowning around for her. (Funnily enough, he lives on Vashon!) We watched a paddle surfer, some kind of outrigger canoe, and the sunset, and waited a bit longer to see if we couldn't see the turtles head back to sea. We did ultimately see a big male come up onto shore as well as a very small, young turtle that was apparently new to the beach. It was a good way to cap off our trip.

Our last night in Hawaii: sunset at Turtle Beach

Two of the four honu (sea turtles) on Turtle Beach

But we weren't totally done with our adventures yet. After packing up, having breakfast and finding a place to take our recycling from the week, we decided to check out one last beach I had seen in the guidebook that was the location of many sets from the show Lost. After a small trek along the shore, we saw a roped off area with a security guard. He was actually very nice, talking to us about the job and the shooting. After that final experience, we headed to the airport for our flight back home.

Set from Lost. I know, we're dorks.

Final beach visit in Hawaii

Funnily enough, Stella did even better on the flight home than on the way to Oahu. And some people waiting for the plane had been on our same flight to Honolulu, remembered her and were happy to see Stella again. Yay for good baby flying skills!

For all we did on the trip (and we still managed to do a bit), one of my favorite memories will be of the mornings I got up with Stella early in the morning. We'd head out to the porch, she'd sit in my lap or on the chair behind me, and we'd watch the birds and enjoy the cool early morning.

Stella on the porch, watching the birds

When we left, we also thought Stella might start crawling. We figured she'd have less clothing to stop her and plenty of floor time. But while she did continue practicing popping up onto her hands and knees, she actually moved less than she does at home--I think her sweatiness and the grit from the sand on the floor actually made it harder to move!

Stella practicing her "hands and knees" pose on the bed. Note the baby chub tan lines in the elbows!

So, after a few fits and starts, we got our own baby travelling skills and had a lovely, relaxing time in Oahu. I enjoyed the island and hope to go back to see some of the others (the Big Island and Kauai, in particuar) again. Our current thinking has our next vacation going back to an island, but in a different direction. Time to get Stella's passport--we're thinking Iceland in 2010.

PS Video from our trip to follow as the next post--stay tuned!

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