Posts Tagged 'hawaii'

If You Can’t Beat Em, Wear a Plastic Lei and Film Em

A long gleaming corridor. Palm trees and piped-in music. Our shoes squeaked along too-shiny floors as we walked deeper, further down, following the faint beating of drums and the smell of roasting pig, down into the belly of the beast: the Hilton Waikoloa Village, Kona.

Nevermind how I ended up there. Nevermind the maze of hallways, the gift shops, the cocktail lounges and swimming pool complexes, the shuttle ferry that glided down the artificial waterway, disrupting the shadows of high-rises, floors and floors of cookie-cutter hotel rooms, windows all right angles and white curtains. Nevermind that I’d paid $90 to wind up at the kind of place an independent traveler has nightmares about: a psuedo-cultural event at a corporate hotel. Nevermind that I felt like a vegan at MacDonald’s.

I was there and, goddamnit, I was going to have a good time.

Going to a Hilton luau to experience Hawaiian culture is like going on It’s A Small World to learn about global diversity. Which actually isn’t that far off of a comparison, seeing as though the great minds at Disneyland were employed in the developing of the Hilton, Kona (which explains why we kept remarking how much like Disneyland it felt). Commodified, codified, packaged up and watered down as much as the “2 Drinks Included!”, the Hilton luau was about as authentic as, say, Polynesian tattoos applied by a sun-burnt white dude with a sharpie.

I’m all for cultural experiences. And truth be told, the package tourism experience is real and true in its own right—something in the center of modern-day Hawaii, its economy, its culture, its day-to-day reality. So, in a way, you can’t get much more authentic than the genuine inauthenticity of package tourism in Hawaii. When you look at it honestly, it’s not any prettier than the corrugated-tin shantytowns that surround big cities like Lima or Rio—but still a huge part of life, real life, that deserves to be looked at.

So, in the name of cultural anthropology (and of fuck-it-I-spent-the-money-so-I-may-as-well-enjoy-myself), I infiltrated the Other Side: threw on a plastic lei, ate 5 plates of mediocre buffet food, drank my sugared-to-shit blended virgin cocktails, watched the fire throwers and hula dancers and even danced along. Think Hunter S Thompson and the Hell’s Angels, only a lot less cool.

I did not pay the $30 to keep a copy of this photo. I went broke-style and took a picture of the picture with my phone.

During the opening participatory hula dance, all I could think of was that scene in Dirty Dancing:

Through the course of the show, there was much hulaing, conga shell blowing, relating of digestible chunks of Pacific Island history, and audience participation. As the night wore on, and the Lava Flows kept coming, some folks got a little more into the Hawaiian spirit.

A curious element of the whole affair to me was the Young Hunky Native Boy aspect. Young guys—some appearing to be Hawaiian, others just really tanned white guys—trotted around in loin cloths, flexing and shaking and posing like Chip and Dale dances to a chorus of female cheers. The best was the fire dancer, a methed-out-looking white dude with a sleeve of tribal tattoos who punctuated the band’s high notes with his own ear-piercing hillbilly yoodle, in what could only be assumed to be a white trash mating call, hidden under a psuedo-ethnic guise (we were hip to him).

It made me uncomfortable, the way some of the women in the audience were responding, as if on cue, to the unabashed display of sexualized exoticism. If it had been the other way around, if the cheers had been directed at the female hula dancers, it would have been disgusting, deplorable. I wondered what made it different, more acceptable, when it came from women. It seemed to me to come from the same place, the same heart-breakingly exploitative place: “a young dark thing for my personal pleasure.”

They say tourism is the imperialism of the 21st century. They say Hawaii has prostituted herself to the whims of the West, that she’s syphilis-stricken and soul-sickened under that thick hair and pretty skin. I’m not really here to talk about all that. I just know that us Americans gasp at the idea of Chinese ethnic minority theme parks—but, um, Hawaii doesn’t seem too far off. And certainly not a luau at the Hilton.

We had a nice waitress. As we were gathering our things, she came to wish us a good night. It had come out, sometime during the course of the night, down on the other end of the table, where we were staying. The waitress grabbed my sister-in-law’s hand, “Oh, enjoy P.” Then, a little quieter, “You know, it’s really a great thing, what G did.”

Against the backdrop of the Hilton, against the gleaming stage lights and up-lit palm trees, the crackle of the sound system and the bustle of bus boys, she was right.

Voices in the Dark: Coral Graffiti Along Hawaii’s Highway 19

Hot air. A plumb-cloud sky and a mile of black. This is not paradise; this is death. This is the rocky remains of an ancient burning, shot out from far below the surface. This is a graveyard of fire.

Sometimes the earth can be scarred like skin. This is what I thought as we drove up Highway 19, up from the Kona airport, along a coastline charred with volcanic black rock. Burnt earth and a whispering silence.

So it was startling to see, scrawled into the black, white words, like voices in the dark. They call it coral graffiti, Hawaiian for street art. It’s not really, but it’s the closest thing I saw. Hawaii isn’t very urban, and I definitely didn’t go into the urban parts—but coral graffiti was the local take on tagging.

It appears to work like this: you pull over on the side of the highway, hissing wind and heat. You arrange white coral gathered at the beach; you write messages, declarations of love and tributes to the deceased, sometimes a little hometown pride. It blazes against the black, long after you’ve whizzed away—becomes, not a relic of you, but its own entity, its own little prayer, living on in the stretch of rock and wind.

I didn’t write any. But I did pull over to snap some photos. Enjoy.

A Circle of Stones

“I believe that the land has memory—that the earth remembers the things it has seen.”

Lucille Clifton said that at a reading I went to as a teenager, in introduction to her poem “Auction Street,” about how it felt to stand at former slave auctioning blocks in Memphis. I hadn’t traveled yet, hadn’t experienced much outside of the Bay Area, but something in me knew she was right: that rocks and trees and dirt have memories, maybe even dreams—that they hold little pieces of their histories in them, stored emotions, tender and swollen as our own knotted muscles.

I kept thinking about that line, said in passing in some beaming wooden room years ago, on my last trip. Walking amid the wordless rocky ruins of an abandoned village with a heat in my chest and a trouble in my mind, nothing seemed truer. Because, after all, Hawaii is a tragic place.

I stayed along the Kona Coast, a barren, burned-out mound of volcanic rock where the resorts stand out like green sores: lush, overly landscaped swaths of palm and grass against the expansive silence of lunar black.

P. was supposed to be one of them. Not a resort, but a tract of vacation homes: 7 acres divided into 10 lots, like much else along the winding 3-mile road that led from the highway to the coast. The land had belonged to a Hawaiian family who, amid the 80s mad-dash of development, could no longer afford the property tax and was forced to sell the land to a shady enterprise. A wealthy philanthropist came into contact with the family, bought P. from the enterprise, and built a personal vacation home there. My brother married the daughter of a the philanthropist’s good friend—which is how I came to find myself vacationing in a private, ocean-side villa earlier this month.

Sure, there was a gym and a media room and a billiards room and WiFi and groundskeepers and a gated entrance. But it wasn’t like a private resort. Not really. Because something had been retained, kept, preserved—not bulldozed and landscaped over (just landscaped around). The place quivered with a peculiar spiritual energy that made me hippie-out on heavy vibage. (And feel like I was on Vicodin.)

P. had once been a small Hawaiian village, abandoned for unknown reasons around the time Westerns arrived. Through a kind of cheat-the-locals-out-of-their-land swindle, a family came into possession of the land in the 1930s when they swapped their more lucrative property on a lusher side of the island for the rocky tangle of coast. As they bush-whacked into the overgrowth, the family discovered the rock-mound remains of the old buildings, as well as a burial site for what was later determined by archeologists to be a chief. The family was old-school, and believed in respecting the ruins; they didn’t move a stone, but left it in homage to their ancestors.

When the philanthropist came into possession of P., he respected the original family’s wishes and built his home around the ruins. He hired the son of the family, T., to be the property manager, an effort to maintain the sacred integrity of the place and undo some of the bad mojo that had cheated the family from their land.

That was as much of the story I knew as I walked the property the first day. Barefoot, the thick grass felt like carpet, and the air was soft and heavy and feeling of paradise. The path of grass snaked between the ruins, dotted by dense tangles of native trees. Neon birds flitted past, and the weasels darted like small, hungry ghosts.

I approached a perfectly circular mound to the immediate right of the house. Shaded by trees and covered in the round shells of their nuts, it seemed like a particularly potent spot.

As I got closer, I felt a warmth in my chest, rising into the base of my throat—not entirely unlike how I remember that first sip of alcohol: the healing heat, how something from the outside got inside, and suddenly made me feel more whole, less empty and aching. It was a curious, jarring feeling, at once intensely comforting and, well, disturbing in its unapologetic power.

I steered clear of the spot for the next few days. Frankly, I was freaked out. There was plenty else to do: I floated around the pool in an inner tube, did yoga on the deck, lounged in a hammock and read my self-help book on love addicition and co-dependancy. I’d glance sideways at the mound, avoid it, like it were a person watching me with too-blue eyes: it had seen through me and sat waiting.

T. came over to attend to some maintenance issues one day, and we got to talking. He filled in more of the history of P.—how he’d spent his summers there as a kid, how his grandmother had always told him about the spiritual power of the place and how he’d always felt it, even during his wild party days. He talked about respecting the land, saying thanks and being in tune. He told a story about an owl that lived on the property, that may or may not have been the spirit of his deceased grandmother, that had once come out in the middle of the day to watch him repair some of the stones the archeologists had moved.

If it were a movie, T. would have been wearing a lion cloth and the lights would have dimmed when he spoke, the sound of far-off drumming accompanying his tales. As it was, he wore flip-flops and a t-shirt, wrap-around sunglasses and an American moustache.

“P. has always been a healing place,” he told me simply. “I’m just glad that G. bought it, and it was able to stay the place it had always been.” He looked around the stately furniture in the vaulted-ceilinged living room, the hint of a wistful smile in the lines around his eyes. It was a far cry from the rustic shacks of his childhood, but I knew what he meant: it turned out as best it could, for the situation.

“That mound over by the house,” I pointed. “What was that?”

“Heavy, huh?” T. smiled. “We don’t really know. The archeologists thought it might have been a women’s house. Either way, it’s got some of the most powerful energy here.”

Later, I went over to the mound. Thinking of what T. had said, I bowed my head a little and asked permission before I entered into the center. I sat down cross-legged and breathed.

I felt the heat come—not a burning, but a warmth. I tried not to fight it. (He left.) It reached down, to some very tiny place inside, a very old and glowing wound. (A black kitchen and a birthday cake.) I looked at the trees, imagined their roots reaching down, back, on in at something (purple sores, swallowed by black)—like the pulsing red roots of teeth, the throbbing behind the bones of things. (He was sick, I loved him, he left.) The wind was gentle but urgent, speaking in a language of leaves (if I could have loved them more), like a mournful ballad sung in a language you don’t understand. (And left me here: gone.) The stones scratched and the shells dug in.

I heard a hoot. My eyes shot open and my spine twitched.

I heard it again, a belly sound, a calling. I thought of T.’s story: his grandmother owl in the middle of the day, watching over him.

It could have been a dove, cooing at the wind. But in the center of that circle, the ancient black of rocks, it sounded like the voice of P., the voice of the past—whatever it was, still was, had been and was still being, despite the house and the sprinklers and walking of foreign feet: a place of healing. A place that could somehow get down, down into the tightly clutched hurt of things, and coo.

Does the earth remember what it was? Does it carry its past in special little pockets, like a wound we hardly remember, but keep reliving, searching to heal? Well, fucked if I know. All I know is that, with all its resorts and rental cars, Hawaii feels like a beautiful young girl who’s been forced to marry a man she doesn’t love—and P. feels like the place where she goes, not to weep, but to pretend, to dream, to whisper her fantasies to herself, in the voice of the wind.

Chaos to Kona: This Will Be Epic

SFO –> AUS –> SJC –> LAX –> KOA –> LAX –> SFO: This will be epic.

It happened like this: my brother’s family was going to Hawaii. It’s an annual thing. My sister-in-law has a good family friend who is famously, fabulously wealthy, and owns a private villa along the Kona coast (“It’s like your own personal Four Seasons,” my parents told me). They go down and stay at the house every year, usually with a big group of people in January (when you can watch the migrating whales from the pool deck). The imminent arrival of my new baby niece pushed the party back till the end of May this year, which gave me enough time to scrape together airfare and justify taking a proper vacation (travelers don’t vacation, see below…). I roped my hard-working best friend into getting some time off from her fancy scientist job and come along with me.

Aside from the not-paying-for-a-place-to-stay bit, it’s kind of the classic American vacation: a relaxing one-week Hawaiian beach vacation. We’re renting a car (which I’ve never done while traveling), traveling with family, have nothing on the agenda other than morning yoga, noontime naps and all-day sunbathing. Which means, of course, it was nearly impossible to justify. I don’t relax when I travel; that’s not the point. If I need to relax, I’ll sleep till noon and go eat ice-cream cones in Dolores Park. I travel to see the world, dig in, explore, run myself ragged on third-class busses. When I travel, virtually no sacrifice is too big: I’ll bankrupt myself, take as much time off work as I can without getting fired. But when it came to taking 5 days off work and spending $436 to fly to Hawaii, I balked. It seemed like a lot to do nothing, learn nothing, gain nothing but a couple pounds from my brother’s bad-ass cooking.

I took it on as a sort of spiritual challenge: a traveler vacationing. In a lot of ways, it’s going to be my first vacation in 5 years. Unwinding, unplugging. But of course, I’ll have to write about that. And bring my laptop along. And then a friend gave me some tips on non-touristy places to go on the Big Island. An independent traveler tackling the most touristy place in the US? Sounds like a killer article…

Already, I was chipping away at the “vacation” element of my vacation. And then came Chaos.

It’s the dirtbaggiest, DIY-est music festival of the year. Organized by one dude with a blog and Xeroxed flyers, Chaos is Tejas brings out some of the biggest names in punk/crust/sludge/metal for four days of sheer debauchery in Austin, Texas. Friends had been road-tripping out since its inception 6 years ago. I finally went 2 years ago, and partied like I was 15 (minus the malt liquor and methamphetamines). I stayed with a tattooer/artist friend of mine, and ran around the streets till 4 in the morning, lighting off fireworks at after parties and making out in the back of a truck with some dude while his friends careened us around the city. And that was stone-cold sober.

I remembered the festival as being in early May. A tight squeeze, but I could fit it before Hawaii, right?

Turns out Chaos in Tejas (which has entered the digital age this year with a Facebook page) is Memorial Day weekend. And I was leaving for Hawaii on that Sunday. Some friends were planning to drive out. A hair-brained scheme began to hatch.

The road-tripping part had to get chopped out, but here’s how it’s ended up working out:

Wednesday: Fly to Austin with Liz and Melissa.

Thursday – Saturday: Rock our effing brains out. Killer bands from all over the world playing nearly 20 different shows. 3 single girls in a sea of crusty boys: think “Girls Gone Wild,” but with more tattoos.

Sunday: Fly from Austin to San Jose. Meet Alicia at the airport. Fly from San Jose to LA, where we’ll connect and fly to Kona. Grab our rental car and traverse the dark turns of some deserted highway, arriving at the gate to the mile-long driveway.

Monday-Saturday: Chill-ax.

Saturday night: Red-eye back to LA.

Sunday morning: Fly back to San Jose. Get a ride back to Oakland. Be at work by 2:30.

It’ll be one end of the spectrum to another: ridiculous partying to ridiculous relaxing. Punk rock shows to private properties, dirtbags to nieces, stinky clubs to island paradise. 11 days, 2 destinations, 7 flights, 1 rental car, 3 girls in 1 cheap hotel room, 15 people in 1 oceanside villa, 99 bands and 1 me to live (and write) it all.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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