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This beach was made for walkin’…

‘So how many beaches do you think there are on Hawaii’, I asked. After a few seconds of mental arithmetic, she said ‘I can count 25 off the top of my head, not including the secret places that only Hawaiians go to.’ Foreigners on the islands are known as haoles (howlies) and interestingly, the word itself is older than the arrival of Captain Cook, who is usually trotted out as the first westerner the Hawaiians met. It was first associated with non-Hawaiians around 1820 and gradually became quite contemptuous in nature. And today, haoles  simply don’t know of, or don’t get to go to, certain beaches.

IMG_1986 (800x589)Ho`okena Beach Park is the historical site of one of the last fishing villages on the island of Hawaii (and is one of the top ten beaches in all the islands). A blend of fine gray coral and white sand make it particularly pretty and it has to be the hottest sand I’ve set foot on this year. It’s quite popular with the locals and we haoles were definitely outnumbered. From my vantage point, all I can say is that Hawaiians certainly know how to enjoy themselves. The biggest birthday party you’ll have is your first (even though you’re really not ‘getting it’). It’s as big a deal as, say, a 21st is in Ireland, when all the stops are pulled out. Everything from candyfloss machines to roasted pigs.

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I can’t for a minute imagine how these kids could survive living, in say, New York, or Tokyo. Living without sand, sea, and the ocean is difficult at the best of times, but if you’re brought up on the water, by the beach, in the sunshine, how could you weather anything else? And yes, by all accounts, many can’t wait to get off the island. Island fever or a question of the grass always being greener somewhere else? My mother is fond of saying that happiness is knowing how to be content with what you have… I wish I’d started listening to her years ago.

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When the first steamships arrived to the islands in 1836, the fishing village of Ho`okena became a busy trade centre.  This commercial success would last until the mid-1930s when steamships went out of fashion, replaced by trucks and lorries.  In recent years, the local community has taken things back into their own hands and now Friends of Ho’okena Beach Park (FOHBP), a non-profit organisation, is focused on the preservation of cultural and natural resources and culturally sensitive economic development in Ho’okena.

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The only nod to modernisation that I could see were the kindles that have replaced the more traditional paper novels as beach reads. The rest was good, clean, old-fashioned fun, with a surfboard or two thrown in for good measure. It was as if all troubles had been parked in the car park and once you set your feet down on the hot sand and tiptoed to your spot, all that mattered was you, your friends, your family, and the fun you’d all have.

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And no, that’s not me in the kayak (if that even is a kayak). I spent my time chatting to whoever popped up next to me in the water. A young girl from LA who explained the difference between surf boards and fat boards. A woman from Santa Cruz whose husband didn’t understand her hot flashes. Another from Lake Tahoe whose husband wouldn’t come out of his hotel room. A man from India, now retired in Alaska and travelling the world. When he next visits Budapest, he’s promised to take me to dinner. Well, stranger things have happened!

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Mark Twain’s monkeypod

Mark Twain visited the Hawaiian islands back in 1866 and took copious notes of what he encountered. He had a particular fondness for trees, as one of his despatches to the Sacramention Union noted:

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There are many species of beautiful trees in Kona – noble forests of them – and we had numberless opportunities of contrasting the orange with them. The verdict rested with the orange. Among the varied and handsome foliage of the Kou, Koa, Kukui, breadfruit, mango, guava, peach, citron, ohia and other fine trees, its dark, rich green cone was sure to arrest the eye and compel constant exclamations of admiration. So dark a green is its foliage, that at a distance of a quarter of a mile the orange tree looks almost black.

IMG_1833 (600x800)It was while he was travelling on the big island of Hawaii, going to see the volcano that he supposedly stopped in Waiohinu and planted a monkeypod tree. The tree blew down in 1957, but a shoot was replanted and is still clearly marked today as Mark Twain’s tree – albeith the second generation.

Writing from Waiohinu, Twain had this to say: Speaking of trees reminds me that a species of large-bodied tree grows along the road below Waiohinu whose crotch is said to contain tanks of fresh water at all times; the natives suck it out through a hollow weed, which always grows near. As no other water exists in that wild neighborhood, within a space of some miles in circumference, it is considered to be a special invention of Providence for the behoof of the natives. I would rather accept the story than the deduction, because the latter is so manifestly but hastily conceived and erroneous. If the happiness of the natives had been the object, the tanks would have been filled with whisky.

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IMG_2057 (800x598)Probably one of the most amazing things about travelling this island is the abundance of fruit. You can literally help yourself to oranges, lemons, mangos, breadfruit, guava, and avocados that are bigger than your foot. The rule is, is that if there is no sign saying not to, then you can pick what you like from the side of the road. When I think of what I pay for an avo in Budapest, I cringe. I’ve eaten so many now, that at night, I take on a peculiar Hulkish glow. The roads are lined with fruit stands, many of which are set up on an honour system – you leave the money in a box or  bag and miracles of miracles, no one runs away with it. This level of honesty takes getting used to  and the ample supply of free fruit puts subsistence living at a whole new level.

My only faux pas so far was mixing up my cherries!

Turtles and black sand

Down on Punalu’u beach, the sand is black. Very black. Hence the name – black sand beach. It sits between Pāhala and Nāʻālehu on the island of Hawaii. The sand is created by lava flowing into the ocean: when hot meets cold, the lava explodes and cools and ends up on the beach.

IMG_1933 (800x598)Home to the endangered Green Turtle, Punalu’u’s only detraction is the busloads of tourists that stop off on their way to  to see the volcano. The name Punalu’u comes from lu’u (diving) and puna (spring). Back in the day, tradition had it that people would dive to the bottom of the bay with empty containers to fill them from the fresh spring water coming from the bay floor.

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There’s something magical about turtles. There’s a local legend that features a sea turtle names Kauila. Kauila was born on the beach at Punalu’ku. Her mother, Honupo’okea came out of the water to give birth. She buried her egg in the sand where the sun would keep it warm until it was ready to hatch. When the egg cracked open, a lovely dark baby appeared, looking for all the world like a piece of Kauila wood…no guessing where the name came from then! Kauila stayed at Punalu’u and spent a lot of time at the bottom of a freshwater pond her dad had dug for her. When she breathed, air bubbles would come to the surface and keep the local kids of Ka’u amused. Sometimes, Kauila would change herself into a little girl so that she could play with the local kids and watch over them. Not only did the local people have fresh drinking water, they also had a regular babysitter!


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IMG_1907 (800x584)The Hawaiian Honu can live until its 80s and, fully grown, has a shell 4-5 feet in diameter. It can weigh around 350-400 pounds. They’re slow growers, though, and some don’t have kids of their own until they’re 50. It’s pretty much impossible to say if they’re male or female until they reach sexual maturity. Lots of time there to think about things! The males grow very long tails, while the female tail stays short and stubby.  They can hold their breath from 2 to 4 hours, and if their heads are cut off, they cry. Actual tears.

Once an endangered species, they seem to be making a comeback and with that, there’s a move to allow turtle harvesting for sacred sacrificial ceremonies. Just wait for the furor that will greet that! Yet before the western culture arrived, green turtles were a source of food, tools, and ornamentation for early Hawaiians.

IMG_1921 (800x600) Having lived in Alaska and seen the sense with which the State culls the various herds, and the respect shown to the rights of Alaska Natives, I can only hope that should turtle harvesting be allowed once again that it’s controlled, traditional, and doesn’t result in wholesale massacre.

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Peace and war

When it comes to actor Kevins, Kevin Bacon, Kevin McKidd (remember him from Trainspotting?) , and even Kevin Spacey rate higher than Kevin Costner. He’s never really done it for me (whatever that ‘it’ is).  It was little wonder then that I wasn’t all that excited about treading the same ground as he did back in 1995. He was in Hawaii back in 1995 for the filming of the post-apocalyptic movie Waterworld. It was at Waipi’o Valley on the big island of Hawaii that they finally found land. In Hawaiian, Waipi’o means ‘curved water’.

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For many years, the valley was home to Hawaiian kings and their ancient grass palaces. There’s a road that leads down into the valley, open to 4WD vehicles only and from here you can access the black-sand beach. When there is rain, there are waterfalls.  No water, no falls. So I missed out. Still, though, travelling on roads that could hardly be called roads, was like going back in time. And the views were spectacular.IMG_1732 (800x598)

The valley, apparently, is also home to someViet Nam veterans who have chosen to ignore a world that doesn’t understand and can’t relate to what they’ve been through. Living rough, they hunt and fish and live off the land, hitching a ride to town occasionally for staples they can’t do without. There is no such thing as a fair war, a just war. No side is ever without fault. But it breaks my heart to think that society can be so cruel to those who have fought in its name. Perhaps I’m naive in thinking that the vast majority of soldiers enlist for a greater good, to do their part to serve and protect. I remember being horrified at the welcome the Gulf War veterans received while amputees from the Viet Nam war begged for a living on the streets of LA and suffered people spitting in their faces. To think that as a society we are all too eager to ignore the consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder saddens me.

IMG_1754 (600x800)Yes I know that atrocities are committed in the name of war. I know that heinous acts are often read as routine. I know that there are those who are guilty of abusing their uniform and rank. I know all that. And yes, I would prefer a world that wasn’t at war. [Apparently there are ten wars currently going on in the world.] But to ignore those who have fought and served in good faith; to cast them aside and through our lack of understanding and support, force them into the wilderness… that I don’t understand.

The Vietnam Veteran’s Association has among its goals to create a new identity for this generation of veterans, and to change public perception of Vietnam veterans. I wish them well.

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Down in Waipi’o valley, you’d never know that the remnants of wasted lives are be found in the trees that line the mountain sides. As kids play in the river, the image is one of peace and serenity – and yet, in the background, there are broken men whose lives are far from tranquil.  As Aristotle said: we make war so that we can live in peace.