We had a week long crossing from Japan to Hawai’i. Mostly to save fuel and give everyone a chance to process where we’ve been and get ready for where we’re going. We’re talking about wrapping it up, bringing it home, turning out the lights. Next-to-last stop: The Land of Aloha.
After being greeted in so many special ways as we’ve dropped anchor in so many ports around the world (the barefoot little band in India, the ladies of Vietnam in their conical hats), we dock in Hawai’i and disembark to…a woman with a sign for “Free Shuttle to Wal Mart!” Damn, this is exactly why I’m not ready to be back. Really? The first thing we see when we get back to the US is an advertisement for us to spend money as a group at the one place (besides McDonald’s) that symbolizes American Consumerism at its best/worst? (Don’t get me wrong, I love Wal Mart).
Anyway, I joined up with a group that was headed to the beach. One of our staff colleagues is a Hawai’ian local and she and her fiance set up a tour for us complete with ATM and Coffee shop stops. The main focus was to get to the beach and kayak out to some small islands off the coast. The day started out overcast but Lesley (our colleague) and her fiance Matt put sunshine on the itinerary with their hospitality and generosity. First stop…Nuuanu State Park for some scenic overlook time. Watching the mountains shrouded in mist contrast with the deep blue of the ocean is a scene I could never tire of.
Next stop Coffee! at Morning Brew, a sweet little local place with vegetarian breakfast bagels (sundried tomato cream cheese, sprouts, and capers on an everything bagel for me) and a Vanilla Chai that would make you slap your best friend. We hit the ATM and saw US dollars being spit out at us for the first time since January. My laptop power cord crapped out sometime in Japan and I was trying to track down a replacement as well, but to no avail. I didn’t want to spend a single second on errands when it could be spent on fun. The other 12 took Matt and Lesley up on their offer of a kayaking expedition. I declined noting the choppy looking waves, lack of lifeguard, and my excellent sinking skills which hamper my swimming talent. Instead they dropped me at a quiet side beach known mostly to locals with promises to pick me up in a few hours.Â
I was looking forward to a few hours of solo down time, a precious comodity on the ship. As usual I had a book (Backpack), my iPod, and my cameras, and this time, some beer money and a beach towel. The sun was finally out in full force but playing hide and seek behind the clouds. In the ultimate nod toÂ never being alone on Semester at Sea, after I had stepped 3 feet onto the beach two of my students yelled “Hey Dia!” and I was like “oooh lawd-I can’t get away from these crumbsnatchers!” but I ended up having a great time with J and E (my students)Â and their friend Olley and their band of local friends. So in the spirit of comaraderie, I chipped in for a couple of Corona (or three), dug out my sunglasses and settled in for some exposure to local culture. Hawai’ans are…different, not in a bad way, but their lifestyle is all about family and outdoor activities. People either have lots of money or are making it day by day. I enjoyed how animated the Hawai’ian students were, how in love with their island life and family focus they are. They embraced me without question, offered me food and drink and entertained my dozens of questions without complaint. Finally I relaxed out of “tourist” mode (and even though Hawai’i is a US state…if you don’t grow up there…you’re a tourist or “Haole”).
My favorite part of the day though was when the skies grew dark and the rain poured down from the heavens. The six of us took cover under a Hobie Cat boat that had a tarp over the top of it. We laughed as we arranged ourselves in the small space and I joked that my “dear black family” letter back home describing being covered in white sand, afro full of sand, beer full of sand, on a beautiful beach in Hawai’i isn’t a bad place to be. We had to take cover a couple of more times that afternoon, but the sun was strong enough to cause me to get sunburned on my face! I didn’t realize until a few days later, when I started to peel and my caramel complexion went two toned. No I don’t have any pictures of that.
My least favorite part of the day was when we all met up at the van in the late afternoon to the realization that the van had been burglarized. They got everything. Cameras, credit cards,Â cash in insane amounts, even one dude’s underwear! I didn’t lose anything since I dipped out and had my backpack with me. After the police were done with their questions and credit cards were cancelled, I treated the group to dinner to assuage my “survivor’s guilt” and ensure that they knew someone cared. Funnily enough, we had a gorgeous sunset dinner at Don Ho’s where we discovered that the famous musician had passed on just last month.
So yeah, welcome (back) to America, we made it around the world only to be greeted by Wal Mart and Grand Theft Auto, but also the “Aloha” spirit of strangers and the generosity of friends. The good old US of A, no better, no worse, than the rest of the world. Same same…but different. Next stop: San Diego!