Hawaii: The End of the Road

I can’t believe I’m only just now writing my last post about a vacation that ended in early May of this year, but Hawaii is amazing and fascinating and intriguing, and there was much to tell. I think, more than any other trip, these islands have transformed me. It’s hard to let go. Saying goodbye is bittersweet. It’s like dropping someone off at the airport whom you love very much, and not knowing when, if ever, you’ll see them again.

Okay, keep it together, Barb. Sniffle.

I’ve mentioned before that Hawaii itself almost feels like a living organism to me. It breathes fire, it grows, it shrinks, it’s alive with creatures that are not found anywhere else. I’ve never felt like that about any other place. I firmly believe that these islands would thrive if only we humans would get out of their way. And yet we can’t resist them.

A recurring theme for us on this trip was arrivals and departures, and beginnings and endings. That experience, too, is unlike any other I’ve had. It was almost as if the islands were trying to speak to me.

One of the things I’ve yet to blog about was the first day of our vacation. That’s because it was not the note I wanted to begin on. It was too surreal and upsetting. I needed time to digest it.

I had been wanting to go to Hawaii my whole life long, so I was really excited about the day we were to fly there. It was a dream come true. I had been anticipating this flight for many months. When I woke up that morning, it felt as though a million Hawaiian butterflies were fluttering inside a me.

We were, of course, late leaving the house. (That, too, is a theme.) But we weren’t so late that it was giving me cause for concern. We live very close to the airport.

We got there and checked our carry on luggage without incident. But the line for TSA screening was obscenely long. We were told to go to the other security gate for faster service, but when we got there, if anything, that line was longer and the staff there were redirecting people to the security gate we had just left. Now I was getting nervous.

At one point, Dear Husband and I clearly heard the customer service agent tell us that we’d be departing from gate 15. DH knows this airport well, so I kind of checked out due to my anxiety, and let him take the lead. This is the first time in my entire life when traveling by plane that I didn’t confirm the gate several times on the flight information screen or at least check out the airport map.

Knowing how late we were, we kind of speed walked to gate A15. I’m sure DH could have moved a lot faster without me in tow. No one has ever accused me of being a cheetah.  Of course, it was to be the furthest gate away on Concourse A. Naturally.

By the time we got to the tail end of that concourse, I was drenched in sweat and could not catch my breath. It felt like my heart was going to explode. And that feeling only got worse when we discovered that there is no gate A15. The last gate is A14.

Another customer service agent looked things up and told us that we were flying out of gate N15, and that they were just about to board. Now, let me explain the full ramifications of this. We were standing at the southernmost gate of the SEATAC airport, and we were told that we needed to be at the northernmost gate of the SEATAC airport. Like… 15 minutes ago. According to Google maps, it was 1.8 miles away. And toward the end, you have to wait for an automated train, because the N terminal isn’t even in the same building.

I tried to run. I really did. I wanted to go to Hawaii so badly. But I was already out of breath.

At this point I pretty much abandoned all hope. And then Cris, who to his credit is never out of breath, had a brilliant idea. He grabbed an abandoned luggage cart, piled all our carry on stuff on it, then said, “Hop on.”

And then he ran like the wind. We were flying through that airport. I was really proud of him. At first I was standing on the cart, but I was blocking his view, so instead I sat down as if I were another piece of luggage. We got several dirty looks from airport staff, but we were moving too fast, and I think they just couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it.  On the other hand, fellow travelers where cheering and laughing and waving and taking pictures. I felt like I was Santa Claus in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This was the first adventure on a vacation full of adventures, and every time I think of it, it makes me smile.

But despite all our (his) efforts, we got to the gate 2 minutes late, and watched our plane (and our checked baggage) fly off without us. It’s funny now, but at the time I sat there at gate N15 and had a good cry while DH rebooked our flight for the next day. I’ve had flights delayed, and I’ve missed a connection or two, but this was the first time in my life that I had missed a nonstop flight. I don’t recommend it.

The dogs were sure confused to see us back home. They know what suitcases usually mean, and the dogsitter, a dear friend of ours, was already there. And yet here we were.

So, yeah, late the next day we arrived, both triumphant and chastened, in Hawaii. We checked into our hotel and had a look around and got all settled in. We were headed out to explore Kauai when we met Tony.

Tony was a bit worried, because he had tried to get a taxi to the airport for his flight home to Toronto, and there seemed to be no taxis to be had. After what we’d gone through the day before, we wanted to help. But we’re not the type of people who are prone to giving total strangers a ride.

What we did was go back to the concierge desk and verify that all of us where guests at this establishment. And then the concierge took photos of all our drivers licenses, and we checked back in with her when we got back to the hotel so that she knew that everything had gone smoothly.

We had a pleasant chat with Tony on the drive to the airport about our various travels, and about Toronto and Seattle. He gave us some tips on what to do in Kauai, and we heard about his enviable extended stay in Hawaii. He called his mother from the road and reassured her that he wasn’t going to miss his flight after all.

Just like that, we made our first friend in Hawaii, even though we didn’t get his last name or contact info. We asked if we could take his picture as we waved goodbye. He said that was fine. So Tony, wherever you are, I hope you made it home safe.

My experience on isolated islands had been rather limited up to this point, but I soon discovered that it’s quite easy to run out of island. In fact, on this trip we arrived at the end of the road on multiple occasions. It alters your mindset.

I wanted to see every inch of Kauai. You can circumnavigate much of the island on highway roads, with the glaring exception of the Napali Coast that stretches about 16 miles along its Northwest edge. There, what you encounter are impassible, yet stunningly beautiful jagged blue and emerald cliffs that defiantly face off with the sea.

On day 4, we reached the end of the road on the western shore of Kauai. We stopped next to the charmingly named Barking Sands Airport and saw our first Nenes, which are beautiful Hawaiian geese. They didn’t seem to care that they had reached a dead end. They just went about their goosey business. That was also the day we went to the end of the island’s other major highway, which wends its way through Waimea Canyon.

Day 6 found us on the opposite end of the semicircular road.  On the North shore we visited Maniniholo Dry Cave, had a picnic lunch on the beach, and then drove as far as we could, taking turns with the cars heading the opposite direction, in order to cross the charming one lane bridges. This is a more laid back, isolated part of the island, and it’s where I’d want to live if I could put my home on high enough stilts to cope with the frequent flooding. I weep at the thought that climate change will wipe this area off the map one day.

On the Big Island, we went to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and drove to the end of the road twice on our first full day there, from the Hōlei Sea Arch on the Chain of Craters Road to the end of Crater Rim Drive with its stunning views of Kīlauea’s  Caldera. 

Five days later we went to the Southern tip of the United States, to Ka Lae, or South Point, Hawaii, and gazed out at the vast Pacific Ocean. I find it interesting that we took no pictures from the clifftops that were aimed directly south toward that blue expanse. We took photos of the cliff line, as if we needed a reference point. I think that never-ending blue reminded us how far away we were from any other part of civilization, and how life clings precariously to every possible foothold as this fragile planet spirals through the vacuum of space, chasing the sun. Who could bear to photograph that flimsy feeling?

We woke up the next day knowing we had to head to the airport to catch the plane that would take us home. (Why couldn’t we have missed that one?)  I felt as though I was beginning a mourning process, as I always do at the end of a trip. Perhaps the challenges we faced in getting to this place added to our appreciation of it. I felt as though I were saying goodbye to a loved one.

Then I saw a hand painted sign nailed high up on a tree. We didn’t have time to stop and take a picture, but it will remain forever in my mind. It said, “Lord Jesus, what a rush!” 

If things have to end, as all things do, then that is the way I want to look back on them. Life is full of beginnings and endings, but it’s the middle part that makes all the difference.

I leave you (and Hawaii) now, with the bittersweet yet iconic song, Aloha ‘Oe. It was written by Liliʻuokalani, the last sovereign monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom. She wrote many songs in her time, but this one is particularly haunting. It was originally written about a lover’s goodbye.

Twenty years later, she transcribed this song while she was under house arrest. America was in the process of stealing these islands from the Hawaiian people, simply because we had superior firepower. Originally, we sentenced this dignified woman to five years of hard labor for her defiance, but we at least had the good grace to commute that sentence, and later set her free to live another 21 years, fighting our indifferent government in court for lands that they never had any intention of returning.

When you think of Aloha ‘Oe as a lament for the loss of Liliʻuokalani’s beloved country, it takes on a bittersweet flavor, indeed. Flying away from Hawaii forces the traveler to internalize just a tiny shard of her broken heart. Aloha, Hawai’i. Until we meet again.

If this little blog has broadened your horizons, check out my book!  http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Bits and Bobs about Hawaii

Interesting things that didn’t fit into my other Hawaiian posts.

There’s so much that intrigued me about Hawaii that I had to take copious notes during my visit. Not that I’m complaining. These notes will enrich my memories. But some of the tidbits of information didn’t fit naturally into my other posts about the Aloha State, so today I’m going to just throw a bunch of thought noodles at you and see which ones actually stick. There won’t be any particular order or story arc. This will sort of look like Hawaii after it has been in a blender. Here’s hoping it’s still pretty. Thank you for your indulgence.

My first impression of the island of Kauai is… chickens. Chickens everywhere. Here a chicken, there a chicken… Based on some lazy research and even lazier math, I estimate that there are about 6 chickens per capita on this island. That’s a lot of poultry. Most of them looked really healthy, and many of the roosters are absolutely gorgeous, so more power to them, I say. I just wish they had a stricter concept of when dawn is. You could hear them crow at 2 in the morning. Even so, I found it pleasant to share the island with them for a time.

A tour guide demonstrated something to me that I had never contemplated. Most of us know that chickens bob their heads when they walk. But I never noticed that hey don’t bob their heads when they run. It was fun watching the guide chase a chicken across a field to prove his point. I’ll always remember that.

Chickens notwithstanding, I believe that the most destructive invasive species in all of Hawaii are the feral pigs. They cause major damage to property and property values, agriculture, and ecosystems. There are so many pigs on the islands that you won’t find an estimate of how many pigs there are anywhere on the internet. (Believe me, I tried.) In fairness, it would be hard to keep track. A pair of pigs and their offspring can produce 15,000 more pigs over the course of 5 years. Imagine that level of expansion when you’re on an island. (I did find an estimate of the number of feral pigs in the entire US, and it’s over 6 million, and growing. At this rate we won’t be around long enough to see the full impact of global warming.)

In Hawaiian, the word for fire is ahi. So Ahi tuna got its name because of its bright red meat. That means that the fish did not get a name until some Hawaiian first sliced it open. (I’m glad I didn’t get my name that way.) But I’m a little surprised that they didn’t come up with something that describes the creature itself, because it’s beautiful to behold. That says a lot about priorities.

I find waves so hypnotic that I actually slept soundly in Hawaii, which is something that eludes me in most other places. And the unrelenting wind means there’s no need for AC while you sleep, and somehow that makes me happy. There’s nothing quite like fresh air and ocean waves.

There are no lions or tigers or bears in Hawaii, and you could go your whole life without encountering a poisonous snake. You’d think that would mean that hiking in this state is relatively carefree, but no. The island still has plenty of surprises for you.

It’s not a good idea to stray from the established path. For instance, that field of soft, welcoming ferns covering the ground to your left may actually be a dense mat that is more than 20 feet deep. You step into that, you may very well plunge to your death. These mats can also conceal lava tubes and jagged lava rock, so your death won’t be a pretty one.

But falling off hiking trails is fairly common in Hawaii. The terrain is steep, and gets slippery and muddy, and yet the things you would land on if you slip can be as sharp as glass. Never hike alone in Hawaii. Unless you’re really experienced, you might want to avoid hiking on all but the simplest trails.

Another danger that you might not expect is the Guinea Grass. It was first brought to Hawaii to feed the cows, which had also been brought in. Guinea Grass makes great feed as long as it’s kept relatively short as it apparently is in Africa. But, unchecked, this grass can get up to 15 feet high, and when it gets that tall, the cows won’t touch it. The taller it gets, the more tiny razor-like spikes it gets on the edges of its blades, and this can cause a cow’s tongue to bleed. So the Guinea Grass has pretty much taken over, with very little to stop it. And if you walk into this stuff, you’ll leave it feeling as though you’ve rolled naked in fiberglass. That, and it’s a fantastic contributor to wildfires. When not burning, it chokes out native plants.

We went to black sand beaches and “normal” beaches during our trip. But Hawaii also has one of only four green sand beaches in the world. Sadly the hike to get there is 4 miles, round trip and is often strenuous. My hikes are getting shorter and easier these days. You can’t do everything.

There are very few little free libraries found in Hawaii. (Believe me, I looked. And the map of registered ones at littlefreelibrary.org bears me out.) I did try to track down a registered one on a busy tourist street in Hanalei, but it wasn’t where it was said to be, and when we asked around, people looked at us as if we had two heads. I have no idea why, but these wonderful community resources just haven’t seemed to take off in this state yet. I hope they do eventually, because I can think of nothing more delightful and relaxing than reading a good book on a Hawaiian beach. But then, the locals are probably working three jobs just to be able to afford to live there, so they may not have time for reading.

Here are some pictures of a couple of the little libraries we did see. There is a nice big one in front of the Kapa’a Public Library. (Isn’t a little free library in front of a library kind of like gilding the lily?)

I tried something new on this trip. I call it “planned spontaneity.” It worked really well. Yes, we made reservations for the things we really wanted to do if they were required. But we also left some time in there to follow the suggestions we got along the way, check out the things we stumbled upon, and also to just chill out. Many of those times, to be honest, were the best ones for me. I used to plan every trip within an inch of its life, and then I married Dear Husband and saw how much he liked to do that stuff, so I took a back seat for a while. But that’s not really fair. I know I hated it when I had to do all the trip planning and reservations alone. So now I’m trying to make it so we both take part, but that we also leave some things up to fate and happenstance. It’s a delicate dance, but it’s worth it.

It’s “shave” ice, not “shaved”. And it is wonderful. Many places will put shaved ice over a scoop of ice cream for you. We tried that first, and I thought I’d be sick from the sugar. I don’t eat much sugar anymore, so this was quite the shock to the system. But shave ice is nice on a hot day.

If you want to make your kids giggle and your waitress roll her eyes for about the thousandth time this year, order a “pipi pupu”. That’s a beef appetizer in Hawaiian. But please give your waitress a generous tip for forcing her to hear the joke yet again.

In Kauai, two nice little side stops are Kilauea Lighthouse and Christ Memorial Episcopal Church. Both are beautiful in different ways. I highly recommend them.

Flying from one island to another is extremely convenient. We flew from Kauai to the Honolulu Airport, changed planes, and then flew over beautiful Molokai to land in Kona, Hawaii. But on our approach to Honolulu we took a sharp left turn to head landward, and we were hit with the worst turbulence I’ve ever felt my life. It seemed like we dropped 60 feet in less than a second. It’s the first time I’ve ever thought was going to die in an airplane. I even remember thinking, “This is it.” Getting to our destination was worth it, I suppose, but I think I might have a cocktail next time.

The Honolulu Airport is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s wide open to the elements. It feels like a Disney attraction, but with planes. And it is predicted that the Kona Airport will be covered in lava sometime in the next 100 years. They actually had to carve the runways out of lava beds there. Hawaii caused me to view real estate as something that is highly transient for the first time in my life. If Kauai is chickens, then the Big Island is lava. Lots and lots of lava.   

We also stopped at a farmer’s market in Hilo, and saw produce that looked like it came from another planet. We bought an avocado the size of my head. But it wasn’t a Hass, so it actually tasted like nothing. That was a bit disappointing. We also bought white pineapple, which is something I’d never heard of. It was extremely expensive, because they don’t produce many, and that’s probably why I’d never heard of it. There  aren’t really enough to send to the mainland. Think pineapple without the acid. Sweet as spun sugar. Everyone should try it! We also tried an organic mountain apple, which was kind of thick skinned and slightly mushy and therefore meh. And nothing in this farmer’s market had an actual price on it. I’m sure they see the tourists coming a mile away.

We ate at a restaurant called Harbor House in Kona. It had no walls. That gave us a great view of the marina. And it was fun to have the birds flying all around us. Until they pooped. Everywhere. But poop notwithstanding, the food is pretty good (and poop-less), and hey, it’s an experience!

The older I get, the more I look at experiences in terms of the memories they create. Hawaii added so many wonderful memories to my collection. The older you get, the more you accumulate. I’m sitting on a dragonpile (I should copyright that word) of precious memories, brought to me by travel. And I’m not alone in this.

By rights, the well-traveled elderly should be considered the most fascinating people in the world. You just have to ask the right questions and take the time to experience the answers. If you listen closely, you might hear the waves crashing in their words, and maybe the sound of Don Ho singing Tiny Bubbles will drift gently toward you as if on an island breeze.

The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Fauna of Hawaii

There are 26,608 known species on land and sea in the Aloha State.

Animals fascinate me, especially ones I’ve never encountered before. That happened many times during our trip to Hawaii. That’s to be expected. According to this article, 90 percent of all the species that live on land in Hawaii can only be found in Hawaii. (And when you consider the fact that there are 26,608 known species on land and sea combined in Hawaii, that’s even more impressive.) In fact, the Hawaiian Islands have more endemic species than the Galapagos islands do. I was really looking forward to reveling in this diversity of life.

I’ve already written about Our Most Excellent Manta Ray Adventure, and also about The Flowers and Birds of Hawaii, as well as Snorkeling in Hawaii, so I won’t dwell on the amazing creatures we came across that I’ve already discussed. But believe it or not, there is still much to tell.

I think one of our most unique experiences was watching sea turtles come up on Poipu Beach in Kauai. They are fascinating in and of themselves, but to our surprise, they were escorted to shore by a monk seal. That’s two endangered species in one sighting. Check, check!

I was mesmerized. Fortunately, Dear Husband had the presence of mind to take a video of this moment before the monk seal took his leave. Here it is.

And just for fun, DH also did a time lapse video of the turtles coming up on the beach, because, let’s face it: it’s not as if they’re going to break any land speed records. So here’s the turtle equivalent of an action sequence:

As I watched the sun go down on the sea turtles of Poipu Beach, as cliché as this is going sound, I knew without a doubt that this place is paradise. I couldn’t believe my luck, to actually be standing there bearing witness to these miracles of nature. Sometimes I think I’m the luckiest person on earth.

I really hoped that we’d see some turtles in action while we were snorkeling, but no such luck. We would have kept a respectful distance, of course. Hawaii takes its turtles seriously, as well it should.

We also got to see some more sea turtles at the black sand beach of Punalu’u on the Big Island. That beach also had a beautiful plaque that told the story of Kauila and the Sea Turtles of Punalu’u. The artwork was gorgeous, but I knew you’d be interested in the story as well, so I made certain to take a picture of that. (Just for you, Dear Reader. See there? You are never far from my thoughts.)

Although obviously neither wild nor native to Hawaii, it seemed that every resort had some koi, and they were often quite large. I was surprised that they weren’t bothered by birds of prey or racoons or otters or something, as they would be in Florida. It turns out that there aren’t any racoons or otters on these islands, and there are only two birds of prey in the entire state, and ironically, neither of them eat fish.

If we saw a Hawaiian hawk, it was only at a distance. The other bird of prey is the Pueo, a ground nesting owl. One flew right across the highway in front of our car one night. I got a good look at it, but DH was driving so he didn’t see it. And of course, she was long gone before I could raise my camera. What a beautiful bird!

To listen to the different types of calls that Pueo make (and indeed learn more about all things Pueo), check out this page. Sadly, Pueo populations are in great decline because their nests are on the ground, which makes them quite vulnerable to invasive species. That’s particularly true on the Big Island, which has mongoose. I saw three mongoose during our visit, but those suckers are just too fast to photograph.

Mongoose were intentionally introduced to the Big Island in hopes of getting rid of another invasive species, the rats that arrived on the island via the first visiting European ships. (One of their descendants ran across my foot while we were walking through the Thurston Lava Tube, causing me to jump out of my skin.) But it turns out that mongoose are active during the day, whereas rats are nocturnal, so that rat eradication didn’t go to plan. However, a mongoose can wipe out a flock of chickens in the blink of an eye, and that may be one of the reasons that the Big Island isn’t up to its eyeballs in chickens like Kauai is. Sadly, they also have a taste for Pueo.

Hawaii wants tourists to think they have no snakes, and some people mistakenly believe that there once were snakes, but the mongoose took care of them. In fact, there are several invasive species, mainly concentrated in Oahu, but they have never been an issue to human beings. They haven’t been as kind to wildlife. Therefore, it’s actually illegal to have a pet snake in Hawaii.

The state does have one native snake species, the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake. It is venomous, but it’s also rare. There is no record of a human being killed by this sea snake. All snake sightings in Hawaii are so rare that it’s not unusual for a Hawaiian to go his or her whole life without seeing one.

One of the tour guides we met told us that on Kauai, it was proposed that snakes be introduced to get rid of the irritating chicken situation, but people decided they’d much rather have chickens than snakes, even if they do wake you up at 4 a.m. with their crowing.

There are wild boar/feral pigs in Hawaii, and I got a glimpse of some of those. I’m glad I was inside the car. They looked scary. (Check out this article about a freak encounter that a surfer had with one of them.) They are one of the most destructive invasive species in the islands, along with the wild goats.

Another story our guide told us was that the Hawaiian word for goat is “kau,” and that’s pronounced “cow”. The guide said that one of the Hawaiian monarchs of the 1700’s wanted cows because he had heard about the many benefits of having them. Captain Cook (or one of his contemporaries) had no cows with him, but he had brought goats, and in an effort to impress the king, he gifted a few and said they were cows.

That sounds plausible, and it’s certainly amusing, but I looked all over the internet for confirmation of this story, and could not find it. One thing can’t be denied, though. Now those pesky goats are everywhere.

In fact, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture doesn’t regulate the hunting of goats, but you may want to check with your local game warden before opening fire. Another attempt to reduce the kau population was when the state gave away wild goats on the lottery system. You can practically hear them begging you to take one off their hands, can’t you?

There are also feral sheep, horses and cows, but I’m pretty sure that all the ones we saw were domesticated. (I was really surprised by the amount of farmland on the islands, in a state where land is so expensive that it’s now out of reach of many of the natives.)

I saw several bats fly past us at dusk on both islands, and at one condo where we stayed, an anole visited our patio on multiple occasions, making me homesick for the anoles of Florida. And one day a crab crossed our path on the beach.

Coqui frogs have hitched rides to Hawaii on houseplants shipped from Puerto Rico, and have all but taken over several of the islands. In the interest of full disclosure, I happen to love these frogs, and delighted in being able to record their calls on the Big Island. That’s a sound I hadn’t heard since visiting Puerto Rico, and it brought back wonderful memories. Here’s my recording.

Despite my nostalgia, these frogs have been a disaster for Hawaii. They have no natural predators there, and because of that, in some areas, there are 55,000 coqui per hectare, whereas they max out at 24,000 per hectare in their native habitat.

I may love their vocalizations, but many people find them loud, persistent, and annoying, as they go on from dusk to dawn. These frogs also decimate many bugs, including pollinators, and they’ve impacted tourism and property values.

During our trip, I expected to see lots of spiders, and I wasn’t looking forward to that, but to my relief I saw very few. I was constantly scanning the ocean in the hopes of seeing whales and dolphins. No such luck. I also hoped to see octopus and tiny sharks while snorkeling. Again, nope. But all these creatures were quite prevalent in the many delightful murals throughout the islands, which I wrote about here.

So yes, we saw a lot of fauna during our trip. Many, but not all, are invasive. If you learn only one thing when visiting the Aloha State, let it be this: Humans should never tamper with nature.

Never before have I visited a place that gave me the impression that the land itself was a living entity. Like an animal, it breathes and changes and adapts and grows. It is critically important that we treat it, and its many fragile ecosystems, with respect. Because there’s no place on earth like Hawaii.

A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Waimea Canyon in Kauai

The most beautiful place in the state.

I’ve only been to two of the Hawaiian Islands (The Big Island and Kauai), but I’d be rendered speechless if there was any place in this entire state that was more beautiful than Waimea Canyon, especially at its northern end, where you can gaze at the all-but-inaccessible Napali Coast. If you go to Kauai and don’t spend at least half a day here, you are a failure as a traveler as far as I’m concerned.

Seriously. Shame on you. Go to your room and think about what you’ve done.

This canyon is a mile wide, 10 miles long, and somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 feet deep, depending on what source you believe. It looks like the Grand Canyon’s little sister. It’s smaller, yes, but it’s lush and green and vibrant with life. I think I’d have a much easier time surviving in Waimea than in that harsh and rugged valley in Arizona, no matter how iconic it may be. Like the rest of Kauai, there are no snakes and there’s plenty of shade and vegetation.

Moot point, though. While there are plenty of hiking opportunities in this area, you might want to remember that if you hike 2000 feet down to see a waterfall, you’ll have to hike 2000 feet back up. Those days, for me, are decades in the past.

Fortunately, the canyon rim is accessible by car, and there are plenty of overlooks that allow you to revel in the beauty without breaking a sweat. We stopped at five of them, and also visited the museum, where you pay the park’s admission fee. (It would probably be easy to sneak past this fee, but we wanted to pay it if it means the canyon will be well taken care of. A ten-dollar contribution to protect something so priceless is a sound investment as far as I’m concerned.)

Below, you’ll see photos that we took on our visit, and after that are some links that you can check out if you want to learn more about Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast. Many of the pictures on those web pages are spectacular. Enjoy!

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waimea_Canyon_State_Park

http://www.destination360.com/north-america/us/hawaii/kauai/waimea-canyon

https://www.gohawaii.com/islands/kauai/regions/north-shore/napali-coast

If this little blog has broadened your horizons, check out my book!  http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Art Encounters in Hawaii and Kauai

When travel and art collide, my cup runneth over.

Two of my all-time favorite pursuits are travel and art. When those two interests collide, as they so often do, my cup runneth over. Standing in a town square in an exotic country, while gazing at a sculpture that I’ve never seen before, is heaven on earth to me. Bliss. Nirvana. Everything, all at once.

I’ve already written about the gorgeous murals I was lucky enough to see on the islands of Kauai and Hawaii. And I all but raved about the work on display at the Volcano Art Center. So, without further ado, here are some photos of the many forms of art that we encountered on our Hawaiian sojourn that I have yet to share with you. (I always use the term encounter when looking at art because it is so often unexpected, and I usually walk away feeling changed by the experience.) Enjoy!

Portable gratitude. Inspiring pictures. Claim your copy of my first collection of favorite posts! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The History of Pono Kai

There is more to Hawaii than meets the eye.

Before visiting Hawaii, I had a very idealized view of what the place would be like. Tourism is Hawaii’s biggest industry and has been since the 1950’s, so the state does quite a bit to promote its brand to tourists. The travel industry creates jobs and brings in quite a bit of tax revenue. Given the constant drumbeat by those who promote the Hawaiian ambience, is it really all that surprising that entire aspects of this society are usually overlooked by outsiders?

I went to Hawaii expecting to see beaches and tropical fish and hula dancers and hotel rooms with lanais, and lots and lots of flowers. That’s about it. In all my years, the concept that people have to actually work to live here, and that the state has a rich culture and a complicated colonial history only crossed my mind while reading James Michener’s novel, Hawaii. I didn’t realize until just this moment that that book came out the same year that Hawaii became a state. But after reading it, I moved on to some other book, and my idea of Hawaii slipped back into that prepackaged, sun-bathed fantasy that I’m quite sure the vast majority of us indulge in.

Because I was in need of a reality check, I was really grateful that the first place we stayed was the Pono Kai Resort in Kapa’a, Kauai. Yes, this lovely place fit the brand that I had come to expect, and it made me excited for the rest of the trip. I could tell that the “product” I was receiving was exactly as described.  But then a brief walk along the waterfront altered my mindset entirely. In the best possible way.

Pono Kai is on the windward side of the island, so the seas are rough, and the wind can howl. It was obvious that despite the gorgeous view, we wouldn’t be swimming in this area, so rather than lying on the beach with a good book as planned, we decided to take a walk.

On the southeast edge of the Pono Kai Resort property, you come to a delightful foot bridge that spans Konohiki Stream. (Where I come from, this wide and deep waterway that wends its way from Kauai’s mountainous interior would be called a river, but who am I to judge?) On the other side of the foot bridge is Waipouli Park.

The footbridge itself has pineapple-themed railings and sculptures, and we soon discovered why. There was an informative sign that described Hawaiian Canneries, a factory that used to stand right on the Pono Kai property from 1913 to 1962. It played a huge part in the Kapa’a community, employing 295 full time workers and 1800 seasonal workers to grow and process pineapples. High school and college kids could count on a job every summer.

Suddenly I was looking at this place with new eyes. This wasn’t just a playground for tourists. It was a place where people worked for a living. It was a place once shaped by its pineapple crop, which was the second largest industry after sugarcane on these islands until tourism took over. It was a place where people took pride in their work, and a place where people dreamed about a brighter future. Here are some vintage photos I got from the Kaua’i Museum’s Facebook Group.

The Kaua’i Museum’s Facebook Group notes “the company finally folded in 1962 after announcing in Jan 1960 that they were planting their last crop. It was the first of the small packers to announce closure since the Depression… It was the largest pineapple plantation on Kauai with 295 full time workers and 1800 seasonal workers…[Upon closing] the company was even charged for moving and transportation costs associated with employees leaving the island or company housing.”

This heaping helping of history early on in my trip greatly enhanced my visit to Hawaii. Not only did I appreciate the stunning beauty of everything around me, but after that, I also made a point of digging deeper. I learned how the land was shaped, and how the Polynesians arrived and thrived on these islands. I learned about colonialism and how it altered the way people lived and worked, and how its existence brought new people to this place.

Standing on that footbridge on my first evening in Hawaii, my view of the place finally became more three-dimensional. I could see the resort (pictured below) as but one dimension. I could also see the cannery, flickering just beneath the surface tension that holds us all in the present. And that view enhances the value of the experience, forever altering it in the process.

Moving forward, I was more cognizant of the many factors that, for better or worse, have made this state what it is today. Now, when I think of Hawaii, I not only remember its beauty, but I also am overwhelmed with a desire to return and delve deeper into it’s intriguing past, present, and future.

If you’d like to dig deeper into the history of Kaua’i, I suggest that you check out the Kaua’i Historical Society’s website along with this page, which describes the history of Kauai’s Royal Coconut Coast.

If this little blog has broadened your horizons, check out my book!  http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Nāhuku and Its Origins

Nature is aweful.

Nature is awful. But it’s awful from back when awful meant “full of awe”. To fully appreciate this, you have to imagine what it was like for ancient people to gaze upon some wondrous natural phenomenon, before we had any grounding in science, and have absolutely no idea what caused it.

Imagine coming upon the Grand Canyon, Victoria Falls, Mount Everest, or the Great Barrier Reef and thinking, how? Our ancestors can’t be blamed for assuming that everything that wasn’t man made must be of a spiritual origin. And while my belief system differs greatly from theirs, I do enjoy hearing the old creation stories and imagining the various deities as living, breathing entities who shaped the earth in ways mankind never could.

That’s what was running through my mind as Dear Husband and I walked down through a rain forest full of fern trees and birdsong. We felt as if we had been transported to prehistoric times.

Our ultimate destination was Nāhuku, also known as the Thurston Lava Tube to those uninspiring name-changers of European descent. (They may not have been poetic, but hey, at least they were arrogant.)

One such white guy was Lorrin Thurston, a newspaper publisher who “discovered” this tube back in 1913. I’m actually grateful for this man, because he was instrumental in creating Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, where this particular lava tube is located. It’s only because of him that I was able to walk into said tube. But that doesn’t mean he gets to take credit for its very existence, as far as I’m concerned.

Even the National Park Service website makes it seem as though Thurston discovered this lava tube. Poppycock. It is estimated that this tube is 350 to 500 years old, and the Polynesians first arrived in Hawaii at least 1400 years ago. It’s safe to assume that they knew of this tube from the time it formed.

In fact, Nāhuku means “the protuberances” and probably refers to the lava drippings that used to hang down from the ceiling of the tube, until white people started breaking them off for souvenirs. What a shame. I’d have loved to have seen them. People suck. (I tried to find images of these drippings on the internet, but came up empty.)

Lava tubes are created when a river of molten lava with temperatures over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit travels along, and then eventually leaves an empty tube in its wake, as the outer edges cool and harden long before the flowing, orange-hot center does. That’s the scientific explanation. But scientists and ancient people can agree on this: No mere mortal is responsible for creating such an incredible formation.

According to Wikipedia, Ancient Hawaiians believed, and some of their descendants still believe, that the goddess Pele governs the Kilauea volcano, and is responsible for all its lava flows. It is she who shapes the sacred land. She is known for her power, passion, jealousy, and capriciousness. It is said that she lives in the caldera of Kilauea, but her domain is all the volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii.

I felt quite privileged to explore Nāhuku, which could be described as some of Pele’s most impressive handiwork. I have to say it’s still very cool, literally and figuratively. It’s located about a mile and a half past the park entrance, and there is limited parking, but we happened to luck out on the day. We walked through the 600-foot tube, which was well lit, and has ceilings that are more than 20 feet high in some places.

The site is actually open 24 hours a day, but it’s only lit from 8 am to 8 pm. I think walking through there at night with just a flashlight would have been exceedingly creepy, but it can be done. You used to be able to walk through another 50 yards of the tube which is always unlit, but now that portion is closed off. The whole tube was closed off for a time during the 2018 eruption, and closed again for a year during the height of the COVID 19 pandemic.

This was not my first lava tube, but it is my favorite so far. (Read about the one we visited in Oregon here.) As we wandered through this natural wonder, I thought about colonization and its arrogance, science and its value to our knowledge base, and the goddess Pele, who I will forever associate with the gorgeous painting below, which can be seen at the Volcano Art Center. (Or at least it could be seen there at the time of our visit. I wish I could have been the one to buy it.)

As we neared the other end of the lava tube, you might say that my mind was on fire with history, facts, and mythology, and I was struggling to process it all. I was tempted to turn around and walk back the way we came, just to give myself more time to think. Then a rat ran across my foot.

Nope. It was definitely time to go.

Fun fact: There’s also a “psychedelic, experiment surf instrumental band” called The Thurston Lava Tube. Interestingly, they hail from England. Their music is kind of fascinating, and a lot of it can be found on YouTube. Check out their cover of Bohemian Rhapsody, which gives the song an entirely new vibe.

Portable gratitude. Inspiring pictures. Claim your copy of my first collection of favorite posts! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Mountain Tubing in Kauai

I was thinking about what this place had been like when the sugarcane plantation was still there.

The first big adventure we had in Hawaii was mountain tubing through an old sugarcane plantation. There’s much to tell! The only reason I’ve been putting off this post is that I knew it was going to require a lot of research. I wasn’t looking forward to it. Read on to find out why.

First of all, the adventure itself was through Kauai Backcountry Adventures, the same company that we’d go ziplining with two days later. (Read more about that here.) I highly recommend this company if you have the good fortune to visit Kauai. Their guides are wonderful, and their website says that they have exclusive access to do excursions in Grove Farm, a 30,000 acre plantation that is currently owned by Steve Case, the former CEO of AOL.

We would be tubing through canals and irrigation ditches that were hand built back in 1870, originally to bring water down from the mountains to irrigate the sugarcane plantation in the flat lands below. It was a very innovative idea, and soon many other farms followed suit.

The ditches were very deep and often lined with stone. It was kind of like floating down a lazy river most of the time. It was mountain water, though, so it was brisk, to say the least. But we soon acclimated to the temperature, and it was quite nice.

We bounced down a short water slide at one point. There were a few stretches of rapids, but nothing that made you feel unsafe. We also shot through several large irrigation tunnels, so it was good that they had provided us with hard hats and lights. We went through there like bumper cars, spinning and colliding with the walls and with each other. They had us cross our ankles to avoid injury. It was very quickly evident why that was a good idea.

We also came upon this wall of rich Hawaiian clay, and the guide said it was kind of a tradition to paint your face with it, so I did… and nobody else did. I thought it made the experience more fun. But it also made me feel very self-conscious.

Here are a few of our videos. Some of our photos are below.

Afterwards they took us to a picnic area and provided us with a make-your-own-sandwich lunch. The entire farm is absolutely gorgeous, and we would have never had the opportunity to see it had it not been for these tours. The tour buses took us through locked gates, and we drove at least 30 minutes down bumpy roads on the farm to reach our destination.

The guides told us that it took a 20-foot stalk of sugarcane to make a teaspoon of sugar, and an entire acre to make a 5 pound bag. That didn’t sound like a very smart business model to me. Surely other crops would be more cost effective. This was where my research began.

The only thing I can find on the internet is that it takes 3 feet of sugarcane to make a teaspoon of sugar. That’s still not ideal, but since they do grow up to 20 feet tall, it’s a little more sustainable, at least. But given that there are approximately 412 teaspoons of sugar in a 5 pound bag, and we’re saying conservatively that you get 6 teaspoons per stalk, it would take about 69 stalks to make a 5 pound bag. I then discovered that you can plant around 15,000 stalks per acre, so it takes waaaaaay less than an acre to make that bag. I’m oddly relieved.

If you’re as nerdy as I am, and want to know Sugar’s Journey from Field to Table, the linked article explains it handily. But as I was floating along on my inner tube that day, I was thinking about what this place must have been like back when the sugarcane plantation was still up and running.

It was hard work in humid weather, working at one of these places. And I assumed, as I floated, that Hawaiian colonialism was the same as colonialism the world over. In other words, I was picturing the indigenous people being worked like slaves in miserable conditions. That made me sad.

I don’t know if this is good news or not, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, when sugarcane became Hawaii’s biggest money maker in the 1830’s, it seems that the bulk of the native population had already been wiped out by European diseases. Only 16 percent of the population survived, as compared to the numbers they had in 1775, and none of that reduced population was in the least bit interested in working on a sugarcane plantation, because they knew how to sustain themselves by farming and fishing.

It turns out that, instead, these plantations had to mistreat imported workers from Japan, China, the Philippines, Portugal and Puerto Rico. They were often indentured servants and were essentially slaves. The last sugarcane plantation, which had been attempting to use their product to make biofuel without much success, shut down in 2016, but really, sugarcane’s heyday ended with statehood in 1959, when tourism became the big “cash crop” of Hawaii. If you want to know more about the history of sugarcane in Hawaii, check out this article.

Now, let’s talk about Grove Farm in particular. In 1850, these royal Hawaiian lands were “purchased” by a European guy who I won’t even name, and it went from European to European until it was owned by the Wilcox family, also European, in 1864. It stayed in his family until 2000, when Steve Case bought it under rather sketchy circumstances.

It seems that by then there were so many Wilcox heirs that the place was managed by a governing board, and according to this piece in the Star Bulletin, that board told the heirs that the place was on the verge of bankruptcy, and they should sell it immediately. To the chairman’s son-in-law. The board claimed that the place was only worth 74.50 per share. The son-in-law was offering $125 per share, so it would have been a good deal if the numbers were accurate.

In fact, there had been no appraisals or business valuations conducted. A large enough percentage of the heirs voted against that sale to prevent it from going through. It was obvious that an official value of the property was needed. So the board came up with a list of potential valuation consultants, most of which were highly reputable. But in the end, they settled on a guy who, at the time, was in a work furlough program at a jail in Oahu. He was in there for theft.

Naturally, the guy screwed up the valuation, but said it was worth between $86 and $98 per share, which was more than the original estimate, at least. But Bank of Hawaii executives later said it was worth $138 to $150 per share. In the end, Steve Case paid $152 per share, so it was a good deal, more or less. But his father’s law firm had represented Grove Farm for decades, and the board had allowed him to represent both the farm and Steve Case during negotiations. Can you say conflict of interest?

But according to this article, in 2008 the court struck down the lawsuit that was brought by the shareholders. And so Steve Case is now the third largest landholder in Kauai. The vast majority of Hawaii is not owned by native Hawaiians. It’s heartbreaking to contemplate. It also makes me have limited sympathy for the Wilcox heirs, because every square inch of this land should be returned to the heirs of the native Hawaiians whom we tricked out of the land in the first place.

In light of that, it makes me sad that the tour guides on both our excursions, all young Hawaiian natives, said, proudly, that Steve Case has protected this land from development for the next 75 years. I had to do a lot of digging on that. I can’t find anything that confirms it. I’m sure the tour boss, the one whose business is allowed exclusive access to Grove Farm, wrote their script.

What I did find is that, of the 30,000 or so acres of the farm, Case applied to the Hawaii Land Use Commission to designate 11,048 acres of it as important agricultural lands. The reason is that he will be growing biofuels there. That was in 2013. Note that the last sugarcane plantation shut down in 2016 after attempting to do the very same thing, so that’s another odd situation.

One way or another, it’s safe to assume that Steve Case is still making a profit. And according to the Department of Agriculture, he’s going to get a huge tax break as well. So yes, this beautiful tract of land will remain agricultural, and that’s good. But I doubt this rich man’s motivations were entirely altruistic.

So there you have it. Nothing is quite as it seems. And that’s true especially on colonial islands. Mountain Tubing was indeed a blast, but I can’t seem to get the bitter taste out of my mouth that formed due to what I learned afterward.

Claim your copy of A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude today, and you’ll be supporting StoryCorps, too! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Mauna Kea

Look toward the future, but don’t trample upon the environment and the past.

Every single person we met who had visited the Big Island of Hawaii prior to our trip had the same suggestion: We should go to Mauna Kea. This volcano, which last erupted about 4,600 years ago, is now dormant. It is not expected to erupt again for many centuries. It is the highest mountain in the world at 33,476 feet, if you measure it from its base, which is well below sea level. Its peak is 13,803 feet above sea level. That’s really tall, no matter how you slice it. Because of that, the sunsets and stargazing and sunrises are unparalleled. So we added it to the itinerary.

The altitude is not for sissies. It’s highly recommended that if you plan to go up near the summit, you should stay for at least a half hour at the visitor center at the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy to get acclimated. This facility is named for Ellison Onizuka, an astronaut who was born in Hawaii and died in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. At 9,200 feet, it would be higher than I had ever been in my life without an airplane. Even Machu Picchu, the Inca citadel in Peru, is “only” at 7,970 feet, and many people who go there wind up requiring oxygen and immediate medical attention.

I didn’t relish the idea of altitude sickness, so I planned to follow all the rules. According to altitude.org, you have to breathe faster at high altitudes, in order to maintain the necessary amount of oxygen in your blood to preserve your vital organs. It’s important to drink a lot of water and not head up there on an empty stomach. Healthy people start entering the risk zone for altitude sickness at 8,200 feet.

And sure enough, during our 6 mile drive to the visitor center, I began to get really loopy. I got a headache. I started humming the theme song from Gilligan’s Island. (Ear worm! You’re welcome!) I have no idea why I landed on that particular song. I wasn’t making much sense, and the world around me felt exceedingly foreign. I got a little nauseous, and extremely sleepy. I’m glad Dear Husband was driving. I’ll never understand how people hike on trails up there. Madness.

Nerd that I am, I took our pulse oximeter on this trip. We purchased this handy tool in the early days of the COVID pandemic. It measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. Normally, I have a reading of about 97, give or take. But on this day, it dropped to 80. That’s a little scary.

It became increasingly clear that if this was how I felt before even arriving at the visitor’s center, I certainly was not going to make it to the summit. This would have been a crushing disappointment if it had been one of the 325 days per year that this area has clear skies. But no. We were socked in with fog and clouds, and in fact the authorities were about to decide to close the steep, unpaved road to the summit, because they were expecting a snowstorm up there. (If you’re planning to go the distance on this mountain, you need a 4 wheel drive, and for Pete’s sake, check the weather beforehand.)

No gorgeous sunset for us. No opportunity to view more stars than we had ever seen with the naked eye. No chance of gazing upon the mountain’s many astronomical observatories. (We’d have only been able to see them from the outside, anyway. The public isn’t allowed in, especially since the pandemic.)

As I sang about Gilligan’s fateful three hour tour, I was only able to form one coherent thought. I hoped I’d make it to a lower altitude before I threw up the delicious Kalua pork with cabbage that I had eaten just prior to the ascent. (I made it. Barely.)

Some other bits and bobs about Mauna Kea: Its summit is now home to the Mauna Kea Observatories, located at 13,796 feet above sea level. The thirteen existing telescopes are becoming increasingly controversial, because the “Astronomy Precinct” where they’re located is within land that’s protected by the Historical Preservation Act. This area is very culturally significant to native Hawaiians.

Mauna Kea is the most sacred summit in Hawaii. It is seen as the region of the gods. In ancient times, it was forbidden for all but the highest chiefs and priests to visit this place. The volcano represents the beginning of life on earth. 223 archeological sites have been identified here including 76 shrines, a few of which we had the privilege to see from a respectful distance. To this day, many rituals are still performed on Mauna Kea. Toward the very top, there is a bluish-green lake, and many Hawaiians have the tradition of taking the umbilical cord of a newborn child up the mountain to place it near Lake Waiau to symbolize the family’s connection to the Earth. Since the lake is considered to be the place where spirits enter and leave the world, many chiefs are buried near there.

Eight years ago, when it was revealed that there were plans for a Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) to be built on the mountain, a lot of protests broke out. Their concerns were not only for the desecration of the land, which was bad enough, but also for the potential damage to the fragile ecosystem and the contamination of the water supply. Thirty-three Hawaiian elders were arrested during a protest in 2019. The Supreme Court of Hawaii decided in 2018 that construction could continue, but that three smaller telescopes would need to be removed, and that the TMT would be the last telescope to be built on Mauna Kea.

I have mixed emotions about this controversy. I am a firm believer in science and in progress, and this is a prime location for telescopes. The air is thinner and drier and there is no light pollution, so we are able to get an unprecedented view of the galaxy, and that will teach us much. We’ll be able to gaze at parts of the universe that we’ve never seen before. The current telescopes on the mountain helped locate the first Super Earth. A group of scientists working on this mountain were awarded a Nobel Prize because of their research related to supernovae, dark energy, and the expansion of the universe. Those are valuable contributions to our knowledge base, and they will become increasingly valuable because we seem to insist on destroying this planet. (Don’t get me started.)

On the other hand, the wholesale theft of land on these islands, and their subsequent environmental devastation as evidenced by the disappearance of Mauna Kea’s forest on its lower slopes due to sheep and cattle ranching as well as sugar cane plantations, is a remnant of colonialism of which we should be ashamed. Viewed through that lens, the TMT is a symbol of the rampant injustices that have been visited upon native Hawaiians since the late 1700’s.  At what point to we start righting these wrongs?

I hope a compromise can be reached. Scientists, by nature, are very sensitive to the environment, and I’m sure they’d agree with the natives that they need to mitigate their impact wherever possible. At the same time, sacred sites and rituals must be preserved and protected. There should be certain guarantees that the people will directly benefit from the existence of this telescope. Through the compromises made on this mountain, we are reminded that it’s very important not to trample upon the environment and the past as you look toward the future.

Most of the photos from our visit are predominantly grey and uninspiring due to the inclement weather. Here are the few that seemed worth sharing. Believe me when I say that the one with me in it makes me look only about half as stoned as I felt. Purple haze, dude.

Additional Sources:

Travel vicariously through this blog. And while you’re at it, check out my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

“I Don’t Like SPAM!”

Some Spam trivia for you.

Mrs. Bun, played by Graham Chapman in the1970 Monty Python sketch called Spam, has my sympathies. I don’t like Spam either. I didn’t try it for decades, but knew I wouldn’t like it based on its ingredients. And it’s smell. And the gooey gel stuff that glurgs out when you remove the product from the can. (Shudder.)

Spam is made of pork shoulder (which is the most unpopular cut, so it’s kind of ingenious, processing it into unrecognizability and selling it in a can) and ham, and then they add sugar, LOTS of salt, potato starch as a binder and sodium nitrite as a preservative. The gooey gel stuff is a result of the meat being cooked in the can at the factory. Apparently.

In case you were wondering, that’s 609 calories per 7 ounce can, and 80 percent of those calories come from fat. That little can also contains 112 percent of your Reference Daily Intake of sodium. The possible side effects of eating Spam include:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea / vomiting
  • water retention / dehydration
  • swelling
  • edema
  • dizziness
  • stomach cramps
  • inflammation
  • weight gain
  • increased cholesterol
  • increased blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • cancer
  • diabetes (children)
  • damaged blood vessels
  • decreased oxygen flow in body

Still, when Spam was created, it was a godsend throughout the world. It came out in 1937 just as the world was on the brink of a devastating world war. (If you think the supply chains are screwed up during this pandemic, try getting your steak and toilet paper during the deadliest conflict in human history.)

Spam is convenient. It’s easy to transport. It’s relatively inexpensive. It has a long shelf life (3-5 years depending upon conditions), and it’s fully cooked, so it can be eaten without any additional preparation if you have no other choice.

In times of war, troops and war-torn communities are desperate for food. They don’t care where their protein comes from, as long as they get it. Gross food is better than no food at all. Under those circumstances, I have no doubt that Spam has saved many people from starvation.

Having said that, though, you’d think the world would have outgrown this health bomb in a can. But in fact, it still thrives. It even comes in a variety of flavors such as Spam Hot & Spicy and Spam Hickory Smoked. There was even a limited edition Spam Pumpkin Spice in 2019, which is said to have sold out within a few hours.

The reason I’m even thinking about Spam is that I recently came back from a trip to Hawaii, where this product is extremely popular. Just check out the Spam aisle of an Oahu grocery store if you don’t believe me. Talk about a shelf presence.

It is estimated that every Hawaiian man, woman, and child consumes an average of 5 cans of the stuff every year. It was first brought to the island by American troops during WWII, and since these islands are so isolated, the convenience of this product has continued to have its appeal. There’s even an annual Spam Jam in Waikiki.

There is also a Spam festival in Austin, Minnesota where the stuff is produced. Austin is also the home of the national Spam recipe competition. And if you’re ever in that neck of the woods, you might want to check out the Spam Museum. It’s free.

Some interesting Spam trivia for you:

  • Because Spam is basically everywhere, its name was co-opted to describe those annoying, pointless emails that clog up your inbox.
  • Wikipedia mentions a Spam Cam that is supposed to be an internet camera trained on a can of decaying Spam, but when I googled it, all that came up was a way to make a pinhole camera using its container. Go figure.
  • Dr. David Khorram, who also happens to be a very talented and humorous writer in my humble opinion, wrote two articles in 2006 for the Saipan Tribune when he was working in the Marianas Islands. Their subject was the horrible nutritional value of a product that he was forced to call an “infamous processed meat brand that starts with ‘S’ and ends with ‘M, and rhymes with ‘Pam” because, according to Wikipedia, the company that makes said product “threatened to sue the local press for publishing articles alleging the ill-effects of high Spam consumption on the health of the local population.I would laugh at the absurdity of this if, in fact, Spam wasn’t having those ill effects. But knowing that info makes it a little less funny. Still, I urge you to read Dr. Khorram’s two articles in the Saipan Tribune. The links are below.
  • For further laughs, check out the book Spam-Ku: Tranquil Reflections on Luncheon Loaf, which includes 150 Spam-themed haiku for your reading pleasure. Then hop over to Vimeo to watch a funny 4 minute video about a sad guy who discovers he’s won the Spam-ku contest and anticipates that his life is going to change for the better. A guy can dream, can’t he?

Okay. I’m prepared to admit that a lot of people actually like Spam. I can’t say that I understand why, but you do you, as the saying goes. Finally, about a year ago, I tried it, just to say I did. I discovered that my instincts were correct all along. I found it to be disgusting. But your results may vary.

Sources:

Like this quirky little blog? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5