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Josiah's Hawaii Travelogue 8
December 14, 2017 - January 16, 2018
Hawaii Travelogue 7
December 14th (Thursday): Traveling to Hawaii
Connie and I were always planning to go back to Hawaii for winter vacation. I even had a bunch of frequent flier miles I could cash in for tickets. Unfortunately, that made it a bit more complicated than it needed to be, especially considering how expensive flights can be during winter break. In the end, Connie and Zack actually left a week earlier than me (it was a cheaper ticket plus they didn't have to hang around to give final exams) and I headed off a few days earlier than I probably should have to avoid a huge ticket price spike. But all the tests and presentations were done, and I can grade things from anywhere with a good internet connect.
Anyway, thanks to using those miles, I didn't get the greatest flights. The timing wasn't bad, but I had to change planes twice (three flights total) and one connection was extremely tight. Fortunately, there were enough other people trying to make that connection that they actually delayed the fight 10 or 15 minutes, giving us enough time to make a mad dash through the airport to the gate. It was a bit crazy but, in the end, I successfully made my connects, and left the mainland behind. After that it was just clouds and ocean until I landed on Oahu. Surprisingly, my luggage made all the connections as well so I rejoined my family, ready to begin my vacation.

December 15th - 23rd (Friday - Saturday): Hanging Out in Honolulu
This vacation is more about relaxing than sightseeing so I'm not going to be writing as much as on some trips. And I had to spend half of my first week grading final projects anyway. That said, it's still been pleasant so far.
For starters, my parents moved into a new, larger condo across the street from their old one (so there's room if my and my brother's family visit at the same time). While I liked their old condo a lot, the new one is even better and has an awesome view.
Zack seems to enjoy the beach, both the water and the sand. My mom even has him taking a baby swimming class.
While I haven't had time to fully explore yet, it's interesting walking around Honolulu after being away for a year and a half and seeing what has and hasn't changed. A lot of my favorite shops and restaurants are still around, though some have sadly disappeared. On the bright side, there's some great new places like Nojo, which has excellent chicken hot pots and ramen, along with awesome shave ice (it ranks up there with Island Vintage as the best shave ice I've ever had).
Some new shopping areas that were still under construction when I left have been finished as well. The new International Marketplace lacks the old, kinda kitchy charm of the original, but it's really nicely designed and has some good restaurants. I may write about it in more detail in the future. There's also Yokocho, the new Japanese food court in the basement of one of the shopping buildings on Waikiki. I've only had time for a quick look so far, but it seems to have some cool stuff.
So that's been my time in Honolulu so far, a lot of work (which is now pretty much done), spending time with my family (especially Zack), and doing a bit of exploring nearby. But we'll be doing some more interesting activities later on and I'll have some write ups for them and possible some other things, along with my thoughts on being back in Hawaii.

Random Hawaii Comment: Returning to Hawaii
It's a little odd coming back to Hawaii this time. I mean, I lived here until a year and a half ago and, while I've been pretty happy with things in Virginia, I'm still rather sore (to put it mildly) about the circumstances that caused me to leave Hawaii in the first place. And I have to admit, I've spent a little time thinking of exactly what I'd say if I happen to run into a certain person...
That said, returning to a familiar area is always kind of fun. Especially an area that I really like. I enjoy visiting different places I used to frequent and seeing what's changed and what's stayed the same. In terms of shops and restaurants, I'm pretty happy with the changes, though a few places I really liked have disappeared. Over all though, I think the new stuff outweighs the losses. Outside of that, however, things have mostly stayed the same. While that's good when it applies to things like the weather, general culture, and the like, it also means that none of the island's major problems have really been addressed. The light rail (though a good idea) is still an over budget, mismanaged mess that's ridiculously behind schedule. The homeless issue hasn't really improved in the least (if anything, it might be slightly worse than when I left). And the government still can't even get potholes filled in a reasonable amount of time. There's also a certain amount of melancholy when visiting the beach, a favorite restaurant, or the like that I really miss having regular access to. Or when I see something new and think about how great it would have been to have around when I actually lived here...
I still really like Oahu, and I love spending time here. So, at least as long as my parents have this condo, I think I'll be coming back fairly regularly. Would I live here again? That's a bit tougher. Maybe, though it's such a complicated and expensive move that I'd have to be extremely certain about the job. Once burned, twice shy, and all that. And I'm not sure much of anything could give me any sort of trust in, or positivity about, the university system or the state government in general. But, on a vacation like this, as long as my family and I are enjoying ourselves, that's all that matters.

December 24th (Sunday): The Aiea Loop Trail
This trail was on my to-do list for quite a while when I was living in Hawaii, though I never got around to it. But, when looking for a hike to do with the whole family, it seemed like a good fit being moderate length but not especially difficult (nothing tricky or especially steep). Especially since Connie and I aren't at our best right now in terms of physical fitness (taking care of a baby has left a lot less time for proper exercise).
We started at the upper part of the loop and set off through the trees. For the most part, it was a pretty flat hike, except for one decent followed by a not overly steep or long climb towards the end. While not one of the most scenic Oahu hikes I've been on, you go through a surprising variety of vegetation along the way. White trees, pine forest, bamboo, shady tunnels, and more. We also got a good view of the H3 highway. Over all, it was a pleasant hike and neither Connie nor I had any real trouble with it. That was encouraging, but we both still really need to get back in shape before our big summer trip...
After we finished the loop, we got a somewhat late lunch over at Little Sheep (Chinese hot pot) before walking around the Ward Center a bit. On the down side, they're demolishing a large chunk of it (which I rather liked) to build more condos. On the plus side, they did add a kind of neat new area in the back.
We took it easy after that, though I did slip out at night to check out the Christmas Eve festivities near Waikiki, making for a pleasant end to the day.

December 31st (Sunday): Ko'olina and Kapolei
We didn't have anything in particular to do on the 31st, so my mom suggested going to to Ko'olina to spend some time at the lagoons. It made for a pleasant morning, and Zack had a lot of fun on the beach. I got to do a little snorkeling as well. Admittedly, I was never that impressed with the Ko'olina lagoons as a snorkeling spot. It doesn't really compare to Oahu's top snorkeling areas such as Electric Beach and Shark's Cove. That said, it was a bit better than I remembered. I saw a decent variety of fish, and it's a really easy place to snorkel, so that's a plus.
Later in the day, we stopped by Kapolei's new mall, which I'd be wanting to see. It's an outdoor mall situated near the UHWO campus and the end of the rail line (whenever that actually gets done), though said line weirdly ends around half a mile away from the mall itself. I'm not sure what the logic is there... Anyway, it's a fairly nice mall, with movie theater, a decent restaurant selection, and plenty of stores (though mostly not the type I shop at). I wouldn't say it's worth driving out there from Honolulu just to visit the mall, but it's certainly great for people who live or are staying on that side of the island (Ko'olina, Kapolei, Ewa Beach, etc.). The main reason I wanted to visit is because I'd been rather eagerly awaiting its opening back when I lived here, since it would have only been a 5 - 10 minute drive from my house. And it certainly would been convenient to have around. Sigh...
Anyway, we eventually made it back to Honolulu and spent the rest of the day hanging out. Though I eventually headed down to the beach to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks show on Waikiki Beach. It was a good show, though it didn't really feature anything I hadn't seen before. One cool thing though, which I didn't really notice in past years, was that I could looks down the coast and see lots of other fireworks shows taking place in the distance. They were fairly far off, but it still made for a neat effect. And with that, 2017 was brought to a close.

January 1st (Monday): The Polynesian Cultural Center
I've already been to the Polynesian Cultural Center several times, and written about it two or three times as well, so I'm not going to go into too much detail here. But anyway... A lot of stuff closes on New Year's Day and my mom wanted to work in a last trip to the cultural center before her membership ran out, so she, Connie, Zack, and I headed down there for the day.
The center hadn't really changed much since the last time I was there, and I'd already seen all the main shows, but I did get to look inside some buildings that I hadn't before and check out a couple of the smaller presentations. One, for example, was on how to make coconut oil. It's actually just a couple of extra steps added to the process of making coconut milk. What surprised me was that you only get a table spoon or so of oil per coconut. I can't imagine how many it takes to make the big containers of the stuff that I buy at Costco...
One thing about the PCC that does seem to get a bit better every time I visit is the food and drink options. We actually thought about staying after the main park closed for the luau (which I haven't done) but, unfortunately, they were booked solid due to the holiday. Still, it was a moderately fun day, despite the familiarity.

January 3rd (Wednesday): Breakout Waikiki
Back when I was living in Hawaii, I actually toyed with the idea of setting up an escape room, either as a commercial project or a sort of fun university activity for my game design students. Well, due to everything that happened, I was never able to do that, but some people clearly had similar ideas and there are now several escape room places around the island.
If you're not familiar with escape rooms, the basic idea is that a group of people (usually around 6 - 8) is locked in a themed room and have to solve a bunch of puzzles in order to unlock the door before the time limit (generally 1 hour). I love escape rooms and mentioned the possibility of going to one here a while back. In the end, Connie and I, my parents, some friends of theirs, and Zack teamed up and reserved a room for ourselves. Not that Zack helped, but he was able to ride along in his carrier without a problem.
We went to Breakout Waikiki, which is in King's Village by Waikiki Beach. Why that one? Partly due to the convenient location, and partly because it has the biggest selection of rooms. We chose one called The Hatch, which was loosely based off of Lost. Without spoiling anything, I think it's the best real world escape room I've done so far. It had a good variety of puzzles, none of which were especially failure prone, and don't come across as too gimmicky either.
So how'd we do? Since my game design knowledge and my escape room experience (real and digital) gives me a leg up on these type of things, I spent a lot of time running from puzzle to puzzle getting the others started and helping them out when they were stuck. And, of course, solving a few myself. Though everyone contributed strongly at various points, so it was hardly a one man show. That said, with so many things going on, I didn't feel like I couldn't always go as fast as I needed to given the time limit, which might have bottlenecked things a bit here and there. In the end, we didn't quite finish the room, though were came close. We were on the final puzzle when the time ran out. I do have to say that it was two or three difficulty levels above everything else in the room (posing a bit of a balancing issue), but I think that we probably would have solved it given another 5 - 10 minutes. Over all, I was pretty happy with our performance (minus a couple of dumb mistakes), and had a lot of fun. I really should try and do some more of the escape rooms in Virginia some time and I'd still like to try my hand at designing one..

January 4th (Thursday): Climbworks Zipline Tour
I started doing high ropes and ziplines as a kid back in Colorado, but one thing that has changed since those days is the introduction of the zipline tour. Basically, instead of just doing one zipline, a zipline tour involves spending two or three hours doing a series of ziplines, usually with some other activities inbetween. The last time I did one was actually in Hawaii as well, but many years ago on a different island (Kauai). Zipline tours only came to Oahu few years ago but now there's two or three of them. That aside, my mom thought it would be fun for Connie and I, so she got us tickets as a birthday present of sorts.
Climbworks is on a farm on the north side of the island. My mom took Zack off to play, and Connie and I joined another couple and a Japanese family and set off for the ziplines. The first was a sort of intro line right by the entrance. Probably to make sure no one freaks out before starting the tour proper. After that, we hopped on an ATV and headed to the top of a nearby hill. From that point on, it was ziplines and walkways all the way down. Inbetween, there were a few talks about the farm (they grow bananas, tomatoes, and Vietnamese curry leaf) and the north shore in general, along with some obstacles (drops, climbs, and swaying rope bridges). I'm pretty used to these things, but this was only Connie's second time on a zipline. Fortunately, she did fine and we both had a lot of fun. The ziplines passed over forests, valleys, and the farm itself. One even went through a short canyon (though it's kind of hard to tell from the photo), which was really cool. I don't think this one was quite as good as the zipline tour I took back on Kauai, but that's a different island and the Climbworks tour is a lot of fun. If you don't mind heights, and are looking for something fun to do on the north shore, give it a try.
We finished up the day at the Kailua farmer's market, which is more or less on par with the Blaisdell one in regards to food selection. Definitely worth a visit if you're in the area Thursday evenings.

January 5th - 13th (Friday - Saturday): Taking it Easy...Sorta
After packing lots of stuff into the week after New Year's, we ended up taking it easy for our last full week in Hawaii. We walked around, ate out, spent time at the pool and the beach, and the like. Just the kind of fun relaxing stuff that always made Oahu such a fun place to live. One highlight was watching the sunset (and the crabs) at one of my favorite spots on Waikiki Beach, which is always a nice way to close out a day. Another was burying Zack in the sand, which he really enjoyed. While I often like cramming in as much sightseeing as possible on my trips, sometimes it's nice to just take it easy, especially when I'm in a familiar area.
Actually there was one incident (which you may have heard about on the news) that involved an emergency alert sent out across the islands warning of an incoming missile strike. I was pretty skeptical from the start, but some people really got freaked out and everything ground to a halt for a little while. Turns out it was a false alarm, supposedly caused by someone pushing the wrong button. You'd think that the system would be designed a bit better than that but this is the Hawaiian state government we're talking about... Though, I could also think of at least a couple of reasons someone may have wanted to send out a false alert on purpose... What's worse is that, even though the government knew it was a false alarm almost immediately, it took them nearly 40 minutes to send out a new alert saying so. Supposedly, they didn't have the right software installed. Now, I don't know what their alert system is like but, as a tech guy, that sounds pretty dubious to me. Then again, this is the Hawaiian State Government (which, in case you didn't notice, I have a very low opinion of due to my time living here)... They're looking into ways to prevent something like that happening again, though it seems that the employee at fault (assuming the whole story is true) won't be getting fired, just reassigned, which seems a little light considering how much chaos he caused and how much worse it could have been. Anyway though, nothing really happened and that's that I guess.

January 14th (Sunday): Whale Watching
We had talked about going on a whale watching boat a few weeks ago but nothing ever came of it. But then my mom heard from some people who had gone and seen a lot of whales and decided we should give it a try. There's a lot of whale watching boats around, but we ended up going on The Star of Honolulu, which has been around for ages and also does dinner cruises. As a side note, whales only hang out in Hawaii for several months, coming down to get away from the cold winters up north. So if you want to see them, you have to time your visit
The weather was great. We set off and soon were treated to some great views of the coast. We actually ran into our first whale pretty quickly, and saw a steady stream of them from then on. The boat did a good job of following the whales around and the crew chimed in with some occasional whale and Hawaii facts. And, when there were breaks in the whales, I could always watch the parasailers. The boat also had a buffet (though we ate before we went), a few little Hawaiian culture activities, and was pretty kid friendly. That said, after getting Zack to sleep (which took a little doing), I spent pretty much the entire time up on the top deck looking for whales and enjoying the view. At two and a half hours, it was a fairly long trip, but didn't quite feel "too long" either.
While going on a larger boat is a bit more laid back than a small cruiser, it is more comfortable and allows for more amenities. If you want a relaxing whale watching trip, I'd say that The Star of Honolulu is a pretty good choice. They even give you a free return ticket if you don't see any whales. Connie, my mom, and I all enjoyed it and it was a nice way to spend one of our final days in Hawaii.

January 16th: Heading Home
Our time in Hawaii came to an end sooner than I would have liked. Time really flew. But it was a great trip and I got to do all the stuff I most wanted to do. Our flights back got rescheduled a few times, but in the end the we got a relatively ok set. There really isn't too much to talk about when it comes to the trip back itself.
So how was it being back in Hawaii? Well, the trip gave me a taste of what it would have been like if we had never left. And yeah, I still really love it there. The climate, the culture, the beaches, mountains, all the special events, the food... And, most of all, having my family around. Of course, this trip also reminded me of some of the things I didn't like about living in Hawaii, like the state government and the serious homeless problem. Still, the end of this trip hit me a little hard. Both for myself and for Zack, who really enjoyed both the beach and spending time with his grandparents. I'm not sure if I'll ever live in Hawaii again. Even if I have the opportunity, I can't say for sure if I'd take it. But I am really glad that, so long as my parents' have their place here, I'll have plenty of opportunities to return.

Hawaii Travelogue 7

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