Monthly Archives: March 2012

Hawaiian Adventures – Nightclubs and partying

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Since Waikiki is such a tourist town, there are dozens of nightclubs up and down the main street… much like Las Vegas or Atlantic City, but with beaches. The atmosphere itself isn’t honestly much different from what I got used to living in a freshmen dorm at college – as my friends and I walked down the street looking for dinner we heard parties raging all around us, and even got into a few shouted conversations with people leaning over hotel railings. It was spring-break all over again; fitting, since I believe that week actually is spring break for a few colleges, if the number of drunken frat / sorority members is any indication.

But nights on the town in Waikiki were quite good, even with the large number of drunkards around. You see… as Physics 101 taught me, “everything’s relative”. As in, if you’re the sober one, and blessed with just a wee bit of insanity, hanging around drunk people can be hysterical. And when a whole group of those drunk people are your Swedish friends, who used to be in the Swedish Military and are convinced that they can drink harder than anyone else in existence… well, lets just say that a night on the town can take a whole new meaning.

These guys were amazing party partners – We had already spent most of that night hanging out and trading stories, so by the time we headed out we all knew each other semi-well (Ed Note: It’s a unique thing about hostels, You know someone for 2 hours and suddenly you’re partying as if you’d known each other since pre-school). First up we checked out a burger joint right across the main street from our hostel – a rather iconic place called “Da Big Kahuna”.

Now, as anyone who’s seen Pulp Fiction knows, an extremely tasty burger is to be found at “Da Big Kahuna”… but what you may not realize is that this burger is actually named “Da Big Kahuna Burger”, and it’s a freaking massive stack of saturated fat and death… a massive stack that tastes like a rather well sized slice of heaven. And with this burger? Well, that’s where I remembered the best part about spring break – the insane discounts on alcohol. A Mai Tai for $2? Yes please! And I even tied the stem into a knot with my tongue… all the guys made fun of me until they realized that the women at the table were now all competing to see who could replicate my feat the fastest. Mmhmm… win.

For the rest of the night we wandered around, checking out the clubs and bars, the tiki lounges and the more relaxed joints. Of the night, I have to say that the best moment was hanging out in an old-school Irish bar, chatting with the only other New Englander in the entire place about how the bar was billed as an “authentic Irish baahh” complete with all the best furnishings, and yet the bartenders needed to be reminded what a Black & Tan is. The worst moment was about two hours later, when we’re hanging out a lounge with a huge number of well-dressed women… and then reading a flashing sign on the bar reading “Lo Jax! Honolulu’s #1 Tranny Bar 5 years in a row!” … Yeah. Was not happy with the girls who had brought us there. And seriously… worst Mai Tai’s ever. Horrid drinks.

The best side-story of the night comes from one of the ladies who was wandering around with us – it turns out that she was only 20, and had obtained a fake ID while still in Europe for just the occasion of drinking in the USA (FBI / CIA Operatives – I don’t know her name, and I don’t condone this action. Give me a call, maybe we can find this horrible person together… I get spy-gear, right? Right. Clearly). However, this ID was from a country that doesn’t exist: “the eastern republic of East Franzia” or something to that effect. The first bouncer at a place called “Senor Frogs” took one look at it, didn’t recognize the country, and pulled out his smart phone. After being unable to find the place on Google, he called her out and sent us all on our way. Seriously… that is one awesome bouncer. Annoying, but seriously a pretty boss guy to actually check to see if a country is legit.

Hawaiian Adventures – Pearl Harbor

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While I was in Waikiki I annoyingly ran into the same problem that so many residents seem to run into; the “I have time, I’ll just go later” syndrome. Since I was going to be in Honolulu for an entire week, I spent the first few days relaxing on the beach and wandering around town figuring that I’d go to see the sights later on, before I left.

Thankfully I did finally get myself to Pearl Harbor, though it took nearly two hours on the bus to get there. The total distance traveled on the bus, you ask? Ten miles. Seriously. I could have nearly walked there in the time the bus took – I think the combination of traffic, stopping every fifty feet, and never stopping for less than 2minutes were really the nail in the coffin of getting there in any reasonable amount of time.

But thankfully I had expected that the bus would take between a long time and forever, and so I had brought myself some music, a few things to read, and even a snack of the ride. Soon enough I was walking through the front gates (after checking my bags… welcome back to the US of Security), and resuming my wandering course. The Pearl Harbor Memorial has been, from what I can tell, expanded recently into the full “Valor in the Pacific” memorial, and hence has dozens of small memorials and interesting little displays… I spent nearly 20min just going through the types of torpedos that were used by US Subs in the pacific theater.

Unfortunately my wandering path through the site didn’t bring me to the “you need tickets to see the main memorials” section until it was so late that I could only see one of the “big three”: the memorial to the Arizona, the memorial to the Oklahoma, and the Battleship Missouri. Of the three, I decided that the Arizona was clearly the most iconic, and so I picked up a ticket and headed over to the tour-start-spot-place.

All of the major memorials in Pearl Harbor are guided tours, I learned, and the tour for the Arizona started off with a video giving the story behind the attack on Pearl Harbor, a bit of history on World War II, and the basics of what happened after the attack. It was actually quite interesting, and although it was obviously very pro-American I learned a bit of information that I hadn’t known before, and definitely found myself feeling a huge sense of respect for all the combatants.

After the video, we were all ushered (more like herded) onto a tour boat that took us over to the actual USS Arizona Memorial. Since the wreck of the Arizona still rests where it was lain so many years ago, there is no standing stone or other monument to the ship on land. Instead, the ship itself now serves as both a memorial to the ship and its crew, and a tomb for the same. Above the ship is berthed a white hall that us tourists could walk onto, to look out over what remains of what was the flagship of the US Pacific Fleet… and there’s actually a good amount to see. Two of the turrets can still be seen, as well as one of the observation masts; but more tellingly there is a near-permanent oil slick trailing off from the hulk. From what the Park Ranger told us, there was nearly 1.25million barrels of oil on the Arizona when it sank, and its only leaking out at a rate of 1-2 barrels a day – not enough to warrant desecrating the wreck in order to clean it up.

Getting to walk above the Arizona was interesting, and the marble slab showing the names of all of those entombed in its hull was very impressive, but to be honest the part of the memorial that moved me the most was a small piece of information that the Park Ranger told us before herding everyone back onto the tour boat. The day that the Arizona exploded (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Arizona_(BB-39)#Magazine_explosion for details on her death) not every crew member was aboard the ship… and those who were not have questioned why they didn’t die when all of their closest friends did.

See, from what the ranger explained, the sailors who served aboard a ship as large as the Arizona would generally only socialize with each other – thus when the ship went down those few who survived were left nearly alone in the world. However, recently the Navy commission started an “entombment” program for those survivors. When they die, their remains are cremated and actually placed inside the hull of the Arizona by Navy divers, in order to join their comrades. Their name is then etched into the memorial slab with those who died that day. It’s interesting, and rather moving that people would prefer that burial to being placed with their biological families.

But soon enough the tour was over, and I was heading back on the boat to shore. I was just in time to get about half an hour worth of exploring the memorials and museum exhibits before the whole area closed for the night (seriously… what national monument closes at 5:30 on a Saturday?). Most of the displays were about what the film had already gone over in more detail, but what really drew my attention were the museum pieces – some of the Anti-Air guns from the Oklahoma, M1 Garands from the Army bases, and even the remains of a Japanese torpedo that had been recovered only a few years before. From the story on the plaque, a dredging crew found the unexploded torpedo while clearing the shipping channel, and then handed it over to the Navy for safe disposal. After it was detonated the remains, and they were quite well intact, were mounted in the museum for viewing. Impressive, to say the least, that a 50+ year old torpedo was still operational.

Hawaiian Adventures – SCUBA Diving

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On my second day in Waikiki, I had seen a sign advertising $100 SCUBA trips, and then again on the fourth day I saw a sign bragging about the best SCUBA tours on the island. I had been talking to my friend Kasia earlier that day, and she had been reminding me about some of her adventures SCUBA diving in New England, such as that one time that she got chased across the ocean floor by a 5lb (~1.kg) lobster. Thus, when I saw the second sign, I knew that it was a sign (hehe), and I had to schedule a dive.

I called the number up, called a second and a third number, and finally was directed to a dive shop that was running trips for beginners. The problem with all of the other ones was that they were based off of the North Coast, the coast that was currently being smashed by gigantic winter-wind-whipped-waves. Thus, they couldn’t take a boat out, much less send inexperienced divers over the side.

Thankfully there was a dive crew out of Waikiki, and soon enough I had a dive scheduled for the next day, when a shuttle would pick me up from the hotel just like the VIP that I clearly was. I quickly learned that the shuttle was more of a necessity than simply a courtesy – there was a lot that I had to learn about SCUBA before I was even allowed on the boat; there was honestly even a flip chart that I had to memorize, with the help of an amazing instructor named Mel. She went over all of the equipment with me, explained what not to do, and explained that she’d be diving right next to me the whole time, so that if anything went wrong she’d be there to fix whatever I had done wrong.

My first dive was one of the scariest things that I’ve done in my life, and if you’ve read this blog at all then you know some of the insane things that I’ve done. In all of my climbing or backpacking adventures though, I’ve always had the option of simply sitting down and waiting though – never before had I found myself in an environment that was utterly inhospitable to non-augmented human life. Without my respirator, I would last less than 5min in that ocean, and that single fact scared me, a lot. But once I got used to the idea that I could actually breath through this small hose, and that I would in fact be getting enough oxygen for my brain to work somewhat normally, I started to actually enjoy myself a lot.

The first dive started out with a quick “skills course”, where we stayed near to the boat and went over the basics of diving that Mel had taught me with the aid of the flip chart. First up was simply breathing, followed by clearing my mask of water if it somehow filled up, after which we actually dived underwater to go over the “how to get your respirator back if it comes loose” training, and reviewed the “never hold your breath” rule, along with how to equalize pressure in your ears and mask as we descended.

Once all of the basic skills were checked and clear, we followed the Mooring line downwards into the deeps. The first thing I noticed once I looked down (I had been steadfastly staring at Mel the entire time before we started down, for fear that I wouldn’t be able to see the bottom) was how clear the water was. I could, from the main mooring line, clearly see the bottom of the ocean 35 feet down and had no trouble spotting the many schools of fish that stayed nearby the boat as it crashed across the waves. That in itself was amazing to me – what a small boat looks like from underwater as it rides over the waves. What I thought was slow and graceful while I was on the boat turned out to be violent and thrashing from underwater.

As we descended into the deep I had to pop my ears nearly once every three feet, but we did finally make it to the ocean floor. I started out by just practicing swimming around – an interesting piece of information about SCUBA diving is that, while actually down there, you don’t use your hands to paddle. Instead, you keep them clasped in front and simply use your feet and fins to power you through the deeps. It took a bit to get used to this idea, but soon enough I was following Mel through the whole area, checking out the craters and coral. We even saw two Sea Turtles while down there, though I only got a good picture of one.

The first dive was short though, since we had spent so much time going over the basics near the surface, and so soon we were going back upwards, towards the violently crashing boat. The first thing I noticed about the surf was the coloration – for some reason it seemed to be made of millions of little crystals, instead of the waving sheets of glass that it had been made of when we descended. I realized why as soon as we reached the surface – it was raining. From the bottom we could see the ran pattering against the surf, and I’ll admit that it came close to taking my breath away… even with the breathing mask attached.

The other thing, aside from the rain patterns, was the cold. It was freezing near the surface, and when I got back onto the boat it wasn’t any better… in fact the cold made my previously minor sea-sickness even worse. I don’t know if it was the cold, the rougher surf, or a combination of those and the cold, but either way I was not doing well when I finally got myself up onto our wee little boat. I held myself together pretty well until we reached the second dive-site, but there I finally lost it and started puking over the side of the boat.

Now, I’m not one to get seasick or airsick or even carsick; I can actually read in the backseat of a car quite easily. But at that moment my stomach just didn’t care, and it was booking no thoughts other than “I am going to die now”. Thankfully the guides had some bottles of water on board, and thanks to that and a lot of staring at the horizon I was able to get myself right just in time for the second dive.

And this time, I had no problem dropping off the side of the boat into the ocean. Anything to get me off of that rocking hellscape, and since Mel and I had already gone over the basics we were down at the ocean floor in less than 5min of leaving the boat. The thing about the seafloor is that you can still feel the waves, but instead of moving up and down, the waves are moving towards and away from the shore. And side-to-side isn’t nearly as bad on my inner ear it seems, since I was quickly feeling up to charting my own course around the area. Mel stayed right next to me of course, and gave me the basic direction to go in, but I was able to stay behind for a bit to check out a pretty piece of coral, or shoot ahead over the flat bits to look into a small sea-cave off to the side. It was completely amazing, and I was loving every second of it.

One of my favorite moments of the second dive, or really of the entire trip, happened just at the lip of one of the “cliffs” that we were exploring. Mel and I were in a crater, and up on the edge I thought I saw someone sitting down… naturally I thought it was one of the members of the other group, and so I headed over hoping to see part of their open-water certification test. Getting closer I noticed a whole school of fish right around them, and thought to myself “Hey, how’d they get fish so close? Did someone throw up?” (Ed Note: Fish simply love puke. Right after Ben threw up over the side of the ship a massive school of… somethings… swam up right under the boat. Everyone thanked him for bringing them over… Ben of course didn’t notice at the time) As I got closer I finally saw the person for who they were: a statue. A large stone statue, carved in the likeness of an ancient Hawaiian warrior, had been sunk down into the dive area, and now had a small coral reef attached to it that the fish were feeding off of. I took a picture, which is still my favorite shot of the entire day.

The rest of the dive consisted of a ton of small reefs, a whole series of small canyons, maybe 1 or two meters (3-6 feet) deep, tons of fish, coral, and even a few more sea turtles. It was completely excellent, and I actually started to feel almost natural moving myself around with only my fins. Mel and I explored the whole area, though I’m sure she already knew it by heart, and I even kept my lunch together pretty well. Unfortunately I was starting to notice the cold of the ocean though, and so I’ll admit that I wasn’t completely sad to get out of the water when we were finished. In total we spent nearly 45min deep underwater on the second dive, compared to the 25min of the first dive, and by the time we got back to the boat I was definitely ready for my warm towel.

After the short trip back to the docks (yes, I held my stomach in check just fine, thank you very much) we unpacked the gear, put on normal clothes, and went through the dive books for the certified people. Then, we hit McDonald’s. Yep… there’re tons of McDonald’s in Honolulu too, unfortunately… but fortunately for my health and digestion I was still feeling much too sick to eat. In fact, it wasn’t until after a two hour nap and two bottles of ginger ale that I finally felt up for a hotdog, let alone of a full meal. But it was 100% worth it to learn the basics of SCUBA… and I promised myself that I’d be diving again soon. Or, just as soon as I could afford it again.