4/28 (Saturday) The alarm started blaring at 6:00 am. Wait, that's not the alarm; that's another one of those F*****G roosters! Hubby groans and stuffs the pillow over his head. Too many Coconut Porter's the night before. Our last morning in Kauai has begun and it's gonna be a short one. We have a 8:30 am flight to catch.
We eat a bowl of cereal, take out the garbage, double-check to make sure that we have EVERYTHING and then start lugging all the luggage (2 large suitcases, 2 carry-ons, a backpack, a duffel, my bottomless Coach purse and, of course, my 3 floppy hats) up the hill toward the parking lot. We procrastinated again and are both a little concerned about time and traffic. My knee has started to recover by this point but I am still struggling with the luggage and Hubby with his long legs is way ahead. It is misting, but my three hats are keeping my face dry.
We finally get to the Jeep and I leave the luggage with him to load and run to check out. There are two couples arguing with the front desk about the 15 minute wait to get a golf cart to bring their baggage so I am glad that we managed to lug ours by hand.
I jump in the Jeep, Hubby turns the key and...nothing. Seriously? We try again. Nothing. I start to panic... Third try and we can hear the engine struggling. Fourth try? Voila! Thank God. As we leave, I say goodbye to all of the magical parts of this amazing island. Goodbye Bali Hai and Condo Home. Good bye tree tunnel. Goodbye Lappert's. Good riddance roosters. Good bye Kauai. We love you.
We make good time to Lihue, stop to gas up the Jeep at one of those old-fashioned service stations where they pump for you, drop off the Jeep at Hertz and get to the airport with an hour to spare. Hawaiian quickly checks us in and security is a breeze. I grab a "Perfect Oatmeal" from Starbuck's and some caffeine for Hubby and he makes a beeline for the restaurant which manages to whip up a Loco Moco for him. The gravy was actually really delicious. Bellies full, we board our plane and ascend on our way to Oahu. A short flight. I barely got 2 chapters finished of book 2:) and we were descending into Honolulu.
It was sunny and HOT! 85 degrees! A welcome change from the overcast weather we had just left. Bags arrived in tact and we jumped the shuttle to Hertz, which was jammed. I used the "leave Hubby with the luggage" tactic again which worked wonders and picked up our midsize. No upgrade and ended up with a Chevy Cruze. Hated this car.
Traffic wasn't as bad as I expected as we headed toward Waikiki. Hubby was amazed at how urban Oahu was and kept pointing out and making commentary on architecture he liked and hated. Rolled past Chanel, YSL and Gucci and rolled into the Outrigger Reef on the Beach.
We approached the HUGE line at the check-in desk. An angry bridal party (all in Victoria's Secret tanks advertising their roles (MOH, MOB, Bride, etc.)) preceded us and were tearing apart the front desk person about the construction at the Outrigger on the Beach. We learned quickly that they were transferring guests that were unhappy with their resort over here to try to make amends. After a good while in line, we made it to the front. Since it was so early, the room wasn't ready yet, so we left our bags with the bellmen and set off to explore.
First the resort... I got a great deal on Priceline NYOP for this hotel. $100 dollars a night! We checked out the shops, the restaurant, the pool, the beach, the gorgeous turquoise water and view of Diamond Head. I liked this place immediately, the staff was incredibly friendly and the location great.
I think that Hubby was in shock about the lack of sand, even with the refurbishing of the beach. We walked along the beachwalk, checking out the different pool amenities and made a stop at the Pink Palace to look at some art. They had a large serigraph of a piece by Eva Makk that was beautiful. The gallery manager actually almost talked me into buying it, but I had told Hubby that if we bought a piece of art, I wanted an original and there was no way I was going to come close to being able to afford one of her paintings.
We headed out to Kalakaua Avenue to do some more exploring and to find an Apple Store so Hubby could get a new phone. His had never recovered from it's fatal death by drowning in Kauai. After completing that and doing a big more shopping, we hailed a cab and headed to Chinatown for Dim Sum.
Now, I have a particular fondness for dim sum. It was a dining experience introduced to me by Hubby and is a huge part of his culture and childhood. I brag that I was originally accepted into his Taiwanese family after being put through an initiation regarding all the un-American offerings. What his family did not know was that I am an extremely adventurous eater and took this challenge in stride and with excitement. Usually, the "weirder" a dish is, the more I end up liking it. And I loooovvvee chicken feet, tendons, tripe, short ribs, fermented beans... Bring it on! But there are a couple of things that I find essential to the experience: the restaurant must be busy, there must be carts, they must have silken tofu in almond syrup and the cart pushers must be aggressive and crass, the haggling with them is all part of the fun:) I had researched all of the restaurants that offered dim sum and had decided on Legend Seafood.
After arriving in Chinatown after a really fun ride with a hilarious Egyptian cabbie, we first explored the area a bit. Hubby was thrilled to see stands with longkong and lychee, two of his favorite fruits from when he was a kid. We then perused the lei shops. There was one gorgeous teal green lei, intricately woven, that I fell in love with. Hubby purchased it for me and I wore it proudly for the rest of the day. I later found out it was called a Jade lei and that they usually have to be special ordered, so lucky me:)
Walking into Legend, we were quoted 15 minutes even though it was packed. A good sign in dim sum restaurants is when most of the clientele dining is Asian as was the case here. I think I was the only caucasian there:) I went to the bathroom and the women in line in front of me grabbed my hand and pulled me to sit on the bench next to her while we waited. She was the cutest thing and turned out to be friends of the owners. When I told her my affections for dim sum, she told me that I had to make sure to order the look fun, tripe special and the pork manapua, which were local favorites and done well her. Then with a hug, she walked me back to my table to meet my handsome husband.
We proceeded to gorge ourselves: shumai, short ribs, tripe, shrimp look fun, bao, manapua, sesame ball, sauteed turnip cake, silken tofu, dumpling soup and the intestine special.
Although the menu was not as large as what we were used to in Chicago, I have to say that the offerings were extremely well executed. The look fun (stuffed rice noodle) literally melted in my mouth and everything had amazingly precise flavor. Best thing? Only $40!
We spent the next few hours exploring the markets at Chinatown and taking photos. The prices were so reasonable for everything here. It's too bad so many people are intimidated by shopping in these unfamiliar markets. We got Hubby a fresh squeezed sugar cane juice and I stopped at Thang for a bubble tea smoothie. I couldn't decide on a flavor because of the outrageous selection. Everything from durian to coffee. I decided to get two: jackfruit and lychee and made with fresh fruit (God bless the worker who has to prep the durian each day) and double fisted it for the next hour while we walked around before hailing a cab back to Waikiki.
Checked into our room which was beautiful, took a shower and got dressed up for our dinner plans and headed back out for another exploratory walk.
We come to find Kalakaua street closed off and packed with folks with two large stages flanking the crowd, one sporting hula dancers and the other blasting rock covers. What was it? SPAMJAM! What? And the booths: spam burgers, spam mac and cheese, spam nachos and lo mein, even caramelized spam on ice cream and fried spam on a stick. We tried a couple of things (nothing was really that good) before running into... Spam man. Yes, a man in a giant cartoony spam costume. Of course we had to get fight to get a picture but I was not going to leave without one! It was great fun.
Went back to Outrigger to get our car and drove to King Street for our reservations at Izakaya Gaku. I was supper excited about this reservation (more so than any other place on our trip) because the Midwest just does not have a surplus of great seafood or real Japanese restaurants. We sat at the sushi bar and did the Omakase menu, or chef's tasting menu, which showcases whatever he thinks the best dishes offered are that evening. Everything from the sake choice that our server helped us with to the dessert course was amazing. It was unreal how simple preparations could make such a huge impact. The highlights were homemade tofu with salmon roe, housemade dashi and hand grated wasabi, the spicy scallop nigiri, the uni (sea urchin) rolled in hamachi and the baby squid. This was the most expensive dinner we had on our whole trip, about $300 including tip and a few extra dished that the chef sent out for us gratis. Well worth it.
Left the restaurant a little (well, maybe alot) buzzed and filled with love for the chef there. After dropping off the car, decided to venture out for one more walk. Checked out the street performers. There were two amazing rockstar kids that were amazing singers- we listened to them for almost a half and hour and also an amazing team of b-boys that flipped over willing participants. We stopped at the statue of the Duke and I sacrificed my lei to him as a thank you for this wonderful evening. We made our way back via Waikiki beach and basked in the moonlight that washed over the ocean until we were knocked out of our moment with the realization that yes, the wail that we heard was kareoke from the restaurant in our resort. It was so God awful that we had to check it out. There was bridal party from checkin living it up:) Had a cocktail there and amused ourselves before hitting the sack.
4/29 (Sunday) Woke up early, hit Starbucks in our resort and headed to the North Shore for our North Shore Shark Adventure. Another highly controversial activity, I know. We did a lot of research about this company. Hubby's uncle, who is an accoladed marine biologist who had spent alot of time on Oahu, confirmed that they do not chum and the sharks do occur naturally in this habitat. Upon getting his blessing, we booked the tour.
We were with a group of 10 other guests. The tour starts with an educational introduction to the boat, the trips and the sharks we would see (mostly galapagos that are 9-12 feet and are pescatarians:). Next a 30 minute drive (2 miles or so) from shore to the place where the fishing boats do most of their activity. The sharks learned long ago that the sound of a fishing boat may mean dinner for them if they can sink their teeth into the fishermen's catch, so they naturally appear when they hear the boats approaching. As I stated previously, the captain doesn't chum; he actually brings the sharks to the surface with a metal "cat toy", an aluminum can on a string with bolts inside which rattle and spike the shark's curiosity.
From the surface, the sharks look huge. When you don your snorkel gear and get into the cage they are humongus! We saw about 15 galapagos sharks and 1 grey reef shark. Larger than life! All of a sudden a school of skip jack appeared under the boat and the hunt was on. An eerie feeling came over me as I watched these predators circle and begin their hunt. They were beautiful and powerful. All in all, we were in the cage for about 25 minutes and were the second of two groups, so there were 4-6 people in each cage. If you choose to do this, here are a couple of suggestions: first of all, choose this outfitter. Second, try to be in the second cage. The water is really cold as is the ride home, and if you had to sit on the boat waiting for the second group, it would have been even colder. Third, don't forget to take Dramamine (really huge waves) and bring your underwater camera. This wasn't our favorite activity, but was worth doing it once.
After, we decided to explore the North Shore. There was a farmer's market in Haleiwa and we stopped to do a little shopping. I bought some amazing granola, a cinnamon roll and a croissant and three different kinds of local jam to take home to the mainland. Next we drove along the coast, stopping briefly at Waimea Bay Beach Park and to see if there were any waves at the Bonzai Pipeline. There were not.
I had only had the pastry at this point and my body was craving food (surprise:) so we headed for lunch which was Romy's shrimp truck. A small line had already formed, but it was 5 times that size by the time we left. I had a hard time deciding between the shrimp, prawns and fried sunfish but ended up splitting a original Romy's shrimp with brown rice, extra garlic and ling hui pineapple and corn on the cob with Hubby. The grease from the shrimp burned my fingers and stained my pareo, but I didn't care. I was in my own world, savoring each bite and sucking on the heads of each of the little buggers. I was in heaven!
We drove the coast around the east side of the island back to Waikiki, savoring the sights and then detouring to take the tunnel through the mountains. What a gorgeous drive! Returning to Waikiki around 2:00pm, we changed into our suits and relaxed and napped by the pool for a few hours. I finished book 2:) and proceeded to book 3. After reading a few chapters, I went to the room to freshen up.
We have wonderful friends who opened the most amazing authentic Tiki bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where we live. Sounds crazy, right? But it is my favorite bar in the city. They had told Hubby that we needed to grab a mai tai at the House Without a Key. We meandered over there right before sunset and snagged a table for dinner near the ukelele trio and the former Miss Hawaii, who was performing the hula as the musicians played. It was the best mai tai I have ever had. So delicious that I had two more as well as an amazing dinner that was followed by two amazing desserts... a chocolate and lilikoi mousse and the Haleakulani's signature coconut cake. I think I inhaled both before Hubby had a chance to even taste them.
We finished our night off with another amazing walk around Waikiki, this time heading down the beach walk towards the Hilton Hawaiian Village, looping around and then checking out a few more street performers as well as window-shopping. We crashed a gallery party and snagged a few glasses of free bubbles and finally made our way back to our room around 1:00am.
4/30 (Monday) Checked out of our resort and left our bags with the bellmen since our flight didn't leave until 11:00 pm that evening. Breakfast was coffee in my belly from Starbucks as we grabbed the car and hit the road towards Pearl Harbor. I had gotten reservations for 9:30 am and we were required there an hour earlier to claim them. I was so happy that the government finally is providing this reservation system. It made planning the day so much easier.
We arrived, checked my purse for a few bucks and headed inside. Checked in for the Arizona and purchased tickets for the Missouri. Explored the gift shops and the different exhibits until it was time for our theater presentation.
I was surprised at how emotional I was during the movie and our time at the USS Arizona Memorial. The video was really well done and the ride to the memorial, reflective. My time at the memorial was extremely moving as well. I spent most of it quiet which Hubby would say is a challenge for me;) For some reason I found myself getting REALLY irritated at the number of Foreigners wearing hats and mugging and smiling for photos and I got anxious to get back to dry land so I could be one with my thoughts. It just didn't seem appropriate how many people treated this like an excursion to Disneyworld. Hubby got some wonderful pictures, though.
Next to the Missouri, which was really interesting. We did the free, 25 minute walking tour and our guide was a hoot!
After being at Pearl Harbor for several hours, we decided to call it quits and headed to Honolulu to Goma Tei for ramen and tempura. Next, to satiate my mochi cravings, we went to the Ala Moana Center food court to Kansai Yamato. Cash only and a rainbow of mochi flavors. Couldn't decide, so I got eight (yes) and had a bite of each. Pillowy, soft, supple, delicate, disolving on my tongue, these were the best I have had ever, my favorites being the green tea and adzuki beans, the strawberry stuffed and the peanut butter.
Hubby wanted to do a little snorkeling so we headed to Haunama Bay for a few hours. The water was surprisingly crystal clear for being late in the afternoon and we saw a ton of fish. I was sad to see that toilet bowl was now inaccessable and blocked by a fence. Hubby was in the water for almost three hours and after getting cold, I laid out for awhile, enjoying the sun and reminiscing about our trip. When I opened my eyes, I was face to face with a curious mongoose who immediately went skittering into the rocks when he saw I was alive. Scared the bejesus out of me!
We dried off, changed and made our way back into Honolulu, stopping along the way to see the sun set one last time. This actually made me tear up a little.
We had reservations at Alan Wong's for dinner, but I wasn't feeling a fancy meal after showering at the beach so I cancelled them (I have dined there before). Instead, on a whim, we headed to Sweet Home Cafe. This ended up being really special as Hubby and I have never gone to a Shabu, Shabu restaurant (we make our own at home) and this one is owned by Taiwanese and is very similar to the restaurants he would go to back home in Taiwan. When you arrive there is a clip board on the door that you add your name to (no reservations). Then you wait.
While we waited (we were 12th on the list) we wandered down King Street and walked into this crack seed convenience store. OMG! Every type of treat you can imagine and cheap! I filled my bottomless Coach purse full of fun things for the plane and home and $40 later, we were back to check on our reservation.
We were seated after another 15 minutes and choose the spicy broth and the curry broth to cook in and several of their homemade sauces (miso, peanut, garlic butter, house spicy sauce) to dip in. We had lamb, fishcake, quail egg stuffed shrimp balls, chinese greens, rice puffs, mushrooms, shrimp and tripe. But the best was yet to come. All hot pots come with shaved ice topped with condensed milk, fruit, and several flavors of mochi. Hubby said it was the most authentic experience he had had outside of Taiwan and the owners were so sweet, treating us like family. I only wish this restaurant was more accessible to us. We would eat there once a week.
From Sweet Home Cafe, we drove to the airport, listing to Iz as we neared the rental return. In the airport gift shop, I bought a hula dancer and "love Hawaii" decal for my car as well as a lei to wear home on the plane so I could smell the sweet essence of the Islands the whole way back to Chicago.
Our flights home were uneventful and I was literally depressed for the few days following our return. Hawaii claimed both of our hearts and we can't wait to return to her. In the meantime I plan on reliving the moments through the friends and family, photos and of course, the wonderful advisors on this forum. Thanks for reading:)
I will be posting some of our pictures in the next few weeks for those who are interested.