Thursday, November 09, 2006

4 November 2006
Our day was spent today at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve on the southeast corner of Oahu. Hanauma Bay is an extinct volcanic crater that has eroded to form a very protected bay which has an amazingly diverse coral reef. The coral was not completely healthy, but considering the number of people that visit the preserve each day, I was very impressed. Parking was on top of the rim of the crater and you had to walk down to the water. They had a shuttle which cost $0.50 to go down, and $1.00 to go back up. Before you could go down to the water you had to watch an 8-minute movie on protecting the preserve. One of the most important points was not to touch the coral as, while it looks like nothing but rock, it is actually a living organism. The concept seemed to be lost on many of the visitors.

We found some shade under a tree on the far side of the beach and tried out my newly created beach-gear locking program. I was determined not to worry about theft off of the beach, but did not want to feel like I couldn’t bring my camera or other toys down to the beach. We brought with us a 9’ long cable which I wrapped around a tree and looped through our locked bags. The end of the cable was locked to the ammunitions box which contained my camera and other valuables. It might have been overkill, but I felt completely safe leaving our gear on the beach while we went walking or snorkeling.

This was our first time in the water since we arrived and it was wonderful. The tide was fairly low, but rising. I was concerned that Julie would be uncomfortable when we got out to the deeper water, but her primary concern was when we were over the reef and the coral (and sea life) was only an arms-length away. There was a lot of warning about currents, but the water was very calm. I could recognize many general groups of fish (parrot fish, trigger fish, etc.) but the species were things that I had never seen before. The colors were amazing. Before leaving home I had spent too much time trying to get an underwater camera of my dad’s working so that I could record some of the snorkeling. I suffer from an unfortunate syndrome in that I don’t feel like an experience has really happened unless I can record it on film. I felt pretty confident that I had gotten the camera in good working order, (it had a knob broken off of it), but when we got out of the water, I could see that the inside was starting to fog up. Hopefully I got some pictures out of it (at least enough to prove to me that we were actually there). We saw several green sea turtles, which is the first time I have been able to swim with them. I was concerned about approaching them for fear of disturbing their activities, but they actually would swim up to me. We also saw at least two kinds of trumpet fish, an eel (although Julie would not dive down to see it under the coral), and lots of fish that I couldn’t even begin to classify. It’s a little frustrating not to know what you are looking at. It’s probably a birding issue, but I feel like I should learn the names of everything that we see. We spoke with a naturalist who mentioned that there is a resident reef shark that lives in the bay and pointed out where it was likely spending the day. Julie wasn’t interested in seeking it out, but I went over to the area and looked around a little. I never found it, but I heard someone on the beach mentioning that he had seen a shark. The naturalist said that they are not worried about the reef sharks; only tiger sharks, and they have not been seen in the bay.

After snorkeling we went to the Hawaii Kai Public Library which earns a 3 on a scale of 1-10 for friendliness. We posted the last entry to our blog and spent close to half an hour uploading pictures for the last few entries. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be showing up. This blogging is still a work in progress. (Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize “blog” and thinks that I mean that I am “bogging”, which may be just as accurate.) At the Foodland grocery store across the street we stocked up on the makings for the rest of our meals while on Oahu. When we got “home” we had rotisserie chicken for dinner which was convenient, but was scrawny enough that I think it had been fighting off all those roosters we were living with up at Shark’s cove. We crashed by 9:00. We have not been feeling the effects of jet-lag too much, although we have been getting up before sunrise to start the day. Part of that is the excitement of being here and the desire to make the most of our time. It should slow down for the next few days.

5 November 2006 (7:50 HST)
We just finished our dinner of marlin fillets down by the pool. Being on an island can hit you hard at the grocery store when you are buying milk ($4/gallon), but the marlin was only $2.99/pound, which I understand is very good, although I can’t say that I’ve ever bought marlin before. Julie encouraged it and even said that she would eat it. Her conclusion is that fish doesn’t have much flavor and is just a way to eat butter and seasoning. Our day was pretty laid back.
We walked down to Waikiki Beach, which is about three blocks away. I have been reading a lot about the Hawaiian language in the travel guides and in the book on birding in Hawaii. It’s no wonder I get so confused. The Hawaiian alphabet is made up of the five vowels plus seven (or eight) consonants (p,k,h,m,n,l,w). Each syllable ends in a vowel and the accent is usually on the second to last syllable. The diphthong “ai” is pronounced “eye”, and “i” is pronounced like beet. That means that Waikiki should be pronounced Wye kee’ kee’, (in this case with the accent on the last two syllables). I have yet to hear anyone pronounce it that way, though. You do hear “Hawaii” pronounced Ha vie’ ee. The words that you hear most often are:
• “Aloha” (ah low’ ha), which means love or affection, and is used both in greeting and leaving (Hawaii is the Aloha State).
• “Mauka” (mow’ kah), which means toward the mountains (the units we have stayed in were in the mauka building, meaning away from the beach and toward the mountains.
• “Makai” (mah kye’), which means toward the sea.
• “Mahalo” (mah hah’ low), which means thank you
You almost need to take the time to learn some of the rules of the language so that the names of streets and places make sense. With Julie driving and me navigating, I sometimes have to resort to spelling the street name that we are looking for so that we both know it when we see it.
The beach where we settled in for the morning was adjacent to a city park. It was nice in that it was one of the few places along this stretch that did not have high-rise buildings built right up to the beach. I swam along a breakwater with my goggles seeing some of the same fish that we had seen at the preserve, only smaller. Julie sat on the beach reading Jane Eyre. On the sidewalk near where we were was a woman who appeared to be homeless. She had a shopping cart loaded with several suitcases and plastic grocery bags. The whole time that we were there, which was over two hours, she walked around that shopping cart rearranging items and looking through pockets. At one point she laid a towel over the cart and meticulously picked some small somethings out of the material for probably half-an-hour. We assumed that she was not high on the mental health continuum and discussed what our responsibilities (personally and as a society) were to people in her position. My guess is that any government-sponsored programs would be missed by her completely. You read about people who are in that position by choice, but I have to wonder if they really understand what options they have to choose from. If she was mentally capable enough to assess all of her options, she might choose to be doing something else, but in her mind she might be very fulfilled by her careful organization of her possessions. From our perspective, it looked like shoveling rocks from one pile to another and then back again. If I’m honest with myself, though, is it that much different from our choice to spend the morning staring at unnamed fish and reading a book for the third time. Kristin ended a letter to us she had tucked into our bags with, “Hopefully you will come back with a renewed vision for God’s direction in your life.” I guess that is the best thing to strive for; each of us fulfilling our God-designed role, whatever that may be.

After lunch we went to the Waikiki Aquarium (how did you pronounce that!). It was incredible! They have aquariums of most of the marine and fresh water ecosystems in the area. The fish were amazing, but it was just as interesting to see the corals and other invertebrates up close. They had a great exhibit of jelly fish that looked like poetry-under-glass. One of the naturalists suggested that as much as 1/3 of the reef at Hanauma Bay may be made up of coralline algae which produces calcareous stone, but does not have the polyps that coral has. Maybe the reef was healthier than I realized.

Across the street from the aquarium is the Honolulu Zoo which was having a sidewalk art sale along the fence. We got there just as they were leaving for the day but saw some great art work. They have been having this art sale along the fence of the zoo every weekend for over 50 years, but there is a push to make them stop. Currently it is all independent artists who show their own work. There is the suggestion that it is too commercial. We visited a similar art show in San Francisco and thought it was a great idea. The artists are required to show only their own work, so that it doesn’t just become a flea market. We signed a petition to support the idea. From the zoo fence we went to another beach a little ways down the coast to cool off. We watched the sun set over the water and headed home for dinner.

6 November 2006 (8:30 PM HST)
Our day started off leisurely with an orientation sponsored by the concierge associated with the resort. Different individuals shared some of the tours and restaurants in the area. Nothing tempted us, so we decided to continue on our course of finding our own things to do. After lunch we went in search of a birding area not far from Honolulu and Waikiki. We got driving directions from the front desk and headed off to Makiki Valley in the Ko’olau Mountain Range. It only took us about 15 minutes to get there, which surprised us because it is so close to the city. Most of the development occurs in the relatively flat land along the coast. Once you get into the mountains, the world takes on a completely different feel.

We were looking for the Makiki Valley Loop Trail which was supposed to start near the Hawaii Nature Center. Instead what we found was another trail head parking area which required us to walk through a residential area with old cars parked alongside the road, similar to what we had in our last woodland adventure. We came to a sign that told hikers to proceed no further and directed them onto a trail that didn’t match the name of the trail we were looking for. I had left the guide book back in the car, so I was a little worried. We started up the Kaneolole Trail, not really knowing whether it was a 30 mile trail across the island, or a short round trip. Fortunately, there was a trail map not too far along the trail which set everything straight. The loop was actually three independent trails which could be linked together to bring you back to the same spot. The Makiki Valley Trail that I was looking for was the middle leg flanked by two trails that I had not heard of. In all, the hike was about 2 ½ miles, with about 700 feet in elevation gain. Near the top you could look down on the coast and Honolulu.

We were hoping to see some native birds on this hike because there are some native tree species in the area, but while we saw a lot of beautiful birds, we did not see one native species. That says a lot about the situation of the wildlife in Hawaii. I believe that all of the species that we saw were intentionally released by people who wanted to “improve” the bird life in Hawaii. Many are song birds and “cage birds” from other islands and Asia. Some of them, such as the Common Myna, were released to help control other pest problems in the islands. The birds of Hawaii have had a tough time for the last 1000-1500 years since people arrived on the island. The first Polynesians came to the islands and set about clearing all of the lowlands for slash-and-burn agriculture. They also introduced pigs, roosters, and other animals which set about modifying the stable ecology. It is estimated that before the first people arrived on the islands, over 90% of the species found here were found no where else. (Hawaii is the most remote group of island in the world.) The first Europeans to visit the islands dropped off goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle to establish on the islands so that future ships could stop and replenish meat supplies. They made an agreement with King Kamehameha I not to harvest the animals until their populations had grown to a level that was sustainable. The larger European pigs bred with the smaller Polynesian pigs and produced a strain that could live in the tropical jungle and were large enough to do serious damage in their rooting about. Interestingly, one of the most serious impacts to the native bird population is the introduction of mosquitoes (which breed in the pig wallows). While migratory sea birds which have carried avian malaria and other diseases have been around “forever”, there were no vectors on the island to spread the diseases to the native population. Because of that, they did not develop any natural protection. When mosquitoes were introduced (probably in water barrels in visiting ships) the diseases found their way in to the native population. The only thing that keeps the whole native bird population from being destroyed is that the species of mosquitoes found on the island are from the tropics and can’t survive in the higher elevations on the islands. There is a serious concern that if the island is invaded by temperate mosquitoes, they would spread up the mountainside and finish off the rest of the native bird population.

They are also worried about the Brown Tree Snake, which has already invaded Guam. Since 1975 the Brown Tree Snake has led to the loss of nine of the eleven forest birds found in Guam. The snake is arboreal and has already been intercepted after climbing up the landing gear of military planes in Guam which then flew to Hawaii. The stories of ecological disruption could fill a book, but you probably have already heard more than you care to. Despite my rantings, we did have a very nice walk with some incredible scenery.

This evening the resort had a picnic around the pool with music and a hula dancer. We won a pupu platter (appetizers) at Plant Hollywood.

7 November 2006
Today we took the guide book’s advice and started early for a hike up the rim of Diamond Head crater. We kept hearing about how Diamond Head was the poster child for Hawaii and a familiar landmark to everyone. To be honest, I had no idea what it was. The first time I heard it mentioned I thought it was a golf course. Actually, it is a crater formed by volcanic activity which shot ash and cinders into the air to settle into a large dish-shaped crater which covers 350 acres. To start the hike you drive through a tunnel in one side of the crater and park in the middle. Then we followed a combination of steep trails and stairs up the 200 foot south rim. The crater was part of a military defense structure in the early 1900s so there are still observation decks and gun placements (without the guns) around the rim. Half-way up the slope we stepped into a side path with views up the eastern coastline. While there I heard a woman say that she was anxious to get going because she didn’t want to get behind the tour group that was coming. I figured, I’m in no hurry. I don’t mind following a tour group.
It turned out the group was about two hundred young Japanese students. I had assumed that you climb to the top of this crater and then everybody would spread out and take their time with the scenery. What we found was that the trail and steps (sometimes only wide enough for one person) led to a relatively small observation platform. We basically were in line the whole way up, while we were at the top, and most of the way down. The view from the top was spectacular, though.

We had intended on stopping at the library after Diamond Head, but found that it was closed due to Election Day. We then headed east up the coast stopping at several beaches and rocky shores. I went body surfing at one and we stopped and sat in the shade and read at another. I am reading Michener’s Hawaii, which has been very interesting. I’m currently at the point where the first Polynesians are traveling by canoe from Bora Bora and making the several thousand mile journey without any sure idea where they are going. It is fiction, but based on fact. At some point someone needed to be the first to make the journey. It’s astounding to think what an accomplishment that was.

We then stopped at Kawainui Marsh, which we found listed in The Birdwatcher’s Guide to Hawaii. Even though it was in the middle of a fairly big town and right along a busy road, we finally found some of the native birds we had been looking for (lots of Black-Necked Stilts, some Hawaiian Moorhens, and Pacific Golden Plovers). While we were along the coast we also saw a Wandering Tattler and several flights of either Red-footed or Masked Boobies. On the way back across the mountains to the condo we were going to stop at Na’uanu Pali Lookout which is up on top of the mountain giving a great view of the east coast. Unfortunately, the sign came up too fast and was adjacent to another sign that said “CLOSED” in large letters. It wasn’t until we were passing it by that we could read the rest of the sign which clarified that it was closed from 8 PM to 4 AM. Maybe we’ll get another chance to visit before we leave.

Tonight we grilled steaks by the pool and ate out next to the waterfall garden. Pretty nice. Julie is reading several books on home design and garden design (always a potential new project in the making) so we discussed effective garden lighting. We are looking forward to doing something around the gardens and decks at home.

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