One of the many things I look forward to when visiting Oahu is indulging in island favorites like saimin (noodles in hot broth topped with vegetables and strips of meat), a bento lunch, and malasadas. I had the opportunity to travel to Honolulu recently with two of my best friends. Amidst sand, sea and chow, we relaxed and fortified our friendship.
On our first day in Honolulu we decided get our shopping out of the way so we took the free shuttle to Hilo Hattie. Instead, we each found floral printed dresses, perfect for a night out on Waikiki Beach. Shopping over, we crossed the street for lunch at Sam Choi’s. While the menu had many appetizing dishes listed, I had my heart set on the bento lunch. In the old days when I used to live in Honolulu, bento orders were served in a black lacquer box with compartments for salad, rice, fish or meat entrée and the quintessential Hawaiian sliced meat, Spam. My plate arrived with generous servings of steamed rice, chicken and beef teriyaki, mahimahi (dolphin fish), an omelet and Spam. Locals eat a lot of Spam and they gather annually at the Waikiki Spam Jam street festival to celebrate the islands’ diet staple. The event benefits the Hawaii Foodbank.
Hiking to the top of Diamond Head was just what we needed to offset the extra calories from the previous day’s overindulgence. Bus #22 dropped us some distance from the entrance to the park. We walked about 10 minutes to the gate where we paid a fee of $1.00 each. The trail was gentle at first but became progressively challenging. Stopping a moment to catch my breath and sate my thirst, I saw steep stairs leading to a tunnel. I had second thoughts about continuing but after resting briefly, I slowly climbed up without looking back. Inside the tunnel are more stairs which lead to the summit. The view from the top is the reward for doggedness.
We waited for TheBus to take us back to the beach but it took so long to arrive that we decided to walk instead. On the way we passed by Diamond Head Market and Grill and saw a steady line of customers in front of their “take out” window. We ordered lunch and took it to Kapiolani Park where we hungrily cleaned our plates. We all thought the food was exceptionally good and we wanted to go back for more.
To circle the island we decided to rent a car rather than take TheBus. Our first stop was Leonard's on Kapahulu Avenue. They have been serving their famous Portuguese malasada from this site since 1957. It’s practically an institution. We bought plain and filled malasadas. The choices of fillings are haupia (coconut), pineapple, chocolate and custard. With enough snacks in our bag, we were finally ready for sightseeing. On Kalanianaole Highway we paused at Hanauma Bay and Halona Blow Hole where we watched spectacular displays of water shooting through the air and admired the rugged coastline. After lunch at a Thai restaurant in Kailua, we drove on to Byodo- In Temple. Calm pervades lush surroundings speckled with colorful foliage, fruit bearing trees, carp ponds, and elegant peacocks. We rang the bell for good luck and happiness then took off our slippers before entering the temple to contemplate briefly. Back on Highway 83, we got out of the car to view Chinaman's Hat crowning deep blue Pacific waters. This is an incredibly endowed spot with the incised walls of the Koolau Range forming a vertical backdrop. Down the road in the North Shore, we scanned the beaches for monster waves but were disappointed.
We had more presents to buy so we went to the “Swap Meet”. The Aloha Stadium parking lot turns into a flea market on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. There’s so much here to entice the shopper that it wasn’t any surprise at all to see many visitors laden with new, plumeria printed luggage filled with souvenirs. How fortunate that we had only a couple of hours to look around. But we bought enough to warrant extra carry-on bags. There are the proverbial T-shirts, jewelry, local arts and crafts, Hawaiian shirts and muumuus, hats, fresh-baked breads, nuts and dried fruits, plants, and all kinds of stuff to tempt even the most resolute non shopper.
On our last day we listened to mellow music while sipping tropical drinks at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. I was feeling nostalgic sitting by the beach at sunset with Diamond Head on one side and the ocean in front of us. When the musicians sang my favorite Hawaiian classic by the Beamer Brothers, Honolulu City Lights, I was transported to that time when I called Honolulu home. But the lyrics brought me to the present. It goes in part:
“Looking out upon the city lights,
and the stars above the ocean,
got my ticket for the midnight plane,
and it's not easy to leave again”.
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Photos by Rosario Charie Albar