Wednesday, January 15, 2014

First Week in Hawaii

At the beginning of January my aunt Bernadette offered me an incredible opportunity. She offered for me to come visit her and my cousin Anna, who was currently on winter break from her college in Oregon. It would have been enough just to see family. With a large, spread out family, I've never lived more than five driving hours from at least one close relative before Australia. However, this trip was not to Minnesota, where my aunt lived when I left the states... It was to my aunt's brand new apartment in Honolulu, Hawaii!!! I had never been to Hawaii before, nor did I think I would ever get an opportunity to go. I jumped at the chance and booked my ticket there as soon as plans were worked out. There were too many variables to figure out the best time to come back, so the ticket was a one way. I will go back to Australia. I'm just not sure how soon exactly. (Probably when Bernadette gets sick of me watching late night Dexter episodes or forcing her eat Buffalo Wild Wings nearly every day.)

Unfortunately, karma decided it had been a little too good to me lately so leveled out the field with a head cold. It wasn't a bad one at all. I thought I would be good as new for Hawaii. Wrong! You see, I have these things called tonsils. They decided to throw a little bratty tantrum and swell. They are normally large and I have delayed getting them removed for a few years now, despite the fact that my family all seem to think that they will literally be the death of me. Here's why they think that: when my tonsils swell, they are the size of golf balls. Really. People often don't believe me and ask to see. I then hear them gasp as they exclaim the reality before them as if it will shock me. My tonsils affect my vocal chords so my ability to speak ranges from deaf person to Little Mermaid. Sometimes I think "This isn't so bad; At least I know sign language." Until it dawns on me that nobody else knows sign language. I might as well be a street mime! To make things worse, it takes considerable effort and causes pain to eat, sleep, and breathe. The worst part of all: I can't drink Coca-cola! The bubbles hurt.... :( 

My plane was to leave Melbourne on Friday at 4:30pm and arrive in Honolulu on Friday at 6:00am. Yes, you read that correctly. It was a 10.5 hour flight which would fly me exactly 10.5 hours into the past. This was great, but it won't be as great when I lose a whole day returning to Australia. I took my small duffel bag with only three simple outfits, two pairs of shoes, a bathing suit, a light jacket, and toiletries. I'd like to say something that makes me sound like a prepared, low-maintenance, experienced traveller to explain the light load. In honesty, the baggage charges were outrageous and I am cheap! That bag was staying well under any weight limits. At the counter, the lady helping me asked for me to put the bag on the scale so she could weight it. I did so, proudly knowing that I would not be charged any money. She smiled, slapped a sticker on it, and threw it on a conveyer belt before I could stop her. I wanted to keep my bag with me on the plane, or at least the jacket. I tried to explain, but it was no use. The bag was long gone. She could hardly understand me anyway. By this point my voice resembled that of an old man after a lifetime of smoking, and possibly a tracheotomy. Surprisingly, nobody stopped me to ask if I was well enough to take a ten hour plane ride. They all just gave me a look of sympathy, a nice nod and smile which helped me know that they couldn't understand a word I said, and then waved me onward. Since I couldn't drink coke, I was drinking water. A LOT of water. At every check point the security guards would throw away my water. After every checkpoint, thinking it would be the last, I would buy a new bottle. In total, I bought $25 worth of bottled water. Thankfully, I did drink most of it, as I was guzzling it down in record speed. 

Before getting on the flight I remember thinking about how easy ten hours would be. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep with my airway closing fully every time I drifted off, waking me immediately. But still, I had flown from Minnesota to Melbourne through Shanghai. This was to be a piece of cake. I was right in that this trip was much easier than the last. I was wrong about how easy it would be. If it was a piece of cake, it was the nasty fruit cake elderly people force you to eat and pretend that you like. I was the annoying person on the plane coughing every two seconds. My body was trying to force my firmly anchored tonsils out by the brute force of loud bursts of air being expelled by my cannons of lungs. I wished it would stop, but could only sip more water and watch in horror as I woke up other passengers repeatedly. Nobody complained, but I felt bad. I drank gallons of water, getting up every half hour to pee and refill my water bottle. Each two hours I would excitedly pop a numbing and soothing lozenge into my mouth and relax into cough-free paradise until the effects would wear off fifteen minutes later. 

Halfway through the flight, I could no longer handle the cold. I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, having expected to keep my jacket with me. All around fellow passengers snuggled warmly into their plush blankets and velvety coats. As the flight attendant walked by I enquired about getting a blanket, surprised that there wasn't already one in the seat pocket for me. He said he would be happy to provide me with a blanket for a small cost of $15. I assumed he couldn't hear me correctly, so restated that I was only needing a blanket. This repeated a few times until it sunk in that the flimsy little airplane blanket was truly being sold for $15. I politely refused and continued my shivers in silent hope that neighboring passengers would take pity on my poor, cold, sick self by sharing their excess of warm items. They didn't. It was probably an act of revenge for having woken them from slumber so many times. An hour later I broke down and bought that stupid $15 blanket, which was more like a shaw in the fact that it couldn't even cover half of me. It came with a small toiletry bag containing a toothbrush and the smallest tube of toothpaste you have ever seen in your life. 

After two episodes of Friends, two episodes of Futurama, one episode of Big Bang Theory, four chapters of A Walk in the Woods, an hour of Tina Feys audio book, and countless time listening to TED Talks and a mix of Doo Wop and Rock music, the plane finally landed! I found my bag, made it through customs twice since they forgot to give me a declaration card the first time, and found a taxi. I handed the driver a sheet of paper with the address. He proceeded to spend the entire drive trying to get me to have a conversation with him, even with me repeatedly making it clear that it was painful to talk. My aunt's apartment building was huge with nearly 50 floors so it was easy to find. Thankfully my aunt chose the perfect time to come check on my arrival, just as the man at the front desk was attempting to refuse my entry. Bernadette lives only halfway up the building, though it feels much higher. The back door of her apartment opens up to a small balcony overlooking the ocean and the town between it and us. The balcony has a glass railing which, when leaned against, gives the illusion of floating. My aunt hates that feeling. I love it! The apartment is beautiful, but I only care about that view. To make it even better, every Friday evening the city does fireworks completely viewable from the balcony!

Since it was still early morning when I arrived on Friday, I decided to try to sleep. I was able to get a couple sporadic hours in before afternoon. Not much was done that day. My aunt washed and dried most of my clothes. I have a washer in Australia, but it's just so nice to put on freshly laundered, warm, soft clothes. My cousin Anna and I went to a breakfast place nearby. It was already noon, but there was still a 20 minute wait for seating. I've been told that there was a large Japanese population in Hawaii, but I had greatly underestimated it. Anna and I were two of four white people in the whole building. The far majority of people were Japanese, with a few local people mixed in. Just to be clear, I'm not generalizing Asian as Japanese. Anna and I can both speak the language to some extent. The food was good, but since I'm not a big breakfast person, I won't be back. I did however rejoice that I could buy a 1L bottle of water for 99 cents. I missed you, America! 

The weekend was slow. I was running on empty with sleep and caffeine. Bernadette had most of the weekend off, so we spent some time walking around. We checked out a mall, though didn't buy anything but more numbing lozenges and ingredients for soup. We walked over to Waikiki, a tourist area nearby, and down to the beach from there. The sand was made up of broken down shells, barely made smooth, and not yet made fine. Walking on the waters edge was nearly impossible. Each wave would send me sinking like Buttercup and Wesley into the quicksand. One wave and I was ankle deep, two and I was mid calf. We decided to continue walking farther down the beach. Soon we reached the soft and fine sand we had expected from the beginning. Soon after that we were surrounded by stands advertising surfing, whale watching, parasailing, and every other water activity imaginable. I was already hanging on to my last bit on energy, so we never stopped to investigate any of it. Bern and Anna informed me that they had been in search of the perfect piña colada and we were nearby their winner. I was game for sampling! Piña coladas are my favorite drinks ever since visiting Puerto Rico. We all sat down and ordered. They got virgin drinks. My throat was killing me, and alcohol was sounding very appealing. The bartender asked my age, but never looked at an ID. Already above carding age... Sigh. The drink was perfect!!! I dare say, better than Puerto Rico. We took a taxi home. 

The next day was just a chain of high fevers, keeping us from doing anything fun. By evening I was feeling a bit better so we decided to go out for dinner. We chose a small, beaten down place a few blocks away. The staff were all local and most of them had some form of facial tattoo. We almost decided not to eat there. Since we couldn't think of anything better, we stayed. The food was delicious! I was actually able to eat real food, so I went all out with a steak dinner. Bernadette decided to take a risk and ordered an island dish made of rice, mushrooms, chilli, and a fried egg. Anna chose chicken parmesan. Anna was the only one who didn't like her meal. They told me that most restaurants here were very good, though they had recently discovered one place with intestines on the menu. 

The next day was once again filled with fevers. Thankfully, these were not as bad. Just to be safe, we spent the day inside. Well, inside with all the windows and doors open to the unchanging beautiful weather. (I've even been wearing sunblock to bed for fear that I'll burn in the morning light through the balcony doors.) 

By Tuesday, I was feeling back to normal. I was back to chugging coca-cola, sleeping, and talking with a mostly normal voice. Anna and I decided to go out to eat and to a movie (Walter Mitty) in the afternoon. Great movie! We weren't sure what to do after the movie. I listed exciting places we could go to, but all were turned down. Eventually, it was sarcastically suggested that we wander aimlessly around the city. That was surprisingly accepted as a good idea. The only problem with wandering aimlessly is that you don't always end up in the best of places. As we walked down the street we began noticing tents pitched along the sidewalks. Naked and barely clothed children played freely in the grass. It was still daylight, there were many people around, and the area didn't seem dangerous in the least. It was simply alarming how many homeless we saw, all living in their own little community or tents, shacks, and tarps. We changed direction toward the beach. The sun's light was just beginning to sink into the ocean. The beach was covered with large boulders with a path through them. Anna and I passed a lady leaning over the edge of the rocks, with her rear end protruding into our way. Upon a second look, we saw that she was pouring a can of food out on a rock for a nearly calico cat. I went up to her and asked what she was doing. She explained that there was a large feral cat colony living on the beach within the rocks. Several locals took time to make sure the cats were fed each day. As  Anna and I continued we began seeing more and more cats, usually in groups of six or so. We sat just off the sidewalk and allowed them to come near. Some cats were completely wild, but most were used to people and wanted to be pet. Anna loved every minute of it. Before it got too dark, we found our way back to the apartment.

The next several days consisted of getting our nails done, going to the beach, and drinking piña coladas. (Most were alcohol free so we could walk the beach with them.) The musical of The Lion King was playing only three blocks away from our building and was the talk of the town. We managed to get tickets only hours before the show began. As expected, it was nearly identical to the animated movie, with all the same songs. (So difficult not to sing along!) It was the voices and costumes that made the show worthwhile. Every single preformer had a voice made for the Lion King. It was incredible.

On Anna's last day in Hawaii, we went the movie Frozen. Anna thought it was the best Disney movie ever made, but I have a suspicion that may be related to the lead character sharing her name. Unfortunately Morgans are usually evil characters, so I'm not holding my breath for a Princess Morgan movie. Admittedly, it would be my favorite if they made one. I liked Frozen, but it can't beat Tangled. I mean, what's better than a princess with a pet reptile?! Princess Anna doesn't even have an animal side kick. Not acceptable, Disney. 

Anna left that evening to go back to her college in Oregon. She was delighted to leave Hawaii. Her glowing white Minnesota skin was a daily warning of how careful she had to be to walk outside. Her bright blue hair was constantly being tainted my ocean water. Plus, her college was having a nerd fest (in a good way) of a back to school week. They were offering classes in sword fighting, lazer tag tactics, and the elvish language according to JR Tolkien. I'm not lying. It almost makes me want to go pursue a second degree, until I see Anna during mid-terms or finals in the pit of despair and exhaustion. 

Most of my first week in Hawaii was surrounded around healing and spending time with some dearly missed family. I still have many more adventures planned, probably far more than I have time to do. Don't miss my next Hawaii blog. I have a feeling it's gonna be a great one!

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