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October, 2009:

Thurston’s Big Ideas for Hawaii

In preparation for a upcoming trip to Hawaii, I’ve been reading Hawaii (On the Road Histories). In the geology section at the beginning of the book there’s mention of Jagger, the researcher who spent so much time studying volcanic activity at what’s now Volcanoes National Park. There’s also a passing reference to Lorrin Thurston, a politician, business man, and something of an explorer who was instrumental in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Thurston Lava Tube by C.E. Anderson via Flickr

Thurston Lava Tube by C.E. Anderson via Flickr

In the lower rain forested region of Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, visitors can walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, a dripping geologic wonder named after a guy who wasn’t very nice to the native Hawaiians. He had a great affection for the land, if not for her people; he lobbied for the creation of a National Park to protect and preserve the land where his namesake lava tube stands.

Thurston was born in Hawaii, spoke fluent Hawaiian and had a Hawaiian name, yet he objected to  traditional hula and the native Hawaiian government. He seemed to have been big on nature, but not so much so on culture. I can’t help but feel ambivalent about assigning his name to a natural wonder though I suppose it’s as good a metaphor as any for the complicated tangle that is Hawaii. A driving force behind founding Hawaii’s National Park and for overthrowing her government — I imagine Thurston thought he knew what was best for the land.

It’s hard to argue with the establishment of a National Park, but the annexation of the islands remains a tragic unresolved chapter in Hawaii’s history. The next time I stand on the shiny black lava that bears Thurston’s name, I’ll think of more than geology.


I’m excited and honored to have been invited to attend [Re]Think:Hawaii, a gathering of nerds and tourism pros and entrepreneurs and creative types and, well, whatever I am, I like to use the term “free range human” when asked. I was invited specifically to blog about the event — you’ll read about what happens at [Re]Think:Hawaii here on Holoholo Wale.

Every now and then, someone will ask me, “Hey, what IS the deal with you and Hawaii?” It’s not quite enough to say that I like to vacation there — that’s a pale response to my unexpected connection to a couple of volcanic peaks breaking the surface of the ocean 2000 miles from the place I call home. I like to vacation in British Columbia too, but Hawaii, it’s more like I left some part of myself there and I have to keep going back to check up on whatever it is I left behind. My heart, perhaps.

Since my first trip to the islands, I have been involved on a completely unstructured study of Hawaiian  culture and nature, history and economics, trying to understand the Akaka Bill and whether or not the word ha’ole is an insult and making half assed attempts to play along at kanikapila on my uke.  I’m not one of those people who feels like I have to adopt the affectations of a culture not my own — I’m no white girl in dreadlocks — but there’s something pulling me even further west. I keep boomeranging back with this voice inside my head saying, “Wait! That story hasn’t been told yet!”

It is a vanity to think that I can be the person to tell those stories, but I try, I try to present a Hawaii that’s more than a beach vacation, a Hawaii with traffic and fast food and politicians, a Hawaii with a tragic history, a Hawaii that’s really another country even while it’s part of the United States. And because of that, I’m excited to be part of an event that, even in name, suggests thinking differently about Hawaii.

At its core, the week is about connecting entrepreneurs and investors during a series of panels, lunches, excursions, dinners, cocktails and aloha style exchange of ideas and relationship building in Hawaii. Our focus is bringing a core group of people from our collective networks together who have a shared interest in solving problems and rethinking tech, business and sustainability.

There’s more on the [Re]Think:Hawaii site, along with a list of some of the confirmed attendees. The not quite completed agenda for Re:Think Hawaii is here. [Re]Think:Hawaii takes place November 1-5 in Waikiki. And yes, I’m bringing my ukulele. I really hope you’ll bring yours so we can play together.

Willie K. at The Triple Door in Seattle

There is no doubt in my mind that Hawaiian music is best served live. Sure, there are some swell CDs out there, and no, I really can’t name any of them (except for that one Iz CD; do NOT get the orchestra remix, it is not good) even though I have a passing beginner’s vocabulary with the pantheon of slack key and ukulele greats. Here is the thing about seeing Hawaiian music live: it is about so much more than the music.

Willie K. is kind of an amazing guitarist and he plays a mean ukulele too. And while at one point, I stood on the rail of my bar stool just so I could be sure it was still one guy up there, and at another, I closed my eyes so I could just kind of wrap all that sound around me, it was the funny story telling and the history and hey, there are about 97 different musicians inside that big Hawaiian guy up there!

I loved hearing Willie K talk about the history of ukulele music, how the uke came from the Portuguese and the Hawaiians couldn’t wait for them to leave so they could steal that sound. And how Hawaiian music is so much more than the uke, it’s the church choir and the sound of hapa haole music written in New York and oh, those Spanish rhythms and so much more. And I loved how he passed along his gratitude for Bruddah Iz’s world famous version of Over the Rainbow because now, he doesn’t have to play Tiny Bubbles anymore. I loved hearing Willie K talk about country music and the first time he met Willie Nelson and I laughed through his version of Crazy as done by Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson at karaoke.

There was a lot more, of course, a song called Molokai Woman, and a version of Dennis Kamakahi’s Pua Hone, and a lot of tunes I can’t name because I know maybe three Hawaiian songs by name, and maybe a dozen by melody and then, there are just hundreds upon hundreds that I don’t know, of course. But I love the sound of a Hawaiian guitar and my affection for the uke runs deep. And I liked the sort of craziness Willie K brings to the stage, a staggering array of style and voice. It’s almost a kind of mania — wait, is that Led Zeppelin, I know that riff! — but it’s wildly entertaining, a complicated I can do anything approach to Hawaiian music that makes your ears wonder what just happened and wow, what else is in there?

I can’t imagine getting this kind of vibe from a CD, and while not all the Hawaiian shows I’ve seen are busting with this kind of energy, they are all full of that great story telling and humor. I think that’s a huge part of what’s entertaining about Hawaiian music, it’s the back story, the time my uncle and once I was in Israel and hey, this is totally showoffy but check in out, all the local girls… it’s the space between the tracks and that stuff isn’t on the CD, you have to go see the shows live.

There are a series of Hawaiian shows coming up at The Triple Door. The calendar page includes an option to search for Hawaiian music shows. Go check one out. And Willie K’s website, which includes some videos that do no justice to his live show, is here.

Budget Travel: Reader’s Best Photos

Here on Holoholo Wale I try to look into the corners and behind the usual sun, surf, and sand stories about Hawaii (though I call that beer, beaches, and babes). But every now and then, I remember — Hawaii is freaky gorgeous, really, just breathtaking, and the sun, surf and sand, while not the be all end all of Hawaii, is what draws a lot of us there in the first place.

There’s an excellent reminder of just how remarkable the islands are on Budget Travel — they’re running a slideshow of their readers’ best Hawaii photos. Have a look and be amazed.

Postcard from Hawaii: The Aloha Festival

Aloha Festival

I’m sitting at my desk in my ordinary house on the ordinary mainland, listening to Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Wonderful World” disc, a gift from the Hawaii Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.  They invited me to visit Honolulu last weekend for the 63rd Annual Aloha Festival, and lucky me, I was able to go.  A week later, in my ordinary life, the trip feels like a dream.  Iz helps take me back there, to where aloha is a state of mind, people wave with the “hang loose” hand gesture, and hurrying to get somewhere on time is a foreign idea.

Kim Tracy Prince, blogger on Uptake and House of Prince had the good fortune to attend the Aloha Festivals Floral Parade in Honolulu in September. She sent this digital postcard about her time behind the scenes and on the curb watching the pageantry unfold. (more…)

Talking Trash and Going Green

Plastic debris on the beach at Kahoolawe by US Ocean Gov via Flickr

Plastic debris on the beach at Kaho'olawe by US Ocean Gov via Flickr

I’ve been following, with some interest, the news about Hawaii’s efforts to manage their garbage issues. They’re making more trash than they can process and, in an effort to deal with the problem, had planned to ship it to my back yard. The garbage would be bundled into three ton bales, loaded on ships, and sent to a processing facility on the Columbia River in Washington.

“It’s a Band-Aid on a bullet hole,” said John Guinan of the Trash Man Hawaii, a garbage hauling company. “But we don’t really have much of an alternative at this point.” At the same time, he warned: “I guess it’s a good idea until the barge tips over and we’ll have a massive spill in the South Pacific.” —USA Today

The deal stalled early last week due to … well, it’s confusing and sounds like politics, more than anything. There are votes for extensions to keep the landfill open, talk of pressure from resort properties, a weird sideline about who paid for the scale, and still, the garbage piles up.

As visitors to Hawaii, there’s no denying that we’re part of the problem. The hotels I stayed in on my last trip did not have clear options for recycling and I ended up leaving big piles of paper (brochures, newspapers, tourist propaganda) on coffee tables across the islands. Some of the places we stayed provided disposable coffee cups instead of reusable ones, throwaway plastic water bottles were ubiquitous, and on the streets of Waikiki, it seemed that every third tourist was carrying a plastic bag from the ABC store.

Hawaii’s Ecotourism Association (HEA) has a list of best practices for visitors to the islands, including the no-brainer-yet-always-forgotten idea of bringing a cloth shopping bag and a reusable water bottle. A search turned up no LEED certified (essentially, built green)  hotels in the islands, though the Aqua chain is a member of the HEA and they’ve stated that their goal is to get a LEED certified property.  (For the record, I’m a fan, I like any place with free wifi and a nod towards kitchen facilities in your room.)

I’m not a perfect traveler. I like the little bottles of product, though I found that I did not mind getting my shampoo from a shower mounted dispenser if it was clean. I do typically carry a backpack so it’s easy to pass on the plastic bag, though I like to have one or two for a wet swimsuit or a dirty pair of shoes. It’s not a hassle for me to sort my trash or refill my water bottle, I’m happy to do so.

But on the downside, I have been deeply disappointed by the lack of rental car options — why can I not get a Smart Car or a hybrid? I’ve found public transit, which I actually like to take, is sorely lacking outside of Honolulu, I was deeply frustrated at the Maui airport by how hard it was to get to Lahaina using public transit, it might have been easier to hitchhike. (If I feel that way, and I’m just a visitor, transit must be especially maddening for residents.)

My efforts to keep my footprint small are probably totally negated by the fact that I have to fly to get to Hawaii, but the idea that a plastic bottle that I throw away in Waikiki will follow me home … it kind of makes it my problem, doesn’t it?