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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?

Connected Oceans and the Tsunami Watch

Tsunami watch sign by hansol on Flickr

Tsunami watch sign by hansol on Flickr

On September 29, 2009, the state of Hawaii was on tsunami watch. The waves — which hit Samoa, taking lives and destroying property — were caused by a 8.0 earthquake about 120 miles south of Samoa and American Samoa. First things first — the Red Cross of New Zealand has a special appeal for help to the tsunami victims; please give here.

It’s 2600 miles from Samoa to Hawaii. The mind boggles to think of that big sheet of water, shaken from the earth’s movement, affecting the Hawaiian islands so far away. It’s sort of terrifying to think of the hotel lined beaches, the crowds of blissful tourists going about their routine tanning, unaware of the folding and approaching ocean. It’s terrifying to think of Hilo, on the south side of the Big Island — in 1960, an earthquake off the coast of South America caused a tsunami that destroyed the ramshackle little downtown. 1960 — there are still people alive who lived through the 1960 tsunami, how awful it must have been for them to hear the news.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo captures the stories of Hawaii’s tsunami survivors and educates visitors in tsunami safety. It’s a little place and it seems woefully underfunded given the important work they do. If you want to freak yourself out, you can click through the center’s site to the tsunami zone map for Waikiki and consider how likely it is that your Oahu hotel is right in the heart of that zone. To understand what a tsunami is, exactly, read this description.

A tsunami watch is just that — a watch — so if you find yourself on Hawaii’s beaches and learn that a watch is in place, there’s no need to panic. Do stay informed. This particular watch was canceled, meaning there’s no risk the islands will be hit, but according to this  Star Bulletin article, safety minded officials are saying beach goers should stay out of the water.

Because of possible strong currents and unusual wave action, state and county officials will be going to beaches to warn swimmers to stay out of the water between 12:30 p.m. and 7;30 p.m. Civil defense officials reversed an initial decision to close beach parks this afternoon and evening.

“We are asking for the kokua of all of our residents and visitors to keep out of the water and away from the beaches and river mouths,” Mayor Mufi Hannemann said. “These precautionary measures are being implemented to keep everyone safe.”

No More Sugar on Kaua’i

On our first trip to Kaua’i, we photographed the rusting sugar mill near Koloa  and watched the bulldozers turn the island’s red earth into flattened out plots. When we returned last winter, there were loads of new condos and vacation homes standing on land that had once been agricultural. Now, according to this KGMB report, Kaua’i’s last sugar plantation is pulling up stakes, laying off most of their staff and making plans to lease their 7500 acres of land to… well, it’s unclear.

Koloa has a little open air museum — the old buildings that make up the town bear plaques that tell of their history while Kaua’i was becoming established as a sugar producer. There are a few exhibits that show what life was like for the plantation workers, some tools and clothing are on display. There’s a concise history of sugar in Hawaii on this post about The Sugar Monument — a bronze sculpture depicting the diverse plantation workers. If you still want to learn more, there’s a good movie about the Japanese sugar plantation workers called Picture Bride. It was filmed on Oahu, though I imagine the lives of the workers were much the same on Kaua’i.

When I was a kid, there were still C&H sugar ads on TV, the jingle sung to the tune of Pearly Shells. I found a montage of their romantic ads of the sugar cane “lifestyle” on YouTube, of course. The Kauai plantation is run — or rather, has been run by — by Gay and Robinson, a company that’s been growing sugar on the island since 1889. There’s talk of the land going to biofuel crops, but having seen the speed with which farmlands are transformed into real estate, it’s hard not to wonder what percentage of the cane fields will be condos the next time I find myself on Kaua’i.

Here are the C&H ads, you’ll probably have had enough by the time you get through the third one.

Hawaii’s Museums Need You

The Bishop Museum by Cliff 1066 via Flickr

The Bishop Museum by Cliff 1066 via Flickr

With the reopening of the Bishop Museum‘s gorgeous Hawaiian Hall, it’s especially sad to hear that the facility is hurting for visitors. From the Honolulu Advertiser:

In May, Bishop Museum closed the Hawai’i Maritime Center and began closing its main facility in Kalihi every Tuesday as a way to cope with the difficult economy. The museum also cut its staff.

Last spring, when we visited the islands, we got to preview the spectacularly renovated Hawaiian Hall. They were just in the process of replacing the artifacts in the new cases — the exhibits had been completely redesigned to help place the collection in a historical and cultural context. From the Bishop Museum site:

The result is a state of the art Museum that embodies a Native Hawaiian world view, layered in meaning and authentic in voice.

Hawaiian Hall offers visitors deeper insights into Hawaiian culture and access to a record number of the Museum’s treasured collections, together with Hawaiian interpretation and perspectives.

The museum is a great place to see the richness of Hawaiian culture, to get a sense of Hawaiian history. It’s easy to get to — the trolley runs there as does the bus, and it’s not that hard to find if you’ve got a rental car, which you probably do. The collection is beautiful and the hall with the feathered standards and portraits of Hawaiian royalty is a moving and important thing to see. There’s lots of other stuff there — natural history exhibits with hands on activities for kids, a crazy volcano, a planetarium — stellar navigation plays a critical role in the history of the islands — and lots more. But more than anything, it’s an excellent starting place to get a sense of Hawaii beyond the high rise hotels and shopping malls of Waikiki.

With the museums hurting for funds, it’s more important than ever that visitors get off the sand, out from behind that umbrella drink, and go learn a little bit about the place they’ve chosen to visit. I’ll get off my soap box now, but you know what to do.  There’s lots more information online, here.

Waikiki Beach Boys

If you want to hear about the golden days of Waikiki, your best bet is probably to head up to the Haleiwa to the Surf Museum. Since I’m no surfing aficionado, I wasn’t exactly roped in by the displays, but I sure enjoyed the time I spent talking with the museum’s proprietor, Hurricane Bob. Ask Hurricane Bob about what Waikiki used to be like, and he’s full of stories.

I couldn’t help but think of Hurricane Bob, the North Shore and Waikiki when I stumbled over this short documentary about the Waikiki Beach Boys. It crams a whole sensibility about Hawaii, surfing, Waikiki, and beach culture into just over six minutes. Six minutes well spent, I’d say.

Pork on the Pali: Prohibited

There’s a Hawaiian superstition that says it’s forbidden to take pork across the Nu’uana Pali. Your rental car will die, you’ll fall off the edge, maybe you’ll be chased by bees or rocks will fall on you.

Who knows what bad luck you’ll encounter if you don’t leave your bacon on the Honolulu side. Here’s the story from Wikipedia, though it checks out with a bunch of other sources, too:

According to legend, the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele and the demigod Kamapua’a (a half-man-half-pig) had a turbulent relationship, and the two agreed not to visit each other. If one takes pork over the Pali, the legend goes, one is symbolically taking a piece of Kamapua’a from one side to the other, and it is said that Pele would stop that from happening.

Still unexplained? How Spam is transported from the harbor to towns on the leeward side of Oahu. Maybe it’s OK if you go the long way, around the south end. Whatever you do, finish up that Hawaiian pizza before you head up to see the view.

Time Travel to Honolulu

It’s politically incorrect, not entirely accurate historically, and oddly, the producers chose to intersperse “Aloha Oe” with “The Skater’s Waltz” in the sound track. But the boards are huge, the leis are fluffy and plentiful, and the footage of Waikiki Beach? Wow, it looks nothing like what I saw last year:

A caveat: The film comes from The Travel Film Archive and you could very well lose your entire day in there. If you make the mistake of clicking through, don’t say I didn’t warn you.