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Enjoy Hawaii, Do Something Good

I’m a big fan of the Aqua line of hotels. It’s a vanity, but I feel like they were made for me. They’re cute and funky and have style, they’re a good deal, and they know you’re going to snack in your room, so they make it easy for you. I’ve not stayed at all of them, but I hear good things about the ones I haven’t stayed at. Bonus? I like the people I’ve met that run the brand and I appreciate their priorities and politics. I feel great about recommending their properties to anyone who’s Hawaii bound. And I feel REALLY great about giving you a shot at a certificate for three nights for two people at any Aqua hotel in Waikiki.

Self Portrait, Waikiki, 7am

Self Portrait, Waikiki, 7am. By Nerd's Eye View

I also really like the Hawaii tourism people, they are genuinely wonderful people. When I asked them to help me out with Passports with Purpose, the Travelbloggers Fundraiser, they hopped to it. So not only do I have a voucher for three nights in Waikiki, I also have some other great stuff to go with it. I’ve got passes for two to the Waikiki Aquarium. Fun fact? It’s one of the oldest in the nation, plus, it’s home to a few chambered nautiluses – a crazy looking sea critter if ever I saw one. You can walk there from your Waikiki hotel.  I’ve got two passes to the Polynesian Cultural Center — with the Alii Luau. Full disclosure here: This is Oahu’s most popular attraction, but I found it kind of, um, weird. That said, the poke at the luau was plentiful and delicious and the luau itself? The dancers and the musicians were amazing. I really enjoyed it.

And I’ve got something else that’s just busting with aloha for you, too, as part of this package. Nathan Kam, who’s a Hawaii tourism big shot, but also, an all around nice guy and wonderful human being, will take you and one travel companion on a personal food tour of his island. Nathan loves to eat well and he genuinely loves to share Hawaii with visitors. He’ll take you to some of his favorite eating spots and you’ll get to spend time with a local guy who’s good company and a generous host. Honestly, I’m kind of jealous of whoever gets to do this.

What do you have to do to get all this aloha? You have to donate 10 dollars to LAFTI via Passports with Purpose. Your donation goes directly to Land Tillers for Freedom (LAFTI) and will be used to build homes for a community of 25 Dalit (untouchable) families in India. That’s it. Do that, and your name goes into a drawing for this package of Hawaii goodness. You make a small donation, you might get an amazing trip to Hawaii. Okay, okay, if you get this, you’ll have to buy your own plane tickets — sorry, we really did try, hard, I promise you! — and there are some restrictions, but they’re reasonable “based on availability” kind of things.

Passports with Purpose is in year three — and this is Aqua’s second year of support. Last year, we built a school in Cambodia through a combination of sponsorship funds and donations like yours. For me, there’s a lot to love about the opportunity to share a place I absolutely adore with you through an act of generosity. There’s aloha there, both in your gift to LAFTI, and in the participation of the Hawaii folks who helped me pull together this great package. Keeping with that spirit, I’ll share my knowledge of the islands with you if you need help planning your trip. You probably won’t need it — Hawaii is so easy — but I’m delighted to advise you on questions like “Should I rent a car?” or “Where’s that crab ramen you keep going on about?” We’ll be in touch if this prize package goes your way, so please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll tell you your biggest problem right now: Three nights won’t be enough. But it’s a great start.

Are you ready to make a donation? Go here.

Thank you sponsors: BootsnAll, LiveMocha, Round the World with Us, HomeAway, Traveller’s Point, Hostelling International, Quintess, Raveable, TravelPost, and Uptake.

Holoholo Links

Kaho'olawe Hawaii

Kaho'olawe, Hawaii by Ornellas Would Go via Flickr (Creative Commons)

  • I haven’t bothered diving in the all the news around the new Hawaii 5-0, other, more pop culture addicted types than I will do a better job. But this made me laugh, hard. Hawaii 5-0 bingo cards on PopWatch.
  • Not quite win win, but a step in the right direction: The St. Regis Princeville makes changes to help the endangered Newell’s shearwater.
  • Wow, that thing is huge. The new Disney resort is taking shape at Ko’Olina. Flickr set here, hat tip to The Disney Blog.
  • Crazy. Check out the surfboard front desk backdrop at this new Waikiki hotel. On Luxist.
  • Bring your shopping bag. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the law. Maui’s plastic bag reduction starts in January, 2011.
  • The photo above is from a stunning Flickr set taken on a restoration trip to Kaho’olawe. Click through to see the more.
  • ReThink: Hawaii is on and yes, I am a little sad to not be there for this 2010 edition. Here’s to tropical mellow helping build big ideas.

So Ono! On Hawaiian Food

Giovanni's Shrimp Truck - Kahuku, HI

Giovanni's Kahuku Shrimp Truck by imgdive on Flickr (Creative Commons)

It’s difficult to think about the flavors of Hawaii without going on a global meander. There are so many delicious — ono —  things to eat in the islands and so much cultural diversity that it’s difficult — for me — to define what, exactly, Hawaiian food is. Fresh fruit is a critical part of it — my first stop when I arrive in the islands is typically for a mango smoothie. Seafood is critical — a dish of fresh poke (marinated raw tuna) is an essential stop on your exploration of island grinds. Taro (kalo, in Hawaiian) shows up at the luau buffet and in any number of place, sometimes made palatable for the malahinis (visitors) by incorporation into dinner biscuits. And there’s some barbecue, the classic pig in a pit, or huli huli chicken, coated in a sweet sauce of sugar, ginger, and soy sauce — depending on who’s recipe you use.

The traditional native Hawaiian diet was a less commodified variation on all those items — produce, fresh seafood, some poultry, maybe a pig on a special occasion. But what’s Hawaiian food now? There’s something called Hawaii Regional Cuisine in which local ingredients are reinterpreted by chefs — I had the honor of experiencing this style of food at Chef Mavro’s in Honolulu during a dinner we are still talking about, five years later. But I’ve also eaten very local style — chicken katsu and Portuguese sausage — at CCs in Honoka’a. Chicken katsu is, at the most simplistic, Japanese fried chicken, and Portuguese sausage… well, that’s Portuguese. And there’s Spam, of course, in musubi, in eggs, in sushi rolls. Hawaii can thank the US military for Spam’s arrival on Hawaiian shores, but they have only themselves to blame for its tenacity.

The Portuguese also gave Hawaii the malasada — fried dough — and sweet bread. The Japanese brought mochi, a rice flour sweet that’s filled with bean paste or sesame or even peanut butter. There’s haupia — a sort of coconut jelly pudding that is traditionally Hawaiian, and plenty of good ice cream — Dave’s, Lappert’s, Roselani — which is not traditionally Hawaiian at all but comes in Hawaiian flavors, with mango and mac nut and coffee, of course. Thanks to the Japanese (again) you can get shave ice (leave off the “d”) in either the most simple form, covered in sticky sweet syrup, or you can get it with bean paste and condensed milk, but I draw the line there.

So what is Hawaiian food? It’s garlic shrimp from a North Shore truck, eaten on a picnic bench across the street from the beach. It’s mac nut encrusted halibut with pineapple salsa, grilled and served under a banyan tree at a fancy Maui hotel. It’s take out bento and breakfast burrito with grilled mango and conveyor belt sushi and Thai food at the mall. I like to think about it not because I’m striving to define it, but because it is so varied. And so very ono!

Holoholo Links

Water world around Maui

Waterworld Around Maui by juhansonin via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Reason #402 to Love Hawaii: Diversity

“It was like being in another country. I was so surprised!” –My neighbor, telling me about her first trip to the islands.

“Nobody’s just AMERICAN, we all came from somewhere else! What are you, REALLY?” –French Vietnamese swimsuit booth guy at the International Marketplace.

I love Hawaii’s — Honolulu’s, especially — melting pot culture. Even the Native Hawaiians came from somewhere else originally, taking their big ocean going canoes out into the wide Pacific and navigating by the stars. Then, Captain Cook and his crew arrived, followed by Han Chinese on trade ships. Japanese and Filipino immigrants came to work the sugar cane and pineapple plantations; the Portuguese did the same, bringing with them the braguinha, the precursor to the ukulele.

According to the 2008 Census, under 30% of Hawaii’s population is white — the biggest demographic group is Asian. Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese at almost 40%. In such a small place, it’s not surprising that humans mixed it up and gave us the hapa, mixed race types with (maybe) one white ancestor in there somewhere. Even Hawaiian royalty jumped the fence and married outside the Native Hawaiian community — Hawaii’s last princess, Ka’iulani, had a Scottish father.

T-Shirt

T-shirt, Honolulu Airport

All this mixing has created a place that’s American, certainly, but also, like nowhere else in the US. It’s a Zippy’s where you can get eggs and rice next to a Korean place next to a French bakery. It’s a big Hawaiian guy whose grandmother was a British music teacher, the child of missionaries. It’s Barack Obama, a Honolulu born boy with a Kenyan father, our surfing president. It’s an imperfect society to say the least. But at its best, it’s the American melting pot envisioned as a tropical utopia.

If you spend enough time in the islands, you pick up cultural affectations or obsessions not your own. These little pieces of other societies stick to you, you take them home as souvenirs. You end up at your mainland kitchen table — as I did, yesterday — eating cold noodles with furikake and trying to recall what’s included in those take out supermarket bento boxes.

An appreciation for all those mixed up cultures, all they have to offer, is a fine a souvenir from Hawaii as anything you’ll buy in a store. And it’s truly Hawaiian made.

Plastic Heartache

October / Octubre from Rafa Herrero on Vimeo.

This isn’t Hawaii specific, but this footage of sea turtles and plastic floating in the ocean should help you remember to pack a reusable grocery bag and to say NO to plastic at the ABC Store, the Whaler’s General Store, the myriad of convenience stores dotting the tourist focused communities around the islands. It’s just heartbreaking.

Hat tip to Sebastian Tobler on Uptake.

The Kukui Nut

Kukui, or candlenuts, at the Amy Greenwell Garden south of Captain Cook, HI

Kukui Nuts, Amy Greenwell Garden

While there’s nothing quite like being draped in the smell of plumeria, kukui net leis last indefinitely and travel a lot better. I have two kukui nut leis, both gifts — one from Michael, the smiling guy behind Tiki’s Grill and Bar in Waikiki, given to me on my first tourism sponsored trip to the islands, the other from Julie, the embodiment of aloha and the woman behind the Moloka’i Visitor’s Association. There’s a third one bundled with the husband’s aloha wear, kukui nut and ti leaf, from our wedding on the beach in Maui.

The kukui nut  is rich in oil and was used as a light source by the early Hawaiians. Skewered in a stack on the tough spine of a coconut frond, each nut would burn for about 15 minutes — that’s why they earned the name candle nuts. The kukui tree  was imported by the Polyneisians who used it not only for light, but for medicinal purposes, for dying tapa, for preserving fishing nets, and more.

To make a lei, the nut is shelled of its tough green hull and polished to a smooth finish, then drilled and strung on a ribbon. Mostly, you’ll see them in dark brown or black, though they do sometimes come in a rare pale color. Some sources say the kukui nut is associated with Lono, the god of peace and prosperity. Because of its practical use as a light source, it’s also become associated with education. When someone drapes a kukui nut lei around your neck they are passing along the gift of peace and light.

It can be hard to keep the significance of the kukui nut in mind — you’ll find stands full of kukui nut leis everywhere, your hotel lobby, probably, the ABC store, the farmer’s markets,the airport. As likely as not they’ll be bearing “made in the Philippines” tags. But the kukui nut is more than a shiny brown seed, it holds light and the spirit of Lono. That makes for a lei that’s more than just a souvenir.

Holoholo Links

Brother Noland, The Father of Jawaiian Music

It’s easy to think of Hawaiian music as something static, a little ukulele, a little lap steel, a sweet falsetto and the resonance of slack key. But it’s very much an evolving form, pulling in outside influences to make something different, but still uniquely Hawaiian. Where Hawaiian music collides with the distinctive beat of Jamaican reggae, you’ll find Brother Noland.

Brother Noland might be best known for Coconut Girl — it’s in the sound track for Pineapple Express and earned him the title “Father of Jawaiian Music.” His new album, Hawaiian Man, has a more traditional tenor, Hawaiian songs sung (mostly) in Hawaiian with lots of sweet chiming notes from his guitar — and some of that melancholy sentiment that makes you pine for the islands. Here’s Brother Noland in the studio recording the title track for Hawaiian Man.

Brother Noland is on tour and he’ll be here in Seattle on September 27th for a show at the Triple Door, a venue that hosts lots of great Hawaiian music. And I’ve got a pair of tickets to give away. All you need to do is leave a comment, I’ll drawn names on September 22nd and notify the winner by email.

Holoholo Links

HAWAII, HONOLULU, 1974 ---BICYCLE LICENSE PLATE

Photo by Woody1778a via Flickr (Creative Commons)