Monday, March 30, 2015

A First Day on O'ahu

Renting a car and exploring at your own pace is the best way to see any of the main islands in Hawai'i. The aloha spirit isn't the polished clockwork of a German village. Behind the tourist facade, many countryside residences are rustic and a little bit weatherbeaten, much like the islands' ancient volcanoes themselves. This is a place where people actually live and pay taxes, not just play in a Disneyfied paradise. And, scheduled excursions are the antithesis of island life. Still, a little planning can maximize your adventure and comfort. 

Honolulu on O'ahu is sprawling, and traffic can be congested. There are a lot of one-way streets, so a GPS or your mobile phone map app will be invaluable. I'll swear the freeway lanes are narrower than I'm used to on the mainland. I was constantly running over the lane-side (warning) rumble strips, which at least kept my wife alert. One good thing, when you leave the city to explore in the morning and return in the afternoon, you will be going against the flow of rush hour traffic.

Maybe this is your first full day in Hawai'i, and you find yourself bright-eyed and ready to go in the darkness of 5:00 am? This was our condition on our first morning. An early morning climb in the crater of Diamond Head was the perfect way to offset the effects of jet lag.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pictures of the Moment - North Country Lottery

It's cold for much of the year in northern Minnesota and other parts of the Upper Midwest. Even the 4th of July can be sweater weather any given year. If you're going to live here you have to embrace the climate and have a little fun with it.

An annual tradition all over the Northland is to bet on when some oversize hardware will break through the ice of a local lake with the onset of spring, an event that may seem overly optimistic in January. The proceeds usually benefit a local charity. Springtime visitors to the region should keep a look-out for large objects randomly sitting atop open ice just off the shoreline of lakeside civic parks. And in the land of 10,000 lakes, just about every town has a lakeside civic park.

In Minnesota, May showers bring June flowers. Did the lake ever actually thaw after the 2014 polar vortex? I half-wondered as I photographed this sign in March, 2015. But soon small towns and large all across lake country will raffle a full slot of guesses on the day, hour and minute of breakthrough. Prizes may be modest, but there is such a thing as "bragging rights."There are no statistics on the prevalence of sabotage, but a grenade and "tomorrow at 3:30 am" crossed my mind..

As an aside, Valentini's Supper Club in Chisholm is the place for a good, family Italian meal in northern Minnesota.

This isn't an ice fisherman parked on a small lake (by Eveleth), and the ice isn't thin in March. Someday soon though, this pickup itself will need to be fished out. The time-honored approach is a rusty old junker that's been stripped of its engine. Even minus the oil and transmission fluid, such recycled entertainment isn't likely to be sanctioned by the Sierra Club. Most hand-wringers don't have much sense of fun anyway.

A giant bobber may be creative, but the sudden sinking of a truck is dramatic. How many tourists have happened across such scenes while it's being dragged out and stuck around in hopes to see a body? So I'll see the same truck in the same place next year, maybe a little rustier. But first comes fishing season.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sculpture by the Sea - Photo Essay

Some beach-side castles aren't made of sand.

Sculpture by the Sea is an annual arts exhibition on Cottesloe Beach, perhaps the most popular beach near Perth, Western Australia. It is a companion event to an annual exhibition that began on the other side of Australia in 1996, on Bondi Beach near Sydney. 

Every year, more than 70 local and international artists transform Perth's most popular beach into a world-class sculpture park. The displays--the world's largest free-to-the-public sculpture exhibition--are a March tradition for residents of Perth since 2005, attracting nearly 100,000 visitors in 2014. There are even more avian tourists, as thousands--perhaps tens of thousands--of raucous rainbow lorikeets flock to the stately norfolk pines overlooking the beach each evening to watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean.

My kids enjoyed visits to the beachside sculpture park between 2008 and 2010. It was their first introduction to the arts, as it is for many families. Many of the pieces are tactile and interactive, and the atmosphere is relaxed.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Aloha in a Cup

Can a frozen treat thaw out a cold heart? At Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha, you'll learn that it can and that the Hawaiian "aloha" means so much more than just hello or goodbye.

Shaved--not crushed--for a snow-like consistency, so it can absorb flavored syrups, shave ice originated in Japan but is now the iconic Hawaiian confection. Stands or shops can be found on nearly every corner,  Traditional Hawaiian shave ice is served in a cup with one or more flavors (three is a popular number) and a scoop of vanilla ice cream and/or azuki bean paste beneath the ice, possibly topped with sweetened condensed milk. But you can have it served any way you want it. Kids will want to stop at every venue.

I tried the shave ice at several places that locals said were the best for that part of Hawai'i--the Low Store in Pepeekeo near Hilo, Scandinavian Shave Ice in Kailua-Kona (Scandi's), and the Magoo's truck in Diamondhead Crater. All of them were very good, but one place stands far above the rest, Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha (HOPA). I can say unequivocally Uncle Clay's makes the best shave ice in Hawai'i, and since Hawai'i is the global ground zero for this treat...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Pictures of the Moment - Sunsets at Kailua-Kona and Waikiki.

Twilight is my favorite time of day, and the sun setting in the islands is a sublime pleasure. At times like this, you don't need to own a yacht--or even be on one--to enjoy it. Where were favorite sunsets from your own travels?

Kailua Kona. Sunset is even better than the famous coffee here.
Twilight on Waikiki, and adventure continues unabated in Hawaii.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Going Nuts for Macadamias on Hawaii

Macadamia Nuts are native to Australia, but the first large-scale commercial plantations were Hawaiian. Now the nut is nearly synonymous with The Aloha State. Sure, other search engines may have started up before Google, but no-one ever says they need to "yahoo" something. Such is the cultural association of the macadamia nut with Hawaii. Australia was left kind of like that guy who gives away an old painting from his attic that later turns out to be the lost work of a master. 

And if the nut is now identified with Hawaii, so too Hawaiian macadamias are identified with Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation. There are other plantations to be sure; actress Roseanne Barr owns one near Kona, and I had very good samples from Hamakua, but I wasn't in Hawaii to experience Rosie's nuts. I wanted to see where that product came from when I first discovered macadamia nuts as a kid.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Pictures of the Moment - Missouri Mantis

A praying mantis in the footsteps of Douglas MacArthur has no appreciation for history. Does that make him much different than most other tourists?

We saw this Carolina mantis (Stagomantis carolina) sunning on the teak deck of the Battleship U.S.S. Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Whereas, below-decks he'd be in Missouri, at Hawaii. Like much of the wildlife in Hawaii today, this accidental tourist is most likely the descendant of a stowaway. He won't get far on the Missouri.

It is curious so many people are attracted to mantids, even to the point of holding them gently. Shorten that thorax (the connection between the legs and the abdomen) and forelegs and you have his cousin the cockroach, maybe a scream, and an uncontrollable desire to squash. Our response is much like a lover of lobster turning up his nose at fried grasshoppers.

But voracious mantids eat a lot of insect pests. We can forgive them for not being discriminating and eating their beneficial cousins too.