Tag Archives: travel

Rare Hawaiian Treasures by Michael Ajax

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After flying all night, getting off the packed airplane at Honolulu International airport felt wonderful. The warm, tropical sun and swaying palm trees greeted us. Jumping into the rental car, we wanted to drive straight to the western shore where our fabulous beach front condo awaited. But arriving early in the morning, allowed us to reflect on why we didn’t request an early check-in. Never a group to waste an opportunity to explore, however, we headed for Waikiki beach. After enjoying a nice lunch with live music at the Hard Rock Café, we strolled across the street and dipped our toes into the Pacific Ocean. The enormous beach, packed with tourists, radiated excitement.

A bit of shopping along the row of tiny t-shirt stores filled our need of being with the busy crowds. After that, off to the quiet west shore we went. The curvy drive past old, densely packed houses gave us a chance to see what life was like for the inhabitants of the island. It wasn’t the polished perfection of the steel and glass hotels and lush condos of Honolulu, yet there was a grittiness about the place, a feeling of balance with the island and the ocean that could never be experienced from the top of a skyscraper.

A stop at the local grocer reinforced this feeling. Simple green corrugated steel decorated the store as we passed through the small front doors and walked into a bygone era. From the store, we drove two miles to the tall, gated condo. As we made our way to the fourth floor and opened the door of our room, the actual decor didn’t resemble the pictures from the internet. Old plywood protected the patio windows from the construction going on outside. A full work scaffold, complete with ropes, buckets and cement tools hung directly before the windows. This was not a welcomed sight to exhausted travelers.

A few frantic calls later, the agent arranged for us to move to a smaller condo on the eight floor. Since the kids agreed to sleep on the couches, we decided to make the best of it. A stunning view of the bay and beach below was worth the inconvenience.

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After getting a good night’s rest, I convinced everyone that hiking up Diamond Head, an extinct volcanic crater on the east side of Honolulu, would be a great day trip. Since Mark Twain had visited the Kingdom of Hawaii almost 150 years earlier, and ridden a horse to the top of Diamond Head, I longed to follow in his steps. Although no horses are allowed on the path today, every step for me was special. Breathing hard and sweating, we walked through the long tunnel to the exterior cliffs of the ancient volcano. In that moment, we were swept back to WWII with the weathered concrete gun turrets and narrow stairs that once housed soldiers that defended the island. The vistas of Honolulu on one side and the expansive Pacific Ocean on the other were breathtaking from the summit. Although this same cityscape was not what Mr. Twain saw, I imagined how he might compare it to what the beautiful island had been in his day.

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The following day, we visited the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor. Taking a tour of the USS Bowfin submarine gave us a glimpse into the past. The Park Service’s movie of the attack on Pearl Harbor and ferry ride out to the Arizona Memorial were somber, moving events. No trip to Hawaii is complete without a stop here.

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Back at the condo, relaxing and enjoying the gorgeous beach became our highest priority. Walking along the uneven rocks that jutted deep into the powerful ocean made me appreciate this astonishing place for what it is—a delicate blend of moving life and beauty. Every night my kids attested to this because although the calming roll of the ocean lapping at the sandy beach is wonderful as you drift to sleep, the pounding of the high tide in the middle of the night is not as soothing as one might believe.

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On the morning of our fourth day on the island, as we awoke to balmy breezes, we immediately slid open the balcony doors to enjoy breakfast on the patio. Below us, on the normally tranquil beach, people gathered near two large, dark objects that must have washed onto the shore during the night. Covered in sand and not moving, two Monk seals lay next to each other. Neither one moved.

In short order, signs and cones were erected to form a perimeter to keep onlookers away from the mammals. We wondered what terrible events could have occurred to cause two seals to be in such an unusual state. It was not natural for wild animals to be so close to humans.

As we approached the barricade, a nice woman greeted us. A volunteer from the Monk Seal Response Team, she came down to help educate people and protect the monk seals from harm. Since the Hawaiian Monk Seals are one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, with only about 1300 remaining, we were happy to lend our support in any fashion we could.

Monk seals are named for the folds of skin that somewhat resemble a Monk’s cowl. Normally, these warm-water seals live near the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but this mother had, just two days earlier, separated from her young pup near Kawaii and swam straight onto our beach to recuperate. She wasn’t sick or injured, just tired from traveling. We totally understood. Since monk seals do not mate for life, the other seal next to her was most likely her suitor, a younger male.

As we milled around, admiring the seals from a safe distance, the female opened her eyes. With a few twists of her body, and flaps of her tail, she wiggled into the ocean surf. The next large wave carried her off. The darker, sleepy male opened his eyes and lifted his head. Realizing the other seal had left, he made a mad squirm toward the ocean. Like an arrow, he swam to the female and together, the couple danced up and over the waves like birds in flight. And without any warning, the two disappeared into the Pacific.

After returning to our condo for breakfast, we spent the rest of the day submerged in the crisp ocean learning to body surf. That evening, we took the kids to a beach front luau and danced long into the night. We all had a great time, along with a few cuts and bruises from surfing.

In the end, our vacation was rich with Hawaiian memories. Yet with all the unique things we did, it was our brief encounter with the monk seals, and enjoying their simple splendor, that still resonates deep within me. The world is a richer place because of the rare treasures found only in Hawaii.

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Want to find out more about Michael’s writing? Check out his website at www.michaelajax.com and get a look at his book on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/tombtriceratops

 

Remembering Mom by Dellani Oakes

Mom and me September 14 2014

My mother was a woman’s libber before the term became popular. She was independent, self-assured and the most fearless person I know. She turned 96 on Monday. Her vision has faded, her hearing lessened, her mind is going. She’s been in a wheelchair for the last four years, due to a re-break of her hip that didn’t heal properly. To see her now, you’d never know that she used to drive around the country doing speeches about a small Appalachian settlement school in Kentucky. Back in the 40s, there were no interstate highways, no cellphones and no GPS. She was on her own, with only her map and her fantastic sense of direction to guide her.

Mom married very late in life. By society’s standards, she was an old maid—36 when she wed, 38 when she had my sister, 40 when she had me. She gave us a childhood that was full of exciting experiences, chock full of great books, educational trips and just plain fun.

By the time I was 9, we had lived in Tennessee, Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas and Nebraska. Everywhere we lived, we visited spots of historical significance. When in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we visited The Old North Church, Paul Revere’s house, Longfellow House…. We drove up to the bridge at Lexington and Concord and saw the Cannonball House and the Minuteman statue. We made a trip up to Bar Harbor and rode a ferry across. We had our pictures drawn by a lady on the ferryboat. I look like I’m about to be shot. My sister’s is much better.

Every summer, we made a drive from our home in Nebraska, back to visit our cousins and grandmothers. Mom’s family lived in Ohio, my dad’s in Tennessee. Along the way, we visited friends or, once in awhile, spent the night in motels. Sometimes, we stopped in spots we’d read about in books: Hannibal, Missouri where we visited Mark Twain’s house. Also, one of Laura Ingall’s Wilder’s homes there.

I’ve gone on a lot about our trips, mainly because it shows a lot about how my mother thought and planned. She would study maps until she had them memorized—or so it seemed to me. She remained unflappable when we had the occasional flat tire or radiator overheated. It seemed we always had our car trouble in the best spots, where help arrived in the best possible way. When I traveled with my mother, I was never afraid. She always was so confident, so sure she would never get lost. Oh, we got turned around from time to time, but she would say, “I may not know where I am, but I know where I’m not.”

Looking back, that probably shouldn’t have been as comforting as it was. It’s hard to see my mother so diminished. The spark is still there, but with the dementia and the mini-strokes, it’s hard to find her. I was happy to see that she recognized me, after not seeing me for a year. She lives in Kansas, I live in Florida. I surprised her, arriving without any warning. I did tell her who I was, and she remembered me and my children, even had a spark when I mentioned my granddaughter.

Mom playing dress up with Audrey December 2012

My daughter laments she can’t see her grandmother and bring her daughter to visit, but I suggested that she not. Let the six year old have memories of her GiGi as she was the last time she saw her, not as the woman who might not remember her name. I also want my daughter and sons to remember her: my mother a vital, energetic, brilliant, fearless woman.

With such a strong mother, it is no wonder that Dellani Oakes is such a creative writer. You can find her work at http://www.amazon.com/Dellani-Oakes/e/B007ZQCW3A

Traveling with Your Heart by Joyce Elferdink

 

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Summertime…for many of us it means vacation, a respite from routine, time to fill with adventures in our favorite spots or in places we’ve never been. This year my vacation destination is Russia.

How do you and I typically prepare for travel?  First, we shop. We add to our wardrobe clothes that can be tightly packed. We make sure we have several SD cards for our cameras, travel-size toiletries, and all those accessories that promise to keep our valuables safe. Only secondarily do we plan our itineraries—or let a tour guide do it and lose out on the most exciting part of our preparation.

What if we changed our focus this year from ourselves to our destination? From the we part to the they and there of this equation—as in we are going there to get to know more about them.

Is our purpose in traveling to stand out as a well-dressed, well-equipped American/European? Which, by the way, makes us an easy target for scroungers and pickpockets. Or are we traveling to capture the spirit of people and places unknown and to allow that spirit to change us?

Here’s an experience that fulfills my idea of capturing the spirit:

Stalingrad cemetery2

When I first went to St. Petersburg, Russia twenty years ago, I was a Peace Corps volunteer traveling with my Kazakh “sister” and her daughter, a university student there. Walking through Ekaterina’s Palace, which is located in the town of Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), 25 km southeast of St. Petersburg, one day and returning to student housing at night was one of the most incredible dichotomies I’ve encountered in my life.  Comparing the excessiveness of the palace interior with all its gold and breathtaking art to the austerity and ugliness of this dormitory would not be on any sightseer’s agenda, yet it provided a much more complete picture of life in Russia during the Soviet era.

Stalingrad cemetery

A sightseer is only seeing what’s on the surface of a country and its culture and for many travelers, that’s enough. It doesn’t break our hearts. But my heart crumbled when I walked through the Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery with its 186 mass graves and with my Kazakh family stopped to listen to ghosts of those 500,000 who died during the siege of Stalingrad.

But why would we want to get involved with people who will be only faint memories the following year?  In my opinion, once the spirit of a people or a place touches our lives it leads to a deepened awareness of our humanity and a diminished sense of our isolation.  I don’t need to do much to keep that feeling alive; it’s been planted and, like a perennial, continues to reveal connections between my tiny space on the planet and those people and places where I’ve shared magic moments.   As travel writer Lawrence Durrell said, “It is a pity indeed to travel and not get this essential sense of landscape values. You do not need a sixth sense for it…you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I’m watching you—are you watching yourself in me?’”

So let’s consider together how to revise our preparations if discovering the spirit of a place became our purpose for traveling. I’ll begin the list…

  1. Learn foreign phrases that let people know we’re more interested in learning about them than where to find the bathrooms or where to buy ice cream and souvenirs.
  2. Discover customs of destination. Don’t necessarily mimic them but at least show awareness and respect for differences.
  3. Read what the country’s citizens are reading, not just history lessons and—if possible—the news from their popular local sources instead of American media’s representation of their issues.

What would you add to help yourself and other readers prepare to become traveler-seekers rather than tourist-takers?

 

Elferdink Bio
        Joyce thinks of herself as a teacher, traveler, activist and author of thought provoking time-travel tales. Along with being a right brained slave to creativity, her inspiration comes from the life experiences which expose those questions that stir us to action.
Some of those questions are portrayed through her novel, Pieces of You, with the search for answers continuing in the coming sequel, The Battle of Jericho, 2040.
Links
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/jelferdink
Twitter account: https://twitter.com/harmlessjoyce
Book trailer on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIacFKaNWe8