Thursday, August 4, 2011

Our final aloha - Sunday, July 31, 2011

We left Waikiki at 5:00 AM for the beginning of our 11 hrs. of flight time home. Hawaii is invigorating and peaceful, at the same time, offering relaxation and unlimited opportunities to either separate oneself from ones money or to “party ‘til the cows come home“! It’s a place full of choices.

After checking our baggage, we bid our farewells to David,our excellent Honolulu guide, and proceeded to the gate for our early flight in the hopes of making our LAX connection in time. FYI, American Airlines does not serve any food whatsoever on their flights, including those of extended duration. So, we fortified ourselves with bagels and boarded the plane. Branden, another veteran friend from the waiting area, told us he has never left Honolulu on we waited. Naturally, Branden and Mater became fast friends!

Lo and behold, the children sitting next to us on the first flight are playing with…drum roll, please… none other than…MATER and some of his friends! I struck up a conversation with the mom explaining our travels with Mater and asked permission to take some photos. She loved the idea and, as the very active children sitting behind us joined Tyler and his trucks, I took some photos to add to Mater’s memories. It’s simply serendipitous that our little tow truck companion is among his peers once again - a reunion of sorts, really! - as his human companions also return to family and friends who have never left our hearts and minds and whose familiarity brings warm comfort to our hungry, wandering souls. Tyler had a hard time saying goodbye to Mater but, in the end, all was well!

While the hosts and hostesses on the flights were less than friendly and accommodating, this first leg of our two flights home was uneventful and, as expected, barren of nourishment. We left Honolulu @10 minutes early, much to Branden's shock, and arrived in LAX with limited time to race to our next departing gate, treating everyone in the airport to a “Home Alone” run of urgency s0 as not to miss the last available flight home. We arrived at the gate in time to board the plane and get settled in our seats. But Jamie was hungry and was determined to get a meal so she approached the steward telling him that unless they wanted her passed out from lack of food, they had to allow her to get a meal to take on the plane. After all, it was a long time without food and what were they thinking not offering food or stocking enough on the plane for purchase?! He informed her that she had exactly 9 minutes and she took off in pursuit of the “spot-on” “last supper“. According to Jamie, she tore through the terminal toward Burger King yelling, “Coming through! Excuse me! Excuse me!” and finally hit her mark. Running to the front of the line and relocating those already in line a bit further back, she informed the BK employee of her situation and ordered hamburgers and French fries for all of us! Thank goodness for some understanding patrons! Grabbing the bag, she repeated her pleas of “Coming through! Excuse me! Excuse me!” to those in her way, finding more aggression in herself than she realized she had and returned to the gate agent in…8 minutes! Meanwhile, I was counting people and knew I had seen Jamie board the plane but couldn’t find her now. I was not concerned because her daughter’s seat was next to her and she did not seem concerned of her mother’s absence and then we saw her…Jamie busily working her way down the aisle triumphantly carrying bags of Burger King with burgers and fries for us all! What a welcome and generous surprise she offered! We greedily consumed our gifts as the passengers around us simply oozed with drooling envy! Leftover French fries were offered to our group and with no takers (after all, we were full now!), Jamie announced their availability to the entire cabin. While I am certain most of those hearing this wanted to take advantage of the offer, none did until I spotted the young man sitting behind Jamie with a longing look. When asked, he happily accepted them and all was right with the world. Thanks, Jamie for your heroic and entertaining efforts!

The LAX to JFK flight went quickly for me while chatting with friends remembering our adventures and reviewing the blog and photos. Such wonderful memories we all have!

We arrived in NY on time, collected our luggage and found our driver to take us home, but not before meeting Heather‘s daughter, Jocelyn. Heather’s husband, Chris, was picking her up to take her home to CT and brought their little treasure to welcome her mommy home. Jamie had the bonus of a short reunion with her granddaughter and well…Does it really get any better than that?! It was yet another moment to remember! Animated conversation accompanied us on our trip home. Karen and Ken left us first and we went on to join our cars that would take us home.

I, for one, take from my wanderings the gratification of exploring new places and discovering bits and pieces of the human spirit (including my own) that was previously unfamiliar while having made some new friends along the way. These are memories that have become part of who I am along with friends who have enriched my life. No worries, no regrets, hakuna matata, kaore he aha ki a au, 'A'ole pilikia.

Welcome home, my friends.

Luau and Aloha - Saturday, July 30 … July 31st

Our final full day was spent in Honolulu with our group pursuing personal interests ranging from shopping to helicopters to recuperating/rejuvenating on the beach. It was an excellent day to unwind, perhaps even reach nirvana! - not terribly difficult in this Hawaiian Paradise, mind you - and prepare for our final flights home. Thanks for these photos from your helicopter tour, Jamie!

We had an awesome luau on Paradise Cove for our last dinner together. Paradise Cove is an area of almost 100 acres that includes beaches, canoes, Hawaiian crafts, live performances, shops, and temporary tattoos painted on by scantily clad Samoan men (this line went on forever...mostly women, mind you!). After more than an hour or so of taking advantage of all there was to offer, we were seated for dinner with the main performance by the Paradise Cove dancers backed up by a Hawaiian musical group that played typical Hawaiian instruments and sang. It’s pretty impressive what these young people can do with their bodies, conjuring up some fond memories for some of us! They did dances from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand, and, of course, Hawaii. It was fast moving and, often times, told a story that was all based on traditional ceremonies and ancient history. Audience participation enhanced the experience for us all , as audience members got on stage to learn a traditional dance and interact with the performers.

While standing on line for our grease pencil tattoos, we met a very confident and well-spoken 6th grader. He was going to get a "tattoo" and then send a picture of it to his dad in Puerto Rico to try to "freak him out". He was so excited to be playing this little joke on his dad (with his mom's permission, we found out), to be enjoying all there was to offer at the luau, and to just be here and then the source of all his joy showed up - his mom. She was dressed in a beautifully beaded long white dress with a megawatt smile and twinkling eyes that matched her son's. There was no question where this young man got his looks and open personality and that he and his mom shared a very special bond. He introduced us and then casually told us that his mom had just gotten married, hence the white dress that I thought looked suspiciously matrimonial! Her new husband was there and so, of course, Mater had to get in on the action and photos were taken. Their wedding photographer took photos as well so there is a good chance that Mater will end up in a wedding album to boot! More happiness to add to this beautiful evening!

On our way into Paradise Cove, we had pictures taken as a group or individually. There was a young Marine from Alabama right behind us in line and we spontaneously adopted him for the night as he readily joined in our group photo therefore becoming our “cousin”. Everyone in Hawaii is a cousin, if not by blood but my the mere fact that they live in Hawaii, or at least Waikiki, or are simply mahini, or tourists. Our new relative, Matt, managed to go onstage, thoroughly in line with his personality! He was outgoing and friendly with the gift of southern gab and a willingness to share that immediately endeared him to us. He loved being a part of our “family” enjoying the camaraderie and uniqueness of being the African American cousin to our lily white Caucasian group! He was the perfect new friend to make on our journey through the South Pacific.

The luau food was appetizing and plentiful, we were all happy with our photos and, all in all, we enjoyed another flawless evening. It was a meaningful way to end our journey together, accompanied with unfettered laughter and camaraderie and created more memories of our shared adventure.

We returned to the hotel @11:00 PM to get a few hours sleep before meeting in the lobby at 4:45 AM four our 5:00 AM airport departure. While we are satiated with our travels and happily exhausted, it will be good to get home to our families and familiar routines.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Aloha, Hawaii: Friday, July 29, 2011

As we approached Honolulu, the sunrise created a color rich horizon of reds, oranges, and deep blues that changed and brightened as we got closer. When we arrived in Hawaii, we were greeted with a rainbow! How could this possibly be a bad sign?!

So, we are in yet another Paradise here in the Waikiki Beach area of Honolulu. We are in the Ka’a’awa Valley where towering palm trees, turquoise skies, and crystal waters provide the background for the last days of our wanderings together.

The Hawaiian language has only 12 letters in their alphabet: the vowels “a, e, i, o, u“ all pronounced as they are in Spanish and their consonants, “h, k, l, m, n, p, and w”. There is also an 'okina, a glottal stop in pronunciation that helps to differentiate words. You pronounce all the letters individually, barring some exceptions, and it is all sounds very melodious and singable. “Aloha” can be used as a hello, a departure, or simply a greeting. “Alo” means “face to face” and “ha” is “breath of life”. So much of this culture is about connections with others, through their language, their actions and their general approach to life, something we have found throughout this journey. While Hawaii is a part of the continental US, it is the most isolated island in the world with a decidedly different philosophy than the east coast of the continent. Not better - not worse - but definitely different. It is so gratifying to get to know more of our own country and our countrymen…and women!

We were met at the airport by David, our Honolulu guide and proceeded to our hotel where Jane and Ken finally got to play golf on the most difficult course in the United States, Ko'olau Golf Club. Talk to Jane and Ken about their games! ...and that 's Gilligan's Island just right of the top center nearest to the coast...a 3 hour tour!

The weather was questionable but ultimately cooperated (as it has done throughout our trip!) as the rest of us went to Pearl Harbor. Here we found displays on the history and chronicles of the attack which depict the events through the eyes of both the Japanese and the Americans. There was a movie about the series of events leading up to the attack and it was a very sobering moment to be reminded so graphically of the horrific surprise that met our soldiers on that December morning not so long ago. From the film, we were ferried out to the memorial to the SSS Arizona. It was here we could honor the list of names of the victims of this pivotal event in WWII. It was here we could smell the oil that still leaks from the wreck swirling in oily rainbows among brightly colored fish and slow, innocent sea turtles. It was here we saw veterans of all ages honoring their comrades. With our flag waving above us, it was a sobering visit.

I met Daniel and his friend from Michigan who were there to find the name of a friend’s father. They were veterans, as well. I struck up a conversation, took a photo of them with Mater (of course!) and they asked me to photograph the name of their friend, as well. I happily took the pictures and promised to send them to Daniel's email. (I did just that!)

While at Arizona Memorial I saw a young man with two prosthetic legs wandering around the monument alone. I knew he had to be a veteran, as well. He confirmed that he was a veteran and offered that he had lost his legs in Afghanistan. I thanked him for his service and sacrifice and he happily agreed to a picture with Mater. This is one of Mater’s favorite pictures!

We proceeded to a tour of Honolulu and went up to Nu’uanu Pali, a lookout that offers a view of the valley, the golf course, the water, the site of a number of movies (Mighty Joe Young, included!) and…Gilligan’s Island! The theme song from that show has followed us throughout our trip so it was particularly fun that we could see the place where it was filmed. Ken even knows all of the words to the song, BTW! In reality, it is actually called Coconut Island. The view was beautiful, it was incredibly windy and we found lots of wild chickens and baby chicks living there, as well.

Tomorrow is our free day in Waikiki and then...the luau!