Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Big Island Discovered: Our Arrival

E komo mai! Yes, here I am-- a malihini, or a newcomer to the islands of Hawai'i. My family of six, grandparents included, pioneered over to the Big Island for a week to celebrate my Nana's eightieth. At first I held prejudice against the Big Island because Honolulu, the capital, Pearl Harbor, the Dole pineapple plantation, Wakiki etc. etc. aren't located here. When I realized this I asked my dad, "If we aren't going to Oah'u, we're everything's at, then why are we even going to Hawai'i?" Well, after being here for two days, I'm convinced that we made the right decision. The Big Island is much less commercial and tourist-y, features Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, the Kona coffee belt, plus a wide array of ecosystems from one side of the island to the other.
As the concierge at our condo said, landing in Kona airport is like landing on the moon. The landscape doesn't look like the tropical island you'd expect: the land has craters, rough, black and unappealing. Turns out that that's hardened lava, stretched across the land as far as the eye can see. While driving from the airport, the black landscape is suddenly disturbed by blazing white patches of coral. However, this coral doesn't form on the black backdrop naturally. Known as coral graffiti, people collect coral from the sea and form messages on the side of the road. It's a local tradition that's pretty nifty, and my family even noted that there's no profanity ("Where's the big f-word, huh?").

Merriman's Market Cafe
We arrived in Kona at 11 am, which was pleasant-- we were three hours younger than in San Francisco! We drove for thirty minutes north to the district of South Kaholo. Along the way, we finally saw some palm trees and beaches, though they looked like an oasis (so close, yet so far away) since they were a couple miles off of Queen Ka'ahumanu Hwy. Led by our guidebook, we stopped at a high-end resort that included Queen's Marketplace, a quaint outdoor mall with Merriman's Market Cafe. This restaurant offered Mediterranean fare for respectable prices. Seated outside with an ocean breeze and a friendly waitress, dendrobium orchid tucked behind her ear, we instantly felt transported to, well, Hawai'i. The waitress convinced us to order two bruschetta, which was sweet, flavorful and on the best bread. The salads we ordered featured local greens and zesty dressings. We were impressed by their use of local ingredients, such as arugula and the Hawaiian tomato, which is special in its own way but can't compete with California heirlooms. However, the only thing that needed improvement was the mozzarella-- it tasted rubbery and simply not fresh. But we'll talk dairy later.

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
Heading back on the highway, the place we chose for our first encounter with Hawaiian waters was a beach protected by the National Parks Service. There we talked to a park ranger and I advocated for San Francisco's The Presidio, where I work at Crissy Field Center. They were impressed. Anyway, we headed down to the harbor, parked, and walked to the beach. First we sighted an authentic Hawaiian hut and prayer structure. The water was the comfortable temperature of a swimming pool. My brother and I strolled the shore and discovered a couple of fish, including the Hawaiian state fish, Humuhumukununukuapua'a (or Humu for short). There were also some signs warning visitors of green sea turtles, which excited me, but I guess we'll spot them on another salt-and-pepper beach.

The Thing About Costco
Our last spot for the day was Costco, because we do how the locals do. I've heard rumors that Hawaiian Costcos serve beef bakes in addition to chicken and also sashimi to take home. The other thing people forgot to mention was the prices of certain things, including milk and eggs. I mean, five bucks a gallon? Honestly? Well, turns out there's only about 100 cows on this huge island, them being cattle and not dairy cows. So if there's one thing I learned from this massive warehouse, it's the realization of where our food comes from. Yes, people, Hawai'i is an island, and everything they don't make themselves-- like milk distributed from Seattle-- travels 4,000 miles over. That's remarkable. Consider ourselves lucky that happy cows come from California.

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