March 8, 2014

The Road to Hana and Discovering the Real Maui

Maui is not a place I ever imagined visiting.

I consider myself a budget traveler and this particular island always evoked the imagery of obnoxiously rich people lounging all day on the beach.

Not my style of travel at all and yet here I was, passing by sugar cane fields after just landing in the city of Kahului, Maui.

I reflected in my mind, how exactly had I imagined Maui again? As a small-town Ohio girl I formulated a strange, paradoxical mixture of tropical beaches with nothing around and yet, at the same time, high end hotels would be stretching up into the skies.

Heading out on the Road to Hana, a route built for sugar plantation workers commuting from one side of the island to the other that contains more than 600 curves, I could see that my assumptions were all wrong.

Here's what I discovered on Maui:

New Sand Colors

The island of Maui is one of the few places in the world where you can experience several different sand colors on beaches only minutes apart form each other. The brick red sand is a product of the iron rich soil and the black is, of course, pummeled lava.

A Cultural Art

Supplied with plumerias and orchids, I learned how to make leis! It was actually a simple procedure; simply string the flowers through their most sturdy point on the gigantic needle and voila! A very festive and fragrant bracelet.

A Reminder of Nature's Strength

It's easy to get lost in fantasies of tropical paradise while visiting Maui but this stop was a solemn reminder that island life also means island storms. A deadly storm hit the shores of Huelo, killing most of its inhabitants and this coral and cement Kaulanapueo Church was the only building to survive.

Sweet Treats

Several stops along the route featured the culinary delights of Maui,  including the Halfway to Hana road stand where we picked up fresh banana bread (which I consumed before I could photograph, sorry!) and the Tedeschi Winery where we sampled delicious pineapple wines. I've always been more of a red wine fan but these had me changing my mind.

My Hawaii Bucket List Became Shorter
The white spot  in the middle is a whale splashing about
As we pulled up to Ho'okipa lookout point I squinted and stared at the ocean where I had just seen a spout of water shoot up, "Is that a whale?"

I couldn't believe my own eyes as a humpback whale jumped full out of the water and then slammed back down. "It's a whale!"

There were several whales, in fact. I was unable to capture a jump on camera but they did playfully slap the water with their fins which was adorable and allowed me to cross 'whale watching' off my Hawaii Bucket List.

Sea Caves and Local Legends

It's no wonder that Maui was used as one of the sets for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The sea caves at Waianapanapa State Park, created by ancient lava tubes, are hauntingly beautiful and have an equally haunting tale to go along with them. Like many Hawaiian tales, it concerns a princess and her untimely demise.

Another World on the Backside

Our tour started on the western side of the island which had the typical, tropical jungle foliage. As we came around to the southern side of the island, however, the scenery bounced between African savannas and the highlands of Scotland. How could one tiny isle contain so much natural beauty?

In a single day, all my notions of Maui had drastically changed. Between the history, food, and natural beauty, I had come to finally understand the Valley Isle beyond the image of celebrity beach homes.

This Road to Hana Eco-Adventure Tour was done with Discover Hawaii Tours.

Have you ever visited a place that was completely different than how you imagined it?

March 1, 2014

A Foodie's Guide to Oahu

If I were to be embodied by a deadly sin, it would be gluttony. I absolutely love food and tasting everything. If you eat dinner with me, I'm going to have to get at least one bite of what you're having. On hikes I constantly look around wondering "Can I eat that?". If you offer me some weird, exotic food, I would not hesitate to try it. 

In my mind, foods are just another way to experience life. Much like how I want to see the world, I also want to taste the world. Luckily for me, the island of Hawaii has been a cornucopia of new foods to try. Besides my new found love for ahi poke (raw salmon with sesame oil) here are some other foods to try out on the island of Oahu.


The Rainbow Drive In embodies classic fare for the island and has been serving the people of Honolulu plate lunches for over 50 years. The dish you have to try: the loco moco.

Ok, I know this doesn't exactly look appetizing but trust me! This dish consists of a hamburger patty over rice with eggs and brown gravy poured over top. On the side is some classic Hawaiian mac salad. Absolutely delicious for when you want something greasy and dirty. 

Just down the street is another Honolulu staple; Leonard's Bakery. At this shop you can get typical baked goods but they are most famous for their malasadas. These Portuguese sweet breads are a bit like light donuts rolled in cinnamon and sugar. The perfect desert to follow a loco moco with!

Dole Plantation

In the center of the island you can find Dole Plantation. Once the backbone of the islands economy, the plantation is now more of a fun stop over for people driving around Oahu where you can learn about the history of the pineapple. Here you can do a tour of the gardens or get lost in the world's largest maze but I was here for a more serious matter: Dole pineapple whip.

This sweet confection was the texture of gelato and is flavored with extremely pungent pineapple. My taste buds piqued with all the flavor!


This small town on the north shore of Oahu is the epitome of Hawaii. Famous for the huge swells in the winter, this surf town is also a trove of good eats. 

First up were the shrimp trucks. I found a clearing with three shrimp trucks; one was pretty clean, one was kinda dirty, and one was absolutely grungy. I, of course, chose the latter. 

Giovanni's Shrimp Truck was honestly the best shrimp I've ever had in my life. They were smothered in garlic and butter (can't go wrong) and served with a side of rice. The shrimp themselves were large and hearty and were extremely fresh.

And to follow up, you have to go to Matsumoto's Grocery Store to get the original Hawaiian shaved ice. This method is different from your typical snow cone in that the shaving technique creates a different kind of ice crystal which holds flavoring better. I went for lilikoi flavor which is a fruit powder that Hawaiians put on sweets to bring out their flavor. I'll have to admit, the shaving technique really does work. I've never has such a flavorful snow cone before!

What's your favorite food you've tried while traveling?

February 17, 2014

Nirvana in Honolulu

Tucked away in the Palolo Valley is the epitome of hidden gems. A ten minute scooter ride from the bustling streets of Waikiki brings you to a typical neighborhood. Suddenly, between the houses, you'll see the bright colors of the Mu Ryang Sa Buddhist temple pop.

February 6, 2014

Encountering the Sublime on top of Koko Head Crater

It was pitch black and slightly drizzling when I got into the car at 4 am. I shivered but remembered it was actually 65 degrees outside. Hawaii has really spoiled me.

The car set out and my guide began pointing and explaining neighborhoods we passed. To our right, the towering hotels of Waikiki which used to be a swamp. To the left, the quiet neighborhood of Hawaii Kai which used to be ancient fishing ponds.

Finally we pulled up to our destination; Koko Head Crater. It this point it was just a dark outline against the night sky and I couldn't grasp how big it actually was. 'But I'm young and fit' I thought, 'I can handle a little hike, right?'

The first 20 minutes weren't that bad. The path, which was actually an old railway that moved supplies up to the WWII base at the top, was moderately inclined. The rain became a bit heavier but I appreciated the refreshing drizzle.

At the half way point it suddenly got steeper. I began to wish that train was still there to take me up. It wasn't so much a problem with my legs (though my calves were burning the next day) but more an issue of breathing. Apparently my sedimentary lifestyle is catching up with me?

I stopped several times to catch my breathe before hauling myself up to the top. It was just before daybreak and we could see gray clouds crawling in from the north. I stood at the ragged edge of the ancient volcano and stared down into its dark center. The only sound was that of the wind whipping by.

My guide shook his head disappointingly, "We're not going to see dawn with these clouds rolling in."

But just then I experienced a natural phenomenon so beautiful that it definitely made up for the lost sunrise; instead I got to witness the clouds roll through the valley of the volcanic crater and then, in a gust of furious wind, it shot up over the edge right in front of me and enveloped us in a misty shroud. There was something so surreal and the only word I could think of was sublime. In that moment I was just overcome with awe for the beauty of nature.

My next moment of shock came when I finally turned around and in full day light saw the steps I had just climbed. I swayed for a moment with vertigo. I did that? In that moment my guide finally admitted that the crater we had just hiked was taller than the Eiffel tower and the Statue of Liberty. Apparently he thought it would be best to save that information less we be discouraged.

We headed back down (much easier than going up) and had a breakfast which felt incredibly rewarding after that hike. Plus, it was only 9 am at that point and I had so much day ahead of me. I felt so energized and ready to handle anything.

Has there been a moment when you felt awed by nature?

This Koko Head Sunrise Crate Hike was done with Discover Hawaii Tours.

February 1, 2014

Top Five Things I Love About Honolulu

I would have never imagined that I'd one day be living in Hawaii. In fact, it was never even on my radar until my mother mentioned that it might be a good place to start a career. One week after she made that suggestion, I bought my plane ticket. A week after that, I was landing in Honolulu. I literally knew nothing about the islands (crap, there's eight islands and they all have different names? Which one am I on again?) but I decided to take a chance.

Luckily, everything has worked out wonderfully and I've been pleasantly surprised to learn these five awesome facts about Hawaii:

1// Gorgeous weather
It's no secret that Hawaii is pretty much heaven on Earth when it comes to weather. It stays a temperate mid-70's all year round and cloudy days are few and far between. It never gets too hot, though, because the trade winds are constantly moving. As such, I never need to heat or cool my apartment- I just open or close the window.

2// Easy access to nature
It's crazy to think that I live in the downtown center of a city and yet I can walk 20 minutes and be at the beach. Walk 20 minutes the other way and I'm in a tropical forest. The proximity to natural spaces is relaxing and provides plenty  of opportunity for hiking and swimming- sometimes just before going into work.

3// Diversity
Perhaps I'm a bit more aware of this, being that I myself am of mixed race, but I love the cultural diversity out here. On the mainland people would ask me "What are you?" as if my race were some sort of fun guessing game. Out here, when people ask, they're genuinely interested in my ancestry and how I fit into the cultural mosaic of Hawaii. It's nice to finally be in a place where I don't feel like a minority because everyone is also of mixed heritage.

4// Pride in Hawaiian heritage
Though many people are mixed nowadays, there's still a strong pride in Hawaiian culture. By law, any new street has to have a Hawaiian name. The language and culture is actively preserved and passed down each generation. It's nice to see that a once autonomous kingdom still continues to celebrate it's heritage despite being absorbed by another nation.

5// Friendly Culture
My coworkers constantly share their food with me. My landlady introduced me to her children as "Auntie Aryn". Everyone out here just seems a little more relaxed which leads to people being generally more friendly. Some of my coworkers have told me about past trips to the mainland and they're shocked by how rude everyone is.

While I love my move to Hawaii, I have to admit, not everything is perfect out here. But that's coming up soon.

Have you been to Hawaii before? What's your favorite thing about the isles?

January 25, 2014

My Week in Five Photos 4

1// Thrifting
I really appreciate that the Goodwill out here has an entire section just for Aloha shirts.

2// The Palace
 This was my favorite room in the 'Iolani Palace.

3// A Parcel
 My Christmas present from my boyfriend finally arrived!

4// A present
 A shell necklace from a friend.

5// Currently reading
When Languages Die by K. David Harrison. Admittedly I don't care for this book very much. The first chapter was awesome and had me wanting to travel the world to hear all these languages. Beyond that, this book is pretty boring.