Now outfitted in Island Wear, I am ready to head out for dinner. I want to check out a rumored big event called "First Friday" in Honolulu Chinatown, that I found mention of on the net. We hop on the bus and head up to the north end of Honolulu. It's getting into dinnertime, and I'm thinking maybe there will be food kiosks or something. Up by the old bridges by the river, we hop off the bus. This area, if I'm to judge by pictures I've seen, hasn't changed much since about 1900. Heck, it definitely hasn't changed since 1960.
Nor has Chinatown.
I remembered it being a bit of a dive, and it still is. I find this oddly comforting. This is REAL Hawaii, not the artificial manufactured experience of Waikiki. There are steamy windows, and an aura of grime on the ca. 1910 buildings. Homeless people lurk here and there. Doesn't bother me. But I walk through the streets as the sun sets and dusk starts to settle, and can't find the event. Then I hear music up the block. I've found the event, but it looks like it's turned into something different than what I was hoping. Most of the music and people seem to be indoors, attached to high-end art galleries on the edge of Chinatown. And it has this feeling of being too high-end for my taste. I don't belong with this crowd. I suggest we try walking down to the Aloha Tower Marketplace, where we will be catching the ship the next day, and see what's there. As dusk falls, we walk past shop after shop that is now open to the night air, where people sit inside sewing falls of flowers. This is the lei-manufacturing district, it would seem. I'm fascinated. This is REAL Hawaii, again!
We get down to the Aloha Tower and I locate the maritime museum I want to hit the next day. Then we go on a quest to see if there is a place to eat. Yes, it's a commercial tourist place, but the shops and eateries attached to the Aloha Tower feel somehow feel more like the tourist Hawaii I remember from the childhood. I find Badass Coffee and make a mental note, because I know chaoswolf is a Badass Coffee fan. Oddly enough, looking out on the harbor as it does, Gordon Birsch appeals to me. Then I read the menu. It's all Hawaiian food! Okay, beer and Hawaiian food, I'm there! We have a great table with a view, and I order poke (I crave poke, a raw fish dish that's a taste of my childhood!) and Chris gets chicken/mango spring rolls. Both are great, and the beer is good, too.
After dinner, we walk up the street past the maritime museum to catch the bus back (the bus detours through the downtown). We're waiting up by a little park. Something flies past, then lights and runs along the street. What's that? Wow, the cockroaches are everywhere, big roaches! No white ones, that I can see, though, which vaguely disappoints me. But they're just like I remember from Oahu when I was a kid. Some things never change. The bus comes and we go back to the hotel.
I use my earplugs for the first time, that night, trying to block Chris's snoring. They don't work terribly well, but they're better than nothing.
The next morning, I'm up and dressed and out the door just after dawn. I am on a Mission. I am recreating a walk I took with my father down the beach from the Royal Hawaiian to Diamond Head, one early morning. I kick off my sandals and walk along in the edge of the surf. The sand under my feet tells me I'm in the right place. The water is blood-warm. Bliss. I see hotel patios fronting the beach that haven't changed much, and suddenly key memories. I stop down by the breakwater and chat with a couple people there, who turn out to also be going on the cruise, later in the day. I go up by the park beyond Prince Kohio Beach then turn back. There are still outrigger canoes pulled up on the beach, though now they are fiberglass, rather than being dugouts. I put my sandals back on and walk back on the street. Along the way, I find the Hawaiian Marketplace. It's still there! And I still recognize it, though it's hemmed by Waikiki sprawl. I see a sign advertising a breakfast buffet with noodles and rice. Okay, that's where I want to eat. I head back to the hotel.
Collecting Chris, I suggest the buffet. At the edge of the Hawaiian Marketplace, I find a shop with a closing sale, and some interesting items. I will hit it after breakfast. We take some photos by the koi pond fountain. I stop at a shop by it, and end up with a Hawaiian-style dress, at much cheaper than one I had seen up the street. Breakfast is up a set of steps, and refreshingly dive-y, with linoleum tables and no round-eyes in sight. This is a Good Sign. I have congee, and some sort of fermented tofu in chili sauce, and singapore noodles, and sausage, and bacon, and fruit... The coffee is great. I will soon learn that even low-end coffee in Hawaii seems to be great. A bunch of Chinese businessmen in aloha shirts come in with their laptops, and chatter in Chinese at one of the tables. After breakfast, I hit a booth where I end up with a kakui nut bracelet, and then go back to the shop that's going out of business. I end up with a haul, including three new dresses. Further up the way, we walk into a tiny shop that just says "Thor" and look at silly art, including partying geckos, Rube Goldberg surfboard-launchers, etc. I pick up a couple cookbooks, a CD of offbeat Hawaiian music, and some prints. One print is for a friend, and the others, including a still in a Swiss-family-Robinson-style treehouse, are for me. It's a fun place!
As I'm heading back with my bags of swag, I realize I want to take a taxi back to catch the ship. My collection of stuff is already getting out of hand. This proves to be a great decision, as the hotel calls a taxi for us, and what pulls up but a limo! It turns out he's there for us, and this is what limo drivers do when they don't have other business. It has leather seats, and burled wood, and a bar full of crystal glasses. Wow, now that's a great ride to the Aloha Tower!
The entire world seems to be getting off taxis and buses and shuttles, to go to the ship. It's a bustling scene, and we manage to check in our luggage. They seem to handle checkin efficiently, and give us what will become our lifeline for the next 7 days: a card that is everything from room key to security pass to get back to the ship to credit card for all purchases, backed by an actual credit card for our shipboard account. I get a vanda orchid lei, and they take embarkation photos, which will be photoshopped to put the ship behind us, not the blue screen. The rooms are not ready yet, but you can check carryons in the theater, so we decide to do that.
Walking into the ship's lobby is like entering the Titanic. It's magnificent, and the lobby not only has a second-floor balcony level, but has a double Grand Staircase going up to a frescoed dome with two glass elevators that communicate between floors. The second level has a champagne bar and small museum of Hawaii memorabelia. We badge out of the ship again and head over to the Maritime Museum.
The museum is great, but seems to have a skew of early/late, with very little of the 19th century in it. I also tour the Falls of Clyde, an old square-rigged oil tanker that is being restored. This kills a couple hours, and we head back to the ship. The real adventure is about to begin!