I have this weird habit of staying up really late before setting off on a big trip. Maybe I'm eager to get there, or maybe I'm just busy squeezing as much hanging out at home as I can, or maybe I figure I'm going to be jet-lagged and squeezed into a single chair for most of the day, so I'll be tired regardless. Whatever the case, I was just about adjusted to Hawaiian time before I even left (which is bad judging that they're five hours behind us).

Brother Joe and I had tossed around the idea of a trip to Hawaii together to hang out with our sister Laurie, Nathan, and Catie before he started up a new job and I had summer to spend. I spent weeks keeping an eye on fuel prices and airline tickets, finally plotting a good time to go. With some additional number-crunching, we found that we could fly out of Dallas much more cheaply, even cheaper if we took the train and didn't have to worry about parking fees. That's a lot of scratch paper and brain-power dedicated to saving a few bucks. Imagine what I could do if I dedicated it to making money, heh.

Anyway, I got up early Friday morning and woke up John (who was crashing at my place since Backwoods Oklahoma isn't terribly exciting) to take me to the train station. I met up with Joe and hopped the "Heartland Flyer" to Fort Worth. The thought of riding the train made me nervous with the stories of notorious lateness and the nickname "Heartland Crawler" making me wonder if we might even miss the flight.

Fortunately, we only sat on the tracks for about an hour or so, waiting for a broken freight train to back up. We had about a 5% chance of missing the flight, but we didn't. We did, however, miss the train from Fort Worth to the airport. I wasn't in any mood for dealing with the tangled web of DFW transit without aid of the Internet, so I sprang for a taxi. Even with the extra expense, we came out ahead instead of flying out of OKC.

Time issues aside, the train trip was awesome. The chairs are huge and comfortable: recliners, ample leg-room, and two kinds of foot rests! The ride was pleasant rocking, and the vistas of the southern plains spread all around us. Best of all, it was a double-decker train, which is awesome of its own accord. The snack car may be pricey, but I packed along some extra vittles. I had to pack them anyway since flights have stopped serving meals. Cheese sandwiches are excellent survival food, and pre-packaged cheese from chemicals makes sure that it'd last through anything up to and including an atomic explosion.

The flights were long and suitably dull, wedged into airline seats reading since the movies were uninteresting and headphones cost $5 anyway. We stopped for some barbecue at DFW at a place that'd been recommended to me. Maybe not the best BBQ in all of Texas, but it's not bad airport food. The best thing about the airport, though, was the iPod vending machine.

Seriously. Put your credit card in, and an iPod comes out. Also, iPod accessories and song uploads. What an age to be alive.

We arrived in Honolulu well after dark, and I was much more pleased with the open-air terminal than last time. Here people were giving out leis and there was a band playing Hawaiian versions of Christmas songs. The air tasted salty and, as we were landing, the whole of Waikiki shone up like a toned-down Vegas.

Laurie picked us up and drove us across the island to her house, and I was disappointed to be surrounded by tropics while it was too dark to see. Being closer to the equator, Hawaii gets dark earlier in the summer than we do in the north. How's that for weird tilt-of-the-Earth stuff? It felt late, so we went to bed pretty quickly. In the morning, I finally got a good look at the island greenery. Not a bad view from your bedroom window, eh?

After lounging around for a bit and catching some Saturday morning cartoons (funny how my TV-viewing changes only slightly when I'm spending a couple of weeks with a five-year-old...), we headed for the beach, which was, of course, a three-minute walk away.

That's the view south, and take note of the two islands. That's where Nathan and I kayaked last year and I got the worst sunburn imaginable. The view north is pleasant, too.

We set down building a sandcastle. It's not easy to go into architectural detail with a niece and a dog around, but it's fun nonetheless.

I built a pyramid. For some reason, I've got this strange fascination with sand pyramids, even though they don't work that well. I built a bigger one later, about two-feet high.

We ended up playing for a couple of hours longer than I anticipated (time flies, y'know), and Laurie eventually collected us for lunch. The afternoon fluttered away easily, with hanging out on the swingset, reading, and general island-style goofing off. For dinner, we went out for Japanese on Nathan's birthday. The sushi, tempura, and butterfish came in courses, and I was stuffed by the time starters were done. Still, I found some room for a few bites of ice cream and chocolate cake at a posh sandwich shop. Mm, it was the first of much eating for the trip.

Speaking of eating, the next morning we got up for brunch at the Officer's Club. What could be better than crab, pancakes, waffles, Portuguese sausages, fresh pineapples (plus watermelon and just about any other fruit imaginable), and a chocolate fountain? Maybe the view while you ate them.

Continuing the Kennedy-style day, we headed to the North Shore area for an afternoon of polo.

They handed out some fliers about the rules and attire in polo. As we read, there were continuous "Oh, okays!" as item after item finally made sense. There are a lot of finicky rules in polo judging speed and direction (all for the protection of the horses).

Between "chukkers" (quarters, essentially), we did some kiting. There was a great breeze, but I must acknowledge the tedium of kite-flying. Telling someone to "go fly a kite" really does dismiss their worth on productivity as well as mocking their ability to be amused.

Fortunately, I am fairly easily amused. And what could be more amusing than flying a kite, watching sky-divers tumble and gliders soar, listening to the crash of waves, and feeling the sand snuggle up to around your ankles on a loose beach?

Playing in the water maybe, but the shore was so rock-filled it was hard to imagine going into the waves and coming out whole.

Speaking of sand, if you look really, really closely, you can see the crab I nearly stepped on. Good camo; almost too good.

Eventually we turned back to the polo, which is a pleasant spectator-sport, but not overwhelmingly exciting. It's great for tailgating, though, and lots of people did. Some must have come farther than others.

The day folded up, and we headed out to Haleiwa (pronounced "hal-ee-ayva", which I wouldn't've guessed... the Hawaiian language is efficient to the point of confusion for me), which is the principle North Shore town packed with surfers and tourists. We had Thai food at the same restaurant where I first had Pad Thai, and it was just as good as I remembered. No matter how painfully full you are, you just can't stop eating while there's still noodles on your plate. Ugh, so good.

To make up for some of the eating out, Joe and I headed for a hike the following afternoon. We went up what's called the "Pillbox Hike", which goes up from Kailua to a few pillboxes built for defense of the island during World War II. Now they're brightly painted hilltop buildings of foot-thick concrete and stunning views. If I ever became a hobo, I think I'd move into one of them. Though they would take some cleaning, really, with all the discarded bottles, broken glass, and ample teenage graffiti. I liked the squid, though.

Anyway, the hike started climbing out over a country club golf course. Much prettier than the stock-housing nearby.

The trail was fairly easy, though steep at points, sometimes surrounded by tall, eerily Alice-in-Wonderland-style grasses, and other times narrow between rocks.

We went up and past the islands where I swam with honu (turtles) a year ago. This time, I was wearing two shirts and a hat to keep the sun off me.

We climbed high enough on top of one of the pillboxes that you could see the Marine base to the north. There must be really cool, classified stuff hidden inside that mountain... or so I'd like to think.

We spotted some weird plant-life on the trek. Seeing cactus on tropical islands still weirds me out.

Not as weirded out as the plant that put off flowers that looked and felt almost exactly like starfish, just a few hundred feet up from the shore. Weirded out, indeed.

To the south, we could see where I had hiked the year before to the lighthouse. Sea Life Park rested on the shore between us. That hike had paved trails and hand rails. Not this one.

I'm not exactly sure why, but I like the wrinkled-looking ridges on the mountains. Very cool.

Here's me trying to look heroic.

When we ran into a split in the trail that headed farther south along a seemingly never-ending ridge, we decided our real path was down and out of the hills. We ended up on some cul-de-sac where the trail ends in the middle of suburban housing. It blows the Oklahoman mind to think that just down the street you'd have a path that takes you up a hillside to where you can see miles in every direction. Of course, we can usually see miles in every direction anyway.

We followed the city streets working our way back to the shore, then hiked along the beach back home. It was a long walk, but good and fun, especially at the beach. Walking in sand is rough, but there are awesome sights like trees with roots nearly washed away.

We'd worked up quite an appetite (as well as a lot of sweat since we both reeked enough to need showers immediately), so we had grilled ahi and kanago (fish & shark) for dinner. We Okies may have some good beef, but I think we miss something being 500 miles from the sea.

The next day, Laurie and Catie were going into Honolulu, so Joe and I tagged along to be dropped off at the Hawaii Army Museum. Long ago in the early days of fortifying Hawaii, the US Army set up a camp that eventually became Fort de Russy. Turns out, it's right smack in the middle of Waikiki, and now serves as a resort for the military and a park open to the public. All around the park, it's wall-to-wall hotel skyscrapers, but in the middle it's green and quiet. If the Army is ever strapped for cash, I'm sure they could sell the land off to developers and make up a good portion of the National Debt.

Long before Waikiki grew up, though, Fort de Russy held a battery with enormous 14-inch "disappearing" guns. That's 14-inch for the shells; the guns themselves were so large that they were lowered into the building to load, then raised to fire, and the recoil snapped them back into loading position. It took thirteen-man crews to operate them. The cannons have been dismantled (airplanes really changed the whole "massive-cannon battleship" approach to warfare), and now the battery holds the Army Museum.

Outside, there's a captured Japanese tank.

An American tank stands next to it.

Inside, they gave just about a complete history of warfare on the islands, focusing mainly on World War II, but with some as a support center for troops heading to and from Vietnam. It's everything from shark-toothed clubs...

...to a model of one of the 14-inch guns.

I'm not sure which says "overkill" more.

One room of the museum was dedicated to the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regiment. They were Americans of Japanese ancestry (AJAs) who fought in World War II in the European theater. There was a lot of animosity to make up for, but the soldiers more than did, with their slogan of "Going for Broke." Another slogan was the "Purple Heart" outfit, since they're the most decorated of anybody just about ever. The unit earned 9,486 Purple Hearts (meaning that the average soldier was wounded three times), 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 4,560 Silver and Bronze Stars. Wow.

Seriously, wow.

Up top, many of the medals were stored in a "Gallery of Heroes." Other exhibits showed works by the Army Corps of Engineers (there's some impressive deeds), as well as an old Cobra Helicopter. Helicopters changed ground combat almost as much as planes changed combat at sea.

We hung around the park for a while after the museum closed, checking out the various hobos, tourists, and surfers, then headed for dinner at Pinky's (kind of an island version of Chili's). I finally found out what "pupu" is: a kind of a bunch of little appetizers memorable of tapas. While the Hawaiian pork sandwich was good (I'd like to compare all the barbecues of the world some day... that would be a good day), the real draw was that on Tuesday nights, they brought in balloon artists to make stuff for the kids. They had monkeys hanging from trees, monkeys riding motorcycles, spaceships, just about any kind of fish, and even an Aang from Avatar. Catie got an Ariel mermaid.

Being the other kid around, I got a shark hat. It was awesome... and kinda freaky. It only became more hideous and terrifying as it slowly dissolved until it was only a pair of blood-shot eyes staring up at you. Yikes.

The next day, Catie went to some kind of kid's gym thing (really an indoor playground, which was awesome... you know, they should make indoor playgrounds for adults and call them "gyms", too), and they would meet up with us later while Joe & I hung around the beach at Bellows Air Force Station (Navy, Army, Air Force... I'd seen them all). We did some bodyboarding (the waves weren't quite big enough, but still fun) and settled into more sandcastles. I actually made a sculpture of a Sandman reclining on the beach about five feet long. I snagged some pictures with Laurie's phone, but I haven't gotten back to them yet.

The next day was busier as we all loaded up (Joe and I had to squeeze a bit to fit around Cate's car seat) and headed for Sea Life Park, perhaps best known as the place where Adam Sandler worked in 50 first dates (though much of it was filmed on a sound stage far away).

The park wasn't, say, Sea World, but it was enjoyable enough so long as you weren't sitting in the tropical sun for too long. There were plenty of critters to see, such as penguins (who look cute, but have a horrifying moan of a call... yikes).

They had a shelter for sea birds, which one guy gruffly noted that the same birds were across the highway on the shore itself, so why bother?

Probably because these ones were tamer, despite the warnings.

There were also turtles (we got to pet some baby honu, which was awesome), rays, sharks, seals, and sea lions. Best of all, though, were the dolphins.

The highlight of the trip was swimming with the dolphins themselves, or "molesting" them as some might say.

Toward the middle of the afternoon, we checked in to pick up our life jackets for seeing the dolphins up close. The water was cold, salty, and obviously recycled, but it held dolphins, and that was awesome. The trainer showed us some commands, and then we settled in meeting dolphins face-to-face. We danced, kissed, and petted. Dolphins feel very weird, kind of like thick, wet plastic. And while dolphins look really cute from far off (and up close, really), you can't see all the sores and scars they carry. Dolphins communicate sometimes by nipping at each other. The trainer said it's not as bad as it sounds, but judging from the scars, I'd say it is.

In the middle of our shindig, the wolphin came out to play. That's right, a "wolphin". A while back, they kept a false killer whale in the tanks with the dolphins, thinking it wouldn't be any big deal. Except, it was, and they suddenly had a hybrid whale-dolphin born. The girl was quite big, kind of scrunch-nosed and dark like a whale, and, shockingly, fertile. That's not supposed to happen according to the biological definition of species!

Without going on a tirade about the shortcomings of biological classification, there's something nobody told us until I asked the trainer afterward lengthy questions about what's up: the "false killer whale" isn't really a whale at all. Neither is the killer whale. They're from the family Delphinidea, of which real whales aren't. So that hybrid isn't really a "wolphin" at all, no more than I am. Well, okay, maybe a lot more than, but whatever.

We went back to Sea Life Park the next evening for a luau. They started off with a parade of critters and, of course, a dolphin show. First up was the penguin march.

Then came the seals, which dance hilariously.

Even cooler than the dancing is when the seals to hand-stands. It's hard to make out from the picture, but that's because the sheer coolness darkened the shot.

Entertained, we retired to the cafeteria, where we stuffed ourselves on salads and fruits and noodles and meats of all kinds (I had some octopus accidentally... it really isn't that good, just squishy-rubbery). Stuffed, the entertainment began again with much hula-ing from various islands of the Pacific. While Tahitian dancing is easily the best to watch, the Aotearoan (New Zealand) is very cool and very bloodthirsty (plus sticking out their tongues in various forms of commuication). Their simple warcry of roughly "hoouh" means some extremely vicious killing of you by them. Of course, even that doesn't compete with Samoan fire-knife dancing. I mean, what can you say about a culture who said, "Hey, juggling knives is great and all, but what if they were on fire?! Yeah!"?

Good times. We were worn out, so we headed home to rest up for an early next day. On the way out, we passed some sleeping sea lions, who looked very cozy.

The next morning was indeed very early (about 4:30), since we were catching an early plane to Kauai for our vacation from vacationing. They'd booked a cabin for their own vacation, and since there was an extra bedroom, they invited us along. It was very exciting to see another Hawaiian island, especially for Joe who would now be able to sleep in a bed instead of on a couch.

The plane flight was 18 minutes, which just blows my mind. Planes are where you buckle down in a semi-curled position for a good hour at least. But, since Hawaiians used air travel instead of boats for passengers, this was the simplest route.

When we arrived on the tarmac (it was a small enough plane not to use the corridors from the terminals... actually it was such a small plane that they had to re-seat people to balance the weight), we hopped into a rental car and drove across the island to the Na Pali coast, where Nate, Joe, and I would be hiking for the next two days.

I ended up liking Kauai even more than Oahu. There was less opulence to the touristy stuff and a much more "down-home" feel to the island. Really, with the ample red soil and propensity for big cars, the island was very much like rural Oklahoma, as if someone had taken Kremlin or Nash and plopped it on an island.

There were also loads and loads of wild chickens running feral. I saw a bunch on Oahu last year but nothing like this. They were everywhere. Whenever you looked out the car window, you'd say, "Hey, chickens!", until it lost all meaning. At one of the posher restaurants, this sign was out front:

That means either they're kidding around... or that the restaurants without the sign have a shocking secret.

Chicken-talk aside, we worked our way along the stunning beauty of the island shores, fields, and mountains until we came to the edge of the Na Pali coast. It's one of the most stunning hikes in the world, or so Nathan told us. What he neglected to tell us was that it was rated and 9 out of 10 on the difficulty of the terrain. I knew we were in for a tough trek, but not this tough.

Here's our path: 11 miles through rain forests, waterfalls, and cliffs.

There's a smaller hike that regular ("sane") people do that's only two miles out to a beach. It has some pretty commanding views of its own.

Around the first cliff, we saw the beach where we'd be camping for the night, at the edge just beyond the last cliff in view. It looked like nothing. Heh.

We saw plenty of weird vegetation along the way, like this weird tree, which I think is a breadfruit tree. I've always wanted to taste breadfruit.

Here's one of many warning signs along the trail. Other signs had to do with Leptospirosis being in the streams where goats had been. For our trip, Nate packed a pump filter for the water along with chlorine tablets, and we survived on that (though you had to wait a couple of hours for the chlorine to dissipate, otherwise it was disgusting). Really, the water was probably purer than what we get out of the faucet... well, Norman's water, definitely. But at least we don't have lethal currents.

It was hard to imagine such streams had vicious animacules. At least one lady ignored the signs and drank freely. Either she had a tolerance built up to it or she was in for a nasty week afterward.

We reached the first beach, which had a big tide pool and an awesome sea cave. But, since we had nine more miles to go that day, we stuck to the trail.

So we hiked...

...and hiked...

...and hiked...

...and hiked. This was the last leg of the journey, when we could finally really see the beach (we'd been telling ourselves there was only one mile to go for about the past three miles).

We passed through an uncanny difference in biomes. Some parts were rain forest (where we passed some locals out boar-hunting with bows), other parts were rock-filled forests...

...others were barren slabs of rock just like Thermopylae, others were crags with goats (I'm sad that one didn't come out so well)...

...others were clay cliffs so steep switchbacks were cut into them about every twenty feet, and still others were flat, soft grasslands. Nathan said these were "Sacred Lands" to the Hawaiians, or were at least designated so that developers couldn't get their hands on them.

Finally, we reached the beach, and I was done. Everything from my shoulders to my knees hurt, and my hip still hasn't quite bounced back. When we arrived, the beach was mostly empty, since all the hippies (and preps pretending to be hippies who had kayaked from the beach) were hiding from the sun. As night fell, they crept out of the trees, and the beach gradually filled up. It was kinda creepy.

Not as creepy as the toilets, though. It worked on the same bio-principles as the eco-toilet I'd seen at Walden Pond, but it smelled oh-so-much worse.

We ate some spaghetti from a bag cooked over a fire, showered in a waterfall nearby, and settled into bed. All night, I had horrid repetitious dreams of trying to catch a boat back to skip the 11-mile hike back and just missing them. At least, when I was asleep: the rest of the time I was awake trying to stretch into a position that didn't send bolts of fire up my strained leg.

The next morning, I was too stiff to walk, but some limping sorted me out. There were indeed boats that came by, but they were all headed with the current, away from where we were going; except for the tourist-boats, which didn't stop at all. So, I doped myself up with all the advil in Nathan's med pack, and we went back on our way.

It rained just before we headed out, which didn't last long, but helped keep things cool. Toward our last two miles, it rained again, which helped with the cool, but turned the trail to mush. Nathan let me borrow one of his hiking sticks (which I previously mentally disregarded), and I was won over by the concept that it takes some load off one's legs, about which I hadn't thought before the trek.

The hike was awesome, literally awe-inspiring. It reminded me of walking through the Vatican Museums, where I was tired and starving, but so agape at everything around me that I missed noticing much of the time. Also similar, by the end, I was so sick of seeing beautiful things that I just wanted to sit, eat, and suck down water until I fell asleep.

Even in the midst of my whining, I still found time to take some interest in weird plant-life. We also met a feral kitten that hung out along the trail and had learned to survive by begging food off hikers. Smart kitty.

It took us the whole day to make it back, weary as we were, and Laurie was there to meet us when we made it. She passed out bottles of ice water, which I immediately slurped up coupled with handfuls of twizzlers. Since fourth grade, I've known that drinking loads of ice water at once is a bad idea, but I was too thirsty to care. I did care shortly thereafter when I got very sick, but at least I learned one valuable lesson: Twizzlers taste as good coming up as they do going down. Remember that.

We drove back across the island to Barking Sands, a beach where the military had its cabins where we'd be staying on the PMRF (Pacific Missile Range Facility). There weren't any active tests, though the planes did fly pretty low to the nearby landing strip. Mostly, it was just a nice two-bedroom house with TV and air conditioning, which was fantastic in my book.

The road nearby (Kauai has awesome highways, by the way... you wouldn't think it, being an island and all, but roadways and cars are very, very nice there) cut through old sugar plantations on the flatlands that led to the mountains. It blows my mind to have land so flat and then suddenly thrust upward into the skies.

By the way, the reason it's called Barking Sands is because, long ago, an old fisherman tied his nine dogs up there one night, but lost them during a storm. In the morning, he heard them barking from under the sand. He dug and dug, but couldn't find them. To this day, you can still sometimes hear their barking... or, at least, a barking-like sound from the tidal shifting of the shore. Either way.

We spent the next day looking at Waimea, the town in Kauai where Captain Cook first set foot on Hawaii. It's a quait little town with lots of old buildings ranging from rusted-out sugar refineries from the early 1900s, lots of Art Deco buildings from the build-up in WWII, and plenty of island architecture with big, open houses. Kauai wouldn't be such a bad place to live, provided one could afford it.

We walked the swinging bridge over a canal (my camera batteries died, and so I had no chance to snap pictures, sadly), stopped in at the Kona Kookie factory for some sweets, and got shave ice at Jojo's (they chided me for getting kiddier flavors than my niece, but the root beer and cotton candy were delicious). Small town things entertained us, such as guys doing backflips off various walls and a take-out place called "Da Booze" that served fried chicken, barbeque, and anything else one would expect from a place called "Da Booze."

We also went to Waimea Canyon, called the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." It's supposedly home of the Menehune, the mystical "little people" of Hawaii who built the ancient stone walls, sounding strangely akin to leprechauns. Menehune or not, it did indeed look like the Grand Canyon, but smaller and filled with rainforest at the bottom. There were incredible views, and it was so very quiet away from everything but a few tourist helicopters that came through. Nathan said they had hiking in the canyon, too, but I assured him we could wait for next time to tackle it.

Tuesday was a lazier day. We spent all morning at the beach. Joe built a massive sandcastle with functional moat (down the beach from us, some guys built an incredibly detailed fortified city reminiscent of Roman Alexandria). I, meanwhile, dug a giant hole, not stopping until water was trickling up from the bottom. Then I used the sand to make a big chair. Mm, comforting.

Going to the beach wears one out, so we spent the afternoon napping. We grabbed some burgers at the place that didn't use wild chicken, then dropped Laurie off at the airport to get back early to do a photo shoot. The rest of us lazied around watching TV or sitting on the deck, reading and listening to the waves crash. The next morning we had to pack up and head out to the airport ourselves for another 18-minute flight.

Back on Oahu, Laurie picked us up, and we head back to their house for one last day. I finished my reading (To Kill a Mockingbird, which I had missed in high school), repacked, and then went on a long walk to take some pictures of awesome gates along the road. Catie begged to come with me, so I brought her along (though, of course, ten minutes later she was begging to go back) and gave piggy-back rides for a mile or so. Good times, actually.

I wanted to get a picture of this bronze gate of whales, but it was rolled behind the wall, so I had to get just a picture of the edge.

Instead, his was the gate across the street. It's probably better, though for some reason, the whales strike me as nifty, if gaudy.

Instead of turning back down the street, we cut across a park to the beach, and I got one last long look at the Pacific. Kite-surfers were out, which was pretty cool. I'll have to add that to my to-do list after wind-surfing. But, that'd be for next time.

After dinner, we headed to the airport to catch an 11 PM night-flight to the Mainland. I got a decent amount of sleep, though the sun coming up at 4 AM really messed up my internal clock. The rest of the trip went exceptionally smoothly. We caught our bus at DFW to the connection bus to the connecting train all in the nick of time, leaving us with three hours to kill at the Fort Worth train station. We had a long Subway lunch then read until it was time to board the Heartland Flyer back to Norman, where I slept, read, and spent a long while just gazing out the window at the sights of the prairies. Islands are awesome, but we've got our own bits of awesomeness here on the Mainland, too.

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