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November 8, 1998

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HAWAII --November 8

Aloha! (See? You already know a little piece of another language!)

Isn't it strange that Hawaii is a part of the United States?  It's one of the most "distant" places on earth (meaning it's really far from ANYWHERE else), and has a really unique and special history and culture of its own -- yet, it's still a state, just like California. One moment you can be participating in a luau, eating poi and roast pig just dug up in the traditional way from an underground pit; the next, stuck in a traffic jam in Honolulu, looking up at endless rows of gleaming hotels and McDonalds on Waikiki Beach.

Strange -- but fun!!

I'm enjoying myself here, but it really feels like just a step on the way to my REAL trip.  I guess that's because it's so easy to get here (just a quick five-hour plane ride from Los Angeles or San Francisco) and because most of it feels just like home. On the other hand, it's a good stepping stone because, while it is familiar, it IS different from "the mainland."  It has a mostly "minority" population, with lots of indigenous Hawaiians mixing with Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, haoli (European-American) and other immigrants.  Each group contributes a lot to the "feel" of the island culture.

Tourism is the biggest industry, and many of the tourists are from Japan -- with the large Japanese community, English may be the SECOND most common language you hear! (With the Asian economic crisis happening, though, Japanese tourism is way down, and the Hawaiian economy is hurting badly as a result.)

The landscape is dramatic, with the volcanoes dominating everything.  The islands are a string of volcanoes, and even if you can't see one, everything around you is produced BY them.  As destructive as they can be, it's green and lush here because of them, too.  That's not true everywhere, though -- the Big Island has lush rainforests, for sure, but also deserts and even snow at the top of its tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, which is actually the tallest mountain in the world!

Kilauea:Thurston lava tube

These photos are from Kilauea, the active volcano I visited, which was like being on another planet.  Thurston Lava Tube, above, is left over from what was a molten tunnel of lava.

Kilauea sulphur gases

And that's not steam in this photo, but sulfur gases escaping from inside the volcano!  Hawaiian natives still come to this spot to do sacrifices, which are usually pretty modest (packets of foods or flowers, for example) but can sometimes be a whole pig. Being in Hawaii still feels like being in the U.S., and I'm anxious to hit the road. See you in Indonesia -- sampai nanti (means until later In Indonesian)!


Hawaii's history is very interesting. Even though it is so distant, it was one of the most densely populated and productive of the Pacific Islands even centuries ago. Why? The high mountains helped bring rain, and with the rich volcanic soil and rivers that resulted the Hawaiians were able to grow lots and lots of taro, a nutritious root. Taro was (and still is) used to make poi, a traditional dish, and to feed the pigs they raised and then slaughtered to eat at the luau.  Native Hawaiians also designed advanced fish ponds where they trapped fish and then bred them, providing abundant food throughout the year.  I had great photos of a luau and the fish ponds, but they got eaten by my camera; technology can be harsh!  Can anyone find a good link to a web site with photos of luaus and Hawaiian fish ponds? A prize to the first person who does!!

E-mail me when you find a photo: Avi Black

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