Sunday, October 29, 2006

Honolulu to Auckland

It took 24 hours to get from Hawai'i to Auckland - 48 if you count the day lost to the international date line. As the plane hurtled down Honolulu's runway, the brakes slammed on, the captain's panicked voice came through the tannoy and the plane was delayed just enough to miss the connection at Sydney. (Incidentally, am I the only person who thinks air travel is unnatural. Whose idea was it to travel the world in a tin box, hurtling through the air for no other reason than oil burns. Don't get me wrong - I'm not frightened of air travel. I just think it's faintly ridiculous).

Anyway, while stressed NZ families tore themselves apart, I was quite looking forward to a complimentary hotel room to myself - with no snoring, half-naked backpacker in the next bed keeping my awake. Even better, Quantas paid for Holiday Inn to prepare a buffet of various tepid meat-based stews and casseroles. Naturally everybody felt duty-bound to eat as much as possible, whether they were hungry or not. In this, New Zealanders are the same as the Brits.

At least during this stop-over, I had some company and spent most of the time with two backpacking girls. One was Swiss, but the other came from Darlington. Small world, eh? My fellow North Easterner seemed nice, eager, a little middle-class but very friendly. A bit square, I thought.

Next morning, while we waited at the departure gate for the flight to NZ she asked me to look after her bags. When she returned there were some tell-tale traces of white powder in both nostrils. Obviously I pretended to have seen nothing. Now I'm not an innocent when it comes to drugs, but I must admit I was fairly shocked. First, she was so square. Second, surely if there is one place you don't want to be caught with blow it's at an airport. There were dogs everywhere when we came though Sydney the night before. Perhaps she nipped into downtown Sydney to score after the rest of us went to bed? Then I think I ought to be more generous. Perhaps it might be a new form of travel-sickness medicine? One best taken nasally. Or possibly a new and improved vitamin powder? This fails to convince.

While we wait to be called, I can't work out why she would take cocaine just before a flight. For the next 3 hours she's going to be strapped into the same not-very-spacious airline seat - quite likely trapped between chubby taciturn pensioners and/or bickering families. It doesn't really seem like the best time to for a cocaine high. And of course, part of me is annoyed that the selfish cow wasn't willing to share.

Things I have learnt:

- at the time of writing, there are just over 27 million seconds until next year's Rugby world cup starts.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Six nights in Waikiki

Well so much for my amateur insights into Hawaiian culture - what did I actually do in my 6 nights in Honolulu? To be fair, for the first three days very little. I had a routine, moving from hostel to (air-conditioned) coffee shop, to beach, to splashing around in the sea, to (air-conditioned) cheap noodle bar, and back to my hostel dorm. During this time, I was almost exclusively sleeping or reading.

But on Monday, a group of us from the hostel decided to explore the island in a mini-bus. We went from south to North Shore, from Sunset Beach to mountain rain forest - from the ugly volcanic beach where Burt Lancaster kissed Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity, to the enormous Del Monte estate where we stole one of their pineapple crop.

Naturally, when it came to the event, we were closer to Whitehall farce than street-wise grifters. Just as we parked the mini-bus, and were trying to project an air of amateur but enthusiastic horticulturists, two lorry-loads of fruit-pickers came out of the Del Monte compound (which I thought looked worryingy like a dirty cement plant). Objectively, there is no reason for these poor fruit-pickers to give us a second thought - especially as they are probably paid a pittance, looked as if they had been bussed in from South America, and had to wear layer upon layer of clothes in the humid Hawaiian heat to protect themselves from the short, hard spikes of the pineapple bush (I speak from experience).

Nevertheless, their presence had a paralysing effect, reducing us to grinning half-witted tourists waving wildly at the passing trucks (a gesture which seemed to be warmly appreciated, and certainly enthusiastically reciprocated). After aimlessly milling about for what seemed like an age but was probably only 3 minutes, our driver Jake grabbed what looked like a ripe pineapple and we sped off - monitoring the road behind us for the Del Monte security guards in hot pursuit. But none came, and we ate our ill-gotten gains at beautiful Sunset Beach on the North Shore - playing Frisbee, scaling palm trees and watching the sky turn red and the stars slowly appear.

Tuesday I hiked up Diamond Head mountain, just outside Honolulu (short, steep with fantastic views) and on Wednesday I braved the Hawaiian public transport system to go into the mountains for a 5 hour hike. From dense tropical rain forest to panoramic mountain views and a brief stop-off at a hidden water-fall - I felt quite pleased and self-satisfied with myself.

Anyhow, I am now on a computer in Auckland as the one in Waikiki was out of order - but Ill save the story of the trip over for the next post.

Things I have learnt:

- the sand on Waikiki beach is imported from Australia
- it costs as much to travel from one end of the island to the other (a journey which takes over an hour, goes over a mountain range and through a rain-forest) as it does to get from Gateshead to Newcastle (a 7 minute journey over a short bridge). $2 or GBP1.
- Spam sushi is incredibly popular - you can buy it at virtually every shop in Waikiki
- the ukulele is central to Hawaiian music - no information as yet on George Formby's influence on islands' culture

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Hawai'i (to spell it correctly)

Now I have spent a bit of time in Hawai'i, I thought it might be good to put something up about the place rather than just whinge about jet-leg (although am now over that, thanks for asking).

Am enjoying it more than I thought I would actually. It's like the USA, but diluted, and is far more international than I thought it would be. For a start the Japanese influence is strong. Apparently loads of Japanese workers were brought over on the cheap in the 1930s to work on some of the sugar cane farms, and many of them stayed. Now Hawaii's really popular with Japanese tourists because the language is readily spoken. There's at least as many Japanese tourists as American.

Also I never realised that Hawaii had such a strong British background - the Union Jack is actually on the state flag (although it was referred to as the English flag in one place I went to!). Back in the 1800s we were the Hawaiian best friends and they flew our flag to try and warn off invaders from France, Holland, Japan, etc. It was only at the end of the 19th century that the USA bullied their way in and colonized the islands.

Finally, you do get a feel for the native Hawaiian traditions, even if it is only the tourist version. The music is everywhere (hard to describe, but it reminded me of bluegrass), the language is trying to be protected and promoted, and there are statues of the old royal family all over the island. Having said that the only poor part of the Island I've seen is the one which is dominated by native Hawaiians and/or other Polynesians. And even though the election campaigns are up and running, I've not seen any discussion of the native Hawaiian vote in any of the coverage I've seen.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


So I'm in the backpacking hostel in Honolulu, at Waikiki beach. It's very much a surfing and beach resort - and everyone looks like they belong in Hollyoaks. V depressing.

San Francisco was cool - stayed in the middle of China Town this time, so excellent location. Just pottered about - bit of shopping, went wine tasting and out and about in Castro and Haight Ashbury. Very pretty city, with loads going on, but you only have to walk a few blocks and the poverty is all encompassing. Bit ironic, as I was reading Down and Out in Paris and London.

San Francisco was a bit subdued really, as I suffered a fair amount from jet-lag. I've never had it before but when you only get a few hours sleep a night - every night - you feel like a zombie all day.

Having said that I feel better today - and might even be up for that surfing lesson tomorrow...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Last minute as always

Well I leave for London tomorrow lunchtime, and have just finished packing (am I the only person who leaves things so late. I have also only just booked travel insurance). The rucksack was a present from ippr when I left, and has a bewildering array of straps, toggles and belts. I rather suspect it's designed to go up Everest, but with me it will only ever see the inside of airplane holds and bus terminals.

Also I packed far too many books to start off with, so have left most of them behind and will try to swap them at hostels or second-hand book shops as I go along. (For the literate amongst you, I have taken Le Carre's The Constant Gardener, Dicken's David Copperfield and Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London).

Incidentally, watched the excellent Prime Suspect while ironing/packing - I shall be much less flippant about using the word 'alcoholic' in future. Vastly better than the Cracker revival of a couple of weeks ago and very sad to see Tom Bell looking so fragile in what must only have been very shortly before his death. Now I am just emailing round some people with the address of the blog, and then my last night in Gateshead til january.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

5 days to go

God. Writing blogs is harder than I thought - it’s tricky working out what to put in and what to leave out. I was going to wait for more interesting stuff to happen, but I could be waiting for months for that to happen…

Anyway, am having a bit of a farewell tour at the moment - each night this week I've been meeting up with various friends in Gateshead/Newcastle for a drink and a meal. Head is suffering this morning, and I dread to think how many brain cells I have killed or what damage I have done to my liver. Anyhow, all good fun and nice to have an excuse to meet people.

So having done no preparation, I have finally realised I need to get my act together and went shopping in Newcastle yesterday. Felt very professional when I went into Tiso on Grainger St to buy a sleeping sheet to use in the hostels - almost sounded as if I knew what I was doing. Very helpful guy served me, and he advised me on where I could go mountain climbing in the North East (as if). Also bought insect repellent and very importantly I bought new boxer shorts (well it's communal sleeping you see). Who said this blog would be dull…

Also I booked into hostels in San Francisco, Honolulu and for a few nights in Auckland. Did it over the web easily – not like when I went to USA in the early 90s, when we had to telephone ahead and they would never answer the phone. It’s all becoming a bit more real now, and am beginning to work out there isn't long until I go.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The itinerary

Before I set down any profound thoughts (or record my scandalous behaviour) I thought it might be as well to set out the itinerary for my trip:

  • 17 Oct - leave London for San Francisco, staying for only a few days before...
  • 20 Oct - flying into Honolulu, and spending a week in Hawaii.
  • 28 Oct - Arrive in Auckland, where I'll spend about a month travelling round New Zealand. I'm thinking a little bit of time in the North, but mostly exploring the South Island.
  • 28 Nov - Arrive in Sydney, and spend a month travelling round Australia. No real plans, but at the moment I'm keen on Byron Bay and Uluru (Ayers Rock) - but will definitely dropping in on my family in Brisbane at some stage.
  • 29 Dec - leave Sydney for Bangkok - where I hope to find a remote beach to do nothing all day on, before arriving back in London on...
  • 17 January.