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… spend your honeymoon in Hawaii?

You are spouses-to-be or have already married and are pondering where to spend your honeymoon? Been there, done that. My tip: Go to Hawaii for a one-in-a-lifetime experience. David and I actually had three possible targets in mind: the Grand Canyon, the Niagara Falls, and Hawaii. My husband, an American born in Massachusetts, had already seen the first two, but I as a German had been to neither destination. We ended up choosing Hawaii, so each of us would have a surprise. Is it expensive? You bet!!! But you will make memories that will last forever, and stories to tell your children. If I had known that two years later, I would be a pregnant widow, I would have taken that honeymoon over instead of a big, expensive wedding ceremony, a beautiful bridal dress, or a sparkling diamond ring. Material things get used up or discarded at some time, but memories and accompanying photos and videos will transfer to the next generation, and they will give you hope and comfort one day when there’s only one of you left. And this day will inevitably come; hopefully, after 80 years for you guys! Let’s put it this way – if I had had only my dusty wedding dress at my husband’s grave, I would have cried, but since I had our beautiful Hawaiian photos, I could smile and remember the good times we had, when he was still healthy and happy. Seeing his laugh gave me so much joy to master the challenges ahead.

We got married in the courthouse in December 2014, when it was too cold to go on a honeymoon. Also, we both worked for the university and wanted to use the big summer break for our memorable journey. In order to afford this trip in May 2015, we had saved on other, less important things: My engagement ring was cubic circonia instead of a diamond, cost about 30 bucks, and looked just as pretty – and nobody needed to know.

My wedding dress was $20 at Ross Dress For Less. I wore it for a day, it looked great for the occasion, and then was given to my little sister.

Thus, we had the capital needed to go on an elaborate vacation: we had the $4,000 for the flight and hotel for two weeks, and the $2,000 we would spend on activities and food. We organized animal care for our furry and scaly friends, packed our suitcases, and embarked on a trip that I still tell our son Leander about. My travel diary lets me relive the fun events and chance encounters:

Day 1, Sunday, May 17th:

At check-in at White Sands hotel, we got a terrible room with three tiny beds (got rebooked the second night to a queen-bed bedroom with a kitchenette). We saw beautiful Banyan trees, ate pizza and Greek salad in the Wolfgang Puck restaurant at the beach for lunch, bought David sandals and swimming shorts, visited the Honolulu zoo, bought a tiger bottle holder and a gecko t-shirt and a rhinoceros t-shirt, walked home, got groceries for our mini fridge and three beach towels (didn’t bring any), and had dinner in a Chinese restaurant. The manager, Dave, stood outside making advertisement on the beach promenade and was surprised we’re from Carbondale… he gave us his card and told us to say hi to J.P. from Rustle Hill winery in Cobden (we would get free food)….

Banyan tree growing “from top to bottom”

Day 2, Monday, May 18th:

We toured the city for several hours just to get a charger cable for my camera, because I had forgotten mine at home… Astonishingly, the bus fare for one person here is $2.50, and it doesn’t seem to be important where one gets off the bus. One can even change the connection one time. There are no time tables hanging at the bus station, so one doesn’t have a clue when a bus comes; just the numbers of the buses are posted. When we asked a lady bus driver if she drove to the aquarium, she said no, and as we asked her where the bus station was where we could get there, she told us to step in, she would drive us there – and she really took us around the corner and showed us where to wait for the right bus for free!! We waited for about an hour….  We had lunch at a nice Indian restaurant and then went to the big shopping mall – there are dozens of “ABC stores” in Honolulu, four within a walk of five minutes, but they have neither charger cables nor milk gallons ☺ In the afternoon, we went to the aquarium until it closed at 5 p.m. and saw many amazing creatures, such as jelly fish, sea horses, corals, sea dragons, etc. Afterwards, we walked to the beach and ate dinner at the Lu Lu restaurant, which has gross lanterns made of dead fish with spikes… There was live music, but the people’s talk was so loud that it was hard to hear anything.

Day 3, Tuesday, May 19th: 

We went to the Polynesian Cultural Center, a whole day trip. Lots of shows, fire jugglers, palm tree climbers, dancers, and a luau meal in the evening…. We learned that “aloha” means three things: 1. Hello, 2. Good-bye, and 3. I love you – the meaning depends on the gestures that accompany the word – and we got to practice all three on the tour bus!

Wearing leis

Tourists were learning how to weave pots:

Tribal attire, fire art, and hula dancers:

And a dude who climbed up a coconut palm tree with naked feet, without any metal claws or anything:

Delicious food at the luau:

Day 4, Wednesday, May 20th: 

In the morning, we went to a 90-min. time-share presentation, after which we got 100 bucks off the trip yesterday to the Polynesian Cultural Center. They have advertisements like this all along the beach promenade; guys with portable stands set up their booths there and sign up people to attend advertising presentations about travel clubs etc., and the incentives are reduced-price activities. Afterwards, we went to the Army Museum and saw lots of pictures and displays about Pearl Harbor. We had lunch at a beach-side restaurant, the Shore Bird. The interesting thing about this restaurant was that they had only one fan on the ceiling that was powered by an engine — all the others were connected to it with a belt! Swimming was a bit wild today, with high waves and not so much sunshine… We saw paragliders (a thing we won’t do here — we will book the jet ski and submarine adventure tomorrow!!).

Day 5:

We took a trolley to the beach, where we boarded a shuttle ship that took us to the Atlantis submarine.

The trolley

About 90 ft. under water, we saw an artificial reef full of fish, a plane and a ship wreck (purposefully submerged; the ship wreck cost the company $300,000 for eco fitting).

Some fish and a sea turtle came close to our round windows, so people could take pictures of them. The colors were all bluish and yellowish, since the light broke them down, so we didn’t see any “colorful” fish.

Alas, both of us got a little seasick, so we were quite happy when this adventure was over!

Day 6:

Extreme sport day today!! A shuttle van took us a long way to a lagoon, where a guy on a boat took us to the jet skiing station. We only got half an hour on that thing, but man, it went off!! Too bad that right before we started, the guy talked about “capsizing” when going too slowly… not very encouraging! As bloody beginners, of course we thought, let’s go really slowly….

I was the driver on our tandem, and David sat behind me… I made the first mistake by pressing the handle when the guy tried to push us down into the water to take off, and shot right back onto the station, so high that the guy had trouble pushing us back into the water… 😉

After my first failed attempt, David wanted to see me do a sample round alone before trusting my driving skills (which, in a car, are horrible), but I passed!! 

We didn’t even get wet at all. I had asked the guy whether we had to stand on the jet ski like he did when he demonstrated how to do it, but he said we can sit if we wanted to get wet. Well, besides a few sprinkles, nothing happened. We went super fast, got a bit bumped around, and the wind was enormous. No capsizing, and no falling into the cold water! The last round I did alone, and won the race against one of the girls….

Day 7:

Adventure! Today, we took a tour bus to visit the East O’Ahu shoreline. We were picked up at 2 p.m. and didn’t get back to our hotel before 6 p.m. We saw the Diamond Head slopes and Kahala, the beautiful Hanauma Bay (where one can go snorkeling; one of our next planned trips), the Halona Blowhole and lookout, the Waimanalo Bay, and the Nu’uanu Pali lookout.

The layers of lava, the green slopes, the lush vegetation, the quiet bays and foamy waves, the white sand beaches, and the view from the top of the crater were amazing!

There were lots of wild hens and roosters around that once had gotten loose and now multiply happily. The beautiful mansions with ocean view of the rich stood in sharp contrast to the high rise concrete hotels of the city.

Day 8:

Quiet Sunday!! We bought two floating boards and two waterproof disposable cameras in anticipation of our snorkeling day at Hanauma Bay tomorrow, and went to the beach to try them out. Alas, it was a cloudy, windy day, and the waves were so high and brutal that it was impossible to use the floating boards!! One was just tossed around and cut oneself bloody on the sharp coral pieces when falling into the “sand”…. so David and I went to the hotel pool instead to inaugurate our boards! I have a new plastic protection cover for my smartphone, which is thus made into an under-water camera, too, and it really works….

We bought a few trolley bus tickets for the rest of the week and tried one out today: the “Red Line” took us (with a tour guide) past the modern, high buildings of the city, which hadn’t been there yet when he was young, and showed us the sharp contrast to the tents of the homeless bordering the streets…

Tents of the homeless – a side of Honolulu many don’t see

Back at the beach in the evening, we went to an Italian restaurant and admired the optical illusion at the hotel pool of the Sheraton — it looks like the ocean waves mingle with the hotel pool water, which makes a steep descend into the ocean…. sometimes, one sees heads walking by — this is because there’s a path underneath the elevated hotel pool, and the people walking along the real beach look like heads of swimmers in the hotel pool 😉 Well done, whoever the architect was!

Optical illusion

Day 9
At 10:40 a.m., we were picked up at our White Sands hotel, and together with 9 others, we rode in a small, badly air-conditioned white van to Hanauma Bay (we switched van and driver once, and the second van had at least a little bit of fresh air). We arrived at about noon at our destination. First, we had to go through the visitors’ center to watch a movie with instructions. Then, we descended the slope with our towels and floating boards, and picked a nice place where it wasn’t too crowded.  We had a palm tree right over us, which gave a little shade.

The current was very strong… and it wasn’t easy to get a good shot! The water was fairly cold. Each of us has 27 pictures on a disposable camera, which we will have to have developed by a photo store either here or in Carbondale …. So we’re hopeful there will actually be a couple of pictures of fish, instead of just the ground or the water!!

We were picked up by the van at 3:10 p.m., and back in Waikiki, we went to a very popular Japanese restaurant that is just around the corner from our hotel; every day for lunch and dinner, there is a huge line in front of its entrance! We stood in line for only ten minutes and then got the last vacant table. They had very good Udon soup with super fat, long noodles. Everything else was breaded, the asparagus, sweet potatoes, egg plants, mushrooms… It wasn’t as expensive as we had feared 😉 

Day 10:

Today, we took the Red Line to the Foster Botanical garden.

First, we visited the Buddhist temple that was right next to it.

Then, we walked through the park and the glass house.

The pictures speak for themselves… We saw giant trees that looked like elephant’s legs, strange pods and seeds, orchids of different shapes and colors, and a large variety of plants.

All trees were labeled, and our written guide explained which number was what.

A vast array of orchids:

Leaves with different colors and patterns, pods, and meat-eating plants:

In the evening, the trolley picked us up and dropped us off at the beach, where we went to a restaurant called the Cheesecake Factory. We haven’t been there yet, because we thought they’re a café and only have cheesecake… but they actually have a full menu, and we had cheesecake as dessert!

Day 11:

We got up early (!!) at 8 a.m. and walked a couple of blocks to the Hyatt hotel. There, a white shuttle van picked us up. We had the most awesome tour guide ever, Terrii (his name is Hawaiian and spelled like this; he’s of European descent, but both his parents grew up in Hawaii, and he even had a hiking date with Obama’s formerly gorgeous sister once!). The second guy on board was Mike, a Japanese who has been living in Hawaii for 18 years and is learning to become a tour guide now. Terrii showed us lots of sights while driving through town, such as the school Obama went to, and the house he lived in, as well as the ice-cream shop he worked at. He was a junior in school when Terrii was a senior in the same school. From the car, we had an excellent view of the bay and an island called the Chinese hat, which was our kayaking destination! But before we went to water, we hiked up a slightly steep path to a lookout, from where we could see an ancient fish pond and the ocean with the Chinese hat.

After that, we descended, and Terrii and his friend Mike locked our stuff into a steel storage container and got our two kayaks ready. I sat in the front, and thank goodness, I had lots of paddle experience from our trips between Duesseldorf in Germany and Goch in Holland, so that my rowing attempts weren’t quite as embarrassing as my first jet skiing trials!! It was just a little bit wavy, and the weather was becoming worse….

After arriving at the island in hat shape, we got an interesting introduction how to prevent our goggles from fogging up by rubbing a leaf on them which dispels water. Then, we went diving with the snorkels.

It was unbelievable, but I hardly had swum out into the only waist-deep, warm water when the guys who had remained near the islands yelled, “Christina, a seal, a seal, next to you, look on the left!!!” At first, I saw nothing, because I had my head under water, but then I saw what resembled a gray submarine right in front of me, and from time to time, it swam to the surface, and I could even see its head! It was a monk seal and humongeous 😉

My pictures are all crappy, because it was nearly impossible to operate a cell phone camera under water – sometimes, I hit the wrong button in the bad lighting and took stupid selfies in my snorkeling gear instead of shots of the fish and corals! I swam next to the seal for quite a while, until I had to dodge a wave and lost it. It wasn’t aggressive at all…. Terry later said I was lucky, and that usually, his clients don’t get such a view….

We had a nice vegetarian sandwich and chips on the lava rocks before the islands. Terrii showed us the green semi-precious stones that grow on the lava. And I found a heart stone for David!

Then, we paddled back to the shore, and on our car ride back, we got a recommendation for a Thai restaurant, where we’re going now 😉

Day 12:

This morning, a shuttle bus picked us up in front of the Hyatt to take us to the Sea Life Park, which is located in a beautiful bay.

We visited several shows, such as a presentation of monk seals (the kind I met when snorkeling yesterday), who painted, clapped, played James Bond 007, and danced.

We also watched a dolphin show. A handful of people (those who were willing to pay $240 for it) were allowed to swim with the dolphins. We just watched the dolphins sticking out their tongues at their trainer, playing with balls, throwing rings, swimming backwards, and doing synchronized swimming and jumping.

It was sunny and so warm that our ice-creams melted immediately and made a mess on the ground wherever we went, dripping in front of us… David and I went into a voliere and held birds that we bribed with provided feeding sticks.

Paragliders were in the air over us, and from time to time, one heard the squeaking of the dolphins and the barking of the seals. In the background, one saw the awesome hills, islands, and theatrical clouds….

Day 13:

Last day!!! We took the Red Line trolley to the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Driftwood horses

They had a big collection of donated artworks that weren’t ordered in any specific way — periods, genres, and themes colorfully mixed together: Goch, Albers, Monet, and less famous names… Even Josef Albers made it to Hawaii with one of his famous squares. 

The most fun thing was a sounding sculpture that you could touch, and the metal bars were producing really nice sounds from quiet to wild… Here is a video; it’s quite loud:

David says it’s very long and nobody wants to sit through it… but the fun part comes at the end 😉

We’re back home now, slept out our jet lag, and were happily greeted by Frankie and the doggies. Busy now washing clothes and sending a big package of souvenirs to my little niece and nephew in Germany ☺

Is there anything I regret about our trip? Yes – we stayed only on O’ahu and did not visit the other islands. We didn’t see Pearl Harbor, we didn’t hike through a jungle or see the waterfalls at Kauai, and we didn’t see a volcano from above — the helicopter rides were about $300, so we couldn’t afford that, especially since we are going to start with the IVF process this year.

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