Oahu, if you insist

Sometimes there’s no way around it — no matter how many “dog ate my homework” excuses you come up with you just have to take a spur-of-the-moment trip to Hawaii. It might be a sudden convergence of inescapable factors, including $350 roundtrip tickets and a foreign friend with exemplary peer pressuring skills [“when ELSE am I EVER going to get to GO??” in a Swiss-German accent – so compelling]. It might be a painful decision to tack on a weekend in Kauai after budgeting more than a week for Oahu. But in times like these you’d best schedule a long trip to make all that trouble worthwhile.

So SD and I found ourselves strolling down Waikiki on a late Friday night in September, bikinis shimmied into in the back of the car, stale plane air washed away with tropical water, bare feet sinking into the sand, listening to cover bands hidden on rooftop tiki bars . . . Not a bad way to celebrate my second week of work, eh? [oh right, just slipped that one in after signing the papers]

If only every “No Trespassing” sign was as enticing as this one . . .

The famous Stairway to Heaven is a set of 3,922 steps [yup, counted every one] barely clinging to the sliver of a mountain ridge over half a mile high. Originally constructed by the Navy in 1942 to string antenna cables from one side of the valley to the other, with two giant antennae mounted at the peak, the stairway has since cycled through periods of repairs and closures due to safety concerns and is currently shut down. Because of this it’s remained a relatively well-kept secret, but that’s not to say there aren’t some of us who have a tendency to poo-poo warning signs.

The first time I climbed the stairs was ages ago, after noticing tiny figures amid the greenery while driving past on the highway you can see above and snooping around the neighborhood to find the base of the trail. I must have been in my early teens. My parents dropped off my friends and me, watched us squeeze through a slit in the barbed wire gate at the dirt road entrance, and we were off! Sections of the steps had fallen away and we hauled ourselves up vertical faces with frayed ropes; avoiding someone coming the other direction meant climbing over the guardrail and cantilevering out over empty air since there wasn’t enough space for two bodies to pass. When we got back to the bottom a crew of policemen was waiting to round us up. We huddled with the other hikers for a few minutes before making a run for it: into another hole in the fence! running pell-mell through the jungle! red dirt smears and leaf scratches!

This time SD and I didn’t see a single soul, and it was lovely and beautiful if a little tamer than usual.

You think illegal adventures like that can be tackled unprepared?? Oh no, it’s all about the breakfast of champions, and we made sure to start the days off right with an epic farmer’s market feast: crusty rustic bread, truffle butter [mind-blowingly decadent and delicious], homemade strawberry guava jam, papaya [looking scary fluorescent but that’s all natural], taro sweet bread, fresh yogurt, and local mango-ginger granola. Served on the lanai with a view down to the ocean . . . if I could wake up like this every morning my soul would be content.

As for the farmer’s market, it’s the Kapiolani Community College Saturday market I’ve mentioned before — used to be a handful of produce stalls and a couple cooked food vendors, but it’s now ballooned into a full-fledged outdoor mall that attracts tour buses by the dozens. I love it despite the crowds. Where else can you try seaweed pesto, strawberry and red bean mochi, and grilled abalone without burning a single calorie in transit?

The abalone verdict: a chewy oyster in a pretty shell — make a necklace so you can say you’ve gotten your money’s worth. On the other hand, the tuna sashimi “tacos” on tempura-battered kale and zucchini were fantastic.

We felt a little guilty about going overboard [ahem, see spread above], but let’s be honest, everything was devoured in a matter of days.

Helooooooo, OBAMA!!!

We might have swum along the waterfront houses by Lanikai, just in case the Obama residence had a plaque or something conveniently pointing it out to passersby. We might have also hiked a ridge above town to better spot a pool shaped like a bald eagle. Alas, there were no obvious clues by air or sea.

And to leave you with the sweet, sweet essence of garlic steeping out your pores and wafting off your tongue for the rest of the day [and tomorrow, and probably the next]: the one and only Giovanni’s shrimp truck. The North Shore town of Kahuku is the shrimp farm mecca of Oahu, and about ten years ago someone made the mental leap from farming to cooking and the shrimp truck craze was born. Giovanni’s is, purportedly, the first of the breed, although I haven’t tried enough to crown one the best. The extra spicy was nothing to fuss about, but the classic garlic butter — take your favorite shrimp scampi recipe and quadruple the garlic, double the grease, and pour over good old-fashioned sticky rice — was back-for-seconds-and-thirds delicious.


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