I started collecting sunsets in the run up to my my 18th birthday.
Upon graduation from high school, I got a part time job and started putting myself through college.
I was very frugal, and – after several months – I realized that I had accumulated enough cash to spend the summer in Hawaii.
Five weeks of it, at least.
In those days, under 20s could fly half price if they were willing to go standby. So I bought myself a round-trip ticket to the islands. It only cost US$150.
I would spend the first four nights in Hilo, four weeks in Honolulu, and my last three nights on Maui.
I was driven to Oakland Airport by my parents. They were very excited as they had never been to Hawaii. An avid photographer, my mother lent me her camera and light metre. She demonstrated once more how everything worked and made me promise that I would take lots of pictures.
My father then made me promise that I would send them picture postcards every day. I agreed to both requests.
After saying farewell to my parents, I entered the departure lounge, where I met a charming mother-daughter pair from Hawaii. Of Portuguese ancestry, they had left the islands many years before, settling in California.
It was their first trip home. They took an immediate liking to me and took me under their wings. They asked the agent to change our seats so that the three of us could sit together.
We boarded a United Airlines propeller plane for the short flight across the bay to San Francisco International as Oakland didn’t have many flights in those days. We changed planes at SFO for the five hour flight to Honolulu. We talked the whole way over.
They said they would show me around. They even offered to put me up with relatives if I couldn’t afford a hotel! When I told them that I was continuing on to Hilo, they gave me their phone number and insisted that I call them as soon as I arrived in Honolulu.
Arriving in Hilo, I was taken to a lovely new hotel that had just opened. Called the Orchid Island Inn, it was built atop black lava.
While it was located at the ocean’s edge, there was no beach to speak of, much to my disappointment. As I was exploring the property, I was accosted by a very personable young lady with red hair. After introducing herself, she explained that she was a tour guide with a group of tourists from Chicago.
“I’ve got several young people just your age, but there’s a shortage of boys,” she explained.
“You seem to be alone. Would you like to join us? There’s room on the tour bus for one more. And I can pull some strings and get you admitted to the luau tomorrow night – no charge!”
Following a very enjoyable four days in Hilo, I checked out of my hotel and headed for the airport, flying to Honolulu. The bus from the airport to Waikiki was full of honeymooners, middle aged couples, widows, and a few would-be surfers like me.
I had booked myself into an apart-hotel called the Waikiki Surf. Because it was four blocks from the beach, it was a real bargain. Best of all, it had an efficiency kitchen, which meant I could stock up on things like bread, fruit, and juice, eating one meal at least in my room every day.
I find it a bit tedious having to get up and go out for breakfast when I’m traveling. It was also a real money-saver! After unpacking, I called my friends. They seemed very distraught, wondering why I hadn’t called earlier.
“We’ve been so worried about you,” they said.
“We’ve rented a car, and we’re driving around the island tomorrow. We’d like to take you along. Tell us where you’re staying, and we’ll pick you up at 9 o’clock.”
We drove first to Diamond Head, then through the stunningly beautiful residential district of Kahala, with its spectacular homes, then to Blow Hole. By the time we reached the Polynesian Cultural Center on the windward side of the island, it was time for lunch.
That’s when I had my first plate lunch, which came with three big chunks of fresh pineapple. I had never had fresh pineapple before, but I detested canned pineapple.
My friends were very enthusiastic when they saw it, telling me how lucky I was. I didn’t know what to do. I knew that if I didn’t eat it, I would hurt their feelings. But the thought of putting those chunky yellow wedges into my mouth turned my stomach.
So I devised a strategy to get out of eating at least some of it. By offering one piece to each of them, I would only have to eat one piece myself, make myself look good – and not hurt their feelings!
They were delighted to share the pineapple with me. And I was delighted, too – until I bit into it and discovered that it was absolutely delicious!
That’s when I discovered the vast difference between canned and fresh pineapple.
Lazy Days and Sundays
I spent the following four weeks dividing my time between spending days at the beach (Mondays through Saturdays) and going on excursions with my friends (Sundays).
They took me to the Kodak Hula Show at Queen’s Surf, where we all took lots of pictures. We also tried the fresh coconut juice, which we all found rather disgusting. None of us finished it.
We hiked up Diamond Head together, we visited Iolani Palace, we listened to light opera in the park, and we took in the Honolulu Zoo.
Before I knew it, it was time to fly to Maui, the final leg of my trip. But most of the time I simply had a simple breakfast in my hotel room then headed to the beach, where I spent the day lying in the sun, playing in the surf, and occasionally chatting with other tourists.
Gone to Maui
Maui was neither like the Big Island, which was lush and tropical, nor Oahu, which was overrun with tourists. The resort – a newly opened Sheraton – was build along a massive outcropping of black lava (if I remember correctly) that faced the sea.
I remember being driven up a road and exiting at the top, where the lobby was located. Rooms cascaded down the front of the rock formation to the beach. It was absolutely gorgeous!
Each room had a balcony – or lanai, as they are called in Hawaii – with flowers dripping off the front. I have no idea how I could have afforded to stay in such a lovely place at age 18!
Maui had yet to be discovered by the Jet Set so I can honestly say, “I remember when …” There were only a small handful of hotels along Kaanapali Beach, but – despite its beauty – I found it a bit boring after the Waikiki.
I went into the old whaling port of Lahaina for dinner one night, but it was a bit pricey for my budget. I would have been every bit as happy with a plate lunch – and a few dollars richer!
Like all first-time teenage visitors to Hawaii, I flew home tanned and barefoot. I deplaned on a chilly evening at SFO wearing white cutoffs and a T-shirt that proudly proclaimed, “Property of the Athletic Dept. of the University of Hawaii”.
After five weeks in the tropics, my hair had turned platinum and my skin a dusky brown. Both of my parents were at the gate with one of my aunts as well as my best friend, his sister, and his mother.
I was taken aback when nobody smiled as I approached. As it turns out, nobody recognized me – not even my own mother!
As we drove across the bay back to Oakland, I was already dreaming about my next trip half-way across the Pacific. This had been my first trip to Hawaii, but it wouldn’t be my last!