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Hawaii Part Two and an Epilogue

2010 December 21
by rob

Author’s note: Not much left to write. I’m almost home!

March 30, 2009

My big activity today was to head out to Pearl Harbour to see the memorials there. Located just outside of Honolulu, I was able to take the regular city bus to get there. It was still pretty far and took like an hour. My South African roommate from the hostel, Devin, came with me.

I’m not normally into military stuff. I don’t fawn over hardware or need to see guns and garbage like that. Pearl Harbour was a pretty important site, though. It was pretty easy to get to, too (which helped a lot in my planning process — or lack thereof). The tour started with a movie describing the surprise Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941. I thought it would be overly patriotic and too-pro-American, but it was very tasteful. From there, we went on a boat across the channel to the memorial of the USS Arizona, a battleship that was sunk by the Japanese while docked in Pearl Harbour. Over 1000 men on the ship died and were still buried in the remains of the ship, located just below the surface of the water. From the memorial structure, you could peer into the bright turquoise waters and see the twisted metal wreckage. So much oil was in the ship’s fuel tanks when it was sunk that it still seeps out today, forming little shimmering blotches that bob on the water’s surface. Crazy.

After returning to shore, I took a quick spin through the museum, grabbed lunch at the café and took a bus to the nearby USS Missouri. This battleship actually saw service in several wars, but has been docked at Pearl Harbour as a museum ship since 1999. The ship is interesting since the Japanese signed the Instruments of Surrender there on August 29, 1945 which officially ended World War 2. I went on a tour of the ship and learned that each of the huge gun barrel weighs as much as a space shuttle! Also crazy!

March 31, 2009

Today was my final full day in Hawaii. It was almost over! It was the last day and I managed to muster enough ambition to do lots of things! That’s rather rare considering how many hours I spent at the hostel simply reading, chatting with people, or using the internet.

I started out by going on a little trek with the two English guys in my room. They were planning on driving all around the island that day with their rented car. I decided to join them for their first destination: the old eroded volcano crater at the end of Waikiki: Diamond Head. The parking lot was actually located in the crater itself and we had to drive through a tunnel to get there. There was a steep winding trail up the side to get to some tunnels near the top. We emerged to an overlook with a great view of the sea and the city of Honolulu.

At Diamond Head

At Diamond Head

It was pretty windy up there and it did some exciting things to my hair!

The guys kept on driving around the island, but I walked back to the hostel. The weather was nice and it wasn’t too far (about 5 km).

I had an exciting plan for that night: I needed to go to a luau! There were numerous ones advertised in Waikiki. I just had to choose one and do it. On the way back to the hostel, I ran into some other girls that were staying there (Lele and Claudia from Brazil and Adéla from the Czech Republic) and convinced them to go to a luau with me. Later in the afternoon, buses picked us up from nearby our hostel to haul us across to the western side of the island for the festivities. The luau I ended up choosing was Germaine’s.

It was super toursity, but fun! There were probably about 600 people there. There was a very cheesy sounding MC. There was a whole pig cooked in an imu (an underground oven). There was tons of other food, included poi (a purple and thick liquid made from taro) and poke (a salad with raw tuna). We drank some mai tais and watched the dancing.

Oh the dancing…

Near the beginning of the show, three men were selected to go on stage in front of everyone and perform some hula dancing for everyone. I was one of these three men selected. I’m not kidding. There is photographic evidence:

Me the Hula Man

Me the Hula Man

I guess after the practice I had at the small island night I went to in the Cook Islands, I was ready for the big time in Hawaii! They gave me a grass skirt, a lei, a flower wreath for my head and a coconut bra to wear. It was ridiculous. It was awesome. I tried my hardest. I shook my hips. I waved my arms. There was thunderous applause (and ample laughter). Alas, I was not voted the best of the three dancers. I guess I needed more practice.

There were more opportunities to go on stage, too. The girls got to go up and dance the hula. Thankfully, there were real dancers, too. We got to see some more professional dance acts set to the different styles of dance from various Polynesian cultures, including the Hawaiians, the Samoans, the Māori of New Zealand and the Tahitians. I remember that the dances of Tahiti were my favourite. That reminds me… I still want to go there someday!

After the luau, the buses returned us to the hostel. I met up with another German girl from the hostel named Birgit (yes, there were two different Birgits at the hostel) and we went for drinks and dancing at a Canadian-themed bar in Waikiki: Moose McGillicuddy’s. This wasn’t the only night that I went to a bar for drinks while in Waikiki. There were tons of them, after all. This is probably the first one that I actually had fun at, though. The Canadian theme at the bar was very weak. They served American beer! At least it was very cheap. We danced for many hours into the wee hours of the morning before I called it quits and headed on back to the hostel.

April 1, 2009

My trip was over. It was time to fly home. Twelve months of backpacking was finished.

I have no pictures from this day, so I don’t remember any activities other than packing, having lunch in the hostel, and taking the regular city bus to the airport. It took longer than the dedicated airport shuttles, but it only cost $2! The man who sat next to me on the plane looked like a character from Miami Vice. He told me that he owned a fishing boat and specialized in catching the best game fish in the Pacific. If you ate swordfish, tuna, or any expensive fish anywhere in the Western US or Canada, there was a good chance that he had caught it. He told me stories of those pesky troublemakers who tormented him: whales. They were naughty and would eat the bait off of his fishing lines without hooking themselves. I guess those whales are pretty smart! He talked a lot and told me that he was flying back to Michigan. His mother was sick and he hoped to make it back before she died. He seemed pretty nervous. I guess that’s why he talked a lot.

April 2, 2009

My flight was overnight. I landed around sunrise in Chicago and had a few hours to kill. As usual, I tried vainly to sleep on some benches in the busy airport. It wasn’t too long before I hopped on my connecting flight to Toronto. I made it back around lunch time. Never was I more happy to pass through customs and enter Canada. I had done it! I WAS HOME.

I wouldn’t stay home for very long, though. In a few weeks, I flew to Ireland to attend Patrick and Toni McMorris’ wedding. Traveling would never be the same again, though. That Ireland (with a side trip to Poland) trip was a short trip: merely two-and-a-half weeks. I don’t consider it to be in the same vein as the other backpacking trips, so I will stop writing it, as such, here.

Epilogue

About two years before this point, while I was still trying to decide whether or not I should even embark on such an adventure, I was attending a birthday party and was standing in the crowded main floor bar of the Drake Hotel on Queen Street West in Toronto. I was talking with a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who was at this party and lamented about my upcoming big decision: to drop everything and travel, or not? I don’t even remember this person’s name, but he gave me some sage advice that I still remember to this day. It was something like this: “Look outside this window and see the crowd of people lined up to get into this bar. See the streetcars continually rumbling by… If you leave Toronto and go traveling for a year, all of these things will still be here. They won’t have changed. The only thing that will have changed is you.”

In hindsight, this advice was both true and untrue.

It was true that I had changed. I had a year’s worth of experiences that were incomparable to anything else. I learned priceless lessons on the value of what I had at home and what it was like to be away for so long. I think, most importantly, I had earned a level of self-confidence that I never had before. I think I came home very different than I was when I had left.

But things had changed in Toronto, too. Several of my dear friends were about to leave for a long time, or forever. Some things happened that caused me to lose some of my other friends. Toronto was a more lonely place after I got home. The world’s economy was shattered while I was gone, too. It was much harder for me to find a job when I got home than I thought it would. My confidence and pride lead me to believe that I would return to work shortly after getting back. Instead, it took me six months before I found work.

I don’t want to say that this year of travel was the “best year of my life”. It was, indeed, a very good year. I still consider it very influential on me now and I have many positive memories attached to it. The year had its ups and downs, of course. Declaring this year the “best year of my life” would be short-sighted, though. Does that mean the rest of my life should trend downhill? Of course not! In fact, I’m very enthusiastic for the future. 2010 was a very wonderful year for me, too!

It took me a long time to finish writing this journal. It was delayed for many months after the hard drive in my Macbook crashed while I was in New Zealand. Writing this journal was always a struggle. I felt it was something that I needed to do, but it was a perpetual chore. I would put it off for months at a time. Sometimes, for whatever reason, I would win back some motivation which would result in a flurry of activity. Although 2009 was a pretty slack year for me my life in 2010 was extremely busy. Life had caught back up with me. Things are wonderful, though, so I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. Now that I’m finished writing about the past, hopefully I can find the opportunity to write about the present. I’ve already tried to do that a bit. Let’s keep going into the future!


Rob Szumlakowski
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    December 21, 2010

    All-in-all a great ride. Thanks for writing it down! It was like we were watching the whole trip over your shoulder :)

  2. December 22, 2010

    What a wonderful conclusion for your backpacking trip! Not to be forgotten, only to be relived. Here’s to the future! :)

  3. December 22, 2010

    Congrats on finishing! It’s great that you took the time to do this and share with everyone. It’s definitely inspirational material. Be sure to back up the data!!! :)

  4. December 22, 2010

    Thanks, folks! It was loyal readers like you that helped keep me going :)

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