Friday 25 November 2022

Hawaii Calling


It’s a strange place, this little archipelago all alone out there in the middle of the Pacific, first “discovered” by Captain Cook – who later died here. American to the core it still includes the Union Jack in its state flag and boasts of the many kings and queens of the “indigenous” people. Expensive and overloaded with tourists it has an enormous airport on the main island of Oahu with planes departing and arriving every quarter of an hour or so.

We had a relatively cheap (in Hawaii nothing is really cheap) hotel shielded from the famous Waikiki Beach by rows of sky scraping alternatives which were much more expensive. Yet the beautiful blueness of the ocean was only minutes away. We had a balcony looking down on a sumptuous swimming pool belonging to the hotel next door and were surrounded by the skyscrapers. It wasn’t a bad place and the Honolulu Lounge, possibly the nearest thing to a real pub in this sea of tourist bars and restaurants, was very close by.

The beach was wonderful and the view over the ocean with its rolling surf, soft sand and treed parkland is to die for. It is spoiled only by the masses of indulgent tourists and rich invaders who rule the economy by their presence and ruin the economy of the less well-off locals who cannot afford the prices that the outsiders pay with seeming ease. Our guide on the Waikiki Trolley bemoaned her situation in which multi-generational housing is the norm and keeping chickens a must if you want eggs for breakfast.

The entire beach area is dominated by a chain of shops called ABC which arguably stands for Always Bigger Costs. When I went out to buy the makings of a cheap breakfast on the first morning I was shocked to see a loaf of bread at $10, a few slices of cake at $7.99 and, our breakfast mainstay – cereal bars only sold singly and at a price that you usually pay for a box of them!

Yet, amongst all this expensive luxury poverty is in plain sight. Behind my hotel there was a long canal which replaced a mosquito ridden swamp. It is now a very pleasant water course with a golf course on the opposite side and a park at the very end. People live in that park. They are mostly men and move their only possessions about in shopping trolleys. One man mad two linked together! They did not look at me and I did not engage with them. Drunks lie on the pavements, stepped gracefully over by bronzed young women in thongs with surf boards held above their heads.

The only thing that is cheap is the beach and the buses. A 40 minute ride from the airport to our hotel costs just a couple of dollars, though they did not run on the early Sunday morning of our departure: we had to use an Uber at more that $40!

The backcloth of extinct volcanic mountains are a delight to the eye and are often topped by impressive cloud formations, however, the incomers are creeping up the valleys towards the heights with their million dollar houses.  Fortunately, there is a coast not far from Waikiki beach which has so far resisted the real estate mongols. It is rugged, wind swept and beautiful with a blowhole that gushes pure white foaming sea water onto the black igneous rock.

Food of almost any country is available of course and can be consumed with a live band playing if you so wish. We happened to be near the most popular place in town: a Japanese restaurant with a queue extending down the street for most of the day and night. We did not queue but had a good meal in nearby Coco Coconuts, serenaded by their own band. The leader told me that he was a Radiohead fan.

Yes, a strange place. If I return, which is unlikely, I will give Honolulu a miss and explore the more natural parts of Hawaii.

Friday 11 November 2022

America Calling

We chose Austin, Texas because an America singer called Patty from our local Oxford music pub recommended it for live music. Then the harmonic player from Lighting Willy and Poor Boys sang its praises to us – his name is Fancy and they also play at the Harcourt sometimes.

Our motel was crap, right next to a roaring freeway and no double glazing, but we did meet an interesting couple in the miniscule breakfast room there (the woman guided Margaret through the intricacies of the waffle maker). He had studied English but now worked in the renewable energy world.

However, the Super 8 motel was central and had great views of the wonderful Capitol building, seat of state governance for Texas. It was also close to a nice little park beside a stream which borders the eastern part of the city, and there I saw my first group of boat tailed grackles, a bird that is very common in Texas but fascinates me in its song, its movements and general behaviour. I reckon it’s related to our blackbird.

Found great blues music at King Bee’s on the first night and the beer wasn’t too bad either. There was eve real avaible (not) see photo. Next night we ventured into Sixth Street where there is an amazing collection of bars, most with live music. We had a good time in a piano bar where a young man vamped on the keys and sang energetically backed by just a drummer and driven to excess by tips and requests.

Wasted a lot of time trying to get data to work on my phone in Austin: essential for Uber and maps. It was a problem that dogged me for most of the trip. Thank the stars for Wi-Fi, but it’s often not there when you need it.

Moved to Corpus Christi by Greyhound bus via San Antonio (Remember the Alamo) and found it as interesting as it is intriguing on the map:  the reef-like Padre Island runs along mile after mile of the Mexican Bay coastline in front of the city. At first we had a hotel with a swimming pool on the north side of a very impressive bridge which crosses the dockland inlet. There we established a local in Blackbeards: chatter at the bar and live music in the next room. Had some good conversations in Blackbeards. 

Then moved into the Emerald Hotel in the city proper and right on the shoreline, but a bit out of town (we go for cheap places but it’s still costing a small fortune to live). Room was crummy but a view to die for. From there we spent two nights at the House of Rock but the music was not as good as Austin (or the Harcourt). Then off to Harlingen in the south which so far seems a very bad mistake.