Week 1 – The Adventure Begins

So, my first week in Hawai’i has wrapped up and the next has begun, so I guess it is time for an update.

Brief overview of the past week. Saturday was 18 hours of travel across the continental USA and a lot of ocean (the Portland airport has at least one really cool terminal). Sunday was getting to know the bunkhouse and little of Waikiki, the tourist district of Honolulu. Monday through Friday was work, it is good to be back to having things to do again. Right now, the primary task for us volunteers and our supervisor is to pack up everything we need to take with us to Laysan (more on that later), as well as acquire all of the things we need to pack. Saturday was time to relax, a farmer’s market in the morning followed by a day at the best beach on Oahu.

So, everything that goes with us to Laysan has to be cleared of any and all living material, especially bugs and seeds (because they’re hard to find and can be very invasive). To do this, most everything is packed into five gallon buckets, which are stacked on pallets and then frozen and/or bug bombed. The pallets are packed on to a ship which will take us to our island when it is time. Anything that we will need over the six months (or so) that we are on Laysan must go with us when we leave. That means all tools, all clothes, and especially all food. Six months worth of food for six people is a lot of food. And I mean a lot. So far, we have packed 255 buckets, which means we’re probably about halfway there. All buckets get labelled with the destination, contents, and a number which links it to an inventory list that we will have with us, so we can find what we need when we need it. Additionally, all buckets must be washed and dried before they are packed, so significant quantities of time are spent washing buckets and lids outside and hoping that it won’t rain until we get the dry buckets inside.
To get the food we need to pack, we have visited both a normal grocery store and a wholesale food warehouse. All I really want to say here is that going grocery shopping on the governments dime is way more fun than going on one’s own dime (especially in Honolulu where everything is rather pricey because it has to be shipped).

Honolulu’s Highways
I just want to take a short second to mention driving in Hawai’i. Fortunately for me, another volunteer has decided to take on most all of our driving for us, but that does not change that Honolulu has the worst traffic in America. For reals, check it out. Additionally, if you’re not entirely sure where you’re going, you’re screwed. If you miss an exit, you can’t just turn around at the next one because a) on and off ramps are not usually near each other AND b) there are frequently not exits to the same place from both sides of the highway. I’m sure it just takes getting used to, but that seems illogical.

Oahu’s Homeless
Guess what, there are lots of them. And sure, you might say that if you’re homeless, Hawai’i is a pretty sweet place to be (which, lets be honest, in a lot of ways it is), but that doesn’t make it any better. Fortunately, in my experiences so far, they have been very pleasant homeless people. Some crazy talking or fighting with themselves, but most leave me alone and some just want to have a nice conversation. At beach near the south point we were picking Sandalwood and Naupaka fruit for reintroduction on Laysan and Tern (a 37 acre, man-made island in the NWHI chain), respectively, when two presumably homeless men at a picnic table inquired about my activities. They thought what were doing was very cool and thought we would probably be successful, at least with the Naupaka because it grows everywhere here.
There are probably three big reasons for the high homeless population here in Honolulu. 1) the high cost of living here could easily drive someone down and out if they didn’t have a job, a farm, or a way back to the mainland. 2) there is a huge military presence here (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines) and if they don’t have somewhere to go when they get out and are treated as poorly as we see a lot of vets treated today, things do not look good. 3) some groups on the mainland are known to give homeless people one way plane tickets to Hawai’i so they are no longer their problem, a drain on their economy… and who isn’t going to say no to a free ticket to Hawai’i.
Fortunately, the weather is temperate, a lot of the people are nice, and apparently there is decent health care for those without insurance. I wish them luck.

Farmer’s Market
As I mentioned, cost of living here is rather high. This is largely because most everything that is purchased on the island has to be shipped here. This is especially relevant for groceries. If you want to pay near mainland prices at Safeway, you have to get their card. I’m not sure what gas prices are like back on the east coast now, but the cheapest regular I have seen here is $4.19/gal., and that was way out of the city. In Honolulu, regular is going for $4.39/gal. Fortunately, there is a way to get food that isn’t imported, the farmer’s markets! Here, going to farmer’s market, if you go to the right stands, is a way more reasonable price than going to the grocery stores, because these foods haven’t been shipped across an ocean. And, of course, it is all great produce.
The one we went to is, unfortunately, a big tourist draw for the prepared food stands (of which there are many), but the produce stands are pretty much visited by locals only, so their lines aren’t too bad. But the prepared food – it looks amazing and has huge lines. There was a pesto pizza, grilled abalone, fried green tomatoes, sushi sliders, popsicles, scones and biscuits, crepes, Thai food, Vietnamese foods, and the list goes on. The smells in that parking lot, wow. I got a Kahlua Pork slider on a taro bun with a little coleslaw (that might have been made from bok choi?). So good. Dayum. By itself, the pork was awfully salty, but the sweet, fluffy taro bun and the cool, crisp coleslaw balanced it perfectly.

I don’t really know what is in store for me this week, so I’ll save talking about beach activities for next time. Until next week, mahalo and aloha!

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