Thursday, July 30, 2009

East Side/ West Side – All Around the Big Island

Few things cause emotions to run higher than when discussing the merits of the two sides of the Big Island where most of the population is located. The main population hub on the west side is centered around Kona and on the east side, around Hilo, Hawaii’s second largest city.

In general, residents of either region believe that their area is preferable which is as it should be. Some, however, take it a bit further and like to malign life on the “other side,” and the people that live there.

Devany (my wife) and I are familiar with this from Chicago. We lived on a very small one block street in Lakeview, not far from Wrigley Field, that had an annual block party in the summer. Apparently, something controversial happened ages ago in planning that year’s party, and ever since, the north side of the block has disliked the south side, and vice versa. People rarely mingle above or below the midpoint of the street at the block party! And I won’t even get into what Cub fans think about Sox fans, and vice versa.

Rainbow Falls in Hilo

Anyway, on the Big Island the most typical comparison that we’ve heard is that people from Los Angles prefer Kona and the west side, and people from San Francisco prefer Hilo and the east side, both for weather and life style. It seems like an OK comparison to me.

The west side has all the high end resorts, and Kona and the south Kohala coast can be sort of happening with lots of shopping and restaurants. It is also nearly always sunny and hot, with very, very little rain and it even has traffic! And the west side has beautiful large sandy white beaches. Did I mention that it is hot?

Kohala Sunset (West Side)

By contrast, on my side of the island Hilo leads the nation in average rain fall. (Full disclosure here: it is not so much a constant drizzle as it is a seasonal occurrence and much of the rainfall is at night.) It also is a sleepy town that time has passed by somewhat – we still can see first run movies at the downtown theater for only a dollar. Our beaches are nice with good snorkeling and surfing, but not world class like “over there.” Shopping and dining are smaller scale too, but the University of Hawaii-Hilo is located here – not there.

Hapuna Beach (West Side)

Most of the arguing (generally playful) is about the differences in the people on the two sides, which is more difficult for me when generalizations are made such as that those over here are “more authentic.” Or that those on the west side are more “with it.” Clearly the two sides of the Big Island have different appeal, and on each side, the various locales therein have appeal for some individuals more than others.

Sunrise on Hilo Bay

That is the beauty of the Big Island; almost anyone can find the type of lifestyle where they are most comfortable. Tossing verbal abuse at each other on the two sides of the island is generally not taken seriously and, if cleverly done, often very funny.

Some other contrasts:

West Side/East Side

Views: lava moonscapes/waterfalls

Predominant Color: golden brown/green

Beaches: among best in world/good

Discount Shopping: Costco, Target and Wal-Mart/Wal-Mart (Target coming)

High End Shopping: lots/little

Cost of Living: medium to high/medium to low

Irrigation and A/C: needed/not necessary

Golf Courses: many/few

Best photo op time: sunset/sunrise

Coquii frogs: no/yes

Rainfall: semi-arid/lots

Humidity: dry/high

Mosquitos: some/few to many

Affluence: medium to high/low to medium

We are happy being in Hilo and cannot imagine living elsewhere. Plus when it’s in the rainy season, we can drive to some of the best beaches in the world north of Kona in less than 90 minutes. Heck, I’ve had one-way commutes longer than that!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hilo Latitude -- No Attitude

We had a visitor last night from the mainland, a fellow ceramic artist friend of my wife's (East Bay Potter), who actually lives full time on a sailboat in Richmond, California across the bay from San Francisco. We started speculating over some red wine where you would end up if you sailed east or west from Hilo.

I did some research today and learned some wild geography.

Hilo Hawaii is located roughly at 19.7 degrees north of the equator.

Going east we would hit the Mexican city of Manzanillo, its busiest port and located about equidistant between Puerto Vallarta to the north and Acapulco to the south. Manzanillo is also a beach resort and host of a yearly sailfish fishing tournament. Weirdly, the city claims to be also well known for the green flash phenomenon during its sunsets, something I’ve tried to see about a hundred times and was beginning to think was a myth.

Continuing east from Manzanillo at about the same latitude is Vera Cruz, a major port city on the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico’s second largest city. During the Mexican-American war, US forces led by General Winfield Scott took the city on March 29, 1846 after a lengthy siege.

Going west is even more fantastic because we run into "the Oriental Hawaii," which is surprisingly (at least to me), part of China! The “Oriental Hawaii” is an island named Hainan which is the smallest land province in China and located at its southern end. The island has a population of over seven million! According to, “its natural beauty has gained a good reputation among the visitors and has been widely known around the world.”

Its capital city is Haikou, situated at the north end of Hainan Island, and it is the largest city on the island, located between 19.6 - 20.1 north latitude.

Continuing west across the Gulf of Tonkin, which is utterly evocative of the Vietnam War for most baby boomers, is Thanh Hóa, the capital city of Thanh Hóa Province, a city of nearly 200,000. The
city is located about 85 miles south of Hanoi and considered to be a growing trade and industrial center.

During the Vietnam War US strategic bombing destroyed much of the buildings and infrastructure, the whole city has been totally rebuilt since then.

So who knew? I realize Americans are famous for their lack of knowledge about other countries but this was all quite new to me (and I even know that Tasmania is not a country in Africa). Also on Hilo’s latitude is Mumbai (Bombay) or should I say that we are on theirs
? Aloha.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Blog 17 – Getting Off the Ground

After a fitful night’s “sleep,” the next morning at the motel near the San Francisco airport was more than chaotic. Five trips down from our second floor room got the car reloaded with our pets and luggage. We then proceeded to SFO where I dropped Devany off with the dog and the cat and most of our bags – with agreement to meet at the gate. I then drove to the rental car place, hoping it was open at 6am so that I could be shuttled back to the airport.

Devany had great success with an extremely helpful Redcap that handled everything with great aplomb – checking all the bags at curbside and directing where to go for the animal check-in, which turned out to be in the basement. There they inspected the animals and cages for security risks and accepted them for transport.

Meanwhile, the rental car shuttle dropped me off at its only stop about five terminals away from my destination. It probably took almost an hour for me to get to the gate, but I was there first which concerned me.

Devany finally arrived after having encountered the bad-tempered Gestapo Lady at the security line who told her that her carry-on was too large (the same bag she had used many times), and told her in no uncertain terms to get out of the line which was now up to about 20 minutes long. The bag had our computer and other stuff and the GL took Devany out of line and demanded she put it in the carry-on template where off course it didn’t fit. Luckily, another security agent took pity and told her to take out the computer and try it again – which worked, even though she now had too many carry-on items. Go figure.

We met up at the gate, wobbly but intact and already seriously needing an adult beverage even though it was only about nine in the morning.

Anyway, time to get on board and say good bye to the Bay Area…….!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Our First Visitor

Another break from the moving saga…..

My brother from Phoenix was our first visitor from the mainland and we hope only the beginning of a tidal wave (poor choice of words (?) perhaps) of such company. Devany's brother and wife are coming in late July for a stay. We understand from other longer term residents that such connections become more frequent given Hawaii’s obvious drawing power. Now if we can only get my son in New Jersey who has a fear of flying to visit us, that will be really something.

WesIsland and Uncle Chuck at Akaka Falls

In Hawaii the term Uncle or Auntie is one of affection and respect, not necessarily specifying a blood relative. We call Chuck “Uncle Chuck” for the same reason although he’s really my brother.

We did only a fraction of the things we considered during Chuck’s almost two week stay. The major distraction was what seemed a minor home improvement project that ended up consuming the better part of almost four days and requiring help from not one, but two friends. It sounded simple. Our front door (a French door) had no screens so we went to Home Depot and bought two retractable screen doors that rewind into themselves – sort of like roller blinds only vertical.

It turned into a semi-nightmare since the instructions were indecipherable and both of the doors had manufacturing flaws – one so bad it had to be returned. Our one friend, a handyman extraordinaire, looked at the directions and thought that a licensed contractor would probably have problems. Our other friend, a structural architect and finished carpenter who had installed three of these doors, saved our bacon by spending almost two hours correcting the flaws in the doors design (and some of the work my brother and I had done – to be fair). Anyway here it is – and we love it – no more bugs in the house!

The Door – Finally

.Short of that distraction, we went to Akaka Falls, the Tsunami museum, the farmers’ market, Laupahoehoe Point, the ‘50’s diner, the Laupahoehoe train museum, downtown Hilo and Kona, several parties (including a True Blood viewing (a TV series running on HBO)), a performance of Hawaiiana at the Palace Theatre, and, of course, numerous trips to Home Depot and Ace Hardware.

Laupahoehoe Point

A good time was had by all and we look forward to many more visits from Uncle Chuck and others. It’s good to get touched by the spirit of Aloha.