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A visit to Hawaii

December 6-9, 2012


Jenny is a "Gold" member of American Airlines Advantage frequent flyer program, and enjoys the privilege of early boarding, free checked bags, etc. (Charlie has 1.5 million miles on American, so is "Gold for Life.") American felt an apology was due it's customers, so offered many customers double miles through November and December, including our return trip from Europe on November 1st. Suddenly achieving "Platinum" membership, with its additional privileges, was within reach. We found a $93 trip to Seattle, the farthest trip in the continental US, that ... still left us hundreds of miles short of the goal. So we decided on a quick trip to Hawaii - neither of us had been there - Travel Thursday, On Friday we would tour the island with a friend from 40 years ago who retired there, Saturday for Pearl Harbor, then some more "drive around" time on Sunday before our red-eye flight home on Sunday night.

Getting There

Hawaii has interesting weather. We drove up to our hotel, and mere steps from the car, on what appeared to be the sidewalk was a desk... I figured it was a bellman's station, but it turned out to be the hotel registration desk. No wall or door to the outside. Around the corner (still no doors) was a bar, computer area, travel and tour desks, and the elevators to our room. The breakfast room on the third floor was around the pool - here, too, no doors and walls to separate it from outdoors. I guess they don't expect snow!

The Hyatt Place hotel was on Waikiki beach (an area of Honolulu), just a couple blocks from the beach. Great location, with a nice view from the room balcony. The green roof is the local Catholic Church, and just beyond it is one view of the beach.

Even though the surf was not up, I count at least 7 surfers in this picture

Marilyn Mills, who worked with Charlie back in the days at the University of Virginia Computing Center, (early 1970s) has retired to Hawaii and spent the day as our tour guide, driving around the island.

The south shore of Oahu (Honolulu and Pearl Harbor) have the wider calmer beaches (most with public rest rooms and showers) for swimming and sun bathing, while the north shore is more rugged (surfing and scenery).

We did not get to any of the other islands - typically an hour flight apart. Marilyn reports that their beaches and scenery may be even better for tourists, but you wouldn't want to live there because of limited medical facilities, no museums, concerts, less shopping, and so forth.

Hawaii is clearly a set of volcanic islands. This is not sandstore, like we expect where I have lived, but layers created by volcanic eruption.

There are still beaches on the north side, but part of the fun may be hiking to get to them. Note at least two people on the far side of the cove

We stopped to see a blow hole. What's that? During the volcanic formation, a gap like a pipe sometimes formed vertically, with an opening at the bottom at sea level. When the wind and tides are right, water comes up the hole, then drains back down (on the left, below). But when it is really right, the water gushes up like a geyser. The picture at the right below is an example, but we were told that often it shoots much MUCH higher. Just not this day while we were waiting to see it.

Everybody is supposed to go to the Dole pineapple tourist trap in the center of the island. We complied. They don't like to admit that almost no pineapples are grown in Hawaii any more - most come from Costa Rica.

At the Dole exhibit they have a garden, where they show how pineapples grow. In practice the plants are close together in rows, and the rows are close together. The plants have very sharp leaves. To harvest the pineapple, people have to walk between the rows, wearing heavy clothes for protection from the leaves, and manually cut the pineapples off the plant. Remember, tropical climate and heavy clothes are bad.

Likewise they don't grow much coffee in Hawaii any more, but Dole included sample coffee plants in their garden.

At many places we saw wild chicken - the kind that lay eggs and provide dinner meat. These were in a shopping center parking lot.

Day 2 - Pearl Harbor

Our first full day was the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Luckily we spent that day with Marilyn, while Pearl Harbor was overrun with memorial services. On the second day we went to Pearl Harbor. If you plan to go, parking there is free, the Arizona battleship memorial is free (but come early - you have to request a ticket for a specific time, and sometimes all the available tickets for the day are gone by mid-morning). There are three other primary "things" to see. You can tour the USS Bowfin submarine for a fee (we have toured several others, so we didn't bother). There is an aviation museum for a large fee (we recently toured the new Smithsonian Air Museum at Dulles Airport in Washington DC, so we didn't bother). And you can tour the battleship Missouri (for $22 each). I strongly recommend the Missouri tour, and although we spent 5 hours there in the afternoon, those pictures come first, before our morning visit to the Arizona, to give perspective to the size of battleships.

As seen from the upper decks of the Missouri, the Arizona Memorial is the white building built over the remains of the Arizona battleship. Many of the ships sunk during the Pearl Harbor bombing were salvaged and returned to service (in whole or as parts). The white blocks between the Missouri and the Arizona memorial were the mooring points of many of the ships at that time. The white bridge in the background goes to the island where there is a military airport and access to the Missouri pier.

The ships anchors are large - note the size of the anchor chains to the two bow anchors. The structure over the chains is called the Christmas Tree - where the various communications antenna are mounted. Ignore the fact that it is decorated as lights on a Christmas Tree.

The stern anchors are not as large, but are not small either.

The primary guns on the Missouri are huge and precise. These can put a shell on the 50 yard line of a football field 25 miles away - and that 25 miles puts the ship out of sight over the horizon. However, since they can only hit targets within 25 miles of shore (and do a great job at it), inland targets made this weapon obsolete.

In addition to the six large guns at the front, there are three more in the rear. There was a sign nearby counting the several hundred shells fired from these guns during the Vietnam war - each shell comparable to the largest conventional bomb dropped by an airplane.

Just how big are the shells? The pointed ones are armor penetrating and weigh about a ton. Similar shells (without a pointed tip) destroy what they hit, such as buildings, bridges, or roads, without having to penetrate armor. Six packs of gunpowder, like those in the canvas bags next to Jenny, are typically used to fire each shell. They can hit a target 25 miles away, and another round can be fired by the gun, at the same or different target, before the first shell even hits it's target several minutes after it was fired.

There is a plaque in the deck of the Missouri marking the spot where the Japanese surrendered to end World War II, while anchored in Tokyo bay. On display was a copy of the documents signed by Japan and by representatives of the allied powers.

In the Missouri were all the functions of a good-size city - after a few days at sea, all the fresh bread was gone, so they had a full-blown bakery to support the several mess halls. The dental office had multiple treatment chairs, just like the dentists I went to 30 years ago (right down to the ugly light blue naugahide upholstery). Countless manual IBM selectric typewriters were in the various offices. A few computer terminals had arrived (small CRT screen in a large cabinet - obviously too new technology to be the primary tool in each office. Every kind of office from personnel departments to recruiting offices to the police force staffed by the marines.

You don't want to look at hundreds of desks with old fashioned typewriters, so we skipped taking pictures, but we found a machine shop equipped to handle large things. VERY large things. Like this metal lathe.

Or note this drill press. The drill bit probably weighed hundreds of pounds.

There were numerous places around the superstructure for the captain to sit... perhaps on this side for docking, perhaps a different station during battle. Jenny passed on climbing into the Captain's chair. But I didn't.

Now that you see how massive a battleship is, here are the pictures from our morning visit to the memorial for the Battleship Arizona. Although many of the ships sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor were raised and recovered, the Arizona was not. The Arizona sank completely, with 1,102 seamen still on board - the attack hit the ammunition storage and fuel bunkers of the Arizona, causing massive destruction. Only 75 survived. Some of the survivors have had their ashes returned to be buried "with their shipmates" in the hull of the Arizona. (There were three survivors on our flight back to Dallas, but they didn't announce whether they were Arizona survivors, or just survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack.)

After visiting the museums and watching a movie by the National Park Service, a US Navy provided boat takes visitors out to the Navy memorial, built over (but not touching) the Battleship Arizona.

The huge battleship guns were above water, and were removed to be used elsewhere. Two of the gun turrets are still above water, without their guns.

In one end of the memorial are the names of the 1,102 seamen "buried" in the hull of the ship, of the 1,177 killed by the attack. There were 1,512 men on board at the time of the attack (only 335 survivors). The survivors can ask to be buried with their shipmates - their ashes are deposited by a diver into the hull, and their names are listed separately. Other Pearl Harbor survivors can have their ashes scattered over the general area where their ship was sunk.

The flowers are from the annual memorial service the previous day.

There were 1.4 million gallons of fuel on the USS Arizona when she sank. Most was burned or pumped out, but over 60 years later, approximately nine quarts still surfaces from the ship each day. Some Pearl Harbor survivors have referred to the oil droplets as "Black Tears." Although not environmentally dangerous, the traces of remaining oil are expected to continue to seep out for another 100 years.

The USS Missouri was docked, facing the Arizona, to symbolically defend the Arizona, now considered a national cemetery.

Day 3 - Driving Around

We forgot it was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor the day we arrived, but luckily we planned other ativities on Friday, and visited Pearl Harbor on Saturday. What else could interfere on Sunday?

How about a marathon? The 24,413 runners fortunately started at 5 am, so were gone by the time we got up. However, there was a non-competitive 10K walk from the marathon starting point to the ending point (with a big chunk of the marathon route taken out of the middle). I don't know how many thousands of people participated in the walk, many in costumes like the three mermaids.

I certainly wasn't expecting to see a bride and groom doing the walk - they were almost gone by the time I dug out my camera on the way to church.

One of the cross-island roads had a lookout point - you could see some of the tunnels through the mountains. The road existed long before the tunnels - hard to imagine!

We decided to take a drive up some of the mountains - with warnings that the roads got narrower and narrower. About half way up we were stopped. Sorry, no cars - all the parking area and roads are taken by the crews filming Hunger Games 2.

We talked our way in far enough to get a few pictures... you may see these forests, coming to a theater near you.

Some of the trees were amazing. Notice the number of trunks to this tree (or cluster or whatever). Notice how wide the tree is behind it.

Austin has a growing tradition of decorating Christmas trees along one of the highways - they are scrub cedar trees, but available and green. I haven't counted this year, but I bet there are more than 1,000 decorated. So it was fun to see this tree decorated on one of the Hawaii beaches.

Are we crazy to fly to Hawaii to get miles - to go to the next level of American Airlines customer? Sitting in the Admiral's club waiting for our flight home, Jenny asked the guy sitting next to her, "Did you come for the marathon?" "No," he said, "I just came for lunch." He had made the trip to earn miles so he would advance from Platinum to Executive Platinum.

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