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Travel Thoughts 24 August 2017

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Travel Thoughts

Returning to Caspar at the beginning of what Sienna calls "Fogust" from sunnier climes doesn't exactly put our home in its best light (although it's wonderful not to get bitten by mosquitoes, and the fog is drawn inland off the cool Pacific by uncomfortable inland temperatures we'll take the bad with the good. 

At age 73 and 72, we consider every trip to be "our last trip to (wherever)" but this time, we think it's Aloha and Sayonara – yup, I know I'm mixing languages, and that, precisely, is a big part of our reasoning. 

<p>Jughandle Beach on a foggy day</p>

Jughandle Beach on a foggy day

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We are drawn to islands – Crete, Sicily, Tioman, Taiwan, Las Perlas, Vancouver and Salt Spring, Oléron and Noirmoutièr – and naturally Hawaii, the most remote archipelago in the world, and California's tropical neighbor, has always had a special draw. My earliest memories include longing for the storied isles, because my most interesting Great Auntie, Helen, lived there and, periodically, invited my mother or paternal grandmother, her sister, to visit. Those of us who stayed behind would meet them as the Lurline or Matsonia docked in The City (old-timey Northern Californians only mean one city when they say The City: San Francisco). They'd come down the gangplank smiling, tanned, relaxed, with a suitcase full of little bits of islandia and orientalia. This was in the 1950s.

The best window into where they'd been were the menus from their dinners onboard: apologetically bright, primary colors, lissome expanses of gorgeous dark skin. Early on, my first exposures to a foreign language were Hawaiian: kahili, hula, luau, ipu, lei, kapu, opu – especially opu!

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Of course this was all promotional advertising, deliberate glamorization of a distant, nearly imaginary location – but how was I to know that? There were hints – Remember Pearl Harbor! – but the hype was so attractive!

When I finally got myself to Hawaii the first time – must have been 1983 – it was with my daughters and friends, and we were blinded by the tropical glory, the golden sands, body-surfable waves, bright colored inshore reefs and fishes ...but with the exception of an overnight in Na'alehu (in the "southernmost motel in the United States," a delightfully rustic 1950s era place right in my wheelhouse) we were staying in the "sacrifice areas" already dominated by tourism, and blissfully unaware of the tensions building between Native Hawaiians of Polynesian descent, and the intense melting pot of races left over by the war, sugar, and rampant, expropriative Christianity.

Not until my friend Scott Crawford gave me a good talking to, and then invited me to join him at Bumpy Kanahele's encampment at Pu'uhonua o Waimanolo did I get it, that the Christian missionaries weren't the only expropriators, but that we USers had stolen the islands for strategic as well as economic advantage, and used them with colonial disregard for a century before I got there.

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<p>One brightly colored but tone-deaf view of the Annexation in 1898</p>

One brightly colored but tone-deaf view of the Annexation in 1898

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Statehood was finally "granted" in 1960, and to my young eyes, that seemed a huge boon. After all, who could possibly want to be anything except an American? 

Turns out, not most native Hawaiians, or Kanaka maoli as they call themselves. The overthrow of a legally constituted kingdom by greedy USers in 1893, and the hasty annexation in 1898, was the death knell for a beautiful, authentic, appropriate culture. The missionaries and especially their offspring suppressed the wisdom of the land, as expressed by Hawaiian culture, and swept their doings under the grass mat – nothing to see here! C'mon down, kill bill fish, drink yourself silly, ignore the natives! Little pockets of harsh inauthenticity – Waikiki, Kona, Lahaina, Poipu – popped up an the main islands. And the tourist tradition of synthetic culture – Alo-HA! – took over.

By 1990, resentment had built up enough to make an international movement, reaching out to the rest of Polynesia (also brutally colonialized), and manifesting as the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement, a movement still very much alive and well in 2017 ... and completely invisible to most tourists.

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The harsh fact of tourism – it is an extractive industry that impoverishes the land and people – is especially clear on an island, the remoter, the clearer. Hawaiians own less than 5% of their land; the rest is owned by the State (including 194,000 acres held "in trust" for Native Hawaiians ... but they can't have any of it!), Feds (National Parks and beaucoup military), and 72 private off-island landowners. In particular, resort properties are owned by Japanese and US mainland corporations. Hawaii imports approximately 92% of its food and 99+% of its fossil fuels. Taken altogether, that means that for every dollar spent in Hawaii, $1.04 or more leaves the Islands. That's extraction at an unsustainable level. 


But Why would this be our last trip? I'll get to that when I write the next page.

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