A statue of surfing champ Duke Kahanamoku welcomes visitors to Waikiki
Hawaii is a mystical place that seems to exist in imagination only until you actually set foot on one of the volcanic outcrops in the middle of the Pacific. When I was growing up, Hawaii – or Hawaje in Polish – was a fairytale land far, far away. So far in fact that it might as well have been Oz. Who knew I would one day find it? And yes, as soon as the plane touches down, it’s clear that we’re not in Kansas anymore. The black-and-whiteness of mundane daily existence melts away in the Technicolor rainbow of verdant hills, turquoise waters, and golden sun, leaving newcomers temporarily blinded until their eyes adjust. I wonder if that’s the effect that sighting the islands had on the first European to set eyes on them, captain James Cook. On January 18, 1778, when he saw Oahu after months of sailing across vast and empty Pacific, wouldn’t Hawaii appear to be a slice of paradise put on his path by providence?
Fortunately, no comparably long periods of time are required of a modern traveler. But it’s still a looong trip from pretty much anywhere. In fact, Hawaii is the most isolated population center on earth: 2,390 miles from California; 3,850 miles from Japan; 4,900 miles from China; and 5,280 miles from the Philippines. It’s a strange feeling to fly for so many hours from the U.S. mainland and not need to pull out a passport. But once you’re here, you know you’ve arrived. A puff of warm tropical air penetrates the jet-way. The hot sun starts its labor of love on pale skins of temperate zone individuals. And the beach awaits. Read the rest of this entry →