Wacky over Waikiki


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WHEN IT COMES to Hawaii, I come to Oahu. I am the Anti-Snob. Take your "Big Island" of Hawaii and your Maui and Kauai and Molokai, too. I am not ashamed to say it. I'll take Oahu, Honolulu and Waikiki.

I like Oahu's steaming, teeming, 2-mile stretch of Waikiki Beach with its 30,000 hotel rooms and 90,000 tourists a day. And I love the retail frenzy of the International Marketplace with its tacky jewelry and its endless racks of authentic Magnum, P.I. Hawaiian shirts for $37 (you could pay a third of the price if you'd settle for a reasonable knockoff).

I dig the '50s rock'n'roll revue I catch in the lobby lounge at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki. I like to watch the aged retirees from the mainland playing chess on the sea wall across the street. I like the discount coupons for the rentals at Snorkel Bob's.

I love the view of Diamond Head from my window in the gorgeously refurbished, 96-year-old Sheraton Moana Surfrider. I love the view of the elderly, white-kneed tourists in their Bermuda shorts, black shoes and black socks, shuffling down Kalakaua Boulevard outside the hotel. And I love to sit beneath the 112-year-old banyan tree in the hotel's center courtyard, sipping the mandatory mai tai at sunset and watching the less-inhibited guests attempt the hula while a trio of steel guitars offers up "Sweet Leilani." (I am touched, on another night at sunset, as San Diegans Ron and Marilee Reina hold hands under the banyan tree and renew their marriage vows, 10 years to the day after their wedding there in 1987.

I admire the entrepreneurial spirit of the omnipresent beach boys on the sand out back of the hotel, hawking rides on their outriggers for (30 minutes for $15) or surfing safaris on their canoes (three waves for $5). I'm boggled by the Hawaii PD's apparent disinterest in the thick parade of entrepreneurial women on the side of the hotel, hawking their own sorts of rides.

The 112-year old banyan tree that shades the central courtyard is the centerpiece of activity at the famed hotel

I'm crazy about the dining room at Matteo's, Waikiki's upscale Italian eatery, where the four-cheese ravioli melts in your mouth and the prices can melt your wallet. (The Caesar salad is savory, too--$8 a split.) I am not a fan of the traditional luau--no pit-roasted pig for me, thank you. But I do love to pig out on Friday nights at the Royal Hawaiian's Surf Room buffet. Shrimp. Crab. Oysters. Calamari. Mussels. Ahi. Salmon. Mahi Mahi. Chocolate cake. Carrot cake. Cheesecake. Alka Seltzer.

I like to watch the honu--the Hawaiian green sea turtles--relaxing in the midday sun at the rocky jetty at the west end of Waikiki Beach. I like to watch the bikinis--green, blue, red--reclining in the midday sun on the public beach just across the hotel fence.

I detest negotiating the long and winding road down to it back up from it, but I love the snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, sunken volcano east of Diamond Head, where the multicoloree fish outnumber the swimmers by something like 10,000 to one--roughly the same as the ratio of Japanese to American tourists on the bay's beach. I love to feed them frozen peas. (The fish.)

And when I want to escape the crush of fellow tourists, I savor the rental-car ride on the Likelike Highway across Oahu's Koolau Mountains to the windward side of the island--a side of Oahu in such contrast to Waikiki it could be another island. On another planet.

I am blown away by the view of Waimea Bay from the 300-foot bluff where stands Pu'u o Mahuka Heiau, the ancient sacrificial Hawaiian temple. I am stunned by the awesome force of nature as the mid-January surf pounds the beach at Haleiwa. I am cooled by the shaved ice at Matsumoto's General Store--the best I've tasted. I am refreshed by a dip in the mountain pools of Maunawili Falls. I am not afraid of the giant lizard Mo'o, said to live in the depths of the pools.

Waikiki's oldest hotel, the luxurious 96-year-old Sheraton Moana Surfrider, underwent a $50 million refurbishing seven years ago

I am enlightened and entertained by a visit to the lushly landscaped 42-acre Polynesian Cultural Center, where I am guided by native young people through the history of the Hawaiian Islands and their cultural variety. The afternoon Canoe Pageant and elaborate Horizons night show are breathtaking spectacles. I surrender to the Ali'i Luau, a requisite feast of Hawaiian food--okay, pig included--accompanied by song and dance.

I like the chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.

I like the greasy island potato chips.

I like the ABC stores on every corner.

I like orchid leis.

I like tiki torches.

I like drinks with their own umbrellas.

I like Kona coffee.

I like grass skirts.

I like raw fish for breakfast.

And after a week of this, I even like Don Ho. Well, I have nothing against Don Ho, personally.

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