Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hawaii lost the Aloha Spirit

Starting in 1990, Edgar and I made 35 trips to Hawaii - most of them to Waikiki, one to Kauai, and two to the Big Island. Kauai was much too quiet for us. Although beautiful, I said many times, if you feel you're going to have a nervous breakdown and never want to see another person again, two weeks in Kauai and you're cured. The Big Island was interesting - with at least two different and distinct personalities - the volcano and the agricultural areas. Never had we seen any landscape that resembled the lava covered grounds connected with the volcano. We heard that the astronauts walked there in an attempt to train for walking on the moon and we can believe that. The newly hardened lava looks like it is sprinkled with diamond dust. The hot lava flows into the Pacific Ocean and that releases large plumes of steam. The National Park set up barricades to keep the tourists out of danger but, a foolhardy person ignored the purpose of the barriers, stepped over them, looked over the edge of the clif into the Pacific and the soft ground gave way under his feet and he became a sacrifice to the volcano.

The agricultural area, around Captain Cook, is high in the hills and coffee, bananas, chocolate, exotic fruits, and tropical flowers all grow with just a little help from the land owners. A serious drug epidemic has forced the large farmers to hire armed security guards to safeguard their crops.

Waikiki, on the island of Oahu, is the center of commerce, culture, and people. Edgar and I were so impressed with the people that, in spite of the l-o-n-g flight from Philadelphia, we continued to return even though Florida and Puerto Rico are much closer. And we returned regularly to enjoy the warmth, both from the sun and the people. But something changed and we have finally been able to identify what appears to us to be the catalyst of change. When Ben Cayetano was elected Governor, he invited everybody to come to his inauguration and we did. The ceremony was held at the Iolani Palace and we were later interviewed by CNN - we guessed that it was because we did not look Hawaiian. In the course of our many travel articles, we had several interactions with Governor Cayetano including photos, and long Q and A sessions. He even arranged for us to have a walk-through part on Baywatch Hawaii. Then the Republican Linda Lingle became Governor and, the office door closed to us. Whenever we requested an interview we were told that she was either tied up in meetings or "off island." And that lack of availability to tourists transferred to the rest of the people.

Before her inauguration, we, and other tourists, were treated as valued guests. Afterwards, we became coins in the state cash register. Amenities that had been a part of everyone's experience disappeared and "blue suede shoe" guys annoyed us to buy time shares on every corner. Instead of enjoying leisurely strolls up and down the beach and up and down the avenues, we had to predetermine a destination and not stop to enjoy the scenery or the flowers.

Mayor Jeremy Harris appreciated the value of tourists and beautified Kalakaua Avenue with fountains, statues, flowers, and public rest rooms. Most of the Hawaiians faulted him for "wasting" money on tourist sites and forgetting the needs of the locals who never appreciated that the tourists brought the money for the locals to have jobs.

We had been staying at the same place during our many trips, and enjoyed it. Then, the next generation of hotel owners took over and forgot how important the return guest was. They renovated or tore down the older hotels and built lavish, expensive, modern structures. They thought that the Aloha spirit that permeated Hawaii during their parents' and grandparents' times could be replaced with wall coverings, bedspreads, and curtains that looked like old Hawaii but could be bought in any store that imported goods from Asia. And this lack of enthusiasm for the life-blood of the State, tourists, permeated the help. The attitudes of the workers reminded us of the saying "it's not the job that I hate, it's the work." Simple tasks, like fixing a telephone connection, took more than a day; reparing a leaky faucet took more than a week; and being available to sign in the guests ranked way down on their list of priorities.

We are glad that we were able to enjoy the "real" Hawaii when we first started vacationing there and are happy that we took so many photos, met so many very interesting people, made friendships that continue to last across the miles, and continue to have pleasant memories of concerts, operas, ballets, theater, surfing, hulas, luaus, whales, spinning dolphins, and the Aloha spirit before it vanished.

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