Visiting the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

When we visited the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, I was reminded that tourists are ugly from all over. Not long after 9/11, I noticed people coming to take photos of Ground Zero. I can understand that, I like taking photos as well. What bothered me was how they posed in front of it, smiling. It just seems disrespectful. I saw the same oblivious ugliness as tourists posed in front of the list of those who died at Pearl Harbor.

The viewing platform.

The memorial is hallowed ground; the ship is below you. The platform crosses it just behind the front turret, which remains above water. This was a clever way to mark the grave of nearly 1200 men who died during the sneak attack, an enormous cross that’s not there unless you think about it. The bow and stern are marked with white buoys. Around the harbor you see cement markers memorializing the other ships sunk on that day.

The list of those who died at Pearl Harbor, without a smiling idiot.

It’s eerie, looking down through the crystal blue water and seeing the rusted hulk of the ship just below, occasionally seeping oil. Small colorful fish dart around the structure. A sign asks you to not throw coins, which contribute to the decay.

The remains of the front turret, gun removed.

The immensity of the battleship is not readily apparent below the surface. Even when you see the buoys, it’s hard to imagine. I’ve seen larger boats, like the ore boats of the Great Lakes, but not from above. The sailors who shuttle you to the platform remind you that this is a cemetery at sea, and to be respectful, but it’s quickly forgotten.

The ship stretches into the distance.

The small white dot below the other ship marks the stern. That and the slightly rust-colored tinge to the water gives you an idea of the Arizona’s size. A torpedo pierced the bow, but it sank with the superstructure otherwise intact. It’s a solemn place, or should be. Maybe they need more soldiers there to give a presence of authority; at Arlington National Cemetery, people were well behaved, especially during the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I think people posed in front of the Eternal Flame, which is still pretty lame.

I didn’t see any people doing this at Bergen-Belsen, or in front of Anne Frank’s grave. Soldiers vs. civilians, I guess. Ground Zero is certainly hallowed ground to the families of the dead, yet tourists feel compelled to smile and pose in front of the empty hole. The stereotype of the Ugly tourist isn’t just for Americans anymore.

The anchor of the U.S.S. Arizona

We visited the U.S.S. Bowfin while we waited 2 hours for our shuttle to the platform. It’s parked right nearby and a good way to kill time while you’re waiting, without sweating with the mobs in the museum and souvenir shops.

The U.S.S. Bowfin, aka “Pearl Harbor Avenger”

It’s about the same as the U.S.S. Growler near the Intrepid museum in NYC. If you’ve never been on a sub before, it’s a good look into the life of a submariner. The cramped beds, the hatchways, the claustrophobic spaces; it makes Das Boot seem roomy.

On the old subs everything is make of brass and looks like antique steampunk machinery. It seems out of place next to the large mechanical switches and analog gauges. It’s sort of in-between the brass equipment of old sailing ships and the voting-booth look of switches and knobs on war machinery of the 70’s and 80’s.

I’m not sure if they allow you on the deck of the Growler, but we got to crawl all over the cannons and guns on this one. And take clever photos. And while I would not pose smiling before 1,177 watery graves, or a list of men who died in combat, I believe the stern of the Pearl Harbor Avenger and Old Glory are perfectly fine.

 

White Sandy Beach of Hawai’i – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

I first heard Iz in Hawai’i at a music shop where I bought a gourd. I can’t play music for shit, sadly. I was born with a heart murmur, and I blame it for my musical arrhythmia. That and my chronic honkitude… I grew up in the town where Martha Stewart is from. Did you hear she’s dating on match.com? Thanks to CNN for broadcasting that ‘news.’
Iz died in 1997, only a few years after achieving fame with his amazing covers of “Over the Rainbow” and “Country Roads.” His album FACING FUTURE has all the songs I mentioned and for me, is as soulful and talented an album you are likely to find.

Kalua Pig

If you’ve been to Hawaii, perhaps you’ve experienced the paradise of pork known as kalua pig. If you’re from Hawaii, thanks for letting us haoles near this treasure. I had it at Yama’s Fish  Market in Honolulu with poi, as the gods intended, and never forgot it. Imagine pulled pork, but juicier and smokier. Kalua pig is roasted in banana leaves in a buried fire pit, and is velvety tender. It requires no sauce. I took home a frozen container and cried the day I finished it, because I knew I wouldn’t be returning to Hawaii for quite some time. Pork fat can do wonderful things, but when the almost sweet flesh is roasted for a day wrapped in banana leaves, I think that is its greatest accomplishment.

A gift from the Hawaiian gods to humanity.

So, when I saw a kalua pig recipe that used a crock pot instead of requiring a shovel, hot coals and several huge Hawaiian dudes to kill a pig and lug it to your back yard and wrap it in banana leaves, I was intrigued. It seemed too easy- take a pork shoulder and poke it with a knife or carving fork all over, rub it with Hawaiian pink sea salt and Liquid Smoke, and slow cook it for 16 to 20 hours. Sure, that’s a lot of time, but if you set it up at night, you’ll have a delicious surprise waiting for dinner when you get home from work. It’s not the same as having a luau, but your tongue won’t know the difference.

All you’ll need.

I picked up a six pound picnic pork shoulder from King’s market in Verona for $11. The picnic style has the leg joint of the pig’s front trotter attached, and the skin still on, so I spent five minutes skinning it with a sharp kitchen knife that my grandmother used for twenty years. If you’ve never skinned meat, just start at a corner and pull it back, start cutting the layer of fat, and keep pulling and cutting. It’s not unlike removing a sticker from a window, pull at the corners. Try not to cut the meat off, and don’t worry about losing the fat- the porker has plenty of interstitial fat and gelatin to make this melt into a puddle of porky butter. After that, jab it all over with a fork or knife, and rub it with a few tablespoons of sea salt. The recipe calls for Hawaiian sea salt, and it is available from vendors online or at specialty stores. I opted for pink Himalayan sea salt from Trader Joe’s because I had it on hand. Then you need Liquid Smoke to mimic the hot coals and charcoal flavor from being  baked underground. Use a tablespoon or so and rub it down.

Anyone wanna make a football?

The hardest part was fitting a pig’s shoulder joint into the crock pot! For a minute I thought I’d have to debone it, like I had to do to a grass fed chuck roast I slow cooked a while back, but it fit. Put the lid on and set that sucker for 20 hours on low, and forget about it for 8 to 10 hours, when you should flip the meat over. No liquid is required. I was dubious, wanting to add water or cider vinegar, but I obeyed. When I woke up the next morning, the apartment smelled of barbecue. The pork had created plenty of its own juices, and I flipped it with tongs. It was already very tender and beginning to pull apart, but I let it go for the full time. And I was not disappointed.

Now go to sleep and awaken to joy

When I got home from work the pork smell had deepened and mellowed. I opened the slow cooker and was greeted with a steamy blast of fragrance that would make even the most stoic turn into a drooling Homer Simpson. I immediately shredded the pork up with a fork, forgetting to take a photo beforehand, and tasted it. Delicious. It needed more salt and smoke, so I added them and removed the bones with tongs, then let it cook for another 30 minutes on high while I went to pick up Firecracker from the train. This would ideally be served with poi, poke, lomi salmon and haupia- and one day I may just do so. Getting the pig right was the first step; raw tuna, salmon, coconut blancmange and mashing taro root are not quite as challenging, but I have a great idea for a housewarming party next summer. If you comment on this blog post, you might get invited.

You can read all about my adventures in Hawaii here.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

The Shaka vs. the Shocker, and the Southernmost Bar in the U.S.


We like extremes here in America. The biggest ball of twine (Cawker, KS). The most expensive hamburger (The Burger Royale at DB Bistro Moderne, NYC). The biggest asshole (goatse guy). So when we learned that the Southernest Bar in the United States was on the island of Hawai’i, we had to trek there when we visited.

The shaka sign

The bar is called Shaka’s, named after the “hang loose” Hawaiian hand sign. It resides in the small town of Na’ahelu, which is between Volcanoes National Park and the southernmost tip of the island, which is occupied mostly by wind farms and a few ranches. If you take the drive down to Shaka’s, there are a few things to see on the way. For one, Highway 11 passes through miles of old lava fields, so it looks like you’re driving through a desolate wasteland. The a’a lava, sharp and unweathered, stretches on one side of the highway to the sea, and to the base of Mauna Loa on the other.

That’s the shocker, not the shaka!

They use the terms mauka and makai to differentiate between “toward the mountains” and “toward the ocean.” Especially on the big island, where there is a ring around the shore and only a few roads inland, like the infamous Saddle Road between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, north and south have little meaning. All the roads are toward one town or another. On the way down, we passed the Punalu’u Black Sand beach, so I swung a sharp left in the Jeep and drove on down. Past a windy golf course, and dotted with tents with local families chilling andd grilling, this is how you enjoy the beach on the windy side of the island.

Black sand beach

Another 20 minutes down the road or so and you reach Na’ahelu. Shaka’s is past the gas station and the post office, with parking in front and out back. It’s hard to miss the big blue building. We dropped in for some Kona brews and burgers. Firecracker had a burger smothered with mushroom gravy and sweet Maui onions, with some delicious fried potato wedges on the side. They call them hash browns, so get them instead of the fries. I had a South Seas fish sandwich with mahi and light tangy tartar sauce. It was fresh and delicious. The beer was good too- I had a few Kona Lavaman Red Ales. Service was a little slow, even for the islands- he apologized for being short on staff- but everything was tasty and we didn’t wait too long.

No lighthouse, just a big reflecting sign

So they are worth a stop, even if you don’t want to say that you’ve had a beer at the Southernmost Bar in the U.S., for their good food and selection. If you’ve come this far, you might as well drive another 12 miles to South Point, the wave-bashed rocky beach that is the most southerly spot on the isle. You can see the stark contrast between the calm, Kona side of the island and the windy Hilo side, as the waves crash nonstop to your left, and the seas stand still to your right.

LeftRight

The beaches were covered with locals fishing, but we didn’t see anyone catch anything. A few miles down a 4×4 road, and there’s a Green Sand beach, but we didn’t have a lot of time or good directions to it. It gives us a reason to come back, other than the island’s beauty and the friendliness of the people. Next time I want to stay in Kona, so Firecracker can go horseback riding with the paniolos, and I can drive to the top of Mauna Kea. Or sit at the Kona Brewing Company having some more of their excellent Wailua wheat and Pipeline porter.

51 years ago there was a tree here.

On the way back we stopped at the spot where Mark Twain planted a monkeypod tree in the 1860’s. It stood until 1957, when a typhoon uprooted it. I’m still reading his Letters from Hawaii; it’s good, but slow going. He was still young and hadn’t gotten his steam yet. I imagine he’d have commented on the most Southerly Commode in the U.S., which Firecracker and I did make use of. We were most thankful that the heavy winds didn’t knock it over.

Most Southerly Shitters in the States

View Larger Map
You are here.

The white dot by the black square is that reflective sign.

Infamy at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

When we visited the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, I was reminded that tourists are ugly from all over. Not long after 9/11, I noticed people coming to take photos of Ground Zero. I can understand that, I like taking photos as well. What bothered me was how they posed in front of it, smiling. It just seems disrespectful. I saw the same oblivious ugliness as tourists posed in front of the list of those who died at Pearl Harbor.

The viewing platform.

The memorial is hallowed ground; the ship is below you. The platform crosses it just behind the front turret, which remains above water. This was a clever way to mark the grave of nearly 1200 men who died during the sneak attack, an enormous cross that’s not there unless you think about it. The bow and stern are marked with white buoys. Around the harbor you see cement markers memorializing the other ships sunk on that day.

The list of those who died at Pearl Harbor, without a smiling idiot.

It’s eerie, looking down through the crystal blue water and seeing the rusted hulk of the ship just below, occasionally seeping oil. Small colorful fish dart around the structure. A sign asks you to not throw coins, which contribute to the decay.

The remains of the front turret, gun removed.

The immensity of the battleship is not readily apparent below the surface. Even when you see the buoys, it’s hard to imagine. I’ve seen larger boats, like the ore boats of the Great Lakes, but not from above. The sailors who shuttle you to the platform remind you that this is a cemetery at sea, and to be respectful, but it’s quickly forgotten.

The ship stretches into the distance.

The small white dot below the other ship marks the stern. That and the slightly rust-colored tinge to the water gives you an idea of the Arizona’s size. A torpedo pierced the bow, but it sank with the superstructure otherwise intact. It’s a solemn place, or should be. Maybe they need more soldiers there to give a presence of authority; at Arlington National Cemetery, people were well behaved, especially during the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I think people posed in front of the Eternal Flame, which is still pretty lame.

I didn’t see any people doing this at Bergen-Belsen, or in front of Anne Frank’s grave. Soldiers vs. civilians, I guess. Ground Zero is certainly hallowed ground to the families of the dead, yet tourists feel compelled to smile and pose in front of the empty hole. The stereotype of the Ugly tourist isn’t just for Americans anymore.

The anchor of the U.S.S. Arizona

We visited the U.S.S. Bowfin while we waited 2 hours for our shuttle to the platform. It’s parked right nearby and a good way to kill time while you’re waiting, without sweating with the mobs in the museum and souvenir shops.

The U.S.S. Bowfin, aka “Pearl Harbor Avenger”

It’s about the same as the U.S.S. Growler near the Intrepid museum in NYC. If you’ve never been on a sub before, it’s a good look into the life of a submariner. The cramped beds, the hatchways, the claustrophobic spaces; it makes Das Boot seem roomy.

On the old subs everything is make of brass and looks like antique steampunk machinery. It seems out of place next to the large mechanical switches and analog gauges. It’s sort of in-between the brass equipment of old sailing ships and the voting-booth look of switches and knobs on war machinery of the 70’s and 80’s.

I’m not sure if they allow you on the deck of the Growler, but we got to crawl all over the cannons and guns on this one. And take clever photos. And while I would not pose smiling before 1,177 watery graves, or a list of men who died in combat, I believe the stern of the Pearl Harbor Avenger and Old Glory are perfectly fine.

Until I can pose smiling and giving the peace sign in front of the Hiroshima memorial to avenge myself against all the Japanese tourists I’ve seen posing at Pearl Harbor and Ground Zero, this will have to do.

Spam Musibi and Donkey Balls

Being midway between the U.S. and Japan creates some interesting foodstuffs. Spam musibi is one. Who’da thunka combining all-American mystery meat with the pompous Japanese art of sushistry? Well, after millions of K-rations made it to the islands during World War 2, the pork-loving locals got a taste for Hormel’s gelatinous canned concoction, SPAM. Yes, their trademark suggests you capitalize the entire word, sort of like GWAR! (exclamation point optional).


The Spam is fried (fuck you, Hormel!) and sometimes flavored with teriyaki. It is served hot, preferably from a 7-11 counter for a mere $1.50; two of them make a rather filling meal. If they hid vegetables in there somehow you’d have a perfect meal on the run, since I’m unsure how much nutritional value the thin seaweed wrapper can hold. It’s very tasty, and warm sushi rice molded into a brick is a lot more appealing than it seems. If the thin slice of Spam leaves you wanting, they make double meat versions, too. You owe it to yourself to try this in Hawaii.

Another thing they save for tourists is donkey balls. These are dark chocolate flavor, from a brown donkey, I guess. They’re chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, thankfully.

Playing with my balls again.

If you’re daring enough to delve through dandruff, they have coconut-chocolate ones, called flaky balls.
Like a chocolate jawbreaker, these will make you appreciate the talents of boa constrictors and porn starlets. Once you get past the gag reflex you’re in for a taste explosion that is worth the trouble.

And a cute donkey mascot.

So whenever you’re reminiscing about Chef’s song on South Park and want to put some Salty Chocolate Balls in your mouth, grab a bag of these and a salt shaker, I guess. The chocolate is pretty good, the nuts are nothing to write home about. The wasabi macnuts I got from Hilo Coffee Mill, on the other hand, are incredible. They deliver to the mainland, so if you crave chocolate macadamias, skip the donkey balls and give the Coffee Mill’s a try. Firecracker bought a bag and they’re worth the higher price.

7 Amazing Things at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park


I’m tired of the pussification of our National Parks. Nothing irks me more to go to some dangerous spot and find child-proof fences denying nature the chance to weed out the stupid kids. Thankfully, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has no such safety nets. In fact, they have a sign gloating about the last kid who got par-boiled after walking off the path and falling in a sulfurous crevasse.

The park encompasses the lava fields and caldera of 4,500-ft Mount Kīlauea, an offshoot of the much larger Mauna Loa volcano. The entire island consists of 5 connected volcanoes, of which Kīlauea is the most active. It’s one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and it’s currently dumping lava into the sea near Kimau. We drove down to see it at night, and amazingly people still live on the lava field relatively close to the flow, as far as I’m concerned.

The park showcases many natural spectacles you’re unlikely to see anywhere else. Here are the ones we visited:

1. Lava Tubes
Park Motto: Enter at Your Own Risk.

Lava tubes are channel-like caves where lava once flowed rapidly underneath the surface. The most accessible tube at the park is the Thurston Lava Tube, which is smooth and has track lighting for tourists. There is an extended section left undisturbed, but we forgot to take our flashlights when we hiked to it. It’s still smoother than fresh ones.

Track lighting is an igneous rock.


2. Smoking Caldera
Between you & impending death- one small railing.

Smoke and steam plumes rise from the caldera, the site where a volcano erupted and collapsed. It means bowl, or cauldron, because it looks like one. We hiked past the Kīlauea caldera on the way to the lava tube, and while young plants and weeds are growing down there, the smoke and steam show that it is still quite active.

3. Steam Vents
Driving by sulfurous emissions.

In New York it’s not uncommon to see steam and vapor rising from the manhole covers and subway grates, with that delicate eau du urine scent wafting up from the tunnels. Here it comes right up from the ground, with a grainy taste from the deadly chemicals you’ve just breathed in. They call it “vog,” for volcanic fog, and signs warn you to stay in the car with the windows up when it is thick. The wind us often so fierce that you can barely see the vog, as it blows across the a’a fields.

Roll up your windows so the deadly fumes smell better.

4. Lava Fields
No parking.

What’s an a’a field? There are two types of lava, a’a and pahoehoe. The first one is fresh sharp lava, and you can guess how it got its name, from the first poor bastard who walked barefoot on it. In the old days they’d punish people by having them spend the night out there where you can’t sit or lie down without being lacerated. Pahoehoe is smooth older lava that looks like grey candle wax. There are huge expanses of these old hardened flows in the park, and if you drive all the way down Chain of Craters Road, you can see where the lava flows covered the road for a length of 12 miles. The steam plume beyond is the active flow pouring into the sea, slowly enlarging the island.

The buried sign says “Road Closed”

5. Petroglyphs
Walk on the sacred glyphs and your soul will be cast into the hot magma.

If you walk out on the lava fields, there are carvings in the lava. Various figures and symbols in the black crust. These here are at least 400 years old, and the tiny dots were part of a birth rite- the severed umbilical cord of a new child was put in it. What’s fascinating is that the spot is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, far from the coast and the sheltering wall of the mountain. I guess one spot’s as good as any, but it’s a heck of a walk. The ritual linked the child’s soul to the island, and there are 16,000 such holes known in the area.

Do not play Chinese Checkers on the sacred carvings.

6. Sulfur Vents
Mmm, looks like lemon sorbet!

If steam’s not enough for you, there’s also stinky sulfur fumes rising to the surface, giving the rocks an eerie fluorescent yellow color. This is the spot where the kid fell in. If you don’t look at all the warning signs, the area is quite serene- beautiful flowers growing along secluded paths, with the occasional fissure splitting the earth open. The ground is unstable off the paths, and the kid fell in a crevice up to his shoulders, and suffered steam burns over 10% of his body. Thankfully he didn’t ruin it for everybody, and you can still view the rocks coated with their crystalline layer of sulfur.

Tastes like burning!

7. Active Lava Flows

This is the money shot and is actually outside the park grounds now; the flow has been active since 1983, but has moved. It’s at the other end of Chain of Craters Road, which requires you to double back on an hour detour. You just keep driving down 130, and eventually you see highway signs for “Lava Viewing Open- Last Car Admitted 8pm.” The back road is pretty rutted and bumpy, but we had a Jeep Wrangler so had no problems. You also need flashlights, sturdy shoes, and water. It’s a 3/4 mile walk on the lava fields in the dark, but the path is marked to the safe viewing area. On some days you just see the glow of the lava as it pours into the ocean, but we got a beautiful fireworks display of molten rock splashing around. Sometimes you can see the steam plume’s shadow in front of glow, and the rock formations left around it.

The park is a World Heritage Site, and rightly so. If you visit Hawaii, you owe yourself a trip to the rustic and quiet Big Island, and a visit to the park. There’s a $10 fee for a week pass per car, and you can stay in nearby Volcano village. We stayed at Aloha Junction B&B, and ate at Dan De Luz’s Koa Shop Kaffee, where you can get a great hearty breakfast and some beautiful hard-carved koa as well. I wish we’d gotten there in time for dinner after the lava viewing!

Spam, Teriyaki Beef, Portuguese sausage, hash browns… I devoured the deep-fried Vienna Sausages already.