Hawaii sights range from solemn to splendor

Associated Press
In this Dec. 7, 1941 file photo, smoke rises from the battleship USS Arizona as it sinks during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Divers will place the ashes of Lauren Bruner, a survivor from the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, in the wreckage of his ship during a ceremony this weekend. Bruner died earlier in 2019 at the age of 98.

Guest Columnist

Our family’s Hawaii trip was filled with spectacular sights, especially the Road to Hana in Maui, even though we now know why that path is also called Divorce Highway.

Still, the most memorable sight for me was nothing more than a slow trail of oil in the tranquil water of Pearl Harbor, and watching how other tourists clamored to first see the oil, and then stood there staring, transfixed by what it represented. We were on the USS Arizona Memorial, all lost in our thoughts about the ship beneath our feet that was sunk by Japanese pilots in the surprise attack on December 7, 1941, that started World War II.

Incredibly, the sunken vessel has been leaking up to two quarts of oil a day for the past 78 years. The visible oil trail begins by a rusting above-water gun turret and drifts off to the nearby USS Missouri, where the Japanese signed surrender documents in Tokyo Bay in 1945.

The remains of more than 1,000 USS Arizona crewmen are submerged below that oil slick. So it’s little wonder so many visitors lean on a rail and look blankly at oil and rust, grim reminders of so much death and destruction. Yet, amidst all that sorrow, there is resiliency – the famed Hawaii sun transforms the oil into a rainbow of color, purple, brown, blue, and orange. And somehow, soil blew into a crack of an Arizona gun turret, and out sprang one lone green plant of life, standing proudly in a sea of rust.

USS Arizona survivors have long said the leaking oil drops are the black tears of their dead shipmates. Over 40 survivors who have died since 1982 have had their ashes interred into the Arizona. All those names, plus those killed in 1941, are listed inside the memorial. This “living” national cemetery attracts more than a million visitors a year. They pay their respects in silence, which in reality speaks volumes.

As solemn as the Pearl Harbor National Memorial can be is as exhilarating as the Road to Hana in Maui can be. The 62-mile journey winds through mountains, luscious greenery, rainforests, sheer-drop cliffs, crashing waves from a deep blue ocean, jagged lava rock formations, scenic overlooks, and mesmerizing waterfalls, all set off by a majestic blue sky punctuated by white clouds. It is indeed the Hawaii you see in the travel brochures.

Except we advise you to be watching out the window, not driving, or not watching your spouse attempt to drive. Because the road has 620 curves, many of the hairpin variety, and 59 bridges, 46 of which are one lane. So it’s slow-going, and a bit chilling, especially when peering straight down into a too-close abyss. It’s best to book a tour and let a local expert do the driving.

If you’re really adventurous, after surviving the north shore route to Hana, ask your guide to take the south side road back to civilization. But beware: there is a good reason that rental car companies tell you not to drive this road. Because much of it is unpaved, and is like driving on a washboard. Our guide told us the hardy souls that live in that area, some without electricity or running water, don’t want the road paved because that helps keep tourists away. The most hair-raising moment was when our driver gunned our van going up a steep one-lane road going around a cliff that was open to possible oncoming traffic. All he said was, “I don’t know what we’ll do if someone comes from the other way,” and smiled. As a warning to oncomers, he did blow his horn the entire way, as signs implore one to do.

So it’s a truly unique drive. Early on, you can gawk at the breathtaking scenery chosen for the opening scene of the 1993 movie Jurrasic Park. As we moved along at 10 to 15 miles per hour, I could have reached out the window and touched a cliff or a variety of vegetation and trees. To the left were deep green valleys, tree tops, and the ocean. We had to beware of falling coconuts. There were plenty of roadside vendors, some stops to swim in the ocean or by cascading waterfalls, and opportunities to take photos of one gorgeous vista after another.

We certainly weren’t in Indiana anymore.

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