You Say Aloha, But I Say Aloha: F13 Goes to Hawai’i

Professors Lisa Gilbert and Jim Carlton overlook Honolulu from atop Diamond Head
Professors Lisa Gilbert and Jim Carlton overlook Honolulu from atop Diamond Head

Well now, I hope you haven’t been too heartsick going without a W-M blog for the past couple of weeks.  Hawai’i turned out to be even busier than I’d expected and those in charge instructed me to drop the communiqués until things had settled down.  And settled they have: this week we are getting back into normal Mystic life, attending classes, and gearing up for our various projects.  But let’s turn back the clock, all the way to October the Fifth, and try to uncover the Hawaiian experience.

Unfortunately we did so much on this trip that it will be impossible for me to recount all of it without losing considerable steam, so we’ll aim for the highlights.  Three Saturdays ago, in the early morning of Oct. 5, we hopped a bus for Hartford where we flew to Chicago, then on to Honolulu.  Not a bad trip.  On the plane they showed Monsters University (I’m covering the important bits here, folks), which made Garrett and me laugh heartily.

Once in Honolulu we literally jumped right in as we ran straight into the water when we arrived at the beach, only to discover quite a lot of coral and rocks.  The excellent faculty and staff brought us dinner to eat at the beach, and then we headed to the East-West Center of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, where we’d be staying for the week.  It was a nice set-up, something between a dorm and a hotel.  We also had several meals on campus at two of the dining halls.  Eloise, who worked at the breakfast one, always seemed delighted to see us.

(A brief sidestep here to point out which faculty and staff were on the trip: professors Jim, Katy, Lisa, and Glenn, as well as trusty staff members Steph, Ali, and Morgan.  Our beloved Mary O’Loughlin and Megan Flenniken were doing a lot of coordination from back home, and Prof. Rich had also arranged with many of our guest speakers for the trip. Cheers all around.)

We got a really wonderful beginning to our first full day in Honolulu.  At Diamond Head Beach Park, we met with Dr. Sam ‘Ohu Gon III, a practitioner of traditional Hawaiian ceremonies, who led us in a welcome ceremony on the beach.  He mixed Hawaiian waters with the Atlantic waters we had brought with us; we all wet our feet in the surf, and Sam sang a Hawaiian chant of welcome.  He was very friendly and we talked with him afterward while we ate some breakfast on the shore.  One thing we learned from him, which we recalled several times through the trip, is that according to traditional Hawaiian belief as well as good common sense, “you never turn your back on the ocean.”

Next we hiked to the top of Diamond Head (Le’ahi) for an excellent view of Honolulu and had our first series of lectures from the faculty before heading back down.  From there we drove to the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, which holds some of the world’s best exhibits on Hawaiian culture.  Then a brief stop at ‘Iolani Palace, which served as a royal residence from 1882 until the U.S. overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893; Queen Lili’uokalani was later imprisoned in the palace for eight months.  We had dinner in Honolulu’s Chinatown at the Little Village Noodle House, then returned to the East-West Center and turned in a little after 8:00 PM.

That was just our first day—and we didn’t slow down after that.  To describe each day in full would take forever, so here I’ll list just some of the excellent experiences we had:

  • Toured the Honolulu Fish Auction: definitely some people’s favorite tour of the trip, we got to see heaps of all kinds of fish freshly unloaded from the boats in the early morning, and observed while the auctioneer at one section began calling out for bids at light speed.  A lot of the fish, once bought, goes straight to an airplane for export.  Later in the day we saw a very different kind of fishing business when we visited He’eia Fishpond in a more rural part of the island.  This pond was created about 800 years ago and recently has undergone restoration to counteract the effects of various invasive plants.
  • Toured Honolulu Harbor on the research vessel of a W-M alum
  • Visited two shipping companies, Horizon Lines and the smaller Pasha Group, and toured one of Pasha’s massive roll-on/roll-off cargo ships.
  • Pearl Harbor was closed due to the governments shutdown but we did get close, and we took a tour of the USS Missouri, a legendary battleship and site of Japan’s formal surrender at the end of WWII.
  • Walking tour of Waikiki Beach, the heart of tourism in Oahu; later in the day, Glenn led us in a sweet surfing session here.
  • Waimea Falls, a gorgeous park on the North Shore that holds great significance in traditional Hawaiian culture; some folks took a dip here, others just walked the trails and enjoyed the peace

Now on to the Big Island, the one that’s actually called Hawai’i.  It’s a newer, larger island, and a very different scene from Oahu, with fewer tourists.

  • Walked, and crawled, through Kaumana Cave, a lava tube formed in 1881 by lava flow from Mauna Loa, the largest of the island’s five volcanoes.
  • Threw in a morsel of public service, picking up marine debris at Ka Lae, the southernmost point of the U.S.  Some of the debris that arrives here is thought to have originated in the Japanese tsunami of 2011.
  • More lava stuff: spent some time at a beach made of hardened lava from a 1990 flow.  Then visited Lava Tree State Park, where past lava flow has left rocky moulds of trees.
  • Snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay: we swam around observing fish and coral within sight of the monument to Captain James Cook, who was killed here in 1779 in what we might call a communication breakdown with the Hawaiians.

These are just samples from a really packed week-and-a-half.  Throughout all of this we had lectures from our professors, as well as experts in all kinds of fields who agreed to donate their time and meet with us to share their knowledge of Hawaiian culture, ecology, literature, and policy.  Also worth mentioning is that a significant portion of the original itinerary had to be scrapped because of the government shutdown.  We were meant to spend our nights on the Big Island at Volcanoes National Park, but as that was closed our wonderful Mary O’Loughlin back in Mystic found us a hotel in the town of Hilo instead, which turned out to be perfect.  Several activities/meals had to be reworked within a few days and it all came out great, so all of us students feel pretty impressed by, and grateful to, our faculty and staff.

After our return we had four days free, but now it’s back to business.  This week, we’ve had a historical walking tour of nearby Stonington Borough, along with our first sessions of data collection for our science projects.  This weekend is Family Weekend, then who knows?


Fair Winds,

Bennett W.

F’13 Student Blogger

By Land and By Sea: Setting Into Life In Mystic

Sabino, post down-river cruise

Hello again!

When last we met, the Williams-Mystic gang was still settling into the routine of maritime studies.  In the past week, things have picked up quite a bit: we’ve had a literature paper due, as well as final project proposals for Marine Ecology, Oceanography, and Marine Policy.  With daily readings thrown into the mix, it’s been a somewhat stressful week at times; fortunately, there’s usually something to pick up your spirits if you’ve been spending too much time at a computer.  So far, that autumn weather has brought all its beauty without much of the chill, which has made for some lovely outings in the area.

Last Thursday evening, we all went aboard the steamboat Sabino, which took us on a tour of the Mystic River out toward Long Island Sound, returning just after sunset.  Over the weekend, several students took a break from reading about Hawaiʻi to go apple picking at a nearby orchard.

Trekking into Barn Island Marsh

A highlight of the week for this blogger was Tuesday’s lab, which included the Marine Ecology and Oceanography students.  We drove over to Barn Island Marsh, around fifteen minutes away, and the weather was perfect.  We put our knee-high boots to good use walking out to the very edge of the marsh where it meets the water.  Professor Jim Carlton introduced us to some of the life there, such as Saltmarsh Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and the marsh mussel (schadium).  We could also hear the crickets, though we didn’t see them.  At the water’s edge, Professor Lisa Gilbert had us extract (with some difficulty) samples of the soil to examine deposits over many decades, looking for evidence of past hurricanes.

Gabi and Neeko extract a soil sample at the marsh

On Thursday afternoon, we all met to go over the itinerary for Hawaiʻi and talk about things to keep in mind while we’re there.  We’re a little nervous at the moment, as the plan has been to tour—and stay at—Volcanoes National Park, which may prove impossible if our government continues this shutdown business.  But we’re not due there for a week or so, so we remain hopeful.

The next time you hear from me, my cohorts and I will be about halfway through our Hawaiian adventure.  We are all, to say the least, pretty excited to get going on that.


Fair Winds,

Bennett W.

F’13 Student Blogger