Last week, while prepping for my return to Hawaii, I found my travel journals from our first trek out the beautiful islands. We did so many wonderful things, from diving with sharks to dancing in luas to laying out on the beach. What stood out most in my journal though were two things- climbing Diamond Head crater and visiting Pearl Harbour Memorial. I was trying to pin down why I wrote so much about these days and it came down to a love for history.
I love to travel because I think it connects us to a greater story that is within us all. There is the here and now and there is also the then and gone. Seeing the two merge while traveling is really one of the most beautiful things. It is a connection to culture and humanity and the earth and the self, really, what more is life about?
The beauty of Diamond Head Crater is apparent- this massive crater nestled by the ocean created by a volcanic explosion hundreds of thousands of years ago. Before heading to hike up the crater, we visited Hanauma Bay for some snorkeling- its another spot formed by amazing volcanic eruption and gorgeous ocean. Already, I was feeling in awe of the power of the earth. I hadn’t expected the crater to be so massive and driving up closer through the city & suburbs, the sheer enormity of the earth’s power over human history dawned on me. The english name “Diamond Head” is a bit of a funny story. British sailors came upon the island in the 19th century and thought the calcite crystals on the beach were diamonds. Hawaiians had called the crater Lēʻahi, Le meaning ridge or brown ridge and ahi, a type of tuna. Quite different, though very much based on an understanding of the land. Eventually, the crater would become home to the first military base on the island, Fort Ruger. A prime location for defense against land and sea attacks, the crater was a strong asset to the US historically.
What blew my mind was that, the crater didn’t give off any military vibes to me. Even when climbing, I would have never thought of it. I think that has much more to do with the ‘island state of mind’ and the natural beauty of it then it does the actual military use. Historically, the crater has been filled with soldiers and plans and guns but there isn’t a lingering feeling of stress like I’ve found at other military bases or historical sites.
I was excited to have made it up the crater. I felt my history of scoliosis and surgery and laying in a hospital bed really strong that day. I did this, I climbed a mountain. Laying in a hospital bed, finding it hard to even walk- I couldn’t have thought I would do that. All the histories came crashing together into the here and now and it felt like pure magic.
I had this same feeling of history in the Pearl Harbour Memorial. I mostly surprised by how little I knew about the attack. December 7th 1941, during WW2, Japanese forces launched an attack on the naval base near Honolulu. What I didn’t know was that, at the time, the U.S and Japan had been headed towards war for a while, with China in the middle of it all. I won’t get into economic and political history but tensions were much higher then I had previously thought before visiting the memorial. Honestly, what I knew of Pearl Harbour was what I had learned from the movies, which isn’t saying a whole lot.
It was in the Battleship USS Arizona memorial where I did most of my writing. You can look through the floor and see the ship, sunken by the 1800 pound bomb that fell from the sky to hit it. Then, when you look up you see all the names, carved in white stone. I kept thinking about all those people’s history- they’re all a part of a family tree of different stories all melding together. The lives of those involved in Pearl Harbour and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they’re all part of this huge story of human history that is easy to learn and hard to feel. Through travel, through being there in that moment, looking at history, we are able to feel. The memorial was somber and quiet while the tours around the ships were active and engaging, reminding us that history is past and right now, we were simply Canadian tourists on the island.
Through travel we can feel certain histories we didn’t imagine we could. I have no U.S relatives and no connection to anyone involved in Pearl Harbour to my knowledge, thought I felt the weight of those days. I felt the immensity of a volcanic eruption 300,000 years ago to form the island. I felt my story intertwine with others, and isn’t that what humanity is about? Connection. I love Hawaii more than any place I’ve ever been. It may be because of the beautiful beaches, palm trees, Elvis movies and lighthearted ukelele songs but it’s also for the culture and history of the islands. Even though its a real tourist destination, there is a vibrant and rich world of language, food, dance and history that is open and willing to be explored. Travel info for these two activities will be linked in their titles. I encourage you to further explore the history and visit them to feel it.