Monday, March 9, 2015

Aloha Oahu: Ash Wednesday & Polynesian Cultural Center


Want to start from the beginning of the "Aloha Oahu" series? Make sure you've read: 
Waikiki & Luau 
Manoa Falls, Pali Lookout, Kailua Beach, & Diamond Head
Pearl Harbor
A Waikiki Wedding


Wednesday, February 18th, was one of our longest days throughout the week. Our excursion to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) was the only Hawaiian adventure we had planned for the day, but if you've never been, the PCC is easily an all-day long experience. Our shuttle didn't leave until about 10:30am and we wouldn't be returning to our hotel for about 12 hours, but because it was Ash Wednesday we didn't use the free time in the morning to sleep in.

Instead, we quickly walked the half-mile to the church in time for the 7am mass. While we were praying beforehand, the priest made a brief appearance to announce that ashes would be distributed at the conclusion of mass - explaining that ashes used to be distributed sooner but they would no longer be serving "drive-by Catholics." Perhaps some people were put off by his comment, but I couldn't suppress the grin I felt spread across my face. In that moment I thanked God that this particular parish happened to be the closest to our hotel, because I felt so grateful to be at a parish that wanted nothing more than to encourage its people to first and foremost experience and participate in the liturgy, encountering Christ in the Eucharist. Even though Ash Wednesday isn't a holy day of obligation, it seems as if almost more Catholics come out of the wood-works on that day than on either Christmas or Easter; how wonderful that this priest wanted to ensure these individuals first spent some quality time with Christ before going on their merry way!

After receiving our ashes, we took advantage of our excursion's late departure and decided to have breakfast at a restaurant for the only time that week. The place we wanted to try was a half mile from our hotel in the opposite direction from the church, so we hungrily walked a mile or so. As we walked past Waikiki Beach back towards the main stretch with all the shops and restaurants, so did most of the other Catholics we had just attended mass with. I could not help smiling once again as I imagined what people heading to the beach were seeing - because all of a sudden a flock of people with ashes on their foreheads were all heading west down Kalakaua Avenue. I nearly laughed out loud as I heard one woman say to her friends (with what sounded like slight irritation), "apparently we chose to go where all the Catholics are."

Proof that we had ashes before they got rinsed off (because let's be real: we eventually needed sunscreen)

At this point I had been awake for about an hour and a half without anything to eat at 24 weeks and 6 days pregnant, but that hungry mile walk was so worth it as we heard at least three different people say to themselves something along the lines of, "Oh, that's right! Today is Ash Wednesday. I nearly forgot." Later on, before we left the restaurant I even got approached by a man who inquired where I got the ashes and if they had a noon mass. The thought that the Lord was using us to remind others of Him and the first day of the Lenten season helped sustain me the rest of the way.

Soon enough we arrived at the restaurant, which was quite appropriately named Heavenly. And heavenly it was. Our bill was a bit pricey, but that's because their policy is "local first, organic whenever possible" and the food itself was worth it. The back of their menu had a fun map of Hawaii that showed the traceability of all their ingredients...and everything was delicious. In fact, it was so good that we went back for lunch on Thursday.

Once you drank enough coffee the inside of the mug said "Aloha!"
Michael's breakfast: blueberry and acai French toast
My breakfast (pre-mixing) was basically a pregnancy super meal: 2 eggs, spinach & greens, purple sweet potatoes, tomatoes,
avocado, with an English muffin on the side (half of which had taro in it)

Once we hopped aboard our shuttle to the PCC we enjoyed gorgeous views of mountains on our left and the ocean on our right as we headed up to the northern side of the island. Along the way our guide pointed out numerous locations that have been featured in movies and I snapped a lot of photos.

Not bad considering this was taken through the window of a moving bus, right?

As we traveled, the tour guide explained that he would get our tickets for us and added that anyone on our bus could pay an additional fee of $25 to have him as a guide for the rest of the day, which would also cover a buffet lunch. Considering the only other lunch options would be greatly overpriced concession stand snacks and our guide had proven himself to be quite knowledgeable, entertaining, and efficient with our time (our bus arrived 2nd out of 37 scheduled buses!) we took him up on this offer - which was definitely worth every penny.

The PCC is essentially like Disneyworld's Epcot Center; it's basically a theme park separated into 6 distinct sections - which represent 6 different Polynesian islands. Each "island" has educational demonstrations and/or mini-shows with singing or dancing, hands-on activities, and various things to read or look at to learn about their culture. We learned so much and had lots of fun, but I can't imagine how we would have gotten our money's worth without our guide. He helped us figure out how to get Michael's parents in our group (after arriving on a different shuttle from their hotel), he worked hard to show us every single part of the park without missing any of the mini shows, and got us front-row seats to the afternoon "canoe pageant" (which is like a parade on the river that highlights performances from each of the 6 islands). He even used palms to hand-weave fishes attached to a "fishing line" that you could cast and reel back in for all of the women as a "thank you" for choosing to be in his group that day. Needless to say, he got a well-earned tip.

The 6 islands you can explore and learn about at the PCC are Aotearoa (New Zealand), Samoa, Fiji, Hawaii, Tonga, and Tahiti.

Aotearoa (New Zealand) represented at the canoe pageant
With the fish our tour guide made
Impressive, right?

A day at the PCC is broken down into two portions: the island activities and mini-shows which run throughout the morning and afternoon and the evening portion which includes dinner and ends with a full-scale theatrical production with a cast of more than a hundred people. Now that we've already been there we would only go back for the evening portions, but the whole day event is worth doing once.

More fresh leis and impressive mango smoothies served in pineapples

Along the way we learned that the PCC is partnered with Brigham Young University-Hawaii and they have a program that gives students from the islands free tuition, room, and board to earn a Bachelor's degree of their choice if they work 19 hours a week at the PCC. Once they earn their degree, they must go back to their home island in order to use their education to give back to their local communities. At least 70% of the PCC staff is comprised of these college students, so tickets purchased to visit the theme park go directly towards funding these students' educational and housing needs. Pretty amazing, right?

All in all, it was a very long day...but I think the PCC was one of the most fun ways to learn a good deal of information about Hawaii and several Polynesian islands. If you find yourself on Oahu and enjoy learning about other cultures, it's worth checking out!

"The allure of old Polynesia lingers among the Pacific island people who demonstrate their traditional arts and crafts and perform their lively songs and dances at the Polynesian Cultural Center....The Polynesian Cultural Center has concentrated this spirit in a beautiful North Shore setting and consequently become world-renowned as a special place of enchantment, entertainment and education."
-PCC website


Want to read more about our time on Oahu? Next up: Wai'anae & Chinese New Year!

1 comment:

  1. This looks so fun! As a former DC tour guide, I can appreciate your guide's efforts (and your willingness to take him up on the offer). It sounds like a really wonderful experience!