Posted by: Waheeda Harris | April 17, 2014

Learning my Hawaiian – lei

A traditional welcome for visitors to the islands is the lei – a garland of flowers that is given with a kiss. A welcome that has been popular for decades, its one of the hallmarks of Hawaiian hospitality.

Maui - Fairmont welcome lei

Arriving at the Fairmont Kea Lani, I was greeted with a floral lei – while men are greeted with leis made of black kukui nuts, its also common to see people wearing sea shell leis, although those are more decorative and not generally given as a welcome.

In the past, leis were constructed of all kinds of natural materials – leaves, flowers, bone, shell and feathers – are were not only a way of welcome, but a decorative item and an item used to signify a peace agreement.

This custom has always made Hawaii distinct to me – and as I also learned, once given a lei, one should never remove it in the presence of someone who gave it to you nor should you just discard the lei in the trash.

On the island of Oahu, visitors who used to travel by boat would toss their leis in the sea as they left the island, hoping to insure they would return to the island one day.

For me, I left my lei hanging in my hotel room window to dry – hoping it would provide joy to another and express my thanks. Mahalo!


Posted by: Waheeda Harris | April 16, 2014

Learning my Hawaiian – kai

It’s no surprise to me that these islands, located far from any major land mass in the middle of Pacific Ocean, came up with a way to play in the big waves on their shores he’e nalu (to ride the waves) or what we now call surfing.

Maui - caught the wave at Makena

Surfing is fun and serious business in Hawaii – its something that everyone can learn, but its also a way to connect with kai (salt water) in the most intimate way.

Although the stereotype of surfers are those who seem slightly stupid or just to fixated on the movement of ocean water, in reality their knowledge is deep – they understand wind and waves, tides and storms. They spend so much time in the salt water, they can feel its changes – whether its temperature or what can be found in the water.

surfer heading back in, Waikiki Beach, Oahu Hawaii

Life on a surfboard is very different – it means getting up early to greet the rising sun and the changing tides to catch a wave. It means to be aware of others around you, to insure that everyone has their spaces and yet also their chance to get up and ride the wave.

Maui - Makena beach collage

And when things go wrong, like when the waves broke this surfer’s board, it shows the power that kai (salt water) has over all of us. Like Mother Nature, the natural forces are bigger than we think.

Seeing surfers is a part of any Hawaiian experience, but understanding the power of kai, is the first step in understanding life on these islands.

Posted by: Waheeda Harris | April 15, 2014

Learning my Hawaiian – poke

No, its not a dance. Or a rude comment. In Hawaii, poke is a daily snack, had after work, shared with friends and definitely a must have while visiting any of the islands.

Maui - Tamura's poke

Poke (poh-kay)  is the Hawaiian word for cut or slice – and is now associated with cut raw fish salad or for those who prefer the less squeamish and more well-known words – carpaccio, ceviche or tartare.

Originally a delicacy enjoyed by fisherman – more akin to sashimi – the current version of poke became popular in the 1970s with locals who wanted a snack that was easily purchased and shared among family and friends. There’s definitely the influence of Japanese cuisine in the ingredients now found in traditional poke.

The basic salad is usually tuna, onion, soy sauce, chili, sesame oil and seaweed and often served with wasabi, Japanese horseradish sauce. There are many variations and interpretations, but everyone here is agreed, its a worthy snack.

On the island of Maui in Kahului, look for Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors – walk to the back past the racks of bottles and a refrigerated area with numerous kinds of poke is on offer every day.

Maui - tamura poke options


Posted by: Waheeda Harris | April 14, 2014

Learning my Hawaiian – ‘aina

As I’ve written before, learning the rhythm of a place is the key to understanding it – and on the Hawaiian islands, despite being the 50th state of the United States of America, its the ancient culture that defines the place.

‘Aina is the Hawaiian word for earth or land – and returning to the isle of Maui, it was the land that captured my attention.

Maui - taro farm

Farmland isn’t the first thing you think about when it comes to Maui, but its the key to the culture, since its part of the next wave of the culture.

Maui - farm 2

On this island, the Hawaiian culture is being explored by its local chefs – and thanks to the increasing support and development of the local producers – farmers and growers who are committed to growing canoe crops – aka traditional crops of the Hawaiians.

Maui - taro plants

At the heart of the island is kalo – also known as taro. This plant was one of the key items in the Hawaiian diet, an easily grown carbohydrate that could be used in many ways. But its now a rare plant, expensive and not commonly grown, purchased or even eaten by the locals.

But with the new wave of commitment to farming, comes the ability to increase the access to kalo – and to make it once again a regular part of the Hawaiian diet.

Maui - taro examples

At one time, the black taro was only eaten by the Hawaiian royal family – but hopefully, now the many varieties will be as common as garden weeds for the locals. Kalo led me to learn another Hawaiian word – ohana, which means family and is intrinsic to kalo – the mature plant is related to the beginnings of the human race according to Hawaiian beliefs.

How many of us can say what we eat is intrinsic to our past? From ‘aina to kalo to ohana, the first part of my learning was the connection we all understand – the land to the people.


Posted by: Waheeda Harris | April 12, 2014

Travel soundbite – Roberto Bolano


Every few hundred feet, the world changes.

~ Roberto Bolano

Posted by: Waheeda Harris | April 11, 2014

Maui beauty

My jetlagged self is struggling to stay awake and words are not easily coming to me, but the images of my past week on the isle of Maui are much easier to share:

Maui - aloha graffiti


Maui - Fairmont welcome lei

Maui - Fairmont morning view

Maui - Leoda's

Maui - Makawao

Maui - Ho'okapi windsurf 1

Maui - caught the wave at Makena


Posted by: Waheeda Harris | April 3, 2014

From airport to farm to ancestors

Most people visiting Maui are focused on the shoreline – but for this trip, I’m all about the farm:

Maui - taro farm

Learning about the canoe crops of Hawaii – like sweet potato, yam, breadfruit, coconut and taro – is the next wave on this island from local and sustainable to reconnecting to their past.

Pineapple and coffee may be popular items for visitors, but the traditions go back to the root vegetables and fruit that were the basis of the local diet.

As I wandered the field with farmer Bobby Pahia, I learned not only of his focus on growing certain items that could be used locally but his passion for kalo aka taro and how this root vegetable is more than just a food source, its a direct connection to his and this island’s ancestors.

Maui - taro plants

On this farm, most of the taro are native varieties to the island and is the source of the island’s traditional dish – poi. And thanks to Bobby Pahia, locals are learning not only about their traditions, but being able to grow taro themselves, and put their history back in their own backyards.

Maui - taro examples

I wonder if given the same choice in Canada, what many people would say would be their choice of a fruit or vegetable or food item that would signify the past, the present and the future for them. It made me think of how food isn’t just pleasure or fuel, but can be history and faith.

Posted by: Waheeda Harris | April 2, 2014

Travel days

As a regular traveller, there are days that are lost – time spent waiting and travelling and getting to a new place.

Days appear and disappear, especially as you cross time zones and long distances. But I try to remember to take a moment to contemplate where I am and what’s going on around me.

Maui - Fairmont hammock

It’s 5:30am on the isle of Maui, and sunrise is still over an hour away. But my EST self only let me sleep until 5am. Not bad all things considered.

So as I sit outside and contemplate my day from the relaxing hammock near the beach, I remember that 24 hours ago I was sitting in the Chicago airport hoping for my delayed flight to take off to San Francisco.

24 hours before that I was sitting in my apartment in Toronto, writing an article and sending out emails.

And 24 hours before that I was sitting on the roof deck of El Portal Quality Inn in San Juan, feeling the warm sun and gentle breezes as I drank my cafe con leche and read my book.

I remind myself of these moments as not just markers of where I was, but also as positive affirmations of living a good life – of learning and enjoying the life I have.

And as I sit here, and hear the waves hitting the beach, I’m also reminded that I won’t be going into the surf today. An earthquake that occurred off the coast of Chile yesterday led to tsunami warnings across the Pacific.

Although thankfully no harm will come to the Hawaiian islands, there are warnings for the early morning fishermen and water enthusiasts to not be greeting the ocean today.

Our planet is vast but at this moment it feels oh so small.

Posted by: Waheeda Harris | March 31, 2014

The island game

Some travellers play the country game – listing the number of countries they’ve been to on the planet. I’ve never actually counted – although I must admit I’m curious – one day I’ll figure it out.

world map

But I do play another game – the island game. An old acquaintance who was smitten with islands told me that he had counted how many islands he had visited since he was young – so I decided to keep a list going too.

In the past 10 days, I’ve added six islands to my list – Grand Turk, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, St. Barthemely, St. Maarten and Puerto Rico. And I added a new destination on Dominican Republic – Samana.

So how do I remember? I’m not sure to be honest – but if someone asks me – have you been there? I can easily say yes or no. But as I get older, I worry that I may forget a place – or at least have a vague memory that I can’t quite recall.

So how to keep the island game going?

I decided that in the current time period of my life – or at least since 2008, when I set up my Flickr page - I have a category called islands – and that helps me remember all those isles from small to big, from long visits to repeated visits to a few hours visiting.

And what was my favourite in the past 10 days:

Virgin Gorda - Devil's Bay

Devil’s Bay on Virgin Gorda was my favourite – for its turquoise clear waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling and for its unique location, found after a hike through the massive boulders from The Baths National Park. And anytime anyone wants to send me back – I’m ready to go again.

Posted by: Waheeda Harris | March 29, 2014

Travel soundbite – Tom Wolfe


One belongs to New York instantly: one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years. 

~ Tom Wolfe


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