Botanical Oahu, Part 2

I saw two more botanical gardens on Oahu, Ho’omaluhia Garden, a giant 400-acre garden on the wet windward side of Oahu, upslope from Kailua, and Wiahiawā Botanical garden, a garden in the center of the island at much higher elevation.that despite its small size (27-acres) feels equally “wild” in places.

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Steep scarp looking west from Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden on Oahu

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Taro plantings

Taro or Kalo, unlike so many plants that were brought in by accident in modern times, was probably a “canoe” plant, carried in by the original Polynesians who settled the islands, according to the Hawaii Horticulture blog. The Hawaii Ocean project says it was “once a staple of the Hawaiian diet, and still an integral part of the culture,”  Polynesians who brought taro planted it near rivers and streams.

It has a place in Hawaiian mythology, Wakea (the sky father), and the beautiful goddess, Hoʻohokukalani (the heavenly one who made the stars), wished to have a child. Their first attempt, however, resulted in a still birth. The body of the stillborn child was buried near their home. From this buried child grew a taro plant.


Turmeric grows really well in Hawaii,

Tumeric, or ‘Ōlena is also believed to be a “canoe” plant, carried in by the original Polynesians.  It does not spread readily by seed, but it can be found growing wild at very old planting sites on the big island, Molokai, and Maui.

brownea ecualyptus

Smooth, striking trunk of the Brownea Macrophylla, also known as Panama Flame or Rose of Venezuela, at Waihaiwā Garden 

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Brownea Macrophylla flower

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Another striking tree at Wiahiawā Garden.  If anyone recognizes it, let me know what it is.






Beauty and Trouble at Chinaman’s Hat

Arriving at the beach looking out at Mokoli’i rock, known to residents as Chinaman’s Hat, it was a fine view on a fine afternoon.  We could see the tide was in, and small but persistent waves were thrashing at a very steep and narrow beach.  Just a short distance off the beach, a berm had been placed, apparently to slow beach erosion.  It was a fine view.  People can paddle out to the rock at low tide, when much of the distance from the beach can be walked.

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View of Chinaman’s Hat from the beach.  Berm is just offshore

The fine beach sands had been removed, sorted out by waves.  Only the large, coarse grains remained.  Taking a closer look, there were scattered objects of unnatural color all over.

Welcome friends, to ocean plastics.

I knelt down where the debris stopped and began picking bits of plastic out of the sand.  I set down small pieces of driftwood to bound a sampling area.  I only picked off what was on the sand surface, I did not dig down.

plastic debris sampling area

Sample area, with plastic debris at bottom center.  Area is roughly 16″ on a side

plastic debris close up

Closer view: some pieces looked like packaging material from personal care items.  Walking stick at upper left for scale.

This is a travel blog, no preaching allowed, but ocean plastics used to be part of my work.  Every bit of plastic that’s ever gotten into the ocean is still there, just becoming smaller and easier for fish to eat.  It’s refined petroleum, so if we eat fish, well ….

Turning west from the beach, there is a beautiful and imposing ridge, site of Kualoa Ranch.  Jurassic Park was filmed over the top of the ridge in the valley beyond.

jurassic closeup



Pedaling Chocolate at Manoa

A long time ago I walked through a cacao plantation in a coastal rainforest near Chuao, Venezuela.  More recently I visited the Ahonui botanical garden on Kauai where the owner showed us his cacao plants, and I took a tour at Theo’s, a local chocolate producer in Seattle.  But on a tour of the Manoa chocolate factory (Kailua, Oahu), I learned way more about how you actually make chocolate than ever before.

manoa chocolate entry

Bags of cacao from around the world await conversion into chocolate.

Owner Dylan Butterbaugh showed us the equipment he uses to grind the cacao. He told us when he started, after viewing a YouTube videos on the making of chocolate, he gerry-rigged a winnowing machine to break up and crush the beans after drying and figured out how to power it with a bicycle.  He pointed to the wall behind us where that original bike, named Dora resides.  See below –

bike on wall

Bike named Dora, used to power original winnowing machine.

To see the original bike-powered machine in action go to about 1:48 of the video below.  You can also see how the beans are roasted on a barbecue machine with a motor attached.  I didn’t see this on the tour as it is done offsite.



Interestingly, Dylan noted that some countries like Colombia, noted for its coffee, were not famous for great cacao.  Somehow they just didn’t have that right combination of soil, temperature, slope and aspect, sun, terroir, all those things that give each crop its unique flavor.

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Owner Dylan talks chocolate on the factory floor

Cacao pod

Cacao pods

One interesting thing about cacao plants is that the pods, shown above, often sprout right on the tree trunk.  Above you can see the pods and pulp, which contain the beans.

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At the tasting bar

Soon, it was time to taste.  As our bar hostess described each chocolate we were about to try, she showed us a wheel with flavors, by category.  The flavor of each chocolate we tried would fit somewhere on this wheel. They were all fabulous.  I was partial to the Bahia dark chocolate from Brazil, and a lighter chocolate made from Hawaiian cacao.

flavor wheel

The flavor wheel

Below is a link to a very interesting article (in Spanish) sent by my sister-in-law in Venezuela.  It is about the efforts of a few visionary chocolate lovers to rebuild Venezuela’s once thriving cacao industry, struggling with the current political and economic turmoil plaguing the country.  This happens far too often in cacao producing countries.


Adrift in Cartagena de Indias

Interesting about the name Cartagena de Indias –  the European settlement was established in 1533 when the belief that the Spanish explorers would arrive on the shores of India was still within historical memory.   The Spanish first sited the sheltered bay of Cartagena de Indias around 1510 (see below map), noting it’s potential as a port.  When crews from three Spanish ships finally settled the site in 1533, it reminded them of the Bay at Cartagena, Spain, where many of them were from.  So, the name Cartagena de Indias was used to distinguish this Cartagena from the much older Carthaginian port city of Cartagena, Spain (established in 229 BC).

Cartagena's Bay

Original colonial settlement shown by red dots on Calamari peninsula, with Port facing Interior Bay (Bahia Interior)

So anyway, there I was, adrift in Cartagena.  No agenda, no plans, just there to take it all in with family.

Murralla and modern city

Old and New: 16th century fortification wall (La Muralla) at left, high rise residential towers in background

The old colonial city with it’s original 16th century fortification wall (muralla) gets plenty of visitors and it is fascinating.  But the neighborhood of Getsemaní, close by the old city is just as interesting and a lot less visited.  It is said to be where African slaves first settled, and where the independence movement was born.  Today with its more modest, simpler architecture, it has a more open and airy feel than the old city and it has become a favored destination for backpacking travelers.  Here, visitors can mix more easily with residents.  There are a number of reasonably priced pensiones (we asked about prices at one or two).

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Backpackers stroll by a pensión in Getsemaní

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Casual soccer in the street during late afternoon

It has also become a magnet for urban wall mural art (formerly graffiti).  In 2013, for the first time, the neighborhood actually hosted the International Festival of Urban Art.  Anyway, murals are everywhere.  They are spectacular and they really catch the eye.  There are also street sculptures.  See below:

woman with eyes closed


sculpted flautist

My sister in law put together a spectacular 2-minute labeled video montage of photos with a soundtrack featuring a song named for the neighborhood.  And here it is:

Blues in Paradise: Feelin’ the Beat on Oahu


OK, maybe Hawaii is not paradise. But it’s not the most likely place I would have thought to look for a thriving blues scene. The thing was, I didn’t have to look for it. Our hosts on Oahu, Paul and Lorna Gomes brought it right to me. Paul has been playing drums for blues bands on Oahu for decades, and he had two gigs the week we were there, one with Bluzilla at Kona Brewing Company’s Koko Marina Pub, and one with the Flat Five at the OnStage in Honolulu.  I love Paul’s playing; he has a big, full sound that propels the music along.

Bluzilla is a quartet (guitar-bass-drums-vocals/harmonica).  As a guitar player, I was amazed by Mark Pearlman’s improvising. He plays with complete abandon, taking chances and pushing himself to his limit. Listen to his solo on “Freddie King’s “Look Over Yonder wall”, below.  I also really enjoyed Corey Funai’s harp and vocals.  Below that are portions of Taj Mahal’s Diving Duck Blues and “Dump That Chump” by Little Charlie and the Nightcats.


The Flat Five is a larger band headlined by Kevin Coleman (harp/vocals).  He’s a great player and frontman.  On the below video, he shows his stuff on “Nobody But You”.


Below, JP Smoketrain sits in with Kevin and the boys, singing and playing lead on Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would”,  adding some touches from the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out”.  The dance floor was full on this one.

Botanical Oahu

Paul and Lorna obliged our curiosity about the island’s botanical gardens and reserves.  We saw several of them, the Foster Botanical Garden in central Honolulu, the Lyon Arboretum on University of Hawaii land in the upper Manoa valley, and Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, on the windward side, in Kaneohe.

Getting out on the land to see what grows, and what someone wanted to plant so others could see it – it tells you something about a place.  You feel the land in the ground beneath your feet, in the fragrance of the breeze, in your legs as you trudge up a hill.

Because this is Hawaii, a whole lot of the plants you see are non-native, and this was definitely true at Foster Botanical Garden.  Breadfruit is one that is sort of native, at least to other islands of Polynesia.


Breadfruit at Foster Botanical Garden

I recall from botany course many years ago that buttress roots make shallow rooted tropical trees less likely to get blown over in a windstorm.  Central American Ceiba species have some of the largest.


Japanese visitors pose among the buttress roots of a Ceiba tree


Paul with a fruit of the sausage tree, an African begonia.  They can get heavy enough that you don’t really want one to fall on you.


The tropical America cannonball tree also has lethal fruit.  There is a sign at the garden warning visitors to “watch out”.


Strange trunk of the African Baobab tree, looking a little like an elephant’s foot

Below, Paul tosses a silk cotton pod into the air to show how it disperses its seeds.


More on botanical Hawaii in a future post.

Slack Key Apprentice Meets A Master: An Evening with Jeff Peterson

As we wandered back to Lyon Botanical Garden’s visitor center one afternoon, I was walking with my new prima (cousin) Napua.  We were separated from the rest of our group.  It was a humid afternoon.  Napua looked at her phone and said casually, “Paul says Jeff Peterson’s here.”  I smirked a little.  “He’s lying”,  I said.

It was a great practical joke.  We had been listening to his recordings the past few days.  I could scarcely believe Peterson’s slack key skill.   He was faithful to the slack key masters, but he also had brilliant classical technique.  He had recorded jazz standards and written original music in slack key.  He was developing a unique style no one else was doing.  I had seen him twice in Seattle, but with big ensembles.  I dreamed of seeing him play solo, up close.

A minute passed.  I idly gazed around the gift shop.  Napua said, “Lorna says we should go outside.”  We left the shop.  And suddenly, in front of us, there was the rest of our group, standing with Jeff Peterson.

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Trying to think of something to say to Jeff

Finally, I told him I had seen him twice in Seattle.  He said he had really enjoyed the tour he had done with Led’ Kapa’ana and George Kahumoku.  They played in Seattle last winter.  Then, suddenly he was inviting us to see him the following night at the Kailua Public Library.  “It’s going to be about slack key music.  I’m going to play some songs and we’ll talk story.”  I looked at Paul and Lorna, and realized my dream would come true.



The advertisement at the library entrance as we walked in



Jeff Peterson tunes up at the Kailua Public Library



Jeff with Urania, Napua, and Rosa


And with Lorna and Paul



Below, Jeff talks story about his family’s Chinese ancestors, including his grandmother, who painted with watercolors.  He describes composing his (stunning) composition “Tantalus” as a musical sketch with the abstract sensibility of a watercolor painting.  Then he plays it.



Jeff talked story about discovering, through his grandfather, Leonard Kwan’s “Slack Key Instruction Book”, one of the very first books to teach the slack key style.  It was out of print, and only Hawaii’s public libraries still had copies.  “It is a treasure of a resource” he said, “and it should always be published, because this tradition needs to be preserved.  We need more players”.  Now, thanks to Lorna, I have a bound copy on the music stand in my small basement music studio.

Jeff talked more story about how he has traveled to different places to perform, met local musicians, and learned new music styles.  He had been to Columbia and Venezuela, learning llanero music and other South American guitar styles.   Two Venezuelans, Urania and Rosa, were with me.  I asked if he could play some South American music for us.  He obliged us with a short piece,  “Misioneras”, written by Argentine composer Fernando Bustamante.