“Aloha” means “hello, ” and it means “goodbye.” So does that mean Hawaiians aren’t sure whether they’re coming or going? I don’t know. But I do know that every year, during the communal vacation that we call Mardi Gras break, some Bay-area bags are packed not with beads, but bikinis. And it’s no wonder. With opportunities to wear flowered necklaces, strum itty-bitty guitars, and don grass skirts normally worn by that special uncle the family won’t discuss, a Hawaiian vacation is breathtaking. The costs can leave you breathless, too.
So, let’s experience the Big Island on Dauphin Island, Maui in Mobile and Waikiki for you and me. It’s time for a hometown hula.
The Lei of the Land
First, for quintessential Hawaiian style, say it with flowers or – wait for it – lei it on me. The iconic flowered garland costs $35 in Honolulu vending machines – not including the $900 flight to Honolulu vending machines. Try Chickasaw’s flower power alternative instead.
“We string lei necklaces with dental floss and fishing wire, ” says Sheila Kirksey, co-owner of the Rose Bud Flowers & Gifts. The petal of choice? “Dendrobium orchids from our supplier in Hawaii, ” Sheila says. The Rose Bud connects about 45 orchids per necklace. “We don’t sell a lot of them, ” the florist notes. “But occasionally people want them for beach weddings.” Prices vary, depending on orchid supply and demand, but it’s definitely cheaper than a Delta flight.
Making Hay with Grass Skirts
Next, find the right attire. Polynesian print shirts are readily available down here, but clothing of grass is hard to mow. We found one place: Bienville Costumes in Midtown. The proprietor of gorilla masks and princess gowns has only two grass skirts in stock, for a whopping $10 each.
“I think Hawaiian attire demand varies, ” the store clerk explains, in her first interview involving South Alabama’s grass skirt economy. “They are popular at Halloween and Mardi Gras theme parties, but that’s about it.” Shop early; supplies are limited. You don’t have to tell me “mahalo!”
The Ukulele: A Wannabe Guitar
A final accessory is the ukulele; the tiny guitar Hawaiians swear is not a toy. I purchased this diminutive string instrument for 80 bucks on the beaches of Waikiki, while under the influence of a beverage with an adjacent little sissy parasol. M&S Music in Mobile offers the same kind for $30. The salesman calls it a “starter model” and concedes he currently knows no ukulele instructors. Heck, all you do is strum while singing “Tiny Bubbles, ” right? How hard can that be?
Luau – But Hold the Poi
Let’s eat, Hawaiian style. And that means luau. “We do about six to 10 a year, ” Alec Naman, of Naman’s Catering, says about the tropical banquet. “It is popular in Mobile for wedding receptions.” But a luau is not easy to pull off. “We generally prepare it for 50 or more people, ” Naman adds. “The hard part is presentation.” In addition to flaming torches and possibly a few coconut cups, the menu includes grilled pineapple, mango, and by request, a mammoth 80-pound roasted pig with apple in mouth.
And now, a word about Hawaii’s staple food, poi, the doughy paste mashed from plant stems – “YUCK!”
Opt instead for more tantalizing flavors, such as coconut juice, pineapple juice and rum, the traditional ingredients in a classic mai tai. But back in Gulf Shores, I speak of a tropical elixir served at The Hangout and called The Shark Attack. “We sell them by the thousands, ” says bar manager David Zislin, about their signature beverage. “It’s a perfect beachy drink.” It includes spiced rum, pineapple juice, orange juice and a little toy shark submerged in all the above. The shark wears a perpetual smile, indicative of creatures swimming in rum.
The Joy of Koi
For a garden view similar to a Hawaiian setting – but not quite – venture into the Mobile Botanical Gardens. Bamboo, hibiscus, palm trees and tropical ferns, along with a koi-stocked fish pond and waterfall, await exploration. Enjoy the beautiful, orange aquatic friends in the piney woods of Spring Hill or at home.
“Koi can be trained, ” says Nicole Smith, freshwater supervisor of B&B Pet Stop in Mobile. “They recognize their feeders.” But, she warns, “Be sure your koi have shade. The fish easily sun-
burn.” If your pond begins to emit the savory aroma of a Mrs. Paul’s bakery, chances are the koi are sunburned.
And there you have it, from the beautiful beaches of Hawaii to Mobile and Baldwin counties. The surf’s up in both worlds, a Hawaiian vacation without seeing Hawaii. Not that a Hawaiian vacation is bad. On the contrary, it is fabulous. I’ve seen Diamond Head, the filming location for “Jurassic Park, ” and volcanos spewing lava. But I’ve never seen a MoonPie in the Pacific. It’s good to be home.
text by Emmett Burnett • illustrations by kelan mercer