Island hopping is a hard life. There is always another coastline to follow, another jungle waterfall pool to bask in, another picturesque beach to recline on. And, of course, another host of new foods to try. Good thing this is my last tour with the Alley Cats, cause I’m getting pretty sick of all this traveling business.
After making some brief stops in Seattle and Victoria, we struck out across the Pacific, stopping in Hawai’i and Guam on our way to Japan and South Korea. Our tour will last about a month in total, and we’re currently about halfway through. Last week, we were performing in and around Honolulu. It was my third time in Hawai’i, having been to the Big Island when I was six, and Oahu on my freshman year summer tour, but this time definitely felt the most culturally enriched. One of the Cats, Chris, is actually from Honolulu, and he took us around to his favourite places and really gave us a sense of what the Hawai’i beyond Waikiki Beach was all about. He took us to get Malasadas, a type of Portuguese fried dough – we ate them while they were still hot, and they melted in our mouths in clouds of crisp sugar and fluffy batter. One morning he took us to one of his favourite breakfast places to get Guava Chiffon Pancakes (just as delicious as they sound), a revelation of the pancake world, where I was also reunited with the inimitably succulent coconut syrup, the star of my first childhood memories of Hawai’i (a sad day it was in the Evans household when the bottle we had brought home ran dry). And after breakfast, we went on a hike favoured by locals to a waterfall pool in the lush mountains on the windward side of the island. It was every bit the Hawai’i one dreams of, and then some. We lounged on the sun-bathed rocks overlooking the deep pool, jumping in from progressively higher crags (with safety always our first concern, of course). Chris also foraged us some wild raspberries, which only added to the paradisal impression of the day. They were tangy, bumpier and a little firmer than the ones we’re used to, and best of all, slightly astringent, lending them a piquancy that only enhanced their ‘wildness’.
But the best part of our Hawai’i visit was that Chris’s father, who is part Hawai’ian, organised a traditional ‘awa drinking ceremony for us to take part in with his Hawai’ian martial arts group. It was a very big deal. I felt lucky to be introduced to a part of traditional Hawai’ian culture that few ever get to see, even islanders themselves. ‘Awa is a drink made from ground ‘awa root and coconut water, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever had: it was slightly sweet, bitter, and very astringent – so astringent, in fact, that it numbs the tongue and mouth. The ceremony took place in Kua Loa, one of the most sacred places in the Hawai’ian islands, and involved the ritualized taking of different foods, and explanation of their significance, eating them in order and drinking the ‘awa, culminating in each participant sharing their thoughts openly and the ceremonial giving of gifts. It was a very profound experience for me and for many of the cats, and it definitely deserves its own post. It was fascinating to see how food was used to give structure to the ceremony, to represent the spiritual system of the ancient culture, and to facilitate open human communication. More on that later.
We are now in Guam. Never did I think I would ever visit Guam, yet here I am. Funny how things happen that way. It is a very unique place. Technically American soil, it is populated by a whole range of Pacific Islanders and people from across Asia, creating one of the most melting of pots in such a small area I’ve ever seen. It has been governed at various points in history by the Spanish, French, Japanese, and Americans, aside from the indigenous Chamorro people whose culture is still visible on the island, though there are no more pure Chamorros left.
We are staying on a tropical fruit farm, which is making our stay here even more interesting. When we first arrived, the kitchen table was laden with a tray of avocados, two bunches of bananas, and two huge papayas from the farm. The bananas were so sweet and rich I could only eat one despite their small size. The avocados are like none I’ve ever tried or seen in North America, even in Mexico. They are more oblong, with a beautiful teardrop-shaped pit, and a slightly sweeter, nuttier flesh, much more like a ‘fruit’ than most varieties we are used to. The papaya has the most concentrated flavour of any I’ve tasted, the deepest of ruby colours, the most evocative of aromas, the most succulent of textures. The other night I made a simple salad of the avocado and the papaya together, and it was definitely a winning combo. The intense nuttiness of the avocado was tamed by the brightness of the papaya, while the papaya’s sweetness found a perfect counterpoint in the avocado’s dense, subdued flavours. I’ve been putting it on the sweet bread from the local bakery our host Mr. Hamamoto has been leaving on the counter for us every morning, and eating it straight from the bowl. Chilled from the fridge, it makes the perfect refreshing snack in the heat and humidity of a Guam afternoon.
Today is our first free day since we’ve been here, and I’m going to see if Mr. Hamamoto will give me a tour of his farm. I can’t wait to see all sorts of fruits I’ve never even heard of, let alone tried. Based on the big map at the entrance to the farm, and the signs with unfamiliar names, I think I’m in for one big tropical fruit adventure.