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Geography Lessons on the Fly

2005-04-29 3 min read Travel marco

There is nothing as inconsistent as a flight from San Francisco to Honolulu. You’ll start miring at the beauty of the City by the Bay — look at Point Reyes, see the city wrapping around its famed hills, catch the East Bay towns with a glimpse of an eye. Then, all of a sudden, the endless ocean begins, and for hours and hours there will be nothing to see. If you are lucky, a lonely cloud will say hello and unerringly pass by. Sometimes you’ll catch the airplane rainbow hunting the shadow of the plane. But most of the time you’ll be forced to watch the omnibus movie.

And then, five hours later, the islands start appearing. First the Big one, if you happen to sit on the correct side of the plane (usually to the left), You’ll see a black something come into view, with two little white cones on top. That’s Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, the two peaks (and main volcanoes) of the Big Island. If you are very lucky, it’s night and your plane flies right on top of Kilauea, the most active volcano to the South-East. You could even see the lava shooting high up, or just flowing down to the sea in its rivers of red and orange.

Next comes Maui, another volcanic island. Look at how it is shaped: like a huge shield attached to a small rugged egg. After Hawai’i, Maui looks puny — and yet it is the second largest of the islands. See how nearby Kahoolawe, Lanai and Molokai almost touch Maui, creating what geologist think was one single island in the past.

{moszoomimglink:Many-master in Lahaina}Soon you’ll land in Honolulu, the only real city of the State of Hawaii. It’s not that much of a city, either, with a total population of about 400,000. Yet it is vibrant, with all the trimmings of a real polis, happy to be alive and kicking and tanning. It has its traffic jams, its crime rate, its slums. It has a university or more, a state Capitol, hospitals, supermarkets. All in all, Honolulu is the most urban town in Polynesia.

The island on which Honolulu rests is Oahu. Third-largest in the chain, it actually isn’t all Honolulu. If you drive out to the North, you’ll get into pineapple and sugar cane fields that extend as far as the eye can reach. To the East, you’ll get to Kaneohe, which is a town of its own. The West has the military bases and the stink eye, about which we’ll talk later.

The only island you haven’t seen so far is Kauai, which lies another half hour North-West of Oahu. And it’s a real pity, because it is by far the most beautiful of them all. Green and verdant on one side, dry and red on the other, it is a marvel of nature.

And far off to the North-West, more islands follow, in an uninterrupted chain that goes to Midway. Places you will never see, in all likelihood, but that nonetheless speak of the future of Hawai’i. Indeed, these tiny islets might have been once mighty giants that drowned under their own weight millions of years ago.