Popular circle-island tour orients families with their new home
November 26, 2008
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - Drops of rain tapped lightly on the roof of the tour bus as a small group of military ohana climbed aboard for an island adventure here, recently.
Army Community Service (ASC) volunteer Ana Despault led the free, weekly tour designed to familiarize all newly arriving Soldiers and family members with the island of Oahu.
The tour began on the installation as Despault pointed out various facilities and provided helpful information to military members.
"We want everyone to get to know the community here and at large," said Despault. "We acclimate them with the island when they arrive, allowing them to explore on their own later."
After a three-year hiatus, the tours are back by popular demand.
"People kept asking for it and we wanted to provide an educational tour for new families," said Charlyn Sales, Relocation Readiness Program manager for ACS. "There is so much to explore on this island. This gives them a chance to pick and choose what they would like to do by introducing them to everything Oahu has to offer."
As the bus left Schofield down Kamehameha Highway, the rain let up and the sun crept from behind the clouds. Participants sat in comfort as the bus driver, "Cousin" Keala, explained Hawaiian culture and pointed out various trees and plants lining the road.
Cousin Keala then drove through Mililani, explaining points of interest in the "All-American town."
The tour slowed down abruptly as it entered Pearl Ridge, and those in attendance were introduced to another popular scene on Oahu - the traffic jam.
Despault passed the time by exploring Hawaiian language with the group, explaining the meaning of popular words such as aloha, ohana and mahalo.
"We met as strangers," said Despault. "By the time we leave this tour, we will all be ohana, family."
The tour continued, passing the USS Arizona Memorial and Pearl Harbor, before proceeding up the Pali Highway to the Pali Lookout.
"Everywhere we live we try to experience as much as possible," said family member Andrea Cano. "We attempted to explore last week and kept getting lost. This is a better way to do it."
Boarding the bus once again, family members listened attentively as Cousin Keala explained the history of Oahu, which is known as the "gathering place." A soulful rendition of "Hukilau," started a wave of cheers and applause.
The bus continued on Kalanianaole Highway to tour the east side of the island. Waimanalo, Makapuu and Sandy Beach beckoned family members as they gazed bright-eyed into the sparkling sea. The route passed Hanauma Bay, Koko Head, and continued into Hawaii Kai. Diamond Head Beach created a beautiful view from the bus window as participants sat high in their seats to catch a glimpse of surfers below the lookout.
Passing the Honolulu Zoo, keiki waved and giggled at the giraffes through the bus windows.
As the lunch hour approached, the tour stopped at the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki.
The staff at the Hale Koa welcomed the tour with open arms and explained the history of the hotel. Families dined and chatted about points of interest and future adventures.
After lunch, the tour continued west on Ala Moana Boulevard, passing numerous shops before heading toward the highway. Despault pointed out military points of interest, including Fort Shafter, Tripler Army Medical Center and Aliamanu Military Reservation.
Next stop: the North Shore. At the famous Tropical Farms Macadamia Nut Farm, families tried fresh coconut milk and sampled various flavored nuts.
"We understand people (in the military) are a long way from home," said owner Steve Paty, Tropical Farms Macadamia Nut Farm. "We want to provide a warm welcome and allow them to feel the Hawaiian spirit of aloha."
The bus then made its way home, passing numerous famed surfing spots, including Pipeline and Sunset Beach. A quick drive through Haleiwa and Wahiawa provided useful information on towns surrounding the installation.
The 175-mile island tour provided a full day of family fun as children put down their Gameboys to view the sites and parents snapped blurry pictures through the moving bus window.
The tour provided both practical and cultural information on Hawaii, including where to shop, swim, eat and explore. Information on the best places to take children, surf and hike was also offered.
"We learned a lot today," said Sgt. Carlos Ramirez, 25th Infantry Division. "It's good to know ahead of time where the best places are to take the kids."
"This was a great introduction to the island," added family member Carolina Stafford.