Finding Your "Ohana" on Big Island
By John Di Rienzo
June 6, 2015
The Real Big Island
As a traveler, I am always searching for “realness” in the places that I visit. Renting one of our beautiful Big Island villas in a resort community is a very relaxing and luxurious way to spend time off with friends and family. However, as nice as the resorts are, Hawaii has a lot of culture and soul, and getting out and meeting the people who live on this island will enrich your stay.
Since most of us do not have Anthony Bourdain’s calling card, getting invited into someone’s home for a classic meal and probing conversation may not always work out. No worries though, as I find that you don’t need to crash the family dinner table to connect with a place through its cuisine. When it comes to food, farmers markets and even supermarkets can serve as accessible windows on a culture, as they will contain local products that offer you a glimpse into home life. Also, it’s usually easy to strike up a conversation about a fruit, vege or prepared item that you’re not familiar with.
If you wish, you will always be able to find some way to make an authentic connection with locals. For me, a trip to a local barber shop proved to be my touchstone for the Big Island.
Hannan’s Barber Shop - the Joy of a Trim & Conversation
A simple pleasure for any guy is enjoying a visit to a good barber shop. I am not referring here to one of those hipster, fussily retro and absurdly pricey “barber shops” that dot trendy neighborhoods from LA to Brooklyn. Rather, I am refering to a good old fashioned shop that offers a trim and a little conversation at a fair price. Often, the proprietors of these humble institutions have been there for decades and the shop has a unique patina that reflects the community and the personality of its owners.
Just like in fictional Mayberry, these shops almost always serve as little community centers, and if you are friendly, you will be able to enjoy some conversation with locals while you get a trim or a shave - and you might even pick up a dinner invite. You can certainly walk away with local tips on dining, beaches and must-see spots.
Luckily, I found such a place in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. Hannan’s Barber shop was one of the highlights of my visit. (www.hannansbarbershop.com)
Hannan's is a humble place. A simple sign and barber’s pole mark the storefront. Walking into the shop, I knew immediately that I was in a “real” spot, known and beloved by Kailua-Kona area locals as much as the “Country Squire” was in my small Connecticut home town. The proprietors of the shop are Marie and Liem, who have been trimming Big Island hair and beards (and eyebrows if needed), for years.
The walls are covered in hand-painted Hawaii-themed murals and adorned with memorabilia from their many years of service, including a collage of all the teens who have come to the shop over the years and since graduated.
Marie gave me a much needed trim, and while I sat in the chair, she told me their story and how they came to settle on the Big Island. Twice while I was there, a regular customer walked over to give her a hug.
Noticing a picture of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, and Dean Martin on the wall (see above), we found common ground over our love of the classic crooners. Liem happily showed me his ticket stubs from Sinatra concerts and told me how he once took all the barbers to see Lionel Richie perform in Honolulu, paying for everyone to stay at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki because it was such a special occasion to them.
Meanwhile, my hair was expertly buzzed by Marie. I walked out feeling nice and neat, and a member of the “Ohana,” or family, which in Hawaii extends beyond blood relatives to the community. I should add that though Hannan’s is billed as barber shop, women are also welcome and there were a few regulars who came into the shop during my visit.
This was a wonderful place to get much-needed service and connect with nice people who are members of the community.
Hannan's Barber Shop
74-5467 Kaiwi Street, #10A
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
Note that I went to Hannan's because there were no shops in the resort areas that I could find (opportunity for someone) and the salon in Waikoloa Village that I called said that its stylists didn't cut men's hair.
Kona Farmers Market and the Sweetest Papayas on Earth
Staying on the Ohana theme, I visited Kailua-Kona on Sunday and walked through the outdoor farmers market. There were locals and visitors alike meandering around the stalls. The market is located near the center of town, on the corner of Ali'i Road and Hualalai Road. What I loved about this market was that it was ideal for stocking up a vacation home with locally produced fruits, veges, and beautiful, cut Hawaiian flowers, at great prices.
I purchased seven papayas for $5 at this market, and they were the sweetest papayas that I have ever tasted. In addition to papayas, I found pineapples, guavas, bananas and other fruit in abundance. There were also plenty of fresh vegetables, including staples like carrots, celery and lettuce; the cost was probably less than half that of supermarkets.
The Kona market also had plenty of tourist souvenirs for sale, many of them sold by the craftsmen who made them, so you could also stop here to pick up gifts for folks back home.
Kailua-Kona - Places of Worship
Right next to the market in Kailua-Kona was a large Catholic Church. In front of the church, there was a unique monument made of coral and adorned with flower leis. This seemed to be a very pretty and popular place of worship, as a service was just finishing and there were many people in front.
There are also other houses of worship in Kona, including a Synogogue and Mokuaikaua Church, which is said to be the oldest Christian church in Hawaii, so a trip to Kailua-Kona is a nice way to spend a Saturday or Sunday for those who observe.
Farmers Market Waimea
I mentioned the farmers market in Waimea in a previous post, but I wanted to provide a little more information on it here. Waimea is in ranch country, at an elevation of around 2,000 ft., and the vibe is very different from Kailua-Kona, which is at sea level and balmy. Kona gets what people on the Big Island refer to as VOG (volcanic fog), which can make the air feel very muggy on some days.
The farmers market in Waimea almost feels like a country fair. When I was there, there was a performer on an acoustic guitar and island snacks like kettle corn.
But you will also find locally harvested ginger, avocados and other vegetables. I would recommend going here on Sunday to stock up on supplies, but also to mingle with locals and get feel for what life and people are all about in this town. This is an easy place to connect with folks, just grab a bite to eat and join a group at one of the picnic tables.
Making a connection, even if just a friendly, brief conversation, always makes me feel more at home when I travel. I found the Big Island of Hawaii to be a very friendly place, and, with very little effort, I was able to get a glimpse into the lives of the people who call this amazing island home.