Activists delay rebirth of Hawaii hotel with Elvis ties

People supporting the occupants of the Coco Palms property in Wailua on the island of Kauai in Hawaii link hands in solidarity as the deadline for the court-imposed order vacating the property approaches in this January photo. (The Garden Island via AP)
Updated 16 February 2018
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Activists delay rebirth of Hawaii hotel with Elvis ties

HONOLULU: Developers rebuilding a storied, hurricane-ravaged Hawaii hotel with a Hollywood connection were looking forward to the Coco Palms’ rebirth when two men showed up last year, claiming to own the property because they descend from King Kaumualii, the last ruler of Kauai.
The men set up camp in tents and at the old tennis pro shop at the shuttered resort, where Elvis Presley’s character got married in the 1961 film “Blue Hawaii.” Hurricane Iniki forced its closure in 1992.
“They simply just showed up and started squatting,” said Chad Waters, one of the partners of Coco Palms Hui, the company leading the redevelopment.
Police were called, trespassing citations were written, and a judge last month issued an order to evict them.
Since then, a stream of protesters has come and gone, with some days just a few demonstrators and others dozens camped out at the resort near an ancient Hawaiian fishpond in the community of Wailua.
It’s the latest example of Native Hawaiian activists taking a stand on cultural issues and sacred places, such as challenging a giant telescope planned for a Hawaiian mountain and blocking the US military from using an uninhabited Hawaiian island as a live-fire testing site.
The protest also comes amid continued activism by indigenous groups across the US, who have rallied over issues ranging from sports mascots to environmental causes such as the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines.
Attempts to reach the two men in the Coco Palms case — Noa Mau-Espirito and Charles Hepa — by phone and online for comment were unsuccessful. However, Mau-Espirito last year told The Garden Island newspaper: “We have title to the land. We’re not camping. Our goal is to get all the families who have royal patents in Wailua back on their land.”
The judge disagreed with the men, ruling their claims don’t give them the right to occupy the property.
For Kaukaohu Wahilani, who flew from his home on Oahu to Kauai to support Mau-Espirito and others, it’s about standing up to the wrongs committed against Hawaiians — all the way back to the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom 125 years ago.
“That was the place of kings, that was the place of alli,” he said, using the Hawaiian word for ruler or royalty. “It was a sacred place, and it still is.”
He and other Native Hawaiians want the area called by its traditional name, Wailuanuiahoano.
At least 50 protesters gathered at the site, bracing for law enforcement action, as the judge’s 6 p.m., Jan. 28, deadline to leave the property approached. But no police showed up, and the protesters remained.
“I was kind of hoping (police) would have showed up at 6 because we had a lot of people there,” said Wahilani, a Native Hawaiian activist who considers himself a subject of the Hawaiian kingdom.
Last month, the defendants filed a document stamped the “Hawaiian Judiciary Court of the Sovereign,” saying the judge in the Coco Palms case needs to surrender to law enforcement or face “immediate arrest.” In court documents, Judge Michael Soong called the filing nonsensical “legalistic gibberish.”
Five to 10 people have been at the property this week, Waters said.
He and his partner requested help from state sheriffs.
Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety, said only that the sheriffs are working toward a resolution with the property owner, Kauai police and the protesters. “For safety and security reasons, we are not at this time, free to discuss any strategies that may be utilized in any related enforcement action,” Schwartz said in a statement.
Demolition began in 2016, with the goal of reopening in mid-2018. The clash has caused delays, so the developers hope start construction soon after the protesters leave, Waters said.
The renovated hotel will have 350 rooms, including 22 master suites and about 50 junior suites. Hyatt will manage the hotel once it’s reopened.
Wailua was the political center of Kauai long before the resort opened in 1953 and Presley’s character crooned the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” while holding his bride’s hand and boarding a raft to cross a lagoon.
It’s where chiefs were born and lived, said Lilia Merrin, a teaching assistant at the University of Hawaii’s Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies. Because of its high amount of surface water, it was ideal for loi, irrigated fields for farming the starchy vegetable taro, a staple crop, she said.
Growing up in Wailua, Merrin knew of Coco Palms mostly as the hotel where family friends worked in service jobs before the hurricane. She learned about its Hawaiian significance in college. “If we understand these places, we can better protect them,” she said.
Coco Palms Hui has planned since 2014 to set aside land at the resort for a community nonprofit that will offer lessons in Hawaiian culture, including hula, lei making, Hawaiian language and ukulele.
The nonprofit also will provide hotel workers with a guide about Hawaiian culture and the historic Wailua area. The fishponds and lagoons are on the state historic registry and will be preserved.
Tyler Greene, the other partner of Coco Palms Hui, has said the resort will help the island by supporting “healthy and vibrant activity for both the residents and visitors,” according to The Garden Island.
The Coco Palms fight was inspired by what passionate protesters accomplished against the Thirty Meter Telescope, which they said would desecrate sacred Mauna Kea, Wahilani said.
Construction stopped in 2015 after 31 demonstrators were arrested on the mountain for blocking the work. A second attempt to restart construction ended with more arrests and crews retreating.
The project is now tied up in legal battles.
“Mauna Kea brought us together, and since then we’ve done amazing things,” Wahilani said.


Fabulous Fez: A true taste of Moroccan culture

Fez, the ancient city in Morocco's rugged interior. (Shutterstock)
Updated 17 December 2018
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Fabulous Fez: A true taste of Moroccan culture

  • Fez, the ancient city in Morocco's rugged interior
  • Fez is Morocco’s cultural and spiritual capital

BARCELONA: While the name Casablanca conjures up romantic images of cinema’s golden age and Marrakech attracts the tourist hordes, visitors seeking the true Morocco should instead head to Fez, the ancient city in the country’s rugged interior.

Located north-east of the fabled Atlas Mountains, Fez is Morocco’s cultural and spiritual capital, making it both revered and envied by its rival regions. Home to the world’s oldest continuously in-use university — The University of Al-Karaouine, founded in 859 CE — Fez’s influence on the Arab world is vast.

Sited in the 1,200-year-old medina, the university is one of many must-see sights among the 9,400 streets that make up the world’s largest car-free urban area. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the labyrinthine alleyways are no trite tourist attraction — around 70,000 people call the old city home.

The construction of the neighboring Karaouine Mosque, built at the same time as the university, marks the start of Fez’s Golden Age as the capital of a sprawling empire. Wealthy families funded a vast building program of luxurious homes, palaces, religious schools and mosques, many of which still stand today.

The medina’s claustrophobic density means visitors never know what will be revealed around the next turn. Getting lost is inevitable, but the main landmarks are regularly signposted so reorienting yourself is straightforward.

Although there is plenty of accommodation available within the medina, visitors may prefer to stay in neighboring Fes el Jdid, the “new” city (built in the 13th century), which allows cars, making it easier to for airport transfers.

The old city’s two main streets, Talaa Kebira and Talaa Seghiri, can both be accessed through the ornate triple-arched Bab Bou Jeloud, the medina’s western gateway. Kebira takes you to the meat district, which is not for the squeamish – live chickens ignorantly cluck in cages next to their newly-killed and plucked friends, while camels’ heads dangle in front of some stores.

The street then meanders downhill, and butchers’ shops give way to family-run stores selling everything from ceramics to artifacts, clothing and spices.

Compared to the chaotic hustle of Marrakesh’s souks, the Fez medina is a sedate affair and haggling for goods with its courteous shopkeepers is an amusing thrill, rather than an ordeal.

Follow Talaa Kebira far enough and you’ll eventually reach Fez’s famed Chaouwara Tanneries, which have been operating for more than 750 years. To view the tanneries, enter one of the many leather shops whose roof terraces provide panoramic views over the site. Around 60 families work the stinking tanneries as a cooperative. Among them is Moustafa’s, whose ancestors have been making leather here for over 300 years.

“It is passed from father to son. We share the money every two months,” said the grey-haired Moustafa. Speaking from the roof of his cavernous leather shop, he explained the tortuous process to make the leather, involving weeks of painstaking dyeing and drying.

For visitors seeking some pampering after a tough day exploring, head to Riad Fes Maya, a few meters from Boulevard Ben Mohammed El Alaoui. Entering this 14th-century gem is like discovering a secret world. The central courtyard — once a place of political intrigue — is naturally lit by its glass roof, with tiled mosaic columns supporting the upper floors with their ornately carved window frames. There are nine suites available for guests, starting from $150 per night, including breakfast. It’s an excellent place to stay, showcasing the very best in Moroccan architecture and hospitality.

Guests and visitors alike can enjoy an authentic hammam, Morocco’s famed hot steam bath and body scrub, as well as a variety of massages, while the roof-top restaurant is Fez’s top-rated on TripAdviser.

Outside the medina, there is little to occupy visitors in the modern suburbs, but Fes el Jdid could be worth a morning or afternoon trip, the gardens of Jardin Jnan Sdil provide a soothing retreat after the medina’s sensory overload.

Of all Fez’s myriad charms, though, its greatest attraction is its people. Arab culture is justly famed for hospitality, generosity and friendliness, and Fassis show these in their every interaction.
Of course, this is a city of traders, with over a millennium of commerce hardwired into the local psyche, but — sale or no sale — the warmth of the street hawkers, shopkeepers and restauranteurs is undimmed.

Food is plentiful and delicious (we’d recommend Ali Baba Restaurant near the tanneries — be sure to sample the lemon chicken tagine), while taxis are cheap and ubiquitous — a 10-minute journey rarely costs more than $1.05. Accommodation options range from $20 a night to five-star luxury, so, whatever your budget, Fez should be an essential stop on any trip to Morocco.