Obama heads home after isle vacation


POSTED: Friday, January 02, 2009

President-elect Barack Obama bid his native Hawaii “;aloha”; yesterday, ending a 12-day vacation that included one blackout, few public moments and a private memorial for his grandmother.

The plane carrying Obama, wife Michelle and their two daughters, Malia and Sasha, left Honolulu Airport just after 1 p.m.

The family left their Kailua vacation rental home at 12:21 p.m. and drove slowly in a 19-vehicle motorcade through Kailua. Obama waved from inside his black SUV to hundreds of residents who lined the streets. Some sported swimsuits, waved American flags and flashed the “;shaka”; sign as the presidential motorcade passed. A few residents waved ti leaves.

At the airport, Barack and Michelle Obama took pictures on the tarmac with airport workers before jogging up the steps to board their United Airlines charter Boeing 767. Mayor Mufi Hannemann was among those on hand to say goodbye to the Obamas.

The family flew on the nearly eight-hour flight, arriving early this morning in Chicago where the temperature was in the 30s.

The Obamas plan to go on to Washington this weekend, where the president-elect was expected to meet Monday with congressional leaders to talk about the economy and the legislative agenda generally, according to a senior congressional aide. Obama will meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, then join with them in a meeting with GOP leaders, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

One reason that the Obamas plan to fly to Washington Sunday is that 7-year-old Sasha and 10-year-old Malia start school Monday.

The Obamas kept a low profile while vacationing on Oahu. Aside from daily trips to the gym and golf courses, the president-elect seldom left his vacation retreat, a rented $9 million home. When he did venture out, it usually was to grab some shave ice, look at baby tigers at the zoo or take some other child-friendly excursion.

Obama joked to onlookers yesterday morning at the gym that he was reluctant to return to Chicago, where temperatures were in the 20s.

“;I wish I could hang out with you, but I've got to go home,”; said Obama, leaving the Marine Corps Base Hawaii's Semper Fit center in 70-degree weather.

While on vacation, Obama tried to take advantage of his last break before taking office on Jan. 20. Other than make small talk with residents and pose for pictures with babies, he has done little in public. That, aides said, was the idea.

During the visit, Obama played golf three times, twice at the private Mid-Pacific Country Club and once at Olomana Golf Links, a public course he knew as a youth. On Tuesday, he played basketball at his alma mater, Punahou School.

Michelle Obama also remained largely out of sight, other than the occasional trip to the gym. She did not join Obama and the girls when they went to an aquatic park or to the zoo, nor when he visited the nearby Marine base on Christmas Day.

While on vacation, Obama did his best to stay out of the discussion over the escalating violence in the Middle East, where Israeli troops launched an offensive against Hamas leaders who had fired rockets from Gaza. Aides said there is only one president at a time, but Obama received security briefings and was in touch with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and his incoming national security team.

Pro-Palestinian activists protested outside Obama's vacation home Tuesday and urged a new approach to the Middle East. Obama did not acknowledge them.

The only Obama news from Oahu came when the entire island lost electricity for 11 hours. Obama aides said the family's house also lost power but did not use backup generators during the nighttime incident.

Obama spent his childhood in Honolulu, largely raised by his grandmother, who died Nov. 2, two days before the election that made Obama the nation's first African-American president. While on the pre-inauguration trip, he attended a private memorial service for Madelyn Payne Dunham and scattered her ashes into the sea.

Obama was born in Honolulu in 1961. He lived in Indonesia for four years when he moved there with his mother and stepfather, but he spent 14 of his first 18 years on Oahu. He moved to the mainland to attend college in 1979 and has returned only for vacations and to visit family.


The Associated Press and media pool reports contributed to this story.