Obama set to return home after vacation in Hawaii

Published 11:15 pm Thursday, January 1, 2009

President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday bid his native Hawaii “aloha” after a 12-day vacation.

Obama, wife Michelle and their two young daughters were set to fly to Chicago and expected to arrive early Friday. He planned to fly on Sunday to Washington, where 7-year-old Sasha and 10-year-old Malia start school on Monday.

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

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Obama joked to onlookers Thursday 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, the private 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 on 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 on Nov. 2, just 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 — known to friends as “Toot” — and scattered her ashes into the sea.

Obama was born in Honolulu in 1961, two years after Hawaii became a state. 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 as an islander.

He moved to the mainland to attend college in 1979 and has only returned for vacations.