Monday, October 1, 2012

Weekend in Kaua'i

For once, I never looked up where I was going. My wife's niece, Cari, to celebrate her recovery from chemotherapy, invited Layne and me to visit her and her husband Mike, with their daughter Marlene and her husband, Kevin, while they rented a beachfront house in Kapa'a, on the Garden Isle of Kaua'i. Who could resist?

I've been swamped with work; the day before we left at dawn to make the flight from LAX proved dispiriting. On public fora I must remain circumspect. System-wide layoffs by my employer--500 plus in July and another 300-plus last week--suddenly hit, under less than comforting circumstances for those effected without warning when they showed up for another work day. The election rhetoric notwithstanding from our President, for many, the economy continues to fail and for those left behind at workplaces to struggle on under added duties, uncertain futures, and declining morale, it's not the kind of hope for change to believe in that my fellow citizens so enthusiastically voted in, and will again. The alternative, rule by a corporate raider and off-shoring, outsourcing tycoon, also depresses.

So, a trip out of the cubicles, however brief, seemed welcome. My noise-cancelling headphones, a nice lunch c/o Layne, and even for me a novel chat with a seatmate (American Airlines requires one to fill out an entry form for the former Sandwich Islands without any implement gratis unless you stow one or borrow one!) who needed my pen made the journey pass rapidly. I started J.G. Farrell's "The Singapore Grip," about the advent of war and the speculations of capitalists in that British colony ca. 1940; last of his Empire trilogy, so far, I liked it more than the dull, hotel-bound Irish-set "Troubles" even if it may not match the eerily funny and morbid Indian allegory "The Siege of Krishnapur." Two of his three novels earned a Booker, and as with Paul Scott's "Raj Quartet," so far the third installment's blend of ironic comment, imperialist folly, and incisive dialogue succeeds.

I figured too it fit the jaunt to a muggy dusky port of call.  We made it without drama to Lihue, on a direct flight, which surprised me. It's a sign of how an island of 70,000 residents, and an average of 15,000 visitors year-round (we came in one of the two months less popular, February being the other, according to Andrew Doughty and Harriet Friedman's deservedly popular guide to the island; we'd relied on their companion volume in our two circumnavigations of the Big Island in the late '90s) can attract two flights from LAX alone daily, as well as Hawaiian Airlines and SFO at least.... I had no idea that this most westerly major Hawaiian island was so popular; I admit I barely knew where it is.

As will be no surprise to faithful readers, my very pale skin, my distrust of El Sol, and my outdoor maladroitness (despite two enjoyable if harrowing stints, one in snow, one in desert, at eleven during my half-year of Boy Scouts before my parents forced me away from a town where I likely would have continued what would have been a happier childhood) dissuade me from the balmier climes in Southern California, let alone near the glaring equator. It's been years--the Big Island of Hawai'i in fact--since my feet touched sand deeper than ragged rocks along Cambria up the colder central coast.

Upon landing, nearly the last off a packed plane, we crawled up the long aisle. A rude, barreled French (or Lebanese?) balding, aging man out of a cartoon--with his blonde-dyed plastic wife and silent but cuter daughter-- had marched in and demanded the trio in the last row, baby seat and parents, move across to the identical other side of the plane, both three seats rigid and lodged in front of the lavatories. Logically responding that it made no difference, the younger breeders had refused  the older. The man also had tried to slam his luggage (as they were the last ones on) into our own bin, without success. Francophones lurched off; we trudged barely ahead of them. I wondered how they'd fare in the isle of "no worries"--as commonly heard at a particular point by us the following day.

Meanwhile, an ample native lady, coming to lead the cleanup crew waiting for we stragglers to clear the deck, welcomed us with a genuine burst "to our lovely island," and "aloha" and "mahalo" were heard even if no leis were on offer (unless you join the Admiral's Club). The climate descended, if not as oppressively as that in my novel, when the young Brit first arrived in Singapore feels the brunt of the humid density. "The heat was suddenly stifling: he was clad in it from head to toe, as if wrapped in steaming towels." (102) Soon, Cari, Mike (he took this--Kevin joined us the next day), and Marlene met us, and whisked us off a few miles north-east along the warm coast to Kapa'a.

Hurricane 'Iniki in '92 had devastated the island, particularly this former pineapple depot of ten thousand, with its false-front businesses along the one highway that nearly circles Kaua'i. Kapa'a, the largest town on the island, rebounded. From the airport, nearly one single stretch of condos, homes, and hedges blocked us from an ocean view, as one town blurred into the other. So far, this could be a downscale Malibu, for all the slim Pacific we were able to rubberneck. But, the homier feel of the Coconut Coast showed. Election signs festooned yards: Hawaiian, Portuguese, European, Japanese and Filipino surnames. Touts for yoga, massage, tattoos, java, sweets, red-dyed t-shirts, "crafts," and surf mirrored any California sister resort's mercantile facades. But not the climate, hefty breezes pushing puffball clouds inexorably where the world's wettest place (a fact often repeated, naturally) sucked them up four thousand feet to dissolve into swamps, ravines, and gentle drops or heavy pour.

The house featured lovely vistas. From our upper room, the bathroom window looked over a parking lot of the Olympic Cafe, with a glimpse of characteristic low-slung, roadhouse, sturdy-framed, tin-wood, modest architecture. I heard the dishes clink from the kitchen and the laughter of many imbibing and refreshed customers. The scene reminded me of the New England style I'd seen up in Tacoma. Do maritime towns, settled in 19th century by whalers and traders, share dignified decorum?

From the bedroom, facing south-west, the Sleeping Giant mountain formation (not as pictured below: that's the North Shore of the island Cari, Mike, and Marlene visited) dominated Kapa'a--he ate too many bananas after a feast and the locals fed him rocks to placate him. When the forces from Kamehamea's kingdom, on O'ahu, tried to invade, torches lit silhouetting the Giant's brow and face  made him look menacing, so legend goes. Kaua'i fended off its rivals, who craved its lush plains fed by coastal rain, inland mist, and quake rippled valleys that carved fields for taro, pineapple, sugarcane and now, after the 90's closing of rusting cane mills, a nod to coffee amidst many caffeinated tourists.

To the south, the Pono Kai beach stretched. It's about the first Hawaiian phrase I could decipher without help. "Right" (as in righteous) and "sea": although condos fill its namesake strand below the coconut plantations a German entrepreneur tried to cash in on in colonial times, it manages to lure the eye to the ocean and not to brown balconies. Our house was thankfully modest, white and low-key. Evidently a constantly rented retreat, it was ideally suited. Cari chose wisely. As a Californian used to private, closed-off (illegal but common as it's hard to figure access to walk a narrow coast at certain tides!) beaches, or those speckled with seaweed, tar clumps, and jellyfish, a real change for me. One could pull up to the end of the lane by the house. Less than a hundred feet separated you from shore.

That handsome walkway started a quarter-mile south, by the condos, and went sixteen miles up to Anahola; a second link was being "blessed" by a native priest according to the paper I read when there. I walked about thirty-five to forty-five minutes of it a night: it went down to the Waipoli canal and I took it as far north as Otsuka's furniture store where the path veered back next to the highway. This allows bicyclists, strollers, and skaters to roam easily, and I was impressed by no graffiti. The only such I saw on the whole vacation marred an admittedly abandoned beige house (with spray paint: "Pitbull Puppies For Sale") at the corner around from the Kayak Wailua lot--of that, more anon.

I traversed the path after a tasty salmon dinner Layne arranged and Mike grilled. We ate at sunset on the upper deck, overlooking of course the palms and strand. Strange bird sounds pierced the quiet. The waves alternated with the steady highway traffic, a couple of short blocks away. I went for a walk, and as each evening, I tried to get some exercise in out of the sun. It got dark rapidly, but I did not see the Milky Way as expected. Perhaps the proximity of the town lights and the waxing moon discouraged stargazing. A passage from my novel came to mind: "listening to the tropical night which like some great machine had begun its humming, whirring and clicking, steadily growing in volume as the darkness deepened." (51)

The next morning, I looked out over sunrise vista from the bedroom. A triptych: a slice of the coast to the left, the full green festooned, cliff-dappled Sleeping Giant to the right, and the center with the condos in the near distance. Closer, the ubiquitous red dirt lot showed a very dark skinned, very white-bearded elder who sat in a bright blue pickup festooned with Hawai'i freedom stickers and a Deadhead skull circle much of the day. He'd hunch over little inlets of coconut saplings, each surrounded by large inlays of fronds and husks. These comprised a fraction of the yard, otherwise dirt used by cars, walkers, and bikers coming in and out of the walkway down the busy beachfront.

The next lot over, a ramshackle pair of houses with kids and a probable extended family adjoined part of one place that was labelled "Tenrik yo--Kapa a Church." Mike and Cari surmised this might be an indigenous temple, but despite the echo of drums, chants, and maybe a conch shell at dawn and dusk, I suspected differently. The presence of "t" "r" and "y" tipped me off, as these all are lacking in Hawaiian orthography as adjusted by the missionaries who set it down in the 1820s. I finally bowed to Google: Tenrikyo represents a Japanese 19c "new religious movement." However, no matter what day I listened in, and watched from behind the iron house fence on our far side, the same few people from both houses dashed in and out of the church's open door, nobody else. Intimate service, at least.

While romantic visions of a renewed native cult were dashed, the realities of the tropics, with the indeterminate quality of many of the residents reminding me of my students in a similarly blending California, one morning I was awakened not by the endemic roosters but a young man shouting at a girl: "You're a haole. You said your grandfather was German. Germans killed Jews. He was a racist."

Another time, we all watched as another young man pushed at a sneering girl as they bickered, not for the first time from her taunting attitude and posture, while he picked up their son. He accused her of catting around and not being a good mother; she flounced away from his appeals. Son watched as his parents fought, and after she drove off, a heftier youth near the water (the nursery school occupied a blissful setting facing the beach!) stepped in to calm dad down, and perhaps they passed some pakelolo in the near distance, not that anyone would have minded. At that very same spot on the sand, I passed on night strolls groups of locals hanging out, pickups pulled up and around the barriers as fishing poles perched around flashlight beams more than moonlit sands. I read in Doughty and Friedman carefully phrased dissuasions not to go to certain areas, and remembered living on the third floor of Rosecrans dorm, freshman and sophomore years of college, where the "Hawaiians" of all complexions spoke pidgin, waited for macadamias and candy from home, and where my roommate when I entered college, fate would hold, was a Punahou grad the same class as our current President.

Later that day, near lava-layered coastal mouth of the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," inevitably as Mark Twain described it--even if he never got to this particular island--Waimea greeted us at an unofficial turnout with a spirited defense from the "lawful government" of Hawai' affirming their claim to the land we viewed. While my fellow travelers did not agree, linking it implicitly to "birthers," I discerned rough parallels to Irish sovereignty. Both nations had territory invaded, with willing collaborators among the native lords eager to cash in by trade, alliances, and land sales to superpowers who found success in dividing up tribal lands and to play off allegiances which sold out some to colonialists, enriched others, and devastated many of the commoners--who often had suffered despite national myth at the hands of those who ruled dozens of centuries before--whatever the complexion or language of royals.

As with the Celtic nations, Hawai'i struggles to restore its official language full of nuance, as its natural spoken habitat shrinks away to almost nothing--one in thousands a native speaker--and as children try to relearn what is so foreign to English in school. It rallies a proud culture, mythic and modern, to show visitors who outnumber kama'aina. On both island realms, one wonders how fragile ecosystems can sustain millions of us ma la hini a year. How will green slopes, mist-shrouded ranges, and fertile valleys fare in an era of global warming, overpopulation, second-home builders, "blow-ins" and mainlanders, and those who flock to sightsee or settle among locals. And, as I've felt in Ireland, it seems no matter how one resembles ones forebears, the distance persists. At least there, until I open my mouth, I try to blend in--impossible for me in the tropics!

Blending in also proved as impossible the day before. The morning promised a cooler waft, but I suspected noon would change the pleasant zephyrs, me being the way I'm wired. I had not exposed my legs to the sun for years; when young, I was burned severely and repeatedly despite Coppertone's preventive promises. Lathering Neutrogena 100 SPF Sunblock--like any strong brand, it stings the eyes--I prepared to brave the mouth of the legendary Wailua River. This is claimed to be the first landing of the ruling Polynesians, and the favorite place of at least one king. Captain Cook landed here in 1778, the first island of the chain he reached. He chose wisely: Wailua is one of the only freshwater rivers on all the islands, and navigable by boats as well as kayaks. If you can handle one.

Our instruction from Kayak Wailua was, well, brief. Monica, the guide (turned out she taught algebra, studied piano and voice in college, and was as expected in buff shape compared to at least the six of our clan), had fourteen of us--the rest apparently SoCal, two couples somewhat older than us, two far younger--to shepherd two-and-a-half miles up to the bank where we'd trek to "secret" Uleweli Falls.

I had really no idea what to do. Our cursory "lesson" was seconds long, and we were outnumbered by at least eight veteran kayakers. I had expected a guide to direct two or three boatloads of us, not seven of vastly disparate skill. It seemed that Kevin or Marlene knew how. Layne got our back, I its front.

As we embarked, the four of us, about to enter the water, stopped. We had heard a yell in the near distance. Mike and Cari were bobbing in the water. My heart sank. I waited, unsure if we should even take off, given the circumstances. But it appeared, surprising to me, we had no choice, and in we went. Soon enough, Henschel Hat with solar weave mesh on my wobbling head and Tevas on my paperwhite feet, I failed to steer as Layne too failed. We hit the branches by the right side presently.

We kept doing so, until a kind passerby reminded us to plunge left oar in to brake. I did this too much, as a teen driver slams the brakes, but at least this allowed us to get some semblance of direction. This forced us to stop and start over and over to avoid wandering into the bank or the center. You must move opposite your instinct, same as when avoiding a skid in a car (not that I ever handled that challenge well either: a rainstorm slick swirled me reverse once near UCLA entering the 405). The wide river pushed us to the sides, twirling us around and into the center of the river or back to the banks (absent--thick growth threatened to tip us as branches tangled beneath the hull) and I could not straighten the path of our narrow prow. I suppose we passed some of five heiau, the ancient sites sacred to the kanaka maoli, but I could not see, hunkered down so beneath the verdant, sun-soaked foliage even if I glanced up now and then at the reclining Giant stage left (the scene below taken by Marlene, the other side of this range, but a similar landscape) as we headed under clouds and rays into the interior--one mile edging up into the thick rainforest of the mountains.

Kayakers passed us when we did not collide with them. We kept apologizing. "No worries" came back as the reply more than once. Our group's ten were way out of sight within minutes: this included Kevin and Marlene. We slowed. Cari and Mike were behind us with Monica; the remaining party merged with another kayaking excursion and all sailed without mishap smoothly north. We watched as young and old went up and down past us. In tandem, rowing, relaxing, smiling. I tried to stop swearing at doughty Layne as we splashed ourselves. I tried to look up, to savor the scenery. Once in a while, we found a pace to set a rhythm, and the north fork felt much easier to glide (or inch) along.

That signaled, I found on a map later, the last half-mile. We reached the bank after the fit decuplets  had waited likely a long time. The Doughty-Friedman guide records this section by kayak at about three hours round trip. It felt we'd taken three hours already to go halfway. Still, we made it to mud.

More mud awaited, this being a rainforest. Some companions appeared surprised by this. I expected it. It was a trail, so we all headed up it once the guide escorted Cari and Mike, still sadly sodden. We walked into a grass tunnel overhead--I recalled Karl Marlantes' "Matterhorn" novel when the grunts hack into razor-bladed brush eight feet high. We had an easier path: no NVA snipers around the bend.

We traversed the narrower tributary, too small for kayaks, and held on to a rope as the stream resisted us. We trod carefully on the rock bed as we forded in to our knees. I wondered what this was like in a storm. Apparently vast amounts of water can charge down this admittedly broad channel, seawards. Some accounts say you ford the river again and again, but I don't recall doing so: dry season for us?

Up we slogged, past edible plants (one mushroom flavored) and ruins of a taro irrigation system, a mango forest, "walking" trees with roots like an umbrella-filled stand, native oaks flattened as if on a savannah, rain-porous rocks, and paired gnarly trunks that wound up around like a hangman's noose. It was slippery, but no more than any path up the hills around us. The stream was often enchanting, and the woods protected us from an intense sun. Although I had to slow my trek to help Layne and Cari and Marlene, pregnant to boot, this allowed me to pause and stop looking at my squelching shoes every step, so as to avoid a wet tumble down a boar-clawed slope or root-tangled, lichened boulders. Our nimble guide, we noticed, was barefoot; the young couple ahead sported blue-suede Island Fever surfshoes, which I thought seemed ideal for the demands of the trail and the water alike.

The falls awaited, after considerable up and down final traverses. It was not easy to lower one's self to the pond under the 112-foot tumble, so, damp, I watched with my lunch [salmon sandwich on Hawaiian bread from Big Save [anti-domestic violence poster, no EBT for Spam notice at deli, but cheaper for postcards: 5 for a dollar] amidst roosters and a friendly dog named Hilo another kayak guide brought. The area was filled with picnickers, and all of them--fat middle-aged women, thin Japanese tourists, willowy girls and sturdy boys--must have come the way we had, mirabile dictu

Not sure how long we rested, but we had arrived for the kayak briefing around 12 noon. I estimated it was nearing 3:30 or 4, but we were sequestered from the sun up the canyon. All the women went swimming, while Mike hoped his iPhone would survive the plunge (repeated later upriver, I think by poor Cari) and dry out. I ate another salmon sandwich (fish lovers love island cuisine), an orange, and snuck in a warm Maui IPA. I sat on a flat volcanic slate, as more people slid down the trail to its end.

On the way back, the trail tilted downhill and we went faster, or at least I did. I kept stopping for the rest of our party to catch up. I tried to take in my lovely surroundings, but I also speculated if I'd wind up doused on the return portage, as Layne and I were tired. Afternoon headwinds rallied against us.

We did make it, of course, but everyone instantly outpaced us and even Monica with Cari and Mike soon--after less than a mile--passed us as we kept pushing on against the strong winds from up the ocean. They funneled steadily between the banks and their fences of foliage, and it was tougher once we entered the main channel again. I kept imagining the pier ahead, every nudge of the curve to the right. Even when it did appear, a swirling motorboat towed very dark local kids, who looked as if bronzed by the sun for years on end. They laughed as they held on, as if to taunt our flagging arms and backs and stamina. A family, boys and a dog, went up and down to check on their motor raft the crab traps, ignoring us floundering on the other side--as we tried wearily to avoid any faster craft.

They churned the waters, as we learned to stop rowing and to hold the oars up. The rest of the patient perkier party of ten had to wait for us laggards in the middle of the river, so close to the landing, so far, for us to return, and then we all headed into the harbor--and toddled to the dingy bathrooms as squalid as those in any public park back home. The river was emptier than when we departed the dock. No other kayaks would appear: had all those who had arrived just as we prepared to leave the falls eaten, swam, and out rowed us back? As it happened, it was nearing 6 by the time we got back to our car. We were so tired that we drifted in backwards, rowing in reverse to dock. However, that was the way to load the crafts onto the trailer, so perhaps we got credit for this final hapless gesture.

We revived after showers to dine at Scotty's BBQ on the beach a few minutes walk up the path, as the rest of the intrepid mariners craved meat after the riparian ordeal. As on the mainland, Wailua Wheat from the Kona Brewing Co. proved the best among the flight of local beers, and although the waitress pooh-poohed my fish inquiry at a bbq joint (service in most seafront spots is less than stellar), it satisfied me. Kevin seemed happiest with that out of his same four. BBQ pleased my companions.

The next day, I was awakened by the conversation already reported, and that set the multicultural tone for the foray, southward and westerly. Cari had planned a detailed itinerary down to avoiding speed traps (thanks, Doughty-Friedman!). We saw a bit of Lihue, Nawiliwili harbor with a massive block of a cruise ship docked, and then a dramatic overlook from the Menehune fishpond of ancient legend (again) that attributed its creation to an overnight haul, hand-to-hand, of rocks from 25 miles away, by thousands of the predecessors (cf. leprechauns or the daoine sídhe aka Irish Little People) of the natives. Their small size may allude to their Marquesas origins, if they peopled on the islands ca. 2nd century CE and not ca. 700 years ago when the Tahitians who engendered today's natives arrived.

The range beyond is a wildlife refuge, and we could make out eerie caves and jagged scars on the sharp cliff faces. Easy to see how this landscape inspired mystery, and we felt spooky even from an overlook by the Hulemalu Road which wound through sugarcane fields, processed on only two farms remaining--the other is on Maui. Until recently, forty thousand acres had supplied many Americans.

Koloa Town attests to this. Settled in 1835 by New Englanders, it looks settled in, reminding me of soggy farm towns Volcano or Hawa or the city of Hilo on the Big Island. Japanese settled here to work the cane fields, and the abandoned ruin of the mill can be seen at its junction. Suehiro's Cash Market stands as likely the only older and practical business left among the typical boutiques. It features boardwalks and old shopfronts, founded by Japanese and Chinese merchants way back.

Across the way, a billboard (not visible in the photo of that lot below) promised a new shopping-and-loft center for hipsters any year now. I contemplated its status in a downturned economy dependent on we tourists to come, and not only pose by wooden carvings (the other one had a dog licking a hobo's face but kids were swarming over it; I thought of W.C. Fields apropos of the image  above) but to buy t-shirts (we saw one "Stoopid Chikin" that we liked for our younger son's birthday but not at $27.50) and shaved ice. I sampled Layne's lilikoi. It was fine, but it did not live up to the tasty rapture I'd been expecting. Fosselmann's ice cream much closer to home even has taro, passion fruit, lychee, and mango flavors for the predominately Asian clientele, and similarly rich flavors! 

The humble open-air museum here is sensible. In English and Japanese, it told of the laborers who'd lived in the hotel; the bath and washboard and scrubbing tools told a story. Even if I saw a Vlasic pickle jar the same as this year's model in our kitchen on display among artifacts, you got a sense of a hardscrabble and humbler labor and leisure from a century ago. Kilohana Plantation, near Lihue, typifies an Hawai'i aging Californians recall from child-sung jingles: "C+H...pure cane sugar, from Hawai'i, growing in the sun, island sugar, C+H pure cane sugar is the one [cue slack-key guitar]."

Although I did not get to see the oldest Catholic church on the island, 1844's St. Raphael's, the Apostolic Church of God has a handsome edifice with a classic facade straight out of New Haven. We passed it on the way to the tony resort of Po'ipu, whose beachfront homes, shopping malls, golf courses, and condos looked like South Orange County if with more palms and no PCH. The Spouting Hole was a few miles on, and justly attracted the cameras and crowds. Too bad another, larger, blowhole was dynamited long ago by a magnate angry at how sea spray damaged his crops.

It erupts bigger than it is above; this view is a ways off; visitors are discouraged from a closer peek. Even here, in a few minutes, it began to rain for a short time, although hardly any gray clouds hovered. Scenery began to open up into more red dirt, more arid conditions. The west side although facing the brunt of the Asian waters and winds, first landfall in half the Pacific, is ironically drier. Coffee bushes makai, flat dark plowed fields mauka. It looks like what I imagine Australia to be.

After a lunch at Waimea Town's Shrimp Station (a testament to business acumen: coupons, mentions in guidebooks and brochures, and the last stop on the dead-end main drag before a tourist attraction; I had a mahi-mahi burger but Marlene's coconut shrimp looked tempting enough during the Days of Awe), we headed up the canyon highway. It looked like so many of our native state's foothills: more piney and scrubby, chaparral mixed with forests and brush in earth tones, if much more roseate. The incline prevents any real glance at the sights until a lookout allows, wisely given the lack of skills of motoring witnessed on the steep grade. Cari handled the Town + Country van with six of us well.

We were rewarded with drizzle, a drop in temperature 10-15 degrees, 3500 feet up, and this view.

This "pioneer" tone talented Mike took (he shot most here; Marlene, Cari or Kevin the rest) displays the canyon. This entry's banner locks in a white bird we watched on thermals for a while. Mike told me that is only a third of his original frame, and the vastness of that winged flight, maybe a hundred or two feet below the platform, attests to the immensity of this quake-riven ten-mile declivity that ripped the island nearly in two. A determined rivulet burrows through lava bedrock to near sea level.

I could barely see it. The next lookout, at Pu'u o Kila, revealed it. I caught the canyon's mile-wide scale better there; brilliant copses climbed up the flanks of the sharp slopes to dazzle me in the sun.

However, by the time the rest of the party made it over (did Mike shoot this in time?)--they had gone west side where Ni'ihau's "Forbidden Island" (tourist trade) or "Isle of Yesterday" (state park plaque) 17 miles off, full of the language of its isolated natives, and also full of a couple hundred folks so destitute they've lived off EBT plus Spam perhaps, as the largess of the Robinson plantation fails to sustain them in colonial patronage sits, almost as far as Catalina from San Pedro, if not as cloaked in secrecy--the rain came in and "obscured by clouds" (Pink Floyd LP title: wasn't that a soundtrack to another tropical land, of New Guinea in a French arthouse early 70s doc?)--the panorama vanished.

So, downhill all the way, preceded by one scary driver in an identical van burning his brakes and weaving all about. I already planned in my head the next visit: go earlier to beat the cloud cover, and make it to the road's end at Kalalau lookout for a chance to watch the Na Pali coast and the north shore, far below. No road will traverse that last slice of high coast, and for that, Kaua'i as with the Big Island by topographical chance escape the fate of O'ahu and endless traffic--even if contra flow tries to regulate the jams that make the Lihue-Kapa'a portion of the highway a mess twice each workday.

I also figured I'd drive on another visit to the North Shore. Cari remarked that the taro fields near Hanelei (mentioned I learned in "Puff the Magic Dragon") were pretty, and even if the lighthouse was scaffolded at that end of the highway, an opportunity to see the rest of the island enticed. I read about a Powerline trail that climbs the mountains to cross them, 10.5 miles each way, but too long to do in a day even if far fitter than me. The interior is full of trails, some for hunting wild pigs, others for hikers, through the giant Alakai swamp and up and down switchbacks, dead-ends, and follow-throughs into what I imagined to be rough terrain indeed. No wonder it attracts many hardier souls.

We ate at the Olympic Cafe, it being close and all, with ono and an inordinate heap of baby carrots  for me (and a damaged Wailua Wheat thanks to inserted lemon slice) although we never got the ice-cream pie promised by our indolent waitress as Kevin needed to catch his flight. Perfect clash of mainland and island time? Or priorities? Still, I liked the chance to sit on the second floor and see the shopfronts in a warm breeze.

The last day of our stay, I decided to pursue indolence. I never had sat and watched the ocean before, for more than a few minutes. I spent a lot of time those final hours in a chair, moving from deck to my bedroom to inside to outside, even splashing about at dusk if with glasses and shorts and shirt on. Although but a yell from the house, I did not trust my blind self in waves, however lappingly gentle.

Cari, Marlene, and Layne had visited the farmer's market, and we feasted on fresh pineapple and opah (moonfish). While these views shared here face the water from our deck's table, favoring the pinks and golds of sunrise rather than the day's blue and grey, they do serve as an eloquent stand-in for the less vivid but nonetheless steady and bright nature of nature. The last two mornings, I had to sleep in as I was tired and the three-hour time difference did not quite settle me, but I knew Mike's camera if not my owlish instincts to slumber would verify this transient and fabled, delicate beauty.

We got to the airport, only a dozen minutes away and about six miles. What a concept compared to the hassle of LAX twenty miles-plus from our place. (See my wife's subsequent blog entry here on our stint.) Hugs with our kind hosts, amidst the spirit of aloha sobered by the realities of return.

Only to find our flight was cancelled and the next delayed to 10 p.m. We guessed that if a mid-week flight fails to fill these leaner days, they toss it aside and leave coach to fend for themselves. Maybe if we were Ultra Sapphire Class or Platinum Admiral's Pals we'd be sipping mai tais into comped oblivion at a hotel's lanai, but we had no option so lavish or lordly. Marlene's flight on Hawaiian had only one seat open, so she left on time, but we had to re-arrange (American Airlines sends you officiously to a cellphone as the codes are different, so they claim unbelievably; Layne had faced via this self-serve recourse a re-route to a British Airways served by American flight the same time as the one cancelled---testimony to such 800-number workarounds that sent her back to the counter) one to Honolulu. So, for half an hour I got to fly Hawaiian, and I now can say I've seen Diamond Head.

I took advantage to search for what Layne claimed she'd bought me on the Big Island years ago but never found: a hula girl magnet. In my old office, my walls were filled with metal-friendly fridge magnets of all types from everywhere I went. The more touristy, the better. I arranged them in topical and thematic gradations attesting to my DSM-V symptoms, and the shift from one to another was carefully according to logic and recondite subtleties that fifteen years of musing therein perfected.

Now that I've lately been "rightsized" to a cubicle, my space is limited. Most of my collection is in the garage in boxes from work along with more dry-erase markers than I will ever need through retirement--no matter what the age is by the time I make it, given the state of Social Security. But, a few choice niches remain on the fraction of metal walls remaining. I chose carefully what survived the shrinking real estate at my ersatz gallery. I knew where the two new would go, next to two Hawaiian-vintage-themes already on the same panel. Despite security tailing me in and out of the few paltry shops in the bland AA terminal's arcade, two circuits narrowed it down to only one choice.

I had to override my "no made in China" purchase rule that I do follow where alternatives exist. I eschewed Idaho magnets at Boise airport a few years ago on principle, when none were locally made. But now, ukelele girl and hula girl beckoned. The same price even if the former was smaller than her partner. The elderly lady took forever to ring up my painted pair as her credit card button was awry, and the line lengthened behind me with ten travelers holding, all it seemed, energy drinks. But, one last time to practice equanimity I had reflected upon when watching the Tenrikyo ohana dash into their portal, the bearded man chatting with strollers (one he told to Photoshop telephone poles out of the Sleeping Giant perspective he'd shot), and my own encounter with the unpredictable Wailua.

The man across from me, slightly younger than me (i.e., his hair was its original color), had wrapped with a napkin around its compromising spine and part of the cover for "Fifty Shades of Grey." Quite wussy, and this doubled the infraction incurred by me upon him for buying that dreck in the first place. Faithful Reader, with a cop mustache and simpering mien, soon finished said tome and slept.

Another passenger proved more trying, as Kevin M--z born as he repeated in Long Beach but "(nearly a) professional surfer" fifteen years on the North Shore sat next to Layne on a packed flight. All those displaced Lihue deportees must have clamored for this same cabin to LAX. I heard some try while waiting to arrange for flights from Dallas or Salt Lake City in turn, and I wondered how long their return journeys were when Boston was announced on touchdown as an connection to catch past midnight. No room for triple Dole pineapples or bags of a dozen Hilo Hattie's chocolates the Japanese lugged on, but crowds followed us, who'd been shunted to what we thought was legroom in an exit row but that only worked for Kevin M., who gloated on embarkation: "It's been a long time since I sat in coach!!!!!" A proclamation met with less than glee. We were already 40 minutes late.

He sported a lime-green Volcom t-shirt and brown baggy shorts with a "Hawaiian Punch" ad-themed motif, to my aging eyes. He soon slumped, head over his lap, dropping phone and tickets (that's how I discerned his name) on the ground, and fell into what Layne reported as a drunken slumber. Noise-cancelling headphones came in handy for Layne and me. She worked on her manuscript revision of her own blog entries compiled and polished into a memoir; I read "Grip" and played Echo and the Bunnymen even if they did not match my tropical reverie in print or mind very well--glacial, gnomic, and bleak, my favorite LP cover of theirs shot in Iceland. Still, I could hear Kevin regale the elderly Asians behind us with his page-protected Drug Court certificate, his surfer photos (was that him in a swoosh of a giant wave?), and his repeated tale of how dad taught history and science at LB Poly starting in '61. He asked if he looked fifty. (He did.) He loved Oxnard, where his listeners lived.

The stewardesses kept tight lipped. Our seatmate asked me in one non-headphone millisecond what was the choice for dinner. I replied deadpan that only drinks were on offer. He asked a stewardess for edibles. He wrangled a bag of nuts. But I don't think she charged him the three-fifty due her airline.

On neither flight east did I feel any pressure drop; landings came suddenly. Same the way over. Yet I doubt the atmosphere differs in latitudes near the equator. One final difference from a different stay.

No comments: