Thursday, September 22, 2016

Charon’s Hawaiian Adventure, September 2016: The Flood

I get cranky if I don’t make it back to Hawai’i every three or four years.

When Mom died, I felt a little guilty disclosing this to my brother. He hasn’t been back to Hawai’i since we moved back to the mainland, when he was five and I was ten. Later on when he survived cancer, I offered to take him. He wasn’t very interested in planning and wasn’t sure he wanted to go so I just planned it anyway and left it open-ended.  He gave me a definite no at some point before my departure.

When it became apparent I was going solo, I felt deeply relieved. I could eat weird food and visit small obscure boring monuments, and travel to places where nothing ever happens. While blasting Hawaiian music on the radio.  Napping at random times, skipping meals and/or substituting island junk food. Taking forever to wake up and get dressed. Good times.

My plans were to visit Molokai and Lana’i, the two islands I hadn’t visited yet. I also wanted to see Hana, Maui, since all my prior trips to Maui happened to involve traveling companions prone to motion sickness, so I hadn’t been there since I was very small. There was a third mission: eat fresh Hawaiian lychees, but I guess I was too late for the season, or maybe not as many people grow them on Maui. I did find some lychee sorbet that was made with fresh ones, so I was satisfied.

Everyone experiences Hawai’i in their own way. I don’t snorkel or dive because I spent a large portion of my childhood recovering from painful sinus and ear infections due to all the swimming, and I got to the point where I refuse to immerse my face unless there’s a really good reason.  My swimming is actually more like “floating around having deep thoughts” and happens in hotel pools and gentle beaches like Waikiki.  Some people prefer to think their deep thoughts in lounge chairs but I see no point in journeying to the beach just to sit beside the water.

I like to explore, and eat. I watch sunsets and stare at waves. I listen to local accents on the TV news, and sometimes I strike up random conversations with strangers. I drive along the coast and I check out local music and swap meets and farmer’s markets and art marts. I visit touristy places and humble ones, swank spots and obscure corners.

It’s sort of like visiting relatives, if your relatives were islands instead of people. I had some major disagreements with my parents during our time together. For instance, my mother thought that fish was a disgusting food and eating it was symbolic capitulation, and I happen to really enjoy it, although I have to consciously decide to order it. My father would eat fish only when outside the house, and had no interest in catching it; his main interest in the tropics had to do with some kind of Shangri-La fantasy where he played the part of the white guy from the Mainland, freely dispensing his civilized opinions to the exotic natives.

Here’s an anecdote: I didn’t do a lot of official tourist activities but I did take the Hana tour, mainly because they let tour buses go around the back of Haleakala but not rental cars. Also so I could stare at the gorgeous scenery without being distracted by the road. There was a hotel shuttle that ferried us all to the airport where they split us into different tour bus groups, and in the hotel shuttle, after we were about five minutes into the drive, a middle-aged white guy in the back spoke up very authoritatively, demanding more air conditioning.

The driver turned on the AC, whereupon another bossy white guy spoke up, and then both bossy white guys began talking about football, dominating the space with their congenial chuckling. All entitled and making authoritative pronouncements over everything, kinda like dad. Ugh. I put some serious thought into jumping out of the shuttle and swimming back to my hotel – or even backing out of the tour completely and taking a taxi back to my hotel -- but fortunately a charming lady at the airport funneled us into different tour buses (the bossymen got one with malfunctioning AC) (meanwhile, I ended up sitting with a lovely newlywed couple from Utah on a tour bus full of people more inclined to let the tour guide do the talking, where we had a lovely time). 

Hawai’i, to me, represents the good part of my childhood. The parts spent driving around with my parents, or with friends and their parents, or on schoolbuses full of classmates, looking at amazingly beautiful scenery powerful enough to distract us from all interpersonal drama. We kids would take it for granted, because it was all we’d ever seen, but we loved and appreciated it at the same time. Hawai’i is my family, and every tree and fern and turtle and rock there is my cousin. My human family is down to two people, and we don’t really get along. My spiritual family is a pack of gorgeous islands, and I visit them whenever I get a chance. I let them feed me, while I dutifully learn about their history, and enjoy their warm congenial company. When people ask me if I still have family in the islands, I want to tell them the islands themselves are my ohana. But they’d probably think I was some kind of mystical hippie dork, so I don’t. 

This trip I landed in the middle of a rainstorm. The first thing I did after being assigned my rental car (a convertible, fortunately parked with the top up) was turn on the windshield wipers at max speed. There had been not one but two hurricanes earlier in the month and both had cruised right past the islands. Then a regular, non-hurricane storm cell blew in and proceeded to dump massive amounts of water all over everything.

If you’ve never experienced hard tropical rain, it’s more like being hit by a wave than being pelted with raindrops. Suddenly the sky dumps water all over you, instantly soaking you to the skin while thunder rumbles with immediate urgency.  If you’re sealed up inside a rental car it’s not too bad – unless you’re on Maui, trying to make it down the four lane highway that leads to your hotel, moving at five miles per hour because all the beaches beside the highway got flooded, and there are cars trapped in deep water, and everyone’s taking pictures.

The rain stopped while I was doing that. I made it to my hotel, and checked in, and headed to Foodland for some local delicacies (lilikoi and orange passion juices, coffee, knockoff One-Ton chips, portuguese sausage, guava bread, fruit). I packed it all into the fridge at my condo-tel (the Aina Nalu: no maids or room service but has full kitchen and is a block from the harbor, along with a lovely saltwater pool).

Then I realized I had forgotten the all-important sunscreen, so I headed to that mainstay of Hawaiian beaches, the ABC Store. These little stores sell everything one might need on a beach: air mattresses, liquor, cigarettes, softdrinks, sushi, chips, candy, shirts, swimsuits, beer openers shaped like bikini-clad girls, dashboard hula dancers (in both genders), rubber slippers, spam musubi … and lilikoi-flavored Hi Chews. OMG. My favorite candy meets my favorite flavor. Oh yeah, and sunscreen.

The rain came back while I was buying supplies so I threw a rain poncho and hat onto the stack. I was barely a block away when rain began seriously coming down, so I dodged into the nearest restaurant (Captain Jack’s) and ordered some fish and chips (bite me, ghost of mom) while unpacking my new rain poncho and changing from my damp sneakers into my new slippers.

Damp banyan in Lahaina
By the time my food arrived, solid sheets of water were descending on Lahaina. The streets were flooded, and the banyan tree was sagging. And I was delighted to be there, despite all that damp, while at the back of my mind I couldn’t help thinking that this was a lot of rain – a truly excessive amount of rain, more than your average tropical storm’s worth of rain.

I finished dinner and donned my new rain poncho, and my hat, and headed out into the deluge. It was immediately apparent that I wasn’t going to make it back to my hotel without wading through knee deep water, so I did some of that, creeping slowly through the darkness, then splashing my way through the Aina Nalu’s damp corridors, glasses damped to a point of very low visibility.

I found the stairway to my room by feeling my way along the wall. I stepped triumphantly into the dryness and peeled my rain poncho away. I determined my phone was still dry and then I imprisoned it inside a waterproof container, where it would remain for most of the trip. The states of being wet and dry are much more immediate in Hawai’i than they are on the mainland, and this was, in fact, a truly excessive amount of rain. Not as much lightning as that midwestern thunderstorm I had recently experienced in Kansas City, but there was at least twice as much water.

But I had dry clothes and orange passion juice. I enjoyed a delicious cold sweet glass of it and climbed into bed, nice and early at about 10pm.

At midnight, I was awakened by a piercing alarm. Loud, jangling bells. OMG! Flood? Tsunami? Am I about to die? I called the front desk to find out. The desk clerk was still alive, and she reassured me that security would go check it out.

Several minutes passed, giving me time to dream up new hazards – serial killers, ghosts, zombie mongooses. I called the front desk again, seeking reassurance, and she told me that sometimes the alarm shorted out, due to too much rain.  Finally security arrived to shut it off, and I headed back to bed. In the morning I would learn that some people actually were being evacuated into shelters due to flooding, over near the Wailuku area, but Lahaina wasn’t underwater yet.


I pondered staying up late to be terrified, but I was exhausted, so I went to bed instead. While listening to rain. Not gentle musical rain pattering along a tin roof. Harsh, aggressive equitorial rain. Welcoming me home. 

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