Saturday, September 24, 2016

Charon's Hawaiian Adventure, September 2016: Truly Excessive Amounts of Rain

The zipper on my suitcase broke on the trip to Hawai'i and it was time for a new suitcase. I figured there would probably be some suitcases for sale near Kaanapali Beach. Plus there was a beach, so I sunscreened up and put on a t-shirt over some boardshorts and a swimsuit top, and threw a towel in my beach bag. And I put the convertible top down.


But when I got up north, the waters were bright red with runoff from the flooding. I went a little bit north of Kaanapali and cruised down the coast in my convertible. Red, muddy, angry water.

Disgruntled Surf
 Water that doesn't really want any humans swimming around in it, thank you very much.

This ocean is seriously peeved
These signs don't lie
It’s like the fatigue line in World of Warcraft. All the runoff from the storm, turning the water muddy red and filling it with who knows what kind of horrific bacteria – leptospirosis for starters. Runoff current, clashing with tidal forces, causing the waters to run in interesting new ways. Nope.

Many tourists, in fact, are astonished at the many ways a deceptively beautiful place like Hawai’i can maim or kill you. The very ground is mostly steep and crumbly. Sometimes there’s lava beneath it that could erupt up into your face, and sometimes there’s a big hollow lava tube underneath it which nobody noticed yet, ready to swallow unsuspecting tourists alive. The deadliest land predators are mosquitos and ticks and leptospirosis bacteria, but there are some wild pigs too. Big ones, with tusks. The ocean, meanwhile, is teeming with things that actively want to kill you (e.g. sharks), and things that could accidentally kill you without hardly noticing (e.g. whales). The ocean itself has been known to reach up and grab people from overlooks and drag them off to a watery grave. Then there’s the sun, which will give you blisters if you’re not careful. And finally, you are surrounded by a cast of fellow humans that are often dazed by oxygen, scenery and rum.

If in doubt, don’t go out. Or, as we also say in the islands, I no like drown.

I decided to drive to the other side of the island to see if the beaches were beachier. The traffic was still backed up along the road to Kihei, as everyone who hadn’t already photographed the flooded cars headed over to check them out. Ah, island life. A new fast food place? A tree fell over? Someone put a new birdbath in their front yard? Everyone must drive over to experience it!  Even the radio DJs were pleading “come on, you saw it on Facebook already.” 

I impulsively headed for Wailuku instead of Pa’ia because (i) there’s this lovely stretch of road with branches growing over it; (ii) I was in a convertible; and (iii) Billie Jean was playing on the radio.

I lived in Wailuku Heights until I was three, and we moved to Oahu. Somewhere I have an old kid’s book with the address. Whenever I’m there I like to drive around Wailuku Heights, seeing if I can guess which house it was. I know we had a hedge of poinsettias when I lived there, and random tourists would appear on our lawn, taking pictures. Toward the back of the house was a field where cattle sometimes grazed, and our dog Wendy would run outside to bark at them. Wendy was a black boxer-lab cross with a sweet homely face and a white belly. 

The view is amazing from up there, and now there are mansions on top of the cows’ pasture, and that poinsettia hedge is long gone. Poinsettias are very poisonous, you know. And I can’t find the house, even though it’s probably there, and I don’t remember very much else about it. I have a photo of me standing in front of that hedge, age three, with a green dress and a big smile. 

Below Wailuku Heights is a place called Iao Valley. It has a cinder cone where one of Kamehameha’s messier battles was fought, resulting in the town of Wailuku being named “bloody water.”  Kamehameha basically befriended the Europeans first and got ahold of some cannon, with which he proceeded to unify and/or conquer the islands. Hawai’i tends to bring out the greed in certain people, and a lot of those people live in Wailuku Heights, but it also has this strong peaceful and spiritual side, and this ancient battlefield and its picturesque cinder cone had been transformed into an idyllic park, filled with pre-European plants.

Near the park were some houses which had been evacuated the night before – some had completely washed away. The parking lot of the park was undermined as though hollowed out by some giant wielding a colossal melon ball scoop, and likely much of that careful landscaping has been destroyed. I didn’t look at this with my eyeballs because there were responders all over the area, and when I see responders I try to stay the hell out of their way and let them do their work. There are lots of pictures of it online.

So I stopped at the Hale Hoikeike, also known as the Bailey House Museum, in Wailuku. First it was royal grounds, then it became a missionary run "female seminary” at which girls were given a western-style education to make them suitable brides for Polynesian Christians.  Edward Bailey was another one of those bossy haoles who came all the way out to the South Pacific to tell brown people how to conduct their business (/eyeroll), but at least he made some nice paintings. The museum is a very calming place, with a shady garden and an eclectic collection of exhibits that include Duke Kahanamoku’s surfboard and the only surviving statue of pagan god Kamapua’a.

Kamapua'a

Bailey House from behind

The Duke's board

The Duke's plaque

Peaceful green grounds

Upstairs lanai looks like a nice place to chill
I’m just going to throw out, very generally, that Christianity has a very different presentation in the South Pacific than it does in Europe, or New England, or the Southern United States. Visitors may notice the plethora of churches. Those who read about history, or books based on it such as James Michener’s Hawai’i, will encounter lots of material about missionaries. Hawai’i has at least one homegrown saint, Father Damien of Molokai. Mark Twain observed that white men in Honolulu fell into three categories: captain, merchant or missionary. 

My very favorite person in Hawaiian history is Queen Ka’ahumanu, who defied the strict ancient Hawaiian caste system by eating bananas on Haleakala and daring the gods to strike her down. She was Kamehameha’s favorite wife, a lovely Maui girl, and although she didn’t give him children, she gave him counsel. She embraced Christianity, later getting drawn into a schism between Catholics and Protestants. She put an end to the kapu system (it’s basically the same word as “taboo” – the Tahitian and Hawaiian missionaries used slightly different spellings for a language that is mostly intact from Easter Island through New Zealand) and its heavy-handed oppression of women and commoners.

Hawai’i still has many denominations of Christianity, and lots of ornate Buddhist temples too, as well as a healthy population of the spiritual-not-religious. For locals, a lot of socializing is done through churches, such as baby luaus (a big feast to celebrate a child’s first birthday). 

Churches appear even in the most remote locations. They have traditionally fought against evils from blackbirding (slavery) in the old days to meth abuse in the here and now. In contrast to what had happened during earlier contacts, the South Pacific missionaries struggled to record the language and the customs and the culture, even as they changed aspects they found objectionable (like toplessness in women). 

For a lot of my mainland and European friends, the paradigm of gloomy moralizing Christians oppressing free-spirited festive people holds tight. In Hawai’i, there was a fierce warrior culture happening until the Christians brought rum and colorful clothes and romantic Hawaiian honeymoons. Personally, given a time machine, I’d head for the society where I could eat bacon and bananas and enjoy having more laws forbidding suddenly killing people. With all due respect. Even though I've been pretty fixed in my agnosticism since childhood, growing up in Hawai’i made me conscious of religion as social glue, anyway, with most congregants accepting the dogma mainly as an excuse to hang out with other people. And go to beach picnics. And sing together.

And seek assistance when your house gets flooded away in the middle of the night. That actually happened to some people living in Iao Valley, I learned while at the museum. I decided to get even farther out of the responders' way, and I drove through downtown Wailuku, which is sadly full of pawn shops and boarded-up store fronts. 

I went to Zippy’s for lunch, back in Kahului, where I learned we were on water rationing due to the storm. Water was to be boiled, and to be used only for essential purposes – that means no ice. I ordered some coffee, and some saimin (a noodle soup sort of like ramen) – boiled things. And I looked at the news on my phone while I ate. Flooded houses in Iao Valley, and one quoted person was saying it was a 500-year storm, as opposed to a 100-year storm. Hana Highway closed in spots. Maui residents were to boil their water and flush their pipes.

Saddened by the realization that I wouldn’t be beaching at all due to the disaster, I went to K-Mart. The next day I learned that a bunch of K-Marts would be closing, making lots of jobs vanish. I didn’t know that at the time I bought my new suitcase, along with a new swimsuit top, and a new nightie, and some juice to fortify me for crawling back toward Lahaina through the traffic jam consisting of the last few islanders who hadn’t seen the flooded cars yet.

I grabbed some chicken katsu for dinner from a fast food place, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.  It was pretty good. I gave some of it to a feral cat.


Mmmm katsu chicken bowl


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