I spent a week in Hawai'i in 2002, one decade ago this May. Watching The Descendants and its presentation of "trouble in paradise" and the contrast in attitudes between the business-like Matt and his "native-like" (as it were) cousins was redolent with memories about the place. It was the last real vacation I've taken that didn't also have purpose in something else (political meeting, etc.) As an aside, since I've now been able to mine the film for three posts, I'm thinking it may be even better than I first gave it credit for.
We went in May, which is a low period, tourist-wise and, to some extent, temperature-wise. We spent the whole time in shorts and sandals, but it was cooler than you'd expect the typical "tropical paradise" to be. I saw many locals in long pants and jackets. We were going to spend around 5 days on the Big Island and then the last couple on Moloka'i. This was right in the middle of my tenure with the Green Party and I had a ton of responsibility with the campaign season about to gear up, but we had seen a brief bit on the Travel Channel about the Moloka'i Ranch and it had sounded really inviting. My ex, never one to pass up researching a possibility, poked around and found a travel agent who landed us a pretty good deal, so we decided to go. This was before venturing into the American Dream™, so we actually had money (read: "credit space") to make the trip, even though it took a while to pay off.
This was the first flight I had taken since 9/11 so, of course, the "heightened security measures" were still the order of the day. Remember the "random" searches of passengers?
Between flying out, to and from the Big Island, to and from Moloka'i, and flying home, we had six flights. With my tattoos, long hair, and presence on at least one security list (protesting the elder Bush in 1991; long story), I was "randomly" selected to be plucked from line and put through an additional search every, single time. It was comical by the fourth time, as I'd seen the attendant at the desk in Honolulu take a look at her monitor, look straight at me, and then start the boarding call. I was the walking vision of menace and I didn't even have a keffiyeh.
We had decided to stay on the Hilo side of the island, to avoid most of the tourist traffic which tends to occupy Kona. The difference in climate on the two sides of the island is pretty remarkable, as Kona is "desert island" to Hilo's rain forest. Of course, since you can also ski on Mauna Kea, the Big Island has the gamut of climate covered, I think. We stayed at a bed and breakfast about 15 minutes away from Hilo, up in the hills in the midst of a couple dozen acres of macadamia trees. We arrived pretty late in the day and it was already dark by the time we ventured up the dirt-and-gravel road... without signposts... or lights... and with plenty of hairpin turns and dropaways. So, that was fun. We had taken a room that supposedly looked right out onto the Kulaniapia Falls and a deep pool that the inn was ensconced next to. When we crashed for the evening, we could hear the water. This was the sight right outside the window in the morning:
Yeah. I think we'd arrived.
We spent the next few days running from literally one end of the island- the Waipi'o Valley of the Kings (reputedly where many of the kings of Hawai'i were buried, as with Egypt)
to the other - the green sand beach (the sand is olivine, a volcanic byproduct), which is on a peninsula that is the southernmost point in the US. I called Leigh, who was watching the clan, from there.
The hike to the latter is pretty arduous and begins with a long drive from Hilo, a young boy sitting in a shack and attempting to extort money from people who choose to park in a dirt lot and walk (he said he would "make sure nothing happened to the car"), as we did, rather than drive overland some distance north, and a three mile trek over very uneven lava fields. My wife was in a walking cast at the time, having broken her foot shortly before we left, and I managed to tear my feet up pretty well by the time we got there (a couple groups before us had already turned back.) Getting down to the beach is no easy trick, either, as there's no path and you essentially have to slide down on your butt to get to the cove. Getting back up is a matter of balance and momentum. Once we'd gotten out, I turned to take a picture of the cove which was a perfect replica of one we'd seen in a couple tour guides but that I can't find anywhere on the Web. The camera was a standard film device and had been borrowed from my then-brother-in-law. It was the best camera I've ever used and I have no idea what happened to it.
The journey up to the Valley had its own little quirks, as the guy driving the tour horse-and-cart had been something of a world wanderer whom I mentioned in another post, as he'd been in AA the night Michigan won the national title in basketball. The town in the valley was only a few dozen people and most had generators for electricity, but he was the only person who had an Internet connection so, over the course of a week, everyone in town would drift through his living room to check their email...
We also spent a fair amount of time in and around Hilo and traipsing across Kilauea. After eating dinner that first night, I'll never be able to appreciate mahi mahi again until I end up somewhere that they've caught it a couple hours before it's in front of me. We spent most of the time eating local fare on the run, though, and filling in gaps with a large bag of macadamias that we bought on the first day. I have a hard time feeling satisfied with those out of a jar, too.
Finally, we ended up in Moloka'i.
The island is very much the model for "desert island" as the interior tends to resemble backcountry Wyoming, while the coast looks very much like the above, although often quite mountainous. The Moloka'i Ranch, the biggest hotel on the island, had set up a beach village on the western end with solar-powered, canvas bungalows and self-composting toilets ([shrug] Greens... whattaya gonna do?) which was the initial point for our being interested in the whole trip. Our bungalow was 50 yards from the Pacific and I could see the beach as soon as I opened the door... about 35 yards past the hammock strung between two palm trees. There was a central tent where they cooked meals three times a day and an activities director who tried to entice us into half a dozen different things (it was the off-season, so I think she was pretty bored; there was only one other occupied bungalow out of 40 while we were there.) I pointed to the book in my hand and that hammock and said: "After hiking all over Hell's half-acre for the past week, that's where I'll be for the duration, thanks."
Of course, me being me, I couldn't resist using the main tent's Internet access to check in on the party doings (it was operating largely with Yahoo lists at the time.) I stayed off the lists but emailed the usual series of "Jeebus, no. Don't do that."s and other warnings to a few people, who promptly admonished me for working on my vacation. I find that my memories of the couple days on Moloka'i are pretty dim, as I mostly just remember reading a treatise on Roman legion organization in the hammock, falling asleep in the hammock, waking up to read some more, going to eat, and then coming back and falling asleep again. Nevertheless, I remember thinking that I could do that for just about the rest of my life... Sadly, when the locals resisted the aggressive development plans of the owners, the Ranch closed up shop and left in 2008.
I'm not sure why that trip resonates with me so much, other than the obvious aspect of it being my last real vacation. I suppose it was a period, not only of dramatic difference with most of the locales I'd stepped into in my life, but also when my marriage was still kinda working and the party was near its peak and everything seemed like it held some degree of promise, as opposed to now when it resembles nothing so much as The Road Warrior. I'd still like to go back someday. I wonder how different it will feel.