The Geek Icon
The first of two journal entries from my Kaua'i trip (that's all I had time for). Originally written on 12/08/2006.
Hawaiian Diary: Welcome to Wainiha
The plane leapt up into the night sky so smoothly I thought I was a bird. Beneath us Botany Bay was flat and black with a sheen like charcoal.
Check-in at the airport had been quiet. The airport seemd almost deserted. I knew ahead of time not to bring liquids or toothpaste in my carry-on luggage, so even the security check was fairly non-eventful, except for the small security agent who did the second check on my luggage at the gate. She dumped out the baking soda I was going to use to brush my teeth. "The airline will provide everything you need," she assured me when I asked if I was expected to go for ten hours without brushing my teeth.
In retrospect a small tupperware container with some unidentified white powder was probably a silly idea; and I thought I had been so clever thinking my way around the toothpaste thing. Of course, it was simply dumped in a nearby trash bin; if it had been genuinely dangerous, it would certainly not have helped to dispose of it that way. I'm not sure that the security personnel's reassurances were true. The airline certainly didn't pass out any toiletries for us. Maybe they only did so on individual requests. By the time it got to the point where I thought to ask, we were already beginning our descent into Honolulu.
I'd spent a fitful six or seven hours sleeping, sprawled across the two seats I had to myself. The plane was maybe half full, and some lucky folks in the middle section had three or four seats to themselves. The two movies that had played while I slept hadn't seemed the least interesting, but when I got up (in the middle of the night by Sydney time), there was some advertainment about Hawai'i playing that I thought I'd tune into. Most of it felt touristy, especially due to the ads for restaurants, shopping, and attractions between features. A few segments of human interest stuff on life guarding at the beaches and kite boarding, a new board sport fad. But they also had a segment on Yvonne Elliman (whose voice in Jesus Christ, Superstar I thought was nothing short of amazing). She had moved back to Hawai'i from California and recorded a new album in 2004. I decided I wouldn't mind checking that out some time.
As the plane came down toward Honolulu, I saw hills burned golden brown in the summer heat, lapped by Mother Pacific; houses, roads, buildings criss-crossed underneath us. It didn't match my preconceived notion of a green tropical island. That wouldn't happen until my next flight came in toward Kauai— but first I had to make it through U.S. Customs.
This ended up being fairly painful compared to when I got on the plane in Sydney. When we landed, customs had been bogged down by some flights arriving unexpectedly early, and the pilot told us to stay on the plane for the next 15-20 minutes. I had given myself an hour to make my connecting flight, which in retrospect was pretty naive. The rest of the time I needed was eaten up by going through customs itself, as a family of six from an Asian country somehow ended up in the U.S. Citizens' line in front of me. I got out of that mess about five minutes before my connecting flight was due to depart.
A $60 fee here, a $20 phone card there, and I was all set to go out at 1:38 pm instead. When I met my uncle David at Lihue airport, he told me there had been a traffic jam on the highway that had held him up anyway. "There's only one highway," he told me. "At least we were both late," I said.
The first thing I noticed about Kaua'i was that it was green— the kind of emerald jewel of the Pacific I had been expecting. As I grabbed my luggage and waited on the kerb, I really felt the heat sink in and wash through me, even though it had been just as warm when I wandered around Honolulu airport. As my uncle pulled up in his car, I heard a voice say, "Excuse me, are you going to the north shore?" and so we ended up with a stray person, Leah, who lived in a town on the way to my uncle's house. She chatted enthusiastically to me about Hawai'i and asked questions about Sydney as we drove through Lihue out to the highway. Green grass and plants overflowed everywhere, wild chickens pecking around for food. Construction work revealed rich red dirt under the vegetation.
This was more like the Hawai'i I'd hoped to see: one without touristy luaus and luxury hotels with swimming pools. This was not the Hawai'i being sold to me on the plane. As we drove further along the winding highway, I felt my internal pace slow and grow smoother, and the stress of travel slipped away from me. We dropped off our hitcher at her condo community and my uncle said, "Welcome to our piece of suburbia on the north shore. The home owner's association has a book of rules two inches thick. They don't want to see your laundry hanging out to dry or your vegetable garden. We call it Poisonville because of the stuff they spray on the weeds." It's easy to tell that he is, how do you say, counterculture.
Some more curvy road and a few minutes later, we were in Hanalei, the nearest town of any size. We got out of the car at the beach and stretched our legs. From the pier I took a few pictures of Hanalei Bay and my uncle pointed out where we were going. He gave me the quick tour of the area, including the spot where I would be staying in a couple of days (Camp Naue) when the rest of the family arrived. I also got to see the beach where "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" was filmed. Then, the highway ended at a state park situated on the beach. Beyond it was too mountainous and rocky for the road to continue.
After all the touring, stops for groceries, and errands, it was around 5:30 pm or 6 as we climbed up Power House Rd to the shack Uncle David shared with his partner Kathy, a woman who "is a native of Hawai'i, but not a native Hawaiian." The car was parked on a dirt shoulder along with other residents' cars, and we started down a path of concrete stepping stones on an easement from the properties along the road.
In Sydney at this time of year it would be dark by 6pm, probably windy, and possibly raining. Here on the north shore it was raining too, off and on; the cloudy sky was hazy bright, and it was about 80°F (around 27°C). After stowing my luggage, I got another tour— the jungly garden where pineapple, banana, breadfruit, passionfruit, papaya, and star fruit were growing. I ate the best tasting banana of my life and I couldn't believe at home I paid so much for fruit picked completely green and shipped from hundreds of miles away, disconnected and flavourless. I couldn't believe I liked bananas before that moment.
I peed in the composting toilet, showered in the outdoor shower, and for the billionth time since heading for Kingsford airport in a cab, I missed Mr Wiggins. I wondered what he'd think of this place— guessing he might feel it was too rugged, even though I felt right at home.
My bed was a mat on the front porch, and through the fly screens I could hear Wainiha stream rushing over rocks and roots. After dinner, I read for a bit. Outside was a darkness I had never seen in Sydney and up above the Milky Way stained the sky. All I could hear was the occasional dog bark, the crickets, and the Wainiha— close enough that the house was built on stilts to avoid the yearly floods.
A warm breeze drifted through the mosquito netting covering my bed, and I drifted off to sleep.