The Awfulness of Old-fashioned Traveling
Our last state on this 50-state tour and it's fitting that we're required to travel the old-fashioned way, i.e., following the predetermined schedules of shuttlebuses, airlines, rental cars, and the intricate web of plane, train, automobile and hotel connections. I'd forgotten how much time is wasted and how much frustration accelerates when one travels without one's home in tow. I'd forgotten, too, how vulnerable one feel when completely dependent on the competency of entry-level clerks scheduling tickets and reservations. For example, the day before our flight departure from Atlanta we called to confirm our airport shuttle reservation and found that the dispatcher had never entered us on the schedule. He assured us he would fit us in and pick us up the next morning to make our early flight. But the next morning the driver got lost, was late picking us up and had to dodge through rush-hour traffic to make the flight on time. Of course, upon reaching the airport we found our flight delayed. We had rushed to the airport just so that we could wait, compounded by the worry that this delay would make us miss the connecting flight to Honolulu. The entire day was spent rushing frantically to wait helplessly. Rush, rush, rush. Wait, wait, wait. That is the nature of old-fashioned traveling. When we finally arrived at our hotel we learned that we could not check in to our room until 3PM. How much better it is to travel with your home attached to your vehicle. Staying in hotels creates the additional problem of where to go for meals. Again, someone else's predetermined schedule sets the pace and the menu. We must find a place. Wait for a table. Wait for a waiter. Wait to pay bill. RVing is soooo much better.
Sympathy for Camera-clad Tourists in Hawaiian Shirts
We arrive at the Capitol very early this morning because Ken wants to shoot it without any shadows on the building. The building being closed I have nothing to do while he's shooting so I stay in the rental car and read some of the tourist brochures. Bored, I pick up the cell phone and call mums to see if the cell phone will work in Hawaii. Back in Idaho we had switched to the One-Rate service that's supposed to let you call all 50 states for one rate, so I'm curious if it will work here in Hawaii, in a state that's detached from the continent. Ring. Ring, Ring. "Hello."The sweet voice of my gray-haired mother answers. Her voice is clear. She sounds so close I hardly feel the vast distance between us. Sometimes technology is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, whenever I have time to talk to someone on the phone, which is rare, I can never think of anything to say. After a few brief sentences both mum and I fall silent. "Well, I guess I'll let you go," I reluctantly announce to her relief. We extend love and kisses over the phone and hang up. Okay. That done, now how do I spend my time? It will be at least an hour before the Capitol opens. I guess I'll do some people-watching.
From my car window I spy a man and a woman, oh, about 60 years old, and quite obviously tourists. How do I know they're tourists? They're circling the building, pointing at things, while constantly consulting the double-folded brochures in their hands, and all the while snapping pictures of each other in front of various "photo-op" locations. The woman has an extraordinarily large and plumb figure which, for some reason she decided to accentuate by wearing a bright, Hawaiian-flowered blouse and matching shorts. Bright is an understatement. These colors are vibrant. Daring. Bold. Calamitous shades of orange, yellow, red and lime green leap off the fabric. That's not bad enough, but this woman made the audacious choice of accessorizing this outfit with lime green shoes, a matching purse and an enormous straw hat with a lime green bow tied under her double chin. The entire ensemble is frightfully loud. But the woman's outfit, colorful though it is, is nevertheless weakened under the warring attack of her husband's attire which consists of a shirt designed in large, black-and-white geometric shapes and a pair of plaid (no kidding!) shorts. The woman's flowers and his mathematical shapes clash offensively. It is actually painful to view this couple walking beside each other. The clothes battle for the attention of passersby. In the same instant I'm reeling from their striking clothing patterns, I'm also sickly curious about why they chose to wear such an awful combination. After all, it's such a tourist thing to do, and since all around the world there is a unified disdain for the garish American tourist, most people try to downplay the role. And though Hawaii is an American state, I notice that even here American tourists suffer that same contempt. Tourbooks and magazine articles talk about traditional camera-clad tourists as though they are an onslaught of locusts which must be stoically suffered with magnanimous forbearance. The writers of these articles seem to be more lenient toward what they call the "eco-tourist" or "cultural tourist." Supposedly these types of tourist have more respect for the history, culture and natural beauty of the land, rather than the flower-shirted tourists attracted to swimming pools, white sand beaches, and air-conditioned hotels. But my heart goes out to these people in front of me. They are so joyful in their festive vacation attire. So bubbly. So enthused.Even if they do just park the car on the curbside to jump out and take a snapshot before driving off to the next Luau, even if they don't take the time to develop a respect and reverence for the history and culture of the lands they visit, so what? Is it so wrong to simply escape from a pin-striped world into a fantasy of color and fun? Why are flower-attired, camera-clad tourists so universally scorned?
The Ultimate Farmer's Market
Joyfully jump out of bed this morning. It's Saturday. Time for the Hilo Farmer's Market. Throughout this trip we've visited Farmer's Markets in every state, from the cold climes of Minnesota to the sunny shores of California. But here in Hawaii we expect the Farmer's Market to be truly different. We are not disappointed. I have never seen such an array of exotic fruits, vegetables and herbs. But I'm heartsick to see rows and rows, stacks and stacks of the most exquisite veggies and fruits, all so fragrant, all so pleasantly displayed -- all so reasonably priced -- and here I am without Harvey, without my kitchen. Mangoes and papaya call to me. Garlic as big as softballs emit their pungent odor. Shiny green zucchini, the size of baseball bats lie in bins, begging to be picked up. And flowers in such an abundance of shapes, sizes and colors that my head spins and my heart flutters . . . Birds of Paradise, Parrot-beak orchids, and some unidentifiable pink pom-pom flowers and delicate purple flowers cast a web of intoxicatingly strong scents that ensnare my soul. Roses abound in colors I've never seen before. Every item tempts all my senses, and my purse. But there is no point in buying anything for we'll be leaving in a few days and I can't take them on the plane with me. I can look, but not buy. I can smell, but not taste. Oh, occasionally a vendor lets us sample his wares, but it's just a tease. We are enchanted with a sampling of what's called Apple bananas. These little bananas, the size of a man's index finger about half the size of typical bananas, are intensely sweet, much sweeter than traditional bananas. We can't resist purchasing a few of these and some papaya, enough for the remainder of our stay, but to the rest of the produce, we can only look, smell, taste, and move on.
Out from the produce tent, we enter the clothing and crafts tent. Well, at least we can buy something here, nothing will spoil. We look at handcrafted baskets and I purchase a basket make from palm fronds that is designed to hold a bottle of wine. It seems too lightweight to carry a bottle of wine, but I make the purchase anyway. If I can't use it for wine, I'll use it to hold some other tall item. It's only five bucks. Next we pass a retired couple selling hand-painted tee-shirts. The man, who calls himself "Pop" introduces us to his wife, Wanda, who does does all the sewing and hand-painting. "She does all the work," Pop admits, "I'm just the salesman." Ken buys some tee-shirts for the nieces and nephews back home and I buy a swimsuit sarong made in a pattern of bold, Hawaiian flowers. A bit touristy, but so what? What else will remind me of Hawaii? Again, just five bucks. For another three dollars, though, I can get a matching beach bag. But I don't want it. It's a bit too much "matching" for me. Too many flowers. But Ken loves it. Wanda loves it. They both work on me to buy it. Ken says, "For three bucks you can't go wrong." It's not the money. It's the fact that I won't use it. I just can't picture myself swinging this flowered bag at my side. Ken and Wanda persist. "Just three dollars!" They insist. So now I have a three-dollar bag I'll never use. Ken buys himself a tee-shirt that has jumping frogs and lady bugs painted on it and a tee-shirt that has fishes swimming on it. I love that about Ken. He's not shy about being a tourist.
The Devil in Paradise
Today we're touring the east coast of Hawaii. This scenic roadway promises to take us through abandoned sugar cane fields, past waterfalls, tropical rain forests and exotic, cultivated coastal gardens. We are delighted at every turn. The beauty is stunning. The word that comes to my mind is "Paradise." So many people use that word to describe Hawaii that I had to be included in the ranks of the unimaginative. But this place is Paradise. The mild, sunny weather. The bright colored flowers. The thick, sweet, fragrant air. The aqua water, foaming white waterfalls, and the sounds of birds calling, chirping and singing. It is indeed Paradise. We decide to have our picnic lunch at Akaka Falls Park which boasts two waterfalls along its loop walking trail. We embark on the trail just as a busload of people traipse behind us. We pass through bamboo forests, over handmade bridges and climb way up to our first waterfall. It's very nice, but I don't want to linger here, for I know that the bigger of the two waterfalls lies up ahead, up a steeper climb. An elderly woman in front of me turns back. Sadly she succumbs and admits that she can climb no more, and must return to the bus. I feel bad for her as she walks away defeated and I make a mental note confirming our decision to take this trip while we are young enough to make such climbs. Quite a few people drop back and return to the bus, satisfied with the first waterfall, and simply too tired to climb to the bigger one. Because of this we are no longer competing for views. On our way to the big waterfall we pass flowers that defy description. So rare. So unusual are their shapes -- from miniscule orange trumpetlike flowers, feathery blue flowers, to gigantic, fluffy yellow pom-pom flowers -- it's a challenge to one's two little eyes to take in all the beauty and density of color. We reach the bigger waterfall, which is nice, but quite far away and one must remain behind a chainlink fence to view it. I'm glad the older people in the crowd didn't make the trek, just for the waterfall, for the other smaller one is just as satisfying. Ken and I have the viewing area to ourselves. We can snap away, taking photos without bumping into other people, nor getting an accidental shot of the back of someone's head. Ken continues taking photos beyond my tolerance bar, and I'm starting to get bored and peevish. Luckily a cute little girl, about six years old, comes skipping ahead of her father giggling in a delightful, bubbly laugh. Her father rushes breathlessly to catch up with her. Panting from the hike. He lines up his beautiful daughter against the chain link fence in front of the waterfall to take a photo of her and mark the occasion. My attention turns to them and the lovely relationship between the two of them, father and daughter. The child is so adorable. Dark, chocolate hair falls in ringlets around her face. She's just bursting with joy. She spies me watching and, for my benefit, increases the volume of cuteness. I've seen children do this before. When they know someone is watching they try to act even cuter. Unfortunately, it makes the natural cuteness turn sour. But I won't be too hard on the kid, so I smile at her and my smile encourages her to become even more sickeningly cute. She keeps looking at me to see how I respond to her latest cute performance, to see if I give the appropriate endorsement and adulation, and I oblige. But now her father is getting annoyed because she won't stay still and look into the camera. He keeps calling her to stop looking at me and look at the camera. I decide to help him out, and say in a sugary sweet voice that I save for children's ears only, "Your father wants you." Suddenly, the little girl turns on me violently, distorting her face into a hideous evil twist, like the little girl, Megan, in the movie, The Exorcist. Her face all screwed up in a terrifying gargoyle expression, she yells in a deep, raspy voice, "F**k You!" Her father, stunned and paralyzed in embarrassment, orders her to apologize but instead she continues to with a stream of obscenities hurled over her father's shoulder as hurriedly carries her away, her facial features still screwed up in a perverse expression of evil. Wow. What a little devil. How does one so young and cute become so mean and ugly?
It's the last day of our trip, the evening of our journey is here as we make our way down the 12-mile, single lane road to "Ka Lae," also known as "South Point," the southernmost point in America. We are completing what we set out to do, beginning the trip at sunrise in America's farthest northeast point and ending at sunset in the extreme southwest. Can't believe we really did it. All 50 states. All 50 state capitals. America, you're the greatest! Odd, though, we're surprisingly elated that the trip is over. I had anticipated being sad, but we're just too happy to know that soon we'll be home among loved ones. Laughing, joking, teasing with people whose company we enjoy. As we drive down this narrow road, occasionally pulling off to the side and stopping the car to allow an oncoming vehicle pass, we discuss how strange it is that we don't feel sad about ending the trip. I feel as though I should be sad, but I'm not. I'm eager to be home. Eager to be among the familiar. Eager to be around people who know me well and will forgive me my trespasses. Ah, at last we arrive at our ultimate destination. Gosh, what a place! It's magical. The sky is a brilliant blend of red, purple and gold as it meets the aqua sea on the horizon. A warm wind rushes through our clothes, sending an exhilarating warmth to our souls. We are alone on this rocky point. Black lava rocks bear the brunt of a barrage of waves that rise 25 feet in foamy peaks before crashing against the jagged black rocks. Ken sets up the tripod to take a memorable photo of the two of us saying goodbye. Tripod in place, Ken rushes to my side, poses, and as he's about to release the remote, the tripod succumbs to the pressure of the wind and tips over, almost in slow motion. Ken rushes to catch it. Extra rocks and knapsacks buttressed against the tripod, we try again to take the photo. Ever the careful photographer, Ken shoots quite a few images of us posed on the rocks with the aqua waves crashing at our feet. But it seems the waves are coming in a bit too fast and I'm beginning to fear that a big wave will wash us out to sea while our attention is focused on the camera and not the danger. My smile into the camera is no longer a real, genuine smile, but a smile of frozen fear. It would be a horrible end to be washed out to sea while taking our last photo. I plead with Ken to end the shoot and he reluctantly agrees. Photo obligation done, we are now free to explore this sacred area. This is the point where the ancient Polynesians ended their long voyage, discovering the uninhabited island of Hawaii, and it seems fitting that we end our long journey in the same spot. Together we watch the sun dip below the horizon as the moon claims the sky in a marvelous display of Day melting into Night. This visual display is set to the beautiful music of the sea and wind whipping up a frenzied finale to this fabulous American Odyssey.