Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On the Townsville, Chapter Nine: Hawai'i

I like to feel that I've wrapped things up, and since I get on a plane bound for Toronto tonight, now's as good a time as any to end the series.

When I last wrote, I was heading out to Hawaii. I made the mistake of assuming that Tahiti would have a modern, happening airport, with fancy features like toilets and phones. I checked my luggage, emptied my could-be-a-bomb water bottle and headed through the point-of-no-return security check to the big room where all the boarding gates are, which turned out to be under construction. No water (which they didn't mention when they made me dump mine out), NO TOILETS - for a three-hour gate-wait - and no phones, which was the biggest crisis of all, since I had just received bad news from Australia and needed to call. Also, no air conditioning, fans or open windows, but lots of smokers. (Tahiti is French, remember.)

By the time we boarded the plane at midnight, I was so nauseous, dehydrated, shaky and depressed that I had no strength left to fight the meat-freezer cabin temperature and arrived in rainy, five a.m. Honolulu with a cold and some kind of stomach bug. (The cold didn't last long, but the bug wreaked havoc on my sight-seeing.)

The reason I went to Hawaii was to visit my friend Molly, who is in med school there. (It was nice to finally meet in person, having been pen pals since she replaced me as an English teacher in Guadeloupe.) I hijacked most of the first day with my sniffly-sneeziness and an epic nap, but on the second day we kicked off the tourism week and went whale-watching. I got sea-sick and there were no whales, though there was a group of dolphins that jumped along beside the boat and then hung out while everyone took pictures (except me; too sea-sick…)

Molly was probably wondering what kind of a loser she was stuck with for the week, but when we went back out with our try-again voucher, it was beautiful and sunny with not too much choppiness and I felt like a million bucks - and we saw whales. While they were beautiful and it’s moving to think of them just being there in the water, though, the boat wasn’t allowed to get too close so we mostly saw puffs of water, slippery backs and the occasional tail. (The dolphin sighting was actually much more satisfying - unfortunately, neither whale nor dolphin appears in any of my pictures, so you'll have to just use your imagination...)

The really entertaining thing turned out to be the many Japanese tourists on the boat with us, who gasped and clapped at every single water spurt. Now, it’s definitely exciting the first time, the second and maybe – maybe – even the third. After that, it’s nice to watch but it stops being surprising; you can just stand there, scanning quietly for signs of movement and smile at the thought that you’re looking at whales. No need to keep ooh-ing ah-ing, right? Apparently not. Sometimes the gasps were so huge that I thought something really important was happening and tried to spot the whale leaping out of the water or the shark attack, but it was only ever another water puff or a glimpse of a back.

(There was briefly some serious action when two pods met up and started showing off for each other, with some fin-slapping and general broo-ha-ha; interestingly, that’s when the group stopped gasping, many going back inside to sit down because they were apparently over it.)

On one of Molly's full days of class, I took the bus over to Hanauma Bay, which is known for its amazing snorkeling. I didn’t realize that it was the biggest tourist attraction in the area and that there would be a beach entry fee, an mandatory educational video (don’t walk on the reef, don’t pee in the water, etc.) and a gazillion people, but once I had taken so long to get there, I figured I could just find a quiet spot to read my book and go hang out with the fish when the crowd started to dwindle.

The thing about Hawaii tourism, though, is that the crowds never seem to dwindle. There were 140 seats in the video, which played every 15 minutes, and every single one was full; imagine 560 people an hour coming to swim at a beach that is about 500 metres long. I didn’t bother getting snorkel gear and trying to shove my way into the group, since I figured I would mostly have great views of other snorkelers but not so much the fish themselves. (Especially after the near-deserted beaches in Tahiti, it was hard to share my water space; tourism is tough-going when you’ve been spoiled!) The water was also pretty icy, so just going in for the occasional cool-down was more than enough for me.

My favourite moment was when a girl was adjusting her bikini top and it slipped down, exposing a breast for maybe one eighth of a second, before she gasped and pulled it back into place, looking mortified and apologetic. A woman sitting nearby was fully scandalized, huffing indignantly about there being children on the beach, and the family next to her joined in the cause, hoping to god that their children hadn’t seen such filth and there you go, you can’t even go to a public beach anymore without risking exposure to pornography. While they fretted and fussed over the possibility that their eight-year-old may have seen a flash of a human breast and may therefore be scarred for life and turn away from the church to take up prostitution and star in adult movies, I imagined the tan lines that were undoubtedly working their way into my own skin and wistfully remembered the beautiful Tahitian beaches where you can get as naked as you want and get brown all over, just as god intended. (Apparently we aren’t all talking about the same god…)

On Wednesday night, Molly and I took a bus through the mountains to do full moon yoga on Lanikai Beach. We ran into some problems upon our triumphant arrival, having followed the directions of both the bus driver and some friendly locals, when we couldn’t see yoga anywhere and were informed that this was actually such-and-such beach and the one we wanted was way over there, up the road and around the corner. We set off over the sand through the increasing darkness, Molly being convinced that set-backs are good, as they make an event more memorable, and I being highly suspicious of the lack of a full moon – or any moon, really – and wondering if Molly hadn’t confused the dates.

(Incidentally, even before we saw it for ourselves, the full moon-ness of the night was confirmed by the man we encountered in a beach-access alley, just as I was standing up out of a “private moment” squat; he was going to the beach to see the full moon and was disappointed that it wasn’t out yet, though Molly pointed out to me that he did see a full moon of one kind, if not quite the one he expected. I was mortified.)

We ended up finding the beach and the yoga, still in the dark but with the soothing sound of the sea (and the less-soothing sound of a big group of friends having a beach pow-wow about ten feet away from us, apparently not interested in choosing a spot somewhere else on the huge, empty beach). At one point it started to rain, which the yoga instructor called “blessings” and which Molly and I called “a long, wet, cold ride home on a severely air-conditioned bus,” but it didn’t last. Eventually the moon came out and was gorgeous, so low and huge and a warm, cheesy yellow; the only thing missing was muscle tone, and we all know whom I have to blame for that.

Otherwise, we had a nice – and tourist-packed – walk through the forest to Manoa Falls, including an off-the-beaten-track jaunt through some unexpectedly beautiful bamboo, and we spent my last morning at Shangri-La, the fancy-pants estate of a rich, eccentric lady named Doris Duke. This particular house (she owned several) was decorated in an Islamic theme, with gorgeous mosaics and tapestries and all manner of beautiful things. I love mosaic patterns and tile work, so I was pretty much jealous for most of the tour, wondering if I could find a way to recreate some of her fabulous rooms in my own home. It’s never going to happen, but it was a nice way to fantasize the morning away.

We had a rainy stroll around Waikiki-at-night, which is quite chi-chi and pretty much completely out of my league. Even finding stickers for Karine (they don’t have that kind of thing in France and I had confidently assured her that it would be no problem) took two hours of walking around the shopping centre and cost me more than I would have expected to pay for a manicure and skin treatment. You’re not in Kansas anymore…

It was a nice week, a nice break from family life, and now I’m back in Tahiti, having had one storm day, one beach day and one more day at school (giving out Canadian stickers and tattoos made me even more of a superstar on campus than I already was), and tonight at the airport I’m not going into the gate until the very last minute, onward and upward.

Thanks for reading along and… see you soon.


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