The Real Voyage

July 14, 2013

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”  — Marcel Proust

So it’s not some big secret that our family loves to travel.  Or, to put it more accurately, we are compelled to travel, and then we get there and discover ourselves terrorized by the simplest transitions and the most straightforward decisions.  We are neither intrepid nor particularly careful when we set out, but instead an odd combination of both.  Things get weird when we leave the routine and plop ourselves into the big world.  Yet we do it, again and again, thinking we’ll find something out here that we can’t back there.

This time it is Hawaii.  Which is in fact warm, and beautiful, and totally chilled out, despite being packed with tourists. For the chill vibe, I could credit the Hawaiians, but they are actually few and far between.  Instead I am going to credit the fact that most of the tourists here are from California, man. To be the place where chilled-out Californians go to get away from it all, you’ve got to have hot and cold running calm vibes flowing out from everyplace.

Our vacay itinerary has been pretty much to follow Matt King, the emotionally frozen patriarch of the Hawaiian colonist family portrayed in The Descendants.  Of course, he was not on vacation, or chilled out, or even next door to happy, but our locales have been the same.  Our hotel in Waikiki was next to his beach club, and our rental in Kauai is on the golf course he drives along while heading for his hotel (no St. Regis for us.)  Bill and Grace surfed yesterday on Hanalei beach, exactly where he was running when he found that rotten realtor.  All four of us have ridden horses, hiked, and rock-climbed on a ranch that looks pretty much exactly like the enormous land holding at the center of the plot.

Still, since we didn’t watch the movie until we got here, we’ve seen it all with our new eyes.  In the case of the Proust quotation, “new eyes” implies that the seer will react with ecstatic wonder, deep contemplation, and childlike appreciation of the beauty of the world.  In our case, it’s that same old combination of crazed high hopes (DH), longing for luxury (Abigail), desperation for bikinis and smoothies (Grace) panicked reining-in (oui, c’est moi.)

But while Hawaii is plenty old, it’s all new to us. Here are a few of the things we have learned on our voyage of discovery:

Language. Hawaii has only 13 letters with which to express all the things that the Hawaiians might wish to say, including “More mango smoothie, please.” and “This weird plant crumples up when you touch it!” and “In our culture, women are expected to wear a long yellow dress and a flower behind one ear.”  Because Hawaii is America, everything is also in English, which makes it easier to translate the Hawaiian signs everywhere.  The Hawaiian language is characterized by an overabundance of vowels, repeated words (Likelike, or wikiwiki, which is the Hawaiian way of saying “very”) and a paucity of consonants.  You have to say everything without using b, d, f, g, j, q, r, s, t, v, or z.  I wouldn’t miss J that much, or Q, but much of my life has been built around the letters R, S, and T.

Surf’s Up.  Everywhere. On the beach of Waikiki directly across from the big hotels is a long strand of sand completely covered in tourists, miserable-looking homeless people, local families and hot middle-aged guys on surfboards. Real surfers!  Seriously:  like 50-plus years old, and super fit. They carry their boards on their heads, or under their arms, as men would carry briefcases in some less tropical place.

And here in Hanalei everybody surfs. (OK, we’re up the hill in overly-manicured Princeville, but let’s just pretend for the sake of argument that we were not staying on a golf course, but instead in a super-surfer beach shack closer to the waves.)  The old dudes are at it, with their long grey ponytails for sure, but so are moms, kids, people on their honeymoons, and one enormous clan of southeast Asians here on vacation (either from Mumbai or Santa Monica — I couldn’t easily tell.)  DH took Grace one morning for a few hours.  They both came back exhilarated, but covered by a gross angry red rash on their scraped-up thighs.  Silly me, I had thought a rash guard only protected you from the sun.

Mahalo, Asshole. Maybe it’s the New Yorker in me, drastically misinterpreting this all-purpose phrase to say “Thank you,” or “Regards,” or “No hard feelings: so sorry the flight was delayed four hours.” But really, “Mahalo,” which should sound all gentle and sweet and Hawaiian-kind sounds just this side of passive aggressive.
“The most beautiful people in the world.”  Last night, we went to a slack-key guitar concert.  Slack key guitar means that everybody who played it (in the mythical few years between colonization, circa 1820, and Hawaii’s discovery by mass media on December 6, 1941)  had to come up with their own tunings, because nobody told them how guitars are normally tuned.  Then, Hawaiian musical geniuses figured out how to play the world’s most snore-inducing beautiful dulcet toned songs on those oddly tuned guitars.  And slack key was born.  At any rate, the guitar player was amazing.  His insanely adoring wife was only less so, but the two of them pointed out that Hanalei is known for having “the most beautiful people in the world.”
This is seriously debatable, as the people I have seen in Paris and Soho give them all a run for their memory, fully clothed.  I do think, however, what he meant to say is that the people in Hanalei are the most beautiful people in the world who can also to live really simply, wearing mostly underpants, ironic trucker hats, enormous mirrored sunglasses.
The Hiking.  OK, pretty much wherever we go on these “real voyages” seeking new eyes instead of landscapes, we do significant parts of the traveling on foot.  As I mentioned before, the four of us hiked only the tiniest slice of the Na Pali coast, but today Bill went back and conquered The Waterfall.  When you are hiking in Na Pali, you get the sinking sensation of being in Jurassic Park, as though you’re about to be eaten by velociraptors.  Because this is in fact Jurassic Park.
Wildlife.  Not very.  Perhaps it’s the island ecosystem and everything, but there is very very little wildlife here.  No squirrels.  No animals bigger than domestic pets, actually — unless you count feral pigs and goats, which just aren’t scary.  Sometimes if you eat outdoors, grey birds with bright red cardinal heads show up to eat your leftovers. Our horseback riding guide Bruce told us that these are Brazillian Cardinals.  Speaking of Bruce,


Here is DH, making the “Shaka” sign, which used to mean “hang loose” but now means “welcome”, “Aloha”, “That’s fine; go ahead and cut me off in traffic,” and “I am a silly tourist man.”  He looks as though he is on a dwarf horse, but that’s just because he is enormous, not his trusty steed Mikey.

You can go horseback riding in Kauai, then swim in a waterfall and hike through the ranch. It looks like this when you are riding:


I’m sure we will learn more things on our trip.  That’s all for now, aside from a few gratuitous surfing photos.  Don’t look too closely at the bottom of the pictures.






GailNHB July 15, 2013 at 10:45 am

Yes, you all do love to travel. In spite of all your quirks, desires, hopes, nervousness, panic, and disappointments, you still manage to write wonderfully about it all and make me ridiculously jealous too! It looks like you all are having an absolute blast.

Keep on taking great photos and writing travel posts.
Traveling mercies to you, my dear friend.

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