The Paradise Syndrome

I am not someone who has ever yearned to visit a tropical isle. Palm trees often remind me annoyingly of Los Angeles (populated by predominantly non-native species) or the fuss stirred up when they were planted along Market Street in San Francisco (I date myself…). White sand beaches have never called to me, nor has the thought of spending my days in nothing but a bikini. I prefer my weather cold and gray over hot and sunny.

All the same, I love to travel, especially to places I’ve never been before, so when a dear friend for whom I provided free doula services wanted to repay the favor by taking me to Kaua’i (all expenses paid) I naturally said yes. I had to do some clothes shopping in preparation for the trip because my closet reflects my cold and gray tendencies and I found I had very little that was suitable for a Polynesian environment. I did already own a bathing suit, at least (not a bikini, though…that’s just not going to happen). It’s true, my newly acquired warm-weather gear strayed very little from the monochromatic white/gray/black range (my pajama pants were pink), but at least there was less material overall. Various and sundry logistics needed attending, as well, regarding the disposition of the children in my absence; fortunately I’m a logistically minded person, and a determined one when it comes to getting to travel, so I didn’t rest until things were appropriately sorted. My husband was more than a little disgruntled about it because in all our years together he has never been able to interest me in going to Hawai’i, despite his desire to go there. What can I say? “All expenses paid” is an enticing phrase and maybe the planets aligned in such a way as to make the time finally right for me.

As an added complication, my family is also in the process of moving right now, not to mention that, as part of moving, I twisted my ankle and dropped a crate of books on my foot two days before my departure date. That right there almost made me decide not to go because I didn’t want to be a gimpy burden in paradise. But then I thought it would be terrible and ungrateful of me to waste the price of the plane ticket, as well as paradise seeming like a decent place to convalesce. Fortunately, some other friends of ours just happened to have a cane in the trunk of their car when they came by to visit (Sam, the dog-headed cane) and they graciously allowed me to take it along.

Our traveling party consisted of the new mommy and daddy, their 6-month old daughter, dad’s sister (who also helped at the birth), and myself. Our actual journey was pretty uneventful, the baby did very well on the plane and all went smoothly. We picked up a rental car in the town of Līhu’e (population 5,674; 2nd largest town on Kaua’i) and got to the condo in Po’ipu Beach in time to enjoy sunset on the lanai.

It was the first of many spectacular sunsets, as one might expect on Kaua’i. The whole place was very much what one might expect somehow: beautiful soft sand beaches, clear water, exotic flora, balmy breezes, red earth, and plenty of aloha.

But there were some things I didn’t expect too.
There was a peculiar, unsettling mish-mosh of native Hawai’ian culture and colonialist legacy, so deeply entwined it was difficult to really understand how to see them separately anymore. There was the jungle, an entity entirely its own; almost a living beast, more fauna than flora. There was the ferocious beautiful gentle beguiling churning embracing sea. There was the deep knowledge that time was an artificial construct compared to the earth and the jungle and the sea and the sky, so there was absolutely no need nor reason to rush anywhere. And there was the earth itself: rusty red glowing in the vibrant light and deepening in the daily rain, staining every surface it touched; and porous black rocks rough, brittle and light but forming the foundation of the entire island, staunchly facing the sea in dramatic bluffs and encircling coves where turtles gather or pirate ships might lay hidden. And the feral chickens. Let us not forget them, by any means.

I never expected to fall in love with the place. It’s so trite, so cliché. But there is a powerful magic there and it gripped me tightly, as it has done to many before. While I wanted so much to see behind the tourist face, I knew that I likely never would. I will never truly know Hawai’i because I cannot; by my knowing that which is not mine, I destroy it. I never for a moment forgot I was a haole, though everyone was genuinely warm and welcoming, and I knew I could not ever claim a piece of this paradise as my own. It would have felt like an unthinkable transgression, a soiling of something holy. I was reasonably content to respectfully enjoy the hospitality and magic offered to me, reasonably content to remain an eternal foreigner. It is truly another country; part of the United States, but not at all America.

Did I convalesce? Sort of, more or less. Did I enjoy myself? Certainly. Will I return? Without a doubt.

P.S. If you want to see more of my pictures from this trip, please visit my Flickr set: The Paradise Syndrome