Friday, June 29, 2012


When a tourist enters a new place, he or she needs to turn on his or her common sense and listen to warnings. For us in Kaua'i, most of those warnings involved being in the water. The captain of our catamaran cruise said he's often asked by clients how they can breathe under water. His reply, "You can't."

Well, duh.

Other obvious warnings included the following: don't swim in water subject to riptides and big waves, don't touch the fish (some bite), watch out for truly dangerous species (such as scorpionfish and the occasional Portuguese man-of-war), and don't get drunk on the water.

By the way, did you know the CDC says that alcohol contributes to as much as 70% of all accidental deaths on water for adolescents and adults? That's why our cruise didn't start serving alcohol until the second half of our time on the water. Five hours is plenty of time for passengers to get dangerously drunk, but 2.5 hours gives the babysitters crew a safety edge.

Locals who've grown up with the natural risks of Kaua'i might be knowledgeable enough to enter waters unsafe for tourists, but whenever we saw them emerging from the surf outside our resort (which was full of volcanic rocks, coral, and generally strong riptides), they were armed with fishing spears and wetsuits, and they exuded the confidence only skill and experience generate. These are people who know exactly what the risks are, respect the danger, and equip themselves to deal with it.

Idiot tourists, on the other hand, run blythely into the surf despite warning signs and, if they are lucky, emerge with blood streaming from cuts on their legs and the body language of people made horribly aware of their own stupidity.

This is why emergency response vehicles on Kaua'i have surfboards strapped to them: for the tourists who don't read the signs and leave their common sense at home on the mainland.

But frankly, sometimes the locals join the ranks of idiots. One particularly beautiful sight on the island is Wailua Falls, where the opening sequence to Fantasy Island was filmed. (I would have a picture, but George hid that batch of photos on his computer and I can't find them.) Here's what Andrew Doughty, author of The Ultimate Kauai Handbook, has to say about the falls.

"In ancient (and occasionally modern) times, men would jump off the top of the falls to prove their manhood (which was often left on the rocks below). This test was often fatal. Government maps list the falls' height at 80 feet. It always bothered us because it sure looks taller. So, a few years ago we dropped at fishing line and sinker to the bottom from the lip of the falls (boy, did we look stupid) and measured it. To our amazement, it was 173 feet of solid drop."

This passage brings up two significant points. First, men in all civilizations tend to do idiotic things like jump off 173-foot cliffs to prove their manhood. You never hear of women doing such strange and potentially fatal things to prove their womanhood. They just have babies, which, come to think of it, is quite risky enough in primitive cultures.

Second, the government underestimates everything (cliffs and budgets) by a factor of 2.1625 to 1.

Doughty goes on to describe the two trails down to the base of the falls.

"Neither are [sic] professionally maintained, and both can be slippery when wet. The state, in their paranoia about liability, has erected signs telling you not to take the trails to the bottom. They even cut the ropes once (but users keep replacing them) that had been strung to make it safer and easier. (Making it less safe apparently makes some bureaucrat feel safer.)"

I suspect it's bureacratic butt-covering that contributes to the white noise of warning signs on the island. People stop paying attention to signs when there are too many off them (government studies show this to be true with traffic signs...too many in one area, and motorists heed none of them). We saw warning signs for all sorts of things on our trip, and some were easier to spot than others. Most were being disregarded, such as the one telling people not to jump off the pier in Hanalei Bay.

Then there was the fire alarm in our resort at 2:00 AM our first night there. That was hard to miss. It's most unpleasant being awakened to the blair of fire alarms when you've just fallen asleep after being awake for over 24 hours. Several of us contemplated ignoring the alarm (raises hand) but finally decided we needed to leave the building. We waited about 20 minutes in the parking lot for the fire department across the street to respond. Apparently, a build-up of dust in the control room caused the false alarm.

We were fortunate in our week in paradise; no one in our group sustained worse than a bit of sunburn. If you use your common sense and pay attention, you should be fine. Just watch out for one of these neatly camoflaged critters and avoid at all costs. An up-close encounter might completely ruin your day in paradise.

Scorpionfish, Anini Beach, Kaua'i; spotted and photographed by George


  1. Thanks for the fabulous read. Even though my kids have been to Hawaii several times, I'm going to forward this to them. (Already worrying about the scorpion fish!) They leave tomorrow for your paradise.

  2. I can't imagine the kids would have let you get away with staying in the room! Heck, if the bbq has a flare, mine are trying to dial 911. Smoke alarm goes off (hey, I have to cook sometimes) and same thing. A *real* fire alarm would have them carrying us outside!
    Tourist areas seem to collect people who leave their brains at home. What I can never figure out is, if you're really that foolish & ignorant, how on earth did you ever manage to travel? (I used to work in one...a long time ago. The disdain remains strong!)

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