The Tardy Times

                From our camp at dawn on 'Anini Beach on Kaua'i in 2007



   First, our airline went bust; next, Visa
   ate our $550 deposit and said 'aloha'

THE GATE SAID “Road Closed.” Disappointed, we turned back in our Suzuki, barred from the unpaved track that teeters across the precipices on Mau’i’s south coast. Behind us, four tourists in a rental Nissan sedan glared at the barrier.
   We could hear the angry driver say, “Paradise? (Pause.) Shit.”
   His imprecation came to mind years later. On April 3, 2008, an otherwise nice day, the bargain airline ATA declared bankruptcy. No warning. All
flights were scrubbed. Thousands of travelers held worthless return tickets.
   For us, it threw into a tizzy the ATA bookings for our annual Hawaiian camping adventure in August on Kaua’i, the Garden Island of Hawai’i.
     On ‘Anini Beach, a loaf of bread, a jug of wine and children’s laughter from the lagoon are paradise enow. But the doubling of air fares suggests, with no apologies to Omar Khayyam, that enow is enow.
FIFTEEN YEARS ago, after typhoon Iniki damaged little Kaua’i, Wellyn Ludlow found work with a taro grower on the North Shore. He would tie his surfboard to his bicycle and pedal to the reef breaks at Hanale’i Bay. He caught rides to the surf at Kalihiwai Bay and snorkeled nearby in the reef-sheltered lagoon at ‘Anini Beach. A few years later, his sage advice sent us to Kaua’i instead of back to Mau’i. He said ‘Anini Beach Park was the best  and  safest beach for his little sister, Kenny, then 5 years old. Mau’i is fine, he said, but it’s overrun by tourists in Nissans. On Kaua’i,  you’ll still be a tourist, but instead of a condo in Lahaina you’ll be living in a tent a few feet from the glassy lagoon where children couldn’t drown even if they tried.
  We did what he said. It was paradise.
  The beach is shaded by kamani (false almond) trees in close harmony with the towering ironwood trees. The boom of the reef, 300 feet away, is the perfect insomnia cure. And Kaua’i County, which maintains seven beach camps, charges mainlanders a whopping $3 a night. (Last summer, we took a look at houses at the end of Anini Road. A sales brochure extolled the advantages of a modest three-bedroom bungalow, no pool, one-car garage, across the road from the beach and furnished as a rental. Only $3,395,000.)
WE ALSO found out why ‘Anini calls for an apostrophe. It’s not one of the diacritical marks that separate vowels that would otherwise become dipthongs, as in Mau’i and Hawai’i and Lihu’e. No, it’s because years ago the “W” fell off the sign for Wanini. It  was easier, according to the locals, to change the name than to fix the sign.
   Over the years we learned to set up our tents away from the stiff breezes of late summer. With the help of the kamani trees, we would stretch an 18-foot tarp over the picnic table to shelter us from occasional squalls. It led to our friendship with a drenched Honolulu family.
  Marc Stannard asked,  “You mind if we share your table?”  “Not at all.” “Mahalo,” he said. (It’s much more fun to say than “thank you.”) He introduced his wife, Joy Chong-Stannard, and their little daughters, Jade and Nicole. (See the Tardy Film page for a story about Joy’s latest documentary.)
   We became friends for life. We’ve been camping, hiking and snorkeling with them nearly every year, often joining them when they leave ‘Anini for the rustic cabin they rent in the uplands at Kokée. Because Jade and Kenny will be out of high school next year, we now know ‘Anini vacations would never be the same even if air fares go down.
WE LEARNED years ago that early birds get the best deals from the airlines. We began in January to scan the prices offered by ATA, Aloha and other carriers. In March, with 11 in our group, we booked round-trip tickets for August from Oakland to  Lihu’e. Each cost $450, including fees and taxes. Bargain!
   I sent $550 as a deposit.
   Eight days later, ATA went bust. (So did Aloha.) They blamed the sudden rise in the cost of jet fuel.
   The early birds got the bird.  
   (As of July, Visa hadn’t kept its promise to make good on services that for one reason another can’t be delivered. The only answer was a single sentence buried in our Visa/Bay Media bill. The deposit “dispute” had been resolved, but Visa didn’t say how or why. Our letters were ignored. We finally informed Bay Media Credit Union, which ostensibly partners with Visa, to represent us with the credit card company. In October, Visa coughed up the $550.)
  In the meantime, cheapest fares to Kaua’i have gone up to $900 and more. 
   Wellyn’s advice is still valid. Snorkelers will peer at ‘Anini’s fishes in their neon suits.  Breakers will boom on the two-mile coral reef. At low tide, locals will sift for puka shells.  Showers will keep everything nice and cool. Sunrise will backlight the Kiluaea Lighthouse, painting the offshore cumulus clouds as conflagrations of gold and orange.
   But we won’t be there.
   On Mau’i, the Nissan driver had execrated Hawai’i when frustrated at barriers on the road to paradise. Not us. As we bid aloha to Kaua’i, at least for now, we think fondly of  ‘Anini Beach and say, with gratitude, mahalo! 

Paul Moran at the hotel pool
Kaua'i's Ho Chi Inn: 'It looked like a war zone'
OUR VISIT to the Garden Island last year, when the air fares were still reasonable, began with time travel to the Vietnam War.
  The Kauai Sands Hotel, where we had to spend two nights before we could go to the beach camp, was transformed.
  Cables and hot lights messed up the lawns. A bamboo tower loomed over the swimming pool. The parking lot had become a Vietnamese street market. An Army helicopter, a shell hole in its fuselage, sat next to a disabled ambulance alongside a USO stage. The restaurant, tricked out as a Saigon night club, was closed to the other guests.
   To the jaded locals, it was just another movie on an island that is the setting for all or part of 57 Hollywood productions. Among them: “Jurassic Park,” “Mighty Joe Young,” “Throw Momma from the Train,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “King Kong.” At Tunnels Beach you can see the cone-shaped hill which became (by erasing the much larger Makana Ridge above)  the  fictional Bali Hai mountain in “South Pacific.”
    At the hotel, parents grumbled, but the lights and cameras fascinated Tucker, Cammie and Jackie Grigsby, Clara and Walter Cardillo, Paul Moran and Kenny Ludlow. They were watching takes for “Tropic Thunder,” billed as a comedy – a movie-within-a-movie –  during the very uncomedic Vietnam War.
  The director is Ben Stiller, who has a  home on Kaua’i. He’s familiar to kids from the farcical “Meet the Parents,” and he hired himself for one of the three leading roles. The others are Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. The premiere was scheduled for Aug. 13, a year since we unpacked our bags at a hotel with a temporary new name, the Ho Chi Inn. 
  We held a reunion at a movie palace in Emeryville to see "Tropic Thunder." It was cheaper than returning to Kaua'i. The kids seemed to like it. So did the critics. I disliked it, possibly because the film editors chopped out most of the scenes in the hotel that was briefly, but memorably, the Ho Chi Inn.

Lynn Ludlow

The Tardy Times
September 2008

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