a lightweight and rather self-indulgent account regarding the preciousness of hearts, lemonade stands, rainbows and getting stuck in the mud on the way to maha’ulepu because oliver fern told me to keep going
I tend to shy away from preciousness as it represents a definite slippery slope for an awkward big lug but I couldn’t help it when I saw aloha spelled out with broken coral on a lump of volcanic rock at this Maha’ulepu beach. The unexpectedness of it caught me off guard and the iron shield was lowered in a moment of weakness. I like silly cute stuff, I guess (but not anything to do with hearts). Hereabouts, I bent low for an interesting picture of Adam and his mom slowly wandering their way down the rugged hillside from Paoo Point and the next thing I knew my mind was trailing frantically to the unmistakable sensation of jagged, razor-sharp lithified limestone cutting my heel and the iron shield was again breached as I yelped out in an extraordinarily high pitch at the ticklish, sting-stabbing. So I’m proof exploring the intriguing terrain in this area is as potentially hazardous as it is mysterious but then again the boys have taken to padding around the nearby Paa Dunes barefoot like hobbits. The rough fissures and ridges of sandy limestone (not to mention the pokey, sharp twigs and cones) don’t seem to bother them in the least.
This was the first time in all our years of coming to Kauai we were unable to drive the rough dirt roads leading to Kawailoa Bay at Maha’ulepu. It’s just several miles from where we typically stay on the south shore. Scenically, geologically and culturally-speaking this is a fascinating area with unusually accessible layers of stories about Hawaii and one of my favorite places on the island for quiet meandering (a valuable asset so close to Poipu). There’s a beach here I’ll always think of as my geographic center in the islands and although because of the currents and local landforms it’s like a sink for wayward debris such as styrofoam, tattered floats and hairy coconuts (or exhausted warriors from Oahu) I still find myself magnetically drawn to it. So it was that the boys and I made a valiant but foolhardy effort in the extreme, to reach Maha’ulepu by car.
It was only our second morning on the island yet the boys’ mother had to talk for several hours with one of her clients who apparently found themselves stranded on the top of a broken ferris wheel invaded by fire ants and since the boys and I had already gone for an early morning swim we gathered provisions to be gone and headed a few minutes down the coast with the idea of spending lunchtime at Maha’ulepu. Except to our chagrin we discovered where Poipu Road ends and the dirt road to Kawailoa Bay begins, things were shortly transformed into a hellish nightmare of quagmire. I don’t use the word quagmire lightly or in a hyperbolic sense. The way to Maha’ulepu is always a little on the rough side: Tire-deflating sharp rocks, enormous potholes, scritchy-scratchy brush (sometimes to squeeze past the potholes a little side-of-the-road maneuvering comes in handy as long as you don’t run any cacti over but then you also gotta watch the paint job on your vehicle). These dirt lanes are privately-owned and as such, whoever is in charge isn’t falling over themselves to make improvements. The first time I laid eyes on Kawailoa Bay, the rough ride was officially established as an acceptable trade off. Ordinarily, it’s an acceptable trade off. Unfortunately, in the span of several days before we arrived on the island there had been a lot of storms and so we discovered the way to Maha’ulepu was more of a butterscotch-colored slough than road, a kaleidoscope of immense puddles and potholes. Only a complete utter fool would consider driving a compact-sized car in such conditions.
And because I’d driven this road countless other times through mud and holes and and since Oliver Fern told me we should keep going I floored the gas pedal through the first bog that stretched across the road. The boys roared with approval as first we surged forward and then very alarmingly the car sank approximately a foot and a half with a liquidy thunk and a wall of muddy water sprayed over the hood. I caught my breath at the next ridge of high mud offering refuge but yelped as the car scraped something metal and important-sounding. My knee-jerk decision to start down the road seemed like even more of a colossal blunder now that I realized how trapped we were on the narrow lane, with no safe place to maneuver a turnaround that wouldn’t bust some piece of the car. Adam and I consulted like a couple engineering supervisors worried about their jobs before taking on each fetid, stagnant pool of mud- holding our collective breaths at every desperate attempt. Alternately massaging the brakes and deftly flooring it again and again, I heaved myself forward in the driver’s seat as if that could really make a difference (it is true I’m a big man) and the poor little car would beggar itself onto the next patch of angular, non-quagmirish ground accompanied by a gurgling of water draining out of any hollow space in the car’s undercarriage. Gradually, it was occurring to me that Oliver Fern was no longer to be trusted regarding matters of driving down this facsimile of a road. Hence, Adam was promoted to Chief Navigator and we spent the next half hour plunging into and then climbing out of muddy, watery bogs. We were doing a fair impression of a road scraper, taking on enough wet gravel to fill Lake Winnebango. The good news was that our way now resembled only the Venice Canal, which was an improvement. But the writing was on the wall: We were going to get stuck. I’ve driven on some of the most notoriously rough back roads in the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges with success but now I was hopelessly over-matched in Herbie the Love Bug.
We encountered another vehicle, from the opposite direction: A local Jeep with a two-foot lift kit and the driver and passenger were laughing so hard at us it’s reasonable to assume they tinkled in their shorts. That was the last straw and as if to save face I found refuge on a small patch of raised mud with one wheel probably sticking out into the air and we stayed put until the Jeep was gone, the little truck precariously jiggling and bouncing down the road like a pull-toy and finally out of view. A feeling of conclusive desperation was reached where the dirt road turns toward Gillin’s Beach and Kawailoa Bay. By the miracle of a God with a twisted sense of humor the road was dry and merely hellishly rocky but all glimmer of hope was promptly extinguished by the hideous clunking sound emanating from the front of the car: One of the front, heavy molded-plastic wheel wells that more or less separates the tire from the engine compartment had completely dislodged and we were half-dragging, half-grinding it to pieces. And as if on cue, stormy clouds were gathering offshore and it didn’t take a genius (which was a good thing in my case) to realize that if it rained while we were gallivanting around at Maha’ulepu, the only scenario by which we returned to Poipu would involve a rough ride in the back of an obscenely jacked-up, rusty Toyota pickup while stinking dogs slobbered gratefully on us and surfboards banged us in the head. After meekly depositing the mangled wheel-well in the trunk of our tiny car I gave the boys the bad news, although as far as they were concerned the fun was just beginning and as you can imagine, the drive back out was even more torturous and colorful as Adam did his best to reconstruct, in reverse, the route which we had already used once to avoid becoming hopelessly stuck. He did a good job, I was very proud of him. He has a lot going for him in life despite having me for a father.
For the next several hours I felt tormented by Maha’ulepu, such as a spurned-due-to-being-slightly-deranged lover might feel, so accordingly I binged on sugary sweets at that little bakery in Koloa at the end of the boardwalk right by where they put the disarmingly cheesy Santa Claus decoration each year. I schemed to myself like a mad scientist about how I could return to that place which has served as my November pilgrimage these past winters. A short time later, the boys and I were sitting outside near the humongous Banyan tree in the creek across from Sueoka Market because while window-shopping Oliver Fern had become stormily disagreeable over his lack of personal autonomy as a three year old (he developed a morbid fascination with an ugly Hawaiian shirt and we got locked in a power struggle) when we made the acquaintance of a friendly couple from Hoboken, New Jersey. We got to know them well because the man’s wife had recently undergone a double hip replacement and was an enormous woman to boot so consequently it took her three months to get out of the car. And so it was that we learned they also turned around that morning on the road to Kawailoa Bay (long before the quagmire) because the potholes and ruts in the road were hell on her new hips but the kicker was that after eighteen years of visiting the island this was only their first occasion to attempt exploration of Maha’ulepu, which was unfathomable to me and I spent the next ten minutes describing to them what made the area special and they promised to try the road again next year if her hips would cooperate.
And so it was that a few days later on a stormy afternoon, Adam and I walked all the way to Maha’ulepu from Keoneloa via the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail. This was a marvelous stroll I’d undertaken once before several years ago, before I even realized this path had a name, now I’m utterly convinced it’s the connoisseur’s way to Maha’ulepu. Forget that horrible road unless you’ve had a double hip replacement. On the way to Maha’ulepu there were a number of cloudbursts which soaked us from head-to-toe but the rain felt wonderful and on Kauai you tend to dry off as fast as you get wet. We passed through the distinct remains of a heiau and paused numerous times to watch the surf batter the shore below. Adam found a rusty, folding metal chair probably left by a fisherman and decided to take a break and we admired the view of Gillin’s Beach in the distance. I had about the biggest smile on my face because that rainbow roughly approximated where we had to turn around on the road to Kawailola Bay but there was nothing stopping us this time.
It probably bears mentioning that upon our arrival at Kawailoa Bay we discovered a handful of vehicles: They were obviously all local and just about every single one was modified to such a ridiculous, comic degree I couldn’t help imagining little Menehune driving around in them. If I’m going to be completely honest, there was one car. An ordinary sedan that, despite looking like it had gone to hell and back and is probably right now sitting on a freighter headed to a Chinese metal recycling plant, was a severe affront to my senses and made me feel like I’d been kicked in the balls. I suppose I could’ve rationalized to death the presence of the sedan considering it had been almost ten days since we tried to reach Maha’ulepu by car. Perhaps the road was far less boggy by now or maybe the sedan had been sitting there for a few months. But gosh, it didn’t really matter since I was a connoisseur of Maha’ulepu and we went about our merry way……
A couple days after the debacle on the quagmire road to Kawailoa Bay I took matters into my own hands and traded in Herbie the Love Bug. I jiggered the trunk open and nonchalantly as possible pointed out the poor excuse of a molded-plastic wheel well which had fallen off and was now taking up valuable space that was desperately needed by a family of four. This being Kauai, the agent viewed the wreckage along with the heaping, jagged stalactites of reddish-orange mud caked on the bottom-sides of the car without a hint of incredulity and she recommended with a pleasant, mellow air that we might want to rent a Jeep in the future. I did concur.