Well, in my first post in a convoluted tale of how I ended up living in an LSD-assisted psychotherapy commune in Hawaii, entitled Another Tale of Derring-Don’t, I forgot to mention what happened in Mexico on our way out of town. So let me back up a bit. David and I had gotten into a taxi to take us from Guadalajara to the airport. Of course, he drove like … well … like a Mexican taxi driver. In Mexico at the time, traffic lights were an inconvenience to be ignored, and what we might call laws were taken as mere suggestions.
As we crossed a six-way intersection, traffic going in all directions complete with a couple of mule-drawn carts, drivers yelling “Quien mas saliva tiene, mas pinole traiga!” out the windows, and the pucker factor well above a hundred, I noticed that the taxi man had a statue of the Virgin Mary on his dashboard. I asked him what it was for.
“Oh, senor”, he said, “if I’m in an accident, la Virgen Maria protects me and makes sure that even though the other guy might get hurt, I’ll be safe.”
I thought about that, and I said:
“What if the other taxi has a Virgin Mary statue too”, I asked. “Who will she protect?”
He considered the question for a moment, his brow furrowed. Clearly, he’d never wrestled with these deep religious issues. Then his face cleared, and he said:
“If the other driver agrees to pay for the accident, senor, I’m sure la Virgin Maria will protect him as well!” …
Gotta say, I’m a big fan of Mexican taxi driver theology …
Anyhow, we ended up in Hawaii. I’d had a couple of folks tell me about Makena Beach on Maui. It’s down on the south-east tip of the island. David and I hitchhiked out there. I had expected tropical forests, but Makena was a desert. At the time, I hadn’t been on many tropical islands. Well … actually, none, to tell the truth, and I’m sworn to do that in these historical sagas.
So I didn’t know that in the tropics where the trade winds blow, one side of any mountainous island is wet, and the other side is dry. If the island mountains are very tall, like say Haleakala on Maui, the wet side is really wet, and the dry side really dry. The “Hana side” of Maui gets maybe 400 inches (10 metres) of rain per year. Makena Beach, on the dry side, has cactus. It gets maybe ten inches (25 cm) of rain a year or so.
The prevailing vegetation around Makena Beach is the keawe tree, a charming companion that grows right up through cracks in the lava and has long piercing thorns that will go right through your flip-flops and make even the most Christian of men say bad words … and I’m not that man …
David and I set up camp on Little Beach, next to Makena. We lived there for about three months. Here’s Makena Beach today, at least the part of it that didn’t have hotels built on it since we lived there. Man, just seeing that translucent turquoise blue again, even in a picture, makes my heart happy …
We found the top of an old VW van, just the roof, rusting away a little ways down the coast. We built up some three foot (1 m) walls out of lava boulders, put the roof on the top, made it snug and dry. We built a fire pit for cooking and called it home. This time, I was retired early on a tropical beach. I mean, how good is that? I took off my shirt, and other than for ceremonial occasions, I didn’t put a shirt on again for the next two years. I took off my shoes, and other than for keawe thorns and formal wear, I didn’t put shoes back on for three years.
My problem was that dang movie, “South Pacific”. When I was a kid we hardly ever saw a movie. Somehow we saw that one, and I was lost. Gone. As a boy I wanted tropical beaches and coconut palms. I wanted to slide down the tropical waterfall and land in the warm pool below. (I did get to go down the water slide in the movie years later. It’s called “Slippery Slide”, and it’s on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. I think it’s private property now, but it was public then. But I digress …)
In any case, when that tropical bug bites you, well, you just gotta live with the sting. I ended up spending a total of twenty years living on tropical islands all around the Pacific. In looking up photos for this post I found the following advice about being stung by the tropical bug:
Been there … done that … and speaking of living with the sting, in the middle of one night David sat up and screamed, which woke me up in milliseconds. Turned out he’d been visited by a centipede. The Hawaiian versions of these jokers have the back pair of their “hundred” legs modified to be hollow like tiny hypodermic needles. Each step that they take, they can inject their venom into your corpus delectable … in the morning he looked like he’d been attacked by a twin-needle sewing machine, with a double row of equally spaced red marks where the venom had been injected.
Funny how they never mentioned centipedes in the movie “South Pacific” … and the Hawaiian ones are not the worst. In Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, the little bastards will lift the whole front part of their bodies off the ground and spit venom at your eyes. Curiously, they don’t make it into the tourist brochures either …
Now, as I’ve mentioned before, my motto for my life has been “Retire early … and often”. However, far too frequently, the problem with retiring early and often is food. Shelter is not difficult when one applies the term rather loosely. Clothing in the tropics is a minor detail. And did I mention that Makena was a nude beach? Most folks there, including David and I, wore just enough to keep the sand out of their … asterisks. So clothing was a non-issue.
But food is a daily scrabble. We supplemented our usual “dumpster diving” for thrown-out food with fishing and spear-fishing. We ate opihi, which are little cone-shaped shells that cling to the rocks. We ate eels and fish that we speared. We ate whatever we could find.
And of course, we also ate coconuts. Lots of coconuts. One of the first things I learned about the tropics is not to sit under coconut trees. Best sign I ever saw about that was in Fiji. It said “WARNING! Gravity-Affected Coconuts Ahead!”. It’s a real danger to the tourists, who will let their kids play or set up a picnic under a coconut tree. Coconuts act like big rocks when they fall, and they wound and occasionally even kill their fair share of people. Heck, even the leaves are heavy and can do serious damage when they come crashing down.
A friend of mine used to work for the City of Honolulu, and his job twelve months out of the year was to put on his belt and spurs, climb coconut palms, and chop down nuts and trim the lower leaves to protect the tourists.
The ugly secret of coconut palms, according to my friend, is that almost every one of them has a rat’s nest in it. Which is why on many coconut trees in tropical cities, there’s a wide metal rat-guard around the base. He said he’d climb up to the top, start chopping off the branches, and the rats would rush down the trees … often, in their panic, using him as a convenient ladder along the way.
I said, “Better you than me, bro” …
One problem with eating coconuts or anything else on Makena Beach was the sand. There was no way to cook anything without getting sand in it. So to keep from grinding our teeth down to nubs, we developed what we called the “Makena munch”. To do the Makena munch, you chew as you normally would, but you do your best to not let your upper teeth ever touch your lower teeth even once. After some practice, you can actually chew that way. It takes a bit more time, but at least you’re saving your precious tooth enamel …
One day, David came back from town with two live hens he’d gotten from the Salvation Army, or as it was known locally because they occasionally gave away food, the “Starvation Army”. We ate one right away. It lasted us for several days. We had no refrigeration, so we kept the other chicken alive. We tethered her to about a two pound (1 kg) rock with a few feet of string and fed her any scraps of anything.
David thought she might lay an egg. I grew up on a ranch, so I knew better. Chickens have only one exhaust pipe, called the “cloaca”. It is used both for excretion and for eggs. Now, when a hen is laying, the pelvis bones move aside to make space for the egg to pass through. You can tell if a hen is laying in two ways. One is that if you turn the chicken upside-down, you can feel how far apart the pelvic bones are by putting three fingers across the cloaca and gently pressing down to see how far the pelvic bones are spread apart. Yeah, I know, yuk, gross, but I grew up with it. It’s what soap and water are made for.
You can also tell if a hen is laying because their legs turn a real pale yellow. When they are not laying eggs, their legs are brighter yellow like many roosters’ legs. This is because when they are laying, the carotene that makes the legs yellow is mostly used up making the egg yolks yellow, so there’s not much left for the legs … but again I digress. The upshot was that the hen with the bright yellow legs never laid an egg for us.
One day we were on the beach, and we heard the chicken screaming. We made it back in time to see that a mongoose had gotten hold of the chicken’s free leg and was trying to invite her home for dinner …
The poor hen was doing the splits, one leg tied to the rock that was dragging and bouncing along behind her, and the other leg in the mongoose’s mouth. She was loudly notifying the world of her displeasure at the injustice being done … it was like some dang cartoon about a chicken thief, except this one was trying to steal our dinner.
Rumor has it that the mongoose was imported into Hawaii in the belief that it would get rid of the rats. But it turns out they mostly eat the native birds, many of which have been driven extinct by a combination of mongoose, rats, and house cats. The rats are mostly nocturnal, and the mongoose is mostly diurnal. And the rats live up the coconut trees out of the reach of the mongoose, so near as I can tell they just tip their hats to each other while they are exchanging the day and night shifts. I just came across a great article about this entitled “The Rat-Mongoose Tag Team is Literally Killing the Game” …
In any case, the mongoose ran off when we got there, suitably chastened … and we had chicken on a spit for dinner.
And at the end of the day, or at least the end of the story, we’ve finally made it to Hawaii, but once again I’ve gotten side-tractored, this time by tales of Makena Beach a lifetime ago. And we still haven’t gotten to the part about the LSD-aided psychotherapy commune.
Ah, well, everything in its own time. After twenty years living on tropical islands, one thing that I’ve learned is patience …
[To be continued …]
Here, I’ve spent the morning trimming redwood tree sprouts, toting them up the hill, and piling them where the chipper can get to them. We live in a redwood forest, and we have to keep it away from the house for fire protection.
But no matter how many times you cut them back, the redwood stumps keep sprouting. People claim that there’s some bristlecone pine somewhere that’s the oldest tree on the planet. I say horsefeathers. The sprouts outside my window, as well as the hundred-foot (30m) tall trees growing adjacent to the sprouts, have all arisen from the roots of a huge redwood tree that was ancient beyond years when it was cut down a century and a half ago … and it, in turn, likely sprouted from the roots of a previous tree.
So … how old is the redwood root next to my house? I don’t know that there is even any way to find out, but many thousands of years.
And when I’m not aggravated by constantly having to trim the sprouts off the root to keep the exuberant tree life in check, I am greatly heartened by living next to a being that ancient that is still so young … and now that I’m in my own middle youth, it gives me immense hope for this awesome planet. Like some old book said,
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
The very best of this mysterious life to all of you,