Tongue-Tied Tourists in Paradise

I’m lucky enough to live on Kauai, which is in the Hawaiian island chain. Over the years I’ve probably seen thousands of tourists enjoy themselves on the island. I’ve also seen a few who, either because of family issues or matters out of their control, were having absolutely horrible times. The ones who stick in my memory though, are the ones who said something which made me do a double take.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure I make some screamingly oddball comments when I’m on vacation. Enthusiasm, disappointment and a lack of local knowledge leads us all to make mistakes, and sometimes we say them out loud. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Triumphant Wife

Hawaii sees plenty of mainland tourists, and sometimes they forget we’re a US state. Mainland Americans sometimes assume we lack some of the basic amenities of life. I suppose that’s understandable. Since we’re stuck in the middle of the Pacific, we do have to get many items shipped in. Still, we have all the services you’d expect to find on the mainland.

We get cruise ships into Nawiliwili harbor all the time, and one day I happened to be behind two older passengers in line for the ATM. The lady looked at her husband, and in a tone implying this had been a bone of contention for some time said “See, I told you they had banks here!” I suspect it will be some time before he’s allowed to forget this.

The Floating Island

I’ve heard this one asked several times: can you swim all the way under the island? Well, you can try, but I don’t think you’ll get very far.

I actually understand this one. The Hawaiian Islands are slowly moving northwest due to tectonic plate activity. We’re sometimes described as “floating” on the plate. This leads to some folks assuming we’re a floating island, which is a neat idea, but not really feasible.

Of course, some folks have a little difficulty with the whole “island” concept. I was once asked by a lovely lady if the ocean went all the way around the island. I gently explained that was, really, the definition of an island. She took it in good humor, but I’m still not sure exactly what she meant.

World-Weary Travelers

Some tourists assume the natural wonders of Kauai are actually artificial. At Kilauea Lighthouse, you can look across a narrow bay and see the cliff dotted with hundreds of white dots. They’re nesting red-footed boobies, a beautiful sea bird with an unfortunate name.

I overheard a young couple comment on the sea birds. She was overjoyed to see so many. He, in a world-weary tone, told her they couldn’t be birds. They were, in his opinion, plastic bags. I’ve never felt sadder for the planet than I did then. It was like being told the ocean’s waves were caused by a giant water treadmill.

The Mermaid Memorandum

My favorite visitors though, are the kids, with their ability to see the world in ways we adults have forgotten. One morning, a friend and I were lucky enough to be the only two people snorkeling at Ke’e Beach.

As my friend exited the water holding her fins, a little girl about four years old saw her. She stopped, her eyes went wide, and in a voice of awe and wonder told her mother what she’d just seen:

“Look mommy, a mermaid!”

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