The brochure for The Road to Hana lay on the coffee table like a bear trap. A page fluttered in the gentle Hawaiian breeze that flowed through the open sliding glass door of our rented condo in Kihea. My wife and mother in law (Teen-O) were putting away the clothes from our suitcases and the kids were jumping around like electrified lab rats in the small yard. I took a thoughtful sip of my Hinano beer and scoffed at the notion that we would go on such a fools errand. My gaze settled on the decorative surfboard hung on the wall. No, I reminded myself, I was here for family fun, not to disappear into the ocean for a few hours a day. I made a mental note to send them all skiing or something.
I should have burned that brochure, or at least thrown the thing in the trash. I knew all too well what those pamphlets could lead to. Ten plus hours of hell.
I’d dodged that rap once in the 80’s, thanks to a stomach bug. I got to stay in the condo and watch movies while the girls went to Hana. MILK and Mom, and aunty Jane returned from what that cursed leaflet promised. I got up out of bed as I heard the car approach and went to greet them. They pulled up and as I walked towards the car MILK fell out and vomited in spectacular fashion all over the parking lot. I turned green immediately and joined her.
Dr. Wife picked up the pamphlet as she puttered about the condo. “This looks fun!” She said. “Oh crap,” I thought. But of course, I’d only heard about the horrors from MILK, so I had no idea personally what it was like. I only had the image of a little blonde girl throwing up in a parking lot. You know, like spring break in Florida. Sometimes, fun things end in puke. That doesn’t mean you don’t have the fun.
“We could go snorkeling,” I offered. I love snorkeling.
“The kids are too young to snorkel. This will be fun, don’t you want to spend time with your family?” She asked. The question itself, another trap.
Teen-O read from a guide book. “The Road to Hana is world famous for the natural beauty of its unblemished landscapes and towering waterfalls. Well, that sounds beautiful!” she said.
I knew there was some reason I should be stopping this madness, but the brochure already had us in its thrall.
It did look beautiful. It also sounded like a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road movie, only not funny. (For our younger readers those movies are the premise for all those Family Guy road episodes with Brian and Stewie. You should watch the originals, as they are hilarious. Oh, god am I getting old.)
“We can do this in the morning, and then go to the beach in the afternoon,” Dr Wife offered.
“Why are all the pictures on the brochure aerial shots?” I asked. I would later realize that this is because the people who made the brochures were all locals and knew better than to actually get on that road. “Forget that, brah, we’re using my brother Jimmy’s chopper, eh”.
I soon found myself gassing up a rental car at the start of the Road to Hana. As I paid for my gas and bought a couple snacks and drinks, I was surrounded my Hana related stuff. CD’s you could listen to for a guided tour as you drove. I wondered why you would need six of them to cover it. I didn’t wonder much longer.
Here is what happens if you decided to take The Road to Hana.
For the first hour or two of the drive, it’s very nice. You and your family gawk at beautiful Hawaiian scenery and smell the fresh air and the fresh exhaust of the fifty or so rental cars in front of you as you drive at ten miles an hour. The person driving begins to make mental calculations. “Holy smokes,” the driver begins to think. “This is going to take all damn day.”
You stop along the way if you can find a parking space at some trail head where you hike through a balmy forest to a waterfall. You take a bunch of pictures of plants that you will never look at again, and some pictures of the family that will live on a series of laptops and hard drives slowly becoming ever more buried in a digital abyss. You get back to your car talking about how nice it is.
This is when you notice that some other motorist somehow managed to put a ding in the back side of the rental car, that will make for some fun later at the airport rental car return counter.
So you take off again to find the next waterfall or giant sheer cliff with a spectacular view of the ocean. After this has happened a couple of times, the whining begins.
The kids just want to get back to the hotel and play in the pool, or the beach or anything other than being stuck in a car on one of the world’s windiest roads.
“Let’s just get back to town,” One of the passengers will volunteer. “This is pretty, but how much jungle can the kids really look at?” Usually this is voiced by the person who was most persuasive about taking this donkey ride to hell.
“Ok, let’s just get back,” You say.
The road has you now. You are its bitch. Like countless others before you, you’re already too far in to turn around, and you have no idea how bad it’s going to get. It’s kind of like getting involved in a ground war.
Even if the slow crawling ant-line of rental cars lets up, the road is so twisty that driving fast only makes your wife complain that you are, “trying to kill us all,” and this is echoed by your mother in law who says something about your “flamboyant driving.” Locals will honk at you angrily because speeding in Hawaii is just below nun-kicking on the ettiquette scale in that state.
The kids alternate between complaining about being hungry and bored, and throwing up.
This will go one for hours and hours, just imagine… white knuckles on the steering wheel, a winding road. Occasionally you stop out of frustration at yet another beautiful scene and all you can think about is that you have to get back in the car and keep driving for hours and hours.
The only consolation is there is a section of road that is bad enough that there is a clause in the rental car contract about not driving on it. Void the shit out of that contract, and hurl that rented Chrysler down the 4×4 section, it will be your only fun even if your family is convinced you have gone completely off the reservation.
Eventually you will emerge on the other side of the road as the sun sets confirming that you have just totally wasted a day in paradise that cost a couple grand to fly the whole troupe to. As the grim reality of this sets in while you are talking to the Hawaiian police officer that saw you going three miles per hour over the speed limit, someone from the back seat will helpfully offer “Well that was a terrible idea, we should have just gone to the beach today.”
Resist the temptation to go for the nice officer’s gun.
Whiskey I too fell for the map. At one short bridge the car in front of me stopped. I thought what’s he doing and drove around him only to see that he was politely waiting for a car coming the other way which I swooped by. No one said anything, I think we were all just trying to get back to civilization and off that awful road. I wonder how many people have done this and cursed it yet the brochure still exists and the rental car companies put the clause in knowing full well people will ignore it and they won’t be covered. Sucker tourist.
I did it a little bit differently. My girlfriend and I drew out to Hunna little bit later in the day so we missed the line of traffic. We camped on the clips below seven sacred pools. I think that’s the part of Hunna that really made the drive worth it. Unless you count a couple of the amazing certain places on the way back.
I have to confess that reading your missive made me think of the trip to hell beach. It would be interesting to hear Milk and Whiskey’s version of how that went.
And you didn’t do it with two kids in the backseat!
At least – I hope – YOU didn’t puke this time? On any blonde kids?
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