Paddling to My Death (Hawaii, Day 3)

The crystal clear waters of the Big Island's Kealakekua BayJust because I’m traveling solo doesn’t mean I’m going to slow down… much. Sure, I take my time getting ready in the morning, usually heading out the door an hour later than I’d intended. But it’s a vacation, what do you want from me?

My trusty guide book informed me that the best way to visit the Captain Cook monument in Kealakekua Bay is by kayak, and a kayak being one of my preferred modes of transportation, I decided to heed The Book’s advice, even though I’d be without a paddling partner. I rented my trusty craft from Adventures in Paradise, a home-based business that looked every bit the part. As I squinted to read the day’s weather forecast posted on the wall of the tin-roofed patio, the proprietor stepped out to greet me, as did a red-speckled gecko even larger than the one who’d hitched a ride on my rearview mirror the day before. Sunny skies and warm waters told me it was okay to go ahead with my plan.

As Karin helped me load my sit-atop on the roof of my car, I wondered how in Pele’s name I’d be able to unload it myself. She informed me that the parking lot at the bay was full of able-bodied boys looking for a $5 tip in exchange for easing me of my burden. When I explained that I deal in virtual cash and thus had little more than a pocketful of coins and some lint, she told me not to worry.

She was right on all counts. Before I’d even opened the car door, a Bud-sipping young’un tapped on my windshield to ask if I needed help. When I explained my lack of hard currency, he shrugged. “I’ve got nothing else to do,” my knight explained, and began unloading my Sebring of its cargo. Moments later, I was packed into my kayak, Amancio waving to me with one hand and sipping another Bud with the other.Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island, just a few yards away from the Captain Cook monument

It’s only a half mile or so across the bay to the beach where Captain Cook was killed, but by kayak – solo – it seems much longer. I took my time, alternating between snapping shots with my camera (safely tucked into its housing) and sprinting to make up for how much the tide had shoved me since I’d last stopped. The tide seemed to be moving against me, which, I reasoned, was a good thing since it’d be working in my favor on the way back.

I paddled on at a leisurely pace, watching the green-furred cliff walls drift by and marveling at the blueness of the water. I didn’t recall the ocean being so stunningly cobalt in Oahu, and I remembered that this, the westerly side of the Big Island, was known for its clear waters due to the lack of runoff from rivers and the lava rock. As I mused about the little Hawaiian geology I know and tried to keep my kayak steady for another shot, I realized the sounds of breaking waves had grown louder. When I turned to see how close I was to shore, I realized I was about to be turned over by a large wave – and pushed headlong into a crag of unfriendly-looking lava rocks, which could stand the beating surf much better than I could. I paddled frantically, timing the boat so that I just barely managed to ride a wave in rather than being pummeled by it.

A second wave almost knocked me from my seat, and when I saw that I could stand, I jumped out and began leading my boat to shore. But I wasn’t out of danger yet. The waves still forced their way in, threatening to crush me between my kayak and the rocks, and several times I just managed to push the boat out of the way before it gave me a broken nose. Coughing and trying to remain nonchalant as I dragged ass ashore, I waved to the older couple who had watched me nearly drown, the husband half-amped as if he were about to save me, then realized, “Eh, I don’t know her.”

I allowed myself a few moments’ rest before strolling down the white sandy beach to explore, rust-colored mongooses darting out from underfoot. After seeing the white obelisk and snapping shots of the sea from land, I was ready for some snorkeling, which I’d heard was some of the best on the whole island.

It was like swimming in an aquarium. There were so many fish – yellow tangs, puffers, whitemouth eels, teardrop butterfly fish – that I could hardly keep track. I hung out and rode the surf with a school of yellow tangs that I had spotted from the shore, the surge pushing me in and out of their lemon bodies so often that they seemed to get used to me – at least, as long as I didn’t try to take a picture. (Perhaps tangs are Amish.)

When I’d had my fill, I paddled back, amazed to find that the tide was once again working against me, insisting that the nose of my boat face the completely opposite direction I wanted. By the time I reached the boat launch, I was exhausted, and terribly happy – and surprised – to see Amancio waiting for me some three hours later. “I wasn’t sure you were coming back,” he said as he reached down to help me out of the kayak. Moments later, the Sebring was all packed up to go, and Amancio was waving me off on my next adventure.

The Painted Church of Captain Cook, HawaiiWhoever goes to Kealakekua Bay next, please tip him. Or at least bring him a few beers.

On my way back to return the kayak, I stopped at the Painted Church, which sits high up in the hills of Captain Cook. The church is small, but quite charming — well worth the slightly out of the way drive. I could have gotten off some amazing shots had it not poured the whole time I was there. I can only imagine how land developers must envy the view that the dearly departed have but will never again enjoy.

I’d planned to head to Honaunau next, but the weather had other thoughts in mind, so I instead heading back north to Kailua Town, where I explored the Hulihe’e “palace” (a large home that supposedly once had grand furniture but was now under renovation) and the Kailua Pier, where several fishermen were hoisting in their final catches of the day. Honaunau and Place of Refuge would have to wait for the next day.

Day 1: Escape From Cube Life
Day 2: Manta Heaven
Day 3: Paddling to My Death
Day 4: The Southernmost Gaffe in the United States
Day 5: Somewhere Over Polulu
Day 6: Grounded in Hilo
Day 7: To Fly or Not to Fly
Day 8: Don’t Make Me Go!

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