June 01, 2003
Travel Diary Day 1: Durham-Kauai

20.15 Hawaii-Aleutian Time
I spent a good few hours packing last night. The complication was packing hiking equipment alongside scuba mask/fins/booties. In its first iteration all of this ended up in two pieces of checked luggage. For a single person traveling to Hawaii more than one bag is unacceptable. So I unpacked and repacked until I could fit it all in one wheeled duffle. I had to sacrifice my hiking boots.

I awoke the next morning at 5 am to the familiar sound of Alistair Cooke giving his BBC "Letter from America". This was my usual waking company in October during my Thoracic sub-Internship...except I was hearing it's 3:30 am broadcast then.

It's almost worth waking up just to drive an unclotted I-40 with the grapefruit pink mist of early summer morning in North Carolina.

Addendum 2 June 2003: A brunette in a vaguely safari-ish broad-brimmed hat in front of me in the security line turned to me asking if I thought she'd make her flight in half-an-hour. For an early Saturday morning, the line was surprisingly long. In spite of this, TSA at RDU seems to be working pretty efficiently. "Do we have to take anything out except our computers? Cell phones?" I usually just put my phone in my carry-on and run it through the machine. Supporting her weighty backpack like a papoose, she told me that it was five pounds heavier because her checked bag was overweight. I asked her what the limit was. Seventy pounds. That's a heavy bag. I'm going for six months you see, and the fee was $100. And she finally rushed through the magnetometer threshold to the world while I was held back by the magnetic money clip in my wallet.

United has a lone gate at RDU next to America West. I'm not sure I buy America West's schtick with casual polo-shirted and khaki'd airline personnel sauntering about, substituting informality for professionalism. While boarding a flight, the gate attendant, upset that no "Group 4" passengers were materializing to board the flight began bombarding the gate area with calls for her recalcitrant passengers "Come on, I know there are more Group 4 passengers than that, will you please proceed to the jetway?" Later she berated the entire terminal with calls for the last couple slow-moving passengers, threatening to "release" their seats. One turned out to be a blue-haired little 'ole lady hobbling as best as she could to the finish line.

Apparently a different company is managing United Express flights out of RDU because we weren't subjected to an Embraer Regional Sardine Can but were privileged to fly in the reasonable comfort of a British Aerospace 146. Unlike most passenger jets it has a high-mounted wing and four small, jewel-like jets. It's relatively quiet too. We descended into thick, low-lying cloud cover over Chicago as impenetrable as stirred concrete and emerged a couple of thousand feet over the railroad stockyards next to O'Hare.

To San Francisco we flew on an Airbus 320. I ate too much for lunch. I don't know why.

Looking down on Yosemite as we flew across the California state line and having just read a New Yorker profile of a young woman physicist, I wondered at how a set of rules laid down at the beginning of time (or before) could have wrought such pleasing snow-peaked mountains, citadel clouds, the undulant curves of river beds.

My layover in SF was only about 20 minutes (I had a moment of tension when the flight out of Chicago was 30 minutes late, but the pilot was given a more direct route and put the pedal to the metal). My seatmate on the flight to Lihue was an amiable fellow named Dustin, an artist living in Tribeca who was going to Kauai to make preparations for his wedding in July. Tousle-haired, wearing worn corduroys, he apparently dated one of the stars of Dawson's Creek. His mother runs a nationwide network of convalescent homes and telecommutes, so to speak, from the North Shore of Kauai. He invited me to visit when I drive over to the North side of the island, and I may very well take him up on that offer. He showed me some booklets of his work: very nice stuff involving found art, some biomorphic/primitivist-looking ink/marker work--he'd probably gag at my descriptions of his art. It's hard to do without offending the artist.

We arrived in Lihue graced by a light breeze and midafternoon sun. I bade Dustin goodbye and collected my luggage and rental car (and I just realize that I left two books in the seatback pocket. I'll have to call United tomorrow to see about recovering them).

Like Taiwan, Kauai is a verdant volcanic island, the shoreline plain is set against steep, young mountains with a dramatic patchwork of sunlight and and gunmetal squall lines. Driving on 50 West towards Poipu I was at a loss to describe the incredibly diverse vegetation, only able to recognize Banyan trees and the palisade of Eucalyptus that lines the beginning of 520 as it works south into Poipu proper. I've read now that Hawaii is a natural ecology experiment with plant and animal species from everywhere in the Pacific.

Without a navigator, I made a couple minor wrong turns, but finally found my way without undue difficulty (as you can imagine, there are few roads to confuse) to the Sheraton Kauaui. I've yet to explore extensively, but Poipu is a small town on the southern shore of Kauai known for its accessible sandy beaches. As can be expected, I'm surrounded by honeymooners and second honeymooners (or sixth honeymooners from the looks of it, and Japanese tourists).

My room is a 3rd floor balcony that looks directly out on the beach.

Idiot mistake two: Besides having left those books in the seatback, I realize that I've forgotten the charger for my digital camera. Part of the inspiration for this trip is to go nuts with photography. Having crammed on digital photographic techniques the last couple weeks, it would be extremely disappointing if I'm restricted to one battery's-worth of photographs. I've called Don of "Don's Photography" on Kauai--he tells me that he will see if he can find me a charger on Oahu Monday. Next camera: one that takes rechargeable AA's.

For dinner, I ventured to the Poipu Shopping Plaza and ate at Pattaya Asian Cuisine (the guidebook attested to its reliability and eating in the hotel seemed a cop-out). On the recommendation of the waitress (a spidery-worn, formerly pretty Caucasian woman) passable dish consisting of chicken and pineapple in a spicy coconut-milk sauce on a bed of cellophane noodles. It would have been outstanding if they allowed the sauce to reduce a bit (assuming coconut-milk reduces) and used more noodles. I did finish it though.

And here I am in the hotel News Library. Before dinner I asked if it was possible to hook a laptop to their library network and they were good enough to call in their computer person to find an extra hidden Ethernet port for me to use. As I've typed this entry I've seen newlyweds basking in the glow of couplehood, bending into one another's space, checking their email for wedding photos.

Plan for tomorrow: start scheduling a kayak trip, possibly a helicopter tour that includes a snorkeling excursion to the "Forbidden Island" (a private island owned by the Scottish/Kiwi Robinson family since the 1860s and almost wholly restricted to natives), and planning a 11-mile hike.

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