And now it’s time for the big reveal. I did indeed travel somewhere over the rainbow, and it turns out that rainbow lands in Kauai, a place that has held my heart ever since I honeymooned there almost two decades ago.
As you’ll recall, Kauai was the last place I visited, and the site of some of my final happy memories, from the “before times.” It made sense to go back and see how things had changed, and hopefully retained. There was just one problem: Kauai has achieved some of the lowest COVID rates in the country (just one fatality, which seems miraculous) by imposing some of the strictest entry requirements, stricter even than those of other Hawaiian islands. At first there was a mandatory can’t-even-leave-your-room-for-14-days quarantine, then a you-could-be-confined-to-your-resort-bubble-for-the-first-3-days-before-testing-out quarantine, and finally, just two days before I arrived, Kauai relented to a no quarantine as long as you got a negative test within 72 hours of arrival.
I thought this was a lucky break — I had bought my plane ticket months ago, when prices were obscenely low — and did a free rapid test at Walgreens on my way back from New York. Everything was proceeding according to plan, and even though the flight(s) there took forever (they may be cheap, but one thing airlines are doing is shuffling routes like stacks of cards, so my already long BOSTON-DENVER-LIHUE became a near-endless BOSTON-CHICAGO-LOS ANGELES-LIHUE that had me up at 3:30am and not arriving until 4pm local time, which made for an 18 hour journey).
I’m not a gripe-y kinda guy, but if anyone from United is reading, please oh pretty please put seatback entertainment on your flights to Hawaii, since wi-fi kicks out shortly after you hit ocean and then you have 6 hours with nothing to do but allow those why-oh-why-didn’t-I-download-the-latest-episodes-of-Men-in-Kilts-before-I-left thoughts to rattle around your head. I did have a pleasant conversation with my seatmate, a young woman who has used the pandemic to travel the world, with destinations as far flung as Dubai and the Maldives. But she had downloaded enough episodes of The Blacklist to entertain her, while I. . .but what did it matter? I was returning to Kauai!
Well, as it turns out, it did matter. This blog is a journey of discovery, after all, and not all discoveries are daylight. There’s darkness on the road back through America as well. And Kauai is encountering some of that. It is still lovely (how can you not enjoy these views, as well as the fact that KONG radio wishes EVERYONE on Kauai a happy birthday by name on their special day), but also something I did not anticipate: lonely.
You see, I had thought that I was returning to Kauai in the “after times,” but in fact they’re still the “in between” times. And the cost of keeping tourists and COVID out has been economic devastation. The bustling local mall with a huge line for Kauai’s famous Puka Dog has become a ghost town, with stores closing left and right, some after decades in business. The amazing market stalls by Spouting Horn Park where I bought a small Nihau shells bracelet last year and chatted with the seller about its history for more than a half hour? Only the roosters remain. The amazing artist from whom I had bought two glorious watercolors four years apart? She didn’t answer my e-mail, and I just hope she’s okay.
After a while, I got tired of counting the things that had gone, as well as the maskless tourists who had now descended on the island. And yes, that’s the other sad part — no one, and I mean virtually no one — wears a mask outside, even when crowding beaches and paths, and even though it is the law. Mask compliance was less, and I cannot believe I’m saying this, than it was in Las Vegas.
It’s very easy, and I’m sure already being done, to blame masklessness on us out-of-state marauders. And some do deserve blame, like the a-holes from Idaho who said they weren’t wearing masks in Hawaii because they didn’t have to back home. (Really? So does that mean I can come and demand an abortion in Idaho on the same terms as one in Massachusetts? If your answer is that one of those is a matter of life or death and the other isn’t, my reply is — which one?)
But the harsh truth — and I am trying to be truthful here, because otherwise what’s the point — is that I saw fewer masks worn by locals outside than I did by tourists. I’m afraid (deathly afraid, in fact) that Kauai’s low cases counts as well as pre-arrival testing have made locals think “it can’t happen here.” So in addition to my worry over economic hardship, I felt like I was in Kauai on the verge of a surge, just praying that vaccinations would prevent the brunt of it.
So yes, I ended my time in Kauai with mixed feelings: gladness to have been, but sadness at what had happened and what might still come. It was time to recharge for a few days at home, process it all, and then prepare for the next leg of this light-and-dark journey.