Dispatch, Hawaii: Wrinkles in time


Click to read Kate Rice's first dispatch from her trip to Hawaii.

How do you keep your 13-year-old from dying of boredom while traveling with her aging and clueless parents? (To illustrate how dull we are, her big sister, a sophomore in college, opted to forego a trip to Hawaii with us to participate in the High Tides Ultimate Frisbee Tournament in Myrtle Beach -- a choice, that, quite frankly, I totally understand.)

Solution: a kayaking trip across the Big Island's Keakekula Bay with the Kona Boys -- another ground operator I learned about thanks to coverage by Travel Weekly's contributing editor, Honolulu-based Shane Nelson.

Our laid-back guide, Ben Darby, subtly and skillfully entranced us with the story of the fatal clash of two men who considered themselves demi-gods that took place on the lava shelf we paddled toward.

It was an encounter that changed the course of Hawaii's history. Capt. James Cook, the great circumnavigator and rock star of his age, versus the king of Hawaii, Kalaniopuu.

This northern end of Keakekula remains untouched today. We were told that the 250-foot-high cliffs towering above the bay look the same as they did centuries ago.

Those cliffs, Ben told us, are the traditional burial grounds of Hawaiian kings -- one warrior would lower another, who carried the royal remains down the cliff. As soon as the first warrior found a crevice for the king's remains and buried him, the second cut the rope, plunging his comrade to his death. And then that warrior hurled himself to his own death, taking the resting place of the king with him, preventing any desecration. Ben pointed to a giant hole in the cliffs.

"Remember that," said Ben. "It's important later on."

He interrupted himself. "Look!" he said.

Hawaiian spinner dolphins swam around our kayaks, arcing symmetrically through the waters in groups of three and four, and Ben explained that they were probably napping, letting half of their brains sleep while the other navigated.

Mesmerized, we drifted and watched.

"Want to hear more?" Ben asked. And we did -- not just me, but my daughter, the woman and her two grown daughters who were paddling with us, and even my ever skeptical husband.

And he told the story of the arrival of the HMS Resolution in the midst of a month-long festival of Makahiki, a celebration of benevolence and goodwill that honored the god Lono. Awed by the giant ship, the Hawaiians thought Cook was Lono, a fortuitous case of mistaken identity that Cook and his crew exploited for weeks.

They sailed safely away -- but en route to Maui hit a storm that damaged a mast that sent them back to Keakekula. And when they returned, Makahiki was over, and the situation deteriorated rapidly. Cook made misstep after misstep. He fired a cannon in the cliffs -- desecrating the royal burial grounds. He sought to take the king hostage, committing another desecration by touching the king.

The sailors pulled out their guns and shot some Hawaiians to death. And then, the Hawaiians turned on the false god. Ben pointed to the stretch of lava shelf where a desperate Cook, like most English sailors, unable to swim made a vain dash to try to save himself before the Hawaiians overtook him and killed him.

As he finished his story, we arrived at the lava shelf. Ben pulled our kayaks on shore and pointed to a white X carved and painted into the lava, marking the spot where Cook died. It's not unlike stepping into the footprints marking the spot where Gavrilo Princip fired the shots killing the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie, the spark that ignited World War I.

Schools of brightly colored fish swim in the waters surrounding the memorial built to commemorate Cook and we snorkeled above them and the coral reef, marveling at the vivid colors and variety of fish and coral. Just beyond, the spinner dolphins were leaping and spinning -- unusually active, Ben told us. It's a spot of such great beauty that you'd visit it even if it weren't the site of a history-changing moment.

Ben had plenty of other stories, too, about earthquakes, 1,000-foot-high mega-tsunamis and lots more.

Some things never change, of course. We remain dull and boring (although our daughter is fond of us anyway). But for a few hours, we were all engaged by a great storyteller in a magical spot.

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