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Destination: Hawaii : Lifestyles of the Not-So-Famous

POSTCARDS FROM PARADISE. The Paget family explores Hawaii on a budget. Their reports appear weekly

July 31, 1994|DALE PAGET and SUSAN PAGET

KAPAA, Kauai — It is time-share consultant Mark Keeling's unlucky day. Out of all the live bait arriving for a sales presentation at the Lawai Beach Resort in Poipu, he has been allocated the Pagets.

"All I'm asking is for you to keep an open mind," he says as he hands us sandwiches and a lifestyle survey to fill out.

The lure of 2-for-1 luau tickets has drawn us to the south coast of Kauai and what we were promised would be a "hassle free, no obligation" time-share tour.

Outside the relative safety of this presentation, a storm is on the horizon. From the windows of the Lawai Resort we can see the ocean churning, fueled by Hurricane Emilia that, as it turned out, safely spun 200 miles to the south.

Summer is hurricane season on the islands and there are constant reminders of the last one, Iniki, that devastated Kauai nearly two years ago.

"It was terrible," our taxi driver told us soon after we landed in Lihue. "But it made Kauai famous. We were even on CNN," she adds, pulling onto Hawaii 56 toward the modest but clean $54-per-night Kauai Sands in Kapaa, on the east coast.

From the window of our taxi the landscape is still a little roughed up.

We pass by the famous Coco Palms Resort, where Elvis filmed "Blue Hawaii." The resort is another hurricane victim and now lies vacant in insurance limbo.

But "Mr. Coco Palms" is alive and swinging twice a week at Hawaii's favorite muumuu and souvenir store, Hilo Hatties in Lihue. For 41 years--before the hurricane hit--entertainer Larry Rivera was the Coco Palms' resident lounge act.

Now to the right of a rack of shell leis and the left of a stand of 20%-off aloha wear, he sings along, karaoke style, with his Coco Palms video. In the good old days Larry was on a first-name basis with guest celebs such as "Elvis, Bing and Frank."

"Elvis was a big fan," Larry confides to us during a break over Kona coffee.

"He gave me a $55 tip for singing a song. He should have given me a Cadillac," he says laughing.

"Those stars were the nicest people you could ever meet," Larry says warmly.

Keeping warm has not been a problem on our Hawaiian journey, until sunset in the mountains, northwest of Lihue, at Kokee State Park.

The temperature "plummets" to 60 degrees--freezing by Hawaiian standards--and we pull out our sweats for the first time on this trip.

Our tents are surrounded by a jungle of ornamental ginger. Vines drip with passion fruit. Wild plums are waiting to be picked. Henri, 7, and Matilda, 5, gather handfuls of fruit for breakfast.

"If we lived here we'd never have to go to the supermarket," Henri says.

Just up the road at the Kalalau lookout we walk to the edge of the Garden Island, high above the Na Pali coast. There's a 4,000-foot drop to the sea and an unforgettable view of narrow, wedge-shaped peaks carpeted in green.

Our tropical trek heads northeast to Anahola Beach Park, a campground on Hawaiian Homestead Land. But the local families, camping here for their vacations, do not exactly roll out the welcome mat for us. There's a Hawaiian sovereignty flag flying and bumper stickers urge land rights and say "Go Native."

"I see friends here!" Matilda says, running toward a group of kids playing on the grass. But to our shock, their parents pull the children away. We say "hello" but get the cold shoulder. At other Hawaiian campsites on the islands we've made many friends, but here no one seems to want to have anything to do with us.

We decide it's time to hit the road.

Back at the time-share presentation in Poipu Beach, people are much more friendly.

But Keeling, our disappointed time-share salesman, is getting ready to say goodby to us--his last prospect of the day. Our summer job as bargain-hunting travel writers is the final blow.

"I've been in the business 20 years, and I can tell right away that time share is not for you," he says, signing our 2-for-1 luau voucher while asking us not to recommend a time-share presentation as a way to get travel discounts.

"You'll put us all out of business," he smiles. He is only half joking.

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