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Travel Horrors: Hawaii : Paradise Lost : Post-earthquake, they sought solace in Hawaii, but nature gave them a few more shocks

October 30, 1994|JON THURBER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

We had had just about enough and weren't going to take it any more. Enough of the late-night aftershocks, the anxiety over the possibility of late-night aftershocks and the heavy traffic. So we did what any reasonable couple would do after an earthquake--we planned a vacation in Hawaii.

This was last February, just a few weeks after the Earth moved for all of us, and we stopped taking for granted some of the things we took for granted before. Except for Hawaii. We took it for granted that it would be sunny and 85. And all we got was: rain!

Yes, I know what you're saying: "It's the tropics, stupid! It rains there!"

But not usually like this. This was horizontal rain, the kind you see on CNN just after Tropical Storm Billy Bob has touched down on some poor Caribbean island.

In retrospect, there were signs along the way that this vacation was not going to be what Marissa, my wife, and I had in mind. We made reservations at our favorite bed & breakfast on Oahu, and last March we finally boarded the plane. We had a great coach fare on a major carrier and didn't think there would be any problem, but the smell of trouble was in the air.

We arrived at our seats and immediately picked up a strange odor. We thought it might be the diapered toddler in the middle seat, but no, his mother said, he was not to blame. The smell was definitely there, however, and after another whiff we identified it: Eau de Vomit.

So we summoned the flight attendant. She made a funny face as she approached our seats, so it was fairly apparent that she knew what the problem was. She was concerned but she noted that the plane was full and said we would just have to tough it out.

We were about ready to grab our hand luggage and take another flight (it was that bad), when the flight attendant came back and said she had found a couple that were willing to trade seats. They were in the row right in back of the bulkhead. He was claustrophobic and didn't think he could make the flight without becoming ill. So we happily obliged.

We settled into our seats and watched as the exasperated couple picked up the scent and began their round of complaints. Finally, a rather large airline maintenance worker marched by carrying a rather small can of disinfectant spray. The stricken look on the couple's faces a few minutes later indicated that the problem was still lingering. The claustrophobic traveler was probably thinking that he preferred the prospect of his own nausea to the reminder of someone else's.

Suddenly, Marissa nudged me in the ribs. "We're moving," she whispered. And so we did. The flight attendant was whisking us up to the rarefied air of business class while the other couple restaked their claim to the bulkhead seats. We were relieved and a bit smug at the outcome of the problem that had threatened the start of our vacation.

And smug we continued to be, right up until landing time at Honolulu airport. Our friends Bruce and Janette Hale met us at the plane. As we watched the drizzle over lunch, they urged us not to worry. "This will blow out," Bruce said. "The weather will be fine," Janette reassured us.

So we grabbed our rental car and started our drive over the hill to Kailua and our B&B. The house we were staying at is literally right on the sand at Lanikai Beach. The last time we stayed there the weather was bright and balmy. We awoke each morning to the sound of the ocean and the view of two lovely islands just 200 yards off the coast. But this time the rain that had followed us from the airport to Kailua did not let up. It didn't let up that night and it didn't let up the next day. In fact, it got worse. The beaches were empty, the skies were darker than battleship gray and the wind was howling.

The next morning the Honolulu paper, which under normal conditions seems to be under a municipal ordinance to downplay reports of inclement weather, published pictures and stories we couldn't ignore: flooded cars, near-flooded houses, near-flooded sewers . . . and all of it just a few minutes from where we were.

Marissa, who has lived in the tropics and visited the South Pacific frequently, examined the reports with a worried look on her face. "It looks bad," she said, shaking her head. She was right.

Rain or no, I decided to go for a jog, and I noticed more ominous signs telling me that the beach was closed because of sewage runoff from the storm. That beach, of course, was the one just 10 yards in front of our B&B. So for the next couple of days we passed the time watching the rain fall and the wind blow. We read, played Scrabble, played cards, pitched pennies, wrote letters and generally went stir crazy.

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