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'My Own Private Paradise'

Hawaii / SPECIAL ISSUE

Sometimes in our travels we come upon a place so attractive that we imagine picking up and moving there. That's exactly what former Times travel editor Jerry Hulse did. After 31 years of visiting the world's most inviting destinations, he chose to retire to his favorite: the Hawaiian island of Kauai. But how does the fantasy compare with reality?

March 01, 1998|JERRY HULSE

KAPAA, Hawaii — It is dawn and save for the sound of ocean waves washing beneath my window, my world is as silent as a shining star. Last evening it rained so that today the sky is as blue as a young girl's eyes. All would be well if only that infernal rooster outside my door would stop crowing at midnight.

The bird awakens me with a shrill crow that fizzles to a sputtering stop. It seems exhausted. I think it spent too much time in the henhouse. I fantasize that perhaps Ronald McDonald will nab it, but it would make a lousy Chicken McNugget.

Whatever, the bird is now part of my life. Much as I object to it, it won't go away. And neither, perhaps, will I leave this island that gives birth to rainbows.

Since October, you see, I have been leasing a condominium on Kauai to contemplate spending the rest of my life here. Falling in love with a destination, as many people do on vacation, isn't always the same as actually living there full time. When one leaves home, one leaves behind family and friends for an altogether different lifestyle. On the other hand, there's always the possibility of capturing that most elusive of prizes, contentment.

But I'm a poor gambler. Instead of selling my house back home in the San Fernando Valley, I decided to give Hawaii a six-month trial. My deadline is March 31.

So why Kauai? Simple, really. For 31 years I jetted to nearly every place on Earth: Europe, South America, Asia, the Middle East, the South Pacific, the Caribbean. I was tempted by Positano, a marvelous hideaway on Italy's Amalfi Coast that John Steinbeck was infatuated with. And there was Murren, an Alpine village in Switzerland that had also won my heart.

Hawaii is closer, and warmer, of course. And so in the end, I chose Kauai for its beauty and peace, its friendly people, its pure air and its simple lifestyle. On Kauai, chickens run free in sleepy villages, and girls and boys ride by on bicycles, balancing surfboards under their arms; locals smile and say "Aloha." And there's no lineup of wall-to-wall resorts or tall buildings, as is the case on some Hawaiian islands.

*

As a lad I had dreamed of living on an island, having read of the adventures in Hawaii of Mark Twain, and Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived out his final days in Western Samoa. And there was the Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe.

But those are romantic images. When I arrived here last fall it hadn't occurred to me that I would become the chauffeur to a group of prison inmates, or learn to surf or become addicted to the melodies of a group called the Happy Hawaiians.

The first time I visited Kauai, in 1961, I was seduced by its charms. The love affair began the night I spent on a deserted beach along the Na Pali coast, on Kauai's rainy northern side. Next morning, I woke by the sea as dawn lighted the sky and a gull wheeled overhead. The beach was bathed by trade winds and sunlight filtered through the clouds. I knew at that very moment that this was to be my Bali Hai. It marked the beginning of my love affair with the loveliest island on Earth.

When I came here last fall I had intended to write a novel, a love story. But why stay indoors when I can spend the day on the beach? (My dermatologist back home may go ballistic when he reads this, but surely you must agree, Dr. Rivkin.)

So far I haven't written a single line, but I have a nice tan. I run two miles each morning and later, after showering and shaving, I take my breakfast tray onto the terrace, where I share my cereal with a couple of myna birds, Pete and Sally. They've gotten a trifle spoiled and occasionally can be nearly as annoying as that confounded rooster.

After breakfast I study the ocean and the surfers riding waves at Wailua Bay, which my condo overlooks. Before I know it, the lunch hour has arrived. After this I take a nap and later fill my soul once more with the scene beyond my window and, well, soon it's cocktail hour. And on occasion my friend Specs invites me to dinner.

Days get taken up fast when you're a beach bum.

The condominium where I live is a one-bedroom affair a few yards down the road from what used to be the Coco Palms Resort. Coco Palms ceased operation after Hurricane Iniki tore into it and has yet to reopen. The resort was the domain of the legendary Grace Guslander who made dreams come true in Hawaii for thousands of guests and is now my neighbor. Small though my condominium is, the view alone is worth the cramped quarters. A maintenance worker who stopped the other day to spray for bugs stood on the terrace and remarked: "Golly, that's a million-dollar view."

And it is.

Offshore, waves collide with a reef, sending spray heaving into the heavens. On this entire island there is only one major highway, so as I leave my driveway I can turn left or right. In either direction, I'll run out of road in about an hour.

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