$18.95True Stories

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By Rick & Marcie Carroll
September 2005
ISBN 1-932361-28-6 416 pages
Hawaii“A terrific collection of stories about life in the islands.”
—Chicago Tribune
Hawai’i reveals her remarkable true nature, sometimes, to those who venture beyond tourism’s mai tai veil in search of reality in this legendary Pacific haven. Discovering Hawai’i is likely to be a lifetime labor of love, not easily accomplished during a two-week vacation. Yet insights do reward those travelers who approach the Islands and their people with open minds and hearts, humor, and humility, even if the encounters are brief. Travelers’ Tales: Hawai’i, edited by Rick and Marcie Carroll, whose own combined experiences in the Hawai’ian Islands exceed three decades, presents a spectrum of such insights about Hawai’i by articulate travelers and resident storytellers.

This book features personal stories by many different contributors, ranging from new voices to well-known authors, veteran travel writers, first-time visitors, long-time kama’Aina residents, and native Hawai’ians. Their stories reveal Hawai’i in a way no book has done before and explain some reasons why millions have continued to travel to the globe’s most remote islands over the centuries in search of “paradise.”

In Travelers’ Tales Hawai‘i you will:

  • Hang out with Barbara Kingsolver in Haleakala crater
  • Swim exquisite pools along Maui’s Hana Highway with Larry Habegger
  • Listen to the voice of Mokoli‘i Island with Maxine Hong Kingston
  • Pick up hot lava with James D. Houston and return it to the goddess
  • Surf and survive a monster wave with Walt Novak
  • Watch a solar eclipse with Paul Theroux
  • Kayak the wild side of Kaua‘i with Sue Halpern
  • Discover the depths of hula with Lei-Ann Stender Durant
  • Find the ghosts of Lana‘i in your bed with Babs Harrison…and much more.

Notable authors include Jan Morris, Garrett Hongo, Rick Bass, Tony Perrottet, John Flinn, Jim Nollman, Jonathan Raban, and Simon Winchester.

Hawaii is an amazing place. If you’re planning to go, visit the Hawaii travel guide, with information about the popular destinations on the Hawaiian islands. Just dreaming? Compare prices on cheap flights to Hawaii.

This New Year’s morning we celebrated Hawai‘i on a dark, cool North Shore beach watching 20- to 25-foot waves roll in from across the sea, molten mercury and platinum in the moonlight. Dawn broke, and a reverential crowd assembled on the beach. Mesmerized by the heaving, foaming, roaring might of the sea, we all stood quiet, except for a collective gasp that escaped when a lone surfer grabbed one of those spumy summits and rode it, twisting and turning, then spilled, surfaced in the wash, shook himself and rode out for more. It was one of the rare times in fifteen years in Hawai‘i that we saw the fabled waves, biggest in the world, at Waimea Bay. We wish we could have shared the morning with you, who care enough about these Islands to read on and seek more. But that’s how it is with Hawai‘i. To enjoy its special moments, spiritual, physical, or personal, you have to be at the right place in the right frame of mind, open and ready to receive.

Hawai‘i is more about reception than transmission. That makes it hard to capture in writing. It’s always been so—the ancients left their legacy in chants and dances, stories passed down by spoken word and illustrated by petroglyph or by hula, another passed-down tradition that defies writing. We feel our modern authors have crossed that difficult barrier and written meaningfully about Hawai‘i, that their collective experiences take the reader a step beyond the usual interpretation to capture something of the essence of this magical mystery place and how to experience it and grow from the experience. A contemporary vision of Hawai‘i, if you will.

Some of the writers are well-known; some are never before published. They range from native Hawaiians to first-time visitors and include poets and professors, surfers and drifters, a shaman, a Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer. They hail from several countries, ages, and states of mind. They share not only the good fortune to discover the special reality of Hawai‘i but also the talent to write about it in a way that helps explain why the most remote island chain on the planet is one of the best known and most yearned-for destinations under the sun.

Together they represent a very readable collection, not one that exhausts every important topic or point of view, not one that defines the heart of the Pacific at the new millennium, but hopefully one that exposes new possibilities and deepens understanding. One that points out experiences you may want to pursue. Travelers’ Tales Hawai‘i is a unique collection of stories about the true spirit of the Islands.

Let us hasten to add that there is another Hawai‘i, entertaining and fulfilling enough to sustain a four-day package tour if the flight’s not too long. It’s the version experienced by most of the seven million people who come to the Islands each year, many who search not just for warmth and beauty but for a fictionalized destination of photo ops and must-dos and then move on to some other theme park next year. Maybe it’s just as well. Not everyone can stay. Not everyone “gets” Hawai‘i. Not everyone wants to. But if you do, if you can step out of your world and connect with a moonlit monster wave or a seductive hula hand or a Pacific kiss or a steamy piece of newborn lava, it could change your life. It did ours.

When we left San Francisco for the Islands in the early ’80s, a colleague asked, “What will you do after you get a tan?”

What we did was listen and learn about Hawai‘i and ourselves, and now, we and our authors present our discoveries to you.


—Rick and Marcie Carroll
Ka‘a‘awa, Hawai‘i


Table of Contents


Part One
Essence of Hawai’i

Paradise Rising
rick bass

Hawai’i on the Wild Side
sue halpern

My Cool, Green Place
leon edel

Fire in the Night
james d. houston

Coming Home
thomas farber

Paradox in the Sun
jan morris

A Sea Worry
maxine hong kingston

Infernal Paradise
barbara kingsolver

The Last Wave
walt novak

Kapu Tube
garrett hongo

For the Love of Hula
lei-ann stender durant

David and the Mango Tree
niles b. szwed

Part Two
Some Things to Do

Travels with Bird
sally-jo keala-o-nuenue bowman

Cliffhanger in Kaua’i
tony perrottet

The Tropic of Spam
robb walsh

Kalaupapa, an Inspirational Outpost
betty fullard-leo

Swimming with Dolphins
jim nollman

Birdland: Lullaby of Midway
marcie carroll

Doing Battle with One Tough Plant
jo broyles yohay

At the Bishop
rick carroll

Going to HEna
larry habegger

Where the Whales Play
elgy gillespie

Searching for ‘/’X
simon winchester

Valley of Ghosts
steve heller

Part Three
Going Your Own Way

Pretending to be Rich
john flinn

Tropic Bird
dustin w. leavitt

Honolulu Mamas
robert strauss

hank wesselman

In Praise of Lipstick Red Convertibles
shirley streshinsky

Afternoon at Lake Waiau
nyla fujii-babb

Spirit of the Lodge
babs harrison

Chinaman’s Hat
maxine hong kingston

Sail of a Lifetime
linda kephart flynn

Learning Curve
emily ackles

Phallic Rock
anna johnson

In My Father’s Footsteps
carole terwilliger meyers

Pizza Night at the Pau Hana Inn
jane albritton

Hawai’i with Julia
jonathan raban

paul theroux

Part Four
In the Shadows

Down and Out in Honolulu
steve wilson

Moonless Night in Kona
madelyn horner fern

Rain in Hawai’i
daniel david moses

LEna’i’s Last Cowboy
joana varawa

Last Dance at the Palace
rick carroll

Not on an Island
ron youngblood

One Way to Get Laid in Honolulu
lee quarnstrom

Part Five
The Last Word

Beauty and the Beach
marcie carroll

The Next Step

What You Need to Know

The Basics

When to go/weather


Customs and arrival





Media: local newspapers and radio

Touching base: phone, fax, postage, E-mail

Cultural Considerations

Local customs

Events & holidays

Important Contacts

Tourist offices

Important telephone numbers


Real Hawai’i

Odd & unusual Hawai’i

Fun things to do

Favorite beaches

Other sites of national and historical interest

Seven natural wonders of Hawai’i

Seven man-made wonders of Hawai’i

Additional Resources

Virtual Hawai’i

Related Reading



Index of Contributors


Sample Chapter: Going to Hana

by Larry Habegger

Cruising through the Islands on the S.S. Constitution, they docked at Kahului and set out for Maui’s most Hawaiian place—Hana.

Once we left Kahului, we were driving along a country road with the deep blue sea on our left. Windsurfers raced across the whitecaps at Ho‘okipa Beach Park, and a few miles on, we entered the rain forest on the Hana Highway, perhaps the most picturesque stretch of tarmac on earth.

The Hana Highway makes some 600 elbow bends and crosses 54 one-lane bridges as it burrows through jungle and winds along cliffs above the sea. Just about every time you look to your right, you see streams and waterfalls; to your left, the sea pops out of the greenery in dramatic vistas or quick winks of azure.

The scenery demands that you stop, park the car, get out and idle away the day. We did it over and over, sometimes at obvious places where other cars were parked, sometimes at our own whim. Parked cars usually meant it was one of the major sites along the way—a dramatic waterfall, a deep pool.

At one breathtakingly beautiful waterfall, we hiked up a trail along the creek and over boulders above the falls. Soon we left all of our fellow tourists behind with the cars and the road and the clicking cameras. We didn’t go far, maybe a half mile at most, when we found another waterfall, a deep green pool, sunlight filtering through the trees. Could this be true? we wondered. Our own private waterfall? Not likely, but we decided to take a swim and enjoy it before someone else arrived.

No one else did. We swam. We lay like lizards on the rocks in the sun. We swam again. We took snapshots. We lingered longer than we’d planned, then headed back to the car so we could reach Hana before dark.

The drive was pure joy. Just a few years ago the road was a rocky challenge to all but the most hardy vehicles, but now it’s smooth black tarmac all the way, perfect for convertibles or sports cars. No doubt Nature will have its say, though. At countless bends along the way, we saw the double yellow center lines break and swerve off as if painted by a drunken sailor, and it took us a while to realize that the stripes laid down on the tarmac had been melted by the sun. How long would it take before the rain forest roots thrust their way up and started the road on its journey back to rubble?

We stopped again and again, inspired by the tranquility of a place more beautiful than seemed possible in this time of cynical media hype and tourism come-ons. The Ke‘anae Arboretum was a quiet retreat with magnificent specimens of indigenous and other tropical plants. The bamboo forest was the biggest I’d ever seen. Farther up the trail we reached taro fields in the embrace of surrounding rain forest, and it was a scene you could imagine getting lost in.

We moved on reluctantly, only to stop again at the Ke‘anae Peninsula, a flat piece of land that pokes out into the sea on feet of black lava. An old man sat under a tree with jewelry for sale while the sea pounded and frothed behind him, black lava formations hammered by white surf, blue sky above, taro fields iridescent green in the distance. Our senses were getting overloaded.

Finally we rolled into Hana, a town so small you’d be through it without knowing it if you weren’t paying attention. The Hotel Hana-Maui sits inconspicuously by the main road, and we did in fact drive past it. When we checked in, we found out we’d arrived on the night of their weekly lu‘au. Would we come? How much time did we have? About 45 minutes before the van would depart for the beach a few miles away. What the heck?

We signed up, then got a ride on a golf cart through manicured gardens with a huge Hawaiian who went on and on about how welcome we were and how friendly Hana was and how much he hoped we’d enjoy our stay. He was disarming in a completely casual way, a genuine fellow who enjoyed his life and was happy to be in Hana.

He showed us to our cottage, which was about twice the size of our flat in San Francisco, had a hot tub and deck outside, a huge walk-in shower, and a kitchenette we could use if we wanted. The garden rolled from our window down to the sea a short distance away, and horse pastures ran along the beach into the distance. Looking around I was astounded. Our friends had insisted we spend at least three nights here. We planned only one. Now I wondered how we could have done such a thing. One night here would be agony. I wanted to stay a week, a month! How could we spend just one night? And why had we arrived so late in the evening? I wanted to absorb everything.

What to do? Take a hot tub? Make some fresh Kona coffee? There was cold beer in the fridge, a mini-bar of fine whisky, the first one I’d ever seen whose prices were no higher than the local saloon. What a treasure. But we had barely half an hour.

We sat on the bed feeling virtually helpless. Every option was appealing. Finally we chose the hot tub, then a shower, a quick change, and a rush to catch the van for the lu‘au.

We didn’t notice till we’d got out of the shower that there were no towels in the bath. Dripping wet, we tracked water all over the place searching in every nook and cranny for bath towels, hand towels, wash cloths, sterile pads, anything to dry ourselves, but the only option was toilet paper. A warm breeze blew in through the windows, and I stood in the center of the room like a drowned rat, dripping onto the polished wood floor.

A phone call brought a housekeeper on a cart piled with towels. She made her way up to our cottage with mountains of terry cloth and knocked. The smile on her face disarmed me again. How could I care about missing towels in a place so beautiful? She was in no hurry, perhaps I should slow down a little too. Or maybe her smile was for my ridiculous predicament: stark naked and dripping wet, taking towels in the doorway from a stranger.

The van took us out of town, along the horse pastures, and down into trees shading a hidden beach. Tiki torches lined a stairway down to the sand and a roofed pavilion where the party was already underway. We arrived just in time to see the pig—our main course—being dug out of his fire pit where he’d slowly cooked all day. Behind the scenes he went, only to reappear a few moments later looking truly succulent on a platter.

We milled around with the other guests, maybe as many as 50 people, drinking punch and nibbling sushi. As often happens, we met people from San Francisco and sat looking out over the Pacific on the eastern edge of Maui and talked of familiar places just beyond the horizon. We ate well, perhaps too well, and then the music began.

Lu‘au, in my experience, have always been corny. You eat the pig, maybe some poi, then sit around and listen to insipid local music from people who derive little joy from performing for tourists. This one had all the same signs—the Hawaiian shirts, the ukulele, the large men with big smiles. But it was clear that this one was different. As soon as the band leader opened his mouth to sing, it was obvious he was delighted to be here. He began to strum his ukulele affectionately, the guitars started up, and lilting Island rhythms wafted over us all. Before long children of various ages joined in singing and dancing, and we learned that the hula girls and the band leader were from one large family from Hana.

Somehow the girls persuaded us all to get up on stage to learn to dance the hula. It was the sort of thing that usually sent me shuffling toward the exit, but this time it was pure fun. After all, those kids were enjoying themselves so much, how could we not join in?

Two hours later we got back to town, still swaying with the music. There were lights aglow in the distance and we took a walk to investigate. What we found was pure fantasy. An emerald ballfield gleamed beneath lights rimmed by the darkness of trees. A game was underway, a player racing around the bases as the ball was thrown back to the infield. Other teams in uniforms hung out in the shadows. Mothers cradled infants and children chased each other in their own invented games.

Insects buzzed around the lights, and encroaching on left field were a tennis court and basketball court. Once upon a time, not so long ago, the whole park had been built for baseball, by Paul Fagan, owner of the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals. He wanted to bring baseball to Hawai‘i so he built a park and had his players train here, and for a glorious time the crack of the bat rang out over this cattle ranch on the edge of the sea. Today it’s a softball field, but the magic is still here, as romantic and nostalgic a place as I’ve ever seen.

We settled into the mood and watched for a long time. The whole community was here, and doubtless those from other communities as well, united by a balmy night, children, friends, and softball.

When the last game ended and the lights dimmed, we walked home. We were drawn to the swimming pool overlooking the sea. As we were about to get in, dark shadows in the grass started to move. We couldn’t see what they were because the illumination from the pool was too bright, but when one jumped on Paula’s foot and she leaped even higher, we saw that they were frogs, big as Calaveras County bullfrogs. Paula did a hilarious dance to the pool’s edge until the frogs jumped in, and we all swam together, Paula, me, and the frogs. What effect the chlorine had on them we couldn’t imagine, but they hung around the edge of the pool as if it were a pond full of lily pads.

Moments later, without warning, the wind kicked up and rain began to fall in a torrent. We swam in the rain, wind lashing the Island with close to a gale force, till we felt we’d better get out and back to our cottage. It sounded like a hurricane, but 30 minutes later the wind died, the rain stopped, the sky cleared, and we were alone with the tropical night sounds in a cottage that felt like our own.

The morning came too soon, and with it, checkout time, which was about a week early. We immediately began plotting our return, knowing we had to get back here to this quiet town on the edge of the sea. We even decided not to bother going down to the Seven Sacred Pools or the bamboo forest we’d heard so much about so we could enjoy what little time we had in Hana.

Before departing we took a last walk, this time up the hill behind the town to the memorial called Fagan’s Cross. It was a pleasant walk through tall grass whose burrs ultimately forced us to throw away our socks, but the view over the village was inspiring. The wind was brisk, the grass bent with it like Kansas wheat, and the spirit of Hana filled our vision. Clearly Paul Fagan had loved this place, and been loved in return. It looked as if it hadn’t changed a bit since he’d arrived in the 1930s, and we could only hope that it would remain unchanged until we returned.

We’d been told about a place we shouldn’t miss on the way back to Kahului called the Blue Pool. A few miles out of town we found the turnoff, followed the road till it turned to gravel, then to rock, then to pot holes, then to hardly a road at all. We crossed two streams, wondering at each whether we should risk it without four-wheel drive, and silently wishing we’d rented a jeep.

But we pressed on and parked when we reached the mouth of a creek where it met the sea.

As we scampered across the creek when the surge of surf receded, we discovered that we were alone. What we found was beyond our dreams.

It was the kind of tropical setting you assume could only exist in fairy tales. A triple waterfall tumbled from flower-bedecked cliffs, clear freshwater dropping out of the rain forest, out of the clouds above. The pool was broad and deep enough for swimming, both under the falls and in calm reaches. Grasses and flowers grew out of the rocks, embracing the pool in a mantle of green. At our backs, just over a ridge of rocks and sand not more than twenty feet away, the sea pounded in. Look one way, a tropical waterfall. Look the other way, the Pacific Ocean. Look around, pure heaven. And we had it all to ourselves for as long as we dared stay.

Many questions ran through our minds as we soaked in the most amazing confluence of natural wonders we’d ever encountered. What would happen if we missed the boat? In the end we knew we had to leave.

Larry Habegger, executive editor of Travelers’ Tales, has been writing about travel since 1980. He has visited almost fifty countries and six of the seven continents, traveling from the frozen Arctic to equatorial rain forest, the high Himalayas to the Dead Sea. In the early 1980s he co-authored mystery serials for the San Francisco Examiner with James O’Reilly, and since 1985 their syndicated newspaper column, “World Travel Watch,” has appeared in newspapers in five countries, and can also be found on WorldTravelWatch.com and on TravelersTales.com. As series editors of Travelers’ Tales, they have worked on some eighty titles, winning many awards for excellence. Habegger regularly teaches the craft of travel writing at workshops and writers conferences, and he lives with his family in San Francisco. Click here to learn more about Larry Habegger.

Rick and Marcie Carroll were both working for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1983, when she spotted a bulletin board notice announcing Asian Studies journalism fellowships at University of Hawai‘i and applied. Fortune smiled, and they bought one-way tickets to Honolulu. She went to class and stumbled through beginning Japanese. He sailed and windsurfed until the money ran out, then joined the daily morning newspaper. When the school year ended, after a month-long study trip to Japan, it was too late to go home to San Francisco; they were already hopelessly in love with Hawai‘i and the Pacific.

They shared a flair for great assignments and knew a good story when they saw one. Honolulu Advertiser editors sent him to Manila and the pirate-infested Southern Philippines with volunteer surgeons on a risky medical mission. His illustrated series, “Surgeons of the Sulu Sea,” won a National Headliner’s Award. His prize-winning reports from such exotic datelines as Nuku‘Alofa, Huahine, Tawi Tawi, and Rapa Nui have appeared in newspapers around the world. He has interviewed the Sultan of Sulu, the King of Tonga, the former Premier of China, three governors of Hawai‘i, and Imelda Marcos.

She went to work for a local magazine, Discover Hawai‘i, and traveled extensively throughout the Islands to write about people, destinations, and the travel industry, the engine that runs Hawai‘i’s economy. She joined the Hawai‘i Visitors Bureau as director of communications and created prize-winning publications. She worked with writers and broadcasters from around the world in pursuit of Hawai‘i stories. Her duties took her to Japan, Singapore, and Australia on marketing missions.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, they both became freelance travel writers, working from their Windward O‘ahu home, reporting on Hawai‘i and the Pacific for United Press International and a variety of publications. Author of Madame Pele: True Encounters with Hawai‘i’s Fire Goddess and six Hawai‘i guidebooks, his Great Outdoor Adventures of Hawai‘i, was the first eco-adventure guide to the Islands and inspired an award-winning column that ran five years in Aloha: The Magazine of Hawaii & The Pacific. His Hawaii adventure stories have appeared in many newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Examiner, Outside, and Forbes FYI.

His anthology, Chicken Skin True Spooky Stories of Hawai‘i, became one of Hawai‘i’s best sellers along with five sequels of Hawai‘i’s Best Spooky Tales. This series brought 200 new local authors to print.

Marcie Rasmussen Carroll was born in New Orleans and grew up in the South and the Midwest before her family moved to Maryland. She graduated from Bucknell University and earned a master’s in journalism from Stanford University, where she won a reporting fellowship some years later. She started reportage on the women’s pages of the San Jose Mercury, moved to Atlanta to work for United Press International covering primarily politics, moved back to the Bay Area and the Mercury News to cover city hall, wandered south to theMonterey Herald to cover environmental and energy news, joined the Chronicle and wrote about energy, science, suburbs, and politics before becoming the “plague editor” (assistant city editor in charge of politics, law, and government coverage).

Born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Rick Carroll, son of a World War II pilot, grew up in Massachusetts, Florida, Washington, Texas, California, and Japan. He first sailed across the Pacific when he was fourteen (and survived a typhoon at sea). His first newspaper job was at the Okinawa Morning Star. He returned to California in time for the ’60s, studied journalism at San Jose State University, and wrote for the San Jose Mercury News before joining the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Carrolls live in a nearly 300-year-old seaport on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Ka‘a‘a‘wa, ancestral landing site of early Polynesian voyagers.