The first time I stepped out of an airplane onto the tarmac in Honolulu, Hawaii, I felt like it was raining soft petals. The air was heavy with the perfume of tropical flowers. It was March 1980 and I had 5 weeks of vacation ahead of me. I left freezing weather at Tahoe where my yard was buried under snow, and nearby ski areas were still in operation. Just the anticipation of spending time in a tropical paradise was pure euphoria.
Four of us traveled together. Our entourage included my fiance, George, and his two best friends, Sam and Skip. George and Skip were accomplished outdoor enthusiasts who camped out in all seasons. Sam and I were along for the ride.
We were young and none of us had very much money. We flew stand-by from San Francisco to Oahu, arriving well after midnight. We rented a wreck of a vehicle. I don’t recall the make of automobile, but do remember that it was uncomfortably small for all of us and our gear. Our plan was to backpack across as many islands as was economically possible. We had an airport storage locker at SFO where we stashed our snow boots and winter coats to retrieve after our return to the mainland. Our luggage, substantial backpacks, were filled with only what we could carry. In those days, backpacks had exoskeleton frames and no wheels – in other words, they were much more cumbersome to lug around the airport than modern-day spinner luggage available from makers like Eagle Creek Luggage. As the only woman, and smallest in the group, I was at a disadvantage. But, with the temperatures always above 85 degrees, I needed only a minimum wardrobe.
Our first night was spent on a beach where, exhausted, we threw out our sleeping bags and crashed. It began to rain lightly in the early morning hours, and I sought shelter under a picnic table. I remember one of the guys rolled under the rental car; the other two tried to sleep in the front seats.
At first light we experienced a slight earthquake! Looking out to the ocean, we saw whales swimming offshore. Reaching for my purse, which was a capacious African basket, I discovered three five-inch roaches running around inside, like it was a racetrack. In it was the Melba toast from the airplane, still in its wrapper, that had attracted the bugs.
I remember screaming while tossing all the contents onto the sand.
On nearly every island we knew friends who welcomed us for a night or two, knowing we would reciprocate with accommodations during ski season.
We flew to the Big Island of Hawaii on a commuter plane. Mercifully, the flight was short as we were herded like cattle. At that time, the cost of that conveyance was negligible. In Hilo, the Hawaiian industrial center, we stayed with a couple who were former Tahoe mountain folk. Our hostess, Sally, was a fastidious housekeeper. Her perpetual neatness bordered on OCD. Sam, one of our travel companions, drove her nuts. He was like the Peanuts character Pigpen who had a dirty cloud swirling about his head. Sally followed him relentlessly tidying up in his wake. Understandably, she insisted that juice or soda containers be rinsed out and deposited, along with fruit skins and other compost, 100 yards to the rear of their house. Insects in the tropics are ever-present. A drop of syrup or an errant crumb will attract a line of ants in moments.
After two nights, to Sally’s relief, we moved on to Kona, the other side of the Big Island. Our hosts there, Gus and Miranda, lived on a coffee plantation. Miranda, an entomologist, ran a queen bee jelly business. She loved social insects.
At our arrival they showed George and I where we would sleep. It was a furnished bedroom-like space underneath the front porch. Although it looked clean, and there was a rug on the dirt floor with bedside tables, it was still the space under the front porch. I thought it was sort of creepy. Sleeping there made me feel like Little Miss Muffet. Skip and Sam slept on the lanai.
The house had one bathroom, which I needed to use shortly after our arrival. When I closed the door I saw an intricate web of ants and other bugs vertically stretched floor to ceiling at the hinged-side. Channeling Sally’s phobic reaction to insects I took a piece of toilet tissue and wiped down the wall flushing away all evidence of the infestation.
About twenty minutes later Miranda walked into the bathroom. She closed the door, then opened it quickly, and standing in its threshold yelled, “Where are my ants?!” It turns out that having an insect-o-phobe and an entomologist under the same roof is a formula for disaster.