Ah, the lure of the surf and sand, the volcanoes, the verdant rainforest, the snorkeling, the abundant flashes of color, the tree-sweetened fresh papaya. We are talking about the Big Island -- Hawai’i.
Judy and I have spent many happy days on the Big Island, visiting with her sister Jan, and we’ve done the obligatory tourist sites. But in 2001, when our friend Karen joined us, a new adventure popped up -- the Ocean Safari Sea Cave Kayak Tour.
It was billed as a 3 ½ hour guided tour that included cliff jumping, snorkeling, and snacks. Karen and I decided to go while Judy and Jan played golf one day. We visualized ourselves on a sandy beach, then marveling at the tropical fish while snorkeling. Oh, how naïve we were!
Everything was fine during the get-acquainted-with-your-kayak time. We sat on our life jackets, as the ticket seller said “most people do” and chatted with the other kayakers, including a fellow from Michigan whose name was Ken. Soon, with a brief orientation from our guides, the group was on our way, paddling through the gorgeous blue water of Keauhou Bay toward the open sea and around the point, following the coastline.
|Michigan Ken and Ocean Safari guide|
When “Michigan Ken,” who had bragged about his kayaking prowess before we started, paddled into a cave, flipped his kayak, and fell out into the swirling surf, Karen and I scrambled to put on our life jackets! We did not follow Ken into that cave. The guides asked if we wanted to go into the other caves along the way. We sang out, “Nope, we’re fine! We’re happy!” and kept on paddling. After awhile, the group reached one cave that looked pretty calm so Karen and I ventured in, did our turn-around, and paddled out. Whew!
“We have about 200 yards to go,” one of the guides announced. “Then we’ll drop anchor and go to the beach for some snacks and snorkeling.” We paddled away. When the second guide stopped his kayak, dropped a spindly-looking line and told us to gather around while he hooked us all together, the picture became clear. We would be jumping into the water. Then we would swim to the beach. The beach turned out to be a cliff of lava rocks that we would have to scale in order to get our snacks on dry land.
|The Guide gives Karen a hand|
With sheer determination to touch land, we braved the salty surf then clung to the rocks while the waves tugged at us and tried to sweep us out to sea. The diving booties that we’d borrowed from Jan saved our feet. But, fear struck as I realized the particular danger for me. I had been on a course of blood thinner medication for a couple of months, and there I was climbing razor-sharp lava rock cliffs. I couldn’t afford an injury.
Unscathed and warmed by the sun-heated rocks, we partook of the snacks and watched in amazement as our crazy tour mates jumped off the cliffs into the ocean 40-50 feet below.
Too soon, it was time to return to our kayaks. Snorkel masks on tight, we groped our way back down the rocks and jumped into the swelling water. I swam for our kayak, while trying to get a peek at tropical fish and bottom coral along the way.
The next big deal was getting our bodies back into those close-together, bobbing kayaks when we could not touch bottom. The guides coached and encouraged us and even held our paddles, but that did not make for a graceful re-entry. Michigan Ken came along, grabbed me around both knees, and gave me a boost. I flopped into the kayak like a landed fish. Karen did a power press, heaved her body upward then rolled in.
When everyone was ready to go, the announcement came, “We’ll head out to sea to take advantage of the current.” Far behind the rest of the group, Karen and I silently and steadily paddled along, bucking the waves, each of us seemingly lost in thought.
With a little ways to get back to the launch area, Karen said, “I’m going to throw up. I’m really sorry.”
I felt pretty sick myself and had been concentrating on coordinating my breathing with the paddling to take my mind off my stomach. “Me, too,” I said.
We stopped paddling for a moment to rest and refocus. Ahead, we could see our tour mates disembarking their kayaks. By then, we were in calmer waters. Pep-talking ourselves, we picked up our paddles and glided on in.
At the shore, we staggered out of the kayak; our legs finally adjusted to being on land. Still nauseous and too exhausted to speak, we climbed into our rental car with all our wet paraphernalia. As we approached Jan’s condo, we realized the golfers were home already. Now, we would have to talk.
“You’re back! How are you?! Was it fun?” they said, meeting us at the screen door. “We’re just having lunch. Want a tuna sandwich?”
No. Thank. You.
~ xoA ~