We were nearing Tunnel’s Beach, and traffic was getting really congested. Cars were lining both sides of the road, parked illegally, according to both our guidebook and all the “No Parking Any Time” road signs. People with beach bags and swim suits were walking along the narrow road; cars going both directions squeezed in the constricted space between parked vehicles and pedestrians. We got worried. It was crowded; parking looked grim. At Ha’ena State Park, the end of the road, a sign declared “Road closed,” and we were turned around. Crews were doing clean-up work after the recent heavy rains. That’s why parking was such a nightmare: all the parking at the state beach was unavailable.
Thinking that maybe the cops (who were also inching along the clogged roadway) were turning a blind eye to the parking situation today because of the parking lot closure, we parked right under one of those ubiquitous “No Parking Any Time” signs, like everyone else.
We were wrong, like everyone else.
The state made a killing that day, at $35-per-pop parking tickets. I found myself thinking grumpily that they should put in more parking lots, but who wants to pay for parking? And what would they charge? $35 per car per day? Outrageous!
I mean, who would ever pay $35 to park for one day?
Well… all of us, apparently.
We strolled to the beach, oblivious to the $35 ticket which would cheerfully greet us at the end of the day. We found a shady spot under a tree, grabbed our masks, snorkels, and fins, and splashed into the warm Pacific Ocean.
It was then that we discovered that my snorkel, borrowed from our rented condo, was broken– it didn’t attach to the mask, wasn’t held upright. So I had to swim around holding the snorkel up in the air, or it would flop into the water, which made for a very wet, not to mention unpleasant, inhalation. Even when I held it upright, though, it kept filling up with water; I was continually having to forcefully blow a bunch of water out of the snorkel so I could breathe without getting a mouthful of sea water. But the mouthpiece would fill up again almost immediately.
Breathe, blow, cautious breath in– ugh, still wet and gurgly!– blow again, harder, another test breath in, blow! Sheesh!
It was kind of a struggle.
At first my mask leaked, too, so I was fighting both the mask and the snorkel– water poured around my eyes, water poured into my mouthpiece, entirely too much water for comfort!– but then Martin tightened my mask for a better seal, and I held the snorkel at a higher angle, and off we went.
We swam along the reef’s edge, marveling at big brain corals and deep chasms that dropped dramatically away from us, just as the earth dropped away from us while in the helicopter over Waimea Canyon that very morning. I was flying once more! I was gliding, hovering, soaring, way up high, looking down, relishing the varied textured landscape below: The yawning abysses, the intricate side channels, the sudden drop-offs, the intriguing terrain.
The water wasn’t crystal clear – more like a blue murk in places – but we saw some beautiful fish. We saw huge schools of … oh, who knows, some sort of butterflyfish, all black and white, with a bright yellow tail (the Whitebar Surgeonfish), and some black-and-white zebra-striped ones thrown into the mix (the Convict Tang). There were very-cool-looking Threadfin Butterflyfish, with their very Hawaiian-looking cross-hatch design, as well as the Hawaiian state fish: the Reef Trigger Fish, also known as the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a!
Love that word!
Just break it down into 4-letter sections. See? It’s not nearly as bad as it looks.
There were impossibly-long-and-thin Crocodile Needlefish, and the equally impossibly-long-and-thin Cornetfish, and a lumpy and well-camouflaged Puffer Fish, and crazy outrageous rainbow-colored Christmas Wrasses.
It was wonderful… the colorful fish, the bright corals, the carefree swimming along the reef holding hands with my husband, the glorious feeling of floating, as if in clouds, above the mountainous terrain below… but then.. the water started to feel awfully sloshy. At times I felt like lapping waves were pushing us up onto the reef and I had to struggle against the rolling waves to get back out into calmer, deeper water.
And I felt like my mask, which had some water droplets inside, was distorting my vision. I was viewing the world through a slightly fissured and kaleidoscopey prism. It was a little sickening, actually.
Plus there was all that salt water in my snorkel, ugh. I was constantly getting a mouthful of seawater, constantly blowing it out. Warm salty water, sloshing in my mouth, sloshing in the snorkel, sloshing around my body.
I was suddenly aware of a relentless and all-pervading slosh-slosh-slosh.
And instantly, indisputably, I felt seasick.
I surfaced abruptly. Martin followed. “How’s it going?” he asked.
I said, “I . . . ” and broke off.
If I told him I felt seasick, I was sure he’d want to immediately return to shore, but I didn’t want to cut short his fun. Maybe the seasickness would pass. So I just smiled at him and shook my head, adjusted my mask, and prepared to go back underwater. But Martin, being the best husband ever, grabbed my arm, stopped me. He looked at me carefully. “You what?”
So I confessed to feeling seasick, and sure enough, he declared without hesitation, “We’re going back.”
See? Best. Husband. Ever.
Unfortunately, by the time you realize you’re seasick, it’s pretty much too late. Turning back means you’re only halfway.
The return trip felt awfully long, much longer than the trip out. As we swam along the reef towards our sandy-bottomed exit, every slosh felt sloshier and every mouthful of water felt saltier.
I started to seriously worry that I’d throw up right into the snorkel. How gross would that be? Would the vomit get washed from my mouthpiece? Or would it get stuck in the snorkel, clogging my breathing apparatus, maybe leak back into my mouth? I didn’t really want to find out.
Each time I forcefully blew water from my snorkel, I had to tell myself: Contract muscles enough to eject salt water from the snorkel, but not enough to eject stomach contents from the belly.
It was a very, very fine line.
Then I started thinking about the physics of throwing up– isn’t there an involuntary inhalation at some point? That seemed ominous, given that I was underwater. I certainly didn’t want to involuntarily suck a fetid mixture of seawater and vomit into my lungs, thanks.
No, if it came to it, I decided it’d be best to surface quickly and throw up in the air, on the water’s surface. Of course, I’d instantly be swimming in it, my own emesis swilling around me… That’d be kind of gross…
Although, I thought weakly, it might attract some interesting fish.
Not that I’d be in the mood to really enjoy them. I certainly wouldn’t want to stick my head back underwater, right into the cloud of thrown-up turkey sandwich floating around me, however interesting the incoming fish might be.
No, best to get all images of looking at– and swimming through– vomit out of my head. In fact, let’s just get back to shore with stomach contents fully intact, shall we? That means quick. Quick quick quick, please. Like, right now.
Actually, best to quit thinking about throwing up at all.
Which is very hard to do when it’s, you know, all you can think about.
I somehow made it to the sandy exit and stood up on two very wobbly legs. Water sloshed sickeningly around my waist. I staggered to shore. Oh god, even the dry land felt sloshy. How can that be? I felt chilled, so Martin dragged our towels and gear into the warm sunshine– right by a hauled-out and very content-looking Monk seal.
How wonderful is that?
Forget those little flitty fish in the sloshy water! I was instantly entranced by the large endangered marine mammal before me.
It took a surprisingly long time for the world to stop pitching and the seasickness to pass, but once I could sit up and enjoy my surroundings again, I watched that bewhiskered Monk seal all afternoon. I thrilled at every belly scratch and happy sigh, at every languid roll and sandy snort. Sometimes she buried her face right into the sand, the picture of contentment. I took my cues from that happily-sunning-herself 500-pound girl. We lay flopped out on the beach together, not moving. When she rolled over, so did I. When she scratched herself, I did, too.
A little crowd gathered. I’m hoping they were admiring the Monk seal, not snickering at me.
It’s hard to say, actually.
At some point, Martin quietly gathered his snorkeling gear and crept away, back into the water. I don’t know who that girl is! I’m certainly not married to her!
Much later, I looked up from the seal and saw Martin snorkeling along the reef nearby, and I decided to surprise him– I was feeling better, maybe I could do a tad more snorkeling with him?– so I grabbed my gear and splashed back into the ocean. When I dunked myself underwater to cool off, I instantly felt traces of seasickness.
Nope. No more snorkeling for me. Back to being a beached Monk seal!
I flopped back onto the sand next to her, both of us sporting the same foolish grin. Hanging out all afternoon with an endangered Monk seal? Totally worth $35!
Aspiring to life as a beached Monk seal really ain’t half bad.
In fact– I’d say I’m pretty good at it.