Cruising in Hawaii Did Not Come Easy to this Gay Man
It’s weird. I’ve traveled to all seven continents on the planet but never been to Hawaii.
With that confession, my travel buddy David Duran promptly booked me on my next adventure: experiencing the islands that make up the 50th state. But like so many places, I didn’t want to just go to one island and say I had been there. I wanted to see the whole thing, experience all Hawaii had to offer. But with only one week to spare…that’s a tall order.
“Great,” David assured “That’s why I booked us on a cruise.”
“Eww, no!” I pouted. “I’m an adventure traveler, remember? I don’t do cruises.”
“Obviously! “ he corrected “I booked us on the ‘Un-Cruise,’ it’s a cruise for nerds like you who don’t like cruising.”
“I mean, I like cruising,” I joked. “Just not cruises.”
“Definitely for nerds like you,” he reiterated, rolling his eyes.
After flying in to Kona on the Big Island, I noticed something while driving through the lava fields toward The Hilton (We had to stay for the night before catching our boat the next day). “Even though I’ve never been here,” I said, gazing out the window, “This road looks really familiar.”
“This is the bike portion of the Kona Ironman,” our cabbie informed. I started bouncing up and down like child. “I’m in the middle of training for another Triathlon,” I said, “how am I supposed to work out when I’m stuck on a boat for a whole week?!”
But as I would learn, the whole idea behind The Un-Cruise is genius. The concept is for travelers who like to see the world by getting dirty during the day, yet have their creature comforts at night. For example, one might spend the day kayaking, snorkeling or hiking off the boat, but return to the luxury of a gourmet, restaurant quality meal and comfy hotel bed. And no matter how much of an adventure snob I am, I will never turn down good food and lots of sleep. And, even though the whole trip takes place primarily on a tricked-out ship, other guests aren’t overweight Midwesterners there to gamble their social security checks away at the buffet. Instead of corny entertainment, the down time is more intellectual. The staff consists of learned biologists who are on-call to blab about the flora and fauna (while pouring you a stiff drink).
“Um, yeah,” agreed David. “You go have fun on the paddle board, I’m gonna get boozy and flirt with the hot mixologist… I mean biologist.”
I kind of assumed it would be a pretty straight crowd. That David and I would be the only gays on the boat. But it turned out to be a remarkably diverse, with folks from all backgrounds. My favorite were the lesbian acupuncturists from Michigan. The moment they started showing pictures of their farm I was like, “Oh yeah, we’re gonna be friends.”
After disembarking from Kona, we were scheduled to hit Maui, Lanai, and Molokai. And we would have gotten there faster if we didn’t encounter so many humpback whales. “WHALE BREACH PORT SIDE!” you’d hear over the loud speaker. I got so tired steadying myself through the halls of a small boat on a wavy ocean that I eventually perched myself on the bridge with Captain Winston (who I would refer to behind his back as Captain Daddy Mustache). As he will attest, January/February is certainly the time of year to go to the Hawaiian Islands if you like to geek out on whale activity. We could not open our curtains in the morning without seeing a fluke or a spout. Naturally, there are animal harassment laws in which we had to keep 80 meters from them, yet the humpbacks were coming up to us!
Eventually, though, I started to get antsy. Although the kayaking was amazing, and snorkeling the lush reefs thrilling, the triathlete in me needed to get the blood flowing. Even though trudging through rainforest streams to swim in waterfalls was totally my style, I was still missing something. Captain Winston could tell I was disappointed when I came back from a night dive with the Manta Rays. “Here,” he finally said, handing me a red Baywatch buoy. “Attach this to yourself so we can always spot you, and you can swim off the boat.”
“For me?!” I was in shock, gazing at it like it was the Holy Grail.
“We know our customers, and try and accommodate their needs,” he said, “Even if they are total psycho, work-out-aholics.”
It was as if I was given the keys to the castle that is Hawaii. Sometimes other guests would kayak alongside. Sometimes I’d swim so far, they’d need binoculars to spot me. But every day for the rest of my voyage, calm or rough, I would pull on my cap and goggles, attach the buoy to my legs and get my work out in. When the groups would go ashore to hike, I put on my running shoes and headed for a long run.
I discovered my own crazy new form of adventure travel: exercise tourism. Don’t think I missed out. In fact, I feel like I got to know the 50th state even better. If anything, the Hawaiian weather beckons to be taken advantage of in this manner: I swam over all the reefs, counting fish and coral. I heard the whales singing to each other as my ears dipped below the surface. I jogged across lava fields, through rainforests, looked out across incredible vistas; sweating my way through all the different biomes.
One day, on my routine “out-and-back,” I was swimming along, happy as a clam when up ahead, I saw a dark shadow. Now, as much as I have become desensitized to the eerie darkness of the ocean below me, and as much as I’m known for screaming at kelp when swimming with Los Angeles Tri-Club; I am still cautious about dark shadows moving up ahead. I came to a stop and treaded water, squinting through the fog in my goggles. The shadow got closer. And that’s when I realized it was a Sea Turtle. I swam along with it for a while, watching quietly. I made sure to give the turtle space, enjoying my small commune with nature, from a safe distance. Missing a leg, the turtle slowly took a deep breath and swam beneath out of sight.
“The islands are abundant,” Aunt Snookie tells us. A native of Molokai, we had the pleasure of hearing her give a morning chant to the Hina, the goddess her people believe in.
“Stay open here, and things will come to you.”
It was these words that bid us farewell as I ended possibly one of the most satisfying adventures yet.
CLARK HARDING is a Los Angeles-based writer and traveler. Read more of Clark's adventures here.