Trouble in paradise

Cries sounded up and down the white sand beach.

“Help! Somebody! Anybody!”

A visibly distressed woman ran back and forth, pointing back toward the water where a family of four Asians slowly waddled toward the edge. Their eyes were covered by scuba masks, snorkels were planted firmly in their mouths and fins encumbered their feet like alien flippers. Still dozens of feet from touching the Pacific, they haplessly held each other, struggling to navigate the flat beach. A loose fin here, a stumble there and occasional stops to remove their snorkels and breathe real air all hindered their progress just enough for a man to leap to action.

“Stop,” he yelled at them, waving his arms madly. “Do not, I repeat, DO NOT go in that water!”

All four members of the family turned, faced him and removed their snorkels. They gave long, serious stares and then unexpectedly burst into huge glowing grins, muttering something unintelligible in Japanese and waving back in unison.

“Oh my God,” the concerned man said more softly. “They don’t speak English.”

The woman standing next to him pointed and added, “I don’t think they read English either.”

The family had just passed a large white sign with loud red lettering which read, “Warning! Health Hazard. No Swimming. Raw Sewage!”

But the four ocean adventurers passed by oblivious, tripped a couple more times, gasped for final gulps of air and casually slipped into the drink. Their bodies sank up to their necks, and tips of their snorkels and thrashing fins soon gave the only indication of human presence inside the murky water.

I’m happy to say that my wife Rachael, daughter Skyler and I did not join the Okamuras in their swim with the elusive school of brown triggerfish. However, we did spend our coveted 10 days of spring break not far from that sighting. (By the way, the family emerged blemished but alive and is now happily at home, back in Japan).

One of the unsung perks of conjugal relations with a school teacher is the annual spring break holiday. During the last week

of March for the last 10 years, my school marm wife and I have fled mud season and gone in search of sun and sand. Finances usually point our car 200 miles westward to the sand and singletrack of the Colorado Plateau. But occasionally, we muster enough go-power to land on a beach with boat drinks and surfboards in hand. This was to be one of those rare years.

Now, I don’t want to be the guy who belly-aches about his vacation to a place most consider paradise on earth – the Hawaiian Islands. But the realities of our recent journey have pushed me in that corner. I’m sorry to report that nearly every hour of each of those 10 days was punctuated by heavy flooding, mud flows, downed trees, damaged cars and buildings, and, yes, bursting water and sewer lines and an ocean polluted with nearly a billion gallons of raw effluent. Only the bravest or most foolish of souls dared approach the Pacific.

Yep, somehow the Sands family managed to walk down the concourse and into Honolulu International just as the islands were entering their 40th day of straight downpour. We would see the 48th consecutive day, a record besting the one set by Noah and his Ark and completely derailing a $300,000 tourism promotion called “Hawaii’s Sunny Skies.” In our final days, we experimented with a dull version of the wet T-shirt contest; watched as kids boogie boarded down streets atop flood waters; sat on our surfboards as something closely resembling hail fell from the Hawaiian sky; and had the opportunity to wear sweaters and thick socks while standing next to palm trees. Luckily, all things must come to an end, and three flights and more than 12 hours later we stepped out of Durango-La Plata County Airport and back into Colorado sunshine.

I chanced upon an old friend a few hours later. “You look terrible,” he said bluntly. “Have you been sick? Your skin’s all pale and discolored.”

My gut response was to make up an ailment and play along. I just didn’t have the heart to tell him we’d just returned from a week and a half in the tropics. But the truth won in the end.

“Believe it or not, the Hawaiian sun did this to me,” I answered.

His eyes got a little misty, a smile crept over his face and he reminisced, “Oh I love Hawaii. You have to tell me all about it … How was the snorkeling?”

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows