Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

17 June 2008

Local Color

Occasionally, we like to write about the more “unusual” people we meet on our travels. Sometimes, we’ll share how a specific individual screwed with us. Other times, we’ll write about an experience with a whole generalization of people (either to reinforce it or smash it to tiny bits). Are stereotypes wrong? Read on to find our answer. —MB & JS

An acquaintance from our college days—he must have been a math major—used to say that there were three types of people in the world: those who could count, and those who couldn’t. He was a real jerk now that we think about it, but he had a point. Rarely if ever can you separate people into categories that offer any meaningful insight. Even the male-female division has a gray area now.

Numerology insists on nine distinctive personality types; astrology has twelve signs; Myers-Briggs offers sixteen archetypes . . . as if any system can effectively put people into boxes they couldn’t scratch their way out of. Categorization may be tempting on paper, but—like classical economics—it’s coldly predictable, unlike real people.

Then there’s Hawaii.

Categorizing the people of Hawaii isn’t merely justified; it’s essential. In Hawaii, there really are only two types of people: Islanders and Mainlanders. Unless you have a tribal lineage, you will always be a Mainlander, no matter how long you visit (even if you never leave).

You can learn the Hawaiian language beyond “aloha” (hello or goodbye) and “mahalo” (thank you), and you won’t be any closer to Islander-hood. You can climb to Mauna Kea’s peak 13,796 feet above sea level, hike the Haleakala Crater from sunrise to sunset, or sail from the island of Hawaii to the island of Niihau (about 1,500 miles) and still not be considered a native.

Mark, near exhaustion, in the middle of Haleakala. Nowhere to go but back up, and after all that, he’ll still never be a native.

You might as well accept it. Life is too short and there’s so much to do on the islands. Hawaiian activities cover the land, sea, and air. You can hike, drive, and bicycle. You can swim, fish, and snorkel. You can hang glide, parasail, and even helicopter. There’s always sightseeing, shopping, and fine dining, but if you’ve come to Hawaii just for a seafood dinner, you deserve to get scrod.

Each island has its own attractions. On Oahu, you can partake of Honolulu’s big city amenities, surf the world-class waves off the North Shore, or check out the world’s largest maze at the Dole Plantation. On Maui, you can kick back with an umbrella drink in the port town of Lahaina or spend a day on the Road to Hana, driving through a rainforest that hides waterfalls at almost every turn. And that’s only two of the eight islands.

It’s not so bad being a visitor. Islanders can be charming, open, friendly, and giving. They’ll help you find your hotel. They’ll recommend a good restaurant. They may tell you a story from the distant past or even offer to act as your tour guide.

We attended a luau, expecting a tourist trap the size of Williamsburg. Instead, we found that Hawaiians genuinely love to show off. Their smiles entranced us and the fire tricks dazzled us. One lovely native in a coconut-shell halter assured us that both the coconut and its contents were real. Unfortunately, we can only attest to the shells.

We’ll never think of coconut milk in the same way ever again.

We tasted Hawaiian poi, a purplish mush made from the taro plant, but found we didn’t have the stomach for it. We drank Hawaiian rum, a dark liquor designed to make you smile, and found we barely had the liver for it. All in all, it was one of the best nights we can scarcely remember.

That’s the thing about Hawaii. The Islanders know that drunken, happy guests will spend more cash than cynical, sober ones. Everyone smiles. Everyone parties. Everyone leaves contented … as long as you leave. Don’t believe for an instant that if you moved to their little island paradise, you’d feel as welcome. There are miles and miles of beautiful beaches, and many invisible lines in the sand. You’d be well advised not to cross any of them.

Lessons Learned: More and more people visit Hawaii—for vacations, conferences, or romantic getaways with four or five of their loved ones. If you go, bring lots of cash and be ready to spend it. Don’t skimp; you’re in Hawaii! Enjoy all that the islands and the Islanders have to offer. Just don’t think for a minute you’ll ever be one of them.
How We Saw It
Blight-Seeing: 1
Communication Breakdown: 2
Customer Dis-service: 1
Discomfort Level: 1
Grunge Factor: 2
Inactivity Guide: 1
Rent-Attainment: 3
Spontaneous Consumption: 4
Fun Fraction: 5/5 (believe it or not!)
Vibe-Rating: 5

If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Honolulu International Airport (among others)
Native Population: 1,285,000 (counting trespassing Mainlanders)
Normal Attractions: Each island has its own attractions. Boat and helicopter tours, hiking, water sports, fine dining, luaus, and much more.
Final Point of Interest: The Aloha Festivals, an annual celebration held for six weeks every September and October, is the only state-wide festival in the US.


Tian said...

I was expecting you to mention SPAM. I've been told that Hawaiians "inhale the stuff." If just the locals eat it, why do all the Hawaiian restaurants around here serve the stuff?

Mark Bloom & Jason Scholder said...

tian, good point, but we didn't encounter any SPAM gangs or sous-chefs or even official-looking SPAM restaurant reviewers. We didn't see SPAM during our entire trip. If we had, you can bet we'd have written about it. SPAM in paradise? SPAM-nation!