Travel Fare. Trouble in Paradise.
August 9, 2013
Caleb Pirtle III
Captain James Cook wasn’t really sure where he was or what he had discovered on that January day in 1778 when he stepped onto the white sands of an island that rose out of the belly of the Pacific like an Eden of volcanic rock and tropical forests.
He only knew that it as not quite like any place he had ever seen before.
The natives welcomed him.
They worshipped hi.
They thought he was the reincarnation of the god Lono, and, in hushed whispers, they pointed to his great ships and called them “floating islands.”
Captain Cook was staring into the wide-eyed faces of those who had descended from a Stone Age race, a Polynesian people whose ancestors had sailed from the region of Tahiti to the islands in double-hulled canoes more than a thousand years earlier.
They had brought with them coconuts, bananas, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, and sugar cane. And they would inhabit their own version of Paradise.
For a time, Cook that the mystical islands of the archipelago would become his Paradise, too.
After all, most men aren’t ever mistaken for a god.
He traded nails for pork and sweet potatoes, and the Hawaiians quickly fashioned the nails into fishhooks. They bid the Captain a fond farewell when he sailed again toward the open sea.
The god Lono was gone.
By November, however, the intrepid Cook was back. He had explored the northern Pacific, had not found anything that particularly impressed him, and his heart kept pulling him back to the islands. Perhaps he simply longed to be a god again.
But there was trouble in a Paradise.
There always is.
A storm damaged his ship off the coast of Kealakekua. Natives began stealing his iron tools. They even burned a boat so they could have the nails, which made the best fishhooks they had ever seen.
Captain Cook got mad.
Didn’t the natives know who he was?
The natives no longer cared.
And Cook found himself in the middle of a fight he had not expected. Gods don’t have fights. He was threatened by a warrior with a dagger.
He shot the man.
Defiantly, the natives attacked, and the sailors began firing into the midst of the wild charge. A club knocked Cook to the ground.
And the Hawaiians were stunned. “He is not Lono,” one of them yelled. “Gods do not groan.”
That, of course, is a loose translation.
Cook died on the beach before the sun dropped on the far side of the Pacific, and his bones were ritually distributed to the chieftains who ruled the Paradise he thought he had discovered.
It was lost so easily.
You can visit the historic stretch of beach where Captain James Cook first stepped ashore more than two centuries ago. There is no marker to point out the sands that held his footprints, only a little monument in the town of Waimea, nestled on the southern coastline of Kauai.
Yet so much of the Eden that beckoned to Cook remains as unspoiled as it did that January day when his “floating islands” sailed into the bay.
Those who prefer the leisurely life cruise into the warm winds of the Na Pali coast. The rugged outdoorsmen hike back along those emerald Na Pali cliffs, which plunge for 4,000 feet to the crashing surf below.
A scenic roadway cuts back into the high country and winds along the majestic ridges of Waimea Canyon, more than a half mile deep, more than ten miles long, often referred to the as the grand Canyon of the Pacific.
Mountain goats and wild boar find refuge in the rugged palisades, and the sometimes gentle, sometimes intense colors of a rainbow drop out of the mist, painting the gorge with shades of green and blue and dusty rose.
The early mornings are interwoven with the ever-changing hues of a blue Hawaii. But in the shank of the late afternoons, the reds that spread across the valley become so brilliant that, at first glance, the whole canyon seems to be consumed y dancing flames.
The foods of Hawaii are not quite the way they were when Captain Cook landed in Waimea Bay. The ingredients may remain the same. After all, Cook did trade his nails for pork and sweet potatoes. The dishes, however have become a lot more sophisticated.
Oven Kalua Pork
6 pound pork butt
1 Tablespoon Liquid Smoke
2 ½ Tablespoons of Hawaiian salt, or a coarse sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rub pork with Liquid Smoke and 1 ½ tablespoons of the salt. Wrap pork with foil, sealing completely. Place pork in roasting pan and bake for five hours. After baking, shred pork and sprinkle with the remaining salt. Makes 12 servings.
Caramel Sweet Potatoes
8 medium sweet potatoes, cooked and peeled
1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
½ cup water
½ cup shredded coconut
Cut sweet potatoes into 1-inch slices. Combine butter, brown sugar, and water into a saucepan; cook on medium heat until mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Add sweet potatoes; lower heat and simmer 10 minutes. Sprinkle with shredded coconut before serving. Makes 12 servings.