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Monday, July 29, 2013

Hawaii Survival Guide by Don Wallace

from the Honolulu Weekly


Hawaii Survival Guide

The Lazy Guy’s guide to staying alive in paradise


1. Hawai‘i Survival Guide
2. Like Seeing Your Name In the Paper?
3. Avoid Hawai‘i’s Top Three Killers
4. It Can Happen To You: Stupid Ways To Go

Most people in Hawaii have a system for surviving our state’s unique temptations and hidden dangers. A surprising number of people I’ve met never go in the water. Others never go into the hills. In my mind, these aren’t acceptable answers–they’re reasons why you should move to Nebraska. Come on. This is Hawaii. Enjoy the place. Just don’t die doing it. Or buy a used car without using CarFax.

And that’s the theme here: stuff that will save your life, save you money, save you the hassle. Where did The Lazy Guy get this 411? From you. Yes, he prefers to learn from your mistakes–instead of making his own–one reason why he’s called lazy. He even listened to those folks who are, shall we say, one scoop rice short of a full plate lunch–because almost everyone can boast of that one thing they’ve got totally wired.

In my case, it’s where to get the cheapest and best arugula at the KCC Farmers’ Market. “Arugula?” you ask. “Where’s the hazard in that?” The hazard, I reply, is that if I tell the world which stall, then it will be sold out before I get there.

The rest, I give you here, and for free.

Yes, it’s great to be brave and get all the attention. But it sucks to be hospitalized. So, don’t be the first to: drink the worm, pet the pit bull, jump off the waterfall, dive into the reservoir, surf the new monster swell, take the stranger’s pill, plank the cliff, skateboard the Pali, run across six lanes of traffic, etc. In fact, it’s better to be the last guy, the one who begs off with the excuse, “Eh, somebody here has to be conscious to call 911.”


Jellyfish, that is. Don’t underestimate our monthly invasion of jellyfish, usually after the new moon. Reactions are unpredictable. You can go for years getting a little itch or sting from a box jellyfish or Portuguese man-of-war, then a fresh one wraps its loving arms around you and–paralysis, shock and off to the ER you go.


In 1990 I pitched an article about a spate of local shark attacks (3 fatal) to a national travel magazine. They bought the piece and spiked it in the same day. With the Hawaii Tourist Bureau spreading around an average $30 million a year in magazine advertisements, why kill the golden nene? At least they admitted it, in a rare case of editorial candor.

Twenty years later, a wiser man, I realize they were onto something. We really don’t have a shark problem. You’re at worse risk on a bike, a moped, a skateboard, a car, a bus… The sharks, though, they have a people problem. We’re exterminating them.

Sharks are dangerous, just not here.Watch out in Florida, South Africa, Australia/New Zealand, Brazil and the Red Triangle off San Francisco.

In Hawaii, only two places seem to draw enough action to be labeled “sharky”: West Maui and Waianae/Makaha/Yokohama Bay, all of which face west and are lightly populated, heavily fished and “lonely” (that’s your Mother speaking).

The Fix: You can reduce your risk to zero here by avoiding sunset and sunrise surfing, offshore swimming, swimming in bays (especially to and from boats) or across channels or stream mouths, swimming after a rain, scuba diving at 100+ depths, spearfishing and, especially, falling in while fishing or picking ‘opihi from rocky coasts. Note about the latter: as with most pleasure boat-related drownings and disappearances, the male compulsion to urinate while standing up is often suspected, especially where beer is also involved.


Dengue and West Nile: The former is also known as “break-bone,” has always been around, but is no longer rare. The latter hasn’t arrived officially, according to the Department of Health, but we had coqui frogs for two years before the state admitted they were on Oahu. If it isn’t here already, West Nile will arrive via container ship, as do most of our invasive species these days. Don’t leave empty flower pots and spare tires lying around to collect water and attract mosquitos. And stop to thank the gecko on your wall: It eats skeeters.

Swine Flu: Somewhere in the Far East, probably on the border of Hong Kong or Canton, there’s a pig with a bug that’s getting ready to jump the species barrier. When it does, and mutates into another kind of swine flu, we’ll be in its flight path as it moves around the world. Hawaii may be isolated, but we aren’t safe. We may even be first.

Disco Fever: Sorry. But looking at Lady GaGa and Alicia Keyes lately, I get worried.


1. Yoga is all the rage now, which means there are lots of non-certified people teaching yoga, or what they call yoga. Not surprising, then, there’s an uptick in yoga-related injuries. Even if you know what you’re doing, take it easy with those head-stands. We know a dancer whose career ended thanks to a slipped disc. And we’re getting tired of seeing our friends with their heads on sideways because, frankly, it gives us a pain in the neck to talk to them.

2. Stand Up Paddling (SUP) is the bomb now, too, which means a lot of people who don’t know one end of a board from the other are heading out into the water. Two types of injuries are trending: people struck by loose SUPs in the surf and sea, and SUP operators with broken shinbones, jammed fingers, concussions and torn rotator cuffs (from toting the 60-pounders around). Our take: We don’t care what you do to yourself, but unless you’re Laird Hamilton, keep your damn SUP out of our lineup, okay?

3. Surf Kayaking: All we can say to you, wave hog, is ditto, ditto, ditto…


It’s such a rich subject that we promise a longer version at some point, but here are the basics: Use Craigslist. Fix a price, narrow your picks, pick up the phone and ask pointed questions. Use CarFax. Hawaii is full of bad cars, clown cars, junkers and clunkers and repurposed chop-shop specials. Often just the words “CarFax” will scare away the scammers. Use your mechanic. Not the owner’s. Get the car sussed out. Use common sense. Bring a wingman. Meet in public places. Don’t carry cash.


Like Seeing Your Name In the Paper?

Go hiking. Just head into the hills without directions or a map, wearing slippers instead of good shoes and a half-charged cell phone–preferably starting off late, in the afternoon, so you can be sure of getting stranded overnight. We’ll be reading about you for the next day or two and, best of all, the State will bear the cost of your rescue ($1,000 per hour) and helicopter flight out. Of course, you might die falling off a cliff before then or the chopper could crash. (See Helicopter Tours.)

Hiking (and trail-running) is the source of daily emergency calls. One look at our mountains explains why: vertical, steep-sloped, covered in dense vegetation and clouds, they offer some of the worst footing I’ve ever encountered. You’re always a couple feet from plunging down a ravine, so take it slow and easy.

Places to avoid if you want to live

McDonald’s at 3 a.m. Because it’s the last well-known place open after Waikiki closes down, Mickey D funnels drunks, methheads and wannabe UFC fighters into one well-lighted space. “Nothing good happens at McDonald’s at 3 a.m.,” said a cop after the APEC shooting. Not sure if he meant the Big Mac with fries, but Mickey D gets you one way or the other.

Parking Lots After Dark: Why would you go to a parking lot after dark? For most of us, because we got lost. For some other people, to engage in criminal behavior and, just maybe, to prey on those who get lost. We vote for the Pearlridge Shopping Center in Aiea as the scariest, because it’s easy to get funneled into a cul-de-sac filled with loitering zombies and nightstalkers.

The Iron Triangle of Kuhio Avenue: Mama, don’t let your sons and daughters hang around anywhere near The Shack and Club Zanzabar and the aforementioned McDonald’s, just a block away. These places may change their names, but you can bet new venues will open and the fighting, drugging, stabbing and hassling will just go on.

Fantasy Island: Like Miami, Las Vegas and Atlantic City, Waikikidraws sexy glamour from the idea that bad boys and girls are waiting to whisk you behind closed doors and fix you up. The fantasy is true enough, but the downside can be expensive–those $12 Cosmos, darling, do add up–when it doesn’t get nasty. Trouble can range from those boors who won’t take no for an answer and follow you out to your car, to Ecstacy-fueled cardiac arrest due to dehydration from too much dancing, to having your drink spiked with GBH. If the latter sounds too much like a recent episode of 5-0, you should know that it does happen and the HPD finds it almost impossible to prosecute. (The evidence often passes from the body before the stunned victim thinks to request a test.)

The thing about GBH is, to cite a Honolulu case in which a jury failed to convict, you can wake up having sex with somebody but no physical ability to resist. Or you wake up on the street with no memory of what happened and bruises where the sun don’t shine. So, girls and boys, who could be the bartender or server, never go clubbing alone. And to prevent someone (including the bartender) from slipping a colorless, odorless dose into your drink, order bottled water or beer and have it opened before your eyes.


Avoid Hawaii’s Top Three Killers

No. 1 Danger: The road.

Solution: Your inner auntie.

The leading cause of death in Hawaii, after illness, is the common traffic accident. In 2006, Hawaii ranked 18th for fatalities; in 2007 we had 138 deaths (statistics, USNHTSA).

Yeah, yeah, cars kill a lot of people everywhere. But there are signs that Hawaii drivers are worse, and maybe meaner, than in other states–else why have pedestrian deaths doubled in both 2009 and 2010? In the last week we’ve had a couple of hit-and-run fatalities that seem particularly callous and, even worse, normal. As I know from covering the first couple of Ironman Triathlons, a major reason the event was moved to the Big Island in 1982 was our drivers were intentionally crowding the bicyclists off the road, when they weren’t throwing beer cans in their faces.

Who are these drivers? Take a look in the mirror before you answer. We all are guilty of going too fast, cutting in or out of a crowded lane, taking a blind turn too tightly. The fact that we have some of the worst traffic in the nation certainly feeds road rage and dangerous haste. Add frequent rain and the shortest onramps in the nation, and our chances of losing control, physically and/or emotionally, goes way up.

The fix? Slow down, and show some aloha. As they said in Driver’s Ed, leave plenty room ahead and behind. Shine on the loser in the monster Tacoma giving you the finger and riding your bumper. When it’s wet, drive like your auntie so that everyone arrives alive.

No. 2 Danger: The sea.

Solution: Avoid the impact zone.

The other day I saw two parents leave their small kids wading alone at Makapuu, despite the shorebreak and repeated warnings from the lifeguard. These are the kinds of people responsible for the second leading cause of accidental death in Hawaii: our surf. We have the best lifeguards and water safety program in the world, but did you ever see how many of those guys and gals have gray hair at 30? Did you ever wonder if you gave them some of those gray hairs?

Lifeguards save us when they can see us. Most drownings and disappearances take place in areas without surveillance. Surfers are rarely victims, if they know how to judge a wave and what to do. Snorkelers die because the less experienced often don’t look up to notice they’ve cruised into an impact zone. Tourists on dry land die from standing with arms full of cameras and brains on idle until they’re swept away. Fishermen and ‘opihi pickers die, caught by waves on rocks and reefs. Currents are part of the equation here, created by surf and equally dangerous, because they’re less detectable. They have no respect for paradise, claiming beauty-bedazzled hikers on the Kalalau Trail who’ve gone for a swim at Hanakapiai. When I was there in the mid-‘90s, a warning sign’s death tally was around 60. Now, it’s at 82.

In a new FEMA-sponsored book, Natural Hazards, the Environment, and Our Communities, the team of authors, led by UH professor Charles Fletcher, reveal that high surf accounts for 50 percent more fatalities than the next category. Due to our lack of a sheltering continental shelf, Hawaii’s waters can get nasty anytime–and fast. Our shorelines get particularly dangerous in winter, when North Pacific Swells and Northeast Trade Waves come driving in, and when the trades falter, Kona Storm Waves.

The fix? Never swim alone. If in doubt, don’t go out. Never turn your back on the sea. If the area around you is wet, retreat to where it’s dry. Keep your children behind you, not in front. If you’re fishing, drop the pole and run. Don’t snorkel outside the reef.

No. 3 Danger: The rain.

Solution: Look uphill. Often.

The third leading cause of deaths and the leading cause of weather-related fatalities, is the rain. How can that be? Are there really 20 to 30 people a year who don’t notice that, like, the water is rising up to their necks?

Actually, that can happen in as fast as three minutes. So what you’re really asking is, “Am I alert enough to notice that this low place in the road, this swimming hole where I’m messing around, this waterfall I’m blissing out under–is 180 seconds away from sweeping me away?”

Our steep-rising mountains are cloud traps that turn our ahupuaa into rain gutters. So if the water is brown or disturbed, look uphill. If you see clouds up in the mountains, pack it up. If the water begins to rise, run. Uphill. If you’re in a car, don’t cross that stream when you come to it. Even if it means spending the night sleeping in the back seat, stay on higher ground.


It Can Happen To You: Stupid Ways To Go

Waterfalls are both beautiful and dangerous. High in more sense than one, people drawn to dive end up hurt, paralyzed or dead. But waterfall swims are hazardous, too. Not only do they expose you to water-borne disease and parasites, but to flash floods and dislodged rock and debris. Even the hiking is sketchy, as evidenced by tourists who recently plunged to their deaths while searching for falls in Kauai. The lucky twist ankles and get ear infections. But five have died at Kipu Falls in the recent past, many have gone missing at the Seven Sacred Pools over the years and a rockfall at Sacred Falls in 1999 killed eight and injured 50.

Blowholes exert a similar fatal attraction. Snapshots from a holiday gone wrong: a man lies across Halona Blowhole. A man leans over and looks down inside. A boy wades in the waters pooled around an entrance. So, what do you get when you put the male gender and a blowhole together? A Darwin Award? (Meanwhile, the families are suing the state.) Take a picture, not a risk.

Lava makes some people go gaga. The eruption of Kilauea is a marvelous sight to behold, as long as that fiery lava doesn’t end up cooking you, hitting you with an eruption-flung rock, collapsing the ground beneath your feet or spewing gasses that send your lungs into spasm. It seems so obvious. Yet there are those who, down where Pele greets the sea, just have to get closer, closer, closer…

Riding in the bed of a pickup truck is the most common and, in my book, absolutely least excusable cause of injury and death in the Islands. The other morning we followed three long-haired beauties riding with their backs to the tailgate, while a smiling Dad drove them at 40 mph down busy Beretania. If the gate fell open, or if he had to stop and someone rear-ended him, or if he swerved and hit a curb and overturned, those girls could’ve ended up dead or paralyzed. So stupid and pointless. But, you know, we love our trucks. More than our keiki, evidently.


Rat Lungworm Disease: Raw food enthusiasts, hippies and vegans may feel singled out by this, an affliction worthy of Edgar Allan Poe, which comes of accidentally eating slug and snail slime trails on unwashed lettuce, vegetables and papaya. So much for dining straight from the garden! The culprit? Rats, which host and excrete parasitic roundworm eggs, and snails and slugs, which carry around the evolving worms which, when you eat them, swim to your brain. Can we get an OMG? Nine people were infected last year, most on the Big Island.

Falling in the Ala Wai: When a main sewer line broke in 2006, then-Mayor Mufi Hannemann ordered the flow directed into the canal, which already had high bacterial counts and no tidal flush or filtration system. Authorities tried to hide the size of the 480,000-gallon spill, but after a man who fell into the canal died, by all accounts horribly, the cat was out of the bag. Though there was a clean-up, you won’t catch me paddling my canoe there after a rain.

Flesh-eating strep and antibiotic-resistant staph: Yes, Hawaii had its very own case of that favorite of The National Enquirer and the poor victim had no preconditions. Drug-resistant staph is more prevalent, increasingly found in hospitals and among sports teams and in locker rooms. The locus of infection centers is around nicks and turf burns and the usual sport-culture intimacies. The real culprit is promiscuous prescription of antibiotics for the last 30 years, as well as their use in animal feed. Go organic, avoid artificial turf, shower alone and don’t trade towels or socks.

Leptospirosis: Hawaii leads the US in this bacterial infection, usually acquired while swimming in fresh or brackish water. (Yes, those waterfalls again.) Animal urine is the culprit. Symptoms are like a bad flu and fatalities are rare, but documented.

New Disease On the Block: Surfers last winter reported several mystery disorders. One particularly vicious fever and infection put my neighbor in the ICU in a coma for 10 days after a four-hour rainy day session; my wife ended up in the ER. Whether it’s tiger sharks or disease, the advice is the same: Stay out of the water after it rains.


Nobody wants a nanny state, but at the same time, Hawaii’s extreme or adventure attractions are basically unregulated. For the right price the state will give operators a piece of paper, but it doesn’t mean anybody actually cares enough to check up.

Waikiki Trolley: These have no seatbelts, and nothing between riders and a crash. Because most riders are Japanese, we never hear about most mishaps. But an elderly man was killed this year–flung off–giving a preview of more disasters waiting to happen.

Helicopter Tours: This November, a helicopter crashed in Molokai, killing all five aboard, and nearly missing an elementary school. Be honest: Were you surprised? In 19 years chopper accidents have killed more than 40 people here. Why? Helicopter tours are unregulated, for one thing. Anyone with a certified pilot and chopper can get into the business of ferrying tourists to their deaths. Overpacked schedules accommodate honeymooners who want to ensure that they’ll never look a day older than this, the happiest week of their short happy lives. But even if the FAA stepped in, they couldn’t change our treacherous Hawaii conditions.

Ultra-Light Flying and Para-Sailing: I remember my 75-year-old grandfather’s story of being dragged face-first over the reef and shallows when his tow-boat couldn’t accelerate fast enough. Grandpa was a tough hombre, but still… it’s a wonder anyone would consider doing this. Same for those cliff-defying pterodactyls you see skimming the heights. Motorcyles, mopeds, skateboards: No nagging. Just don’t stick your next of kin with the hospital and ER costs. Get yourself insured.

Ziplines and bungee jumping: Be my guest. Just don’t, you know, lose your head when the stoned 19-year-old dropout to whom you just entrusted your life gets the math wrong.

Scuba Tours: All you need to know was in that movie of a few years ago: although someone has the job of doing a head count, gosh, sometimes they forget. The worst culprits are mass introductory dive packages, called “cattleboats,” operating under time pressure described as “fast and furious.” That’s a description from the one that left a Japanese tourist to die off Waikiki.

Party Boats: Another disaster waiting to happen is those tourists boats that head out every sunset. Not the small catamarans that skirt the reef, and not bona fide cruise ships, although I have nothing good to say about them on cultural and aesthetic grounds. But the proliferation of larger party boats is worthy of scrutiny, because when an accident happens, it usually is catastrophic–witness the 20 senior citizens who drowned when a Lake George, NY party boat capsized in calm weather in 2005. As an old salt who’s taken his share of booze cruises in ports all over the world, I’m not afraid to generalize: Most of these mid-size party boats are unfit to go to sea.


Powerful surf, nasty shorebreak, bad currents and lonely stretches without lifeguards or emergency responders make these our most dangerous beaches. Source: Natural Hazards, The Environment, and Our Communities.
• Sandy’s
• Hanakapiai
• Lumahai
• Makena
• DT Fleming
• Hapuna
• Magic Sands


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  2. Leptospirosis is real and my son got it. He had mild flu symptoms and felt bad that he went to the ER when he saw others in ER who he felt "really needed it". He thought he was bothering the doctors and nurses and taking time away from patients who he deemed had "real medical emergencies". He almost walked out of the ER because he could "tough out" his "flu". Thank goodness he went. The doctor who treated him recognized the symptoms right away because he knew others who thought they could "tough it out" but died. My son got some good antibiotics and is fine now, but it could have killed him.