I once heard the Legend of Jackie Kennedy and the Tragically Surpassed Budget For Decorating Dulles Airport, a cautionary tale for the ages starring a profusion of Barcelona chairs. Unfortunately, I cannot research these details, as I find myself in the middle of a tropical jungle without the indispensable comforts of wifi or glass in the windows. There is also some sort of tiny and undoubtedly ferocious lizard occupying the closet. (I decided not to unpack after all.)
As I write this, someone, somewhere in the pitch darkness, is playing a flute.
I started today, bleary-eyed and soggy from the grim rain, in Dulles Airport and ended it in Kalani, a retreat center on the Big Island of Hawaii that Rob had once visited and fondly recalled in a way that captured my imagination. I perhaps should have been more suspicious when he mentioned that, last time, the facility shut down its electrical generators at nine p.m. and facilitated encounters with German lesbian nudists. All the clues were there. And now I get to sleep next to a white wicker nightstand that is crawling with ants. Yes, you read that right: white wicker.
Everything is damp to the touch.
People like this sort of thing, I think, because it brings them close to Nature and highlights the simple core of the human experience. I like Nature, too, but not staring at me balefully from the rod in the closet. I found myself wandering in contemplative spirals trying to capture a bar of service on my iPhone, an exercise in frustration akin to perusing a Republican budget proposal. I can tell this trip is going to test the limits of my addictions.
We went to bed at 7:48 p.m. I slept with the iPhone next to me, just in case.
I woke up at 3:43 a.m. to discover, in the impossible darkness, that my iPhone had fallen behind the bed. I used the keychain LED flashlight they had given us at the front desk to gingerly retrieve it and find my way to the bathroom while encountering as little of Nature as possible. Getting back into bed, I made a deal with the lizards, ants, and whatever that oblong bug was on the wall that I would respect their territory if they would stay off of my sheets. Lizard, I said, that bar in the closet is your private kingdom. Ants, you may occupy the white wicker nightstand with impunity as long as you adhere to our treaty. I know you have the proper discipline because of that time Erich and I stayed in that dilapidated Mexican beach hotel with the trail of your people precisely down the center of the room, not one of you straying an inch from this insectile superhighway.
At six-something, a monsoon started, sounding like an avalanche through the glassless windows; the rumble of thunder, impossibly deep, like a volcano. It poured down all morning, causing me to pull out my little travel umbrella so I could get to breakfast relatively undrenched, but I noticed no one else carried such a civilized utensil. The standard uniform here is loose shorts and tee shirts, although this is punctuated by yoga pants, long skirts, the occasional spandex, and Clothing Optional areas. Many women and some men wrap parts of themselves in festive scarves–one man is sporting a rather ostentatious sarong–and I have seen no evidence that anyone wears underwear. In the rain, my fellow travelers sprouted waterproof ponchos or jackets. I do not own any shorts or waterproof jackets or sarongs. I wear underwear with a religious zeal. Rob said this is Hippie Hawaii, and when we go to Oahu next week, we will be in Resort Hawaii. I feel like my soul craves Hippie Hawaii and my body craves a four-star hotel.
It is sort of peaceful here, and sort of not. Or maybe it is peaceful here and it’s me who is not yet at peace despite the cups of Kava Stress Relief tea I gulp down after every meal like medicine. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming, but I’m afraid a meth addict is going to wander out of the jungle and steal my camera, the expensive one I bought years ago and have barely used. There is essentially no way to lock anything safely here. When it stopped raining, I put the camera in my backpack with my iPad and wandered down to the cafe by the road in search of the elusive Internet, which was Not Working. I then spent the afternoon alternatively reading one of the novels I have been saving all year for this trip and meandering the property looking for reception bars on my cell phone, a Mr. Spock scrutinizing his tricorder on a distant planet.
It is breathtakingly beautiful here, and the food is amazing, exactly what you might expect from a collective of hippies: fresh, local, simply prepared, and labeled with the precision of a thousand conflicting dietary restrictions. Mealtimes are announced by the blowing of a conch shell, which echoes through the jungle clearing like the howl of a sea monster. We eat communally around long tables on the lanai, although some tables are reserved for special groups. The Male Nude Yoga Retreat is happening here, which I was informed of both by phone when I made the reservation and by the signs on the dining table saving their space. I must say this bunch looks better in person than I had been imagining, as their name conjures something more grizzled and ropy and the reality is a group of mostly young gay men with a preternaturally upright bearing.
After dinner, Rob decided to walk down to the cafe by the road, but still jetlagged, I stayed in the room to read and sleep. The rain started up again, and I turned off the light to listen to it beat down against the leaves and roofs; the hoots and chirps of frogs and insects could still be heard over the falling water, and I felt very remote and alone. In the darkness, I clutched my iPhone and went to sleep.