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Humor January 2016

Ernie's World

Big Island. Big Worries.

By Ernie Witham

There was a section on sharks that warned not to swim in murky water at dawn or dusk. That didn't seem to be a big concern. At dawn I'm sleeping and at dusk I'm drinking.

By the time we leave for a trip to a new destination, my wife has read a dozen articles about the place, perused 27 guidebooks, and viewed more documentaries than seems possible to even produce. She knows all the best places to go and times to visit, including every museum and historical spot and special treats like quilt shows and pottery exhibits. Me? I wait until the last minute and just look for the important stuff on the Internet, like best happy hours and cheapest souvenirs.

"If you read a guidebook it might give you an idea for a column," my wife said.

So I went to my office and opened the 7th Edition of Hawaii, The Big Island Revealed. The first thing I saw was "There are no snakes in Hawai'i."

"Good news," I yelled to my wife from my office. "We can leave the snake bite kit home."

"We have a snake bite kit?"

"Actually, it's just a rusty knife, a bottle of cheap whiskey, and an iPhone. That's how they used to deal with it in the Old West."

"Right, as long as they were near an Old West Wi-Fi hotspot."

That's when I probably should have skipped ahead to see if they had any nude beaches for seniors, but I did wonder if there were other things to worry about on our stress-free vacation.

"More people drown in Hawai'i each year than anywhere else in the country," the section on water hazards began. "High surf can be found anywhere on the island at any time."

"Don't bother packing any surfboards," I yelled to my wife.

"Too late, I already have them stuffed into your carry-on."

There was a section on sharks that warned not to swim in murky water at dawn or dusk. That didn't seem to be a big concern. At dawn I'm sleeping and at dusk I'm drinking. A bigger problem though is the Portuguese Man o’ War. They can't swim so they just sail along with the wind trailing long tentacles behind them. So, one minute you are marveling: "Wow, look at these cool sea creatures," and the next minute the thing is triggering thousands of spring-loaded stingers, which inject venom into you. Though not "usually" fatal it can be painful. The "folk cure" according to the guidebook is urine.

"I'm going to need you to drink lots of beer before we go swimming," I yelled.

There was a moment of silence then my wife yelled back: "Will mai-tais work?"

The book didn't say, but I figured that would be okay. The book did mention that you had to be careful of sea urchins, coral and sea anemones, which also sting. Maybe I'll just stay on dry land where it's safe, except for centipedes, apparently, which "can get to be six or more inches long and are aggressive predators. If you get stung, even from a baby, the pain can range from a bad bee sting to a bad gunshot wound." Gunshot wound!  

Centipede: "I don't like the way you look, greenhorn. Draw!"

Me: "How about I just do a comedy sketch instead? Ow!" Thud.

They also have scorpions, of course, and cane spiders, which are "big, dark, and look horrifying," as well as mosquitos that arrived by ship in 1826 and "have thrived." Though some other guidebooks suggest taking vitamin B12 to keep mosquitos away, this one says: "it just gives the little critters a healthier diet."

Hawai'i has mongooses, which were brought in to eat the rats, but like me, mongooses sleep at night and forage during the day. Rats on the other hand are nocturnal. So, the mongooses eat birds’ eggs, look like squirrels, and have mean-looking red eyes. A great photo-op.

There are some wild pigs on Hawai'i and the book suggests barking like a big dog if you encounter one.

"What's that racket?" my wife yelled. "Sounds like a wounded moose." Good thing I'm practicing.

We can also expect frogs called Coqui that whistle all night long, and vog, a mixture of water vapor, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide caused by the active volcano, Kilauea, which when it is really belching can cause everyone extreme discomfort.

My wife came into my office. "What are you reading?"

"A Stephen King trilogy."

"What about the guidebook?"

I shivered. "Far too scary."


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